adventures in the annals of equine research

I’ve got a super exciting thing happening soon, which I’ll be able to announce next week. This super exciting thing has me delving into equine research journals. And, people, there is gold in there.

GOLD!!!!

also gold: stalking this handsome creature!!

Nugget the First, the Journal of Equine Veterinary Medicine publishes some of its articles open-access. This means that the authors pay a lot more money in order to make those manuscripts freely available to the public. I’ve got institutional access at work, so I don’t know exactly which ones are free and which ones aren’t (this is a hint). But there is a lot of good stuff on there, and tons of it is bound to be free.

Nugget the Second:

yes, please tell me everything about this mysterious sporthorse stallion “hindquarter movement”

Nugget three: I found this super neat site, Equestology: Sport Horse Science. They write reviews of peer-reviewed manuscripts, and have some amazingly fascinating stuff on there!  For example, a discussion of horse facial expressions during lameness. Or an in-depth analysis of how rider position differs between beginner and advanced dressage riders. I mean, on the one hand I’m super sad that my dream job of translating horsey science for the horsey public has already been taken.  On the other, what an amazing resource!! I can’t wait to read more.

Three gold nuggets is more than I’ve found in quite a while! And now I dive back in to learn more about hindquarter movements of —  I mean, equine science in general.

hippo v. lipless hippo!!

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human dancing == pony prancing

In anticipation for Toit Nups, the boy and I are taking dancing lessons. I knew this was something we should do. BF has always been into dancing and has wanted me to do social dance with him for years (literally 10 of them, he asked if we could take dance classes the second year we were together).  So even if it wasn’t at the top of my list of “must do”s, I wanted to take dance lessons. So that I didn’t look like a fool on this highly photographed night, and because someone I love wanted to do it.

All that said, I was feeling weirdly shaky and emotional walking into our first dance lesson. Not confident at all, and with that weird feeling behind the eyes that suggests tears are on their way. Which is not really how you want to enter a new learning paradigm.

So we started dancing. (We’re doing a rumba, in case you’re curious.) And at some point I asked our dance instructor Christy about how much pressure I should be putting into her head, as she demonstrated how I was to follow.  She returned a thorough and lengthy response about how some people like a firmer lead than others, but for her the amount of pressure I was giving back to her as the lead was just right.

And I was like “Oh, okay. I know how this works. It’s like contact.” I perked up a lot after that.

A little later, we were talking about something else — I think steering. Christy was telling the boy that he needs to guide clearly and concisely when leading, and have a plan so that I, as the follower, have an easy job of following.

That’s when it clicked.

This is just riding.

Only I’m the horse.

who’s a pretty pony? you both are!!

So here are a few things I’ve learned about riding from dance lessons in the last week.

Rhythm is essential

I have great rhythm and timing. I can count to four, I can find a beat in a song, and I find it nigh-on INTOLERABLE when a cloud is clapping in time and the beat slowly gets faster.  The boy has zero timing.  ZERO.

Do you know how hard it is to have rhythm when the person leading you has no rhythm? When you’re stepping to four and he’s stepping to three, it’s literally not possible to maintain a four beat rhythm.


Dear beginner riders: if you’re reading this, for the love of all that is good in this world, do not fuck with your horse’s rhythm.

Plan the fuck ahead

So not only does my dear future husband have no rhythm, he also doesn’t have a plan and it is literally the worst and most infuriating thing ever.  Sure, we can go around and around and around in endless circles as we sloooow-quick-quick-sloooow-quick-quick around the box that rhumba prescribes.

Without a plan, we can do at best one or two movements before we peter out into nothingness (or just endless basic steps). Worse is when BF doesn’t have a plan and tries to make things up on the fly and mashes two movements together, or tries to do something and just massively flubs it. Unfortunately, this just reinforces crappy habits and bad muscle memory sooooo yeah, I’m hoping to avoid this as much as possible.

We’re obviously getting better at the “have a plan” thing.  Evidently having a plan (and dancing the plan!) is a skill you need to practice. But not having a plan is the pits.


plan ahead, Nicole. do not forget your girth at a show, Nicole. do not sprain your knee the day before a show, Nicole!!

Meet your partner halfway

Nobody is convincing me to be a stronger follow by pushing into me more. In fact, it’s a lot easier for me to follow our dance instructor, who has a much lighter contact, than it is to follow my actual partner. I’ve been working hard at convincing him to lighten up, but in the mean time I have to push back at least a little bit.

I mean, in this scenario I’m the horse. So yeah, it would be nice if our horses could think it through and meet us halfway. But they can’t (necessarily). Which suuuucks, but is what we get for not riding motorcycles.

 

I am just like my horse

In every conflict we have in our dance lessons, I am Murray. Not just in the “Nicole is the horse here” analogy. I have the exact same problems as Murray. BF wants a lot more contact than I do. He tends to push his hand into mine with more force than I want, and in response I just back off. Just like Murray.

I have a tendency to try to take over and lead. The second my partner doesn’t have a plan, I just take over and start doing my own thing. No need to worry, fearless leader! I’ve got this. Now where are we going?

Nope, nothing like the horse I know and love. Nothing.

at least I don’t throw pony tantrums when something unexpected happens?

I am a terrible, terrible anticipator. Are we turning now? Now? Is it now? Did we do three turns last time? So three again this time, right? No? Five? WHAT. We did a change of direction here last time, are we doing it again?

Yeah so. Three dancing lessons have given me a really ridiculous amount of perspective on riding and an insane amount of sympathy for the garbage that I put my horse through.

I only hope I’m a better rider than my future husband is a dancer!

the jury’s still out, but one can hope

2017 year in review

I’m late to the game this year, but I love year in review posts so I’m not about to skip this one! One of the best parts about it is reading through all my old posts and re-remembering all the fun (and sometimes not-so-fun things) I did over the course of the year, pushing past the biases of silly primate brains.

January

I started the year off with a some new resolutions to set Murray and myself up for success in all our rides and stop taking shortcuts.  Little did I know how much this would foreshadow the coming year. California was in the middle of its wettest winter in a long time, which made just getting to the barn a challenge.  Murray also had a Major Meltdown —  his first in quite a while, if I’m remembering correctly. His halter held together, but a few days later a friend of mine put Murray’s sheet on for me and Murray panicked again. He pulled back from her in hand and the halter snapped into a thousand pieces and she was left holding an empty lead rope while Murray looked suspiciously at her.  It was hilarious. Okay, I think it’s hilarious, Friend was mildly traumatized. Importantly, toward the end of January we had our first appointment with a saddle fitter who I will absolutely credit with a big part in changing the way Murray goes for both dressage and jumping.

imitating his friend-from-afar, the CreepStar 3000

February

After getting scared into not-really-riding for a week or so, I decided that Murray and I could just deal til we found a new saddle. Murray did his best Peter Cottontail impression over poles (gif below). We had puppies at our barn (as we so often do! thank you wonderful barn manager!), and Murray and I had a second appointment with the fitter and actually found a dressage saddle we liked! My boyfriend also started his own Dressage Show called “Nicole Rides a Horse“, and my horse actually looked… really good?! That is, when he wasn’t being a total punk. And we rode with Hawley again!

March

We started March out with some Alternative Facts. We might need to bring those back this year! I pondered who can/should ride my horse, as many others were considering the question. AND I MADE THIS AMAZING PLANNING CALENDAR when I realized that my first event was probably coming up in just about six weeks. I also talked about my work-life balance aka the hustle (which I will be engaged in again this year!) to keep me and pone-pone clothed and fed. And in reviewing that post, it really warms my heart to feel the camaraderie of blogland around me — thanks guys <3.  Murray and I went to Twin Rivers for the first time (and he got a snazzy new RAINBOW rope halter) and had just the BEST time schooling the course.  And I cleverly took a ten day vacation right before my first event of the year.

oh and Murray rolled on the leadline with me for the first (but not last) time ever

April

The beginning of April was a lot of furious prepping for the rated event at Twin, including buying too much stuff and anxiety dreams.  I also wrote about the ground work we’d been doing in the rope halter (though I started the groundwork itself back in March). This was another thing that I did not realize would become a massive part of this year.  And then we went to Twin. And it was So. Good. I bought a pink hat and listened to Hamilton basically Non-Stop (this is a Hamilton pun).  Dressage was awesome! Cross country was a hot fucking mess to get started with but the Murr Man SHOWED UP. Stadium was a grab bag of amazing surprises that led to a NECK RIBBON!!!!  Murray could not have done a single thing that weekend to make me happier or prouder. And that was basically all I thought or talked about in April. Hah.

May

In May I finally got back on the dressage lesson train, and got my trainer/DVMs advice about how to handle Murray’s tension and stiffness. But we also went on some fun Spring adventures!  I managed to survive through our second May One Day event at WSS, and can’t thank all the volunteers and riders enough for coming out! I also realized that Murray was finally starting to become a reliable communicator.  Or perhaps, I just got better at listening. Oh also, I did the Game of Thrones Guinness on Tap bloghop that revealed to you all the secret human living inside Murray’s body: Craig Middlebrooks.  We made some slow, steady uphill progress in both dressage and our ground work.

June

I dyed my saddle black in June in anticipation of the coming Camelot event. Then there was the most epicest of all blogger meetups, and a dressage show that didn’t suck!  And then a few weeks late was epic blogger meetup number two at the happiest place on earth: CAMELOT! I learned how to suck in all new ways, my horse showed off all his best moves, and jumped a fun, clean stadium. I did some research about pentosan, as I considered adding it to Murray’s life. And Murray had an appointment with an “animal communicator“.

July

I opened July with some math about brainz. Murray and I did some more dressage, and I re-formulated my thoughts on rewarding effort vs. try. My RBF got a new pony and we got to go XC schooling together and take jump lessons together and it was MAJIKAL. I also did a little NSAID test with my pony that led to a pretty spectacular dressage ride, a hilarious jump ride, and the decision to inject his hocks. It was also in July that I burned all of Murray’s cannon hair and skin off with Equiderma, which would lead to a wound that is STILL NOT FUCKING HEALED IN JANUARY OF 2018.

omg I miss this

August

Oh yep look, here’s our first post about weird cannon keratosis and the odd little skin problem that it induced. I found a magical sit spot in my dressage saddle. In preparation for my move up to Novice at Camelot later in August, I had a jump lesson with a teenager which was not what I expected. In a good way. Then I went to Camelot, sprained my MCL, rode anyway, and somehow had another incredible, black-letter weekend. Oh gourd, just looking at that show recap gives me a visceral reaction to the memory of how hot, sweaty, and unpleasant the first night with my sprained MCL was.  And guess who showed up to save his human once again? Not just Murray, also Levi!

i love just about every picture from this weekend

Oh, also. There was Kathy.

September

Birthday moooonth!! We ran a one-day in insane heat. I started reading When Two Spines Align (again) and had some big a-hah moments about shaping energy.  The leg saga continued. I also wrote about behavior and cortisol in horses. I’d like to do more of these sciency pull-together pieces in the future! The leg saga dragged on, and finally resulted in proud flesh, getting my vet out to debride, aaaaaaaaaand stall rest. So that was a wrap on Murray’s season. Pun intended.

Luckily for me, Mom-Bod-Mare aka Sookie aka Suzy aka Suzuki was getting ready to sneak on to the scene.

what can you do with a drunken sailor, what can you do with a drunken sailor…

October

Thanks goodness for my wonderful trainer, who lets me ride her horses in training, and for the wonderful horses she’s been sent for training.  Suzy was a wonderful replacement for Murray and we had a lot of fun together. Although, that was after I spent the first ten days of October so land-sick from a cruise that I could barely function. Murray wasn’t totally out of work — we worked on walking in hand and I started clicker training him to chase away the stall-rest blues.  And I did something I’ve always wanted to do: pulled all of Murray’s shoes!

November

November brought on the clicker training and barefoot rehab en force.  It’s hard to do barefoot rehab when the prescription to fix the feet is lots of walking and motion and your horse is confined to stall rest.  But it’s cool. We hand-walked and got kicked in the quad and hand walked some more. And I started training my horse to get tacked up. Again. But this time, you know, the polite version of “get tacked up”. The version where “no halters are injured in the making of this production”. Oh and the leg hole made some significant progress!! Mu’s feet made significant progress, so I gave my first barefoot update. Spoiler alert: THERE ARE GONNA BE SO MANY MOOOREEE!


oh, and we set the kiddo free again!!

December

December was both a quiet and hectic month. I went to the USEA Convention in Long Beach, and still have things to write about that! I rode the little Suzuki in an Yves clinic, and got some great tools to help improve her canter and jumping.  Murray and I got back to work under saddle, and we’ve walked, trotted, and cantered in our nice, soft indoor footing.  I’ve also integrated clicker training under saddle — it’s an adventure that I’ve not yet figured out well enough to write about.  Oh, and I learned how to sharpen my own clipper blades!!

This year was not the year I thought it would be — what, with my horse getting sidelined 3/4 of the way through.  It was better.  Murray and I are happier than we have ever been, both together and on our own.  Writing this post, I was struck by how many times I was so proud of Murray this year.  Of how many times his good nature and trust in me showed up despite the odds. Of the times he saved my butt. Of the lessons that he has taught me, about teaching, and learning, and riding, and being open-minded.

Murray and I have some things to sort out before we can get to any real work this year.  Primarily, we need to get those feet in shape (pun intended again, obviously) and heal up that goddamned leg hole.  But once we get our ish sorted, we are lining up to have a hell of a year in 2018.

Happy new year, friends! Bring on the adventure!

land-sick

I have been so oddly exhausted since I came back from vacation.  I definitely had legit land sickness after getting off the cruise ship, which was odd because I’ve never had it before.  But there I was, with a cold and possible sinus infection, dizzy and spinning every time I sat still for more than a few moments at a time.  The first few days I was also super fatigued and couldn’t concentrate which was awful — school was starting, and I was trying to sort out documents and attendance and all the inquiries that came with it.  And any time I sat down to answer emails I felt like I was drunk.  For four days.

Weirdly, I felt fine as long as I was up and moving or driving.   But any other time I just wanted to go to sleep.  So I slept a lot.

I’m still feeling a little not-normal (tipsy as opposed to trashed), which has led to earlier-than-normal bedtimes and less writing/blogging/working in the evenings (kinda a staple for me).  I seem to be all caught up on my seep deficit though, because for the last few mornings I’ve been getting up slightly before my alarm feeling totally refreshed.  This is also weird.

Pony life trudges on despite my tiredness.  I was pretty boo-boo faced for a couple of weeks there, since Murray is the funnest horse I know right now, and not riding him means… a lot less fun.  There are plenty of other horses to ride, including some really kind offers from friends, but it’s different.  Unexpectedly, though, I’ve been having a ton of fun riding one of the ottbs in for training — she’s smart, and I know just enough to teach her a few things, so we’re making a lot of the progressive little steps that greenies make.

mom-bod bootcamp “before” pics

I also started hand walking Murray, which is half ridiculousness and half really boring lazy horse being dragged around by his tiny owner.  At first, Murray gets excited and thinks we are going for turnout — he loves turnout.  This elicits all kinds of jigging and antics from him as we approach the arena.  When he realizes that I’m not letting him free, the exuberance leaves him.  But still, he’s out of his stall, and that is a cause for joy when on stall rest.  Until he realizes I’m power walking him around for 30 minutes over poles and in figures.  Then the feet become really heavy.  Today he tripped over a set of walk poles, never really managed/bothered to get his feet back underneath him and stumbled through them, then angrily stomped the ground and kicked the air right after the poles.  Yes, Murray.  You tell those poles who is boss.

If you have good exercises for hand walking the pony, I’m all ears.  I’ve made a short list of things I want to train Murray to do, both riding/work associated and just for funs (e.g. take medicine from a syringe without murder, and other useful trix).  This little break is also a great opportunity for us to brush up on some behaviors that I know we’ll need in the coming months — clipper desensitization round 5, anyone?  And eventually I plan to tack walk and really get our walk improved under saddle.  I just… don’t want to deal with that quite yet.  Though perhaps it’s a better idea now, when it’s hot and he’s a woolly mammoth, than in a few weeks when it really starts to cool off.

pro tip: do not do this to your horse

The other thing I could use some ideas on is bandaging.  After the, uh, accidental leg-wax I gave him, Murray is not too keen on elastikon.  I need something that will help hold the bandage in place on the top and bottom without ripping out half of Murray’s hair on its way out — or a surefire solution to removing the elastikon without pulling out any hair.  Despite my best efforts, I just can’t seem to not rip his hair out.  And Murray is understandably a little tender about the whole leg hair situation right now.  It’s a long shot, since the value of elastikon is its stickiness and tension.  But I figured if anyone would know, it’s the collective blogoverse.

And that’s kinda the extent of it right now.  We’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other until this stupid leg is back to its glorious former self.

for the cleanest clean: hand wash your breeches

A few weeks ago Olivia posted a hilarious How Not To about her show clothes.  And I was like, dammit, Olivia, you stole my thunder!  But honestly, it’s essentially the same way I clean my show clothes, just minus the bleach and super hot washer cycles.  So here’s the How To on getting all those crazy stains you thought were stuck in there forever out of your show clothes.


I am the messiest human on earth,
yet through the miracle of careful washing,
this shirt is still white

TL;DR Wash them by hand.

Yep, it’s really that simple.  When I lived in Kenya I would pay a local woman to do my laundry*, and of course I had brought all my grungiest, most stained shirts to the field with me because I knew I would only stain and ruin them more.  I was absolutely floored when Catherine returned my first load of laundry to me with almost all of those neck sweat and pit sweat stains totally gone.  The secret ingredient to getting your clothes really, really clean is just liberal dosing with powder detergent, elbow grease, and cracked and skinned knuckles from rubbing so hard (be careful not to get the blood from your now-destroyed hands on your now-clean clothes, though).

* Yes, it felt very weird. I’m totally capable of washing my own clothes, even without a machine.  But Catherine insisted, and I was not about to take away a source of income that I could easily give her.  Totally unrelated to this, there was a rat that liked to climb into my laundry hamper and eat my dirty underwear.  It later made a nest and had babies in a box of bubble wrap.  Such a fucking weird rat.

You will need

  • OxiClean (fragrance free is fine)
  • Detergent of your choice
  • Bucket or large bowl (a vestibule large enough for your show clothes + water + splashing)

Step 1 – Collect your dirty show clothes.

 

These breeches had actually just come out of the washer. I was shocked at how bad of a job the washer did getting absolutely any stains out. And I simultaneously realized the problem with silicone grip patches on light colored breeches — you can see the clean breech color under the silicon while the dirt surrounds them. Unacceptable.

I tend to sort my clothes by color (ish).  I don’t want any color seeping on my whites, so always wash those alone.  I also don’t want any dirt from other clothes accidentally staining my whites, somehow.  Other than that, I am indiscriminate about what gets washed where.

Step 2 – Dissolve OxiClean in the bucket.

I don’t wash or soak my stained clothes in hot water, as hot water can set stains.  But OxiClean dissolves best in hot water, so I usually dissolve the powder in some hot water, then fill the rest of the way with cool water.  How much water is the rest of the way?  Usually about 1/4 to 1/3 of the bucket.  I need space to splash around in.  I now just splash some OxiClean down in the bucket before getting started, but when I was being careful I followed the concentrations on the back of the OxiClean box for this purpose.  It is something like 1-2 tablespoons OxiClean per gallon of water.

Step 3 – Soak.

This part is easy. Put in soiled clothes.  Make sure soiled clothes are in contact with detergent solution, and jostle them around to get some dirt loose.  Weigh down soiled clothes with a plate or something.  Wait.

I use 5 gallon Home Depot or Lowes buckets that I acquired for approximately $6.  I have like five lying around.  A standard size dinner plate seems to do the job for weighing them down.

Step 4  – Change the water and scrub.

Depending on the soilage of my clothing, I will sometimes drain the water and do a second soak before starting this step.  Regardless, unless your soaking water has very little dirt in it, I tend to get rid of the old soaking water and start fresh for the scrubbing step.  I dissolve another, smaller amount of OxiClean in the bucket this time, and add in a little of my detergent of choice.  (For saddle pads or other items that would benefit from a high-agitation spin, I put them in the machine after scrubbing, so don’t add detergent.)

Then we scrub.  This isn’t rocket science.  You just need to rub the soiled parts of the clothing on other clothes or parts of clothing to lift the stains out.  I’m not sure, but it seems like stretching and pulling the fibers gently also helps to free the stains.  I find that I can usually scrub on my own knuckles and lift out any stains there, but it can be helpful to have a spare rag in the water to really attack the clothing with.  If you feel like there’s not enough soap in there, splash in some more.  Don’t expect the water to actually get really sudsy (if it is, you’ve probably used too much), but there should be some bubbles.

You might want to wear gloves for this part.  Thanks to a lifetime of abuse in the kitchen and garden, my hands aren’t particularly sensitive or beautiful.  But if you’re a hand model or something, this will not do you any favors.  The OxiClean is very drying on your hands, and it will take forever to rinse the soap off of them.

Step 5 – Rinse in cold water/machine wash.

If I am planning to machine wash the clothing in question, I just wring them out gently over the bucket and throw them straight in the washer with more OxiClean and laundry detergent.

If I’m not planning on doing that, they get several rinses with fresh cold water before I wring them out and hang dry them.  When I rinse, I use plenty of water, and take the time to really agitate my clothes in the bucket to get out any remaining suds.  I usually rinse 2-4 times to make sure they are really, really free of soap.  By the time I get to the second rinse, I will start pouring the water on hardy plants or areas of my yard that I know get a lot of additional water runoff — the detergent is pretty dilute at this point.  But the first few rinses and drains should go into the sink or shower to avoid poisoning your lawn/flowers/vegetables etc.

Step 6 – Profit Revel in your clean new breeches.

 

This method also works for saddle pads, but I tend to soak only one saddle pad at a time, and never with show clothes.  They are a bit more cumbersome, so I will also just spot soak with OxiClean — I’ll make up a batch of OxiClean and pour a little on the stain, then scrub with a little brush.  Those vegetable scrubber brushes are perfect for this — not too harsh, and not too soft.  I’ll splash on more OxiClean and let it sit before throwing the pad in the washer.

Obviously, this is a good way to get neck sweat stains out of a stock tie, rat catcher, or show shirts (especially if you can’t just throw them in the machine for some reason).  And it’s the method I use on Murray’s brushing boots, after I’ve scraped the dirt clods off with a stiff brush.

Yes, it’s more work than just throwing clothes in the washer.  But it also gets them waaaay cleaner.  Which, if you’re like me, is weirdly important at the beginning of a show or clinic.  And after washing two weeks worth of laundry at a time, sitting in the shower on a hot Sunday and wishing I was out in the field with my friends, washing a few pairs of breeches or saddle pads feels like nothing!

 

island time

I went to Hawai’i for a week.  I intended to post but then I didn’t write anything in advance, and I thought I’d write while I was there, but that didn’t happen either.  Shocking.

the milky way, several shooting stars, and a little moon aurora from partway up mauna kea
the little red glow in the bottom is the lava pool at kilauea

We went to the actual island of Hawai’i.  It was beautiful, in an unfamiliar kind of way.  The whole island is lava flows from several rather large volcanoes (as are all the Hawaiian islands), and it’s very strange to see the jutting, rocking A’a lava flows across the island.  They look like someone did a terrible job of discing a field, but of course, you can’t really disc lava.

I wish we’d had time to go to the Hawai’i botanical gardens — I’m such a plant nerd.  The plant life in Hawai’i was already amazing, so it would have been extra neat to see it all collected in one spot.  Next time.

lava tube coming out of the kilauea eruption

What we did get, before we even left, was a rather alarming wake-up call.  We stayed overnight at my in laws’ place (it was a family vacation so we were all driving to the airport together), with luscious plans to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and drive to the airport for our 7:20 flight.  At 3:15 in the morning, MIL knocked on our door and I bolted upright in bed, afraid we’d missed the wakeup call.

“You don’t need to get up right now,” she said, “but the toilet’s been overflowing for hours and the hallway is full of water. Your carpet will probably be wet.”

there are thousands of feet of waterfalls in the more heavily-forested regions of Hawai’i
this one was in a valley over from the Waipio valley

I mean, there’s no response to that really.

The house is on septic, being out in the boondoggles, and the leachfield on the side of the house where our bedroom is situated has been struggling this winter. The heavy rain and waterlogged ground just don’t drain the water from the toilet and shower away the way it should.  It was actually two plumbing problems at once that caused the issue.  Someone used the bathroom late at night and didn’t notice that the bowl was filling.  Normally this would never crest the bowl of the toilet, but the tank also malfunctioned and kept running. And running. And running.

Boyfriend’s sister got up in the middle of the night to pee and thought, at first, that she’d stepped in puppy pee.  But when she put her second foot down on the carpet she knew it was no pee spot.  When she opened the door to the hallway, an inch of standing water greeted her.

We spent from 3:15 to 4:20 mopping the hallway and drying off anything that we needed for the trip.  We still made it to the airport, and fortunately there’s nothing left of the incident but a vaguely mildewy smell that should go away soon.

Nothing like country life, amirite?

#sunrise on the peak of Mauna Kea

A post shared by Nicole Sharpe (@nicolegizelle) on

hustle

I didn’t talk about this terribly extensively last year, but I was essentially unemployed for half of the year.  My teaching assistantship ended in June, and I didn’t find a proper job after that until December, so I cobbled together my savings and tutoring income to make ends meet.  I’ve always lived a pretty skimpy lifestyle, maintaining this whole horse habit on a TA salary (it started around $1500/month after taxes).  But June-December epitomized “stretched thin” for me.

I put together an income by picking up a ton of tutoring clients, not turning down a single job that was offered to me (except that salaried one in Santa Cruz, but let’s ignore that), accepting some help from my parents and friends, and not spending money on absolutely anything that I didn’t need to.  If it wasn’t gas (to get to work), food for me or one of the animals, or rent (human or equine), it wasn’t being had.

I managed to make things work (I’m here, after all), but not without some heavy exercising of the credit card (that’s how those function though, right? use it or lose it?), an insane schedule, and — let’s face it — some serious help from my friends and family.  I regularly drove 100 miles a day, getting back and forth between all the students that wanted my attention. I lived essentially rent-free at a few peoples’ houses, put all my stuff in another friend’s barn, and nobody ever thought to kick me out or make my life difficult because things weren’t going according to plan.  I even had to let my barn owners know that I needed to pay board late a few times because paychecks were delayed for one reason or the other, and they didn’t blink.  Murray received the same excellent level of care he’d been getting all year long, and if his grain was down to one pound instead of two each day, I don’t think he noticed or cared.


considering that he spent those months almost entirely asleep…

I found out I’d be hired on for a 50% contract in early December, and this week my contract was increased to 100% while we take advantage of some grant money.  I’m earning what is considered a small salary for many, but is an absurdly lavish amount of money for me (2.1x my prior salary, but full time, if you want to know).  I have health insurance, my horse’s rent is paid, the credit card bills are almost gone, and I’ll be able to survive for a few months after the position ends while I look for a new job — even with a horse show or two in my life.  I keep up with a couple of my tutoring clients after hours and on weekends, even though it makes riding that much harder.  Every hour I struggle through with one of my students — which really is not that many, to be honest; they are mostly great kids — I think about the next bill that will get paid off, my new dressage saddle, an entry fee, or Ellie’s upcoming orthopedic surgery.  I don’t love not getting home until 8:30 to eat, but I also didn’t love not knowing if I’d have to move back in with my parentes in any given two week period.

And through all of this, I’ve been incredibly privileged. Nobody once questioned what I was doing with my life, why I didn’t just get a job or work harder, or threaten to throw me or my animals out because I wasn’t paying on time. At one point I lost my deodorant and smelled AWFUL despite upping my shower frequency, and still my friends tolerated me (as a result of this I now have sticks of deodorant squirreled away everywhere).  There are so many people who are unluckier than I am in similar circumstances.  I have parents to move back in with, who wouldn’t consider it a great burden to have me for a few extra weeks or months.

I am lucky.

I’m working three jobs right now, and I don’t regret it.  It’s not always easy, but I make it work, and I try to squeeze a private life in there on the weekends somehow.  The goal is one job — ideally a flexible one where I don’t have to sit in the office 9-5 so I can go ride in the daylight sometimes — that meets all my needs, but if I don’t have that for now, it’s fine.  I know I can make ends meet.

If you’re in that boat — keep hustling.  I will.