Is it worth it for amateurs to take clinics with big name riders?

[I’m in Italy this week, likely stuffing myself with pasta and gelato, and probably with questionable internet access, so please forgive me for not responding to comments. ¬†Your regularly scheduled Murray programming will return next week. ¬†In the mean time, there’s an EGUS post coming and re-features of some of my past content that I hope you will enjoy.]

When I was first offered a spot in the Hawley Bennett clinic at my barn, I was ready to say yes. ¬†Then I looked at my bank account and frowned a little — there wasn’t going to be much room for clinic money. ¬†There wasn’t¬†any room for clinic money. ¬†So I thought about it a lot, and ultimately decided that Murray and I needed to get out and about and used to showing in new places more than we needed to ride with Hawley this weekend, and I regretfully gave up my spot.

This led me to wondering if it would even have been worth it for me to ride with Hawley. ¬†I’ve ridden in a few different clinics, and while I’ve always gotten something out of them, I’ve also always wondered if I was getting¬†enough out of them to validate the expensive. ¬†Two days with a big name clinician is basically a full month of lessons, or a couple of field trips, for me, and so the quality over quantity question is a big one. ¬†Would the lessons Hawley had to give be useful on my baby horse? ¬†I don’t always want to pay to just be told how¬†awesome we are (cuz that happens all the time!!!), I want to problem solve. ¬†Would I be problem solving at such a low level? ¬†Would I provide fodder for Hawley to correct? ¬†Was it worth it?

I’m sure many other amateur riders have had this question, and after auditing with Hawley for two days, I’m pretty sure I know the answer: YES it is definitely worth it for you to ride with them!! ¬†For lots of reasons. ¬†Read the full article on Horse Junkies United!


Since XC on Sunday, Murray’s been a bit pooped.


As have his friends.


So we had no work yesterday, just liniment, and a light ride today. ¬†Unfortunately, he also seems a bit sore and a touch lame (could be anything — stone bruise, abscess, whatever, don’t panic Nicole), so I called off the ride in favor of a bit of a massage instead. ¬†Murray did lots of licking and chewing and yawning while I was gently massaging his back and hind quarters, which makes me hopeful that it did, in fact, help.

Tomorrow I leave for Italy for a few days, so he’ll get some light rides with one of the teenagers he adores.

This week I rode¬†another¬†baby noodle, this time a big six year old who was a stallion as of January 27th! ¬†Ronin is my friend M’s project horse and he’s a big hunk of gorgeous.



7 26 12 new babies


This particular big hunk of gorgeous is also quite wide around, and appears to be just a tad downhill. ¬†I don’t have a conformation shot of him, but trust me when I say his withers are below his croup. ¬†However, he doesn’t ride like it¬†at all. ¬†He is stealth uphill, much like Murray is stealth downhill (he has big ol’ withers but his neck has a very downhill attachment). ¬†Because Ronin is so wide, I can’t manhandle him around with my legs like I could with Murray as a baby, or more recently baby Eclipse, so steering him was an adventure. ¬†However, he’s really game,¬†really smart (already started to learn about half halts and regulating his own pace), and Alana has trained big horses like him before, so she will know what to do.

I also had another ride on Eclipse this week, though it was mostly a desensitization/lunging session. ¬†I pulled him out right before feeding, and he absolutely lost it when he realized that everyone was being fed without him. ¬†I persevered through his cries, let him lunge himself a bit, then tacked him up and walked around the arena once, got off, and stuffed him with carrots and turned him back out. ¬†Such a hard lesson for baby horses, but an important one. ¬†When I return, I’ll play with him some more.


Leaving you with my new absolute most favourite picture of Murray and me ever.  Taken by the amazing Sheila Stenger (THANK YOU), of us jumping out of the water at Camelot this weekend.  HE IS REALLY TURNING INTO AN EVENTER!

16019201964_b78d562d0c_kWater splashes. Good knees. Not ugly form. Bright background! SO MUCH LOVE. Many thanks Sheila!!

Edited to add: I know most of you are Ogilvys but I am an EcoGold!! Enjoy 25% off EcoGold until March first for their 25 year anniversary. I love (LOVE) their pads and will definitely be taking advantage of this!!


Four Mares No Money Blog Hop: Fears

HollyBully over at Four Mares, No Money asks: What has been the most fearful moment you have ever experienced with a horse?

My most fearful¬†moments with horses are pretty standard. ¬†The first year I was riding with my trainer, she asked if I wanted to exercise Aught, another boarder’s 15 year old OTTB who needed to get out. ¬†He was lovely the first time I rode, but the second time the other rider exercising him had changed his bit, and he decided all the puddles in the arena required LEAPING over!! ¬†This turned into a bit of a flat out gallop, where every time I got him back under control we would come upon another puddle. ¬†I made the choice to bail, and he immediately stopped and looked at me all “what are you doing on the ground?”

The other big scary one was this year when we were clipping Murray. ¬†He was having a terrible day already, and after we got the twitch on him he went kinda catatonic (twitches work almost too well on him). ¬†His right¬†hindquarter was leaning against a corner, hoof propped up, and in his semi-catatonic state his front legs were starting to buckle — his balance was seriously off. ¬†His knee finally bent properly and as his face dropped towards the ground he terrified himself, and reared¬†so high. ¬†Seriously, I didn’t know this horse was that tall. ¬†He did nothing when he came back down, but the fraction of a second involving his “fall” and rear knocked the clipper to the side (fortunately) and left my heart pounding.

Both of these things were scary, there’s no doubt. ¬†But I have to say, in terms of legitimate fear, my scary experiences with horses¬†rank low. ¬†This is in no way because I’m so experienced around horses or such a good rider that I have nothing left to fear (that would be really stupid), but simply because I’ve had way, way scarier experiences in my life.

Like in Kenya.  When I walked around on foot in Kenya.  On foot, in the bush, in a wildlife preserve. Where I saw lions at least twice a week.  Yet the lions were so not what scared me the most (though I did have one poop-your-pants moment with a lion).

IMG_8933Worth being scared of.

On Hallowe’en of 2012 I was doing my standard behavioral observation route walking in the visitor area of the chimpanzee sanctuary I worked at, though it was closed to visitors at the time and I was alone there. ¬†The visitor area included a small “cutout” into the chimp enclosure that was fenced just for the visitors, imagine a small rectangle inside a really big (1 square kilometer) square enclosure. ¬†Anyway, I was in this visitor area, and had walked down a fenceline that was about 150 meters long, and had gotten to the corner. ¬†I hadn’t seen any chimps yet, but that wasn’t particularly surprising, it was warm and they were usually resting during the heat of the day.

I hit the inside corner, and looked into the enclosure to see two chimps meandering down towards me.  I stopped to take some data, and turned to the right after I did so.  What I saw there was what terrified me.  The rest of the group of chimps, all 21 of them, were sitting in the shade not 20 meters down the fence, and Alley, the escape artist extraordinaire was sitting on two logs that she had propped up against the electric fence and working on opening up a hole with a third stick.  The two logs were dragging some wires down, and Alley was using a stick to twist together the wires at her eye-level so that a hole was opening up in front of her.  As I watched, she twisted one more time and the hole got bigger.  Alley could easily have jumped through that hole, but her fear of the electricity (that fence was HOT, I accidentally touched it several times) must have compelled her to open it further.

IMG_6772This was a practice run.

I had two choices. ¬†I could pass the chimps and their giant hole and jump in the river just 30 meters away — my first instinct given how open the fence was — or run back the way I came and try to make it to my car before the chimps did. ¬†My car was half a mile away. ¬†On the one hand, the chimps were guaranteed not to go into the river. ¬†Of course, the river had hippos. ¬†And someone saw a crocodile there once. ¬†And there was always the possibility that seeing me pass the hole would compel the chimps to either jump out sooner, or make a grab at me. ¬†And my equipment was NOT waterproof — and it was heavy. ¬†There was zero chance I could run faster than a chimp, but running seemed like my best choice. ¬†I decided to run.

I immediately called the head of the chimp sanctuary, and told the volunteer I had with me to go back the way we came.¬† Oh, yes, I had a volunteer with me. ¬†A completely inexperienced twenty year old with zero common sense. ¬†“Run” I told her, while the phone rang. “RUN!!”¬†

On the phone, I screamed at the head of the sanctuary when he answered. “The chimps are escaping right now.”

“What?” he responded, confused.


“Okay we are coming! You run away!”

“I AM RUNNING!” I yelled as I hauled ass.

IMG_7861Please don’t bite me with those.

I ran like I have never run before. ¬†I was carrying close to 20 pounds of equipment and I didn’t drop any of it (though my water bottle did bounce out of the pocket of my backpack in my flight). ¬†I ran past my lungs burning and my thighs screaming. ¬†My assistant stopped running and started walking and looking behind her. ¬†I screamed at her and kept running — damned if I would get caught. ¬†Every rustle of a bush beside me was Ndaronse ready to leap on me. ¬†Every creaking tree branch was Ali Kaka climbing above me. ¬†Somehow I made it back to the door of the visitor area — only about 200 meters — and I slammed and latched the door behind me (once slowpoke was through). ¬†That wouldn’t stop the chimps for long, but it would stop them for a second. ¬†(This answers my age-old horror story conundrum: do you pause to close the doors when being chased? Apparently yes.) ¬†Then I ran the rest of the way to my car, jumped in, and started it up, and drove over to where my stupid volunteer tail was barely jogging back up to me.

Instead of just driving away, I took a back road back to the chimps night house. ¬†One of the caregivers was there unloading the week’s groceries that had been picked up that day, and the caregiver that had been on duty was walking up the fenceline to check the enclosure for safety before the visitors started to arrive in 20 minutes or so. ¬†Through my binoculars you could clearly see the logs Alley had propped up on the fence, but it wasn’t clear if she was still there or not. ¬†Stephen started yelling at the chimps to come back to the night house, calling “CHOKULA CHOKULA CHOKULA” (food!). ¬†I phoned¬†the caregiver walking up the fence to warn him, and by the time he arrived at the visitor area the rest of the caregivers had gotten there by car from their lunch break.

IMG_2237Probably the only chimp who WOULDN’T have beaten me up… and I mean the big one, not the little one. The baby was mean.

The caregivers swarmed the visitors area, and I was pretty sure I saw at least one chimp jump back through the hole (I wasn’t using my binos at the time). ¬†They kept the visitor area closed for the afternoon, my water bottle and cap were retrieved unscathed, and I got several big¬†hugs from the caregivers who were extremely glad to see me safe after the whole ordeal was done with.

I have since learned that it’s not really so terrifying to be faced with a few escaped chimps, though a large group is much more unpredictable and worthy of fear. ¬†After the fact, there are a lot of what-ifs that run through my mind. ¬†If the caregivers hadn’t been watching a football match at the time, they wouldn’t have all been right next to the company vehicle and probably all of the chimps would have been loose in the visitors area by the time they got there. ¬†If I hadn’t gone there at that time, if I’d been just five minutes later, all of the chimps would have been loose in the visitors area and I would have found them. ¬†If I had walked there instead of driving, which I usually did, I would have been there with 23 escaped chimps and¬†no car.


Sometime, I’ll tell you about the lion. That one is better, possibly, and much more like Jurassic Park.

XC schooling is uuhhhhhhmaaazziiiiinnnggg!!!

This weekend was a pretty freaking good one.  Saturday I worked on data analysis with some labmates and had a pretty good time, surprisingly, helped others (what! I knew enough about data analysis to be helpful?!) and was helped in turn.  So that was pretty awesome.  Rode Murray briefly, just asking him to stretch down into the contact and move out at the trot at the same time, which is soooo haaaaarrrrdddd, and did lots of walking poles to limber up his back and stretch him out for XC Sunday.  Then I came home and did no writing which was very naughty.


We went to Camelot Equestrian Park, which I have spoken about before. ¬†It’s a super fun, huuuuuuuuuuuuuuge, and this year they are holding their first ever rated event and so are revamping all their jumps and footing. ¬†Despite being in a drier area of California (though they did get lots of rain this year), they have do an amazing job with their footing and put tons of care into it. ¬†This weekend it was seriously like riding on a cloud. ¬†Even the loudest horses made absolutely no noise.

IMG_3457Training battering ram. All their jumps are Camelot themed!!

Literally the only downside to Camelot is that it’s a two hour drive away — and every other facility is further so whatever. ¬†Everything else about them is so freaking fantastic I can’t even handle it. ¬†They have pipe panel stalls available for you to keep your horse in for the¬†included in the facility use fee. ¬†They have like 500 miles of trails. ¬†They have two stadium arenas. ¬†They have two dressage courts with great sand and an awesome warm up that doubles as their long court when in times of need.

I digress. ¬†Anyway. ¬†Murray got to hang around in a paddock while the first group schooled, and then I took my time getting him ready. ¬†He’s been on omeprazole for three days now, and I’ve not noticed a huge difference, but he certainly was very easy to tack up. ¬†I’m not sure if that’s the changes I’ve made in my tack-up procedure, the fact that he got some time to relax after getting there, or what, but it was nice. ¬†I was schooling in a beginner novice+ group with three friends. ¬†I warned everybody that Murray and I may need to split off from the group because in the past he’s struggled with schooling in groups — he gets really confused and doesn’t take direction well, and then will go any direction but forward until literally one stride before a jump. ¬†It’s not fun/the best/productive for horse or rider.

So we got out there and started schooling the water, and except for a few spooks thanks to some 15 mph winds, Murray was really solid. ¬†We walked another horse through the water, and we started trotting and cantering and warming ourselves up. ¬†My friend’s horse, who LOOOOVES him some XC, was pretty raring to go sp¬†let out a few small bucks, and Murray seemed to take that as an indication that he, too, should¬†bring out his best moves.

IMG_3747Look, internet, I invented a new gait! I’m a five gaited horse!

IMG_3749Coming down from a buck — devastated my photog didn’t get the full extension on this one.

He bucked all around, in the water, through the water, all around, and then bucked some more.  But hey! At least we had forward!

One of the huge benefits of schooling with a group of adults is that everyone helps things run smoothly and communication is fluid.  We were all warmed up and through the water by the time Alana came over to get us started, and we promptly headed out to our warm up fences.  Murray takes warm up very seriously.


Though he got most of it out around the water, Murray was still a bit confused about the whole “group schooling” thing, and was a little chargy to the fences and very playful afterwards, so our first jumps were¬†pretty ugly. ¬†I was riding really defensively and I kept missing our spots and getting left behind, because Murray was taking the long ones (in stride with his gallop) and I wanted him to take the deeper one. ¬†My defensive riding probably didn’t help the fact that he was kicking around on landing, so next time I will work hard to stay with him more and just bring him back after the fences with my body instead of my hands. ¬†As you can imagine, this combo of charging + defensive riding resulted in just our best possible form ever.


Anyway, we moved on, and Murray and I got into a better groove, and jumped this huge scary beginner novice “mouse house” (a table with holes in the front) which I have always been intimidated by. ¬†It’s max height and width for beginner novice, and Camelot doesn’t really have a lot of super flat ground so all of the approaches are either uphill or downhill, and those holes in the bottom really draw your eyes in. ¬†Murray, however, was not tripping. ¬†Not tripping at all. ¬†And I managed to get my body back under a bit more control.

IMG_3806 IMG_3807 IMG_3808

After the mouse house was a little roll-top like thing and we went straight to it without looking at it. ¬†This was the first moment that I felt Murray hesitate at all headed towards one of the fences, and I just kept my leg on, and he got a deep spot, and it was great! ¬†A couple of the other horses had a bit of a hesitation there as well, and we think it was because the landing isn’t visible from the front side, so they’re not sure what to expect. ¬†It’s a very gentle downhill though, so it was all good. ¬†We also did the dragon wall, which was one just river stones held in by rebar but is now being cemented over (probably for durability), both the BN and Novice side. ¬†This was previously the site of Murray throwing himself on the ground and rolling, but I was smarter than him this time — there was no putting one’s head down today!

Our best form — no sarcasm — probably came when I biffed a novice coop-log thing, and Murray got too deep and actually brushed it. ¬†Right before I came into it I had been thinking about what it feels like to ride forward without clinging¬†and trying to describe it to you guys, and as we bore down on this thing I¬†did the opposite and took my leg off.

IMG_3838IMG_3837 IMG_3844attempt number one vs attempt number two.

We even did a canoe jump into the water and out of the water, which was super fun. ¬†The jump wasn’t very big, and I think it’s one of the new beginner novice questions if you follow the new rules closely (I haven’t), but Murray was very forward to it and we didn’t struggle. ¬†Then up the hill to the up and down banks. ¬†This was the only place Murray really started to fuss a bit, pulling me off the track and back up towards his friends. ¬†So I declined to do the bigger down bank until our steering got a little better.

We ended on a little loop with a fairly solid novice table with Nacho Libre faces painted on one side (probably actually knights helms), headed to a BN roll top, and then around to some railroad ties.  Murray handled the table and roll top beautifully, but took a rather long one to the railroad ties.

IMG_3963So sad you can’t see the nacho libre faces on this.

longspotNot where I thought we would take off. Also not where I thought we would land.

So we schooled the loop again and got much more reasonable jumps to each fence.  Alana called it there, and even though there were a few more fences I definitely could have jumped (and Murray even pulled towards them when we were going around a few times), it really was the better choice to let him be done before he got tired.  Since he was so, so good and schooled in a group (which has been impossible for us since last April), I knew it was really important for him to end on a very positive note and not feel tired out or pushed.  I think his sourness over group schooling was started by being really tired during an outing last year.

Overall, such a great confidence builder! ¬†I’m always a little butterfly-y when I get out on XC and when Murray was all bleckaw with his legs I definitely got a little nervous. ¬†But everything we jumped proved to me that he really DOES love what we’re doing, and that we really can do it. ¬†Between now and our next schooling adventure, I really need to nail down my position a bit better, and get back to a place where I follow Murray more naturally over jumps even when he is being a little rushy. ¬†Oh, and we rode in a snaffle again! ¬†After the Hawley clinic I switched Murray’s loop gag back into a snaffle (just moved the rein attaachment) and he’s been doing great in it! ¬†So I didn’t change it again today, and once again: perfect! ¬†I could not have asked for a better horse out there today. ¬†He was brave, game, and honest. ¬†He saved my butt and he also listened to me, and everything felt¬†easy. ¬†It’s the best feeling. ¬†THE BEST!!


At the end of March, we’re returning to Camelot for a 3-day eventing camp (if you’re in the area and want to join, holler at me!) which is going to be an absolute blast!! ¬†Oh, and Murray didn’t even sweat the whole time we were out — now, granted, it wasn’t very hot and there was a cooling wind, but he hardly even sweat UNDER his saddle. ¬†So I¬†know the next time he tells me that he’s too tired to do more dressage¬†it’s a lie!! ¬†Kid is fit as.



Beka seems to know me, because these questions are spot on! This week will feature more of my dog than my horse, but I love her more anyway.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Every horse seems to have at least three names: ¬†the “real” one, the barn one, and that special one. ¬†What are some of your pony’s names?

Murray’s JC name is “Ima Looking Cool”. ¬†I’ve discussed here how much I don’t really like at all very much that name. ¬†His USEA registration is as yet to be determined — see yesterday’s post.

wpid-wp-1424051689499.jpegLooking super cool.

In the barns at the track he was “Rico the Freako,” because of his gumby-like abilities to get knocked down (read: throw himself to the ground), bounce back up, and appear uninjured. ¬†We, obviously, call him Murray.

Just Murray.

Seriously, that’s about it. ¬†Sometimes I call him “Moo” and my barn manager will call min “Punkin,” and my dressage trainer calls him “Mr Murray!” in a muppets voice (or “sack of shit” — I love her). ¬†But these are rare. ¬†We really just call him Murray.

Ellie, on the other hand, is a whole different story.


Ellie came to my boyfriend and I with the gag-worthy name “Bebe”. ¬†Nobody was even sure how to pronounce it. ¬†Bay-bay? Bee-bee? ¬†Gun? ¬†I went through PILES of names before we settled on Ellie. ¬†Devi, Fela, Auri (I will send you a jar of homemade jam if you catch¬†the theme there), Astrid, Zula, gosh those are just the ones I remember. ¬†Finally we settled on Ellie.

Within two weeks I had renamed her. ¬†Jelly was the first one. ¬†Then Jellybean, Jellybelly, and Jellyfish. ¬†Sometimes also Jellybear. ¬†Then I started calling her Babby — from “How is baby formed”. ¬†Then Babbington and Babs. ¬†Then Smelly — and all the possible derivations of Smelly. ¬†Smellybean, Smellyfish. ¬†Next, I think, came Jellington and Smellington. ¬†One day I got really angry at Ellie and she wasn’t responding, so I screamed “ELEANOR” at her. ¬†That kinda stuck. ¬†Most recently, we’ve started calling her Jellinor Roosevelt. ¬†Because duh. ¬†The best part? ¬†She responds to all of them. ¬†She doesn’t respond to Piglet or Snorlax. ¬†We’re working on that.

IMG_8826She is a fierce beast.

Milo is mostly just “little kitty” or “Monster”. ¬†I’m not even sure if Milo is his real name so… we’ll see.

I’ve got a blank space, baby

(On my show entries, that is.)

And I’ll write your name.

Or I would. IF ONLY I HAD ONE.

As long as I’ve been riding Murray, I’ve been thinking of what I should show him as. ¬†His JC name is, in my opinion, rather unfortunate (“Ima Looking Cool”) and I’m not really a fan, though my barn manager thinks it fits him perfectly. ¬†She thinks that it exemplifies both his big ego and how he’s pretty much full of hot air. ¬†I, however, kindof hate it. ¬†I go back and forth, sometimes I’m ok with it, sometimes I really hate it.

Anyway, names are important to me, and I’ve been looking for the¬†perfect show name for us for a long time. ¬†My boyfriend thinks I’ll never find it because I’m too particular, but I really don’t think my criteria are that insane. ¬†All I want is for it to reflect Murray’s quirky personality and perhaps a little bit of his naughtiness, and ideally be funny. ¬†I’m a funny girl, you see (or at least, I think I am), and having a clever, joking, or punny horse’s name announced after mine at a show gives me quite the smile.

We’ve been through several rounds of names now, and now I’m going to present them to¬†you, dear readers, to get your opinions. ¬†I’m going to include all the show names I’ve ever thought of, even the ones too naughty for USEA registration, so that you can be as amused with them as I have.

Unsafe at any Speed — a book written by Ralph Nader that vilified the Chevy Corvair of the 60s. ¬†This name was super appropriate in the beginning, when Murray was as likely to run over you on the ground as to let you get on him. ¬†And also, all the bucking, sideways running, and dirty stops. ¬†However, multiple people told me I wasn’t allowed to use this name because …. of superstition, essentially.

Boldly going forward ’cause we can’t find reverse…

The USS Enterprise — I’m a Star Trek dork. Don’t judge me.

Jordy LeForge — See above.

Battlestar Galactica — Okay, this one was never meant for Murray. ¬†There’s this big bay mare at our barn, seriously she’s as big as a house, and if it weren’t for a debilitating knee injury she’d be¬†such a fantastic eventer. ¬†This would have been her name, but would work for any big mare!

The Honeybadger DC (or DGAF) — This is honestly a leading favourite. I’m not sure if Murray is really¬†that¬†honeybadger like, though he certainly does not give a fuck about me when we’re out on XC and has plenty of ZeeFrankesque characteristics. ¬†I also really like the faux suffix, because it’s almost like he’s a big fancy warmblood or something but really it’s just an acronym and that tickles me.

Konichiwa, Bitches — I thought “konichiwa” was like “aloha” in that it meant both hello and goodbye, so this seemed particularly appropriate in light of Murray’s many escape attempts when away from home. ¬†However, “konichiwa” actually means “good afternoon,” and that made it even funnier. ¬†Of course, all of this is a moo point because you can’t put “bitches” in a USEA name.

Camelot Horse Trials -- but mostly tribulations!Favourite, overused photo is the perfect example of his notoriety…

Notorious OTTB — I really like oldschool rap and especially Biggie Smalls. ¬†I also feel like Murray is slightly notorious. ¬†Also, I think this is punnily hilarious.

Party & Bullshit — This song is basically Murray’s life story. ¬†“I’ve was¬†a terror since the public school era / bathroom passes, cutting classes, squeezing asses,” “Moet popping, hoe hopping, ain’t no stopping Big Poppa, I’m a BAD BOY,” and of course the chorus, which is Murray’s real life anthem: PARTY AND BULLSHIT. ¬†Of course, also not USEA appropriate, much to my great dismay.

My favourite remix, by Ratatat.

Footloose — I like music. Kid’s got some fancy footwork, and he’s pretty nimble when we’re jumping!

Saturday Night Fever — I went through a disco phase.

Stayin’ Alive — I DO love the BeeGees and this also seems curious appropriate to Murray. ¬†Both because it’s shocking how he’s still alive at this point, and because it’s kindof a fight for me to stay alive with him sometimes…

99 Problems — Okay, I swear this is the last rap-related “show” name. ¬†But just think of what a funny announcement this would make! ¬†“And now entering the ring is Nicole with 99 Problems!”

Sublimely Self Righteous — I also like beer. And Murray¬†is pretty self righteous. ¬†And I kindof feel like I might get bonus points on our dressage test if the judge is a beer person? ¬†Who am I kidding, dressage judges drink white wine.

Wilco Tango Foxtrot — This is another beer name, but is almooooooost phonetic alphabet for three little words I use rather often with Murray.

National Public Radio — I thought this possible show name up a long time ago, and it’s always absolutely tickled me. ¬†I could clip the NPR logo into his butt! ¬†I would make such an entrance to the show ring! ¬†And I¬†LOVE NPR!!!


So there you have it.  Rather a long, silly list of show names that I will probably never use.  I hope they brought you as much entertainment as they have brought me.

2/17 lesson recap & new baby horse

I haven’t been writing much about my riding lately, because I haven’t actually done a ton of riding. ¬†At least, it certainly feels that way. ¬†Last week Monday Murray’s knee was all swollen when he got off the trailer, and though he wasn’t lame I was worried about infection so I just lunged. ¬†Tuesday his knee looked worse, I nearly cried, but he still wasn’t lame, hot, or painful, so I lunged once more. ¬†Wednesday I had a light dressage ride, Thursday I … probably gave him the day off. ¬†I don’t even know. ¬†Anyway, the big swelling has gone down and it’s just localized to a kick mark at this point, so assistant trainer was right and it really was just stocking up.

Before last week, Murray and I had been working pretty seriously on getting some real engagement behind and lift through the withers with lunging and riding. ¬†I think it’s working. ¬†Murray’s been much more willing to stretch down into the contact at the walk and trot, and his canter work is really improving to the left (previously one of our biggest hurdles — crappy throughness in the left canter).¬† I took photos of Murray’s neck to compare them to August pics, but I honestly can’t see much of a difference. ¬†There does appear to be muscle filling in between his neck and withers, which makes me happy. ¬†Perhaps I’ll just blame the lack of neck¬†on the back lighting.

2014-09-04 14.42.30IMG_20150210_170720August 2014 and February 2015 — still pretty twiggy, huh?


Anyway, Murray and I also had to have a bit of a come-to-jesus discussion two weeks ago, as he was extremely behind my leg and generally responding very poorly to my leg aids. ¬†In an attempt to avoid dressage fights with him, Alana has me avoid using my whip as much as possible (though I still always carry it as insurance) right now, and for the most part Murray has been soft and compliant. ¬†Only, recently he’s been really sticky on my legs, in particular against the wall, refusing to make a proper circle because once he gets next to a wall he’s definitely not leaving it again. ¬†During this particular ride he also kept trying to rip the reins from my hands. ¬†Eventually I got so sick of this that I just drove him forward with the whip and my leg, and a bucking fit the likes of which I’ve not ridden in¬†quite a while ensued. ¬†I actually felt myself levitate several inches out of my saddle at one point, and came down on Murray’s back rather gracelessly. ¬†After that he was¬†much more compliant, but somehow the willingness to stretch down was gone. ¬†I’m not sure if I literally beat him into last year(‘s mentality) or what, but he seems to have gotten over it now.


Anyway! ¬†Murray came with me to my trainer’s place for housesitting this weekend, so of the four days Murray and I did hill work three days in a row (err, on the first day I lost my trainer’s dog while I was tacking Murray up so nixed the ride, fortunately the dog¬†reappeared 30 minutes later clearly very pleased with his visit to the creek). ¬†I did one faux-dressage test in the mini-arena, which Murray performed fantastically through, even with cyclists buzzing past us on the road, one serious conditioning day, and another day of slow and steady walking up and down hills with just a little trotting and cantering. ¬†The property isn’t giant, but it has a couple of different slopes that get the job done.

2-17Tuesday we had a little jump lesson, and I was very saddened that the Hawley course was gone.  I had really been looking forward to jumping the faux-coffin.  However, assistant trainer did not disappoint this week with a couple of interesting questions in the course!

Everything was fairly straight forward at first, green to blue-brown oxer in four, navy to skinny brown oxer (which I got a refusal to the first time, more on that in a second), and the one stride. ¬†Then suddenly it was all “take the skinny brown oxer to the blue and brown oxer, get the angle” and “rollback right off the rail to the pink flowers and then turn right again” and I was like whaaaat. ¬†Murray performed admirably however, and really rocked back onto his haunches for the rollbacks — especially that nutty circle around the flowers. ¬†We had one rail which was kindof messy riding on my part, but also (apparently) Murray forgetting to lift up his own feet.

The two skinnies plagued us in the beginning. ¬†The brown skinny oxer had dressage letters below it, and Murray gave them a hard look when I rode past it the first time, so as we approached it to jump it the first time he stopped — though quite far out. ¬†I could almost tell he was going to do this and I got a little eager and ahead of him, so the stop was really my fault. ¬†If I had just remembered to sit tall and stay quiet, I’m sure he would have gone right off. ¬†The same thing happened to the blue sharks tooth, though to a lesser degree. ¬†I didn’t get too far ahead of him, but I also didn’t stay upright and support him to the base, so he refused early again. ¬†I just let him look at it, and once I turned around he took three immediate canter strides to the fence.

I’ve been working on getting my position back properly, as it took a vacation over Christmas and hasn’t come back since. ¬†Previously, when I two-pointed around the arena, I could feel my heels deep at the girth and I was performing some kind of miraculous feat of strength as I hovered above the saddle. ¬†Then when jumps came up, Murray just lifted me up and my body folded like beautiful origami and it was all amazing and rainbows and glitterfarts. ¬†Not quite back to sparkling flatus, but I’m working on getting back there. ¬†It was better there.

download_20150217_210727New baby horse! I’m asking for nothing here, this is just him being himself!

I also got to have some fun with a new baby horse today! ¬†Not entirely new, as he’s been at the barn for several months, but little Eclipse was retired from the track last year and put out to pasture to grow. ¬†Riding him feels like riding a jumper¬†pony I know, only slightly taller (seriously he is SO narrow), but he has a lot of try and was very earnest. ¬†His tinyness was to my advantage, of course, since Alana wanted to put someone little on him because of it. ¬†One of my friends lunged him first and he got out an absolutely ENORMOUS buck, so I’m glad that happened before I got on!

Eclipse is going to be in training for a few more months while his owner figures out what the plan is for him. ¬†So I’m sure there will be more pony rides to report about later! ¬†I seriously forgot what riding baby babies is like. ¬†Noodly, poor steering, not so great with the turning — it’s so cute! ¬†And it makes me love Murray even more.




Sunday we go XC schooling for the first time this year.  Super excited!!

What-Do Wednesday: What I WILL do

Two weeks ago I asked you guys what you would do in my stead, since my horse is kindof a monster.  Thank you everyone for your comments.  I really appreciate them, and the time you took to read and comment on my plight.  After all of your comments, and a long talk with my barn manager, I have a plan.

An adorable Murray video for you. Turn the volume up to appreciate his vocalization.

Murray’s problems are multi-fold. ¬†First, as many of you pointed out, it seems like there’s something physically (or physiologically) going on with him, most likely ulcers.¬†Another part of it is that, at times, he being straight up¬†rude. ¬†As many of you, and my barn manager, said, there is no excuse for repeatedly running away or rearing or generally being dangerous out in public,¬†especially when it’s clear that Murray can behave appropriately (as evidenced by his behavior after our classes at the show). ¬†Associated with this,¬†my handling of these situations is probably not the best it could be, because I’m struggling with trying to do other things (get Murray’s tack on in time to make it to my jumper class, for example).

So, first things first: the probable ulcers. ¬†I am quite sure that Murray has had ulcers in the past, he is part of the greatest risk group (race horses), after all. ¬†Unfortunately, I’ve never had him scoped, and unless I grab a leprechaun and shake him down, I won’t be scoping Murray any time soon. ¬†The evidence that he did have ulcers is that a month of ulcer treatment in the past did him a world of good, and that he was very sensitive in all of the ulcer acupressure spots, if you believe in that kind of thing. ¬†Unfortunately, a blogger I respect deeply doesn’t. ¬†I don’t follow all of Dr. Ramey’s beliefs on alternative therapies, though, so I’m not too torn up about that.

The good news, regarding ulcers, is that it’s¬†really easy for me to get my hands on compounded omeprazole. ¬†Our vet has a pharmacy that does it for him regularly. ¬†But wait, there’s more! ¬†It turns out that 1/4 the typically prescribed dose of ulcer medication gets rid of ulcers just as well as the full dose. ¬†Yep! ¬†Science says so! ¬†But wait, there’s more! ¬†A little vet birdie tells me that UlcerGuard’s patent runs out in April, which means that ulcer medication is going to get a LOT cheaper for us unwashed masses¬†really soon. ¬†Yes, free market economy! ¬†Work for me!

Okay so that’s step one. ¬†Murray will be getting a full month of 1/2 dose omeprazole, and will then be weaned off it over a following 2 weeks. ¬†I will then have plenty left to give him when we travel. ¬†I will continue to address this problem with maintenance — never riding on an empty stomach, feeding alfalfa especially in the trailer — and look into a long term gut health supplement (which will probably warrant its own whole blog post!)

To address problem number two, that he’s just being rude, will require a little more direct intervention from me. ¬†There are three main rude things Murray does: 1) break away from the trailer, 2) constantly back away/run away while girthing, 3) have zero regard for human safety and personal space. ¬†Emma linked me to some horsemanship videos that addressed all of these things in¬†basically one video. ¬†Of course they weren’t addressed for good, but it was a start.

Murray is smart. ¬†It’s true, both wonderfully and irritatingly so. ¬†The same smarts that let him learn so quickly that jumps won’t eat him means that he knows — he knows — that if he pulls back hard enough from the trailer something will break (baling twine, break-away tie, or his halter) and he will be free. ¬†I really don’t care about his motivations in this regard, whether he’s scared or just wants to run away or simply being an asshole, he needs to learn that, actually, he can’t just break away from the trailer. ¬†Furthermore, Murray needs to learn to respect my personal space and the personal space of every human ever. ¬†He is far too comfortable entering a person’s space when he’s scared, annoyed, or even just looking for some loving.¬† Enter: ground¬†work.

No carrots here you little shit.

I’m also going to buy myself a blocker ring for travel. ¬†This will let Murray pull back, but with any luck I’ll be able to get to him before he breaks free of the ring. ¬†I could also tie a knot in the end of his lead, and once he gets to the knot he’ll be stuck. ¬†Not sure which is a better idea at this point.

If you have a horse that spooks easily, these ties can really save you from ripping parts off your trailer!

In terms of his girthiness, there’s not much more I can do other than continue as I have been. ¬†I will keep working with him at home to change his feelings towards girthing in general, but with any hope, this will the omeprazole improve with the implementation of step three…

So, on to step three! ¬†For step three, I need to up my Laying Down The Law game. ¬†My barn manager, and I, and some of you, think that it’s high time Murray learned to respect me a little more. ¬†The side benefit of this is that respect on the ground will lead to more respect under saddle! ¬†BM’s suggestion is to take Murray for a rules-establishing walk as soon as we get to a new place to remind him exactly what the situation is.

IMG_8515This is okay with your friends. Not with me.

This would include reprimanding him for poor behavior as well as rewarding him for good. ¬†(You can’t go all-punishment on Murray, he starts to shut down.) ¬†I have needed to set some firmer rules with Murray for a long time. ¬†I’m more than capable of doing it with strange horses and other peoples’ horses, but somehow (huh, nobody else experiences this problem at all, I’m sure) I struggle with it a lot when it comes to Murray. ¬†These firmer rules will be in place at home as well as away from home, this means no more wandering around while we’re grooming, no more pawing (and definitely no more pawing on MY FOOT like he did yesterday), and no more threatening, or even thinking of threatening, to bite. ¬†Ever.

So there it is.  My plan.  Should I probably have known to do these things before?  Yes.  Am I an imperfect human?  Yeah.  Will I struggle to keep up with steps two and three?  Probably.  But try we shall!

FOO Blog Hop: a day (week) in the life

After reading everyones’ “day in the life”s, I was a little sad that I couldn’t share mine because I don’t have a really typical day. ¬†But then B&BS shared her days, and inspired me to share mine too! ¬†As a graduate student, every day is a little bit different for me, and that schedule changes every three months when a new quarter rolls around and I adopt a new teaching schedule. ¬†There is one rule I always must follow, though.

I must work on my thesis for at least 2 hours before heading to the barn on any given day (or have hours accrued from the previous night)

This one rule¬†makes sure I don’t go to the barn, get¬†all endorphinated and happy from my time there, and forget to do any work on my actual thesis. ¬†This is something I’ve discovered about myself in graduate school: I do fantastically with hard deadlines, day-to-day routines, and data collection. ¬†But leave me to my own devices with soft deadlines and I am a professional procrastinator.

So here’s what two different days in my week look like, so you can see how cushy yet totally punishing and crazy it is to be a graduate student.


sometime between 4:30 and 6:00 — Kitten wakes up. He plays with my hands and feet, scratches me, and generally makes a nuisance of himself while I try to go back to sleep.

IMG_7571Play with me!

7:15 — Alarm goes off. ¬†I snooze it once. ¬†Milo comes back into bed and snuggles with me while I sleep through the snooze.

7:25 — Snooze alarm again. ¬†Roll over and play with Milo some more, interwebz on the phone.

7:35 — Crawl out of bed. ¬†Immediately boil water, grind coffee, prepare pourover. ¬†First things first, people.

7:50 — Fresh coffee and emails. Delete almost everything from SmartPak, Dover, and Horze. ¬†I can’t buy anything new right now anyway. ¬†Cave and check the websites. ¬†Sulk about things I can’t buy. ¬†Delete lots of emails and read blogs.

8:30 — Pack backpack for my morning: a meeting and the office. ¬†Laptop, charger, remaining coffee in a mason jar. ¬†I don’t really do breakfast, but if I’m hungry I’ll make toast with vegemite and butter or nutella. ¬†More often than not vegemite.

8:35 — Can’t find my headphones. Desperately need headphones for biking.

8:38 — Find headphones. Cue podcast. ¬†Can’t find keys.

8:43 — Found keys!! Run out door.

8:45 — Bike bike bike bike bike to school.

8:58 — Park bike in front of building.

9:00 — Climb to the third floor. ¬†Refuse to take the elevators, even though I always do to my 4th floor office.

9:02 — ¬†Scamper into meeting right as boss is starting things. ¬†Grimace apologetically in excellent subordinate-monkey fashion. ¬†This is the weekly TA meeting that gets everyone up to speed on what’s coming up for the week (exams, changed lab activities, quizzes), and pitfalls to avoid during lab. ¬†Go over grading for the past week’s homework.

9:40-10:00 — Meeting ends and I either head home to work or to the office. ¬†More often to the office, these days. ¬†Once I get there, I can check emails, read blogs, etc. until 10. ¬†Then it’s to work.

10:00 — Time to work! ¬†Depending on what I’m up to, I’m either processing my data (turning it into a measure that can actually be analysed, making sure I have the right columns in my spreadsheet, error-checking my data, writing and rewriting queries), analysing my data (run all the models! open R! write scripts! regression for dayz!), or creating figures that explain my data. ¬†I have to do everything twice because inevitably when I check it I learn that I did it wrong, but at least I learned how to do it!

11:27 — I’m starting to hunger. This could be a problem for working. Get a big glass of water to stave off hunger until at least my two hours are complete.

12:00 — Yes! I can go home and eat and then go play with my pony! Bike home.

12:14 — Storm into the house, grab whatever food is available in the fridge, and sit on the couch. ¬†Milo typically meets me at the door and sits on my shoulder for this process, then tries to steal my lunch.

1:30 — Barn time!

1:52 — At the barn! ¬†Hooray! ¬†Murray is inside because he gets night turnout.


3:00 — Finally on. Don’t judge how long it takes me to groom and tack up.

3:45ish — Cool down, walk back into barn, prep Murray’s bucket.

4:20 — Yes, somehow I am not leaving the barn until 4:20. ¬†The barn takes up three hours of my time, generally regardless of what I’m doing.

4:46 — Home again. Cook dinner. ¬†Grade pre-lab and post-lab assignments for my students. Update grades.

6:00 — Dinner. I eat early like an old lady. ¬†Mostly because I get hungry early. ¬†If I have time, I’ll get creative with dinner. ¬†Often I’ll make something big so that I have leftovers for Wednesdays.

7:30 — Done with dinner, finish up any of the last few lab-things I have to do. ¬†Write blogs, do more thesis work, watch TV, clean the house.

8:30 — Chores around the house for reals. Make sure the kitchen is clean.

9:00 — Return to the couch to snuggle with Milo, read more blogs, write more things. ¬†Thesis related, or school related, or work related. ¬†Or whatever.

10:30 — Head to bed. Usually lights out by 11.


sometime between 4:30 and 6:00 — Kitten wakes up. He plays with my hands and feet, scratches me, and generally makes a nuisance of himself while I try to go back to sleep.


7:15 — Alarm goes off. ¬†I snooze it once. ¬†Milo comes back into bed and snuggles with me while I sleep through the snooze.

7:25 — Jump out of bed, much to Milo’s dismay. ¬†Put the kettle on again, grind coffee, and get dressed for school. ¬†This is hard, because it’s not breeches and a tee shirt and a belt. I have to wear real clothes,¬†respectable clothes. ¬†And I only have so many sweaters. ¬†And I don’t like to duplicate outfits because I feel like my students will notice. ¬†And I only have ugg boots for waterproof shoes, or little flats that don’t feel good walking on them all day.

7:40 — Coffee’s ready, toast is ready (with vegemite!), laptop on the table and I get to read one blog while I get ready to leave for the lab. ¬†Teaching necessitates the power of vegemite.

8:00 — Pack for school, pack a lunch, get ready to leave. ¬†Last minute makeup, but more often than not no facepaint.

8:15 — Where are my keys?!

8:17 — On the bike and headed to school! ¬†Back in January my eyelashes froze in the fog on one of these rides.

8:35 — Walk into my lab room. ¬†Make sure all the activities are ready to go, fill in the board, unlock the door, wait for students.

9:00 — Teach 24 undergraduates about the tree of life, phylogenetics, and systematics. ¬†Answer lots of questions. ¬†Be mean. ¬†Be funny. ¬†Be mean again.

This week we’re learning about plants!

12:00 — Free of the hellbeasts! ¬†Lunch with my bestie in the next lab room, where she teaches simulcast with me.

12:55 — Back to my room to let my second session of hellbeasts in.

1:10 — More undergrads! ¬†Phylogenetics, systematics, tree of life. ¬†Second session is always easier than the first, but my voice starts to hurt.

4:00 — Hellbeasts leave. ¬†Pack up lab room, clean board, make sure everything is ready to go for the next TA. ¬†Answer lingering student questions, check email one more time, head home.

4:40 — Home with my own little hellbeast. ¬†Fix some dinner, work on my thesis for a few hours. ¬†Do this¬†without the TV on, for TV = epic distractions.

7:00 — Fervently check texts for one from my DVM riding buddy who I am meeting at the barn late. ¬†Leave for the barn. ¬†Hope she is still meeting me.

7:40 — At the barn, and pony is somehow magically tacked up in ten minutes! This isn’t possible, did I move in super speed?

7:50 — Ride! ¬†Always dressage this late at night.

8:30ish — Usually done with my ride in 40 minutes on late nights. ¬†Since Murray already ate his bucket, I just blanket and get his pasture buddy out from her stall. ¬†I walk Murray and Pippa out to their pasture in the pitch black, or by moonlight, if I’m lucky.

9:00 — Home. ¬†Magical fastest barn trip ever. ¬†Feel super good about watching TV in bed.

If you’re wondering at the lack of showers in this schedule…. I don’t shower much. ¬†There! I said it! ¬†I’m not big on showers. ¬†I think they waste water and most days I don’t smell that bad anyway. ¬†Also, California is in a drought.

Also, I know it doesn’t seem like I work my thesis much. ¬†Part of this is because… I don’t. ¬†However, part of it is my work routine/philosophy. ¬†I could sit at a desk and “work” on my thesis all day. ¬†I’ve done that type of work before. ¬†Somehow, I don’t make more progress than when I take 2-3 hours a day and work really hard with no distractions. ¬†So instead of wasting my day at the desk, I work hard for 2-3 hours, and get to take the rest of my day. ¬†After that, any additional work I do is just icing on the cake.

drinks, sunshine, house sitting

I’m house sitting at my trainers right now with no internet (hello, thesis!), but Murray’s there too so all is well.


I had a prickly pear gin drink for valentines, it was delicious, along with pork belly, arancini, and scallops. Shared with my boyfriend, of course.

And Murray and I did hills. He was lazy, I had lobster hands. A good time was had by all.


Have a lovely long weekend, friends!