Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Carefully curated musings about the writing life, horses, bitterness and crushing career disappointment. Fun, right?

Archive for the category “horse care”

Welcome to the Press Tent

Normally, on this particular week of the year, I would be feeling a little like I’d been run over by a herd of rampaging wildebeest.  That’s because this is normally the day after I would have gotten home from the Rolex Kentucky CCI****, at the Horse Park in Lexington.  It’s an annual pilgrimage, except that due to other commitments (and a serious shortage of funds) I didn’t make it this year.

Not that I’m not still running on a sleep deficit and generally feeling like death warmed over … it’s just that I don’t have any unpacking to do.

I do the 10- or 11-hour trek  to Kentucky every year for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost, it’s usually because I have scraped up some assignments to write about it and/or submit photographs.  Being of a generally destitute demeanour, I’m not sure I’d go if I had to pay $30 (or whatever it is, these days) to get in the gate, but if I have a press pass, as I have had for the past 20 years or so, that makes it a smidge more affordable.

Secondly, despite the fact that going south on I75 through Ohio is one of the most stultifying stretches of driving in the world (and that includes the notoriously soporific Hwy 401 between London and Windsor, a drive I have done many, many, many, many thousands of times), it all begins to improve as you approach Cincinnatti.  The endless stretches of flat, nothing farmland give way to rolling hills and blooming redbud trees along the highway …and your snow-numbed Canadian brain goes, “Yes!  Spring!  Foliage!  Signs of life!”

It can be very refreshing to see a bit of green, a couple of weeks early.

Tragically, though, I no longer get to enjoy one of the legendary landmarks of I75 near Cincinnati:  The Big Butter Jesus (just typed “Big Bugger”, oops — my bad), aka Touchdown Jesus, who used to emerge like a 60 foot Lady of the Lake, from an artificial pond in front of the Solid Rock Church right by the interstate.  Jesus used to tell me I was just an hour and a half away from Lexington.  But that was before he was struck by lightning and went up in flames a few years ago, leaving behind only a macabre metal skeleton.

Heywood Banks explains in song:

(Ooh, had to edit to add:  Big Butter Jesus has his own blog!  Dayam!)

The third reason for going to what is always called just “Rolex” by its aficionados: I like eventing.  To me there is absolutely no piece of horseflesh more thrilling than an upper-level event horse, usually a big strapping, ridiculously fit Thoroughbred with veins busting out of his coat, eating up the ground  in a nice easy gallop and jumping humongously massive, diabolically evil things that don’t come down when you hit them, like it was child’s play.

I also like the horsemanship and the mindset of eventers. Even at the international level, they’re all pretty self-deprecating, down-to-earth folks.  They like to party and they know every square centimetre of their horse’s bodies better than they know their own. You can’t ride cross-country with a stick up your ass, which is probably why I would much rather interview eventers than dressage riders or showjumpers, any day of the week.

If there’s a downside to covering eventing, it’s that the sport is dangerous. As much as the high muckety-mucks of the game have toiled (and they have toiled, tirelessly) to improve course design, equipment, and the rules over the last few decades, shit still happens. Not often. But it happens. Horses get injured. Rarely, they get killed, usually by catastrophic injuries such as when Laine Ashker’s horse, Frodo Baggins, flipped over a fence a few years ago and broke his neck. And because, at the three- and four-star level it’s just about the most strenuous thing you can ask a horse to do, there’s the odd aortic rupture, too, resulting in a horse’s sudden death. It’s devastating, just devastating.

And yes, riders get hurt and killed too, though I confess it’s the horse injuries that trash me … perhaps because, although (contrary to the perspective of the great unwashed who have no background in eventing) you cannot force a horse to jump cross-country fences, and the ones that rise to this level do it for the sheer joy of doing it, at the same time you can never really sit a horse down and explain the risks to him. Riders go out on course knowing full well what obstacles lie before them, but the horses just go out trusting their riders. But damn, that’s also what makes it heroic.

Every time I do witness a crash, and get that horrible sick feeling in my stomach over it, I swear I’m never going to cover this sport again. I just can’t deal with the downside.

But I always end up coming back.

(As an aside, when a wreck does happen on course, and I’m not ridiculous miles away from it, I always try to make my way over there as quickly as I can.  Some of my fellow photographers on course have accused me of being ghoulish for doing so.  But honestly, I’m not ambulance-chasing.  When an accident happens and it’s something relatively serious, the announcers usually go all quiet.  The competition stops while the emergency personnel get to work, and there’s no blow-by-blow update over the loudspeaker.  The longer the silence drags on, the more ominous it all becomes.  And because I am generally writing about the event as well as taking photos, I know I will eventually have to report on what happened.  There will be an official FEI press release about it at the end of the day, but generally these are so vague as to be useless.  So I would rather see firsthand what the situation is, as much as it makes me feel ill, than have to report based on rumour and hearsay.  And I do take pictures, but I NEVER publish those.  They are for my own information only.  Just in case you were wondering.)

Now it occurred to me that some (both?) of my gentle readers might not have experienced what, to me, has become normalcy:  the slightly surreal world of the horse show press tent.  And who am I not to share my delight with the universe?

I’m sure that, depending on the sport(s) you cover, you have different levels of expectation for the facilities set up for journalists.  Those who cover Formula One racing or pro football or yachting, for example, likely get wined and dined on a regular basis, courted with swag from Nikon and Canon, and take home little sponsor’s bags full of goodies. At least that’s what we idiots who cover eventing, jealously suspect.

Equestrian sports may have a hoity-toity reputation, but the reality for horsey journalists is more about leaky wellies and muddy  jeans, plastic bags duct-taped around your camera because you forgot the fitted little raincoat at home, surviving on granola bars, coffee, and overpriced bratwurst that repeats on you all afternoon, and waddling around the back forty of a cross-country course lugging three camera bodies and six 40 kg lenses wearing every single item of clothing you brought with you because it’s suddenly -5 Celsius.

And then there’s the sunburn, the shin splints, and weighing whether you can sprint to the extremely nasty porta-loo and back with all your equipment in the three minutes between horses on course … because of course the one single horse you don’t shoot in seven hours of competition, will inevitably be the one who wins and the only one anyone wants to purchase a photo of.

Oh, the glamour!

I can see this is going to be another one of my novel-length rants, so I’m going to save the particulars of the press tent for another post in the very near future.  Meanwhile, here’s another gratuitous eventing shot.

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THREE Things I Like About Freelancing

The Number One Tip for more blog traffic, according to 1,293 (or more) blogsperts:  Include More Numbers in your blog titles.

Number Two:  Make a lot of lists.  People like lists.

Actually this isn’t news.  It’s a tried-and-true technique for magazine articles as well.  Check out any Cosmo cover.  Or Men’s Health for that matter — the magazine which has infamously been recycling exactly the same cover teasers for years on end.  

And it’s an easy, easy way to crank out an article.   I actually feel a bit guilty doing it.  Feels like cheating.

But hey, if it keeps editors happy and generates a cheque …

The whole list thing has only become more prevalent since all of us have had to learn to write for the web.  “Humans have the attention span of a horny wombat,” we’ve been told.  “They can’t read whole sentences anymore.  Give ’em the sound bite.  Give ’em point form.”

People like point form.

I don’t really buy the idea that people are incapable of reading more than 350 words in a row anymore.  If people can slog through 2500 of my words on how to buy a compact tractor (and they assure me they have, all the way to the very end) in a magazine, then I have at least 85% confidence (see, Google?  Numbers!  You have chills, don’t you.) that they can do so on the Interwebz too.

But it really doesn’t matter whether I can convince you, gentle reader.  Got to cater to the folks handing out the meagre cheques …

So both in the spirit of practising the art of the Numerical List, giving Google naughty little tremors of pleasure … and writing something a smidge less bitter and negative, here are my Top Three Things I Like About Freelancing (with apologies to Pitching the World, one of my fave bloggers, whose concept I have blatantly stolen here under the guise of imitation being the sincerest form, yadda yadda yadda).

Number One:  I Don’t Do Office Well.

Oh, believe me, I’ve tried.  Either I’m allergic to fluorescent lights, or just claustrophobic when I’m trapped in a fabric cube, but either way, nine-to-five jobs make me feel like I’ve got fire ants crawling all over my extremities and nibbling on my bits.

There are a couple of reasons for this, I think.  First, I have screwed-up circadian rhythms (or maybe mine are the ones which are normal, and everyone else is just play-acting because they want to conform and keep their jobs and their benefits more than I do).  NOT a morning person, and often at my most productive in the wee hours of the night when all those conformist drones are tucked away in their warm, soft, cozy, ever-so-inviting (mmmm) beds.  I found out long ago that I do not thrive on nine-to-five.

Second, I have absolute contempt for office weasels, a species which seems to breed indiscriminately and proliferates in cube farm habitats.  I can’t STAND that fishbowl feeling of always having a disapproving pair of eyes on the back of my neck (or on my computer screen), trying to work out what sort of subversive activities I’m up to instead of What I’m Supposed To Be Working On.

I briefly took on a gig this past summer, doing social media for a veterinary clinic with ambitions of World Domination (hey, that’s always a benign and noble goal, right?), and whence I encountered an office weasel with a whole lotta passive-aggressive going on.   To say she enjoyed making me squirm is to understate considerably.  Clearly feeling her territory as the reigning (ahem) SM goddess was being threatened, she did her best to make my life a living hell from the moment I arrived, and it didn’t take me long to decide I wasn’t being paid nearly well enough for that crap.  I left after two months, to our evident mutual satisfaction.  Ugh.

Number Two:  I Can Go To the Dentist Without Begging for Permission

As a freelancer, I don’t need to justify my time usage to anyone but myself.  I get paid by the project, not by the hour, so whether I take  10 minutes to bloody well move cards around in a game of solitaire, while my gray matter tries to generate the particular word or phrase I’m looking for, is nobody’s business.  And I can schedule the rest of the minutiae of my life without having to count my remaining sick days, invent another funeral for my grandmother (both long dead), or grovel so I can get to the damn feed store before it closes.

Now, there’s a downside to this, which is that when you work from home, everyone thinks you’re completely free to help them move, dog-sit (I have at least made it clear that I do not human-sit), or wait for their cable guy, because really you’re just sitting around with your proverbial thumbs up your ass all day, aren’t you?

The truth is that I probably work at least twice as many hours per week as most of you lucky bastards with Real Jobs.  Probably three times as many.  Seriously, I put in some crazy-ass hours.  I work until I’ve got a product I can send out the door.  I have deadlines, so it’s not like that undergrad job I had at the university library, re-filing the card catalogue (yes, a card catalogue with actual cards — we’re talking Bayeux Tapestry era, folks) and re-shelving books, where basically anything that needed to be done today, could just as easily be done tomorrow with nary a complaint from the universe or the student body.  The whole self-motivated meet-the-deadline-or-you’re-fucked thing is not something that everyone can do.  Some people apparently need those office weasels breathing down their necks.  But I’m so much happier self-motivating, I can’t even tell you.

Number Three:  It’s Compatible with My Horsey Lifestyle, Mostly

I have horses, and they live in my backyard.  This requires that I live on a farm, which makes commuting to a Real Job something of a challenge (though by no means impossible if the right opportunity were to come along, hint hint).  They require rather more care than, say, a guinea pig or a tank of tropical fish.  (Not just blowing smoke, here — I worked in a pet shop when I was a high-school brat, and cared for everything from crickets to sulphur-crested cockatoos, which are evil, nasty creatures, and saltwater lionfish with uber-poisonous pointy spines.)  As a freelancer, I can be here to change the bandages on a gimpy beast on stall rest, and I can rescue the lot of them from rotten weather that they’re standing out in, even though they’ve got a perfectly good run-in shed that they’re too stupid to use.  I can be here to hold them for the farrier or the vet I can’t afford, too.

What I do precious little of, of course, is ride.  What with working 190 hours a week, I’m lucky to carve out enough time to muck the stalls, never mind perks like riding.  But c’est la guerre … the inclination to loathe office weasels also makes me pretty intolerant of boarding stables, where sniping and snarking often are elevated to art forms and the care is rarely up to my exacting standards.  I’ve actually had some unbelievable stuff go down at boarding stables, which will no doubt become the subject of a future rant.  With my horses at home, little control-freak me is in charge of every aspect of their day-to-day management, and everyone is a whole lot happier, especially me.

There, that’s three.  That’s all I can come up with.  The Things I Rather Dislike About Freelancing List is likely to be a little bit longer.  Fair warning.

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