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I saw a post that piqued my interest on Facebook this morning.  It was a Horse and Hound article about how breastplates can negatively affect the way horses jump.  Clearly it did more than just pique, it’s ruffled my feathers enough to break me out of my blogging ennui.  Thank you, bad science!!  You’re just what I needed.

well, that and this adorable mug

So, let’s take a look at this article by Horse and Hound. I’m not going to blame H&H too much for this reporting, since they aren’t science reporters and are really only able to work with the information they are given.  I have a sneaking suspicion that this is actually  sponsored article, and if they didn’t disclose that information it is unethical.  However, H&H is bound to know that, and so this particular article is probably not specifically sponsored — more likely, Fairfax gives H&H some large sum of money for general advertising and this article is being played off as a general reporting piece.  You will notice that the first suggested link after the article is about a girth “scientifically proven” (ever scientist’s favourite two words) to improve the way horses go.

The TL;DR of this situation: this is not science, this is an advertisement.

There are so many glaring red flags in this “study” that I can hardly list them.

There is no link to a peer reviewed journal article, or any data, figures, or any other “scientific” measures of difference. The article does point out that the horses took off “closer” (no measurement) and landed “closer” (no measurement) to the fences, thus increasing the flexion of and strain on their hocks and other joints (no measurement).

The “researchers” (Fairfax) even provided a handy-dandy little image that demonstrates how different the arc of the horse is.  No matter than in the “better” image the horse has already started to take the forward part of the landing stride with his front feet and that is where they measured his “landing” point from, and in the “bad” image the horse is pictured at a different part of the landing phase, and his landing point is measured from the foot that is further back. Plus we all know that every horse jumps every fence the exact same every time, and nothing but equipment ever influences this — not rider balance, approach, speed, or general attitude on the day!!


the exact same. every time.

All’s fair in marketing and “research”, right?

And what about those oh-so-critical study numbers that people are always reporting.  Things like sample sizep-value, effect size, or even the dastardly value of measurement?  “Significance” (their scare quotes, not mine) is all well and good, but if the effect size is less than 1%, who gives a shit?!  Wow, excellent, I can improve my horse’s bascule by less than 1% by spending $350 on your special piece of equipment.  Talk about promoting a quick fix.

There is that upper-level rider’s testimony. He says his horses jump so much free-er in front, and he can feel it.  But really, humans are biased and fickle things, and just because we think something is true doesn’t mean it is true.  Especially not subjective, un-measurable things like the feeling of a free-er jump that might be influenced by free product or small piles of gold coins.

It’s probably just me, but damn am I sick and tired of the lack of science that goes on in the equine industry! We all want to do the best for our horses, and I get that.  But a little bit of testing, common sense, and critical thinking goes a LONG WAY with this stuff.  Fortunately, many readers of this article already figured that out.

And finally, one additional pet peeve: If it’s real science, nobody is ever going to use the phrase “scientifically proven” to talk about it.  Scientists don’t use those words because science is always changing and adapting. 

Image result for snakes on a plan gif

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shadows of the future

When I lived in Congo, I watched this group of 5-10 year old chimplets, living together in a peer group.  As you might imagine, watching a bunch of pre-pubescent chimps do their chimpy thing all day was a riot to observe, but not necessarily indicative of adult chimpanzee behavior.  They played hard and, sometimes, fought harder, as kids are wont to do.  More often than not they fought over nothing, perceived slights or a toy that couldn’t be shared, a dead frog that everyone wanted.

not kid chimps, but really cute regardless

The “alpha” of this little group, we’ll call him Lousingou, was a delightful young man, not the biggest around, nor the strongest, but magnificent in his own mellow way. I adored him, but as far as alphas went, he didn’t do much. It took me weeks to even figure out that he was the alpha. He was lovely, but he never threw his rank around, for better or worse (and throwing your rank around is literally what male chimpanzees live to do).  One day a screaming, shrieking fight broke out between two other kids in the group group, and it went on a moment longer than usual. Lousingou was sitting by me at the time; his hair suddenly stood on end, he grew five inches (in just the way that horses do when you get to a show), and he barreled over to the fight.  More accurately, he barreled through the fight, breaking the two of them up with the swift efficacy that can only come with great power and great respect.

I was just a flash.  Just a moment.  But it was a moment so clear it was impossible to believe that this wasn’t the alpha male that Lousingou would grow into. If you told me that Lousingou was anything other than a magnificent, big male now, I’d cut off my own hand.

and I don’t just mean a big male by virtue of size, but one of those really important big males who shape the group they live in. a david greybeard, if you will.

I felt moments of this schooling the Zookini XC for the first time on Monday.  It was the girl’s second field trip, and first time on a cross country course.  Of course there were bobbles. The brake line failed multiple times and the power steering went out for sure.  But there were moments — these wonderful moments — where I could just see the incredible horse that this mare will become.

in addition to being an excellent sofa, which she is

At first Suzy was confused by all those gigantic things out there.  Like, what sick creature would put giant, stonehenge-like structures out in the middle of a field of food?  They could not be real.

Once she realized that they were real, and weren’t going to eat any of us, things got better. Suzy led the group, walked in the middle, trotted with the other horses, even cantered in the group a little and didn’t lose her head. The water was easy — easy!

Then we walked up to the little baby logs on the ground and she was like “I couldn’t possibly comprehend what you want me to do with this.”  Trainer kindly walked Suzy over the littlest one on the ground and a lightbulb went off in the mare’s head.  We turned around and she absolutely pulled us to the log and leapt over it happily.

I’ve never really done mares, but everyone who loves them says that once you get them on your side, they’ll give you 150%.  And suddenly, I believe it.  Sookie believed it was her job, she wanted to do it, so she did it.  I’m not sure I could have stopped her if I wanted to.

We jumped some more logs and even the ditches.  We cruised around and ate a lot of grass while our friends jumped much more of the course.  But it was all cool — that was the goal.  Get out, have a great time, jump the things.  The only fence we had a problem with was this little palisade wall.  Sookie didn’t think it was for jumping.  I respectfully disagreed.  We compromised and jumped the wall.

isn’t this mare cute?!

When this mare has an education, she is going to be unstoppable.

[The peer-groups lived that way because they were orphaned (by hunting of their families, each orphaned baby at the sanctuary really represented 5-10 dead chimpanzees headed for the bushmeat market), and because so many orphans had been arriving at the sanctuary between 2000 and 2008 that the sanctuary couldn’t keep up with integrating young chimps into more natural, age-distributed groups.  It obviously would have been better for the babies to grow up with adult chimpanzees who could have shepherded them into chimphood more adroitly than their human caregivers, but sanctuaries do what they can with what they have.]

finding balance

Murray and I have really been struggling with finding some balance lately.  And not just literally, though as he comes back into work and the world of derpssage it’s clear that his lateral and longitudinal balance are not what they once were.

We seem to ping-pong back and forth between states — not necessarily extremes, but not close enough to anything consistent that there is any kind of meaningful stability there.  It seems to be the case in all aspects of our relationship too; not just work under saddle.

in the meantime, I will appreciate this accidental super-square halt on the lunge line

After a really good run of fantastic behavior on the ground (with a little blip around clipping), Murray decided to throw down regarding bridling, of all things.  He’s been getting fussy and punky about bridling, and I changed his bit to a flexible (but thick) rubber mullen over the weekend.  Murray spent most of the time in that bridle gagging on the bit and attempting to spit it out, though he would happily stop long enough to chew, and seemed quiet enough in it when was were walking and trotting under saddle.

On Monday, he girthed up fantastically. We’ve been making great, incremental improvements day by day with the girthing up post-clipping. We’re actually back to where we were pre-clip: we can do the girth up to the second hole on each side (very light pressure, but not literally hanging loose below his belly) while tied, then take a short and well-behaved walk to loosen up.  We returned to the tie, and after putzing around over a few things I held the reins up for Murray to put his head through.  He fussed and procrastinated but eventually complied (click and treat).  But when I took his halter off and tried to slide the bridle up over his face, he pulled his head back and shifted his feet around uncomfortably.  I waited for the shifting to stop and for Murray to settle (click, treat) then came over to his head to try again.  It went on like this for a few more minutes, so I put his halter back on and tied him up, walked away for a few minutes as a time out, then tried again.

I tried again, taking the bridling much more incrementally: click for standing still, click for letting me put the bridle to your face, click for letting me hold on to your face, etc.  Murray just was not playing ball, and his objections got louder (jerking his head away) and ruder (pushing through me and into me).  I threw in a mild correction (jerked the lead rope once) in response to him jerking away and tried again.  No dice.  I tried to disengage his hind end (risky in the barn, as he tends to slip on the asphalt) when he pushed into me, but that also did not result in any less pushiness.  Eventually we had to take it outside.  It was not pretty.

I truly could not understand what precipitated this.  We went from listening, thinking, and learning to nopenopenopenopenope in less than a minute. Was it about the bit (which he now seems to like?!)?  Was it about his desire for an extra long walk after saddling? Was it because someone had pulled up in a trailer and he wanted to watch?  Was he mentally over it after a week of solid work (but he got Sunday off, and Saturday was pretty mellow)?

Because we have been working.  Mostly at the walk and trot, with a few cancer circles thrown in for good measure and fitness.  Lots of walk poles, a few trot poles.  On the one hand, the work is easy — we’re walking 75% of the time and working on quiet, balanced trot transitions and a steady trot for the rest of it.  It’s not physically demanding work.  On the other hand, I’m literally trying to re-engineer the way Murray thinks, learns, and goes from the ground up.  And that is mentally quite tiring — at least, it is for me.

hand me sci-fi GIF by MANGOTEETH
we can rebuild him! make him faster! stronger!

Part of the reason the work has stayed so low key is that Murray is still vacillating between “pretty sound for a horse who hasn’t done fuck all since September” and “holy shit why does that leg move like that”.  Is it muscular?  Maybe.  He works out of it a lot.  Is it inherent imbalance and tendency?  Probably.  He’s always taken a shorter step with his right front, and I’ve always overcompensated to even him out (or maybe just made it way worse with my incorrect turning?).  Is it because it’s winter?  Maybe.  My horse always seems to go like crap in winter.

After the whole leg hole situation, I find myself less resilient to the little physical-ailment-type bobbles that horsey life throws my way.  Watching Murray be a little short on the right front or dig he toes into the footing instead of step heel-to-toe makes me much more worried that something serious is going on than it ever used to.  Where once I could brush off his winter funk as just stiffness and general malaise, I’m wondering if maybe I should turn him out in a pasture and leave him for a month or two.  Is his right hind still bothering him, causing him to favor his other limbs even more?  The wound is completely closed, but his leg is still reforming, reshaping — tightening up and dissolving scar tissue.  Maybe he just needs more time?  Or maybe Murray will feel much better once he gets into regular, full work, using all of his muscles in better balance.  That’s an option too.

I just can’t seem to pick a path and stick with it.

I’m trying to find a middle ground here — somewhere that I’m not either treating my horse with kid gloves or ignoring what he’s trying to tell me or letting him walk all over me or driving us both insane with the monotony of walk-trot-walk-trot-walk-halt-walk-halt-walk-trot purgatory.  It’s hard when things change so wildly day to day.  It’s like I’m wobbling on a bicycle and I can’t fix it by moving my feet or the handlebars one direction or the other; the only thing that will fix it is picking up speed.

It is me, so I have a bit of a plan.  I should probably write it out and have targets to measure it by — otherwise I seem to get stuck in those death spirals (of nag, of walk-trot forever, of clicking my horse into awful behavior). Hopefully that will help us find that balanced place in the coming weeks.  How do you do it, when you’re seeking balance?  Any hints for a wayward traveler and her meandering steed?  I’ll use any toolkits you can give me.

notorious ottb tries massage

One (of the many) thing that Murray has made quite clear to me over the years is that he doesn’t really appreciate human touch.  He loves to groom and play bitey face with other horses, is very interested in snuggle time with doggos and cats, but would really prefer if we humans just touched him as little as possible.

Which does make riding challenging.  But it also means that trying to help Mr. Heisenberg work out the soreness, muscular imbalances, or other weird-body-stuff that might be hindering his movement and comfort is a real challenge.  I got Murray a couple of massages back in 2014 and 2015, he pretty much hated them and didn’t improve after them, so I figured I’d just leave him to his tense, sore devices forever.

doesn’t want to be mellow

I chatted with one of the local body work experts, Andrea, about this exact problem during someone else’s appointment (I end up holding a lot of horses for her so it’s a good opportunity to chat). She’s seen Murray being his standard gooftacular self enough that she thought she could come up with a plan.  It also helps that she’s a GP dressage rider and former trainer.  So I made an appointment with her!

We started by watching Murray on the lunge line (and I was terribly pleased that he showed off his newly-installed stretchy walk and trot!), while I described my concerns.  Murray tends to step short with his right front, which he typically works out of, but it would be great if we could help him along with correct biomechanics and some body work.  (Interestingly, on the lunge Murray wasn’t lame going to the left, though he was his standard amount of lame going right. As usual, it got better with a couple of circles. One day we’ll know what that is about.)

his mouth is saying yes but his eye is saying noooo…?

I told Andrea to do what she felt was appropriate and within Murray’s ability to tolerate and, as with all of my equine professionals, to discipline him as needed. Whatever we did or didn’t get to in terms of his muscles was fine with me — I wanted this first appointment to help us make a plan, and not get Murray feeling defensive or more tense.  Andrea started on the right, which is Murray’s stiffer and tenser and more tender side.  I probably could have warned her… but failed to do so.

Andrea started with really light pressure on Murray’s neck — about a third of the pressure she usually uses when working on a horse.  She moved slowly and purposefully, and wasn’t digging in really deep the way you see some body workers go to town on a horse.  Murray was suspicious at first, for sure, but Andrea just kept moving slowly and carefully, and eventually the tense baby horse started to relax…. and then, he kinda started to enjoy it.

Andrea spent most of her time working on Murray’s right shoulder and the associated neck muscles on that side.  There was more work to do in his neck but she didn’t want to push it.  His biceps were tight but not out of the ordinary (I’ve been poking and prodding them ever since Emma mentioned tight biceps a while back!).  And then the impossible happened — Murray started yawning.  At first it was a little yawn, and then another little one.  And then I he let rip one of those great, big, drawn-out, tongue-flapping and eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head yawns that I did not think my horse was capable of.  AND HE DID IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.  Right up until I took my camera out, of course, at which point he promptly quit showing any signs of joy or pleasure.

As she moved toward his lumber region and hind quarters, Andrea was able to start using more pressure on Murray.  His lumbar and booty were sore, but not out of the ordinary for a horse who is coming back into work after a while off.  That right hind is also pretty weak right now, I suspect from just being basically out of commission for the last five months.

murray substituted biting the pole for yawning because it’s so much cuter?

Murray’s left side was much less tight and sore than his right, and Andrea could get a little more work done.  She noticed that his obliques were tight on both sides (more on the right), but didn’t want to tackle them as they can be a particularly sensitive area and it wouldn’t be worth his potential objections.  And despite his lack of  yawning on the left, Murray did seem pretty relaxed and happy, and only moderately bored and frustrated toward the end of the massage.

Andrea gave me some really useful advice for keeping Murray even side-to-side as we get back into work, and helping him approach exercises in a way that will help him instead of making his issues worse (e.g. poles should help him lift up his shoulders and reach, not make him bear down and flail forward).  It was great that she really seemed to get Murray, and work with his sensitivity and quirks, instead of ignoring them or becoming annoyed by them.


Murray: I love dis pole

All in all, a pretty successful body work adventure! Murray and I are going to keep on with the clicking and treating, as we work our way back up to full work!  And hopefully we can loosen up and stretch out that right front, and even up those strides a bit more!

spiral of nag

I’ve been trying to be very conscious about correctness while bringing Murray back into work this year.  Part of it is trying to maximize the relationship and learning mentality that we’re creating through clicker training, and part of it is an attempt to undo all of the bad habits and ingrained reactions that the two of us have developed to one another over the last few years.  It’s been a lot of work at the walk, since we’re still building up fitness and hoof health, which has been the perfect opportunity to integrate the clicker into our sessions.  It’s also been an excellent opportunity for us to work on Murray’s walk, which is inarguably his weakest gait.

such challenge

A lot of what I’ve been focusing on is developing a positive relationship with contact, which has always been such a struggle for us.  I seem to be as afraid of contact as Murray is — I seem to desperately fear having to hold up anything more than the weight of the reins, and will consciously and subconsciously wiggle, shake, or bump horses out of my hands.  It’s no wonder that Murray wants to duck behind the bridle.  So focusing on rewarding Murray for actually moving into the contact is doing a lot for me too.

I’ve also been working a lot on our walk-trot transitions.  These have been a weak point for Murray and I since time immemorial (okay, so what isn’t a weak point for us?!), so rebuilding these from the ground up with the clicker has been priceless.  I actually started these with in-hand work, clicking first for a long-and-low walk, then asking for the trot and clicking for a similarly long-and-low trot. I chained the two behavior by asking for the trot and clicking specifically when Murray made the transition without hurling his head in the air or leaning on his underneck.  (It would probably be ideal if I clicked when he actually pushed from behind properly in a transition, but it’s all about the baby steps here.)

ugh I miss summer

On Monday we did a lot of walk-halt-walk, walk-trot, and trot-walk transitions under saddle.  It’s a long way from perfect, but the frequency with which Murray trots forward in a quiet and reasonable way is steadily increasing, and the frequency of flailing-inverted-on-the-forehand transitions is steadily decreasing.

The problem with playing the walk-halt-walk-trot-walk-trot-walk-halt-walk game is that it is boring.  So I thought I’d work on making my cues for the trot quieter, since Murray seems to prefer a quieter cue over one that involves actual leg pressure.  I decreased the pressure I put on with my legs when I asked, and tried to “think trot” with my seat. A couple of times I caught myself pitching forward an lightening my seat as if to avoid getting left behind through the transition, and verbally scolded myself. Of course, pitching oneself forward and picking one’s seat up means the transition isn’t happening, soooo yeah.

When the lighter cues weren’t working, I went back to squeezing slightly harder, and then a little more and a little more until I got something resembling a transition out of Murray.  And I realized I’d worked myself into a nag spiral.  Instead of making Murray responsive to my lighter “aids” I’d somehow made it even easier for him to ignore my ever-increasing ones.


lalalala I can’t hear you

Which was nice.  And totally my goal.

I went back to trot cue = trot forward no matter what, and clicked for that a few times in a row.  Then we took a walk break.  Megan later pointed out that as long as I kept pairing the quiet cue with a cue that Murray knows means “trot right meow!”, it would work. Which revealed to me my problem: I had just been turning the volume down on the old leg-based cues (already not Murray’s favourite thing to listen to), without including any kind of link to the behavior I actually wanted.

Learning theory suggests you present new cue – old cue – behavior – reward.  But instead I was just going new cue – no behavior – wtf?!  As if Murray would think “well, when Nicole does this with her legs only bigger, what she means is trot… so I should try trotting here”.  Shockingly, my horse is not capable of such cognitive leaps.

Murray asked to stretch down at the walk during our break, so I obliged and we worked on stretchy walk for a few circles.  While he was stretching down, I asked Murray to trot, and he gave me a pretty good stretchy transition that led into a nice long and low trot circle.  So I stuffed his face with the remainder of our grain and called it good.  Clearly, all is not lost on the learning front.  I just need to remember which one of us actually has access to the texts on training and learning theory.

barefoot update #4

I haven’t written a barefoot update in a while because progress on the barefoot front has slowed down.  With the rainy season beginning in earnest, Murray has been stuck in his stall with minimal turnout.  Less movement == less progress. I’ve actually seen a little regression with his gaits, which is a bummer.  But his feet have still made some nice progress, and next week marks 12 weeks since  started on this whole barefoot adventure.

We’ll start with the left front. It’s so much more straightforward than the right front…. though more problematic, in some ways.


LF in October

The angles aren’t exactly the same, but Murray’s toe is a little shorter and his heel is way less underrun now. As in, he has a heel!! The hairline is also even now — no more dip in the front!

LF in January

Best of all, there’s a pretty significant change in angle in the new growth on this foot!  I traced the new growth (and extended it down) in orange, and traced the old angle in red. We will have a much, much healthier foot if that orange growth continues down to the ground!

Murray’s LF sole has also shown some pretty significant changes. I had my farrier come out for an inspection/trim this week, and she took a little bit off his toe and clipped away some funny, flaky bits coming off his sole. (I have before/after pics for the RF, but the before pic of the LF is really blurry so I didn’t bother uploading it.) She was very happy with his progress so far!

October on the left, January on the right

Let’s talk about all those neat changes!  I created all of the reference measurements on the October image, then superimposed them on the January image without changing the size.  So I could make accurate comparisons, duh.  First, the frog is much wider.  Probably 10-15% wider, which is awesome!  You can’t tell in the picture, but the collateral grooves are also deeper.  These have been steadily getting deeper over the last 12 weeks, as the foot gains concavity and the frog gains depth.  The heels have also widened (purple bracket), and the toe (blue bracket) has shortened!

RF in October

Murrays RF has also made some good changes, but is going through a much scarier ugly phase than the LF right now when viewed dorsally (this picture was before the trim, it’s slightly less scary now).  But he’s not unsound — well, no more unsound than he was before I pulled his shoes! — so I’m going with it.  And here’s the thing — and it’s weird, so bear with me.  This foot is now wider at the top than it is at the bottom.  The top half inch or so of new growth is wider all the way around the coronet band.  Farrier thinks (and I fervently hope so!) that the wider section will probably continue to grow like that all the way down, and we’ll just end up with a bigger hoof overall!

The sole is much less terrifying than the dorsal view — here’s Murray’s foot in January pre- and post-trim.

That excess heel (red arrow) is what my farrier trimmed off during the appointment.  And the blue arrow shows his brand new breakover!!  Murray’s never before had a breakover that wasn’t, you know, his shoe.  Confession: I actually thought that might have been his coffin bone falling out though his sole at first, because I’d never experienced a barefoot horse’s breakover before.  I was quickly informed that he would have been crippled and hobbling were that the case.

October on the left, January on the right

Sole comparison shows a lot of heel expansion (purple bracket), and a longer toe (blue bracket). Lots of people wouldn’t be excited about a longer toe, but I am!  This foot needs a little more shape to it, instead of trying to be a cylinder.  And as before, the frog has expanded and much more of it is in contact with the ground.  He’s a touch footy on the RF after the trim, but I suspect that will go away in a couple of days.

The caudal shots this month all came out crap, so I’ll probably just give them another go next month (with more light maybe?).

At the beginning of this month I started Murray on a ration balancer formulated for our area, which should help his overall vitamin/mineral balance and contribute to overall better foot health.  I’m also considering switching him over to pasture board, but haven’t decided yet.  I’m not sure that Murray would love it, but he isn’t loving being stuck inside right now either.  So… we will see.

The barefoot experiment continues for now!

john-michael durr clinic w the suzukini

Winter is for clinics, right? That’s what I’ve learned in the last five years as an Equestrienne. And fortunately for me, I got to ride in one pretty early!  Suzy’s lovely owner rode with John-Michael Durr (heretofore JM) on Friday at our barn, and I got to have the ride on Saturday at another barn about an hour from us.

Suzukini was a freaking champion on Friday, while simultaneously giving a really accurate reflection of her current training issues.  She wants to get tense and rushy and solve problems by putting her head down and going for it.  The problem with that method is that it gives her the perfect position to just… not go.   She pulled this trick twice, and JM tactfully guided Suzy’s owner through riding the mare better to the fences and presto — the mare jumped like magic.  Suzy jumped everything huge, and had no second thoughts about 2’3″ verticals and her first oxer!  I was very proud.

On Saturday, we loaded up Suzy and a friend’s horse (who was actually bred by Suzy’s breeder and used to live with her!) and headed over to Clay Station Ranch for our second jump lesson. Suzy hauled like a champ and stood at the trailer like a seasoned professional when we got there. The only problem I encountered was that her bossy broodmare-ing of me started to come back out again as we walked around — subtly shoulder checking me to get me to go where she wanted to go. I not-so-subtly shoulder checked back.  I kept our warmup really simple — walk and a tiny bit of trot in the outdoor arena, hoping to keep her calm and avoid working her up before we got in to our lesson.

Unfortunately, my warm up strategy didn’t really walk.  We got into the indoor for our lesson and Suzy was suddenly on fire.  She veered around the indoor choosing where to turn and when to turn and what to look at.  I tried to keep her slow and relaxed instead of rushing and charging with minimal input.  JM immediately told me to create the horse I wanted instead of restricting the horse I had.  Did that make sense? Nope.  He backed it up: instead of constantly telling Suzy “don’t look there, don’t trot so fast, don’t veer in here” he wanted me to tell her “go like this, turn right here, look over there” and then reward her for doing those things when I asked her to.  That I could do.


girl likes to jump everything big right now

JM’s theme for the weekend was creating a supple relaxation in the horse that you could add power to if needed — but taking the speed out of the equation.  We started by cantering a small X, which Suzy got right up to and then promptly said “nah, no thanks” and tried to run out to the right.  We approached again at a trot and she politely declined once more. JM had me walk her up to the fence and go over it from a walk, at which point I was really glad I brought my grab strap.

Our approach to the first fence foreshadowed the rest of the day.  Suzy wasn’t totally on board, and wanted to do things her way or not at all. JM had me slow everything down.  If we cantered, it had to be a relaxed and steady canter.  If we trotted, it still had to be a relaxed and organized trot.  He wanted me to show how being relaxed and steady would make life easier for everyone.

I got left behind a lot all day

This worked really well for most of the fences, though we never managed to nail the relaxed and steady canter approach.  All of our fences ended up with a long trot approach, and maybe a stride or two of canter at the end. A couple of times Suzy burst through the relaxation and charged the fence, but it got better as we went along.  Each time we would approach a fence with new filler (new concept for her also — we haven’t put much fill in for her at home), Suzy tried to charge out over one shoulder or the other.  I wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping my leg on to the fences at this point either.  JM pointed out that I would feel Suzy start to pull me down to the fence and then take my leg off.  What he wanted was for me to keep my leg on, but compress her stride and sit her up.  This would make it easier for her to jump the fence instead of choppily stopping in front of it.

she is awfully cute though…

This strategy worked really well when I remembered it, so to remind me JM yelled at me to kick about three strides out from a fence.  This resulted in a bit of fence rushing after some pretty good, relaxed approaches, but at least she was jumping and listening!  Kicking a few strides out from the fence actually helped me stick with Suzy’s jump a bit better, because it made it easier to predict where she was going to jump, instead of riding hyper-defensively in case she decided to pull me out of the tack with her big, heavy head.

Though I tried to be both firm (you have to jump) and supportive (but it’s okay if it’s not pretty), I’m afraid I didn’t give her the best ride for the way she was feeling. I’m very, very, very glad that I had JM there to coach me through it.  It was seriously one of the toughest rides, both mentally and physically, that I’ve ever had. I was using every muscle in my body to keep leg on, lift her up, steady my post, steady her strides… definitely am not in shape for this kind of riding!! (But I hope to be soon.)

errr sorry kiddo

It wasn’t my prettiest ride (except that one picture above), but it was productive for Suzy and myself.  I learned a ton of new concepts that I can put to use on her, and I got confirmation that the instincts I’ve had about her training (can’t let her rush around, have to teach her to relax and balance upward, etc.) were correct, which is so nice to hear! Even better, I got some great ideas for adjusting my ride on Murray.  The idea of relaxing my horse through a turn and adding leg to balance upward to a fence is definitely different from how I typically approach a fence — i.e. kick my ass off down to it and hope that we don’t add until we’re underneath it. So all in all, an excellent clinic.

Plus, JM is fun and supportive to ride with. Highly recommend him as a clinician!

That night, I went to Peony’s house for a Horse Girl Party and we watched FEI TV. I chose my new sport — I think that vaulting to the Dr. Strange theme is going to be much less physically demanding!