teach me tuesday: good hands

Having good hands is something I aspire to.  I’d like to think that I have soft hands, because even though I tend toward too long of reins I’m quick to slip them or release, and I can follow decently.  Also, I’m a big mane grabber — so at least I’m not balancing on my horse’s mouth.

jump-2

But what I really want to talk about is how people are taught to ride, and what they do with their hands then.  Because I see an awful lot of riders getting pulled up out of the tack by their hands and I’m like… don’t we all know we’re not supposed to be doing that, right?

holding

Some horses are more sensitive than others, of course.  I think if I’d tried to haul myself over a fence on Murray’s mouth when he was four, five, or six (or honestly, even now) he’d be like UMM EXCUSE ME pretty hard.  But Quincy was just a fucking trooper of a five year old and was happy to drag me over whatever.  He was the best.

So I wonder: how do you think the way we are taught to ride influences our proclivity to haul on our horses’ faces?  I honestly don’t remember a ton of my training as it pertained to hands in the horses immediately prior to Murray, but Murray let me know early and often that he was not comfortable with a constant contact.  Especially not my shitty, incompetent, amateur contact.  He would accept a loose rein or march his ass backwards to the barn and that was that.  So a loose rein it was, and I learned to steer with my legs and seat.

I hear a lot of instructors (including some of my early ones) telling their students to keep a steady pressure or contact on the reins.  Inevitably, you see a lot of nooblets pulling themselves up and down and up and down at the trot on their charming, patient, lovely lesson horses’ mouths.  I also understand the lure of holding on to those reins — without them, you can’t pull your horse up quickly if they do something stupid and before you learn to steer properly they are your steering wheel.  Not everybody likes to ride around on gigantic, unfamiliar beasts all “Jesus take the wheel!”

horze1

We know that one can’t have good hands without something of an independent seat, but are we shooting ourselves in the foot by teaching students to ride so much with their hands from early on?  Is there another option?

Based on my experience with Murray, I really feel that it would be better for students to learn to ride with a loop in their reins and still steer, brake, and balance.  Sure, learning in this order has created some problems for me (like a general reluctance to feel pressure on the reins, and an inability to hold up the weight of my own hands), but I think it’s avoided other bigger problems: I don’t balance on my hands (mostly) and I don’t throw my entire body forward over the fences in an attempt to not hit my horse in the mouth (mostly; I do it for other reasons though).

So why do we teach our students to hold the reins in such a way that they end up balancing on their horses’ mouths?  Every student is going to balance on her horse’s mouth to learn to post at first, but after you find your balance point why keep doing it?  Why let someone balance on their horse’s mouth as they are two-pointing around?  Or am I seeing a hugely biased sample of young amateurs at small shows that are friendly to nooby riders?

2002_riding_n2_2Ok so lots of little kids with long reins in this pic… but we were also walking.

So tell me, how were you taught to hold or keep contact on the reins when you learned to ride?  Is there something I’m missing here because, shut up Nicole, you’ve been riding for ten minutes in a very small geographical location?  Has it changed since you were taught to ride?  Do you see young students riding differently now than when you were a student?  Am I full of shit and it really is better to learn to ride with contact because [valid reasons]?

It just seems to me that there’s a better way, and I wonder why more students and riders aren’t employing it.

(F)transformation Friday

New media means that I get to make some Murray comparisons.  And oh boy, is it worth it.

Camelot – June 2015
Subtext: let me see you bounce left and right and see ya shoulda lean…

IMG_1985

18857776603_ab9c1b8495_k

November(ish) 2015
Subtext: I learned how to keep my reins the same length!

octdressage

February 2016
Subtext: I like these, and I love how round the top of Murray’s haunches look, but these were the best moments in a lot of fussing…

febdressage08

febdressage13

May 2016
Subtext: Megan started getting us on the right path….

IMG_8822-2 IMG_8849

September 2016
Subtext: I conveniently wore the same outfit for comparison purposes

dress-4
I like almost everything about this one better… dress-2
But I adore the bulging quads on this one

Surprise pop quiz: how many different saddles am I using in these images?!  And when oh WHEN will I ever get my lower leg under control?!?!

shut up and take my money

I actually did not look at my videos from the morning dressage lesson with JM until after my jump lesson in the afternoon, which was a funny choice.  I was worried that with all the ground breaking HARD work I was asking Murray to do and the fussy slightly shitty place he had felt like at times in our lesson that our video would be less than flattering and mostly slightly disappointing.  I was clearly wrong, but didn’t know it yet.  So when my jump lesson with JM started I wasn’t quite at “shut up and take my money”, but I certainly was afterward.

JM asked what he needed to know about this horse for jumping, and I simply said “We like to add.”  JM responded that he also likes to add, and is fine with it as long as you ride forward to the add.  Sounded like something I could do.

spankMurray did get in a teeny bit of trouble for refusing this coop, and responded like…. some kind of downhill goat or something

We started with the classic trot-pole-to-crossrail and after a few successful trips over that JM raised the X to a vertical.  As we were trotting into the vertical I heard JM say “steady, steady”.  As I could feel Murray plowing down on the jump I slowed my post a little to encourage Murray’s pace to stay consistent.  Unfortunately this had the opposite effect of slowing him TOO much, and we had an ugly fence.  The next time through Murray was picking up the pace a bit again and so I tried to just half halt through my core.  This resulted in an EVEN UGLIER jump.  JM stopped me, told me that my horse is a lazy SOB so I have to work to keep him forward instead of holding him back — and what do you know, Murray regulated his own pace.  Like he does.

We moved on to jumping additional fences, and Murray refused a green coop we have jumped a billion times. He was looking at a scary piece of filler off to the side of it and I didn’t ride properly — still hesitantly the line between over-doing it with the “YOU MUST GO” and underriding.  So he got one smack, and I rode properly to the fence the next time, and it was a non-issue.

We progressed through the courses relatively quickly.  After watching a few consecutive fences JM told me that I had the winning combination of a horse who was willing to sit himself up on his hind end, so my job was to keep the energy and push him to the good spot instead of letting him add until we are beneath a fence.  This is not particularly revolutionary or different from what other clinicians have told me — but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a great ride!

jump-1

We jumped around BN height with a few slightly bigger fences thrown in there (I told JM I wanted to start out the new year at novice, but obviously would re-assess in the new year) and there was nary a stop or shitty fence to be seen.  Despite being tired and having a hard butt workout that morning Murray was responsive and rateable — I could get him forward when I needed, and he came back equally well.  He took the long (for him) spots when asked, and didn’t fight me too much about getting on top of fences before takeoff.

I did feel a little looser in the tack than I would like, which I chalk up to being out of jumping shape, and I was ducking a little aggressively over the fences.  But I imagine I will get much stronger in the coming weeks as Murray and I get back into it.

The best part of all this is that I felt completely and absolutely prepared for the level — which is a first for me.  I don’t clinic much, but I feel like whenever I do clinic I say “I’m competing at BN” and there are still nineteen things that clinician gives  me to work on before I can be successful at that level.  I mean, yay for getting what I need out of clinicians, but it always leaves me feeling a little bit like “will we EVER get there?!”

jump-2

And you may have noticed that there was nary a mention of Murray theatrics in these recaps.  Because there were none.  Trainer didn’t even have to prep JM with the Notorious OTTB backstory — we just stepped into a clinic and rode successfully like Southern motherfucking democratic republicans reasonable adult horses CAN DO.

WUT.

I mean, we asked Murray to do a hard thing in dressage (use your hind end, fool!) and he neither lost his shit about it nor abandoned everything else he’d ever learned about dressage and turned into a giraffe.  That’s a huge win right there.  Then I took my tired horse and jumped him around at a good clip asking him to take longer spots than he wants to and not shrink his stride to the fences quite so much, and he didn’t get upset about that either!

This kid is growing up.

your belt buckle is drunk

This past Sunday my trainer hosted a clinic with John Michael Durr, which despite an extreme lack of money right now I chose to participate in.  I have known of JM for a few years, but other than watching his go at Rolex in 2014 had never seen him ride.  A few weeks ago he came and gave lessons to a few people from our barn who all raved about him, and so we clinic(k)ed.  And it was great.

dress-4Spoiler alert: sometimes we look like we know what we’re doing

We did a double day, with dressage in the morning and jumping in the afternoon, since we didn’t quite have enough people to justify two days.  Murray has been so great in dressage lately, as I have described ad nauseum, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect during our lesson.  Obviously we had lots to work on, but what part of the “lots” would get targeted?  The basics, of course.  It’s always the basics with us.

I thought very carefully about what I would say to JM when asked to introduce ourselves, and ended up telling him that we were coming back from 6 months of 1-2 day a week rides and Murray had just now started to become steady and confident, whereas before he was tense and stressed out.  I didn’t want to unload on JM three years of woes and training debacles, but I did want him to know we were in a place that was new for both of us.  Since Murray came out looking and riding like a drunk monkey, JM immediately honed in on our lack of power and behind-the-leg-ness.

dress-1hrrrr new clinician’s here and I’m drunk!

Instead of riding him like he is four different pieces of horse that I’m trying to rally together all on slightly different schedules (fix the haunches, catch the shoulder, neck what are you doing! ribcage, get your shit together, etc.), JM said that we would be riding him very, very, very straight (which is also what Megan said, and I promise I really have been trying to do that!!).  This, in turn, would translate into a greater transmission of power from hind quarters to forequarters.  I was instructed to slow his front legs down with my thighs and quicken his hind legs with my seat, ride only straight lines and 90 degree angles, and do it with a slight counter flexion (except in the corners).

Totally easy right? Only like nineteen new things for me to focus on!  Not a problem.  Fortunately, Murray and I already have some concept of the thigh half halt, so I knew what to do with that, and add energy with the calves was easy enough.  JM coached me (step by step where needed) through the straightness and the corners, so we got those done too.  Murray was confused and fought the idea at first, but quickly came around.  And wouldn’t you know it: POWER!!

dress-2Oh yah actually I can step under with my hind legs if you ask right, just look at my bulging Arnold Schwarzenegger muscles

We did the same thing at the canter (though there is no photographic evidence as I apparently only cantered far away from my photographer), and Murray thought that was really hard.  Like, exceptionally hard.  He would rather make his trot MUCH nicer than work that hard at the canter.  To keep us on the straight lines at both the trot and canter as we got tired JM emphasized the idea of keeping control of my belt buckle.  If my belt buckle was pointed away from JM (the center of our square), then obviously we would move away from him.  If it was pointed toward him, then we drifted toward.  At one point as we crossed a short side Murray got really confused about a possible change of direction and we swerved wildly, which earned us the reprimand of “your belt buckle is drunk!”

dress-3Oh also I can lift through my withers, did I not tell you that?

This was even more important at the canter as I had to sink down through my back into the saddle but half halt with my thighs at the same time.  It turns out that I’m a pretty loosey-goosey canterer, and after a few squares pushing Murray with my seat + calves but half halting with my thighs, all while following with my hips and sinking down into my back, my entire body was protesting the hard work.  It seems that Murray and I will both be working up to longer intervals of this intensity.

dress-5

Ultimately, both our trot and canter work felt more powerful and forward.  I couldn’t always feel when Murray lifted himself up to the saddle (or lifted the saddle, I can’t quite remember), even when JM pointed it out.  But that’s ok, I’m sure that feel will come.

JM said that he was surprised that Murray made so much progress during our lesson and that he lasted as long as he did, since it was quite a workout.  I retorted that it’s  because Murray knows what he’s supposed to be doing, but has trained me to let him go other ways.  JM disagreed and said that I was giving Murray too much credit, and that he really did need to learn how to use his body in this new, more effective method.

dress-4

Can we just appreciate this picture again for a moment, and how much Murray and I look like we know what we’re doing here?!

  • Moment of suspension: check.
  • Tracking up: check.
  • Lifted back: check.
  • On the bit: check.
  • Lifting through shoulder: check.
  • Sitting up straight: check.
  • Leg at girth: check.
  • Heels down/neutral: check.
  • Straight line from elbows to bit: check.
  • Reins not too long: check.
  • Looking up: LET’S NOT PAY TOO MUCH ATTENTION TO MY HEAD. I was having a helmet problem, ok? I cut my hair and now my hair doesn’t do the right things under my helmet any more. I need a solution to this problem but for now my head looks alien and deformed.

If I can ride like this for one frame, surely there is hope for me?!

For homework, I have been prescribed six weeks of straight-lines-only flat work (I may make curved lines while jumping, evidently) in short, intense bursts.  Lots of walking in between, and not too many reps per ride.  (Like, a few minutes each way, tops.)  I am to finish with some stretchy trot work with counter-flexion, and if after two weeks things are going well I can do counter-flexed figure 8s at the trot.  JM said that if I did my work properly I should see muscle development behind the saddle by his next visit.

In conclusion: 10/10, would ride with JM again.  Our jumping lesson in the afternoon was just as good (recap to come tomorrow).

Oh also, I rode in my buband. I’m not sure I liked it, I think it made my boobs look flat and deformed.  However, I didn’t jiggle at all (not one bit), and I felt like I was being hugged for much of the day (human thunder shirt?).  It did give me an unflattering mic-pack look at the back of my shirt, though.  This device will require more investigation.

why do you write like you’re running out of time?

A few things on Friday (a… Friday Five maybe?!) to get you into the weekend.

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1. If you aren’t listening to/haven’t listened to Hamilton… WHY AREN’T YOU?  It is well worth two and a half hours in the car, in your house, or on your horse. I am obsessed and listen approximately every other day.  I’m not terribly into musical theatre or even music, but I’m into this piece of musical theatre.  Go stream the whole album on Amazon Prime.  Also, I now think Hercules Mulligan would be an amazing name for an event horse.

2. This article is about one of my MIL’s trainers, Miguel Tavora.  You can find it on page 100 of The Horse magazine here.  The Horse actually has a shockingly easy reading platform, and it’s free!  I’ve watched a few Miguel clinics and am very interested in his training techniques and methodology — I’ve seen a few horses trained in his program become really successful individuals now, so that’s helpful.  He says some really wonderful and profound things about training and helping a horse find their balance and not pushing/forcing/fixing them into a balance.

3. I will be working with a neat program called Experiment! this fall that crowd funds research projects.  They have helped researchers fund such awesome studies as high-tech interactive foraging toys for rhinos, establishing a new penguin colony in South Africa, and how floppy-bodied creatures eat hard things.  Some of the other awesome campaigns running right now include exploring the effects of the Chernobyl disaster on wildlife disease, a coral reef microbiome, and whether or not Chipotle makes bigger burritos for bigger people. Maybe some of us equine researchers should come up with a good research project to propose?!

4. Have any of you ever tried the Buband?  I have one to review so expect to hear about it soon.  I wouldn’t characterize myself as terribly well-endowed or really even uncomfortable when I ride or exercise, but could I be more comfortable?  That is the question.

homer simpson the simpsons fat justice jiggle

5. As always, we are looking for more volunteers for the WSS one day on October 1st.  If you travel to California for my horse show, I will let you sleep at my house (with my cat, and possibly my dog).  I will even let you sleep in my bed!  Since I will be out of town at a wedding.  As usual — you know how to get in touch if you’re free.

corgiderpIt’s fun! Come and play!

 

adjust your attitude

I lost my temper with Murray on Tuesday, which was an unfortunate and unflattering moment for me and an upsetting moment for him.  (Reason number 389234 that I am not a pro.) IMG_1963

Remember that I’ve had absolutely nothing but fabulous rides on Murray since getting back from Chicago, even when I ask him to do something hard, even when I have to get after him a little for being lazy, even when we miscommunicate a bit.  And not just “good” rides, but “log into messenger and talk with your best friends about it IMMEDIATELY” rides.

So Tuesday, Murray was kinda blowing me off, and then about halfway into our ride became a spooky piece of shit.  It was windy, so there was that, but this was really ridiculous spooking – dropping his back and bolting down the long side, running sideways halfway across the arena because we dared to pass a bucket of jump cups that we’ve seen approximately 500 times before.  I handled it all wrong, of course.  I didn’t recognize early enough that he was blowing me off sidewaysbecause he was looking at jump filler, and then lost my temper and buckled down with MORE and HARDER work all around the Scary Things that ended up with Murray grinding his teeth and begging for a stretchy trot break.

I should have just practiced calmly and quietly stretching and coming back to me, instead of reinforcing Scary Things and tension.  I realized this when I had cooled off a bit, and tried to go back to soft and relaxed work near-but-not-too-close-to the Scary Things, but Murray was already tense and a little on edge.  We got back to a good place, and in the grand scheme of bad rides this was hardly that bad!  But it made me feel bad.

On Wednesday I got on Murray with the plan to just work on stretching and relaxation if he was anywhere near as spooky as yesterday and to try to get back to the soft-and-happy place that we had formerly achieved.  Murray wasn’t spooky, but he was tense and distrustful.  And the tension I felt was very similar to my dressage rides on Murray about a year ago.  It was that not-really-listening-to-you, twisty, choppy tension… Even writing this just a few hours after my ride I’m finding it hard to describe, but that’s the impression that has lasted on me since my ride: it was like we regressed by a year.  I’ve been completely shocked by how mature and responsive Murray has been recently, and then we slipped right back into baby mode.

feb dressage stretch

We worked through it and ultimately had a great ride.  But my overwhelming impression was that losing my temper and then digging in yesterday put Murray back into that distrustful, tense, unhappy mindset where dressage (and sometimes jumping) wasn’t fun, and wasn’t worth it.  It’s a place I’d rather not go, since the place we’ve been in lately has been so much more pleasant and fun.  It makes sense that the attitude with which I ride would affect how Murray goes.  I mean… duh.  But I don’t think I realized quite how much my attitude and work ethic were affecting the princess pony.

Definitely requires some chewing upon.

evolution

I have been hearing “inside leg to outside rein” for as long as I have been taking weekly lessons (seven years, if you’re wondering).  Honestly, probably more than half of my riding instructors have told me to try to push my horse from my inside leg to the outside rein, and mostly that came to me when I was a very, very green rider.  I’m not sure any of those instructors could have explained to me what it meant or the real function of pushing a horse into the outside rein – sure, it’s a bit mean to demand that of my walk-trot instructors, but why were they saying it if they couldn’t explain it?!

IMG_1985Dat outside rein tho…?

I think I finally have an iota of understanding about what it means to ride from inside leg to outside rein, and I’m sure there’s so much more left to learn.  But let me tell you  how I’ve gotten this far.

I distinctly remember the first time I thought I understood inside leg to outside rein (and maybe I kindof did at that point?).  I was in a lesson riding a Kruz, a percheron-cross with parrot mouth, so we always rode him in a hack.  I was doing one more circle (or something like that) at the end of a lesson, and I rode a circle that didn’t rely on me puling the inside rein in something that probably wanted to be a square. What really happened, I suspect, is that I put my outside leg on for the first time in ever, and probably controlled Kruz’s shoulders a little with my outside rein.  But it felt like magic!

might biggerI was not bending this — look how weak my leg was!

After Kruz there were lesson horses and lease horses.  I never tried doing dressage on Mighy, and honestly I’m glad.  I was neither strong enough nor tactful enough to ever approach that.  I do know that I had to prepare to turn early and prepare to turn often to get Mighty to turn when I wanted him to, and there was a lot of outside rein and leg associated with those turns.  It was less about getting him to bend around my leg and more about getting that Cadillac of a body to make any kind of turns at ALL.  Later, this would get me into trouble on sportier models, as I frequently accidentally spun us around far too quickly after fences.

Nobody even tried to suggest that I put my inside leg and outside rein on Quincy – there was so much he struggled to understand about dressage and unlocking his neck and back that pushing him into that contact would not have done anything.  I’m not sure if I could do it if I tried today, but perhaps I could.  But had they suggested it, it would have been something I followed by rote, instead of understanding why I was trying to do it.

IMG_0459I’m still using a white troxel in a velvet cover — I am not ready for inside leg-outside rein

I got little glimpses of what it meant to push a horse into the outside rein.  This was often hampered by my perpetually open fingers, thus making the “outside rein” something of a non-thing.  While I could feel the positive effects and knew it was The Way to correctness, I didn’t understand why or what exactly I was doing.  I mean, sure, I guess I had figured out that I was pushing my horse out from the inside of the circle, and even into a steady rein that would help contain their energy.  But other than that it seemed like more of a trick than a riding style or habit, because I didn’t have much exposure to it.

Enter Murray.  Sweet, charming, always willing to give it a try…

IMG_3747much willing, so honest

Okay, so let’s talk about the real Murray.  Until very, very recently, outside leg to inside rein was not on the menu for him.  And therefore, it was not on the menu for me.  But we’ve had a chance to play around with it a bit, on more than a few occasions, and I’m starting to understand.

Inside leg-outside rein is more than just a party trick.  And it’s not even just something that gets your horse to soften and create the dressage “outline” that we all value so.  At the very least it helps keep the bend, by giving your horse something to bend around (that inside leg), and a barrier to help them not go flying across the arena.  Though I don’t like to keep my leg jammed on in general, it does help Murray find a balance that doesn’t rely on me holding him up.  It means we can make real circles, instead of just approximations that have a lot of corners and vector changes.

IMG_8875haunches in line with forequarters – check. modicum of bend through ribs… half check?

More recently, Megan helped me understand that the inside leg-outside rein paradigm helps you encourage your horse’s body to bend without necessarily taking their feet off of the track of the circle.  The idea is to have your horse’s ribcage pushed out further than their feet – which is not the shape my horse typically wants to achieve.  And then the outside rein helps to encourage that outside front foot to come around the circle (it’s a longer track, after all, since it’s on the outside of a circle) and land ahead of the motion and keep the bend.

It’s all connected, you see.

So that’s a little nugget of learning that took me seven years, seven instructors, and three lease horses to figure out.  Now, on to more learning!

 

 

get fit or die (of boredom) trying

The hard thing about getting Murray fit this year is that I know that there are all kinds of fun things that he can do, but that we shouldn’t do right now.  Given the fact that Murray has been essentially sitting in his stall and cruising around pasture with intermittent 40 minute exercise chunks once every two to three weeks, leaping back in t work is bound to come with a tired pony and some sore muscles.  I do not want to sour him by making him muscle sore and burned out with a sudden return to the six-day-a-week lifestyle.  So I’m trying to be mindful of Murray’s current level of fitness, but still keeping our rides fun and productive.

In some ways we’re way ahead of where we have been in the past, because Murray is so much more ready to work and understands using his body better.  I no longer have to wait until we’re most of the way through our ride to get Murray connected to the outside rein, or ride around hanging on the inside rein to get him to stretch down.  So I get to focus on our bad habits, and encouraging the good habits.

wp-1463587279209.jpgnot getting fit

There’s a lot of walking involved.  I hear it’s the foundation of fitness.  Also, if I do it right, I can hatch a lot of Pokémon.  Leg yield at the walk, shoulders-in at the walk, haunches-in at the walk, free walk (if possible…)… it’s all fair game.

The other day I threw in half a long side of shoulder-in and then a volte and haunches in between four loop serpentines in the outdoor arena.  At first Murray was like “what the WHAT, turn AND go straight, are you crazy?!” but after a kick and some coaxing he remembered.  And then he was so good with the shoulder-in and haunches-in that I was like “maybe I could try a little bit of the half pass again that I rode at dressage camp?!”  But that wouldn’t be fair, since I’m not sure I could ask for it again without coaching and Murray would certainly be confused.  Later.

IMG_20150223_134233not getting fit

Today we worked on keeping a good outline and spiraling in from a 30 meter circle to a 15 meter circle with good bend and keeping our hind feet under us – enough of a challenge even when we are fit.  Then we took a walk break and changed directions.

I did a couple of canter transitions in each direction, and was quite pleased with them.  Often this summer, when I didn’t have time to ride or didn’t bring out riding clothes, I would throw Murray on the lunge in side reins and work on canter transitions, as they have bene the source of many comments for us.  We had all kinds of problems with them, leaning on the inside rein, throwing our heads or bodies around during them, and most of all tensing up during the down-transitions.  But the change in Murray’s transitions from the lunging has been huge.  He is much straighter and can even pull out a few round transitions without leaning on me!

nap-02not getting fit

But that’s another one where I don’t want to fatigue him.  I know that good canter-trot transitions rely on a supple SI, and overworking this trick will not a supple SI create.  So I kept it to a few canter transitions and then let us both have a break with some stretchy trotting.

Oh yeah.  There has been (and will continue to be) a lot of stretchy trot too.

The key, for me, is going into my rides with a game plan.  I have absolutely zero interest in cruising around the arena doing bit trot and canter circles and changing directions across the diagonal a few times – even if those changes do happen to be fancy and flying (not us, yet).  I have never been that type of rider.  I find it mind numbing and it’s the fastest way for me to get off a horse.  So I plan out a little exercise while we’re doing our walk warm up, even if it’s a circuit that involves a few repetitions (4 loop serpentine, 15 meter circle, shoulders in, 15 meter circle, haunches in, 4 loop serpentine, repeat…).

2014-07-12 10.05.32not getting fit

And that’s how we fitness.  And with any luck we will get back to the fun stuff soon.

Napping montage brought to you by Murray, the nappiest pony in the world.

since we’ve been gone

The “fortnight” of insanity is over, and I came out the other side whole.  The short version:

  • my friend’s wedding was beautiful and wonderful and I got a profession of love from one of the Kenyans there — still got it
  • my defense went well with expected revisions
  • the job interview was fun, interesting, and validating — I got the job and ultimately turned it down to pursue my research goals
  • the conference was fantastic and I got to spend a lot of time with my wonderful friends and make some excellent new connections to boot
  • prepping for the show was hectic but overall went well — as of Thursday night the XC course was all set and we just had little touches to add on Friday
  • the show ran well and people had fun – yay!

But most importantly: I’ve managed to ride my beloved best beast not once but THRICE since returning from Chicago. WUT.

IMG_8849You know you haven’t been doing enough riding/bogging when your most recent pictures are from a lesson in May…

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that Murray’s level of fitness was basically non existent.  He has been very energetic and happy to work, and he would (probably) honestly work for a full 45 minutes or an hour if I asked.  But it’s hard.  He wants to break from the canter when I insist that he get through, and tries to pull out his new cheating-pony tactics of rooting the reins away from me.  He’s also on high alert for potential terrorists in jump standards, poles, mounting blocks, chairs, filler, and funny dirt.

But even unfit and looking for things to be scared of, Murray is ready to work.  There’s a fair bit of polish needed, but I get on and Murray is ready to put his head down, listen to what I’m asking, and give it the old college try.  It helps that I’m not asking him to do anything to terribly challenging at the moment — lots of work to get us circling correctly, bending properly, listening to my leg, and connected to the outside rein.  But instead of fighting me almost every ride, Murray is quiet and obedient.  Even when I’ve had to get after him for not listening his protests have been mild and short-lived.

I think it’s the dad bod.  He’s got too much extra flub to put up a real fight.

nap 01The dad bod is hard to maintain.

But overall?  Murray can take pressure now in a way that he has never been able to take pressure before.  It’s like at some point this year — or more realistically, slowly over the last five months that I have barely been riding — he came to understand and accept the submission and obedience needed for dressage.  I’m fairly certain that he was never before comfortable with that level of submission and that dressage was a balance between him feeling trapped and needing to escape from that trap.  But now he’s sitting chilly.  We still get into little altercations because he’s paying more attention to “scary” things he thinks exist in or out of the arena than he is to me, or because he thinks we are working too hard.  But overall we have had nothing but wonderful rides lately.

We have also been doing an amazing job of exposing one anothers’ weaknesses during our rides.  I know that our original weaknesses will always be the ones that plague us the most — Murray wants to lean in through his shoulders, especially that right shoulder, and doesn’t want to push off from behind.  I want to shrink one side up, let my body get twisted around, and ignore consistent rein contact.  It’s actually incredibly useful, as it shows me exactly what I thought we had fixed in the past that I was (probably) just masking with sneaky riding (like too much inside rein).

belly scratchSometimes you have no choice but to get creative with the belly scratching

We will be back in regular lessons this month, funemployment pending, so we’ll see what this extended vacay has gotten us.  So far, it feels like it was a very productive rest.  But many trainers’ opinions are yet to be heard.

idle hands are the devil’s playthings

Long blog silences = impending completion of my thesis.  The next two weeks are going to be cereal.

Friday the 12th – Fly to Minnesota, goat roast with my Kenyan field work friends (TIA)

Saturday the 13th – Best Friend’s Wedding (luckily I’m not in love with the groom)

Sunday the 15th – Fly home

Monday the 16th – Drive Ellie to the in laws to reunite with boyfriend and for their amazing dog babysitting powers (14 acre ranch and puppy are a  full time babysitting job for Ellie!)

Wednesday the 17th – THESIS DEFENSE

Friday the 19th – Job interview at UCSC

Saturday the 20th – Fly to Chicago for a conference

Tuesday the 23rd – Oral presentation at 3:45. Poster presentation from 7-9.

Wednesday the 24th – Probably still drunk

Saturday the 27th – Fly home

Monday the 29th – Friday September 2 – Prep for two day event!!  And also move houses somewhere in there…

September 3rd – Dressage and XC day at WSS

September 4th – Stadium day at WSS

September 16th – All paperwork due to grad studies

tumblr_mi8m0qzJqo1qkngbxo1_500
This is a good approximation of my affect over the next month

HOWEVER.  Bloggers — anyone in or near Chicago between the 21st and 27th of August?  I will be there and after the 23rd I will probably be a lot of fun!  Conferences are way better after you’ve gotten the presentations out of the way.  I’m legitimately not sure I’ll make it through the oral presentation and the poster on Tuesday, but I can sleep for the rest of the week after that, right?

Also, if anyone local is interested in (/ willing to, we need more help than we can get from only interested parties!) coming out to help with the one-day at WSS I can offer you a place to stay over night and the truly magnificent company of my cat, Ellie, and my super stressed out self.  But!  We will have a beer garden at the event.