this bodes well

It would be, of course, the week right before I have a jump clinic with one of my favourite ever clinicians that I suddenly regain all motivation to ride, realize that I have a lot of ass-kicking to do with Murray, and then have to avoid doing too much of it to preserve him physically and mentally for the clinic.  Murray’s attitude has become progressively better through the week and I imagine it will only continue to get better with consistent work and structure.  He has also gotten sore, though, so I knew that my tune-up jump ride was likely to be at least a little interesting.

And it was.

murrayisadork1

 

I just wanted to make sure that we could go forward, jump everything, and not be scared out of our skin at random objects.  Which we totally accomplished.  But Murray took objection to the extended groundline to the vertical on the out of this one-stride, and could not get through it without playing over the jump or upon landing nearly every time.  I mean, really horse.  Why did you jump 4′ over a 2’3″ fence?  Why are your legs hanging straight down?  What is the game plan here?

murrayisadork2oh, i see what the plan is now

B coached me through putting Murray together again quickly on the back side of the fence and not letting him think that this behavior is desirable.  Once we started to string together a few more fences he settled in, and while we never came out of this combination totally straight and forward, we didn’t miss any fences because of it.

The benefit to working extra hard to get Murray put together before and after fences was really nice flat work.  So clearly, we can do it.  We just need to be appropriately motivated.

feb-jump-03

Murray got two grams of bute and I will hand-walk him today (and hopefully a little turnout if the arena is free) to help ease those sore muscles.  We will see what kind of pony shows up for Hawley on Sunday!

shut it down

Almost a year ago in a lesson with Yves, I got a little talking-to about how I needed to put a lid on Murray’s celebratory naughty behavior when we are jumping.  I was playing around in the lesson and it was all fun and games, but Yves told me seriously and in that horrible way that makes you know you’re really, really not doing the right thing, that I did not want Murray thinking that this was okay.  Not now, and especially not as we moved up the levels.

And of course my response was oh it’s fine / it’s no big deal / it’s not that bad / it’s all in good fun / I like him like this / it’s cute / I’m an idiot.

Now I’ve finally realized while it’s not that big of a deal, and it’s not that bad, and it may be all in good fun (MAYBE), I do not like him like this, it’s not cute, and I’m totally, totally an idiot.

I got on tonight for a flat ride in my jump saddle to prep for Hawley.  Murray decided that every single noise another horse made in the arena was a fantastic excuse to drop his hind end and fling his face in the air and run forward, which was super awesome.  The best part was that Murray’s screaming and spooking would set off a chain reaction with the other horses, so they’d all spook at one another and make more noise and spook at the noise and make more noise etc.

After we jigged our way into the trot and had several ridiculous mishaps and near misses with the other horses I set some clear boundaries.  Bucking, kicking out, and screaming were not going to get Murray out of work, and the best way to convince my lazy, recalcitrant horse that antics = more work is to kick him forward.  So kick him forward I did.

Our warm up, which I usually try to keep stretchy and relaxed, became a monster 20 minute session of moving forward forward forward, direction changes, canter transitions, and transitions within gaits.  I was willing to soften whenever Murray complied with a reasonable request for some kind of change without fighting me on it first, but he wasn’t really willing to offer up reasonable responses at first.

The best part was when I tried to push Murray forward into the bridle and a slightly bigger trot and I felt my upper body pitching forward in anticipation… of nothing.  I tried again for a bigger trot and again: nothing.  Little kick?  Nothing — maybe a reluctant duck behind the bit.  I pony-school kicked Murray and got a cranky canter transition.

You know what you can’t do if your horse responds to your leg by doing nothing?  JUST ABOUT ANYTHING.  You can’t push him into the bridle, you can’t ask him to carry himself, you can’t transition within gaits, you can barely transition between gaits.

Image result for shutting it down gif

So  it was back to the drawing board.  The entire ride became a discussion of “leg means go, and it means go now”.  I used a strategy Tina taught me and if Murray chose to move up to a canter when I asked for more trot I made sure he moved up into a BIGGER CANTER, so he didn’t just use a shitty tiny canter as an excuse not to push in the trot.  Then when I asked for more trot (a little more quietly), I could reward for the right choice — more trot — fairly easily.

I tried, tried, not to get too out of hand with kicking Murray forward.  I only put my crop on him once, and it was a love tap to control a wildly swinging haunch (and I was rewarded with a kick out anyway) when we were walking.  I guess I could have wailed on him for antics at some point, but realistically I didn’t want to get into that fight while riding in jeans and not at my strongest.  But I’m going to pretend that it was also a strategic decision to avoid fighting, because picking a fight isn’t really productive either.

This obviously isn’t going to be solved in a day or even before this weekend.  I do hope  I have some kind of go-button before the weekend.  I suspect it’s going to be an uphill battle for the rest of the winter, and I’ll have to be very diligent and stay on top of it.  Of course, I probably won’t, and come April we’ll  be having some kind of similar discussion once more.

Episode 2: Electric Horsealoo #horsehubby #previouslyonnicoleridesahorse

A post shared by Nicole Sharpe (@nicolegizelle) on

previously on “nicole rides a horse”

It’s wet in Northern California right now. Like really, really wet.  And it’s not so much a problem that we’re getting rain, it’s that we’re completely ill equipped to handle all the rain we are getting.  And even when you have a covered arena, if the roof starts leaking and the rain is coming in the one open side, and the whole structure creaks and groans in the gale-force winds, riding is not terribly appealing.

2-20-dressage-02murray doesn’t like the idea either

With nothing important in the forseeable future and having already missed all the potential prep time for the Hawley clinic (that may yet be cancelled), skipping another ride seems like it will hardly speed the slow slide of our skills into oblivion.  But I decided last week that I needed to get off my butt and ride some more, and probably to set some proper show or clinic goals for the coming months to help me get there.  So I dragged boyfriend out to the barn with me to keep me company, call 911 if needed, and act as a vital videography service for my first ride in my new saddle.  (Ah yes, the saddle is now mine. My check book pleads for mercy.)

Murray was a total spaz to start out with, and kicked off his lunge rather literally with a side-kick that was got far too close to my face to be acceptable.  Murray repeatedly spooked at boyfriend sitting on a chair in the corner, despite the fact the two of them spent five minutes walking around together (“he has dumdum teenage brain, and he can’t poop and walk” was the report) while I looked for my side reins.  When I finally got on we had some major stickiness issues to the right, though interestingly not in our usual spot — the side entrance gate — but on the opposite side of the arena.  So we circled and circled until Murray remembered that he can, in fact, walk forward AND bend on a 15 meter circle, and that his only options aren’t actually sideways or bust.

2-20-dressage-03

The trot work got better and better as we went on.  Murray was pretty uninspired by the idea of moving forward at first, but since all I wanted was for him to move forward and into the contact it was easy for me to focus.  I nagged too much with my leg to start with because I was babying him about the whip (especially obvious in the video).  I should have employed a few more tactics to get him really moving into the contact instead of faking it, but didn’t really think of them at the time.  I was mostly thinking about forward, which isn’t the worst thing for us to practice.  We did struggle a bit with straightness and drifting out through Murray’s shoulders.  It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but I will definitely need to get back to regularly incorporating JM’s straightness exercises into our rides.

Murray’s best trot work always comes right after we canter.  I’ll get a few strides of big, uphill, trot that is frequently pretty balanced.  I need to work on capturing and replicating that feeling when we’re not coming down from the canter, and probably extending the number of strides of that quality trot we can get after a down transition.  How to do this is an interesting question, though.

2-20-dressage-04

The canter work was good.  Like, a little surprisingly good.  There were plenty of icky moments, but enough good ones that it wasn’t hard to cherry-pick a quality screen shot from them.  Murray was balanced in both directions, relatively uphill, and fairly willing to get round.  Not perfect, by any means, but I didn’t feel stuck between “head in the air” or “head down and totally on the forehand croup in the air”.  To the right I just schooled canter transitions, trying to get Murray to respond crisply from a forward trot.  I felt like I had it under saddle, but reviewing the video the transitions are a mess — Murray was clearly anticipating what I wanted and fell apart in the trot before popping up into the canter right as I asked a few times.  Definitely not what I wanted.  So it’s back to the drawing board on that one.  To the left I tried to work on a quality-of-gaits exercise Megan introduced me to, but video (and reflection upon the actual ride) showed absolutely no effect.  I assume I left out the essential step of “add leg” before trying to lift the up-swing of the canter more.

It was good work for our first day back after a week of rain-and-shoe-induced delays.  Boyfriend absolutely fucking won the day though, because when I recapped my video it was filled with all manner of incredible little narrative comments.  Probably his best came before and after pauses in filming, where he offered me some In A World style recaps on what was to come/had just occurred.  I will be laughing about these for DAYS.

In a world…. where boyfriends narrate dressage rides. #inaworld #horsehubby #previouslyonnicoleridesahorse

A post shared by Nicole Sharpe (@nicolegizelle) on

busy mind vs. thinking mind

I was riding a friend’s pony last week, I’ve mentioned him before.  He is a very fun and rather different ride from Murray.  They are both overthinkers, but it seems to express itself in different ways.  (Or perhaps I just think it comes out differently because I’m so close to Murray?)

logan01july jump 02
logan left, murray right – they are similar in some ways

Murray thinks so much that he’s always trying to anticipate my next move, and any movement of my leg or seat or hands can result in drastic direction changes. Logan is busy thinking about what we are doing that direction changes almost seem to sneak up on him, and if I surprise him with one he tenses and inverts.  When I put poles down for Murray he wants to look at them for as long as he can, and then flings his feet around in an attempt to get there on the stride he wants.  When I put poles down for Logan,  he sometimes seemed surprised that they suddenly appeared in front of him — he’s perfectly willing and happy to go over them, but I couldn’t really get it to feel good when I did it.

All of this really got me thinking about catering to the busy pony mind.  A lot of the crappy advice I see floating around the internet is to do lots of transitions and poles to “keep your OTTB’s mind busy”.  (Oh all right, you caught me, I’m mostly shit-talking OTTB connect. SprinklerBandit mentioned this in passing the other day and it made me lol absurdly.)  Which has always struck me as wildly TERRIBLE and FANTASTIC advice a the same time.  Of course, in my jaded little world, that means it falls squarely in the “terrible” camp, since I don’t trust the execution skills of people looking for training advice on OTTB connect (or other horse fora, honestly).

 novdress03novdress02novdress01
murray: holy shit a light saber!

The trick with Murray is keeping his mind engaged enough, such that exercises are actually doing something.  There’s nothing actually useful in Murray flying in a so-called leg yield from the centerline to the wall like the gravitational force of the sun is pulling him there — nothing gymnasticizing, and certainly nothing thoughtful.  Likewise I’m not doing anything by letting him flail his way up to a set of poles instead of waiting, thinking, and lifting his way to them.  Transitions on a circle are super when Murray can maintain a forward and powerful enough gait to respond to them quickly and when I ask him to — not when he bloody well feels like it because he knows it may or may not be coming.

Lots of transitions or poles quickly crosses the line from “a useful exercise” into “drilling incessantly”, which is where the problem arises with Murray.  Inaccurate leg yields build bad habits, and all of it misses the point: learning.  Busy minds aren’t learning, they are just responding.  And in my experience surprising your horse with a ton of transitions they aren’t ready for or throwing random poles in their path just to keep them “paying attention” just makes them stiff and anticipatory (hmm, and how might I know that….?).  Plus it all ties in with a lesson it took me a long time to learn, which is to do things well when you do them, instead of just because you can.

It was more of a challenge to find the same balance on Logan, who I don’t know as well.  So I stuck with the base of the dressage pyramid – keeping things slow so he could just relax, relax, relax through direction changes, small circles, and transitions.  When in doubt, more relaxation will never hurt things.  I think.

IMG_8830-2
not for us, anyway

saddle fit part two

Murray and I had our second saddle fit appointment this weekend.  After a couple of emails back and forth with Robyn, wherein she asked a bit about my budget and purchase timeline desires (free/asap ideal, but less than $1200/this month will do), she shoved* a bunch of saddles for us into the car and met me first on a day full of appointments in the area.

* Honestly she probably placed them with care and attention. But what do I know.

img_20170210_132109
happy turned-out ottb besties

Murray got a brief topline exam again while naked, and Robyn said he looked less sore and sensitive than at our last appointment (because I stopped riding! hah! take that, soreness).  She asked what I had been doing (not quite the prescribed lunging over poles, but lots of turnout and only riding and lunging in wider/better fitting saddles), and seemed to think the break had  helped rather than hurt, which was good news.  Then it was on to fitting some of the saddles Robyn was proposing for us.

Murray, of course, had other ideas.  Idea number one was to not let a single saddle touch him, no way, no how.  When I tried to hold him and put the first saddle up he actually ran away fast enough to dump the saddle in the arena sand.  I managed to save it from hitting the ground full force or skidding, but it did hit the ground.  Robyn, shockingly, did not fire me on the spot.  (I ran to get our barn manager and she held Murray for a few minutes, then whispered “DON’T make me come back out here,” in his ear, and he was relatively well behaved for the rest of the appointment).

img_20170209_103157they continue to grow into fat happy sausages, and
Ginny continues to be my fave!

Robyn tried four saddles on Murray without telling me a whole lot about them.  Then she padded up an English saddle stand for me to sit in each saddle.  She asked me how the first saddle felt and if I thought I would hit the pommel sitting in it, and I honestly couldn’t tell.  But when I sat on saddle two, it was clear that I liked this much more than saddle one.  Saddle three felt immediately a bit funny, like I couldn’t get my seat bones firmly on one side or the other of the seams on the seat.  I told Robyn this and she had me get off immediately, as if my seatbones were sitting right on the seams there was no way I would ever feel balanced in the saddle (who knew?!).  Saddle four was okay, but the pommel was high and we thought it might interfere while I was riding.

So on I got.  Fortunately, the saddle I liked most was also the one that seemed to fit Murray best.  We girthed up slowly (Robyn: You just walk around and take all the time to tighten the girth that you need. Me: Oh, I think it’s tight enough now. Robyn: Doesn’t look tight enough to me… Me: Trust me, you can get away with a much looser girth than most people think.), Murray was fairly reasonable.  But who knows what his tacking up behavior means from day to day or saddle to saddle — certainly not I.  I rode in saddles two and four, and Murray was fairly compliant and starting to stretch down and forward a little in both saddles.  Robyn said she could see a little more tension in Murray’s neck while I rode in saddle four, but I couldn’t feel it.

In the end, I decided to take saddle two on trial.  (In fact, Robyn insisted that I take any saddle I was really interested in on a week trial.)  It was a little more comfortable right off the bat for me, and Robyn liked how it fit Murray.  It’s an ANKY brand saddle (perhaps the Salinero model, but I’m not sure), used, and in good shape.  It feels different than any of the saddles I’ve ridden Murray in, but I’m cautiously optimistic about it.  I’m trying not to swing too hard to either side — no OMG I LOVE IT IT CAN NEVER LEAVE but also no OMG MURRAY DIDN’T BECOME A GRAND PRIX HORSE SEND IT BACK.

img_20170210_133159I was so close to taking a cute selfie with my horse. Then
SOMEONE had to go and ruin it.

So that’s that for the dressage saddle. I’ll know by Sunday if I’m keeping it or not!

The jump saddle situation is a little more complicated.  Robyn didn’t have any on consignment that would work for us, but she showed me what to look for.  Briefly: a medium wide saddle with a high-ish pommel, generous gullet (especially at the pommel, hard to describe) and panels (no narrow gullet and thin panels like some saddles, including my current one), plus rear and (if possible) front gussets.  It’s helped me narrow my search a lot, and Robyn has been super helpful looking at pictures to help me decide.

We’ll see how it goes with the Anky this week (spoiler alert: Murray broke his halter in three places and somehow shoved a shoe halfway back on his foot so that was nice), and if it looks good, it will stay.  Altogether a shockingly pleasant saddle shopping experience compared to the past!  I was pleasantly surprised.

img_20170210_134056
and then Murray tried to bite my cell phone

no work ethic

Murray is really struggling to get back into this “work” thing.  He’s been objecting to all kinds of everything in his favourite way.  On Monday there was a little baby California King snake sheltering from the rain in the arena.  Another rider and I decided it was probably in the safest place it could be, tucked up against the permanently-closed doors on the East side of the arena.  Of course, that was exactly the place that Murray chose to kick in anger when I asked for a canter transition.  He WOULD be the one to murder a baby king snake.

Image result for danger noodle

But we have clinics and lessons and things stacked up for this month, so to work we must return.  Hawley comes on the 25th and 26th, and I’d like to demonstrate that I have progressed at least somewhat since she last saw us.  I don’t see us getting any real turnout any time soon, so Murray and I will both have to grow a better Winter Work Ethic.  Schedule-making WILL be happening.

The saddle search is going terribly.  I don’t know where to start so… I’m pretty lost.  Fitter is coming back this weekend with a bunch of saddles for me to try that will hopefully help narrow my focus a little.  Then I can hit up the eBay and ETT and haggle my little heart out. (Kidding, Peony’s gonna haggle for me!)

Fortunately, there are plenty of things that are also keeping me going through the winter. Like puppies.

My barn manager can’t seem to stop. It’s her third foster litter in a year.

wp-1486451834928.jpgGinny is the cutest. I want her to go home with Megan.

wp-1486451825706.jpg

Also, blue eggs!  To get more blue egg layers we went to a chicken show. A CHICKEN SHOW.  It was amazing.  And noisy. So noisy.

If we are lucky, one of the hens will go broody on some fertilized eggs (and damn are those eggs fertilized! Dawkins, our rooster, boinks his lady friends about seventeen times a day EACH, so unless he’s sterile they are ALL super pregnant right now), and we can hatch some olive- and green- and blue layers.  We are totally addicted to colored eggs now.

I have plants growing in my bedroom still.  Lots of tomatoes and peppers right now, and perhaps some cucumbers later in the season.  If you’re local and want some tomatoes or peppers… talk to me.

I’ve also been riding a friend’s horse for her while she’s gone.  I adore Logan and always have fun riding him.  Sometimes I even prioritize his rides over Murray’s, because I know that Murray is happy to sit for a few days and Logan does better with a more regular schedule (even if the rides are quite short).  Today when I pulled Murray out of his stall after riding Logan my heart was so full and happy to see his little pin-head and baby face.  I do so love my horse.

IMG_20150513_125409

back at it

My 2017 of goal of ride more write more rapidly turned into ride-hardly-ever-write-less.  I definitely got bitten by the saddle fit fear bug for a minute there, worried that putting any saddle that didn’t fit perfectly on Murray’s back would result in severe and permanent physical and psychological damage.  It took me about a week of shopping around for saddles and waiting for the fitter to squeeze me into her very busy schedule for me to decide that fuck it, I could borrow something that fit well enough and/or Murray would be just fine for a few more rides.

So I rode.

jumps01
oh yeah, we actually like to do this…

I had a jump lesson on Tuesday with a friend, and it was definitely the right choice.  One of the barn staff was moving the tractor around trying to clear and dispose of trees that had fallen down during the storms a few weeks ago, and the running tractor and cracking tree limbs and absolute MONSTER that was created when the backhoe picked up tree limbs was just FAR TOO MUCH for both pony brains.  Murray couldn’t go into any corner without violently flinging himself in the other direction (walk, trot, and canter!), and our lessonmate wasn’t faring much better.  Fortunately for us, the backhoe hit a snag about five minutes in to our ride so we all got to settle down.

Murray, of course, was still offended by all the corners.  This made life difficult as we were working on a grid up one of the long sides.  I couldn’t even trot with correct bend around the corner, all I could do was counter-bend Murray and hope that he wouldn’t fling himself too far to the inside.  Every time we would turn to face the grid, Murray would throw all of his pent-up rage regarding the Scary Corner into galloping toward the fences, so we ended up with some… creative use of the poles.

sillypolesyou know it’s bad when even the other horses are laughing at you

I was walking the tightrope of “too much brakes” when I so much as touched Murray’s face with my hands and “no control” if I did nothing.  I guess I could have added leg and really pushed him into my hands, but of course that option didn’t occur to me.  It never does.  (Add leg? Who adds leg. Absurd. That’s totally not always the answer.)  So I just tried to keep the half halts coming with my seat and core, and let the whatever happen.

We built up the bounce and Murray made it happen with some fancy footwork and only a few super awkward moments.  The corners continued to be a bit of a problem — going to or from them — but Murray settled into a pretty consistent and even canter.  Weirdly we struggled to make the strides in odd ways.  Coming down the line straight we would get five, but had no problem getting four on the bending line.  B changed the bounce to a square oxer and vertical one stride apart and Murray never once tried to add in the one stride, but couldn’t help but chip in to the square.  I probably could have put my leg on for a better ride, but I was a little hesitant to ask for more since Murray had already settled into rationality.  I didn’t want to break him, after all.

awks
best form for bounces

I also put in a dressage ride in a borrowed saddle on Thursday, which actually turned out to be very productive.  Nothing groundbreaking, just setting clear expectations and working on the exercises that my many coaches have given me.  But after setting some very clear guidelines (no, you cannot get sticky by the gate and refuse to turn for no reason) and not backing down when Murray offered his standard protest (buck + leap), we put in some good work.

Of course, now I’m so sore I can barely walk, but that’s what I get for not riding for close to two weeks.