Lather, Rinse, Repeat

So my last lesson with Tina was perfect, but there was a lot leading up to it.

When I started riding Murray last year, I knew I wanted to give him a very thorough dressage foundation, so, in addition to taking regular lessons with my trainer, I took some lessons with my trainer’s dressage trainer, Tina Steward.  Tina is a Grand Prix rider, trainer, and judge, and a top-notch educator.  Her basic formula for working with a young horse with limited education like Murray is to achieve longitudinal flexion through lateral flexion.  In English?  It’s hard for a young horse to understand “stretch your back” at first, so you just ask him to stretch himself sideways, and that slowly gets you the lifted and stretched back we desire.

The first three months were a lot of foundational flat work, with little bits of dressage philosophy snuck in.  Yield to this rein, move off this leg.  How do you feel about a French link bit? Good? Ok, now we need a flash. I know you hate the flash, just get off this leg. Forward, less forward, respond to my seat.  Bend this way, bend that way, bend at all.  Stay off that leg.  Keep your own pace, don’t make me beg you.

Though Tina comes to our barn monthly, my last real lesson with her was in January.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want lessons with her, simply that the stars never aligned for one when she was around.  Murray luxated his patella at the beginning of February, in March I was prepping (and paying) for a combined test, April was camp, May was another show…. The list goes on.  However, our January lesson was quite productive.  Murray and I had moved past the point where maintaining some flexion and connection on a circle was challenge enough, and Tina started us on lateral work: leg yields and shoulder-in at the walk, and a little bit at the trot.  And that is where we left it.

So this is what I practiced.  For ten months.  I started as we had in our lesson: turning Murray into the wall and asking him to leg yield up the wall.  This was impossibly hard for him at first, and he would take smaller and smaller and sadder and sadder steps until he worked himself into a knot — so before he got there, I would circle to the inside, and we’d start the exercise again.  Four steps, five steps, eight steps.  Always just one more step than Murray wanted, and lots and lots of praise at the end.  Then, later, at the trot; here Murray really struggled to cross over his legs and not just smash his face into the wall, but we got there, eventually.  We started the leg yield from the quarterline to the wall.  One, two, three steps, then straighten him out, then a few steps more.  Every ride I would review what I worked on last time, before asking him for a few steps more.

Later, I could ask him to bend around my inside leg for a little shoulder-in.  I started with a circle in the corner so I could just sliiiiiiiide up the wall with that bend maintained in the babiest of shoulder-fore.  This too was really hard for the kid – how can I possibly look in and bend in and not TURN in?!  Murray complained with groans and the occasional dirty look.  We shrank the circle, 15 meters, then 10.  I thought real shoulder-in was achieved, but Murray’s neck was overbent and he was faking it.  Back to the 15 meter circle.  Murray learned to stay engaged for the whole process, and not panic and drop his back when I asked his hind legs to cross under.

I watched DressageHub videos. I realized my leg yield was dangerously uncontrolled and Murray was just falling to the outside.  I went back to the walk and caught Murray’s shoulders.  I did it again at the trot, and I made sure not to let his shoulders escape me.  Eventually, we could do it all at the trot, for a whole long side, more than once, with his back still engaged.  By then, Murray was stiff on his right side, struggling to bend left.  So I slowly stretched out his right side with leg yield down one side of the arena, and a smallish-circle-to-shoulder-in down the other side.  I worked this on both sides, but more tracking left than tracking right, and suddenly he could bend left again.  But the right bend was now stiff and struggling.

Does this sound boring?  Imagine doing it for ten months.  If not for the jumping, shows, and extracurricular activities (XC schooling, gallops, etc.) I would definitely have been driven bonkers.  And I love the philosophy of taking things slow.  I want nothing more than to slowly build a confident, happy, correct horse from the ground up.  But ten months…. Ten months and I was itching to try something new.  Wasn’t ten months enough for me to at least be competent at training level dressage movements?  So one day I set Murray up for shoulder-in and put my outside leg on as well – you know, just scootch right off that one instead and maybe show me that beautiful half-pass you’ve got hidden in there. Murray’s head shot up and the stink eye came right out.  I went back to leg yields.

I had another lesson with Tina on Wednesday and evidently, ten months of slowly building has really paid off.  Tina noticed immediately Murray’s lifted back, looser gaits, better joint articulation, and general increase in strength.  We did all our favourite exercises for her – you know, only ten months of practice later – and were declared successful.  Murray is stronger, more responsive, and more flexible than before, and is starting to really step under himself like a Real Dressage Horse.  There’s still plenty of room in our rides to work on leg yields and shoulder in – they are, of course, fundamental suppling exercises that will be useful to Murray and myself – but I can now relegate them to what they are: suppling exercises, and not the main focus of every one of my dressage rides.

Suddenly, I’m really glad I spent those ten months practicing the same three exercises over and over!  Despite my boredom and frustration, those ten months were worth every movement.  I strengthened my horse in the right ways, finally sorted out those leg yields and shoulder-in, and got his mind ready for some of the harder work to come.  Tina started us on the counter-canter in our lesson….  here’s to hoping that I’m not working on that for ten months too!!

No-stirrups November: Week 3

Yet another rather pathetic week of NSN for me.  I have some excuses buuuut really I’m just bad at NSN.

Saturday, November 15th – Dressage, in anticipation of our Tina lesson.  I dropped my stirrups for our new warm-up exercise, the walk-to-slow-sitting-trot-to-walk for 4-10 strides all around the arena.  Really struggled to keep Murray’s back elevated during this, but sitting the trot is soooo much easier without stirrups.

Sunday, November 16th – Murray’s day off.

Monday, November 17th – Murray’s second, impromptu day off because of the kitten.

IMG_20141118_084626“study buddy”

Tuesday, November 18th – Dressage ride to prep for my Tina lesson on Wednesday.  Kept my irons to work on our lateral work, and had a rather miserable, behind-the-leg ride that necessitated getting off and grabbing my whip.

Wednesday, November 19th – Tina dressage lesson! Kept my stirrups because dressage lesson.

Thursday, November 20th – Murray’s third day off this week. In anticipation of me riding every day up until Thanksgiving.  I played with him in the round pen and worked on some clicker training instead.

Friday, November 21st – An evening dressage ride. I opted not to drop my irons because I am trying to radically change my upper body position and stop riding twisted to the left.  This was hard enough with stirrups, though perhaps dropping them would have evened me out more!  I did actually drop them at one point to lengthen my left leg and kick Murray off of it when we were cantering (he falls in horribly on left lead canter), but that hardly counts.

Saturday, November 22nd – Finally got my no-stirrups game together for today’s ride.  Started out with our walk-trot-walk transitions no stirrups, which are seriously helping with my sitting trot.  Then lots of walk and posting the trot without stirrups, and a fairly paltry attempt at two-point without stirrups (ummm Hunters out there, can you tell me htf you do that?!).  Cantered poles and a little X also.  Seriously, my first time jumping without stirrups and it was very revealing!  I think next time I will just have to commit to taking the stirrups off my saddle entirely though, because having them crossed over in front is really uncomfortable under my thighs.

November’s Ten Questions

From Viva Carlos!

1. Have you ever owned a horse? Nope. Though I call Murray my own, he is technically mine only on a care lease.  However, I suspect I will own a horse soon. 😀

IMG_3150 I mean… who else would put up with this.

2. What is your favourite aspect of your discipline? I love how versatile eventing asks the horses to be. You really cannot be just a one-trick pony in this discipline.  Also, cross country. Man, do I ever love cross country.

IMG_5653Not me riding, but I love galloping.

3. What peeves do you have concerning your discipline?  Eventing dressage. I will not profess to be good at dressage or know at all what dressage judges are looking for, in eventing ore regular dressage, but it’s quite clearly not the classical foundations of dressage of the past. I could write pages about this… I’ll save it for later.  Also, I know a lot of horses and riders that have been rushed through the lower levels of eventing and consequently ruined.  I’m not sure if that’s limited to eventing, or a vice in all disciplines though.

4. Do you do barn chores?  Just cleaning up after myself and spot cleaning Murray’s stall.  I sometimes watch the barn for our barn manager, and then I feed and give supplements and muck, depending on the weekend and agreement.

5. What is your least favourite barn chore? Definitely cleaning up after other people.  Sometimes I go on rampages through the barn aisles after the lesson kids have left because I just can’t stand the mess they leave behind them, but it doesn’t mean I enjoy it.

6. What do you consider the worse vice in a horse? Rearing, probably. Though I haven’t yet met a horse who was rearing for no reason — normally they are overfaced, seriously confused, unable to cope, etc. I’m not saying that’s a good excuse, but I’ve seen rearers stop after a few lessons where their confidence is built up and communication is optimized.  Biting is also a really bad one, but I think it comes around a lot less than rearing.

Camelot Horse Trials -- but mostly tribulations!     This I can handle…

7. What saddle brand is your favourite? I don’t really have a favourite, I’ve only ridden in a few different brands of saddle and since I’m not pretty easy to please they’ve all worked for me.

8. Do you ride with a quarter sheet in the winter? I made myself a quarter sheet last year to help with Mr. Sensitive’s super cold back. It wasn’t perfectly made, but it did the job.  I’ll probably bust it out again this winter as it’s promising to be cold and wet in California, and pony boy already got all his hair taken off.


9. Does your horse wear boots? What kind?  Always… when I remember to put them on. So at least 85% of the time I ride. Bell boots full time, as long as he’s not showing signs of rubs, to stop him from grabbing a quarter in pasture (or at least help prevent injury if he does).  I have brushing boots for jumping, and sometimes wear those for dressage also. I long for some dressage boots…

10. Full seat or knee patch breeches? I wear and like both. My breech selection is limited and seasonality rules what I wear more than bum suede: all my summer breeches are knee patch, 2/3 of my winter pairs are full seat. Sooooo…. in the winter I wear full seats, and in the summer I wear knee patch I guess.

lesson perfection

My lesson yesterday with Tina was perfection.  Despite Murray having a light week thanks to the saddle terrorist (and he’s getting another day off today thanks to the dentist!) and having a near-mental-breakdown during tacking up (the rain was going soft-HARD-soft-HARD on the roof and being generally annoying), he really went to work when we got in the arena.  I haven’t had a lesson with Tina, my trainer’s dressage trainer, since January, just because of timing, money, shows, etc. and I have spent the last ten months working my butt off so I was hoping it would reflect in our ride today.

IMG_20141118_192721Tiny saddle terrorist.

I set myself up for success by bringing my whip out to the arena with me, a mistake I made on Tuesday that resulted in just a horrible behind-the-leg ride, and having clean tack.  I rode with a good friend of mine and her more experienced horse, and Tina just had us work on slightly different things while the other took walk breaks.  I had a quick warm up: a few brisk walk laps around the arena, some long-rein trot laps with transitions made only with my seat, canter both directions, and then into the working trot.  Tina always warms us up a bit with some really basic trot work in both directions, and asks riders to get their horses really over their backs with a loose, rhythmical pace that is comfortable for both of you, but also ahead of the leg.  There’s no nagging for more pace with Tina, she expects horses to keep up with things all by themselves, and not for riders to constantly be pushing or asking for a little more trot with the seat.  Also, if Tina doesn’t like your way of going or your horse’s throughness, the lesson doesn’t continue until you’ve gotten closer to her working ideal.  Her main tool with inexperienced horses is to encourage more longitudinal flexion through lateral flexion, so overbending your horse to the inside, straightening, a little bend to the outside, and always giving and praising for getting what you want.

Even in the beginning, Tina commented on Murray’s improvement this year.  He is super light and really sensitive and responsive, and after ten months of working on leg yield, shoulder in, a spiraling in and out he’s finally gotten with the program and really moves through his back and off both of my legs (to some degree, anyway).  Tina had me deepen his frame a little, because “he wants to drop the base of his neck,” and had me shorten and plant the inside rein a little and give with the outside.  When Murray yielded to the inside rein by both flexing his neck inwards and lowering it, I could soften my hands, and I could feel him lift his back a little more.  Murray didn’t love love this, and his head would come up a bit every so often, so I just half halted a tiny bit, and would plant again with the inside if he really objected.  Tina also had me flex him to the outside on one side of the circle, then return to the normal circle track, and this helped Murray flex too.  I have felt for a little while that he is falling out when we are circling right, so I kept a strong hold of my right rein tracking right, but as we’ll see in a moment, it’s more a problem with my body.

We moved from the warm up circle to leg yields from the quarter line to the wall.  We tracked left first, which is the direction Murray leg yields better.  He was perfectly straight to the wall, and his shoulders didn’t drift ahead on any of them, which was awesome.  Another compliment from Tina, and a walk break.  When we leg yielded left on the right track, Murray’s left shoulder kept falling towards the wall and so Tina had me ride it in a little shoulder in and then push him over.  She stopped me after my second attempt at this, to point out that my upper body was twisted a left and I was leaning left, essentially trying to “pull” him over to the wall with my weight, which was causing him to fall through his shoulder.  This is something I have suspected is happening for a few weeks, but haven’t had the forthwith to change on my own!!  So coming down the next long side I over-exaggerated my own “bend” to the right and twisted my shoulders in, kept my weight in my right seat bone, and really pushed Murray off my inside leg.  The right hind is harder for him to flex and reach under with, as it’s weaker, so it wasn’t as good as it had been in the other direction but we got a much straighter leg yield that way. Homework for next time!

After leg yields and a walk break came some counter canter work.  I have just barely started working with M on counter canter, as all of my attempts to counter canter right are met with a lead change.  I explained this to Tina, that when I try to keep a right bend but push him over he just changes clean.  Instead of holding his bend, Tina suggested I let him pick his bend a bit more himself, keep a firm inside leg at the girth, and a firm outside leg behind the girth to encourage him to keep the canter on the right lead.  We did a shallow loop on the long side, coming in to the quarter line and then cantering back out again, after establishing a quality canter, and to my great surprise, Murray counter cantered perfectly without trying to change leads!  It felt very odd at first, as he reached over with his left leg and swept my hips from right to left, but that was right and now I know how it should feel for the future.

Left counter canter was a bit more difficult, as Murray’s weaker right-hind makes that canter more of a struggle in general.  Cantering left I have the opposite problem – I lean to the right to try to compensate for him falling left.  So once again, I had to put my weight on my inside seat bone, lengthen my left leg, and push him over to the wall.  This worked moderately well, so once more, homework!

Finally, we did a little shoulder in at my request.  I like to set up for shoulder in by doing a little circle – not quite a volte – and then just sliding up the wall.  This worked very well left, and Tina said we looked great.  Going right, I started by setting up my own inside bend again, and Murray immediately responded with a little shoulder-fore.  That is one of the amazingly cool things about this horse: he is so sensitive! Oh, you turned your shoulders a little? Let me just turn mine to match you.  When I went for the real shoulder-in though, Murray was overbent in his neck to the right and not bending enough with his body.  Much as before I was asking for too much neck flexion and not controlling his outside shoulder well enough; Tina said that if I asked for less neck flexion and instead kept my left rein on his neck, and instead asked for more bend in the body we would get there.

I was ecstatically happy after the lesson.  Murray did everything really well, and our hard work was really showing.  Tina then iced the cake by saying that he was a star today, looking phenomenal, and I’d done some really good work with him this year.

Tina and my friends were laughing at me when I said “OH MY GOD THANK YOU I’VE BEEN WAITING SO LONG TO HEAR YOU SAY THAT!!!”

1601184_10103915712811956_9040709617736249655_nIt’s a miracle! A dark, slightly blurry one, but a miracle all the same!

I told Tina that I have just been working my butt off with Murray and it is so great to know that we’ve been doing it correctly and are making the right type of progress.  Especially because it never shows when we go away from home, it’s really great to hear an outside opinion tell me he is looking wonderful.  She assured me that he is working very correctly, moving better than before, and that he really has been making progress.

“You were such a little shit before, and now you’re such a good horse!” Tina commented as Murray came over to her for some post-lesson appreciation. “It’s a miracle!”

radio silence

This week has been an interesting one for the pony.

Saturday we had a seriously good dressage ride. M was perfect, and I worked his butt off, and was really happy with it. Sunday was his day off, and we worked on some clicker exercises.  I still need to teach M some of the foundations —  head down, adults are talking, stand on this mat — but I did get him touching his target and backing up consistently, as well as almost-turn-on-the-forehand in both directions.

Monday I planned to have another serious dressage ride in prep for our lesson this week. My trainer’s dressage trainer is coming and I have a lesson planned.  The last time I rode with Tina, Murray really needed to work on carrying himself, lifting his back, pushing from the hind end, relaxation and suppleness, and basically everything that dressage is founded upon.  So I haven’t taken a lesson with her in about nine months, because I’ve been working on all that stuff.

I seriously have daydreams of Tina saying things like “Wow, Nicole, you’ve done such a lovely job with him!” and “He is really moving beautifully.”  I’m just visualizing…. don’t make fun.  But for real, Murray has changed a lot since our last lesson with Tina and I know there has been at least a little improvement!

But then I didn’t ride.  Why not?



Tack Warehouse is working on trapping and neutering the feral cat colony that has grown out of control in a lot behind their store, and part of that involves trapping and rehoming the kittens that are amenable to the process.  This little guy, as yet unnamed, was one of the first to be caught so now he’s MINE ALL MINE.

Yeah so then I rode today and came home and played with my kitten some more because he is awesome.

IMG_7266 IMG_7297


The Wonder Drug

I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose, Fire away, fire away, Shavings bag, flaps in the breeze, Flap away, flap away, Scare me now, I won’t spook,  I eat MAG-NEEEE-SIII-UUUMMMM! Baling twine, on my neck, I eat MAG-NEEEE-SIII-UUUMMMM!

Among his many other charming personality quirks, Murray used to be flat-out terrified of baling twine.   I discovered this when I needed to attach some to my girth so I could use a neck-stretcher and we didn’t even get past having the baling twine tied on.  At first I could hardly get close enough to slip it onto his girth, and then when I finally did Murray spent 15 minutes on the lunge kicking at his belly trying to remove the demonic, white thing.  I spent about a week curing him of this, using a combination of flooding (I tied his bucket up with baling twine and tied baling twine all over it, so in order to eat he had to put his head in it – just for grain, mind you) and positive reinforcement (touch the twine, get a cookie! let me put the twine on you, get a cookie).

Central to this, I think, was the magnesium I started Murray on at the end of November 2013.  I’ve left many hints in my various blogs, and have plans to write a more detailed post about Murray’s difficultness in the future, but for the moment let’s just say that Murray was a highly irritating combination of spooky, suspicious, and down-right distrustful on the ground.  Add to that his inability to control his body sometimes (I mean, he was four after all) and a strange sensory-overload-like behavior (I really, really want to be reasonable but NOPE NOPE NOPE RUN AWAY) and we had some serious challenges.

he also tried to commit suicide in the crossties once
Also progress – he tried to commit suicide in the crossties once

Enter magnesium.

My barn manager, Lisa, had told me the moment I started leasing Murray that I should probably put him on magnesium.  He had all the hallmarks of a horse that would benefit from magnesium: spookiness, trembling, and the face twitch (jerking/twitching when you move around his face, like when you are putting the reins over his head).  I resisted heartily for a while, insisting that a better horse-human relationship and some training would get him through it, but once I tried the stuff, I was hooked.

For a horse like Murray, magnesium really smoothes out the edges of his world.  How does it do this?  Good question.  My minimal research on the topic hasn’t revealed a ton of information about the use of magnesium as a behavioral aid in horses, though some manufacturers have put together quite a bit on the topic.  Humans have been using magnesium for its calming effects for ages: magnesium salts (Epsom salts) are the main ingredient in bath salts, that soothing thing people who like to take care of their bodies sometimes do for themselves, and a few hundred milligrams of magnesium a day can help people recover from depression faster and overcome anxiety.  Regardless: for Murray, it is clear within a day when I’ve not given him his magnesium.  It is completely legal to show on, and you run very little risk of overdosing on it (though apparently, it is possible).

I use Med-Vet Pharmaceuticals Magnesium 3000 or 5000 for Murray, and saw an effect within two days of starting it.  I’m also a big fan of Foxden Equine’s Quiessence, and many of the horses on magnesium at my barn are on Quiessence and love it.  Unfortunately, I tried it on Murray recently and it just didn’t have the same effect on him; he was nervous and twitchy even though the dose of Quiessence I was giving him was more magnesium than he had previously been on.  Possibly, something else in Quiessence was causing Murray to react that way, but Lisa and I noticed within a day when I put him back on the regular magnesium.  This doesn’t diminish my love of Quiessence in any way, and the fact that mg for mg it’s cheaper than MVP certainly helps!

In my opinion, trying out magnesium is really a no-lose situation – to try it super cheaply, go to the store and buy human magnesium, then give your horse enough pills (they dissolve nicely in a bucket of grain) for a horse-sized dose (around 3000 mg is a good starting point).  If your horse responds well to it, you’ve found something cheap and easy that will help!  Imagine how frustrating it must feel to be nervous or spooky all the time simply because of a mineral deficiency.  If it doesn’t help, you’ve wasted very little money and surely someone you know will benefit from it.  If you’re on the fence, check out this questionnaire by Performance Equine (though keep in mind they are probably trying to get you to buy their product).  Finally, if you think magnesium might help but one supplement or the other isn’t, definitely try other products.  Quiessence has a couple of additional ingredients not included in MVP’s magnesium, and Performance Equine also has a different formulation.  Finding something that can help decrease spookiness and increase muscle healing is always a win in my book.


Remember Murray’s horrendous body clip experience a few days ago?  No?  I do.

Well, as one may expect from a tough time body clipping, the clip isn’t perfect.  I’m cool with that — it’s functional and I’m not showing any time soon.  But there was one big thing that was left unfinished: butt art.  I had planned a mustache on Murray’s left hindquarter, and due to time constraints and poorly-functioning mini-clippers it didn’t get finished.

Well guess who finished that shit today? All by herself? With no help — no drugs, no twitch, no tricks. AND NO TANTRUMS.

This girl.


So now little baby Murray is mustachioed. Considering that I free-handed the left half, I’m thinking I did pretty darn good.

Oh and PS my thighs are killing me from NSN on Friday and a tiny bit of no-stirrups trot work today.


November must be the month for athletic challenges, because somehow I’m involved in both Planksgiving and No Stirrups November.  Predictably, I’m doing terribly with both.  Terise at Breeches and Boatshoes inspired me to be a bit more accountable with my No Stirrups November work this year, as she is doing, and hopefully this will make me actually do some no stirrups work in the coming weeks!

So far, my no stirrups rides have mostly consisted of warm-ups and cool-downs.  I have to be careful when dropping my stirrups, as Murray is stiff-backed and it isn’t always productive for us.  I will post the trot in my jump saddle, but draw the line at posting the trot in my dressage tack — it simply isn’t done!  But more to the point, it doesn’t positively influence my position the way it does in jump tack.  Even when I post without stirrups, Murray sometimes becomes stiffer and resistant, so I have to be careful to keep things below threshold for him: I want him to stay positive and relaxed, and not get cranky when I try to drop my stirrups or sit the trot.

So here’s this week’s breakdown.

November 14th — Today! I haven’t ridden yet. So here’s the plan: no stirrups trot work in the jump tack, lateral work practice (both with and without the irons), and some gallop sets since somebody is too naked right now to have a relaxed dressage ride.

November 13th — No stirrups warm-up exercise — walk to slow trot

November 12th — No stirrups cool down. Yep, I walked on a loose rein around the property without no stirrups. I am going to pretend I don’t always do this.

November 11th — Murray got the day off.

November 10th — I jumped with a friend and had not a single no-stirrups moment in this ride. I am terrible.

I am claiming leeway because I did at least four no stirrups rides in October to work on my position!!  This is a feeble excuse.  I aspire to do better next week.

five steps back

I had a pretty unpleasant morning today, holding Murray while he was clipped.  Last year it took 1cc of Ace and a twitch to get him clipped.  Knowing that, I worked on his tolerance of clippers this year, but I didn’t do it as much as I should have and, honestly, it wasn’t showing much promise as of April.  I stuck to basic positive associations training: touch the clippers, get a treat. Let me put the buzzing clippers on you and stand still, and get a treat.  After a break through the Summer, I tried again a few weeks ago Murray stared at my as I rubbed the buzzing clippers all over his shoulder, withers, and barrel all doe-eyed and “so what?”

To say I was pleased would be an understatement.

After a few more sessions like that, I assumed Murray would be pretty mentally prepared for clipping this morning, but assembled our battle gear regardless: lots of treats, a twitch, and Ace.  We waited until the barn had settled, but Murray was having none of it.  He stepped out of his stall suspicious and jumpy and never let go of it.  Unfortunately, the clippers were included in that cloud of hatred.  I didn’t have the luxury of letting putting this off for another day, my barn manager had cleared her morning for clipping, so we moved to the twitch.  Unfortunately, Murray was already pretty wound up so he didn’t go to his happy place as quickly as he has in the past, and we ended up using some Ace to take the edge off.  We got the job done — functional, rather than fashionable, was always my goal — and we all live to fight another day.

This was definitely not the easy clipping experience I had (clearly delusionally) hoped for.   Nor was it the challenging-but-a-good-learning-experience I (more realistically) expected.  It did, however, point out to me some big holes in my training of and relationship with Murray.  One huge mistake I made today and in the past was forgetting to do a dress rehearsal.  I’m clever enough to do them for our dressage rides (I almost always bust out the coat and a pair of full seats before I show), so I really should have thought of this.  Whenever I’ve practiced clipping with Murray it has effectively been “in a vacuum”: I plug the clippers in and throw them over his body while giving him treats next to the mini-fridge.  Today, there were so many other elements involved: a giant extension cord, three people fussing around him, and a different pair of clippers (a BIG mistake on my part).  Add that to a bit of suspicion to start with, and none of the context I had ever provided him with for clipping in the past was being replicated.  No wonder he protested so mightily.

So it’s back to the training plan for body clipping.  Possibly, in the future, I will have more success clipping him on my own (okay, I may also be delusional on that one), but Murray certainly feeds off the energy of the situation and having three people with clear intentions around him probably set off some alarms.  There are lots of little touch-ups that he could use, and I’ll use those as an opportunity to habituate him to the clippers.  I’ll train him with an extension cord, with lots of people around, and with all different types of clippers. Central to this will be get-your-head-down and station training (hopefully, I will expand upon this later), to keep Murray focused on a task and understanding what I’m really asking (to stay calm and keep four on the floor!).

If I’m lucky, and with Murray I often am, his feelings about the clippers won’t have moved irreversibly into the negative and we can move forward with training from where we left off last week.  If I’m not, I’m probably in no worse shape than I was this time last year.  On the up side: the clip is done, and it definitely will not need to be re-done before Spring (and the Extreme Pony Makeover) arrives.

Retired Racehorse Project TV

As the full leaser of an ex racehorse, you might accurately predict that I have a bit of a soft spot for thoroughbreds and ottbs.  But in all honesty, I’d characterize it as just a big squishy heart for ottbs in general.  Ever since I  started riding with Alana, she has had off track projects around, and I have always loved watching these guys progress from little baby noodles (or perhaps big baby noodles) into solid riding horses.  I even helped a little with one or two, but Murray has been my first full-time project (though of course he was quite a ways off the track before he came into my life).

There is just so much to love about the process of retraining an ottb.  I like watching them learn their life is a bit different now, that they can relax a little bit, and seeing the changes in their bodies as they come down from a racing fit and develop into .  I love watching their personalities come out as they relax and heal — my previous lease horse, Quincy, stared broncing and kicking out with joy after his first chiropractic adjustment.  I really love when they start to figure out this whole riding thing; there is just something about watching a smart horse problem-solve (oh, you want me to use my back like this? You want my head here? I have to go over those coloured poles every time? Going over this is FUN?) that really warms my heart.

This was, I believe, after dumping me in the water complex by rolling and taking off back to the trailers. Yeah, after never acting out once in a lesson, his personality really started to come out that season.
This was, I believe, after dumping me in the water complex by rolling and taking off back to the trailers. Yeah, after never acting out once in a lesson, his personality really started to come out that season.

So of course I’ve always been a fan of the Retired Racehorse Project, and whenever I’ve had time (even in Africa! When my internet was crappy and I had to buffer videos for half an hour to watch 5 minutes!) I have kept up with their retraining challenges.  Do you love RRP?  Well, if you do, get amped: RRP is now offering a TV series!  Steuert Pittman plans to highlight a bunch of different ways of training ottbs.  Their first episode, “East meets West”, features trainer Dale Simonton faces off with Steuert to not only discuss the features that make a good ranch horse, but also see if he can put some Western moves on Steuert’s English-only trained horse.  If you think you aren’t interested in western or working ranch horses, you’re probably wrong: RRP cuts in some fantastic footage of horses naturally cutting cows, and Dale ropes the legs of his horse, Rikim, and then has the horse walk out of it while under saddle.  I was absolutely thunderstruck by that move!  If I tried to rope Murray’s feet while he was walking with me on him I think he would dump me forever!

This episode gets three thumbs up from me. I don’t know where the third thumb came from but I loooooved the episode!

Check out the first episode here:

In the immortal words of Steuert Pittman: LTFR!