The longest year

This year is half over, and we’re well into summer weather here in Oklahoma. I genuinely like summer- the long days feel luxurious and the sweltering heat is a welcome change from the bitter cold of winter. It’s a relief to enter my favorite season, as it’s been a long 2021 for me so far.

I finished my finance degree in December and began searching for a new job. While I still (mostly) enjoyed my work at the tack shop, I was desperate to stop commuting 1.5 hours a day for a job that hadn’t given me a raise in 3 years and had only increased my workload. On a whim, I applied for a (paid) internship with The Jockey Club, figuring it might be an opportunity to gain exposure to a different side of the equestrian industry and do something new. Two Zoom interviews later, TJC offered to hire me as an independent contractor. I accepted, and am now working as a UX/UI designer in a fully remote position that pays twice what the tack shop did. The work is interesting, the people are nice, and I really enjoy the schedule flexibility it offers.

Candy died in March, just a few days before her 13th birthday. I woke up to my neighbor frantically pounding on my front door at 5:45 AM. I stood in the dark on my porch, shivering in my pajamas as she informed me that Candy’s front leg was badly broken. She’d already called the vet; he was on the way to euthanize Candy. I stood with Candy for what seemed like an eternity before he arrived, trying in vain to comfort her. She is buried in the paddock behind the barn. I am profoundly grateful to my friend next door for calling the vet, calling the backhoe guy, and handling her burial while I laid in bed all day and cried.

A couple of weeks later, my elderly cat Woody was euthanized. Woody was the last vestige of my young adult life. I got him as a kitten when I was in college, and he’d moved with me to Kansas, then to Oklahoma. He was a cheerful, talkative cat who loved to travel with us after his diabetes diagnosis a few years ago. He walked on a leash, had an excellent grasp of English, and an unhealthy love for pizza. One morning he was unable to stand up, and I knew it was time to let him go. I laid in bed and cried after I got home from the vet.

Last month, I came in from taking Madigan to baby school and found my sweet tuxedo cat Marvin uncomfortably crouched in a pool of bloody urine. I rushed him to the vet, where he was diagnosed with a urethral blockage.  He was hospitalized and catheterized. He came home a few days later and blocked again. My vet recommended he have perineal urethrostomy surgery; every veterinary surgeon in Tulsa was booked for weeks, so I drove Marvin to OSU’s teaching hospital 1.5 hours away to have surgery. Then I laid in bed and cried. Marvin is home and fully healed, for which I am very grateful.

I threw my back out over Memorial Day weekend, which was a terrible and painful experience. For the better part of a week, I could not even roll over on my side without excruciating muscle spasms. When that finally seemed to resolve itself, I began having shooting pain deep in my right glute. Johnny drove me to Tulsa Bone & Joint, where I was diagnosed with a pinched nerve and sent home with a prescription for steroids and muscle relaxers. I feel much better than I did, and hope I’ll be back to normal soon.

with assistant trainer aboard

Madigan is the brightest part of 2021. He turned 3 on June 8 and sticks at 16.2 hands- a far cry from the petite yearling I brought home two years ago! He’s been attending baby school weekly for over a year and I couldn’t be happier with how he’s progressed. Madigan ties, cross-ties, trailers (although he still wants to turn around to unload rather than back out), is good about being saddled and bridled, stands quietly at the mounting block, and has a basic understanding of the aids for stop, go, and turn. He has a happy, curious, laid-back personality and seems to genuinely enjoy learning all these new skills.

Moe and Gina are just fine, too. They came through the winter well and have been out on the front pasture since mid-April. Moe and Madigan spend the hottest part of the day splashing each other in the pond. Gina is too dignified for that and opts to stand in the shade instead. I haven’t been riding much- first I was busy, then I was very depressed, and now I’m injured. But perhaps some trail rides are on the horizon in the latter half of what has already been a very long year.


Take a small step

I don’t have profound or eloquent or particularly thoughtful words to share about current events. I recommend reading L.’s excellent post over at Viva Carlos: So You Want To Be An Ally…

Here is a small step that you, an equestrian, can take. Contact your favorite equestrian brands and ask them to include people of color and differently-abled people in their product photography. Representation matters, and there is very little of it in equestrian retail. I’ve looked at thousands of product photos provided by manufacturers over the last six years and they are overwhelmingly white.

At my tack shop, I rely on manufacturer-provided photos to advertise products. I don’t have the skill to take these photos myself, nor do I have the budget to pay someone to take them twice a year when new seasonal merchandise arrives. But I can put out a call to local photographers and local models who are willing to work for gift certificates, products, or a free lunch. I will work to increase representation in equestrian retail in my small corner of the dressage market. It isn’t much, but it is something.

Some brands to get you started:

And, of course, keep donating, protesting, voting, and writing strongly worded letters and emails to your elected officials.

Taking care of business

Last week, I received an unexpected email from my boss. She’s been in Florida since Global Dressage Festival ended prematurely. She emailed me to tell me she was flying to Oklahoma and wanted to meet. She also mentioned the store’s general manager was no longer with the company. I was shocked- the manager was my boss’s brother and had held the position for a decade. He was not a good manager, but was so entrenched that my coworkers and I assumed he’d never leave.

When I met with my boss, she informed me that she wanted me to oversee day-to-day management of the store. While I originally planned on leaving my job at the end of the year when I graduated with my finance degree, I decided to accept her offer. I love my job- it’s flexible, I wear breeches to the office, my coworkers are great. I’m a horse person who gets to talk to horse people about horse stuff all day long. Plus, who knows what the job landscape will look like in December? I graduated in 2008 and couldn’t find a job in my field. I ended up at a cell phone carrier’s call center and it sucked. My prospects are likely better this time- after all, people have an idea of what finance is- but I figure I might as well stay in a steady job that I enjoy.

I’m both excited and overwhelmed. Sales are (understandably) down, and the horse show landscape looks very different. Customers’ employment situations are uncertain and they’re reluctant to spend on non-essentials. There’s also a lot of things to sort out at the store itself: supply chain problems, bookkeeping inaccuracies, new cleanliness protocols.

I’m an optimist, though. I have so many ideas for increasing brick and mortar sales, revamping the website, implementing more efficient internal procedures! I know this business well and have a great team of coworkers. My boss is super. Johnny is, as always, unfailingly supportive. And I’ll get to put all those business school classes to use!

Madigan Learns To Horse

After Madigan made his debut at a Future Event Horse class last year, he went back in the pasture to eat, grow, and learn to live in a small herd. I handled him at least a little bit every day. Most of the handling was super basic- haltering and leading, picking up and cleaning his hooves, brushing him. He took it all in stride; when I put a blanket on him for the first time, he barely lifted his head from his feed pan.


Now that he’s approaching his second birthday, he’s looking and acting more like an adult than a timid baby. His favorite activity is playing bitey-face with Moe (who is thoroughly sick of him). When he gallops around with Candy, he looks like he knows what he’s doing and not like he’s going to fall down. He had a growth spurt and is now the same height as Moe, just over 15 hands. (Which is great- I was paranoid that he would end up large pony size forever.) Madigan is still friendly and easygoing, too.

Earlier this year, it seemed like it was time for Madigan to start learning some new things, like how to wear a bridle and how to self-load in a trailer. My friend next door has a super reputation for starting youngsters, so it was an easy decision to start bringing him over for groundwork lessons. Richal is patient, consistent, and fair with babies and greenies, and it’s been fun to see her work with Madigan.

Nothing terribly exciting happens in their weekly lessons. He always needs a refresher on personal space- he wants to be right next to the people (because the people scratch him and pet him and feed him cookies sometimes). He’s learning how to walk and trot on the line. Last week, Richal introduced him to the mounting block and a saddle. Madigan remains cheerful and curious- he seems to like investigating all the new things.

Who needs grooming when you can remove your winter hair on the grass?

I’m excited about the future with him. He’s sensible and pleasant, and it’s nice to know he’s getting good training from the start!

The Return of Hand Gallop

Hey y’all- it’s me, Stephanie! I used to blog here, and I suppose this post means I still do. With the onset of a global pandemic, I find myself with more time to write. I also find myself looking for activities to take my mind off any number of unpleasant uncertainties. (Is my job going to come back? Does my friend have COVID-19? Will my finance professor ever return my emails?)

I began this year as I do most years: with a sense of purpose and optimism. I kicked off 2020 with a trip to Peru. The trip was with Oklahoma State’s finance department and counted as an elective for my degree. The Tulsa campus lacks many upper division finance classes, so going to Peru seemed like a good way to get three credit hours in one 10-day go. It also fit neatly with my 2020 goal of hiking once a month.

Looking out over the Pacific Ocean from the Miraflores District of Lima.

The trip was super, although it was a bit awkward to share a room with a 19 year old girl, and I definitely had more in common with the professor and teaching assistant than I did any of my finance bro classmates. We toured a variety of businesses in and around Lima before heading to the Sacred Valley to hike Incan sites, including Machu Picchu. My favorite parts of the trip were meeting the head of the Central Reserve Bank of Peru in Lima and hiking at Ollantaytambo in the southern part of the Sacred Valley.

Misty morning at Machu Picchu.

Classes resumed for the spring semester just a couple of days after I returned, and I felt disorganized and behind. I’m taking an intense course load this semester with a eye toward finishing in the fall, and it was hard to establish a routine once I got home. I did little other than go to class, do homework, and go to work.

And then the global pandemic hit! I am effectively furloughed from my job at The Horse of Course. When the last two weeks of Global Dressage Festival were canceled, I knew we were in trouble. The winter season in Florida is the store’s primary revenue source; the mobile unit’s performance there determines our budget for the rest of the year. The Oklahoma-based mobile unit typically travels to three or four shows in Oklahoma every spring; those are all canceled. With no shows on the horizon, barns on lockdown, and people uncertain about their source of income, shopping for equestrian tack and apparel has screeched to a halt. Additionally, Oklahoma’s governor has ordered all non-essential businesses to close to the public through the end of April, so there’s that.

I don’t blame people for not spending money on new saddle pads or shadbellys- I totally get it. My hope is that this will not be the demise of small tack shops, but it is difficult to imagine things returning to normal in the foreseeable future. Fortunately, Johnny is still employed (providing essential software services to heavy machinery and ambulances), so we can continue providing the luxurious lifestyle our four horses, six cats, and two dogs are accustomed to.

Having plenty of time to get the horses out on the spring grass has been nice.

So what have I been doing with all of my newfound free time? Some productive things- like baking bread and brioche hamburger buns, planting seeds for this year’s herb garden, doing homework, walking the cats, and taking Madigan to my neighbor’s for groundwork lessons. Some less productive things- replaying all of my favorite video games, reading, occasionally day drinking, eating way too much takeout in an effort to keep my favorite restaurants afloat.

I am incredibly grateful to have my horses at home. While I know they’d receive the very best care if they were still boarded, it is nice to look out of the window of my office and see them grazing, and know I can walk out to see them any time.

What are y’all up to in this crazy time? Are you still working? Still riding? Baking all the things? Eating all the snacks?