Monday, February 28, 2011


My horses had their teeth done this week.

Floating L

It's important to have a dentist see your horse every year. A diet of grass on the range will continually polish a wild horse's teeth, which continue to grow into their senior years. When a domesticated horse eats mostly hay and grain, ridges or "points" form along the sides of their molars. These points can lead to all kinds of health and training problems. And of course uneven molars can cause TMJ strain which is an issue with L. Her dentist was the first to actually diagnose her dysfunctional TMJ.

Polishing or filing these points is called floating.

I prefer a dentist who uses hand tools (called floats, essentially, they're files). There really is no reason for this to be an unpleasant experience for them. The horses. Not the dentists. I've seen heavy handed use of power tools draw blood and heard stories of horses being uncomfortable for days after having been floated. In 16 years now I've never had a horse show signs of discomfort for any appreciable amount of time. I'm talking minutes here.

Something about this picture strikes me as "classic".

I can't quite put my finger on why. It's almost identical to a black and white picture I took of my first horse many years ago and maybe that has something to do with it. And truth be told - I cheated, but you probably knew that. This is a recent digital image and I used Gimp to desaturate the color. I have a problem of sorts with that because the "purist" in me insists that *real* black and white pictures have to be made from black and white film.

It still doesn't have the same kind of charm that a real black and white picture has but I like it anyway.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Any day now

Mud season is coming...
19 February 2011

Things are hard for horses and horse people this time of year. I've given up on trying to maintain any real fitness or level of training. It's really all about getting to the ring and back in one piece. With both of your shoes still on.

We had a couple of nice days this week and I thought maybe L and I would have a ride this weekend. A real ride. I can hardly remember the last time we had a real ride!

But it's getting messy.
26 February 2011
Very messy.

But my spirits will start to lift in a couple more days anyway. It's going to be March. "Meteorological Spring". The trees are tapped and any day now the sap will start to run in Vermont. The next snow might be the last of the season. It is *really* messy out but it would be very *very* unusual for it to go below 0 again this season. Good reason to celebrate!

There's that and Friday, the 25th of February, I ran my first mile. Ever. It looks like I'm taking up running. I know I know, yes, it's shocking. There's a story there. Maybe I'll tell it sometime.

It was a good way to start the weekend.

One of my most favorite things is duck!

Seared Duck Breast with Pomegranate Blackberry Glaze

It's easy to pan sear a duck breast. I use a cast iron griddle.

Start by preparing pomegranate syrup. Put some pomegranate juice, maybe a cup, in a saucepan. Add a tablespoon of champagne vinegar. Boil it until it's reduced to a thickened syrup. Along the way add a squeeze of honey to it. Be careful it's going to foam with honey in it and it is hot. When it's thickened and coats a spoon easily put some blackberries in it and take it off the heat.

Preheat an oven to 450.

Heat the cast iron griddle real hot. Score the duck skin with a sharp knife, just open the skin up, cross wise, on about a half inch spacing. Don't use any oil on either the duck breast or the griddle. Give each side a tiny pinch of salt and some cracked pepper. Lay the duck breast on the griddle, skin side down. Turn down the heat if you have to - it's going to make some smoke.

Let the duck breast go that way for about 5 or 5 1/2 minutes.

Turn it over and put it in the oven. Turn the heat down to around 400. There's going to be a lot of duck fat and there's going to be some smoke. Keeping the smoke down while keeping things hot enough can be the biggest challenge in a household kitchen. It's bad enough when you cook something this way for a minute or two but your duck breast is will be in the oven for 6 or 8 minutes. If it gets out of hand just take it from the oven and put it on a cold burner for a minute.

I like a medium rare duck breast and I take it from the oven after 6 minutes and let it rest. If you have a meat thermometer you want your duck breast around 120 to 125 degrees. If you like it done a little more let it go up to 8 minutes. I can't imagine it being in there more than 8 minutes. Of course after you do this a few times you'll have a feel for it and duck breast "plumps up" when you cook it. You might be thinking "I'm going to leave this (thin) little breast in the oven for 6 minutes?!" but you'll be amazed when that think little breast comes out of the oven 2 inches thick.

About a minute and a half before you remove your duck breast from the oven, spoon some of the pomegranate syrup over it and let it glaze.

Let it rest and slice it. I like to serve it on a bed of shredded lettuce with some finely chopped red onions and chili peppers. I spoon the rest of the pomegranate glaze and blackberries over the breast slices. Minnesota Wild Rice is perfect with duck. My wine of choice with duck is pinot noir.

Here. Take a closer look!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Natural aids

This was the very first time we did this:

September 2007

We do this now and then and I swear it's the most fun ever!

We're not just showing off. This exercise helps us bond and builds our confidence. I think when you do it right, as far as they're concerned, they're just "hanging out with the herd". And in her world "hanging out with the herd" is just the greatest thing.

This exercise helps me with my balance and helps me be less dependent on my hands. I work on that *all* the time. Is there a better way to learn to depend less on artificial aids?

Best Horse Ever

Working without artificial aids helps me think more about the whole business of "the aids". There's a story behind this picture here.

L has been messing with me lately. It's rather funny, but still. Even though she's only 15.1 hands I can't mount bareback from the ground. I need a mounting block.

I lead her out to the block and she'll march right over and stand there like a statue. I'll do this and I'll do that. I'll fix her reins and step up one step. Fine. I'll step up another step and...fine. As soon as I gather the reins and grab a handful of mane? She'll step away. She doesn't just step away. She steps away to just about an inch out of reach. And if anyone is watching she'll turn and give them a two eyed look. Like she's saying "you see that? I'm messing with him".

So my trainer says this has to stop and I have to fix it. We're lucky to have her because in reality I'm a slob. So we're going to do mounting block exercises and, as soon she hands me a whip I tell her. L is not going to mess with me. I know. She's not going to mess with me. Yes she will. No she won't. Yes she will. No she won't. Well go do it anyway.

And she didn't mess with me. We all laughed like a bunch of fools.

You know why she didn't mess with me? Why I knew she wouldn't mess with me? Because I was ready to be messed with and she knew it. She will not mess with me when she knows I'm ready to be messed with. It's that simple.

Which brings me to back to "being on the aids". I'm sure I've said this before. L will not mess with me when she's on the aids and I keep her on the aids. When she's light in my hands and she's flexing and supple and listening to my legs she's going to be right there every step and she'll be just as happy as she can be. And that's not just for the arena. That goes when we trail ride too. She's not even going to think about snatching up a mouthful of grass when she's on the aids.

It's challenging sometimes because I tend to be a little sloppy by nature.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Have some hummus!

I love hummus.

Which is a funny odd thing. Because I just *hate* chickpeas.

I like middle eastern and Mediterranean food so I tried some hummus. I liked it! I like Cedar's best and I like their Garden Vegetable best.

Making my own was the next logical step!

Garlic and Dill Hummus

I used canned chickpeas and they were good but I'm really cheap and I thought they were kind of expensive. And I only use a half a can or so and what do I do with the rest of them? There's that and I read that fixing your own chickpeas makes really good hummus, so I started fixing my own chickpeas.

You need tahini for hummus. Tahini is easy to make. I toast a jar (about 1/2 cup?) of sesame seeds in a 250 degree oven for about 10 or 12 minutes. They scorch easily and they get really bitter when they scorch. So don't let them scorch! Then put them in a food processor with a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil drizzled in while you whir them for for a couple of minutes. You really need a food processor for this there's no other way. Tahini keeps for a couple of months in the refrigerator.

My hummus recipe:
  • 1 cup chickpeas
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • some lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon tahini. Maybe a little more. Taste it.
  • pinch of salt
  • liquid from the chickpeas
Put all the ingredients except the chickpea liquid in a food processor and whir them together. Add the liquid from the chickpeas until it reaches the texture and consistency you like. It takes maybe a tablespoon or so. You'll want to whir this for maybe 3 or 4 minutes and I find the higher speeds make a nicer (smoother) hummus. This is all about what you like, so experiment with it. And it's not the end of the world if you mess it up.

Add some herbs. Garlic is a good choice. With some cilantro or dill. Maybe some roasted garlic. Or roasted peppers. Or roasted tomato. I like to add some chopped chili pepper too. JalapeƱo or serrano depending on what kind of mood I'm in.

Fixing chickpeas: Soak them overnight, then gently boil them for 2 hours in some fresh water. Now, I accidentally found out, having been distracted one day, that gently boiling them for 3 hours makes a most awesome hummus, so I always do them for 3 hours. By the way, your chickpeas are probably going to double at least when you fix them so, for a cup of prepared chickpeas use a half cup of dried chickpeas.

I like to dip whole wheat mini pita wedges in hummus and chianti goes really well with it! And I still can't quite make that Garden Vegetable hummus like Cedar's can!

This is a favorite side dish to have with my hummus:

Israeli Couscous Salad

Really does that look irresistible or what!

This is inspired by a trip through the local Whole Foods Market prepared foods section. I winged it and it's delicious.

Israeli couscous salad:
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt
Gently boil the couscous in the chicken broth for 10 minutes. Fluff it and set it aside to cool.

Add the salt, vinegar and olive oil to the couscous and chill it.

Immediately before serving, combine and mix the other ingredients with the chilled couscous. I love cilantro but you can just as easily use some green onions in this instead. I put chili peppers on this too. I like the way the cranberries balance the vinegar and then you add a little heat and it's *delicious*.

Because of the all the snow the neighboring deer are under a lot of pressure this winter. Right across the river here is several hundred acres of conservation land. I knew that was important but I didn't realize how important. Having seen developers build *hundreds* of homes around here in the past 20 years I'm sure they would have built across the river if they could.

Here's a herd of deer out on the frozen river at 10:00 am.

12 February 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Senior Citizens

Our Seniors. Some of L's barn mates. Every one of these horses is well into their 20s. I think the little Shetland Pony on the far left is in her 30s. Maybe the little mini in the middle too:

I love old horses. They really don't know they're old. They go out and spin and buck and run like 2 year olds. They just don't do it as long as the 2 years old do. And chances are they're going to spend the rest of the afternoon standing there thinking "ow ow ow". But they still have the spirit.

Take this guy.

He's a lovely Andalusian cross. He still has some bounce left in him. He was a little gimpy coming out of the barn and he's probably going to regret this vigorous little trot in the snow. But he's happy and he just can't help himself. I think he sets a fine example.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Equine TMJ

Have you all noticed we use a bitless bridle?

That's not because I'm heavy handed. Although my hands aren't as light as I'd like them to be. L has dysfunctional TMJ. Equine dysfunctional TMJ is rare. It's most likely the result of trauma. It's hard to say how or when or exactly what happened but we'd had some challenging bitting issues and, I think it was late in 2005, I noticed a prominent clicking sound she'd make when she was eating.

Here, turn the sound up and listen:

She'd taken on a fondness for leaning on the bit. There was no apparent discomfort and she didn't appear to be in pain. She leaned on the bit something awful. I couldn't keep her from doing that to save my life and things just weren't working for us. It was very frustrating.

She was diagnosed and treated in 2006. Basically you treat equine TMJ problems with either massage or chiropractic treatment. Chiropractic treatment was preferred for her and I've had the chiropractor visit her monthly since. Often enough she's just fine and she doesn't need treatment every with every visit. I have him come anyway just to assure me she's fine if nothing else. Besides, sometimes something else needs adjusting anyway. And he fixed my wrenched elbow once too.

And I did some research. I was sure I just had to use the lightest touch with the right bit. There isn't very much information out there, at least there wasn't at the time and what I found was discouraging. What I learned was the more the way bit is supposed to work, no matter its design, the more stressful it will be on a horse with TMJ problems. And of course, not every TMJ "problem" is the same. But the fact is her just holding a bit in her mouth is a problem and she'll never ever go in a bit.

Product Review!

My trainer suggested we try a bitless bridle with her. So late in 2006 we tried Dr. Cook's bitless bridle.

It's rather a shame I think Dr. Cook comes off as such a nutbag. I think his bridle is a quality product and I think his point of view is rather offputting.'s a good thing that, by late 2006, I'd learned some horse sense. I long lined L with her new bridle in a training ring just to see what she thought of it. Good thing. She pitched a perfect fit looking for her bit. For 20 minutes at least I got one hell of a workout. She tossed her head and she tried to spin and she kicked out and she just wanted no part of it.

Then, like somebody threw a switch, she settled and we've never looked back.

The next day we'd gone out and had a very nice ride in the ring. I was taught to ride mostly with my seat anyway and my hands, while they're not like I'd like them to be, aren't all that bad either. L is light and responsive going bitless. I think it's a quality bridle. If you use one you'll want to have spare cross-under straps and I find the cross-under straps do tend to flip upside down in the attachment rings and while it's harmless enough it still irritates me.

I give Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle a B. It's a quality product and it works, but I'm left interested in other products as well. Oh, and while it is a quality product I do think it's a little pricey for what it is. I think the one I have was over $120.

Oh! The rules require a bit be used for Dressage, English and Western pleasure so we can't compete in those disciplines. That's not where my passion lies anyway. One can do competitive trail and show jumping without a bit.

Edited 13 February to add: By the way, the single best thing in the world for treating equine dysfunctional TMJ is grazing. So I've read.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Sunday turned out to be a nice day! It was in the 40s and it's amazing how much snow melted.

6 February 2011

It was still a workout moving through that snow. And you can plainly see there wasn't a lot of room for stretching and warming up.

So we went easy and we kept it light. A few laps to the street and back. Just enough to stay tuned up. I don't want us forgetting how it's done! Of course you know that's more challenging for me than her.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tree Tops

Ok I admit it. Striking and dramatic. Yes, it's pretty:

3 February 2011

The parking lot where I work at lunchtime. That is just plain crazy!

This time of year I'm usually thinking "Phoenix". I've never been to Phoenix. But I think I'd probably like it. Everything is hard this time of year. New England on the Fourth of July is just about as beautiful a place as there is anywhere but on the fourth of February? I think I'd rather live in Death Valley.

Hopefully it will be Spring before we know it. And this stuff will be a distant memory!

Boston Baked Beans!

The single most important ingredient for Boston Baked Beans is...

A Beanpot

It's cracked. It's been cracked a very a long time and doesn't matter much. I think I've had that beanpot for almost 25 years now. I have another one that's older. It does a good job but it doesn't really have handles. So I like this one. I've tried "crock pots" and casserole dishes and pottery bowls and found you will not make Boston Baked Beans without a beanpot. Really. Don't even try.

If I recall correctly, this is the Durgin Park recipe verbatim:

Soak 2 pounds of navy beans overnight in plenty of water.

Boil the beans for 10 minutes with a teaspoon of baking soda. I always discard the water the beans have been soaking in and use fresh water for this, I don't know if that makes any difference. The beans will foam like crazy when they boil - be ready to scoop the foam off. I just bring the saucepan over to the sink and push the foam off into the sink with the handle of a wooden spoon. After the 3rd or 4th time you do this they stop foaming.

Mix, in a cup of hot water:
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Put 1/2 pound of diced salt pork in the bottom of a bean pot with a chopped medium yellow onion. Put the beans in and cover with the mixture. Take and put another 1/2 pound of diced salt pork over the top. Put in a 275 to 300 degree oven for 6 hours. Check them along the way and don't let them dry out - just add water to cover them, don't flood them.

Over the years I've changed that recipe.
  • One package of beans is fine, I think that's 20 ounces, you'll get 6 to 8 servings from a 20 ounce package of beans and baked beans freeze really well.
  • I use less salt, about 2 teaspoons
  • I use a lot of coarsely ground black pepper. Maybe a tablespoon.
  • I don't use sugar. You know you can freely substitute honey or maple syrup for sugar, approximately 2 to 1, right? I use maybe 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of grade B dark maple syrup instead of sugar. You can get grade B maple syrup over the web and I'm told Trader Joe's sells grade B. Don't be fooled. Grade B is the good stuff.
  • I don't use salt pork. I've always used bacon. But one time I couldn't find any bacon in the house. So I used pancetta. I've used pancetta ever since. Just about 1/4 pound, cubed, in the bottom of the pot. It's excellent!
  • I quarter a medium onion and put in the bottom of the bean pot. I love the big pieces of onion.
  • I do them in a 300+ degree oven and they're always done in about 5 hours or so.
Have brown bread with beans and hot dogs.

Or have some fish cakes with beans!
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