27

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Happy 27th birthday to my equine heart and soul. A friend commented earlier today on Facebook, describing her as “the littlest horse with the biggest heart” and I can’t think of a more apt description. She’s set a high bar for unicorn ponies, and as far as I’m concerned, there will never be another one like her.

 

Destructo-Pony strikes again. She probably would have preferred cake for her birthday, rather than a new fly sheet. Then again, it *is* something else to try to destroy…

(27 years old, and still finding new and creative ways to wreck, well…everything. No fly mask, sheet, blanket, hay bag, tail bag, or anything on or around her body is safe from her destructive powers.)

Habit

21 days to form a habit, or so the adage goes. Newer research suggests it can be anywhere from two weeks to eight months to form a new habit.

And how quickly do we lose them?

Right now, I feel like I’ve lost some of my habits. Somewhere along the way, I’ve fallen out of the habit of many things I used to do. Running. Writing. At this point, even riding. And once you fall out of the habit of doing something, and you look back on it, it makes you wonder, “How did I do that?”

How did I run a 50k ultramarathon three years ago, and now after 1/8th of a mile down the canal path, I’m gasping for breath? Sure, I can blame hurting my ankle back in December and it still not being 100% right, but the truth is, I fell off the fitness bandwagon last summer, and have yet to find sufficient motivation to climb back on it again. I need to — I’m out of shape, feel like a squishy marshmallow, and have some extra pounds that have decided to creep up on me that really need to go. I also need to get creative, since the gyms are all still closed, and part of why I stopped going last year was to save $$$ on membership costs. I did add 1/4-mile jog to the daily dog walk routine yesterday, and ugh. It’s like starting back at the beginning. But it’s something, right?

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3 years (and about 20 pounds) ago. While I don’t have much desire to make a grab for the ultra-distances again, I did enjoy the cross-training I incorporated and want to get back to that.

General fitness work…that, I need to get creative, since gyms are closed and Amazon is currently out of stock of all free weights. I’ve started doing a “plank a day” and adding time every day…and my abs and core are laughing at me. Not for the first time do I wish people held fitness as well as horses do.

While backing up some computer files the other day, I got to browsing through and opening up some of my creative writing files. I used to creative write all the time, especially during college and my stint in court reporting school. Why write term papers when you can write creative fiction? I was in such a habit of it, I never realized how prolific I was. Of course, my major failing as a writer? I have a hard time actually finishing things. The vast majority of my writing projects are unfinished…some just need a chapter or two tacked on, others are half-started ideas. It’s always been for fun, not publication, an exercise for my creative brain cells, and often times, good therapy, since there’s no law about creating fictional representations of annoyances and subsequently beating the crap out of them on paper.

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All of my creative writing projects from 2005 onward live on this drive (and a couple of other back-up places)

But while the ideas are still there in my head, and sometimes scribbled down in one of my never-ending ideas notebooks…I don’t remember the last time I sat down to a keyboard and a blank Word doc and actually wrote. (Creative fiction, not blogging or a work article/project.) And I find myself out of the habit. Words don’t come easily. Characters who once lived in my head feel like strangers. I get caught up on the minutiae and technicalities of writing versus just letting the story come. I feel self-conscious and self-judgmental. (Why??? If I have no intention of publishing, why can’t my brain just switch off and let me write for myself?) Or I can’t be bothered to try to put words on a page, because I have a story playing out in my head, and I can’t translate what’s visually playing out in my head as cleanly into words as I would like. So I let my writing habit fall by the wayside. Although I do still find myself scribbling down random ideas…so there’s still hope…

And riding. How do you admit that you’re out of the habit of the one thing that has been a constant in your life for the past 27 years? Or that you’re losing heart for the one habit that has pretty much defined your life? Obviously in the immediate here-and-now, with rides shut down and no signs of getting back to “normal” on the horizon any time soon, it’s of little to no consequence. But the future? I don’t know what the future holds.

This has been another slow, downward spiral. It started last year after Flash got hurt. I wasn’t there, I had nothing to do with it…but having my favorite horse taken out of commission really knocked the wind out of my sails. Maybe it was dumb on my part to get so attached to a catch ride horse who isn’t mine, but my heart doesn’t always obey logic, and I connected and bonded with that horse from the first moment I interacted with him. He raised the bar to a whole new level for me, where it isn’t even fair to the other horses I’ve catch ridden to try to compare. Even though I’ve ridden him fewer than a dozen times all told, he changed the face of endurance for me.

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It’s been a year since he got hurt, and was at the vet clinic only 2 miles away from me for a couple weeks as part of his recovery time. I loved my daily visits with him, and how much he loves smooches and selfies.

The inglorious end to my winter 100-mile plans struck another blow. Not only was it yet another case of plans going awry, this time I also felt like a major failure. Pretty sure part of the deal of catch-riding your friend’s pony doesn’t entail breaking your friend’s pony. :/ Was it a pre-existing situation and something he had brewing for a while? Yes, most likely. But whatever the case, it was ultimately caught up to him on my watch, which still makes me feel guilty, and I can’t help but armchair quarterback myself and wonder what I missed along the way, where I went wrong, what could I have done different. I had been feeling pretty dang good about the whole endurance thing, felt like I had finally grasped the elusive art of pacing, was getting my ducks in a row, might actually have a shot at cracking my 1,000 endurance miles milestone…ah, nope.

Since then, I’ve made no real attempts to try to ride. Excitement flared briefly after winning a raffle entry to the Barefoot in NM ride, and the offer of the ride manager’s super-experienced horse to take me through…but that ride was supposed to happen in April, which it obviously didn’t.

And finally, even almost-27-yr-old Mimi decided to get in on the “fun.” Sometime back in March, probably when I was gone at Convention, she whacked a front leg on something. Who knows what. Wouldn’t be the first time. End of March, I noticed a hard lump on the outside of her right front leg that she was flinchy to hard palpation on, and was off at the trot under saddle and in-hand.

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That wasn’t there before…

The area corresponded roughly to where the splint bones are, but I wasn’t sure if they went down quite that low. Fortunately the vet was scheduled to be out for spring shots within the following days, and she took at look at it, declared it to be a “remodeling splint” that wasn’t impinging on any ligaments or tendon area, and that it would just take time.

So I’ve done one 5-minute bareback meander on her for the past two months. Last weekend, we took a couple-mile hand walk around the barn neighborhood, where she proceeded to still be an utterly hilarious pain-in-the-butt who still thinks she can drag me around like the pipsqueak 11-yr-old I used to be. Spoiler alert: She can’t since I now have the power of height, weight, the correct application of physics and leverage, and most importantly, a rope halter, to my benefit. But it’s still funny to see her try, and her sassiness and attitude makes my heart happy. She owes me nothing, and has well-earned a life of ultimately being a happy pasture pony if that’s what she needs.

She’s also happily trashing fly sheets, since we are two weeks into the season with this year’s sheet and it’s already looking tattered. This doesn’t bode well for its survival for the entirety of the summer. I think I will start a betting pool for how long it actually lasts…

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She’s unamused by unicorns, apparently.

Combine all of that, though, and I’m just not feeling all that motivated at the moment to seek out saddle time. Which is a bit weird when so much of my life has revolved around and been defined by horses for so many years. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just feeling a bit burned out. Or at least tired of trying so hard and fighting so hard and feeling like I’m getting nowhere. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Horses, and endurance, are not for the faint of heart.

On the flip side, there is one habit I’ve apparently picked up: my succulent obsession habit. I’ve added “a few” new additions since my post on the subject last month, and I’m a wee bit obsessed with tending my plant babies right now. Which is really ironic, because succulents tend to thrive on benign neglect, so they’re probably feeling a bit suffocated with me hovering around, waiting for them to dry out and show signs of “water, please!” (Pretty sure I’ve killed my past batches with love via over-watering, so to that end, I now have a moisture probe, an the watering bottle doesn’t come out until that needle is hard-pegged on “dry” and the plants are looking wrinkly.) The biggest challenge will be getting them through the hot summer months, especially as the evenings heat up, and I have way too many of them to bring them inside the air conditioning. I may have to get creative with ice packs…

I know what I’m feeling right now is a rough patch, the culmination of things that have been building over time and finally coming to a head, in a time when everything is weird. This isn’t the first time my motivation has ebbed or that I’ve found myself frustrated and asking “why?” in regards to my equine sport of choice. I also tend to fling myself at projects, ideas, and tasks with a bit of wild abandon, putting a lot of time and energy, both physical and emotional, into them (see: “How many plants can Ashley buy in the span of three months?”), so it doesn’t entirely surprise me that eventually I would start feeling some effects of burnout along the way.

Right now, I don’t have any answers, just the thoughts that were swirling around in my head during this morning’s walk. But I do have plant seeds in the mail and on their way to me…after managing to sprout three adenium and a dozen lithops, I’ve decided to try my hand at raising echeveria from seeds. Because apparently my brain still needs a project, even if it’s not one of my “usual” habits.

Disgusted

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Mare Faces need no words to still make their point

The first triple-digit temperatures are looming this upcoming weekend, the mosquitoes are using me as an all-you-can-eat buffet line, and the flies are out. Which means it’s time to bust out the new annual fly sheet, aka “embarrass the pony” time.

Her face really says it all. Never mind that she doesn’t hate it enough to try to actively remove it, and that last year, the wide bellyband kept her midline from getting its usual seasonal bug attack and subsequent itch-mania, and also kept her from having to get bathed in a gallon of fly spray every day. But she remains totally unimpressed with my silly antics.

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It’s not quite as flappy and ridiculous as last year’s edition.

I liked the one I got last year (even though it only survived the one season, and quite frankly, “survived” is a loose term…that thing was toast and went straight to the garbage bin after cooler weather hit, since I’m pretty sure there were more holes than actual fabric involved by the end) but admittedly it wasn’t the most durable thing, and the sizing was also awkward, hanging down past her knees.

Sizing Mimi for blankets has always been tricky. When she was younger, 70″ blanket, no problem. And then we found distance riding and she widened out to approximately that of a 55-gallon drum, and all of a sudden, her butt end was sticking out of the back of her blankets. But 72″ is a bit too big. As above, there’s some extra there (72″), but historically, every time I’ve tried to go back down to a 69″/70″ (Euro or stock cut, depending on the blanket), it’s been too small. <sigh> This pony. Never easy, even at almost-27.

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unicorn print for the unicorn pony

Anyway, I had won a Riding Warehouse gift card at the AERC Convention, so this ended up being a good use for that. It’s one of the Saxon models, and it was half the price of the one I got last year, so if when she trashes it, it will be slightly less tragic. For all the different choices in fly sheets they offer, I had a couple of specific things I was looking for that narrowed down the selection: it has to have a wide bellyband (for the aforementioned midline itch), and ideally would like a neck cover, because it helps keep her from rubbing out her mane when she sticks her head through the stall panels to grab every last scrap of hay.

So we’ll see how long this one lasts…and how disgusted she remains with me for imposing yet another sartorial indignity upon her.

Succulent Gardening

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In my last post, I briefly mentioned I’ve taken up succulent gardening this spring. What turned into a side dabble quickly took on a life of its own as I delved deeper and deeper into the world of succulent varieties, and in more recent weeks, has proven to be a happy little sanctuary and positive focus for my brain as times get crazier and crazier, and I’ve even been able to get a lot of these little guys through mail order.

I’ve harbored a low-grade interest in succulents for years. They’ve fascinated me, the different colors, forms, and varieties, and I’ve experimented with trying to grow them here and there, with minimal degrees of success, mostly due to our largely inhospitable summers around Phoenix and the fact that most plants don’t like to be cooked.

I started my first succulents over 20 years ago, when my parents were putting our backyard pond in, and I wanted something to call “my own” in the yard…so I ended up with a little pot of a mixed variety of succulents, and one tiny standalone pot containing a teeny little “ponytail palm.” And 20 years later, that palm is still around, as is one of the original selections — a haworthia that has since produced 3 full pots of propagated offshoots, and dozens more random ones.

Last spring, a family trip to one of the Phoenix garden nurseries netted another round of succulent buying. By the end of the summer, I hadn’t had the best of luck with my selections all making it through, but I had a small pot with a few different varieties that had survived.

What I started with last summer, around Memorial Day

Winter 2019-2020 start

Late 2019/Early 2020: What survived. The only thing that survived from the original selections above is the few scraps of crassula/jade plant (bright green). The silvery-blue and the small spiky green got added in later in the summer. This is what I started the year with.

This spring, my parents gave me an adorable “Donkey Tail” sedum for Valentine’s Day.

Sedum morganianum -- Donkey's Tail

Sedum morganianum — Donkey’s Tail

This adorable plant really perked me up — I was still in a funk regarding endurance, and a funny little cheerful plant was exactly what I needed. Looking up info about it sent me spiraling down a rabbit-hole of interesting and unusual succulent varieties, and the next thing I knew, my mom and I were packing into my truck and hopping over to one of our local nurseries for a bit of combination garden and retail therapy. (Which also involved the addition of a very unique Australian Finger Lime tree to the yard as well.)

That trip netted me one of my favorites in my collection, a “string of dolphins.”

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Senecio peregrinus — String of Dolphins

As I briefly mentioned in covering my trip to Florida for the AERC convention, I love the ocean, and I love marine life. Little known fact: In elementary school, I wanted to be a marine biologist. In 5th grade, I was even part of the school’s “Oceanography” club. Unfortunately for me, I have a rather strong aversion to going underwater, so that kind of derailed that idea.

Anyway, moving on…since that trip, it’s turned into a spring of succulent collecting, to where I have the entire garden cart shelf at the top pic of this post pretty much totally filled, and another smaller pot as the centerpiece of the patio table.

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I’ve had very good luck with two local nurseries — Summer Winds and Whitfill, for anyone in the East Valley area. I’ve also snagged a couple from Trader Joe’s, of all places — they usually have a display of mixed succulent/cactus varieties in the late spring/early summer.

Online, my sources have been:

Mountain Crest Gardens
Succulents Box
Leaf & Clay

I’ve ordered the most from MCG, but have multiple plants from each source, and have thus far been very happy with all of them. All of them have sent healthy plants, have been packaged well (I think MCG wins for the best packaging jobs, though), everything has survived shipping, turnaround has been quick, and all have a good variety and selection.

I’m not an expert — I pick stuff out based on the highly scientific “oh, that’s pretty!” or “oh, look how funky that one is!” methods. As a rule, I avoid anything that’s a hardcore spiky cactus (I have one spiky cactus, and it lives over by the fishpond, completely out of anyone’s travel path), mostly because I hate picking cactus spines out of my clothing/skin. Some of these, I have no idea how they’ll survive the summer. I’m hoping because I got them in much earlier this year, they’ll have several months to establish themselves before the hot weather really hits.

This is my current line-up as of the end of March 2020, put together mostly as a reference for myself and a reminder of what exactly I’ve got out in my garden. There’s a few mystery varieties in there as well, so if anyone knows specifics, please let me know!

Hope everyone enjoyed my little detour away from all things equine-related, and a peek at one non-horsey element of my life. I’ll update later this summer as to what has survived/thrived…as well as what other new additions may have shown up.

2020 AERC Convention

Has anyone checked the receipt to see if the year 2020 is eligible for a 90-day return? Or any kind of extended warranty policy? Because if so, I’d like to get in line for that, thanks.

I’m glad that Convention happened before all of the Covid-19 stuff really hit the fan. I am already a work-from-home introvert with anti-social tendencies, so was well-set in that regard. However, I am practicing a lot of Social MEDIA Distancing, and have done a thorough “Marie Kondo’ing” of my Facebook feed in order to retain a little bit of joy, sanity, and sensibility in the current climate, and to still be talking to people on the other side of all of this. I can’t get rid of social media entirely, since that is a large part of my job, but I can take steps to protect my own mental well-being. In the meantime, I’ve developed a bit of an addiction to succulent gardening. When people annoy me, I go play with my plants.

I also haven’t felt much like blogging. Since Tonto Twist and the catastrophic implosion of my plans/goals for the endurance season, I’ve been having a hard time mustering up my fairly typical optimism and good cheer, and my endurance mojo had flat out left the building. I had been feeling sorry for myself and throwing a self pity party over my bad luck with endurance, and my seemingly constant uphill struggles to make any kind of significant achievement or progress in this sport. In addition, major drama, upheaval, conflict, and pettiness happening in the sport and in my own state left me waffling between heartsick and angry.

Leading up to Convention, I felt stressed and frazzled, second-guessing my plans and prep for my trade show display, wishing as always that I had come up with something “cleverer” or more unique, or that I was a better graphic designer, or that I had thought of some of my last-minute ideas earlier when I still had time to implement them…you get the picture. All of that added up to that basically, until my butt was actually on the airplane seat, I hadn’t been all that excited about it. However, it ended up being a really, really good time, and I actually wrapped up the weekend in way better spirits that I started.

And then all the CovidCrap hit the fan, derailed plans left and right and all around, and made me very glad that for years now, we’ve already bought our toilet paper in bulk.

Anyway, before too much time passes, I figured I had better get something posted (and still gotta keep that “post a month streak alive…”) about Convention. As I mentioned, I am really glad I had that time, and crammed in some really fun activities and good memories to sustain me with so much of life up in the air right now.

Anyway, that wraps things up for now…hope everyone stays healthy, stays safe…and if anyone finds out anything on a refund for 2020, let me know.