She is thrilled.
I’m away from my pony and computer and good internet for a few days, so let me leave you with two insanely good drinks I’ve had this week.
“Big Shoulders” – whiskey, orange-rhubarb-vanilla shrub, Syrah float
“Existentialist” – gin, berry-cinnamon shrub, Saison float.
If you’re in Southern Oregon, these delicious babies and many more can be found at The Haul in Grant’s Pass.
Another week, another installment of the TOA blog hop!
Murray has done a lot of embarrassing and shocking things in our year together, but they are generally pretty excusable — his first time away from home, baby horse silliness, strange behavior out on XC in groups. It doesn’t mean, of course, that I’ve not been scared or shocked or annoyed like crazy because of it. The first, and worst, fail of Murray’s, was the very first time we went XC schooling last year, in November. Murray was reasonable about getting in the trailer, but promptly grew to his full 16.1hh upon departing. I knew tacking up would take some special care, so I threw him in the round pen for a minute to let him get the crazies out. Which he did, for about ten minutes. Then I negotiated with him about tacking up, holding his lead rope in one hand and working with my other hand. And he promptly broke away from me, though I managed t get him back pretty quickly. I changed tactics and had a friend hold his lead rope while I bribed him to get the saddle pad on, the breast plate, and the saddle. He reared, my friend dropped his lead rope, and I pulled my saddle off his back — once again, he didn’t get far. We threw the bridle on and lunged him tackless for another ten minutes, until Murray had calmed a bit more. We tried again to get tack on, with one person holding his reins and me tacking up. Breastplate, check. Saddle pad, check. Saddle, check. And just as I was about to get the first buckle done on the girth, the perfect storm of triggers exploded around us (horses leaving, horses getting in trouble, and the girth), and Murray just rear-leapt away from us, and galloped off around the facility dragging my saddle beneath him. The breast plate broke, eventually, and the saddle slipped free of it and fortunately didn’t get stepped on upon the ground. Murray then promptly stepped through his reins, snapped one side, and then found the nearest patch of grass to start grazing. (To be noted: Murray was not the first horse to break away on this particular XC schooling trip, and this particular patch of grass was very popular.)
By this point, my group had gone down to the course to start schooling. After we caught Murray, one of the teenagers I ride with (who is far more experienced than I), suggested we try tacking him up in the round pen, and walked us over there, holding Murray’s breastplate, spare reins, and saddle, while I led my horse and cried a bit. I have to say, I will never, ever forget how well Rachael handled me that day. I was simultaneously furious that I couldn’t manage my own horse, that Murray was being so, so, so unreasonable, and that I was missing out on schooling. She calmed me down, joked about how bad her own horse often was, and ultimately provided me with the solution to get Murray tacked up successfully! (The trick: do it away from all the commotion of the other horses.) That third, or fourth?, time was the ticket, and we finally got the kid all tacked up and walked him down to the cross country course together for a wonderful and successful first school. (And that is why I always managed to stick with him — no matter how bad he was on the ground, we always had a good ride.)
Photos courtsey of FB Photography.
Oh, and then when we were done schooling he refused to get back in the trailer and we were left behind. Another friend had to make a second trip with her ramped straight-load to come get us. That whole day, I would say, was Murray’s biggest fail. Since then, we’ve had some more embarrassing things happen. There was a time when Murray could not, would not, not in a train, not in a plane, not on a car, not in a bar, he will not canter without bucking. That was probably a three month period. They weren’t exactly small bucks either.
Of course, that was my fail too, since he had basically trained me to stop riding him as much when he was bucking…
The last, and most notable, was a full-blown meltdown when cross country schooling. We’re long past having problems tacking up, and Murray can now be tacked up away from home with minimal incident (bribery + a quiet environment is key). I’m not sure what triggered him this time, but in the middle of our schooling session with three other horses, Murray suddenly found himself completely incapable of walking forward. Backwards and sideways, yes. Chomping at the bit, yes. Scrunching his head under and backing away from my leg and the whip, yes. Hopping up on his hind legs a little, yes. Forward = no. We had to be hunter-pace-ponied over jumps by a friend, and the only thing that would calm Murray was literally touching his nose to her horse. My trainer pretty much knew what was up immediately: there was too much stimulation for him, and Murray was really confused. So now we XC school alone, and we’ve not had a problem since. So those are our major fails. What about you? I know you all LOVE your ponies, but do you sometimes hate them too?! (Post summary: I do.)
I saw a yearly review in this style on a couple of other blogs and LOVED it. So here’s our year in review — what we did, how we did it, and sometimes, how we got there.
It’s cold and miserable and Murray has a bucking problem. His hammies are tight and his back is tight and he hates dressage. He luxates his patella two days before the first schooling jumper show of the year, so travels there just to wear his new cooler and practice being a Good Boy Away From Home. We are jumping 2′-2’3″ in lessons. I work religiously on desensitizing him to the silly things he is still afraid of.
Murray free jumps 4′ over a 3’3″ oxer, then throws a 45 minute tantrum over a 2′ tire jump (solved with a single cookie). We go XC schooling and Murray rolls after a cooling dip in the water. No problem — it makes us slightly internet famous and we get featured on Bad Eventer. The XC school is super awesome and we jump a bunch of BN jumps in addition to the baby intro ones.
Lots of dressage and jumping practice this month. We go to a local combined test and while Murray auditions a couple of new movements in the dressage — cow kick at M, buck and X — he locks onto every stadium jump and goes double clear and I cry in happiness during our cool down.
Murray and I spend three nights and two days at sleep-away eventing camp! We do galloping pace exercises, school dressage and stadium away from home, and lots and lots of cross country. We fix Murray’s bucking problem with a Come To Jesus ride by my barn manager’s velcro-butt daughter. We go to an Yves Sauvignon clinic and he declares that Murray “Will be good, if he can ever get over himself.” We jump 2′-2’6″ at the clinic. We sort out Murray’s bucking problem in dressage and figure out a soft contact and it feels amazing.
I fall off of Murray five times in four days, and he elbows me in the face while I’m taking off his bell boots so I have a nice shiner to show for it. We’re going through a rough period: he is refusing left and right, even in the middle of combinations. I fly over his shoulder repeatedly. I finally cave and change his bit to a loop gag that works really well. We go XC schooling with friends and Murray melts down repeatedly, backing himself around the course and forgetting how to go forward, and our friend has to literally pony us over jumps. However, Spring has treated him very well, and his body transforms into that of a real horse apparently overnight.
Daniel Stewart gives a clinic at our barn and it is super fun! Murray and I do lots of dressage to prepare for the coming horse trials, and finally nail a through, balanced trot-canter transition. In our jumping lessons, Murray pulls and rushes a lot. He still melts down on the reg and will back around in confusion, which I cannot get to the bottom of. I chase him to jumps, and wonder if he’ll ever be able to clear 2’6″ because at the moment, it seems like a herculean effort. I decide to compete at intro for our first event in July.
Murray and I go to our very first horse trials and compete at Introductory and it is amazing. I lose it a bit schooling the XC course the day before the competition, but once Alana reminds me to actually ride, Murray jumps happily over everything. Murray is obedient and amazing in dressage, forward and happy in XC, and ever-so-slightly-crazy but locked-on in stadium.
I spend half of the month in Vietnam at a conference, and Murray is ridden by one of the very responsible teenagers at the barn. He spends the time being spoiled by her and jumping much higher than he needs to over everything. He is even softer and quieter when I come home than when I left. We have a week and a half to get ready for our next horse trials after I get home.
We go to another horse trials at intro and have an absolute dressage meltdown. Murray behaves poorly and I behave even worse. I cry about it. Murray redeems himself on XC and in stadium by going clean and clear (but I accidentally rock the deep-V on my polo in stadium), and we get serious about this Dressage thing. I go out of town a lot.
In preparation for our last show of the year, Murray and I have an amazing stadium lesson wherein we jump 3’3″. It feels totally easy for him. At the show, we have our best dressage test ever, despite some baby moments, and curiously have some run-outs in the stadium/XC portion. We spend the rest of the month hardcore dressage queening, prepping for our upcoming lesson with Tina.
After almost a year, Murray and I take another lesson with Tina Stewart, and she declares him a star! He has finally figured out that it isn’t the end of the world to be through and bending. We start working on haunches-in at the walk. We work on keeping him packaged in stadium, so he’s got good impulsion but isn’t rushing. I start blogging much more frequently!
A fairly quiet month with lots of turnout for Murray with his new best friend, brother in arms, and playmate Connor. I’m reminded to keep myself humble when I see pics and realize that, despite great progress in both dressage and jumping, Murray has goaded me back into some bad habits and I’ve gotten a little overconfident in his skills as he is, after all, five. I made a lot of mistakes this month, but Murray forgave me, and we seem to be back on track. C’est la vie — mistakes are part of my life, certainly — and I’m lucky that I have a forgiving enough horse that they aren’t the end of the world. In January, we get back on track.
In summary: This is my pony. I love him.
California got a speck of sunshine this week, so we got to turn our ponies out in the outdoor instead of the indoor! Pastures are, sadly, still off-limits. This wordless Wednesday brought to you by Murray and his BFF Connor, and male model Porter.
And a video, because the sounds Murray makes throughout and especially at the end of this video are too good for words…
Week three of The Owls Approve Blog Hop!
Let’s talk about the biggest achievements your horse has accomplished. I’m not talking about you as a rider – I want to know what your ponykins has done to make you proud. Is there a glorious satin collection, did he/she figure out some dressage movement that took months to learn, or are is it just a great day when your butt stays in the saddle?
The one thing Murray has done to make me proud this year is prove them all wrong. (I’m not exactly sure who “they” are in this scenario — just hear me out.) Murray has turned into a good horse. I mean wtf — from this little monster on the track to a little monster at our barn to this — a good horse.
I did not ever think I would own a good horse. I guess I do.
This was de rigeur for Murray in the past: “you want me to turn? What turn? Nope, not turning. I completely disagree with you. We shall not turn. Also, if anyone in this warm up so much as passes me at a speed higher than a walk I am going to back my ass all the way back to my trailer.”
These days it’s more like “turn? Sure thing! Oh and you want to crookedly point me at that jump and bury me to it and yank on my mouth at the same time? No big, I’ve got this, you puny humanoid.”
This horse, who failed so hard at racing, has a wicked gallop. He attacks obstacles on cross country. He jumps 3’3″. He overjumps 2’3″! He can dressage, passably. He can have his girth put on with minor complaint and minimal bribery. He walk, trot, canters without bucking. He does trot poles — trot poles! poles on the ground that once he would have cast himself upon the floor in a fit of desperation and ridiculousness about — like six of them, at a time! Sometimes even raised ones! He does lateral work, is bendy as a noodle in all the good ways, and has even started to lift through his withers. This horse, who I seriously did not think would make it through five, is staring six in the face and daring it to come at him, bro.
What did Murray do to make me so proud of him this year? He proved me wrong. Whatever niggling, whispering part of my mind thought maybe he couldn’t do it, that he wouldn’t do it, that I would ride Bad Horse Thoroughbred of Sin forever was completely, utterly, and entirely wrong. And you know what? I love it.
I have been absolutely perusing (did you know most people misuse the word peruse? It originally meant to read carefully or at length!) Etsy this month for the Blogger Secret Santa that I’m a part of, and it has been a great show of some of the creative gifts available there! Also: endless entertainment when you see various equine-themed items that aren’t right, are ugly, or are just straight up not PG-13.
First up: Creative bridle, halter, breastplate, &c. tags. $10 and up
As I’m sure you know, Etsy has a huge variety of dog tags available from sellers in all different countries! A dog tag on a keyring is basically just a halter or bridle tag if it’s small enough…. so I helped myself to an adorable brass mustache tag for my silly mustache boy. I got mine from Fetch a Passion tags, but you can get them all over! Want simple? They’ve got simple. Complex? Definitely. Non-traditional? You got it!
(Click the images to go to their stores!)
How cute would it be if you could get part of your barn’s logo stamped on one side of a tag and your name on the other, for team tags? With customizable orders, that could be arranged!!
Shoelace charms! ~$8 ea
I found these cute little shoelace charms when I was looking for a creative way to make a bridle tag, and they are adorable! I think they would fit across one’s foot on field boots
pretty nicely. Completely customizable, you could put whatever word (within a character limit) you want on there. “Live Free” on the right and “& Jump XC” on the left, anyone? “Supple” and “Through”? “Unsafe at” & “Any Speed”? The options are endless!!
Equine pendants from PendantExpressions ~$10
I love Da Vinci and I love horses, so this replica of one of Da Vinci’s sketches in a pendant really floats my boat. There’s also a gorgeous replica of Degas Race Horses painting in a pendant that is truly adorable.
Monogrammed Leather Koozie ~$17
If there’s anything I’ve learned from Twitter, it’s that equestrians LOVE monogramming, leather, and booze (and Starbucks). I love one of those things, and definitely appreciate the value of a cold beer at the end of a show day. So why not give the gift that suits all three with these customizable, monogrammed leather koozies? Don’t drink? That’s chill! Keep your Starbucks frosty and your hands toasty, or your Starbucks toasty and your hands from being scorched. I would buy one of these for myself in approximately one second, if I weren’t guaranteed to lose it within a week (I’ve never had a travel mug for longer than that amount of time).
Throw pillows ~$80 for a set of 3
These throw pillows are adorable. My roommate and I saw something similar at the Sacramento International Horse Show for like $90 each, and vomited a little in our mouths before mercilessly mocking them to one another. However, for around $30 each and $80 for a set of three well… they are just cute enough to splurge on.
So while searching Etsy can be straight up tedious, it can also be pretty fruitful if you look past the weird leather horse ears with rivet bottoms, the adorably-paisley but ever-so-slightly-warped-looking giant wall decals, and piles of overpriced merchandise. Happy shopping!!
Hump day jump day was totally on this week. Makes me super happy.
This week’s course featured a two stride, a five-stride bending line to a skinny, and an angled vertical to a right right turn. I’d been chatting with my assistant trainer about adjustability exercises, so Alana chatted with me beforehand about the first steps to adjustability: being ahead of the leg. Alana had me ride Murray right at the balance point where I could send him forward with just a little leg or cluck, and bring him back by straightening my shoulders. This was challenging, but Murray really surprised me by not motorcycling and dragging me around the turns when he was ahead of my leg like this, so I sent him and brought him back on every long side. We started out around 2’6″, and because one of the horses put three strides into the two stride, Alana challenged me to do the same. That was hard.
First, I balanced Murray up around the corner, and kept him forward but up approaching the jump. My plan was to get him deep to the first jump, jump it round (tough for me because it’s a vertical), then get deep to the second as well. The first time I tried, I didn’t commit to three strides and Murray just took a longish spot to the second fence. The second time, I asked for three strides after Murray had already taken a step from the first jump, and then when I didn’t think I’d make it just sent him for the two. Alana said he thought about it, but since I wasn’t committed he took a really long (and huge) spot to the second fence (I slipped my reins and apparently yelled “sorry buddy!” as we sailed over). The third time, we managed it, but it was a short third stride the guy stuck in. However, it’s the first step to being properly adjustable! I will have to practice this when I get back from Christmas. Alana put the fences up a little, and we jumped it all again, Murray as perfect as always.
Murray truly impressed me yesterday. I messed up that attempted three-stride, and he busted me out of it, and then coming around the corner to the red swedish oxer we were both very poorly organized. I couldn’t get my reins to their proper length so I just picked them up as best I could, and lifted my hands. Murray saw the jump coming and FLEW over it — crooked — and we still made the bend to the skinny.
This horse is truly turning into a point and shoot jumper. I am so incredibly proud of him. I seriously think the entire year we spent jumping 2’3″-2’6″ strengthened Murray enough that he’s really not worried about getting me out of a bad spot over a bigger fence now. Yet another argument for taking things slow.
tricked asked a friend to take pictures of my dressage ride today, for feedback and comparison to earlier. I have next to no footage or photos of us doing dressage, which means that my learning is all based on feel. So I was really happy that Tati was willing to take pictures of me. I’ve also been feeling kinda like the shit lately with dressage, ever since that lesson where Tina told me that Murray was a star.
So obviously I had my world rocked.
We had a good ride. I was trying a new bit, and Murray was about as compliant and through and reasonable as has been his standard lately. It was not an unmitigated disaster. However it was not the gorgeous, through, round, bulging-back-muscles dressage beast I thought I was riding. It was a bit of an awakening.
So in addition to realizing how much I’m nagging Murray with my legs (like every stride), and how inconsistent in the contact he really is, there are some pretty specific things I can see in the pictures. A couple of them show how twisted up my body really is — which is sooooooooo frustrating because I’ve been trying really hard to twist my body the right way — but for the most part I’m doing a bit better in keeping myself straight. I need to lengthen my upper body too, and sit up straighter, because I am evidently riding quite lazily.
This picture was the shot immediately before the first picture, just one stride or two apart (I think). So you can see how inconsistent he really is — his head is in a way different position between the two shots. I’ve highlighted in red the things I really hate, the big one, consistent throughout our ride, is that Murray’s dropping the base of his neck. I’ve been babying him lately while I have been trying to sort out my own position, but I think I just need to remind him exactly what this whole dressage thing is all about. A few good things before I get to what I hate about this: he’s not dropping his back, even though he’s not really lifting it that much either. He’s also totally tracking up, which is great, because when I first started riding him he really wasn’t tracking up at all. He’s also trotting uphill, which is wonderful to see, since Murray tends to be on the forehand.
So, my heel is up and too far back. Which I hate. I hate it because it’s bad position and it reflects an ongoing problem I’ve had, which is pinching with my knees and letting my heels come up. However, I hate it for more reasons than this. I hate it because I was asking for a shoulder-in here. Do you see Murray bending around my leg? No? BECAUSE NEITHER DO I. I think I can even see his inside hind swinging further in than his front a little, exactly the opposite of what I was asking for.
This was our “stretchy” trot. Mmmhmmm. Stretchy, right?
I’m only having a tiny pity party about this though. There is still a lot to like here: Murray is moving out, tracking up, he’s relaxed, his back is lifted at least a little, and he was even a little foamy during this ride! Our leg yields are getting straighter in both directions, and even if our shoulder-in leaves much to be desired, he was trying during the ride (even if it’s not evidenced on photos). For a pony (and rider!!!) who looked like this eight months ago, we are definitely improving.
I’m kinda peeved I noticed this right before I leave town for ten nighs so I’m not going to work on this really at all until January. Whatever. Bring it on, January. I’m going to kick my own ass and Murray’s along with it.
Hello readers, all twelve of you.
If you didn’t know already, Horse Junkies United is giving away a MacRider dressage saddle.
The competition is 10 days long and has some rules, but here’s the cliff notes:
1. You must answer the questions on all 10 days of giveaway posts to be eligible. However, you don’t have to do this day by day! You can go and answer questions 1-5 today, and then 4-6 on the 23d as long as they are all answered by 11:59 EST on the 23rd of December.
2. You must like the MacRider page on Facebook.
3. You must be actively sharing the contest on social media (be that Twitter, FB, your blog, or elsewhere).
Since I basically want Charlie of The Dressage Connection to be my in-house saddle fitter and to talk to him about saddles forever, I’m not having a problem at all hearing about how luscious this MacRider Evolution is.
Even if you hate dressage and aren’t interested in a new saddle (or don’t want a 17.5 or think a MW won’t fit you), with a saddle valued at over $4000, you’re bound to be able to sell it and recoup your “losses” and buy yourself something that fits! So go over there and enter!!