On the Bench

Well, do you want the good news or the bad news?


Let’s start optimistically. Oakley and I have been spending lots of quality time together this week. Unfortunately, that time has been limited to hand-walking, icing, poulticing and bandaging.

OK, backtrack. As of two weeks ago, a big, beautifully-decorated course has been set up in our indoor to prepare our two riders who will be showing at the upcoming Royal Winter Fair (which is a notoriously spooky ring.) At first, we struggled to have productive rides in here, as there wasn’t a lot of space to navigate his big self around the jumps, but with the help of Trainer A, we started getting really good work, especially at the canter, which has come leaps and bounds, balance-wise. Oakley stepped up to the plate day after day; he felt stronger and more rideable every time. As a bonus, he was very blasé about all the cornstalks, flowers, pumpkins, filler and streamers, which would have sent Schmoodle into a conniption fit of epic proportions.

Towards the end of last week, he was a little more resistant in the bridle and came out quite stiff in the right hock, which convinced me that it’s time to inject that sucker. He also had a little spot of fluid in the left front after one ride, but I figured it was from a weirdly-wrapped polo, as the fill disappeared immediately.

Saturday, my parents, brother, aunt and uncle came out to meet Oakley. We spent the morning stuffing him with treats, giving him the spa treatment, and taking photos of his handsome self as he enjoyed his daily turnout. He looked great: shiny, getting a little fatter, happy and relaxed.

My bro, uncle, aunt, dad and mum with the big dude and me

My bro, uncle, aunt, dad and mum with the big dude and me

Alas, on Sunday I took him out of his stall and he was dead lame. Like crippled, leg-tremblingly lame, despite having been totally sound the previous day and having done nothing but stood in his large, well-bedded stall ever since. ASLDJQW!!@(#*&@($&.

The left front leg was very full of fluid, though the tendons/ligaments weren’t sore on palpation. He had some significant heat in the heel, so the barn manager and I crossed our fingers that it just an abscess. I drove home in a hell of a funk and promptly let the tears flow (…all over my boyfriend and his favourite sweater. Sorry about those mascara stains, babe.)

I waited with bated breath for the vet’s report the next day. Of course, the text message from the barn manager came as I sat through a most pointless and boring meeting. All I could see on the preview of the message, without being rude/unprofessional and unlocking my phone to read it, was: “So, good news and bad news. We blocked out the foot and he was still off…” AGH LET ME OUT OF THIS MEETING IMMEDIATELY.

The full message was hardly comforting. I speed-read it, gleaning a few key words: “thinking high suspensory strain…” “doesn’t look like it’s a new injury…” “tendons on both legs don’t look great…”

Well that is wonderful.

I drove to the barn in a fit of anxiety. When I got there, however, the barn manager explained the vet’s diagnosis more fully, and it really wasn’t as bad as I thought. The vet had ultrasounded both legs and found no tears or lesions, only fluid. The tendons themselves were pristine; in both front legs, however, fluid was present around them (more so on the left, clearly.) The vet surmised that this was secondary to what are basically crushed heels: the foot angles are out of whack and causing strain on the tendons. I suspect that when our new farrier shod Oakley for the first time last week, he might have tried to be too ambitious with changing the angles; at any rate, he’s coming back out of Friday to re-shoe, get the heels up, and make sure Oakley has good support. The vet said he wasn’t surprised, given his feet, that this soreness had presented itself, and that once his feet have healthier angles, the problem will disappear. In the meantime: ten days of stall rest plus hand-walking, then he’ll come out to re-evaluate. He even said he probably won’t bother to ultrasound again, given that the tendons themselves are A-OK.

So, not the end of the world. Of course, I will remain worried until he gets a clean bill of health (and, let’s be real, for a good long while after that), but the vet was optimistic in no uncertain terms that he will go back to work just fine.

Our new evening routine is as follows: unbandage Oakley, hand walk for fifteen minutes, ice boot on the left for twenty minutes while I brush and fuss over him, then poultice both sides and re-bandage. On Monday, Oakley was not in a happy mental place: he was very reluctant to hand-walk, and seemed touched out after his afternoon of veterinary unpleasantness. (Also, his dinner had been RUINED! RUINED I SAY! by the addition of bute.) I even got him a Likit to hang in his stall during his convalescence, but he regarded it with intense suspicion.

Last night, thankfully his attitude was a million percent better: he was back to being my bright-eyed guy. His gait was far more even; he tolerated his hand-walk easily. The barn had fed him molasses-flavoured bute rather than peppermint – infinitely preferable.


We’ll be on the bench for a little while, but on the brighter side, Oakley has time to pack on some pounds, ready to be converted into sexy topline muscle when he comes back into work. Also, I’m learning that our new barn is just wonderful: they’ve been super attentive and knowledgeable and have been providing great care. I guess putting your horse on a medical regimen is one way to road-test the barn staff.

The more I think about this, the more I realize I have had the great fortune to have never really been sidelined by a horse’s injury, across all the different horses I’ve ridden. I guess I was well overdue. It makes me more anxious and prone to assume the worst than your average owner, I think, because I haven’t had enough experience with lameness/injury care for it to become normalized. But I shall keep calm and poultice on.

Oakley is very sad to be missing his turnout/socializing time.

Oakley is very sad to be missing his turnout/socializing time.

(Oh PS the vet still has to inject his hocks. Hahaha VET BILLS.)

I’m Coming Back!

I have not died, dear readers. I have been consuming your blogs rapidly on my lunch breaks (our workload recently exploded) and I will soon be back with an update on all things Oakley, likely tomorrow. Here is a spoiler: it involves vet bills. Sigh.

Current Conundra

Oakley was marvelous again yesterday. We worked over canter poles and I learned a few things: first, he has a big step (duh.) Second, he has a hard time compressing it (double duh). Third, he is a real trier: even though he was super tired with sore butt muscles by the end of our ride, he never said ‘no’, tried to be naughty, or simply ignored me. There was a lot of wiggling from side to side instead of rocking back on his haunches, but it was an honest effort. Good job, big man! You’ve earned your day off today, and then some!

I’m really crossing my fingers that Oakley maintains this good attitude as his workload increases – I’ll need to be careful to intersperse with chill days, so he doesn’t start hating his life. Also, it’s nice to have a horse that has all the basics in place in a way that I like, but who needs a lot of finessing through gymnastic flatwork, which tends to be my strength as a rider (jumping is another story, ha.) Poor Oakley, I have many, many flatwork exercises percolating in my brain for him. Though I’m also really excited to pop him over some jumps next week!

Trainer A impressed me once again during this lesson. He thinks that once a month has passed, we’ll be able to see an improvement in his weight and muscle and then be able to make a long-term plan for his progress and maintenance. I think at that point I’ll also have the vet out to look at his pre-purchase x-rays and see if we need any intervention in his hocks right now.

Anyway, herewith are the extraneous issues that are preoccupying me for the moment. Help me, blog readers! Please share your wisdom!

1. My locker: It’s basically a blank slate with a saddle rack in it, and all my crap stuffed in. I have a portable bridle hook hanging from one door right now, but it’s not ideal, as now the locker barely closes. I have learned from my creeping investigations that most people have a series of baskets and hooks installed on the doors and walls – maybe I could also do little portable shelves? Any organizational mavens feeling inspired by this?


2. Pastern Dermatitis: Oakley came to me with this (better known as mud fever) on both hind pasterns.

mud fever feet and legs

This isn’t him, I was too dense to photograph it myself. Oakley’s case looks more like the left leg in this photo.

I’m not as worried now as I was earlier in the week, as one leg is looking a lot better. My vet told me that the first order of business was removing the scabs before any treatment would be able to work, so my post-ride routine has been to hose them in warm water for a few minutes, scrub with iodine shampoo, cover with Vaseline, and let the legs dry completely. Earlier in the week some of the scabs started coming off, and yesterday and left leg lost its scabs completely. My regimen for the non-scabbed areas has been to rinse with Betadine, apply Hibitane (an antibiotic ointment suggested by the vet), then spray with Aluspray aerosol bandage to seal it off, all while wearing medical gloves to decrease odds of contamination.

A quick foray through the Chronicle of the Horse forums turned up a lot of weird remedies, mostly involving the kind of things that are really embarrassing to buy at the drug store. If anyone has experience with mud fever, I’d love to know what you did about it!

3. Side reins: Trainer A has suggested I longe in side reins a couple of times a week. I haven’t owned side reins for ages (I’m not a big longe-er) – what are all the cool kids using these days? Is it still all about those leather ones with the rubber doughnut? Or solid leather? Or elastic? Help!

Settling In

It’s been a whirlwind few days since Oakley arrived, so forgive my absence from the blogosphere [if indeed you care.]


A couple of hours after the big dude arrived

He arrived on Monday, having left home right on schedule and loaded up ‘like a kitten’ in the words of my trainer in Montreal. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the BF and I had tried to load our own kitten into his cat carrier the day before to bring him to my parents’ for Thanksgiving – it took us fifteen minutes and about ten treats, and we ended up having to physically stuff his furry little bum in there. Anyway.) When I arrived at the new barn a couple of hours after he did, he was ensconced in his BIG, well-bedded stall, having hoovered down hay and drunk a good amount of water. He was still a bit high and seemed pretty lonely – he could see the horses turned out outside and definitely was interested in making friends. But all in all, he stood like a brave boy while I groomed him, doctored a couple of little cuts, plied him with an apple, tried on his blankets, and generally made a fuss out of him. After turnouts had been brought in, I took him outside to eat some grass next to the outdoor ring and let him see the lay of the land, which he did with gusto. Finally, I brought him up to the main barn (he lives about 100 feet down a hill in the lower barn, which has bigger stalls) and let him hang out on the crossties there for a while; this is where we’ll be tacking up for rides as all my stuff lives in a locker up there. KPT and her boyfriend had stopped by to see Oakley, so they supervised us while I stuck him on a longe in the indoor to get a bit of juice out. He was very lonely in there – lots of screaming and Hackney-style trotting – so as soon as I got some relaxation and stretching I fed him some cookies and put him away. As I left the barn, he looked at me like hang on – you’re the only one I know here! Maybe come back?!


“This ain’t so bad.”

Tuesday night I arrived to find him looking totally happy in his stall and with one side covered in shavings. Phew – he felt comfortable enough to nap. We moseyed up to the main barn where Oakley made many, many new friends who wanted to feed him treats and comment on how tall he is. (Side note, cheers to the non-horsey mom of one of the girls at the barn who zeroed in on all Oakley’s ‘faults’ and felt the need to ask if I had noticed them: “But why is he so skinny? Did you see this cut on his nose? Is it normal that he holds his head so high?” Sigh.) I wanted to stick him on the longe again before getting on, as I had the sneaking suspicious that he would have some opinions about going back to work, all alone in the scary arena, after his week of vacation. He did indeed demonstrate some back-humping, flailing canter transitions, once I could get him to move out of a shuffling trot, that is. Finally, under the watchful eye of our new trainer, A, I hopped on. He felt a bit volatile, still wondering where the other horses were, but as soon as I put him into trot, he basically said “Oh, this – ok” and went about his business without any shenanigans. We stayed at the end of the ring closest to the door to the barn to keep him comfortable, but he was really very good – a bit starstruck and behind the leg, but he never wanted to do anything wrong. We quit after a few minutes and told him how good he was.

Trainer A seems like he will be a good fit for us: he was calm and precise, and articulated things in a way that made a lot of sense. He zeroed in right away on our need to build muscle basically everywhere as our immediate goal. He’s asked me to longe in sidereins a couple of times a week to encourage the naturally upright Oakley to stretch his outline downward. Once he’s cleared to ride again in three weeks following a shoulder injury this summer, I’m going to have him ride Oakley once a week, at least for the first little while. Although the perfectionist in me would love to say I did all the work on my green horse myself, I definitely want to take advantage of having someone available to fix whatever problems I inevitably create, especially having been alone with Schmoodle for 90% of the time for the last eighteen months.

After our ride, I doctored Oakley’s hind pastern dermatitis, got him in his pajamas and headed back down to his stall. Note to self, leave the outside light on in the lower barn so you don’t have to awkwardly feel around in the pitch black for the lights while your big gawky horse attempts to push past you, insisting he knows exactly where he’s going, duh Mom. Ground manners: we need better ones.

Last night, I flatted him on my own and just had an awesome ride. Although he was still distracted by the prospect of so many prospective friends, so tantalizingly close on the other side of the arena door, he did his best to concentrate and he had some really good moments, even after the horse we were riding with left us ALL ALONE!! near the end of our ride. Although he still felt discombobulated sometimes, when I did manage to channel the energy correctly from front to back, he gave me an absolutely great feel in the bridle. Woo! We even got a bit of long-and-low trot work at the end. A few things that are going to need work in the next while:

  1. Sharpness off the leg. Mr. Oakley’s default response to scary/distracting things at the moment is to sloooow down. While I vastly prefer this to Schmoodle’s approach of “teleport first, ask questions later,” we’re definitely going to need to install a prompt and reliable GO button.
  2. Containing the canter. As can be expected from a green 18h horse in a medium-sized indoor arena, cantering in an organized fashion is difficult. Strength and adjustability are going to be crucial. Although he doesn’t get strong, he does alternate between rushing and breaking to trot, with short periods of balance in between. (This is intimately related to #1 obviously.)

Overall, Oakley has been quite chill for his first forty-eight hours in his new home, and I’m really happy about what a nice personality he turns out to have. I, of course, am still not entirely chill – there’s always an adjustment period as you learn the ins and outs of a new barn – but I will get there.


“I think I might like it here!”

For our next installment: tackling Oakley’s hind leg gunk, and the organizational nightmare that is my new locker…

A List of Questions

…that needed answering in the five days since I bought Oakley:

Where is he going to live?

I’ve spoken before about how much I love my current barn, but I knew that once I had to foot the bill for full board and training, it would be time to part ways. Trainers M&L run a wonderful program but it’s oriented towards having horses in full training and showing on the A-circuit essentially year-round. That simply isn’t me. I’ve taken a hiatus from showing for the past 4-5 years to concentrate on academic and career pursuits, and when I jump back into showing, I definitely won’t be pouring my dollars into showing at A shows; I’m really B-circuit girl at heart. So I informed M&L this week that we’d come to the end of our relationship for now. I feel really lucky to have been a participant in their program for so many years; their dedication to great care, crazy high standards, and ability to have a good time wherever they go has made for a great run together. But: onwards. I stopped by yesterday to pick up my stuff and say goodbye to Schmoodle, who refused to pose for pictures but instead insisted on trying to munch on my hair. It was poignant to drive away for the last time in the foreseeable future, having said ‘goodbye for now’ to my barn friends and my Schmoods. I’m sure life will intersect our paths again down the road in due course, though.

Worst poser ever!!

Worst poser ever!!

Luckily, I’ve been casually horse shopping since the beginning of the summer so I have had plenty of time to think about new boarding options. One option crystallized in my mind quite early on: former barnmates of mine at my current place, two teenage sisters, moved here last year when their family decided they needed a less expensive option. Their mom is a life-long rider and horse show mom who has been around the area’s horsey scene forever, so her opinion bears a lot of weight with me. I reached out to her and she gave the new barn two definite thumbs up: they’ve had great results at the new place over the past year.

Another factor: my best friend, KPT, is moving to Ottawa imminently from a city six hours away (YES!) and is bringing her horse with her. We grew up riding and showing together so our plan was to see if we could find a program that suited both her seasoned 1m10 jumper and my greenie (and our limited budgets). 

On Tuesday, I headed out to this barn to have a visit. I brought with me the handy dandy Excel spreadsheet KPT and I obsessive-compulsively put together to ensure we asked all the necessary questions, because we are data fiends. 

I was pretty impressed by all the answers – so this is where Oakley will be moving! It’s not as fancy as my old place, but the horses all looked slick and happy, and the barn manager seems to have that necessary obsessive streak; their clientele is about 80% B-circuit to 20% A-circuit; they won’t be going to Florida this winter and leaving us sans trainer; and they have a track record of producing well-educated horses and riders at all levels. AND they had two open 14×14 stalls for our giants horses who are 18h and 17.2. Fingers crossed, but I think Oakley and I will be happy there.

How is he going to get here?

My Ottawa shipper (Trainer M) was heading out of town this weekend (it’s Canadian Thanksgiving), and my Montreal shipper has retired, so I scrambled on Thursday to find someone who could ship Oakley up here ASAP. I ended up with the guy who shipped KPT’s horse the eight hours to his new home last year. They’re a small operation but they have a big, well-appointed trailer complete with cameras, and they’re going to pick Oakley up on Monday morning for his journey westward. As it’s a long weekend up here, I’ll be able to spend that afternoon with him at the new barn. Yay!

What is he going to do in the interim?

Oakley has been living a leisurely life of turnout and longeing while he awaits his ride to Ottawa. He also got a new set of shoes on Friday so he will be ready to rock and roll when he gets here. We’re going to stop by the barn in Montreal on the way to family Thanksgiving today so I can drop off wraps and a fluffy shipping halter [side note, fluffy shipping halters are my favourite thing, every horse looks so adorable and cuddly in them.]


SO FLUFFY, stock picture pony

Very importantly: What stuff does he need that I don’t already have?

As I alluded to earlier, I started shopping for Oakley basically immediately upon agreeing to purchase him. Upside of buying a horse well within your budget: more cash money to spend on fun things! So far I have bought or ordered a halter, schooling boots, a saddle pad, a new bridle, and assorted first aid-type things (mostly to treat the dermatitis he’s got on his hind fetlocks – more on that soon). I’ll be sure to report back on all of these.

The BIG things that still remain to be acquired are:

1.       Blankets. I have a stable sheet but no heavy blankets for Mr. Oakley. I think I will wait for the vendors at the Royal Winter Fair in a couple of weeks to get the bulk of these, and will probably mooch off KPT’s discards in the interim.

2.       Possible saddle fit remedies: Oakley is high-withered and has no developed topline to speak of. I will need to pay close attention to my saddle fit on him, and it may need to be fixed with padding, a breastplate, etc. I sure don’t want to take any more permanent measures, as with any luck he will be muscling up significantly in the coming months.

I am SO excited to get started with a new horse and new program now that all the moving parts have come into place, and I can’t wait for all my family and friends to meet him. I have to admit, though, that part of me still feels like the other shoe is about to drop, or that I’ve overlooked some crucial problem that is staring me in the face. I tend towards fatalism when I’m really excited about something: maybe I’m afraid of disappointment if something goes wrong? Maybe I just can’t believe that after all this time, I have decided I’m financially stable enough to buy a horse and have it in consistent training, and I have trouble trusting my own judgement to this effect? Can you guys relate to this or am I unique in this aspect?

In any event, in this case I’m just going to lean in to the excitement and embrace every bit of the new horse honeymoon. Can’t wait to see that chestnut face – MY chestnut face! – peeking out from the stall on Monday!

(Mostly) Wordless Wednesday: One Year Ago

This time last year, we were hacking down quiet roads, bravely crossing bridges across threateningly bubbling streams, enjoying the last of the strong sunshine.

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This year I’m stuffing him with mints and apple snacks as we part ways. I’m going to miss my Schmoodle something fierce. Our moments of frustration and discouragement were outweighed by moments of real joy and accomplishment. I just hope someone else can take him on as their special someone, because he deserves his own person to love him. I’ll cherish my memories of his happy face, his quickness off my leg, his powerful round jump, and – maybe especially – our many bareback rides this summer, when it felt like we were just two friends, out enjoying each other’s company.


Day One

After a week of sleeping fitfully, checking my phone for messages compulsively, and trying to avoid feeling too much excitement in case it all fell to pieces…today was the day.

I signed the ownership papers for Oakley.

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Oakley’s a nine year old TB, and appears to be 18 hands. (Oh my god.) He’s been at the barn of my former trainer in Montreal for the past year, to be trained and casually marketed; he’s jumping 2’6/2’9 courses and has a lovely base on the flat. I actually saw him go a little earlier this summer, when the barn hosted a B-circuit show, and I remember thinking how cute and brave he was. I had casually started my horse search then, and my trainer mentioned him offhandedly, as he was considerably over my budget. His owner is apparently reeeeally tired of paying for him to be in training, though, as I got him for just over one third of her original asking price.

Last weekend, I headed down to the the barn in Montreal to try a different horse, a mare, but I realized within two canter strides that she just wasn’t my type of ride at all. I got off, a bit discouraged at having come all this way just to try a horse I categorically couldn’t (or maybe more accurately, wouldn’t) ride. My trainer took me aside and said she had a sneaking suspicious that Oakley’s owner could be convinced to drastically lower her price – so I said I’d try him out.

Remember after my first horse shopping weekend, I asked you guys whether you had clicked with your horses immediately? In this case, I could tell right off the bat that this horse was my kind of ride. Despite being BIG, green and wiggly, he had a lovely connection in the mouth, accepted my leg well, and made it easy to find a rhythm to the jumps. So instead of over-thinking it, I went with my gut, and I asked my trainer to arrange a vetting.

The vetting wasn’t perfect – he’s going to require a bit of hock maintenance – but it’s nothing too drastic and I feel comfortable that we’ll be able to manage him well. I thought long and hard on it after the vet called to give me the x-ray findings – obviously, I would have preferred a 100% clean vetting. But in the end, I found it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me in terms of the amount of anxiety it would cause me if I bought him.

He’s missing a lot of weight at the moment, and generally needs some TLC, not to mention some big time muscling up. But I rode him again today after signing the papers and it reinforced my decision totally. He’s just lovely, not to mention sweet as anything in the barn.

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Agh, those ribs. He needs some major fattening up.

So this week I have to get my ducks in a row regarding his boarding situation, then he’ll hopefully be in Ottawa next weekend. I’m so excited!!

(And yes, I may have already begun a craze of online shopping for him. Because arguably the best part of getting a new pony is all the new STUFF they completely, 100% need, am I right?)



Interlude with Schmoodle

Yesterday afternoon came and went without a call from the vet about Mystery Horse’s PPE, alas. My nerves had reached fever pitch by the time my ex-trainer, at whose barn near Montreal the horse lives, texted to say the vet had been waylaid by an emergency call and would have to reschedule for today.

I went to the barn and ended up taking a lesson, if for no other reason than to stop me stewing over the impending vet check, ha. As Trainers M&L are still away at a horse show, they’ve brought in someone else to teach: Schmoodle’s owner, H! H is about my age and is trying to make it as a professional in the industry – she had a very cool job riding young horses for a well-known breeder and GP rider in the Midwest before immigration visa issues sent her back to Canada. I had met her years ago when she was still showing Schmoodle (I even still have her on Facebook) but hadn’t crossed paths with her since.

At first it kind of made me anxious to be riding her horse in front of her: she had loads of success with him when she was younger, and has since moved on to jumping big Grand Prixes, attending Young Riders, and generally eclipsing my own talent and experience by a huge margin. But I needn’t have worried. First off, she’s really friendly; second, she knows Schmoodle’s full range of silliness intimately (“This horse sent me to the hospital so many times,” she said fondly the first time we rode with her); and third, Schmoodle and I acquitted ourselves well in both our lessons with her.

When I first brought him in from the field last week and she recognized him, I was kind of shocked by how cavalierly she talked about him, in the vein of: ‘This horse is unsellable, I keep telling my parents it’s only good for glue! Hahaha!’ – but by last night she was stuffing him with treats and had revived a trick she had taught him years ago, whereby you stand in front of him and make kissy noises and he bops you with his nose. CUTE. He definitely remembers her!

It was weird how my feelings about Schmoodle have changed quite drastically now that Mystery Horse is firmly on my radar. I felt almost mournful getting him ready yesterday, because my focus is definitely elsewhere. He had a couple of little scrapes from the field: I doctored them, obviously, but I didn’t obsess over ensuring the hair would grow back in perfectly like I would have as recently as last week. Likewise, we rode inside and were set a tricky exercise of poles:

The three poles are bounces, with four or five strides between the bounces and the single poles.

The three poles in a row are bounces, with four or five strides between the bounces and the single poles.

We did the exercise with the fives very smoothly, but the fours were a struggle, especially to the right: I really had to ride every stride and it felt quite rushed (there were also some undesired lead swaps.) But it rolled off my back in a way it wouldn’t have when Schmoodle was the container of all my horsey aspirations.

Walking him back to his field, I admired how handsome he was, with the first signs of his rich black winter coat coming in, and his sweet kind eye. Whether I end up embarking on my horse ownership adventure now (!!!) or at a later date, I’ll look back on my friendship with Schmoodle with enormous fondness.

All Atwitter

I feel like a giant jangling bundle of nerves today. Because…

I’m getting a horse vetted tomorrow afternoon. It’s not one of the ones I’ve already written about on here.

I don’t want to say much more about it in case he fails, as I will be mucho sad in that case and am convinced I will jinx it by being too excited.

Oh my god.

That is all.