Monday 14 August 2017

Book Review: Dear Committee Members, Kindly Go Fuck Yourselves

Dear Readers,

I hope this missive finds you in "fighting form," rather than in the usual post-holiday sunburnt torpor, and eagerly awaiting my recommendation for your final summer read. (Ha!)  I acquiesce to the clamouring demand for my venerable opinion and with suitably false humility suggest via this LOR that you slurp up "Dear Committee Members" by Julie Schumacher as your last beach treat of the season.  It will go down as easily and quickly as a popsicle melting in the August heat.  You will find its taste more tart than sweet—definitely a tangy lime rather than a syrupy strawberry—with a bitter finish akin to licking the drips from your hand and finding they taste like acrid sunscreen and salty sweat.

This tidy tome comprises a representative sample of a year's worth of correspondence (entirely one-sided) from a tenured professor of creative writing and English at the not-subtly-but-nonetheless-aptly named Payne University, a second-tier school in the Midwest that is tottering on the threshold of tumbling into the third tier, despite its best efforts to attract students by the addition of yoga studios, climbing walls, and rampant grade inflation.

It seems trite to call our prolific letter writer curmudgeonly but the term is a perfect fit.  He is inopportunely implored to write LORs for students, faculty, and staff when they apply for jobs, grad school admissions, scholarships, and myriad other opportunities to advance their careers or avoid homelessness.  His charming quirk is that rather than say no when he cannot in good conscious write a positive recommendation, he simply writes a sardonic one.  This practice occasionally backfires on him, such as when he is eager to get rid of his department's rude and unhelpful IT specialist but his honest LORs preclude the fellow being hired away.

Not limiting himself to a cheerfully blunt assessment of his subject's shortcomings, he adds fulsome commentary on the potential employer, the job, and the remuneration offered.  When he has exhausted those topics, he launches into scathing indictments of the state of the humanities.  For anyone even tangentially affiliated with academia today, his withering denunciations will resonate.

"Sociology has gone the way of poli-sci and econ, now firmly in the clutches of rabid number crunchers who have abandoned or forgotten the link between their abstruse theoretical musings and the presence of human beings on the planet's surface."

On sending a student to mental health services: "Please offer her something more lasting and substantial than guided breathing or twenty minutes with a golden retriever."

Larded onto a LOR for a former student who wishes to enter a seminary: "Literature has served me faithfully (no pun intended) as an ersatz religion, and I would wager that the pursuit of the ineffable via aesthetics in various forms has saved as many foundering souls as a belief in god."

"Mr. Napp demonstrates all the winsome ebullience one expects these days from a young person more inclined to socialise with machines."

"Deny him this fellowship and he will undoubtedly turn his hand to something more lucrative, probably hawking illegal substances between the athletic facilities and the Pizza Barn."

"May the bump in salary allow her to avoid scurvy by adding fruit to her diet once a week."

The key to our professor's caustic snark is tenure.  He is able to say with impunity what others can only think privately or whinge about whilst nursing a beer with friends between adjunct gigs.

The one weakness in the book is its reliance on the professor's misbegotten love life as fodder for much of its humour and poignancy.  If his divorces, dalliances, and affairs had been less predictable, his epistolary musings may have been less cringe-inducing.  But the plight of the self-absorbed writer who dissolves into middle-aged bitterness and self-pity when he realises the limits of his talents has been done to death.  Of course women leave him once they see the man behind the curtain and his flagellations appear self-serving and passive-aggressive.  His attempts to make nice with his exes in an it's-all-water-under-the-bridge manner are undercut by the obvious insincerity of his apologies.

But the pleasures of the cutting sarcasm and shameless snark in his correspondence more than compensate for any shortcomings.

I will leave you with this excerpt from his response to a request to serve as department chair:

"…the upper echelons of the administration justifiably detest me; because my colleagues view me as a cantankerous pariah; and because, given my stance on several university-wide issues, I would consider the position a significant ethical and even spiritual compromise."

Your Anonymous Blogger Who Doesn't Have Tenure

Monday 7 August 2017

Tires & Testicles (Part 3)

You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.  There wasn't supposed to be a Part 3 but let's just say it bears out the truth of the expression.

This post is about the agonizing decision of whether or not to geld my Friesian stallion.  A lot of people seem to think this decision should be easy, that of course I would geld him, but it's not a simple decision at all.  It's irrevocable so it's not a decision to be made lightly or for temporary convenience, and it means giving up a significant lifelong dream and goal.

From the time I was a horse-crazy kid, I always assumed I'd have a stallion someday.   From the Black Stallion and other stories, from seeing famous horses in racing and other sports, even from collecting Breyer horse models, I saw that the most beautiful horses, the ones with the strongest bonds with their owners, the ones with presence and speed or talent or intelligence were usually stallions.

I realised it would be challenging to keep a stallion but when I became involved in the Friesian world, I saw that the performance horses at expos and demos and in competition were mostly stallions.  The first Friesian I met in person was a stallion; he was an ambassador for the breed and you could plop a toddler on his back, and I met women who had Friesian stallions as pets with no intention of ever breeding them.  I also saw Friesian stallions ridden or driven with other stallions, and with mares.  Some lived in bachelor herds or with barren or pregnant mares or gelding friends rather than being stuck alone (which is cruel for a herd animal).  Friesian stallions weren't as difficult as stallions of other breeds; their sweet temperaments made them seem as safe and tractable and easy-going as geldings of other breeds.

When I finally got my dream Friesian, thanks to the generosity of a horse-loving relative, I wanted to keep him intact for two reasons:

1) Type:  He is a baroque-style Friesian, sired with frozen semen from a long-dead baroque-style approved stallion.  I love the baroque Friesian and they are rapidly dying out because a more modern style is taking over the breed.  The breed registry (I realise this will bore Friesian people, but I am also writing for an audience that doesn't necessarily know or care about such things) is only approving modern type Friesians because that is what the market is demanding at present.  My plan was to present him at keuring and give him his chance at approval, knowing that it was unlikely due to his type, but I felt strongly that he should be given a chance.  If he was not approved, the plan was to have all of the same tests done on him that are done on approved stallions and, if he passed, to make him available to those Friesian lovers like me who don't want the baroque style to die out.  There are quite a few of us, and no stallions to breed to anymore (and few baroque mares left as well).  When I tell Friesian people this, some protest that I am wrong and send me photos of approved stallions that they call "baroque".  And this frustrates me because they are far from baroque, and have no hair anymore.  It make me heartsick to see what has happened to the breed.  So, I have felt not just a personal preference for keeping the baroque style alive but also an obligation to the breed and to other baroque style aficionados.

2) Looks: Even if he were never bred (and, just to make this doubly clear, I would never consider breeding him if he did not pass the rigorous health tests that approved stallions must undergo—I am not a general advocate of breeding to unapproved stallions and my ONLY reason for considering it is the fact that the registry has made it necessary to do so to get a baroque Friesian), only stallions have the Friesian look—the hair, the presence, the hair, the high-stepping, floating gaits, the hair.  Unlike in other breeds, you would never mistake a Friesian mare or gelding for a stallion, in person or in photos.  When horses lose the testosterone, they lose the hair.  With most breeds, you can't tell the difference but it's very obvious in Friesians.  I know many people who have Friesian stallions that they have never bred and have no intention of breeding but they keep them intact for the look.  Since Friesians are like giant Labradors, the fact that they are stallions appears not to be an issue in terms of safety and handling.

Given the above, why is there any question of gelding him at all?  Well, as Robert Burns noted so memorably, "the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley".

His height:  As I stated above, even though the registry is not approving baroque-type Friesians anymore, I have intended to give him his chance.  Colts can go to be judged starting at age 3 but they must have a minimum height of 15'3".  Silas was a good-sized foal and weanling and a normal sized yearling.  At 18 months old, he reached 14'2"….and there he has stayed.  I couldn't bring him to the keuring at 3 because he was still 14'2" and I can't bring him now at 4 because he is still 14'2".  By the time he reached age 2, I was beginning to worry about his height but thought he'd inevitably have a growth spurt soon.  When he never did, I consulted many vets, and the Fenway Foundation, and had tests done.  The collective opinion of all the experts that have examined and tested him is that it's a mystery.  His conformation and movement are not only correct, they are excellent.  He is as close to perfect as anyone could dare hope for except for looking like you left him in the dryer for too long and he shrunk.  He is not a dwarf and his hormones and everything else are normal.  It's just that people keep asking me jokingly if I got a Fell pony by mistake.  Friesians grow until they are 7 and I desperately hope he will get taller but there's no magic formula to make that happen.  If I feed him more, he just gets wider.  If he does grow, it seems unlikely he will grow enough to reach 15'3" and ever be able to be presented at keuring.  Also, I am 5'9", so my dream of riding him in costume in exhibitions is already shattered because I will look ridiculous on a pony.  I am aware that gelding increases height but, based on my research, that is only true when gelding occurs as a foal.  It's too late for gelding to increase his height now.  But this is the main reason to geld him:  Even if he is otherwise perfect, he is too small for anyone to want to breed to him and too small to be shown as a magnificent Friesian stallion.

His hormones: Until mid-March, when he was nearly 4, he lived in a big pasture with a herd of geldings.  He also had the best temperament you could ever wish for, even in a breed known for good temperaments.  The fact that he had no clue that he was a stallion made it easy to keep him as a stallion.  But that abruptly changed when the mares at his barn went in season this past spring.  Like an adolescent boy who wakes up one day with sticky sheets and a deeper voice, Silas suddenly became very interested in girls.  Since he didn't have access to them, like incarcerated men, he humped what was available: the none-too-pleased geldings.  This led to his removal from the herd and subsequent difficulty in figuring out where to put him at a stable that doesn't have the facilities to accommodate a second stallion (the owner has her own).  Like teenagers of all species, when puberty kicked in, he underwent a Jekyll & Hyde-like personality transplant.  I would now classify him as dangerous, and I won't handle him solo for my own safety.  He settles down to work, and he is NOT mean—he is still the same sweet boy under the raging hormones—but he is so excited by other horses that he can accidentally harm people.  After being so easy to lead he'd follow anyone like a lamb, you now need a whip in hand as a precaution and he rears and pulls and screams and when you finally get him in the cross-ties, he fidgets and calls and tries to bust out to get to any other horses he can see or hear.  He's not trying to be bad or evasive or hurt anyone; he is just controlled by his hormones now.  And I am not exaggerating when I say this happened almost literally overnight.

His happiness:  Silas loved living outside with the geldings.  He hated being cooped up in a stall and he hated being separated from other horses.  To some extent, it was good for him to get used to a stall and to get used to being by himself—he was too herd-bound.  But having lived with other horses all his life, he is very social.  He loved his friends (even if they didn't always love the baby who wanted to play all the time) and he loved living outdoors.  I never intended to condemn him to a stallion's life of living alone.  When he was purchased for me, I was underemployed and the arrangement of him living 250 miles from me, with my friend's geldings, was meant to be just temporary.  I intended to board him closer (and eventually have my own farm) and to have a gelding buddy for him to live with.  I also intended to handle him daily so that by the time the hormones exerted themselves and he became an obnoxious teenager, we'd have a bond and he'd respect and trust me.  As a first-time horse owner, I would not have bought an adult stallion.  But raising one from a foal would give me a chance to get to know him and acquire skills that would keep me safe by the time he grew up.  My money situation did not improve.  In fact, it got worse: my partner left me two years ago, when Silas was two, and my living expenses doubled.  A year ago, I began freelancing and my income is both insufficient for even my basic living expenses and erratic.  I also expected to be out of debt by the time Silas grew up and instead I am in more debt due to long periods of unemployment when I lived on my credit cards.  Due to severe OCD-induced procrastination and a total lack of a work ethic, I am in some respects unemployable, which limits my income potential.  So, I have never been in a position to move him closer, nor have him in regular training, nor see him often enough to build a bond or increase my confidence and skill to the point of being able to handle him now that he is an adult stallion.  If he were gelded, he could go back out in the field with his buddies, which would take the strain off my friend who is keeping him for me for free, it would make him easier and safer to handle, and make him easier to board if I ever have the money to bring him closer.  He would no longer be alone nor be driven crazy by his hormones.

Given those reasons, why is there any hesitation in gelding him now?  Well, gelding spells failure.  It means I failed to acquire the money to raise him properly—to handle him, have him trained, build a bond.  It means I have failed to help the baroque type stay alive.  It means I give up my dream of ever taking him to a keuring or ever having an announcer say that I am entering the arena to perform a musical freestyle on my Friesian stallion.  It means giving up my Friesian dream.

Finally, I fear that I have a simplistic idea that gelding him will fix all of his new temperament issues but he is still a young horse.  He will still have the attention span of a gnat with ADHD and he will take about 12 months to settle down from the gelding—by which time, with regular handling, he might have settled down anyway.  I don't want to cure a headache by decapitation.  Gelding is irrevocable.  If he grows, if he settles down, if he turns out to be magnificent—his movement and balance are remarkable and he is showing a talent for performance that is lacking in the baroque type; when asked if they'd ever approve a baroque-type again, a Dutch judge said "show me a baroque Friesian that can move like a modern one, I have no prejudice against them, they just can't do the movements with their build"—I don't want to spend the rest of my life regretting it.  I feel like I am rushing into it because I am scared to handle him right now but he will still be a bratty teenager, even when gelded.  I also feel I am rushing into it because of short-term money issues.  If I find a rich husband, I don't want to have implemented a permanent solution to a short-term problem.  It's a HUGE big deal and it violates everything I ever intended or expected about owning a Friesian.  If his hair thinned, if his temperament didn't go back to his old self, if he reached 15'3", I know I would regret it bitterly for the rest of my life.

I have sought advice from my Friesian acquaintances around the world and I have deeply appreciated their honest, heartfelt, and difficult answers.  Some of them have tried to assure me that gelding him so late means he will retain some of the hair, but there is no way to know for sure; it is a risk.  Geldings do not have comparable hair as a rule.

Finally, there is the issue of bonding.  We haven't spent enough time together to form the bond that I want to have with him but, when he was younger, he seemed to be attached to me and focused on me when I visited.  Now, he's all about other horses and pays no attention to me.  I realise every parent goes through this with their teenager.  But I feel that I am counting on gelding to bring him back to me, to make him focus on me.  That seems selfish and pathetic, and there is no guarantee that gelding will do that.  I am just counting on him being less distracted without the testosterone and that seems logical but may be wishful thinking.

Since this has all come up so suddenly since spring, I was planning to send him, as soon as I could afford it, for a few months of driving training, to buy time where he is not driving my generous friend nuts and where he would be in full-time training, learning some stallion manners.  But this is now complicated by the fact that the farm where I was intending to send him just had a devastating fire, so it is unlikely they will be in a position to train him for the foreseeable future.

So, here is what I am planning to do:  1) Get him tested for genetic diseases; 2) If he passes those tests, get him collected so I at least have some baroque semen stored if he does turn out to be worth breeding in future; 3) Then it looks like, unless something changes drastically, I will have to geld him.

Saturday 5 August 2017

Tires or Testicles (Part 2)

In April I wrote the first of two posts predicated on the maxim that if it has tires or testicles, it is going to cause you grief.  Post 1 was tires, about my car needing two unrelated expensive repairs two weeks apart.  This post was supposed to be about wrestling with the decision of whether to geld my stallion—i.e. removing the testicles to reduce the grief.  I will get to that testicle talk later, first I have other grief to recount, including on the tires side of the equation. 
Too little to ride here.
Being silly, and still too little to ride.
Bigger here, but still too little to ride.
I've been waiting four years for my little fuzzy guy to grow up enough for me to ride him.  I have had him in training for a few months now and my trainer said he was ready for me to get on him anytime.  In his training, he has always been docile, willing, as obedient as you can expect from a youngster, and accepting of each new piece of equipment or lesson.  He's never shown the slightest fear—no anxiety, no spookiness, nothing seemed to faze him.  When he colicked back in December, the vets at the hospital remarked on how amazing it was that they could do anything to him without sedation.  I got lucky with his sweet temperament.  If I could fault him for anything, it would be a short attention span (attributable to youth) and laziness.

So, I expected to sit on him gently for a few seconds, have photos taken of my Friesian grin, and post them to all the Friesian groups to receive congratulations from the Friesian peeps who have followed my Friesian dream.

That's not quite how it went.

Silas is cared for by a generous friend who knows how much he means to me and also knows I can't afford him.  She keeps him for me for free and I just pay for his food and other bills, and any training I can intermittently afford.  I've only had him in consistent training since mid-May.  I'm very lucky to have such a friend but the drawback is that she lives 250 miles away.  So, seeing Silas means a long & expensive 500 mile round-trip drive.  It breaks my heart to see him so rarely but I can only get out there once a month, if that.  I can't board him closer because I can't afford normal board rates; it's as simple as that.  Either I have a horse I see rarely or no horse, there is no other option for me unless I marry money like a Jane Austen heroine.

For the first 3 ½ years he lived in her gelding pasture with a rotating herd of her geldings and boarders.  He was happy so, whenever I missed him unbearably, I consoled myself that he had a good life, getting to be outside 24/7 and enjoying lots of friends to play with.  He wasn't stuck in a stall with limited/solo turnout.  He had a shelter in the field for inclement weather but he never used it, to the point that my friend once put some hay in there to check he wasn't afraid of it.  Nope, no fear; the weather just didn't bother him.  Nothing really bothered him.  He was sweet and easy-going.  The only problem he caused was playing in his water, which meant extra work for the barn slaves refilling it multiple times per day.  A toddler could have led him using dental floss.  Well, unless there was food—I admit the toddler would have been dragged to the food.  I felt I had won the temperament jackpot with this cute little stinker.

That all changed abruptly in mid-March.  He was rising 4 years old and when the mares in the barn went in season this past spring, he suddenly realised he was a stallion for the first time.  Like any horny teenage boy, he began humping the nearest thing that would stand still, which in his case turned out to be the geldings in his pasture.  As you might imagine, the geldings weren't as enamoured of this new game and it quickly became apparent that he could get hurt, or might inadvertently hurt them.  He had to leave his friends, but my friend did not have any place else to put him.  For awhile, she put him in the empty stall of a gelding who was turned out during the day, whilst her stallion was in the stallion paddock, then when the gelding and her stallion came in, she'd switch him to the stallion paddock for the night.  He hated being in a stall and started to act up when he was led from the stallion paddock into the barn—shaking his head and even rearing, and charging out of the stall when they went in to put his halter on.  The barn slaves began carrying a whip when they led him.  He also became vocal, calling to other horses.  He called to geldings as much as mares—I don't think he is clear on the concept; his hormones are simply driving him crazy and he was now perpetually excited about everyone and everything.  Later, my friend started putting him in the round pen during the daytime, since he hated the stall, but that is set up near the mare pasture and he tried to bust out of it when a cute little mare who was in season flirted with him.  So, he went in the stallion paddock full-time, with my friend's poor stallion getting little turnout.  Then he started taking down the boards in the stallion paddock.  They reinforced it but there is still worry about him getting out.  I have felt terrible that after living unobtrusively in a field for so long, he is now causing so much difficulty around where to keep him safely.  This would all be so much easier if he were a gelding and could just be thrown back into the pasture, but I will get to that later.

I saw him for his birthday on June 1 and, after he'd only been in training for two weeks, my trainer was able to long-line him like an old pro.  His newly difficult behaviour disappears in the ring.  Like Jekyll & Hyde, once he is in that indoor arena, away from flirting fillies, he becomes his old self again, docile and obedient and quick to learn and accept everything.  I came back a month later and long-lined him myself, which was wonderful.  I consider long-lining an important training technique but not an easy one to master.  I am far from an expert, but the fact that we did a passable job together was exciting and felt like a good start.

Yesterday, I groomed him and tacked him up with great difficulty—there was a mare in season in the stall next to where he was cross-tied and he would not stop screaming at her and dancing around.  At one point, I took him outside to hand-graze him so someone could get access to the wash stall, and he reared as we went out the door.  I'm not sure if it was because he was leaving the mare behind or because he could see more mares outside.  It was sudden, and he had never reared on me before, nor done anything worse than pull when I was leading him (usually in the direction of some appealing grass).  He caught me under the chin with a hoof as he went up.  I was shocked and upset.  He would never hurt me on purpose but I am always acutely conscious that he could hurt me accidentally.  I have a sore, bruised chin that could easily, with just a bit more force, have been a broken jaw and broken teeth.  Instead of enjoying watching him graze on a lazy warm August afternoon, I was wary, being careful where I stood in relation to him and watching him like a ticking bomb, getting his attention back swiftly with a tug on the lead rope and a sharp word every time he raised his head to look at the mares.  I didn't like not being able to relax, having to be on high alert for my own safety.

I was shaken up by that, and also by the fact that it took two people to get him ready.  I could not have done it by myself and it bothers me that I cannot handle my horse on my own.  Without someone else holding his head the whole time, he would have busted out of the cross-ties in his eagerness to go say hello to that mare (not that I blame him—she's a nice chestnut Irish Draught, but he'd need a ladder to mate with her).

But I was mollified once we started working.  He was his old self, so I decided to go ahead with the plan to try sitting on him.  I was nervous, and there were a lot of people watching.  Everyone at the barn knew that no-one was allowed to sit on him until I did so first; it was extremely important to me to be the first.  I have been waiting for his moment for four years, and I kept putting it off to let him grow and mature, and until I had the money for the preliminary groundwork training that had to precede it.

He stood calmly at the mounting block, as expected.  I leaned over him, draped like a sack of potatoes, and lifted my feet off the mounting block until he was supporting my full weight.  He didn't even flinch.  This is where things went pear-shaped.  My trainer said to drape myself over him so that she could lead him a few steps like that and I misinterpreted her command as being to swing my leg over and sit up properly.  As soon as I did that, he got scared and took off.  He was on a lunge line, so he could only go in circles around my trainer.  I gave her a minute to see if she could stop him, if we could still redeem this moment and get that Friesian grin photo.  But he was just getting more amped up and she told me to bail before he learned to buck.

Now, we were all taught as kids how to do an emergency dismount.  Something about propelling yourself away so you don't land under the moving hooves, relaxing, rolling into a ball, and landing gracefully on your feet.  But I had never parted company with a moving horse voluntarily before.  I've done so involuntarily on more occasions than I care to remember, but doing it on purpose is different.  I was trying to remember all this as my trainer was urging me to get off NOW so I just flung myself off as far away as I could.  It was not graceful; I landed on my face, not my feet.  I was not hurt, but I was spitting out dirt for the next hour, and I have a fat lip, scraped cheek, and sore ribs on the side where I landed.

My own fault entirely.  I do not blame Silas.  He lulled me into thinking he would accept me on his back as he had accepted everything else, and I am still certain he would have if I had not rushed it.  What scared him was not the weight but the height—it was me sitting up that was the problem.  I should have done the sack-of-potatoes exercise a few times, then stood on the mounting block and petted him and talked to him from above, waved my arms, gotten him used to my presence up there.  But he was always so calm, so amenable to any new thing you threw at him, and I see him so rarely, I didn't want to wait another month to try again.  I put pressure on myself because people at the barn were eager to get on him and I was delaying his training by insisting on being the first and not being able to get there to do it.  And other people were beginning to wonder why I hadn't ridden him yet when he had turned four already.  I just kept replying that I hadn't had money for training and besides he was physically immature for his age—and I am not a small person, and wouldn't be even if I weren't fat.  I also felt rushed because I was running late—I had that long drive home ahead of me, and so many people were watching expectantly.  But I should have just leaned on him and called it a day, insisted on no-one sitting on him even if I could not get back for a month or two, and just stopped making myself crazy feeling like I have to make up for lost time every brief visit.

When everyone asked me if I was ok, I replied that only my ego was bruised, and that is the most difficult injury to repair.  I feel so stupid for misinterpreting what my trainer was asking me to do, for not realising he'd be scared if I suddenly sat up on him with no warning.  As little as I am there, I have tried not to send him mixed messages or make any mistakes, or teach him bad habits, etc.  I've been worried that my startling him might have made his future training under saddle more difficult.  This incident intensified my ongoing misery of feeling like a failure as a horse mom trying to make this work long distance on no money.  He should know me and trust me by now but I don't see him often enough for him to think of me as mom and I am not confident enough in handling him and commanding him for him to trust me as an alpha leader.  I just don't have the experience because I see him so infrequently.  Yet, I remind myself I am lucky to have him at all.  A Friesian I rarely see is much, much better than no Friesian at all.  I would never sell him for any amount of money; I couldn't love him more if he were my own biological child.  But we don't have any kind of bond, and that breaks my heart.  If he knew me better, he might not have been so scared, I might have been able to redeem the situation by talking to him and getting him to calm down.

It was a nightmare, not what my long-imagined first ride on my very own Friesian was supposed to be.  I'm not the sort of person who naturally looks for the positive; I usually find it too Pollyanna-ish.  If I do look for the positive, it has to be slightly snarky & sarcastic.  So, I am gonna go with this:  Most Friesians can't balance themselves to canter with a rider at all, let alone on a small circle, until they are 6 or 7.  Ok, I'll add these, too:

1) I had the sense not to touch the reins, nor squeeze with my legs to stay on.  I held onto the strap on the front of the saddle, that's it.  I didn't attempt to pick up the other stirrup, or do anything but hang on to that strap quietly, with as little movement as possible, and wait until he calmed down.  I knew if I picked up the reins and pulled on his mouth, it would be all over.  That would have scared him more, and he would have reared or bucked or bolted and it would have set his training back years.  I made a stupid mistake in misunderstanding my trainer and sitting up on him, but at least I did not compound it by pulling on his mouth.

2) When I did in-hand work with him before our ill-fated attempt at backing, his lateral work was amazing.  He crosses both front and back legs at the slightest urging as if going sideways is as easy as going forwards.  This is not typical of Baroque-style Friesians, and I have seen advanced dressage horses of many breeds who can't or won't do lateral work like that.  So, for what it's worth, there seems to be potential there.  Next I need to see how he likes jumping.

Believe it or not, the day gets worse: About halfway to the barn that morning, the battery light on the dash had started flickering.  I didn't pay it much heed as battery was fairly new, car was running fine, and the warning lights are notoriously flaky.  On the way back, it came on steadily and was joined by the SRS light.  About halfway home, the gas and temperature gauges started to droop, the car slowed.  I stayed in the outside lane, doing about 45mph.  As the car's performance lagged, my goals shifted:  First I wanted to make it home, then I wanted to make it within 100 miles of home because that's AAA's towing coverage, finally I just wanted to make it to the Starfucks on I-84 in Danbury, CT, where I always stop, because it's open late and I could wait there for AAA.  From frequent travel on that route, I know it's exactly 110 miles from my house.  Unfortunately, the car died completely just 2 miles from the Starbucks.  I was in the outside lane but barely made it onto the shoulder—I was just over the white line and my wing mirror was in traffic.  I rang AAA.  If you've ever called for roadside assistance, you know their first question is always "Are you in a safe location?"  "No!" I replied.  They said they'd get a tow truck out right away.  I figured it was the alternator, not the battery, but just in case I asked about their battery changing service.  AAA said that ends at 7pm and it was now 8pm.  I pointed out that was asinine, that car batteries don't only die before suppertime.

About 10 minutes later, some state troopers pull in behind me.  I hate and fear cops but these guys were surprisingly nice.  They lit some flares behind me (since I couldn't turn on my hazard lights, or any lights), and they pushed my car well onto the shoulder so it wasn't so close to traffic.  But then they asked me what towing service AAA had called, warning me that AAA's national dispatch sometimes doesn't know which local towing companies are licensed to pick up on the Interstate and they had to verify this one was licensed.  Great, I thought, I may have to wait longer if the cops insist on AAA getting a different towing company.  Luckily, that turned out not to be an issue, but there was a different problem:  that towing company wouldn't tow the 112 miles to my house and AAA was having a hard time finding one that would.  They tried to persuade me to get it towed locally.  I explained to them that wouldn't do me any good.  They asked if someone could pick me up, and the car could be towed later, or if I could stay in a hotel or rent a car.  I was flabbergasted.  Of course no-one could pick me up, nor could I afford a hotel or rental car.  Even if I could, how would that help with my car?  I'm not going to trust it to some random mechanic in Outer Bumblefuck, CT, nor did I have time to drive back in a rental car on Monday to get it.  No-one would be available to work on it over the weekend anywhere I left it.  This was bullshit; I needed to get home asap, and get it to my Volvo specialist mechanic on Monday.

After an hour and a half, AAA finally found a company that would take the job.  The cops had left but they came back about 45 minutes later.  This was useful because it was now pitch black and they used their floodlights whilst the tow guy loaded the car on the flatbed.  He bitched about how my car didn't have a good place to attach the chains and he was having difficulty getting it on the truck.  He asked me to work some levers whilst he moved the chain around, which I thought was odd, but I was happy to oblige and just get the fuck on with it.  I was aching, miserable, exhausted, dehydrated, covered in dirt, and desperate to get home for a shower, dinner, and to decompress and try to process everything.  I was also terrified of driving in the truck with a random stranger.  I spent the time I was waiting for the tow truck, as darkness fell, wondering if he would be a serial killer or a rapist and planning what I should do:  Keep phone in hand, keep passenger side door unlocked, etc.  So, I was relieved when he said he had his fiancĂ© in the truck with him.  He said it would be a little tight but he'd brought her along to help him stay awake on the drive back.

Even though I am introverted, misanthropic, and sometimes anti-social, I find that I am more capable than most normal people of making conversation when necessary because I never run out of questions to ask people.  I asked them all about their wedding next Saturday—the venue, the food, the cake, the dress, the music, etc., congratulated them, asked them how they met, about their jobs, where they're from, what their ambitions are.  But it didn't distract the driver from ranting the whole way (and we got caught in two construction-related traffic jams, one in Waterbury, one in Hartford) about how he hadn't wanted to take this fucking job, he'd told his boss no, this was a huge pain in the ass, he didn't want to make this long fucking drive, etc.  I curse like a sailor, but I sound like a nun compared to this guy.

To top it off, any extra mileage above 100 miles has to be paid directly to the towing company and he would only take cash.  I don't usually carry cash because I am broke and live off my credit cards, and he said we'd have to stop at an ATM, he could not take credit cards or a cheque.  I don't use ATMs because I refuse to pay their fees; I only get cash back at stores that offer it, all of which were closed.  I didn't want to pay for extra mileage to have him drive to a bank but we figured the petrol station right near my house would have an ATM machine.  It did, but it had a $3 fee.  To add insult to injury, the driver refused to give me change, and the ATM only dispensed twenties, so I had to pay more than I owed for the 12 miles.

It was midnight when I got home.  I was hoping to ride my bike into town for my usual brunch to cheer myself up (although my face might cause some weird looks), but it has poured rain all day.  I'll have to call AAA to tow my car to my mechanic on Monday—they could have towed it straight there last night but the guy would not have given me a ride home—and see if they can repair it in time for me to get to a job interview on Tuesday.  I made a total of $400 in July—freelancing is pretty dead over the summer—so I will need to charge this repair, although I vowed not to use my credit cards anymore and pay off the $34K I owe on them.  Right now, I am feeling like that is a hopeless goal.

So, that was testicles and back to tires.  The testicles post I intended to write was about agonizing over the decision whether to geld Silas.  But I now feel like this post has gotten too long and I will save it for another day.