hunchback of notre dame

Murray can never, never live in a snowy place, I think.  It’s been downright hot in California the last few days, and he’s been so well behaved that I can hardly handle it.  If his extreme quirkiness is seriously just the rhythms of the seasons and the world and the phases of the moon, and he’s as unpleasant, girthy, and dorky as he is during California winters, can anyone imagine what he would be like in the snow? On the East Coast?  During some kind of polar vortex?

Just no. Let’s not never ever do that. Please never.  To celebrate Spring, I made Murray a garland of flowers and adorned him with it.  Guys, I suddenly get why putting shit on your horse’s heads is so fun.  I get it now and IT IS AWESOME!!


I did have a lovely ride with Murray on Monday, and started working on some of the things Sprinkler Bandit talked about from her dressage clinic.  I just asked Murray to be engaged, stretching through his neck, and moving forward at the walk and trot (with some canter breaks to help keep him limber; it moves the pelvis in a different way from the trot does).  Shockingly, I got Murray’s best ever stretchy walk/free walk, and some great, connect trot where I think we were really starting to track up and push from behind.  At least a little more than before.  The downside is that he was super Trippi Hedrin, hopefully just out of laziness, but possibly from his sliding stop the other day.  He has a chiro appointment Thursday regardless (bye, bye, skrilla….).

I also discovered how serious one of my own foibles is.  I’ve been struggling seriously with Murray being pretty crooked, with his shoulders out and haunches in a little tracking right (especially right, sometimes also left).  I was practicing some 20 meter circles, and as I tracked right realised that I could see my right shoulder out of the corner of my vision.  I seriously did a double take — that shoulder should have been nowhere near there.  I adjusted myself and pulled my right shoulder up and back, and made sure to twist from the waist in the direction I was moving.  It wasn’t immediate, but I definitely felt Murray improve his straightness to the right over the course of our ride, requiring less insistence from me to keep it.  He still wants to fall right a little, but that’s a separate issue.  After just ten minutes of moving like this, my right shoulder was seriously starting to feel it, and when I relaxed I felt it pop forward and down and had to remind myself to sit up straight and hold it back again.  Seriously.  Quasimodo status right here.

I also got the little horse out again for some playtime.  Eclipse’s biggest struggles right now are accepting that he has to leave his friends and relaxing during work, so I tried to keep things short and sweet and end with some grain and lots of praise.  He objected not once, but simply cried out for his friends (truly pitifully at times).  We worked on relaxing a little on the lunge line, and voice commands (woah being the most important, he’s quite happy to go forward).  I’m not in any rush to get him under saddle, so we’re just thinking fitness relaxation right now.

image (1)

I have a job interview this morning (Tuesday).  First time with a real job interview.  Wish me luck!


Sometimes I get the feeling Murray needs a hug machine.  What with the girthiness and the generalized anxiety when we get to a new place, and the exceptionally good memory and the random spooking, I honestly think he’d appreciate a nice, dark, space that squeezes him tight.  If any of you caught this article by UC Davis regarding dummy foals and their symptoms, I also thought perhaps I should try doing a little ropey re-birth ceremony with Murray to cure him of his dummyness.  Or perhaps he just needs a thundershirt.

2013-05-19Not a thundershirt, but Ellie was miserable in her backpack. I found it hilarious.

Because he loves things being squeezed around his belly.  More, he insists. Tighter.  He loves it.

This particularly deep eye roll was brought on by my Friday-night barn fun activities free jumping with friends.  Free jumping the ponies with friends, that is.  I did very little jumping, but did drink lots of blackberry elderflower hard lemonade.  Everyone’s ponies were extremely impressive.  Except mine.

IMG_4936Pippa imitates a 17hh Arabian.

Murray remembered free jumping — oh yes, he remembered — and FLEW into the chute (set up with a 2’3″ X to start with) and then ran immediately into the corner and assumed his favorite position — rolling.  Then he proceeded to gallop around the arena for 15 minutes at top speed.  Racing speed.  When I finally caught him, he tried to pull away at the entrance to the chute, went through once more, and as he banked left to turn around the arena fell on his side and skidded into the wall.  He immediately jumped back up and galloped around for ten more minutes.

Of course.

Obviously we called it quits at that point. Fortunately, the creature is unhurt and raring to go this week, so I call myself lucky, and am glad I already know he has scope for jumping under saddle.

IMG_4965Pippa clears 4 feet in all her hunter glory.

So what was supposed to be a fun night of watching our ponies show off their spectacular talents with drinks and friends has turned into a $120 chiro appointment and nooooooooooooooo spare money this month.  I completely, utterly, totally understand the compulsion to keep one’s horse wrapped in bubbles in a padded stall and never, ever, ever let them out.  Ever.

IMG_5117Dancer is the same as as Murray ad has been under saddle for less time and got the game anyway….

Of course, straightjacketed bubble wrapped in his padded cell stall is no way for a horse to live, and Murray could easily have had such an accident tearing around outside.  C’est la vie equestrienne.

That gorgeous redheaded baby from a few weeks ago?  Yeah, he can jump too.



So I embrace my Special (not a compliment) creature and am just glad he nickered when he heard me coming today.

bee in my bonnet

In my great procrastinatory efforts this week, I was watching some Ride On Videos from recent events in Area VI.  You know, you start watching one friend’s video and then there are suggested videos on the side and you just keep clicking and clicking and a whole semester goes by and all you’ve done is sweat on the couch and watch cross country videos.

Of course, I have no personal experience.

Anyway, I eventually found myself watching a video of a woman on a horse who was obviously youngish, and who was having a bit of a challenging time with the course.  Both did valiantly, but they had a good spot of trouble at the first water, at least one jump on course, and at the second water the horse, after skittering sideways for a few steps, actually took a step back before continuing on.  I was curious, and Ride On Video gives you all you need to find out about a contestant’s placings, so I did a little low-key stalking.  I was really just curious, I wanted to see how many penalties they ended up with.

None.  They had no jump penalties.

Errrrr what?

All of the bobbles I would have called refusals could have been argued away by any jump judge, but the step back at the second water was the textbook definition of a cross country refusal.  A quick look at all of the other competitors in the division revealed that not a single one incurred a jump penalty on cross country, which is pretty much unheard of in low divisions really.

I have to say, this whole thing left me rather cheesed.  The event facilitators, jump judges, and in some ways, the competitor all failed here.  The only excuse for such a mistake is that the jump judges were inexperienced or there were insufficient judges to pay attention – which is a huge problem on the part of the event.  They also failed to train their jump judges correctly.  Finally, I have been at events where competitors willingly turned themselves in, so to speak, about missed refusals on cross country, and I have always admired their honesty.  I know that such mistakes are bound to be made, and of course they are just that, mistakes – this particular video, however, led me to believe that this was truly not a mistake but a serious oversight.  There were so many borderline refusals that the horse could well have been eliminated!

Anyway, someone I was chatting to at the barn pointed out that at least nobody had refusals, so everybody was “penalized” equally, so no real harm was done.  I mean, certainly nothing terrible happened, but honestly, the entire rankings could have changed (and often do) based on cross country penalties, and those do count for something.  To some more than others.

Watching this brought up some interesting questions about rider integrity.  I know that on course you are very focused on your ride and probably not thinking about your refusals, but I have a hard time imagining that with all the kicking and whipping and sidestepping this rider was doing that she didn’t at least suspect she had a refusal.  Do you think riders should bring up their refusals/mistakes to show officials?

attempt number two

Teaching yesterday was an…. adventure.  Partway into my second lab section I started to get aphasia, which is always such a wonderful symptom, so I apologized to my students re: jet lag and they forgave me. Fortunately the big coffee I had at lunch kicked in and I was back to normal shortly.

I headed to the barn immediately after, and Murray heard me say “hey baby horse!” and came to the front of his stall to greet me which was just about enough to  bring me to tears.  Just about.  Had a kiss and a hug and Murray promptly followed me all over looking for treats.

Last night was moonrise pictures attempt number two. The moonrise chart I used wasn’t quite as accurate as I had hoped, and the sun didn’t set quite as fast as I wanted, but I did get some shots of the gorgeous, California ombre sky that we get.


IMG_4490 IMG_4532 IMG_4626



Trying again tonight. I really want that big fat moon low in the horizon!!

home again

Italy was amazing, thanks all for your well-wishes!

The city is amazing.  There are ruins literally everywhere — which I guess is what one would expect of a 4000 year old city that has been basically continually inhabited and built upon in its time.  Many of the old ruins have newer sections that are still inhabited, and as we walked past the mini-colosseum each night to get back to our hotel, you could see lights on in the high windows.


We went to see Pompeii, which was astonishing.  First, I learned that there really wasn’t lava that overflowed the city, but ash and “pyroclastic” blasts that decimated the population.  There are beautiful frescoes and mosaics preserved inside the buildings that were amazing to see — my favourite depicted Diana, Goddess of the Hunt, turning a peeping Tom into a stag and setting his own hunting dogs upon him.  Oh, and there was also a pictorial “menu” of sorts inside the bordelo.  I am not sharing those for PG-ness and also because I was too short to get any good shots.

The Colosseum was also amazing!  I had thought I’d be bored I mean, it’s just a really big pile of rocks) but I was mostly just thunderstruck.  As they have excavated other parts of Rome and areas around the Colosseum, they found gladiator statues that were broken/hidden/ransacked/etc.  One of these was found in 2008 and restored, and it’s most of the body of a horse with the legs of a gladiator upon it.  The best part — literally the best part, you can so tell I’m a horse person — about this statue was that the stallion was anatomically correct!  Anus, testes, sheath.  All there. Loved it.

IMG_20150227_034755Ancient legos at Pompeii

We walked around a great deal, ate a fair bit (not enough pizza and gelato in my opinion, but some lovely and very traditional Roman dishes like veal saltimbocca, fish crusted in salt, and mussels), and then I did a classically touristy thing and got my phone and kindle stolen. In the hotel. IN THE HOTEL. I am just that good.  So there went half of my photos.

IMG_20150227_014400~2Original marble floors at Pompeii! Shocking.

No matter, boyfriend will upload his eventually.

We were actually in Italy for boyfriend’s mum’s 50th, and so a big group of us were all there together.  A few people made great friends with resteranteurs down the street from the hotel, and we had a shockingly good time drinking and filling their entire small restaurant with our loud American party.  We went back three times over five nights, I think.  On the one hand, it seemed a pity not to explore more restaurants in Rome.  On the other hand, the food was so good, and different each time, and the service was incredible, so why not.  I will not be surprised at all if our host and server are adopted and move to California this year.  Boyfriend even played Cards Against Humanity with them, which translates about as well as you would expect.


I enjoyed not nearly enough gelato (there’s always room for more gelato) and got to spend time with relatives I haven’t seen in a while, could have eaten more pizza (always room for pizza), and probably could have  had more coffee (cofffeeeeee).  But now I know I like Rome, so I’ll probably go back for some kind of fat girl “food vacation” and mostly just request delicious things brought to me where I sit so I don’t even have to walk to get them.  Though the walking DOES make room for more food.


It’s back to the grind this week!  A draft and more analysis due Friday, which is way too soon.  I’m also giving two presentations this week — gah whyyyy?!  I missed Murray terribly, and kitten, and Jelly, and am very angry I need to wait until 5 PM today to see my beloved ponykins.  Oh and Friday I think I’ll just pop over and hang out with a certain cute little ex-polo pony!!

The Language of Dressage

[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.]

I’m a little obsessed with words — I don’t think anyone is surprised by that.  I am really careful about the words I use to describe riding, and if you pay attention, you’ll probably see (and hear) that I never talk about horses going “in a frame” or having a “good headset”.  This is because I think that using these words limits our understanding of how the horse is actually using himself.  When we talk about “the frame” all most people are looking at is the neck and head of the horse and they are ignoring the most important part: the engine in the back!  Headset is even worse — by its very nature the word limits you to one tenth of the horse’s body!

My obsession was validated when a welfare researcher visited my university and gave a talk about how words affected our perception of behavior and welfare states in domestic animals.  In short, Dr. Wemelsfelder had pig farmers use either a fixed vocabulary or create their own vocabulary to describe pig emotional states in videos.  What she found was that participants in the study were much more inclined to use more words when they could define their own vocabulary, and identified many more behaviors and emotional states when they could use their own vocabulary.  This was validated by having different observers rate the same pigs in the same way completely independently!

After chewing this over for a while, I wrote an article about how language influences our understanding of riding, which was arguably my first toe-dip into the equestrian blogosphere.  I think it’s an important idea, especially for people who are becoming more serious about their riding, to think about, as it can fundamentally influence not only your appreciation of riding but your own riding.

Read the full article at Horse Junkies United!