Self Assessment: Foal edition

Someone asked me about foal conformation a while ago but I completely forgot until my post last week about inspections. So, for a fun Wednesday exercise, I’m going to put myself and Presto out there and give my complete and honest opinion (as unbiased as possible anyway) of what I think of him so far (not on an emotional level, cuz y’all already know where I stand on that one), as an event prospect. Plus, hey, I think it’s good to strive to see both the good and the not-so-good in our horses, it’s what helps us learn. Fair warning, your opinion may vary. I’m not a judge. I have no actual qualifications or credentials. I’ve just seen a lot of babies grow up and am really fascinated by this stuff. This is only my very humble opinion, from seeing him on a regular basis as he’s grown and developed so far. 

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The old adage with horses is “3 days, 3 months, 3 years”… the idea being that those ages are the ones that give you the best idea of what the horse will look like when it’s mature. For me personally that’s been true most of the time, but not always. Some are beautiful from day 1 and never have a bad day, others are pretty awkward for a really long time. Just kind of depends on the horse. Their bodies can do some seriously freaking weird shit along the way, just like human teenagers. So we’re gonna look at what we’ve got so far with Presto, and in 4 or 5 years hopefully we’ll find out if I was right. Just to have some kind of structure, let’s use the FEH judging sheet as our guideline.

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Type

Type is a fun one. It’s the thing that more than one judge (including Marilyn Payne) has said is THE most important thing when judging an event horse in hand, yet it’s also the thing that you’ll find the least information (and definitely least specific information) about. So what exactly is an “event horse” type? Could be anything really, I’m sure we can all spit out examples on opposite ends of the spectrum, from draft cross Covert Rights to diminutive pony cross Teddy O’Conner. But, for the sake of averages, let’s throw out the outliers and exceptions and look for what we see the most often at the upper levels. That’s generally a horse that is leggy, not too compact in length, has good length of neck, and isn’t too heavy. A horse that has an elegant, “sporty” appearance, that looks athletic and like it will be able to really cover the ground. Not so light as to be fragile, but not so heavy as to pound the ground or be unable to gallop efficiently.

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To me this is Presto’s strongest area that I’ve seen from him so far. IMO he really looks like a baby event horse (honestly he looks a ton like his sire Mighty Magic to me), with a more rangey, elegant type and a nice length of leg. As far as the “shows the appearance of refining blood” part of the judging criteria – he’s 74% and I think he looks it.

Conformation

This one is really a lot harder to judge with a foal, but I’ll give you my impressions of what I’ve observed so far with him over time. The FEH criteria have two separate sections under conformation, one for frame and one for legs/feet. Frame is looking for the general skeletal conformation of the horse, proportions, natural strength of topline, etc. Legs and feet… should be obvious. Straight legs, clean joints, good bone, feet of appropriate size, correct angles, etc.

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For “frame”, I think Presto has some strengths and some weaknesses. I like his head (although that has no actual importance IMO), and I think his neck is of good length. His shoulder is probably another one of his best qualities. I think topline is fine, at least so far, but he could have a better/stronger loin connection. He might end up being a touch long – hard to say for sure yet. I think saddle position will be good, but again I think it’s too early to really say. If you draw a triangle connecting his point of hip, point of buttock, and point of stifle, you get a pretty equilateral triangle – typical of an event horse. His point of stifle is below sheath level, indicating good stride length and possibly better jumping ability. It could be a bit lower. His LS gap and point of hip alignment are correct.

On to the legs! This one is also really hard with foals, especially if they haven’t sprouted outward in the chest yet, because many will look like they toe out at this stage. Presto’s left front is beautiful, but the right front has a bit of an outward deviation below the knee (pretty similar to Henry’s, ironically). It has improved tremendously in the past couple months since he’s gotten healthier, and I think it will continue to improve, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that deviation never goes away completely. I think it’s quite minor, though, so while I’d have to mark him down for it, it doesn’t bother me a lot at this point.

As far as his “pillar of support”, following the groove of his foreleg draw an imaginary straight line vertically. At the top it emerges well in front of the withers (indicating he won’t be inclined to be heavy on the forehand) and at the bottom it falls just behind his heel. It should fall either through the heel or slightly behind the heel to avoid being overly prone to soft tissue injuries.

I think the hind legs are good, if perhaps a touch straight, but he’s still in such a narrow phase that it’s hard to get an idea of how anything back there will end up. Overall right this second he looks really long in the pastern, but I’m going to call that a growth thing, since this is the first time he’s looked like that so far in his life.

Movement

FEH only judges the walk and the trot, so I’m going to stray from their scoresheet a little here and include canter and gallop. For w/t/c they’re really looking for something very close to a dressage horse – good elasticity, freedom of shoulder, uphill, active hind leg, etc. For gallop they want something very groundcovering and efficient and light across the ground. It’s extraordinarily difficult to find those two things existing in the same animal, but hey we’re talking gold standards here.

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To be honest I’ve had a really hard time judging Presto’s gaits so far. He is the type of foal that either stands still or gallops, with very little in between. I’ve hardly seen any trot, and most of it was just a few petering steps as he’s coming back down from canter to walk. I think he’s got some suspension there, but I’ve seen pretty much nothing else. If I had to judge his walk and trot based on what I’ve seen so far, he wouldn’t have super high scores. Maybe someday he’ll actually show me those gaits.

I’ve seen a lot of canter and gallop, though! His gallop is pretty good, although if I’m being picky it could cover a bit more ground. Kid is freaking fast, though, and he just skips across the pasture, light as a feather and nicely balanced. The canter has varied all the way from “I swear I didn’t breed a hunter” to “omg WOW”, depending on when I happen to see it. I think when he’s butt high it gets more downhill and flat, and right now he’s definitely butt high.

Either way, he is probably not going to win the dressage by merit of his gaits alone, unless he’s hiding something he just hasn’t shown me yet. His mother is a big elastic mover, so I’m hoping that this continues to develop in him.

General Impression

Let’s throw out the “behavior” part of the score sheet criteria, since it doesn’t really apply to this particular scenario. Aside from that we’re basically just looking at overall development, and “does it look like something that can be an upper level event horse”?

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general impression: already sick of my bullshit

Development wise, I’d say he’s fairly close to average for his age. The fact that he’s basically caught up to Liam, height-wise, despite all of his troubles is kind of miraculous. He’s still got a ways to go in the width and substance department though. Some days he looks quite filled out and lovely, other days he looks like a puny weed.

As far as potential, I kinda look at him and think more like 2* horse than 4*, but a) that’s what I want to see, b) I’m strongly of the opinion that a lot of what makes the difference between a real superstar horse vs a nice mid-level one are things we can’t see… heart, desire, courage. And of course scope, which I have absolutely no way to measure right now. Those are all big question marks and will be for a long time. I did not set out to create a 4* horse, so that’s not what I personally am looking for. Regardless of level, I do look at him and see event horse.

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So there you have it, my attempt to be as fair and objective about my own foal as I can possibly be. All I really know for sure is that I’m excited to see what he turns into.

Edited to add sources of conformation assessment information, by request! Highly recommend purchasing Judy Wardrope’s ebook, which can be found here: http://www.jwequine.com/books-by-judy-wardrope/equine-conformation-for-olympic-disciplines/ 

Or check out some of her free online articles (with very brief basic overviews of conformation for each sport) here: http://www.jwequine.com/article-library/

Fatty Fatty 4 x 4

Well, this is kind of embarrassing, but, um… Henry is a bit of a porker at the moment.

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maybe he’s pregnant?

I’d noticed that over the past couple months he was looking more fluffy, but I just figured that it was because we’d cut back on conditioning work for the summer. It’s not that unusual for Henry’s weight to fluctuate a little, depending on his work load. So I didn’t really think much of it, figuring that as he went back into a more normal schedule, the weight would start to come back off.

But when I showed up for my dressage lesson, and Trainer hadn’t seen him for 2 months, she said “He’s so fat! Look, he has a fat pad above his tail!! HAHAHAHAHA OH MY GOD!”. So rude. Poor Henry.

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Y U so mean???

It’s ironic that she said that on that particular day though, because when I went to get him out of his pasture before we headed over there for our lesson, I was walking up to him going “OMG he’s fat… is that a halter horse or a thoroughbred? Maybe it’s just the angle?”. Because really from certain angles he doesn’t look fat at all, but then from others, well… halter horse.

Henry is no stranger to FattyFatLand… I don’t think I’ll ever forget that very first day when I unloaded him from the trailer, pulled off his blanket, and was greeted by this:

Yes, I leaned down and checked to make sure he had boy parts. Then sent his DNA off to the Jockey Club to confirm he was a TB. No, he’s not a pregnant mare, and yes, he’s a thoroughbred. He’s just a bit of a fluff when he’s not working.

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I also found out that the weekend feeder has accidentally been giving him double rations, which I’m sure hasn’t helped. Henry was probably delighted, but I don’t think he needs THAT MUCH Triple Crown Senior (his standard ration is the lowest recommended daily amount).

It also kind of made me think about how different the ideals are for each sport. If Henry was a hunter, he’d be pretty perfect. But he’s not a hunter, he’s an event horse. He has to gallop a lot and jump solid stuff for a living, so we don’t want a lot of extra weight on him. I’d already started adding his long trots back into our repertoire, but I think it’s time to start bumping up the time. Somebody needs to lose a bit of that fat lard before fall season starts, and hey, maybe his rider will lose some too?

How I ended up on the ground in a dressage lesson 

Not gonna lie, I was getting desperate for a dressage lesson. It’s been a few months, and the last one we had was SO BAD (yes, horse, let’s pretend like you’ve never heard of contact before in your life), I’m not even sure it counts. So I was bound and determined to get one in this weekend, and wasn’t even deterred by the fact that the only time Trainer really had available was 3pm on Sunday.

Spoiler alert: this was a mistake.

I think I let myself be lulled into thinking it really wasn’t all that hot anymore, since this past week we’d had a good 10 degree drop in temperatures. What I failed to consider is that it was still in the low 90’s. With 70% humidity. And you know who’s not really acclimated to the heat anymore, since we ride so early in the morning? Me and Henry both.

I got there early so I’d have ample time to walk around the XC field and get some stretchy trot before our lesson started. Whatever was in the air yesterday was bothering us both, because we were both sounding a little bit wheezy. I’d given Henry a double dose of his allergy med before we left, but that didn’t really seem to help. Once I got him thinking forward I decided to just walk and wait for our lesson time. But we were still dying so the walking quickly morphed into standing under the trees while sweat poured freely down my face.

Trainer showed up and we got right to work, fixing our crookedness to the left (my bad), working on some sitting trot and 10m circles and shoulder-in. All was fine at first. Then we got to the canter and were doing a shallow counter canter loop down one long side, lengthen down the other side, and repeat. That was all fine (you know, when I let go and use my leg so the horse can actually move his hind end), so we took a walk break.

OMG HUGE MISTAKE.

As soon as we stopped working, my world start spinning and I wasn’t sure if I was going to pass out or throw up. I quickly slid off my horse and sat in the shade for a few minutes, head bent over. Trainer kept handing me more water bottles (please don’t die in the dressage court) and eventually I figured I felt as good as I was possibly going to feel, so I hopped back up so we could do the exercise to the left. We did it 3 times that way and finally got a proper counter canter loop, so we called it a day and I promptly went back to collapse in the shade. I loosened Henry’s girth and undid his nosebands and we both just looked at each other like “This was an idiotic idea”. The glare I got from him was well-deserved. Sorry, bud.

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a preview of next weekends torture

I think it’s safe to say that we’re done with afternoon lessons until like… October.

Gremy Update

Cats are weird, y’all. And kittens? Kittens are crazy. Next level insane. At one point in my life I knew all this, but not having had a cat for a really long time, I kind of forgot.

Gremy has settled in to her new life as a dog terrorist inside cat, and she’s starting to get a lot more comfortable in her surroundings. In the beginning she spent a lot of time clinging to us and was much more subdued. These days she most closely resembles the Tasmanian devil. What’s this bullshit I read on the internet about kittens sleeping 20 hours a day? HAHAHAHA. If that’s what’s normal, mine is broken, because she plays and plays and plays and plays for hours and then naps for like 20 minutes before she’s off and running again at full speed. Her favorite trick is to dash between your feet while you’re walking, causing you to perform acrobatics in an effort to avoid stepping on her, which tends to result in the human crashing into something. Hilaaaaarious.

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or murdering water bottles

She had her first vet appointment last weekend where she officially weighed in at 1.2lbs. She got a couple of her first shots, they did bloodwork, checked her for ringworm, did a fecal, etc. She was PISSED. I had to sacrifice another hair tie to keep her distracted (I’ve somehow lost approximately 557 hairties in the past two weeks).

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She also got her tag, so she’s officially official now. My name and number are on the back and everything.

And the SO got her a harness and leash because he’s deadset on having a cat he can walk. Of course she’s so tiny right now that even the tiniest one they had is too big, so he’ll have to revisit that endeavor once she gets a bit bigger.

The dogs are still terrified of her, which has emboldened her a bit. She is not at all shy about coming at them with a needle-filled claw if they get too close, and she quite enjoys playing with Delia’s tail. They still have a little more settling in to do before everything is seamless, but so far everyone has at least escaped unscathed and for the most part they seem satisfied to leave each other alone.

So far so good! She’s definitely in that lunatic kitten stage, but she seems to have transitioned to her new life happily enough.

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And she’s still really damn cute when she sleeps, even though those moments are getting more and more brief…

Inspections and what they mean

I got quite the kick out of one particular part of William Micklem’s last article where he shared his thoughts on breeding event horses:

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Yep, you got it, the warmblood registries were not big fans of Sam. This is specifically referring to when he was presented as a 2yo for stallion licensing, where he was rejected with the overall impression being “He is nondescript, his head is too big, he has no presence and has a funny jumping technique”. Of course, this all worked out in Sam’s favor in the end, because it set him on the path to end up with Michael Jung, but it’s funny to hear the impression that a whole lot of breeding specialists had of him (and they were not necessarily wrong at the time) when he was a young horse.

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Sam was a late bloomer, and of course even now there isn’t much about him that would immediately WOW most people. He’s fairly plain and not a particularly flashy mover or jumper. But he’s got a ton of heart and a huge desire to please, and that, more than anything else, is what has made him one of the best event horses of all time.

Sam’s story is also just one of many examples of why I personally don’t put much stock in inspection scores, especially for babies. There’s definitely a lesson in Sam’s story for all of us with foals or young horses. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a slam on the judges and inspectors at all – in most cases they are supremely well qualified, with an abundance of experience. This is just an observation of the nature of horses and how hard it can be to see their true potential.

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For dressage horses, there’s a lot you can see in a young horse. The gaits will be there at least in their raw form, although the conformation can change a bit, and of course you can’t tell what the horse’s mental capacity for the work will be. For jumpers, or especially eventers, I think it’s very very hard, even impossible, to judge the potential of a horse that young, especially if they are a late bloomer.

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After all, this scrawny runty 2yo….
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became this adult mare

I’ve been to a lot of inspections, especially foal inspections. Many people, especially new breeders, put a lot of emphasis on the scores, getting really excited about a good score or extremely disappointed with a bad one. But really, there are a lot of variables at play here. First and foremost, the judges can only give a score for what they see in those few minutes on that particular day. If the foal is in a funky stage of growth, or if they’re tense, or if they just won’t show any trot… the scores will suffer, obviously. It doesn’t mean the quality isn’t there, it just means they can’t see it. The premium foals, the ones who score the highest, are usually the well-developed, pretty ones who decide to trot around with lots of spring in their step on that particular day. Does that translate to a successful sporthorse? I mean… maybe… but not directly.

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And with jumpers and eventers, of course they don’t actually get to see the foals jump at all, since they’re so young. The judges can see the canter (if the foal stops bouncing around like Pepe LePew long enough to show some real canter, that is), which can be some indicator of power, but does the horse have the ability? The scope? The technique? The heart? The boldness? The rideability? None of that can be seen on that day, and those are the most important qualities in a jumping horse.

Foal inspections are fun and important, don’t get me wrong. It’s fun to braid, get everyone bathed, and show them off. And of course I do think it’s VERY important for the breed registries to get out there and look at what is being produced. To see the mares, see the offspring, possibly make some breeding suggestions, point out potential future stallion candidates, and see what bloodlines are working out well. That’s selective breeding at it’s finest, after all, and it’s what has made the warmblood registries so incredibly successful at producing sporthorses. It’s also a great feather in the cap of a breeder if their foals score really well.

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But am I, the average amateur who bred a horse that is destined for packing my ass around mid-level eventing, going to place a ton of emphasis on what score Presto gets at his foal inspection? No. Honestly, his probably won’t be high, and that’s ok. He’s just not the typical “premium” type. I bred him to do a job, not to get a good foal score. We’ll go out there, and he’ll probably bounce around like a cracked out monkey, and we’ll take our score, listen to the comments, thank the judges profusely for their expertise, and get his brand. Will any of that have any bearing on his future? No. He will be a gelding and a riding horse, not breeding stock.

The same theory applies for young horses classes, too. Hunter breeding, dressage breeding, future event horse… even the beginning of their career under saddle. It’s just a day in the life of that horse, not a be-all-end-all declaration of it’s future. It’s not fun to hear the negative, especially if you know the horse is better than that, but it’s all a part of the game.

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Time will tell what kind of quality we really have, just like it did with Sam. So to anyone else out there with foals, or young horses that are starting out in their show careers – if you get good scores and placings, enjoy them. If you don’t, don’t sweat it. Relish the horse you’ve got, and savor the journey you’re on. Remember, this is only the beginning. Sam wasn’t born a superstar either.

Less than 4 weeks!

You know what’s fun? Planning a trip to Europe. You know what’s even more fun? When said trip is mostly horsey. You know what’s the most fun? The fact that it’s less than 4 weeks away.

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DOKR (Deutsches Olympiade-Komitee für Reiterei, or the German Olympic Equestrian Committee), we’re coming for you!

The main reason we’re going is for Bundeschampionate, which is in Warendorf Germany from August 30-Sept 3. But of course we’re flying over a few days before, and staying a couple days after, so we have ample time to visit some farms, see some babies and stallions, and do some touristy things along the way, naturlich. This week we finalized all those other days, made an itinerary, and booked the hotels.

Day 1 will be mostly spent at a farm just outside of Brussels, looking at stallions and youngstock,

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Especially this guy, Alicante

then we’re heading north to Bruges.

Giant random red poodle in the garden? Had to book this hotel.

We definitely plan on eating our weight in waffles, but beyond that we’ll just see what looks appealing.

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what a coincidence, there’s a very highly rated waffle and ice cream shop just across the street from our hotel…

There’s also an entire museum dedicated to Pommes Frites though, which IMO that’s like a must-do. Yes, please teach me all about the history of pommes frites and then reward me with some at the end of the tour. Those are the kinds of things I really need to learn about in Europe.

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curry pommes frites

The next morning we hit the highway that runs along the coast, out of Belgium and into France, on down to the Rouen area. Here we’ll be visiting a pretty awesome pony jumper breeder

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their ponies are cooler than ours

and then staying in a small village outside of town, on the Seine. Like literally right ON IT.

Hôtel Restaurant Le Bellevue, La Bouille, Double Room, River View, Guestroom

Hôtel Restaurant Le Bellevue, La Bouille, Hotel Front

The next day we have a pretty long drive all the way across France, back across southern Belgium (with a pitstop at the Zangersheide Studfarm to look at stallions)

Zangersheide

before we finally get to our little farmhouse Airbnb in Germany, about 10 minutes from Warendorf.

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ours is the smaller house at the bottom of the pic

Funny though, it takes almost the same amount of time to drive from Rouen to Warendorf as it does for me to drive from my house to Michelle’s farm. And we’re in the same damn state.

Once we get to Warendorf we have several things on the agenda. Of course there’s Bundeschampionate itself, although we’re going to just kind of pop in and out during the preliminary days and really only plan on staying all day for the showjumping and cross country finals. 
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Luckily there is a TON of stuff within about an hour of there that we can do. There are a couple more studfarms we plan to hit, including Schockemohle and Ludger Beerbaum’s stallion station.

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twist my arm, why don’t you

Mostly these four days that we’re in Warendorf are pretty open, by design. We’ll just see where our adventures take us, and figure out what all we can fit in. I had originally mapped out several awesome tack shops, but then one of the BuCha organizers told me that the shopping is supposed to be awesome at the event, so we’ll see what kind of trouble I can get into there. Either way, these are definitely on my list of things that will be coming home with me from Europe.

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If I have any money left by the time we leave Warendorf, it’ll be a total miracle.

After being fully immersed in everything horsey for 4 straight days, we head back over to Brussels for our last afternoon and night. We both really loved the Grand Place last time we were in Brussels, so we’re going to spend our last evening binging on cheese and sausage platters and drinking framboise. Perhaps more waffles, too… let’s be real.

Hotel Résidence Le Quinze, Brussels, Single Room (Grand-Place View), Guestroom

Hotel Résidence Le Quinze, Brussels

Our hotel is literally IN the Grand Place, and we paid a little extra to have a room with a view of the Grand Place itself. Because how the hell do you beat that view?

By then we’ll probably be ready to come home, and hopefully all of our stuff will still fit in our bags. I may or may not be 10lbs heavier, both of body and of bag. I’m SUPER RIDICULOUSLY excited though, especially now that we have a really good plan and everything is booked.

And now, we wait 26 more days. But who’s counting?

 

Melting

It was 106 and 107 this past weekend in Austin. Like, degrees. In the shade. We’ve already had 20+ days over 100 this year, making this a pretty miserable summer. Granted, this is Texas… miserable summers are it’s specialty. It feels like sticking your face in an oven, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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that pre-dawn barn door vista is pretty, though

I’ve been riding at the buttcrack of dawn, so I’m rarely out in the heat of the day anymore. Of course, my morning rides, while significantly cooler at more like 78ish degrees, are usually between 90-98% humidity. Moisture, I has it in spades. I slosh my way into work every morning, put all my stuff down at my desk, and head straight to the shower. It’s just gross. Still better than riding when it’s 100+ though, at least according to Henry the heavy breather.

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Who, I’ve noticed over the past couple weeks, always seems to have a harder time breathing when the pollen count is high. Coincidentally, so do I. Austin is not a good place to live if your body has any kind of objections to pollen, or mold, or cedar, or pretty much anything that can possibly be considered an airborne allergen. This place is a Petri dish. And not just because of all the hipsters. Can anyone tell I’m really itching to be done with Texas?

But this week we’re having a “cold front”, if you can call it that. Our highs are now only in the 90’s, and the humidity is lower. Yesterday morning it was only 75 with 70% humidity, and this morning was 75 with 75% humidity. Sadly, that felt completely amazing. Henry has even been a bit wild, and spent this morning spooking at a rock, some poop, a hay bale, a fan, and a horse. For the record, he did not spook at the rabbit, the cat, or the coyote. I don’t understand Henny logic.

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No logic, only derp.

The high tomorrow is only 90, and then there are some rain chances in the forecast (omg sky moisture, I hear that’s a thing!) later in the week. Even though I know the triple digits will be back soon, this was a pretty nice mid-summer break.

Thank goodness, too, because today is opening day for our first horse trial of the fall! I was finding it really hard to be motivated to enter when I could barely peel myself out of my seat to walk out to the mailbox. Things are filled out now, though… which means it’ll probably shoot right back up into the 100’s and stay there until October, because Texas hates me back.