going to california

Thank you everyone for your kind words and thoughts regarding Murray last week. It’s really so wonderful to know that such a big group of people are in his corner, fingers crossed for the best.

I am not feeling quite as broken or morose as my rather melodramatic post from last week suggests. I always think that Murray is the high-drama element in this relationship, and lo, here I am, proving once more that the two of us are more alike than I would admit. In many ways, the decision to retire Murray was an easy one. It was an awful one, but it was also clearly the best one.

I realised a long time ago that Murray would never be my 2*, 1*, or even Prelim horse. I knew a while back that Training would be a challenge for us, mentally more than physically. I didn’t think until this year that we would have significant problems at Novice. But there they were. I was prepared to put in the work to get past them; they didn’t seem insurmountable.

Riding Murray has always required a certain amount of optimism. Optimism that he wants to come out and play; that he’s as sound and comfortable as can be, given his conformational flaws; that the bad days will come good tomorrow, the next day, or eventually. Over time, those rose colored glasses can give you some pretty big blind spots.

Trainer J’s view of Murray was like a cold wind blowing through my soul. Where my barn family at home saw a horse who has made immeasurable strides in ground manners in the last five years, she saw a horse who was missing massive chunks of his basic education. Where we saw a horse who was goofy and quirky, she saw a horse who bordered on dangerous. Where we saw a horse who moved a little oddly, but it mostly seemed mechanical, she saw a horse who was uncomfortable and unhappy in work, with some physical flaws that were significant limitations.

With that optimism stripped away, I could look at things analytically. The words of the vet who did Murray’s hocks in 2017, along the lines of “there’s a lot going on here, but we could start with his hocks”. What I’ve always known about a club foot: they’re a risk, if not a timer counting down.  What I’ve learned about this horse’s personality in the last five years: victories are hard won, and easily lost. Some part of me always knew this decision would come. The question was, when?

I determined a long time ago that Murray would not be getting extreme measures. I’ve always known that he’s not the type of horse that would recover well from surgery. I’m also not the type of person who is willing to chase more and more invasive and extensive treatments in search of soundness. Maybe I’ve seen too many journeys like that end in sadness anyway. Maybe I’ve seen how crazy some of these shoe-ing set ups get, with no significant or lasting effect. Bluntly, I don’t have the money.

It could easily be different. If Murray was my solid, staid, Training packer. If we could rest him up and get right back to chasing that bronze medal. If it was a suspensory or a fractured splint or a bow, and not a cursed foot thing. Feet are just so damn complicated.

In the end, though, the question was just about Murray’s happiness. Would he be happy if I really went for it with remedial farriery and tried to keep pushing him through? Would he be happy rehabbing in a stall for yet more weeks? Would he be happy retired in a big pasture with an even bigger mare to groom and be bossed around by?

The answer was pretty easy.

I love this kiddo, and I love riding him. But I’m not going to ride him into the ground.

The wonderful thing about having horsey in-laws is that they understand the risks, and they’ve already got plans in place for just this situation. I’ll get to see him every visit and every holiday. I wish he could stay at home with me, but we don’t have horse facilities, and aren’t in the position to put any in.

Maybe one day he’ll come home. For now, he’s going to California with an aching in my heart.

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not looking great

We had the vet out yesterday to look at Murray’s front feet. He was still lame, and TrJ had a feeling that something in that clubby RF was not right. Historically, he’s been much more sensitive on the LF than the RF, so I was surprised that the club foot was the one constantly catching her attention.

 

We took rads, and surprise! Neither one looks great good normal. In the vet’s (paraphrased) words “to just look at his feet you’d never guess that it looks so bad on x-ray.”

 

He has rotation in opposite directions in his left and right front feet. It’s changed from the rads we took during his PPE in 2015. There are other things too — The Horse says it well: Usually, a foot lameness results from a little bit of a lot of things all added up together (Dr. Alexia McKnight).

 

So. Here we are. Staring down retirement at 9.

 

It’s not great.

photo-dump wednesday: the house

We moved to Oregon about two and a half months ago. Moving is always a pain in the ass, but this move has been a bit more of a pain than usual. You see, we moved into a house that has been continuously lived-in by family members since 1972. In fact, my partner’s great grandfather bought the property nearly a century ago. As you might imagine on a hundred year old property that nobody ever properly moved out of, we inherited a lot of stuff.

some very amusing stuff, to be sure

Like, an entire basement (the same size as the house), full to the brim of stuff. I’m not even bothering with a picture of the basement because a) you can’t capture the whole thing in one frame, b) a picture doesn’t come close to showing the magnitude of shit in there, and c) it’s horrifying.

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bathroom traysure #oldhousetreasures

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A lot of the time, I look at all the stuff and think “traysure!!”

like all of these old horse shoes and bits — accompanied by a modern mud scraper?

holy mother of god that’s a big mullen mouth — ooh! a stud chain!

Sometimes, I’m annoyed at the previous tenants for kicking the putting-stuff-in-the-trash can down the road for four generations.

But those old timers put in place some awesome thinking-ahead-for-my-grand-kids plans as well. Like five apple trees and a cherry tree that are well pruned, climbable, and bear a ton of fruit. A mixed bed of summer- and fall-bearing raspberries that are doing pretty well despite a couple of summers of (clearly benign) neglect. Blueberry bushes. An asparagus bed!

Along with gorgeous shade trees and a passive solar orientation to the house that means it was never above 80* here in the late summer, and hasn’t dipped below 60* yet this fall.

not used to these colours

There’s this amazing little garden path that was magical this summer, and got even more magical once the leaves started to fall. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

many of those weeds are gone now, and we’re replacing them with kitchen herbs and native flowers

Suffice to say, there’s been plenty to do to keep my mind off of a lame pony.

crazy old walnut tree

There’s still an absurd amount to do. I guess this is adulting?

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It's. So. FLUFFY.

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Someone is still lame and has his third vet appointment since moving to Oregon tomorrow. So updates on that soon.

cheap thrills (c/o Viva Carlos)

When L posted about the cheap products she’s upgraded for better quality ones, I identified quiiite a bit with a lot of those items. Polo shirts that doubled as work/school shirts and riding shirts? Check (though I went with Old Navy ones). Pull on breeches with no zipper and questionable seaming? Check.

There are a couple of other items I’m adding to the list though, and a few that I hope to add in the future.


yeah so neither of these is a great look on me

The biggest cheap item I replaced with a better version? My show coat(s). I’ve owned three in the past: a free, woolen hunter coat with fox-head buttons. A Horze show coat (no longer available, but looked a bit like this one) that cost around $90. And the Equine Couture Raleigh Show Coat, $70.

The first coat was given to me by a friend at my barn who no longer wanted it, and it was a warm, boxy, uncomfortable mistake. I think I wore it once, then it sat in my closet for the rest of eternity months. The Horze coat was my replacement when I was shopping for my first rated event, and while the price point was pretty good, it fit me terribly. I probably should have sized down, but it was always too long for my torso and bunched horribly about the waist. I replaced that with the Equine Couture coat, thinking that a shorter (yet still cheap) coat would fix that problem. It didn’t.


how much do I love it?! let me count the ways

Replaced with: Winston Exclusive Equestrian Coat

I tried on one of these coats at the Sacramento International with Peony and Megan and I adored it right off the bat. It fit perfectly, even off the horse — which none of my previous coats did. The rep offered to give me 10% off if I ordered through him by the end of the week, but I absolutely couldn’t justify pulling the trigger on a near-$750 show coat. L found a tack store that was closing down, though, and on their site I found a heavily-discounted, $450 version of the coat in my size, navy and gray. I had originally wanted back and purple, but I was willing to compromise for $300 off. I bought it, and have no regrets. It’s averaging around $75 per use these days! #worthit

tbt to my horse looking miserable in polos

Replaced: Polo wraps. Ranged in price from $10-$40

I used to be all about those polos. I had 4 or 5 sets at one point (nothing compared to many others, I know), and was planning to add in a few other colours because they were soooo purdy.

Replaced with: Dover brushing boots($25 per pair on sale), Majyk Equipe Dressage Boots(a gift, but $90 per pair, that was a way bigger gift than I realised)

In a wet arena, polos get disgusting really fast. And you can never wrap them the exact same way each time. And eventually, they just kinda look like shit. And I don’t buy anything about their ability to “support tendons and ligaments”, they’re literally just there to stop my horse from hurting himself quite so much when he knocks his limbs together. You know what looks clean even when you’ve washed them seven times and have a dedicated shell to prevent impact trauma? Boots. My polos never exactly wore out, but I’m much happier with 2 pairs of dressage boots than I was with 5 pairs of polos.

matching bling on point

Replaced: Ovation Schooler helmet ($65)

I used to think it was absurd to pay more than $100 for a helmet. Also, this helmet was light and breezy and I didn’t think there was anything else you needed in a helmet.

Replaced with: a variety of Charles Owen helmets (J3 skull cap, Jr8, $180-$300).

Then I realized the value of safety. But also, that the higher quality helmets can fit better, be incredible comfortable, and look good. I don’t regret spending >$500 on helmets in the last five years. Would I spent >$500 on a single helmet? You’d have to give me some really amazing safety features for that to happen.

Replaced: off-brand/Amazon/Target tall socks ($2-$10)

I’m all about tall socks under boots. Or all the time. I just like tall socks. But I thought paying real money for tall socks was stupid — minus the $20 I paid for my SmartWool socks while skiing. They’re just socks. They wear through, and they shouldn’t cost all that much money.

Replaced with: Kerrits wool socks ($18)

One morning my feet were already cold and wet, and I had a long day ahead of me. I stopped in at the tack store as I went by and grabbed two new pairs of socks — thick, good ones. And they made my day. And kinda changed my life. I’m willing to invest a little in socks now.

Replaced with: Noble Outfitters Peddies ($14), Noble Outfitters technical socks ($12 for the perfect fit ones)

To be honest, every piece of the Noble Outfitters gear I have was a gift (I have a family friend who was a rep and had a lot of leftover demo stuff). And the first time I put on a pair of peddies I thought they were stupid. Now? I reach for them preferentially. I wear through the heels of my socks like crazy, and the thicker foot bed but thin calf on these is juuust right for Goldilocks over here.

Replacing: clearance sale tall boots (usually Ariat Heritage boots, bought on sale for $150-$200)

I used to always keep an eye out for tall boot sales in my size. I’m lucky that I have an odd-shaped leg that isn’t too uncommon — a 6-6.5 footbed with a long, thin calf — and usually there are a few pairs of these floating around at the end of the season. I currently have two sets that I use, one for schooling and one for showing.

Replacing with: better, higher quality, more comfortable boots

I haven’t actually pulled this trigger yet, but I imagine I will sometime in the not-too-distant future. A couple of weeks ago I forgot my boots when I went to the barn, and one of the ladies there loaned me her Ariat Volants. They were SO COMFY. And they did not have any of the weird heel issues that tall boots so often plague me with. I just assumed I had a particularly poorly-conformed heel, because I wear through the heels of all of my shoes. But it turns out that you can get things that fit you better, and they will be more comfortable, and probably last longer.

On the other hand, there are some cheap things I keep around and won’t replace.  For example, gloves. I stick with the cheap SSG goves, because I lose one or the other often enough that it would make me really sad to replace them. I still have all of my cheap Dover-esque saddle pads and won’t be replacing those any time soon either — saddle pads just don’t wear out that quickly, in my experience, so why would I spend the money on more?

get with the program, human

It seems like every time I scheduled my first lesson with Trainer J, Murray found some way to sabotage it. First, by being sore as hell after standing in a stall for 3 weeks. Next, by being insanely rude to the vet and requiring cowboy lessons first. Most recently, by freaking out when the new farrier tried to burn his feet during hot shoeing, and becoming pretty sore up front.


So clvr. So smrt.

The farrier and I made a plan to get Murray more on board with the idea of hot shoeing (slow, measured exposure) and TrJ and figured we’d just move forward with the lesson as best we could. It was short, but very informative.

I expected my first lesson with TrJ to start like a clinic. Tell me about your riding, tell me about your horse, tell me about your goals.  It did not start like this.

TrJ came in with a plan for me. I was trotting Murray around on a long rein to loosen him up a bit, and TrJ had me come back to a walk. She wanted to give Murray a bit more of a chance to stretch out, and make some position modifications to me that would help us. She said she has noticed that I tend to let my heels get out behind me — absolutely true, and something I haven’t actively thought about fixing in a while. She also pointed out my atrocious habit of shoving Murray in the walk with my seat. These were the first two things TrJ wanted me to fix.

So I dropped my stirrups, and thought specifically about NOT shoving. Unfortunately, this kinda ends up making me stiffen my seat, it doesn’t give me a following seat. TrJ also told me to sit back on my pockets more, and had me lift my knees up over the flaps and sit on one of my hands to feel my seat bones. She told me to bring my legs back down and really relax them around the saddle, letting gravity pull my heels down and not ramming my toes up. This struck me as a little bit counter to the “sucking yourself into the saddle” idea of biomechanics, which made me a titch uncomfortable, but I went with it.


because biomechanics are my lord and savior, clearly

We worked at the walk for a long time. When my seat got too shove-y, TrJ had me drop my chin to my chest, which had the side effect of stilling my shoving muscles and really letting my seat follow. Whenever I started shoving again, I could drop my chin down and rediscover the feeling of following, and then lift my head up to, you know, look where I was going again.

I was definitely a little skeptical about this approach to my riding. Like, I know that shoving with my seat is a really bad habit and I shouldn’t do it. But I was not sure that starting there was really the best approach to creating a dressage horse who is more confident in the connection.

But lo, when I stopped shoving with my seat, Murray started taking bigger (albeit slower) steps and stretching down over his topline. At one point, he even jostled the bit lightly in my hands with his tongue — not in a grabby, rooting kind of way. But with his head on the vertical, just playing with the bit in my hands. That was a cool new feeling.


I love magical connection feelings

As part of not shoving with my seat, TrJ told me to relax my lower back, and feel like someone was pulling my torso back by the belt and the bra strap. I should have clarified during the lesson, but it didn’t seem like she wanted me leaning back. She wanted me resisting that feeling, I think. Regardless, when I stacked my torso up vertically (I have a habit of letting my cereal box fall forward from my hip) and became shorter and wider, TrJ was happy with the attempt.

Doing all of these things — relaxing my legs, following instead of shoving with my seat, “relaxing” aka squashing down my lower back, and keeping my torso vertical really made my seat bones connect with the saddle more. It felt like each seat bone had more surface area on the saddle, maybe double or more than what they had at the start of the lesson.

And all of this was accomplished just at the WALK.


fave gait. we soooooo good at it.

I had some strange-not-amazing feelings about this lesson afterward. It was quite different from what I have worked on with a biomechanics-focused instructor (Alexis) and from the path I’d been taking to improve Murray’s connection and throughness this last summer. And, I will admit it, I’ve spent lots of time on the ground at this barn watching TrJ’s riders, and they aren’t necessarily bear-down riders. I’m very comfortable with the biomechanics stuff, and I liked the progress Murray and I made this year. All of these things, plus the fact that TrJ didn’t ask me about what I wanted felt weird.

After more thought, I realized that it just feels weird because it’s different. TrJ has a program, and lots of successful riders in that program. She watches people — she really watches them — even when they aren’t in lessons. TrJ also has a very specific way she wants people to ride, and she has a method of building those riders to get to that way.

Murray’s feet seem to feel better, and he’s back to his usual level of out-of-shape-not-using-himself-not-terribly-cute-mover-ness. I’m looking forward to making more lessons happen, and refusing to accept Murray’s attempts at sabotage.

hand waving & flag flapping

After my meeting with Cowboy Dave I promptly zipped up to Seattle for a day and Switzerland/Germany for four. It was a quick work trip (my first! so exciting!), and gave me plenty of time to mull over my horsemanship lesson in between strolling through Zurich and cycling around Konstanz.

I got home on Monday and knew I wouldn’t be riding, what with the jet lag. But I headed out to see Murray and play with my new tools a little.

We don’t have the same type of whip at the barn that Dave does, but we do have a long dressage whip (maybe one of those ground whips that they use for piaffe?) with a small piece of caution tape tied to the end. This posed the perfect new problem for Murray. He had never seen the “flag” before, and I was pretty sure he would not be a fan. I was correct.

I worked on the basic-est of basics that Dave started with Murray. I waved the flag around behind me and tried to release every time Murray was standing still. I waved the flag over my head, and Murray was not the biggest fan of that. But he got over that too. Then I started bringing the flag over toward Murray’s side. He skipped to the side, and I got a bit lost. I needed him to stand still so I could remove the pressure, but I couldn’t get him to stand still with the flag anywhere near his side.

(At this point I’m like oh. you went too fast. So point taken, babier steps next time.)

please, no touching

Murray was very interested in looking at and touching the flag, and I let him. But ultimately, I wanted him to pay less attention to the flag and pay attention to me. I tried to remove the flag when he flicked his attention back toward me, but all of his body language said “I’m not comfortable with that flag near me.” His body was bent away from the flag, and his head and neck were craned around like he was physically going to shield his shoulders from the Evil Plastic.

On Tuesday I was struck down mightily by Evil Travel Sickness, and was literally bedridden for much of Tuesday and Wednesday. On Wednesday night, I was lamenting to friends about the bullshit schedule I have this fall that means I’m looking at a little more than 4 weeks available for riding between now and the end of the year. Megan told me to stop being dumb and ride my horse, because I can still make valuable progress in the connection over four weeks.

So on Thursday I went out to ride my horse. But first — flag games!

Thursday the game was a little more lackluster. Murray was not scared of the flag — hooray! — but he was also less interested in playing the game with me.


he did ground tie pretty successfully though. wow, he’s really not at his most magnificent right now.

When I went to walk backward and draw him toward me he planted and let his neck stretch out to ridiculous lengths. I stuck with what Dave said and gave him more time (not more pressure), but I’ve played that game with Murray and I do not have the patience that he has. So instead I asked another way (turned around and walked with him beside me), which worked better. (If you have experience with this type of thing, you should tell me about it. I have no fucking clue what broke there.)

I also played around with the pressure/release concept during tacking up. I did not abandon the treats, but I did add pressure (girth) and take it away a couple of times while we were standing in the aisle. I’m not sure it did anything, really, but I wanted to reinforce the idea that the pressure comes and goes away.

And then I rode, and he felt awesome!

first date with a cowboy

Murray and I had our first horsemanship lesson on Monday. It was incredible and emotional and horrifying and challenging and amazing. I’m going to do the best I can to cogently put what we worked on and learned down here, but four days later I’m still having magical realizations about what we did, so I’m guessing I’m going to miss large pieces. This is post is long and filled with verbal diarrhea. There’s no way I can sum up our 90 minutes to one, three, or even six main take-aways. I could probably do 10…. maybe.

I’ve never had or sought out horsemanship lessons before for…. reasons. Reasons that range from good to uninformed. To keep it short, I basically didn’t seek out or attend horsemanship lessons for three reasons.

First, there wasn’t a good/quality/reputable horsemanship person who was accessible to me. There was a guy who came to a dressage barn near us in California, but whenever he was in town I seemed to be gone. Plus, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the horses at the barn that he was supposedly working with, which didn’t encourage me to change my plans to be in town for one of his clinics. For what it’s worth, my thoughts on that trainer have since changed.

Second, I’ve seen a lot of people take the lessons they’ve learned at horsemanship clinics and then do really weird shit with them. Everything from unintentionally train their horses to ignore them to beating their horses over the head with flag sticks. I realize it’s not entirely fair to judge the teacher by the many idiot students that exist in this world once they leave the instructor’s supervision. But as someone who knows a little something about teaching humans, it’s hard not to look at people whapping a horse in the face with a knotted lead rope and expecting the horse to magically know that it means “back up” without wondering how good the teacher is.


i am just the best teacher
(this post will be speckled with hardly-relevant media because I didn’t get any of our actual session)

Third, I know how Murray does with pressure/release training and it’s not well. I also know that I suck at pressure/release training because I don’t understand the timing. I watched a lot of Elisa Wallace’s mustang training videos this year, and I was like “wow, she’s great at this, but I have no fucking clue how she’s doing it”. This made me think that pressure/release training with a stranger — a man, no less — would not necessarily be a great training avenue for us.

Despite all my trepidation, I was very interested to see how Murray would do with this cowboy. I know he could be better behaved, and while clicker training was very helpful for a while, we have definitely hit a plateau there (the fault is mine, as I’m terrible at training duration). So if there was another tool that I could use to install better behavior in my horse, I was wiling to go with it.

I got Murray in from the pasture and was just about to pick out his feet when Dave showed up in the barn aisle. It was a perfect storm of things, really: Murray was wearing his blanket for only the second time all year, the tractor and muck cart were right near the grooming area, and a strange man was hanging about. Murray, predictably, was not really interested in standing still. I had ditched the treat pouch to avoid unnecessarily distracting my horse.

Over the course of picking out his feet and taking off his blanket, Dave asked me a few questions about Murray. What was it that Julie was concerned about specifically? How would I describe the horse’s behavior?


ermmmm….. his behavior is hilarious?

Dave wanted to change Murray over to a knotted rope halter, and stepped over to him to do it. Murray threw his head up in the air and his little feet went jigging all over the place. Dave grabbed a hold of the lead rope so Murray couldn’t rip free, and did something — I didn’t really catch it — that resulted in Murray uneasily but quietly standing between Dave and the wall, still tied. A minute later, Dave changed the halter out just fine.

I put Murray’s boots on, and Dave made the rhetorical question, “This horse has problems with confinement, doesn’t he?” I agreed and elaborated — does better outside than inside, doesn’t do well with pressure, etc. We moved outside to do some work. He talked about Murray’s wide eye and upper eyelid, and commented that since Dave first showed up the upper eyelid had disappeared but Murray still wasn’t “relaxed”.

I don’t recall exactly what Dave did first, but he started by explaining to me that he was going to “do a lot of things” to get Murray to move his feet a lot. In my mind I was like “but I want him to move his feet LESS not more”. But Dave continued to explain that it was about teaching Murray to keep his feet and body within a rectangle that we prescribe. For Murray the rectangle is pretty big, but it still needs to be there. When Murray got out of the rectangle, Dave just “got in his way a bit” to put him back in the rectangle. Getting in his way meant waving the lead rope at him or flagging the whip in the area Dave didn’t want Murray in. One time, when Murray insisted on coming forward even though he hadn’t been asked, Dave waved the lead rope hard enough to get the knots moving on the halter on Murray’s face. Murray took a step back, and Dave immediately stopped.


reward: grain on the bobcat floor

We talked while he did everything. A major thing that I don’t get about horsemanship of this style is what the “reward” is. You wave your whip at your horse, and if he does a thing you stop waving it. But what if he doesn’t do the thing? Then you start punishing him for not doing the thing?

The reward, Dave said, is being left alone/ignored. It still doesn’t make sense to me. But there my horse was, standing quietly and still, perfectly happy to be near us but being left alone. Dave said it was just like clicker training, but there’s no click. And you have to pick your criteria and set the learner up for success. Dave went back to the example of when he’d touched Murray earlier. A lot happened when he walked up to Murray — his feet got skittery, he tried to run away, and he put his head up in the air. All of those were contrary to the goal of getting the halter on. What was Dave’s first priority there? I guessed getting Murray’s feet to be still. Dave said no, just touching the horse was his priority. As long as Murray showed some sign of accepting the touching without fighting it (in this case, I think he put his head down just the tiniest bit? or maybe strained less?), then Dave backed off and stopped trying to touch him.

The learning paradigm is the same as it always is (ABCs). You do a thing — wave a whip, kick with your heel, give a cue — that’s the antecedent. That’s followed by a behavior. If it’s the right behavior, you stop doing the thing. There’s the consequence. If it’s not the right behavior, you keep doing the thing until you get an effort close to the right behavior. Dave just put it together in this pressure-release system in such a way that the horse had a lot of success because he rewarded tiny efforts at first, and had a good concept of how those efforts should add up to a behavior. He also emphasized that when this horse doesn’t do the behavior he doesn’t need more pressure, he needs more time.


needs more time is an idea I’m familiar with….

We also talked about general horse behavior. Who’s the boss? The horse leading the group. Great, so what if someone else tries to get in front of the boss? She/he gets in their way. Right, so all you have to do is get in his way a little bit. And sometimes you have to follow through, but if you’re consistent, that isn’t often.

Dave waved his whip at Murray in different ways to get Murray to move away from it. He could move Murray’s hind end and shoulders independently, which was pretty impressive. And then he put the whip against Murray’s body, which Murray was pretty uncomfortable with at first. But it was a great demonstration of the principle.

First, when Dave approached Murray’s body with the tail of the whip, Murray stepped away. Dave kept the whip moving toward Murray’s body in a parallel type of way until Murray stood still and let Dave touch his body with the whip. Dave took the whip off. Next, Dave did it again. This time, Murray immediately let Dave touch him with the whip but also leaned into the whip a little bit. Dave didn’t take the whip off until Murray was standing upright and not leaning on the whip. Dave rubbed the whip around on Murray’s withers a bit. Then Dave did the same thing on the other side.

Murray’s leaning into the whip was so subtle. I didn’t even see it. And Dave was like “The whites of his eyes are gone, but he still hasn’t sighed yet, has he?” At one point, Dave moved each of Murray’s hind feet just by looking at them. That’s the kind of stuff that makes this seem like black magic.


I trained my horse to wait at the mounting block, which is almost like magic

Eventually, it was my turn to lead my horse again. We started with Murray and I standing with about 5 feet of rope between us, and Dave told me to walk him up the path a little ways. I stepped backward and started walking (backward, so I could see Murray). Murray’s head jerked up and his got all upside down as he started walking. Dave paused me and asked me what had happened, and what I did to ask Murray to “go”. He had me hold my end of the rope and demonstrated my version of “let’s go” and his version of “let’s go”. His version was quiet and smooth. He told me to use my whole arm to smooth out the transition, and to lift my hand a little to indicate to Murray “pay attention, something is happening, let’s go.” The same thing with “stop” — lift the hand to let Murray know that he needs to come back to planet Nicole because I’m about to stop.

As we stood and talked about that a bit, Murray came in a little closer to me than Dave wanted. And then he started yawning. Like huge, ridiculous, clown-horse yawns that I have seen this horse do maybe a handful of times ever. Dave was like “he’s much more comfortable with you than me. He can understand me, but he prefers you.” Which was a tiny bit of salve on my wounded horse-owner-ego at that point.


this one time he yawned during a massage….

During this chat, Murray reached down and started eating grass. I popped his head up, and Dave pointed out another mistake I was making. Sometimes you need to punish a horse. But in this case, Murray was doing what he wanted because I hadn’t told him what to do — walk with me, or stand with me. I’d stopped getting his attention. So the next time he put his head down to graze I asked him to walk a few steps with me and stand in his box again.

At the end of our session, Dave ground tied Murray and talked about how Murray should respect the lead rope on the ground as much as he does the cross ties (haha, joke’s on him, he respects them the same!) or a straight tie. Murray stood right there, totally still. Then Dave instructed me to walk parallel to Murray and take his front boots off, and Dave would do the same on the other side. Of course, Murray immediately backed up like “woah what the hell are you people doing to me”. Dave didn’t get angry or big or harsh or annoyed. He just took the lead rope back up in his hand and invited Murray to walk back forward into the rectangle, then dropped the lead rope again. Then we approached to take the boots off, and my horse stood like a ground tied rock.

Dave walked us back to the pasture and helped me “teach” Murray to turn around at the gate for me so I don’t have to go into a muddy pasture. It wasn’t perfect and it took 3 tries. Dave then told me that while Murray was standing there at the gate, I should leave first. It was a good sign that Murray wanted to be with us, but we needed to be the ones to end the game.


byeeee, felicia….

There was so much to digest here. So many things I skipped over — I didn’t even get to the leg yielding and side passing stuff we worked on, or changing sides and speeds while walking. It was all to teach Murray about respect of space, and teach me how to “get in his way” correctly while showing Murray the right thing to do.

Two huge standouts were pressure and punishment. It’s like since Dave talked to me about those things, I can see all the ways that my use of those two tools left Murray confused in the past.

Murray doesn’t know how to handle pressure. I know that, I’ve known that for a long time. Trainer J identified that at our first vet visit. Dave figured it out within a few minutes of watching my horse. I thought that because Murray had never been taught how to handle pressure that this type of pressure-release training wouldn’t work for him. But in a way it’s perfect for him (if done perfectly), because it shows him that there’s an escape from pressure (one that does not involve running the fuck away).

All of those times I was going around and around and around in circles in the barn aisle trying to get my horse to let me do his girth up? He was trying to escape pressure (that part I knew already, I’m not totally incompetent as a behaviorist!). And in response I either added pressure (jam the girth up quickly), added punishment, or both. Until we started clicker training, I never taught him that there was an “out” from that pressure. The “out” was standing still. Because once he stood still, I never took the pressure — the girth — back away from him. I usually just did the girth up. Absolutely, some of the pressure in this system was coming from Murray internally. But that was still pressure he didn’t know how to deal with.


lol who is punishing who here?

Punishment is intrinsically linked with pressure, because punishment is a pressure. I figured out a while back that punishing horses while riding was pointless (and mostly seemed to reflect me having a temper tantrum). But on the ground, I would still punish him for things he did without guiding him to a better behavior. When he walked too close to me, I would smack him back: just “DON’T walk on top of me”, but no guidance as to where he should walk. When he wouldn’t back up when I asked him to with a light halter pressure, I’d go straight to jerking on his halter. Sure, they are both cues for backing up, but one is much bigger and more punishing.

And these are both things that I already knew, but didn’t do consistently, for some reason. Like, sometimes I did them. And sometimes I didn’t.

Dave told me to watch a lot of horses and riders for my homework. Watch people handling horses and see what’s working and what’s not working. Some of what I do works, and he doesn’t want me to throw that stuff away. But he does want all of the stuff I do to become more effective, and more consistent.