November Progress & December Goals

I’m really liking this idea of setting goals and evaluating how well I did on them.  If only it worked so well for progress on my thesis.

So, how did I do in November?

Murray Goals

Adjustability — I definitely worked on adjustability this month. Trot poles, canter poles.  By no means is Murray completely adjustable, but we are on the way.

Trotting jumps — I trotted almost no jumps this month. Back on the list it goes.

Nicole Goals

Quiet my legs — I sorta worked on this, but the thing that has really helped was my discovery/instruction that I ride crooked (twisted left) which makes everything coming from the right and involving right bend harder for M to process. So now I’m working on that.

December Goals
December is going to be tough because I’m going out of town this weekend and in about three weeks time I’ll be gone through the new year. I really want to keep working on Murray’s goals, but have to make sure I don’t set myself up to fail here, or slide back too much when I return. Obviously there will be some slide back, but if I can minimize it, that would be great.


Trotting jumps — still M’s most hated jumping thing, and still something we need to work on.  I really only jump two days a week, so I’ll have to make sure to trot jumps on those two days.  Say… start with 10 jumps each school, and work up to trotting 2’6″ fences (which will be very hard for Mr. Princess).

Bending — since my discovery about my own crooked riding, I’ve uncovered some weaknesses in Murray’s bending, especially right!  So I’m going to keep stretching out and limbering his left side, and asking him for true bend (without bending his neck) to the right, as well as to the left.

Renvers/Travers — this is almost the next most logical step in my dressage adventures with M, and a couple of attempts at this at the walk this morning elucidated some big holes in my riding!  So I’m going to plug in a little haunches left/right at the walk during each dressage ride to encourage M to listen to my leg to move his haunches around.

Nicole Goals

Straighten out my body — ok, so I ride twisted left and I really need to fix that. My whole right side, from the shoulder to the hip, seems to kinda collapse forward and down.  It’s subtle — I don’t feel any muscle differences or weakness from trying to hold myself straight and correctly lately, which suggests that it’s not a HUGE thing — but it’s enough to make a sensitive horse twist himself up the wrong way.  So that I must fix.

Finish Chapter 1 Analysis — COULD IT BE THAT I AM MAKING A THESIS GOAL ON MY HORSE BLOG?  Seems that the only way I can keep myself accountable is with horses, so here it is, out in the world. By the end of December, I want to be all done with the analysis on chapter 1 of my thesis (or at least have the analysis planned out and ready to go, in case I need help from my lab mates to get the code done).  There are a ton of little goals that will go into making this happen, but it is completely doable.  If I do not complete this, I need some kind of major punishment in January.  Like, maybe, not going to the schooling show at the end of the month that I really want to.

Get pictures and video of M and I riding — as I’m the one with the camera, I am rarely ever the one who has pictures taken of them. And I’m sick of it!  I’m going to bribe some children and my friends into taking pictures and video of me.  What will I bribe them with?  Pictures of themselves!!

Because posting without pictures makes me sad, here’s one of my boxer mix Ellie giving her new kitten baby brother a kiss.


late thanks

Thanksgiving is my favourite thing about America.  As a new American (I just swore in last year, so this is really only my second year of Americanness, though I’ve obviously been gorging myself from November through December for the last decade), I have some serious, serious ideas about how Thanksgiving should go: there needs to be tons of food, leftovers for days, and no judgment when I lie around in sweatpants for hours on end.  I have never successfully ridden through Thanksgiving weekend – I always go out of town – but I have no illusions that were I to try to ride on Thanksgiving I would get through little more than a happy, lazy, bareback hack around the property.  So Thanksgiving is a little vacation for my pony as well.

I have so much to be thankful for; it’s rather ridiculous for me to limit it to a single day of the year, so it’s my personal policy to stay thankful year round.  Even when I’m feeling entitled, selfish, or uppity, I can’t forget the wonderful things I’ve had a chance to do and see.

IMG_8187Two years ago I saw a giraffe birth. That was super badass.

IMG_2564-2Sunset from my back patio in Congo last year.

This year, I am especially thankful for things going right in my horsey life.  And I seriously feel like everything has gone right this year.  Ups and downs, punctuated equilibrium, swirly progress aside, I have spent this year making greater strides as a rider than I ever have in the past.  Even when things have gone wrong – and they have gone wrong for weeks on end at times – I’ve come out the other side with a better understanding of myself and a lot more arrows in my quiver.

IMG_3150Skills like the timely dismount!

None of this would be possible without the entire “supporting cast” of my barn family – and I have a wonderful barn family.  My partners in crime, riding pals, sustainable dressage fanatics, horse junkies, jump setting crew, and cameramen, pigeon exterminators, and fledgling rescuer friends.  Hardly simply a supporting cast, my barn family has taught me as much as I know about horsemanship and has been with me through the many tears (I cry a lot), meltdowns, tantrums, human tantrums, all my crazy ideas, and all of our progress.  A few members of this barn family are of particular note.

Of course, absolutely none of this would be possible without my trainer.  Alana has believed in Murray and me from the start and all the way through; when neither of us believes in ourselves or each other, Alana knows exactly what to say to put the pieces back together for us.  I could write pages about her, but I’m trying to keep this brief.

If you can't be kind, be quiet

Our barn manager, L, who is truly the Murray Whisperer.  Without her I am sure I would have created an out-of-control people-stomping-monster by now with all of my well-intentioned babying and fussing.  L knows when to kick Murray’s butt and keep him in line, when it’s my behind that requires kicking instead, and is generous with the cookies and praise for both ponies and people.

Then there’s Tati: wonderful friend, assistant trainer, enabler of my kitten-adopting and horse-leasing (ummm please no more!!).  Solution-focused, problem-solving, and always supportive, Tati is always willing to stay up extra late to talk strategy, exercises, and training with me.

IMG_3924Ummm how could you not love that hairdo and face?!

And Murray.  To be thankful for Murray, I must first make special mention of Alana’s parents, who have generously and graciously allowed me to care lease him for the last year, and who gave him to get the open space and time he needed to grow up after the track.  This horse, who I honestly never thought would make it through five, is staring six in the face as we approach the new year.  A horse that seriously could not canter without bucking in April carried me around a 3’ course just last month, clearing them like it was the easiest thing in the world.  One of the quickest learners I know, Murray keeps me accountable and forces me to ride my best, but is always there to get my out of a scrape if I need it.  Despite his many protestations and attempts to the contrary, he really is becoming a fantastic and reliable horse, which I’m sure only Alana knew was secretly locked in there.

It’s blurry, but it’s 3’3″!

I am simultaneously extremely proud of and thankful for the progress I have made this year.  Mentally and physically, I am riding at the highest level I ever have: I can go into a stadium round without wanting to puke because I’m afraid I’m going to forget my course, I can ride a dressage test and make adjustments while I’m in the court, I can problem-solve my own riding and Murray’s, and I’ve had so much fun doing it!  And I am so, so thankful that I get to keep doing it all next year!