dressagery & epic progress

The last two days have been absolutely filled with dressage.  It has been awesome.

First, yesterday I got to ride my friend’s awesome quarter horse, Big. ¬†After realizing that he didn’t really like reining, Big’s owner decided to give the English disciplines a go and it turns out Big LOVES to jump! ¬†He is seriously the cutest little new jumper I’ve ever seen!

IMG_1297Also, he takes everything HUGE and with perfectly square knees.

Big’s owner irritated an old injury but still wanted him to get worked, so I got to jump on and do some dressage. ¬†It was¬†very different than any of the thoroughbreds I’ve ridden in recent memory. ¬†For one thing, Big is long, long, long — ¬†long neck, long back, looooooooooong. ¬†It’s like having two horse’s necks out in front of you! ¬†I think that longness contributes to him having a canter that rocks both longitudinally and latitudinally — does that make sense? ¬†Basically, my pelvis was riding side to side as well as sweeping back to front in the canter. ¬†Other than¬†feeling different, Big rode very similarly to Murray: he was sensitive off my seat and leg aids, and totally told on me about my bad habits. ¬†At one point, he was drifting right across the arena and wouldn’t get off my right leg. ¬†After a mental “WTF are you doing horse?!” I realised that my weight was shifted left, so Big was just doing what I told him and moving off my weight. ¬†Gotta love an honest horse! ¬†It was fun to ride while his owner watched too, and we chatted about our various dressage strategies and things Big could work on to improve, so that was fun. ¬†Thursday I will get to JUMP him and am EVEN MORE excited.

After putting Big away, I rode Murray and — drum roll please — tacked him up with¬†no bribery needed. ¬†He did have a little initial sad dance¬†at the fact that I was putting on his girth (wtf demon belly strap begone!!!!!!!!!!), but settled down quickly and let me tighten it to a reasonable level. ¬†By “reasonable level” I mean at least the¬†level that any self-respecting rider would walk out to the arena with her girth at, not hanging loose on his body, but not as tight as it needed to be either. ¬†Murray put in a very, very honest dressage workout. ¬†I’ve been alternately lunging and not lunging using the stretchy technique before our dressage rides, because it’s probably not something I would do at a show, and I’d like to be able to put Murray together without having to lunge him first. ¬†I get that it’s a tool, but he and I both need to be adaptable enough to work correctly¬†without it.

So I hopped on and did our long walk warm up (new strategy against back soreness after dressage rides), did some loopy-rein (read: inverted and giraffesicle) trot work to get him moving and WHAM — Murray slammed on the brakes when we passed a patch of Funny Dirt. ¬†Clearly the arena dragger had gotten stuck on something and there were two big berms with a curiously flat patch between them. ¬†Murray pulled out the full Ungulate Snort and was NOT impressed with the Funny Dirt. ¬†Once he got over fearing it he realised it would be¬†fabulous to roll in, and I had to kick him up and just generally avoided that corner afterward.

IMG_1339Not Murray (err, obviously), but pretty much how he felt about the weird dirt once he realised it could be rolled in!

Anyway, we had a lovely ride. Not quite as lifted and forward as our Rolex Weekend Addiction rides, but definitely connected and easy and steady in the contact. ¬†One of my biggest fights with Murray in the past has been getting consistent acceptance of the bridle — not even asking him to flex his poll or drop his head, but merely asking him to accept the fact that contact exists. ¬†Some days he would be super, and other days he would be really fussy. ¬†Usually I just have to Get Serious about it and he’ll pop into line, but recently, the fights have been decreasing! ¬†Another win. ¬†I did use my whip for the first time in a while — err, I think it’s been a while? I always carry it regardless — and popped Murray on the haunches when he ignored my right leg during an attempted leg-yield. ¬†He immediately¬†flew off my right leg¬†and maintained his soft, supple, relaxed movement, which Megan wrote earlier this week¬†is so important, and I was THRILLED. ¬†We’ve been getting in our best lateral work yet, lots of steps of shoulder-in and leg yield while still through and supple.

So today when I realised I’d totally screwed the schedule by mis-reading when a meeting was this afternoon — thus making me stay at the office an hour later than I intended, missing my jump lesson¬†and another ride on Big — I ran out to the barn early to get my ride in. ¬†Then I saw that¬†Alana had an empty lesson slot right when I would be ready and I jumped on it. ¬†I had a dressage lesson planned for Thursday morning, but decided to switch it so I could get my dressage check in sooner.

Alana asked me what I wanted to do in our lesson, and I told her I wanted to check in re:¬†everything, but since that would be quick I wanted to start walk to canter. ¬†Because I feel like walk to canter is one of the next logical steps in our training but I had literally no idea where to get started with them. ¬†Turns out it’s a pretty methodical idea: trot-canter-trot-canter-trot-canter-trot-canter until Murray is Mr. Johnny On The Spot re: transitions, then down to the walk for two steps and canter! ¬†And guess who has four hooves and got it INSTANTLY? ¬†THIS GUY.



To the left anyway. ¬†Right was a bit harder because, just as Megan predicted,¬†someone leans on/fills the left rein much more than the right, and every time we would go down to the walk he would fall left and I had trouble packaging him back together to get him to pick up the right canter immediately. ¬†I did counter-bend him and get it perfectly a time or two, so that was awesome. ¬†Our homework is to add more walk to canter to our repertoire until Murray is comfortable with the idea of it, and not really worry about where his head is at. ¬†Once he relaxes mentally about the transition — right now he’s a little confused and WTF about it all — then we can start to get his body to relax also.

I also did a little¬†haunches-in so Alana could evaluate it, and she thought I should ask Murray for a few more steps of it. ¬†Whenever I’ve been introducing new lateral work, I always start easy and work my way up — one step, two steps, that’s okay in the beginning! — so that it doesn’t become stressful. ¬†Murray was giving up on the haunches in even¬†before I stopped asking for it, though, so Alana said I needed to really get him off those aids and remind him who decides the lateral work plan.

Weeks like this are super rewarding in addition to being fun!¬† I really feel that all progress is a punctuated equilibrium — I actually have a post to write about that soon — with a healthy dose of shifting baseline thrown in there for most people. ¬†So when you get to the upswings of progress, instead of the long, steady, plateaus that are so much more common, it is amazing! ¬†It says to me that I’ve been putting everything together just right,¬†and everything is coming together to make Murray strong enough — mentally and physically! — to take the next steps.

To top it all off, Alana commented that she loves what I’m doing with Murray, and is very pleased with how subtle of a rider he has made me. ¬†My former lease horses really made me confident and bold — they needed a lot of pushing and forwardness, but they weren’t going to stop if you rode right — but were a little lacking on the finesse. ¬†Murray has made me really quiet and and rewards subtlety. ¬†Really, he’s so cool. ¬†I owe him everything.

Willow Oak Equine Clinic Review

I’m writing this review of Willow Oak Equine to both describe my pre-purchase exam experience and review the clinic, which I was (spoiler alert) favorably impressed with. ¬†Everyone reading my blog probably has some kind of experience with a PPE — if not, enjoy the description! — but¬†a lot went on while we were at Willow Oak that contributed to my appreciation of the clinic as a whole.

Last week, I took my lease horse Murray into Willow Oak Equine Clinic¬†in Woodland, CA,¬†for a pre-purchase exam with Dr. Linda Harrison. ¬†While the appointment originally just started as me and my friend M getting PPEs done on “our” horses, we ended up adding three¬†other horses to our appointment as well. ¬†A needed his hocks injected, L needed an os-fos injection, and D needed a leg ultrasound. ¬†The first thing that impressed me was Linda’s flexibility in fitting us all in — it made it easier on us and her — and how well she took care of us when we arrived. ¬†Willow Oak is a small clinic with some stalls for overnight patients, and Linda had five clean, freshly bedded stalls awaiting us upon arrival, so that our horses didn’t have to spend their time standing tied to the trailer.

Linda knows my trainer well and has come out to our barn many times to do field exams, so after¬†she showed us around and we¬†gushed over the adorable cow¬†twins in the field near our stalls, we got to work. ¬†Linda had scheduled the day so that the quick appointments would be first and the pre-purchases last. ¬†Since two horses (R and I) needed ultrasound¬†services, Linda’s partner in the practice, Dr. Lisa Wallace, would be arriving in an hour to do the ultrasounds. ¬†First, Linda gave the os-fos treatment, so we could monitor the horse for possible discomfort or colic while we did the other appointments, and then she started scrubbing A for his hock injections.

While she scrubbed, Linda’s assistant arrived to help and got to work scrubbing A as well. ¬†I had never seen joint¬†injections done, and will admit I was a little disappointed by them. ¬†A little sedative, a lot of scrubbing, and four quick shots later and they were all finished! ¬†So much build up for such a (seemingly little) thing. ¬†I really appreciated how quickly and quietly Linda moved around the sedated horse to get his injections done, and how well she and her assistant (okay, he’s also her husband and clinic co-owner) worked as a team.

Once A was done and put away in a nearby stall for monitoring, it was time for my PPE. ¬†The other horse in our party getting a PPE needed his ultrasound done first, as if the ultrasound showed problems we wouldn’t move forward with any other exams, and so Murray had the great delight of going first. ¬†Linda started by asking me, the buyer, a series of questions about Murray,¬†about his basic information (age, breed), training history (how long have you known him? how long has he been in training? tell me all about his history to date.), medical history (up to date on shots and teeth? any colic episodes? lameness? other medical treatments?), and finally about his behavior. ¬†When Linda asked me if Murray had any bad habits I burst out laughing and said “Where do you want me to start?”

Dinosaur attack!

Linda commented on how good it was that I’ve had a chance to get to know Murray before doing my PPE, as it can be really hard to evaluate a horse when you know nothing about his training history, behavioral history, etc. ¬†She noted that he has “bad habits, but the buyer is aware of them” on her PPE report.

Then we moved on to basic physiological measures. ¬†Linda took Murray’s temperature (which he objected to shockingly little) and tried to listen to his heart rate (ausculation! I learned a new word!). ¬†This was where Murray’s bad habits kicked in (nooo don’t touch me with that shiny thing, I will just side pass away from you!) and my barn manager took over holding him from me, as I was fairly useless at that point. ¬†BM took Murray for a little reminder discipline trip down the driveway, and Murray suddenly remembered that he does, in fact,¬† know how to stand still for a stethoscope. ¬†Linda listened to his heart and gut sounds on both sides.

Then we moved on to hoof testers. ¬†With BM still holding Murray (she would do the entire PPE for me actually), Linda used what I think looks like a medieval torture device to squeeze Murray’s feet all around the circumference of the hoof and the frog. ¬†When she got no reaction from him at all, Linda commented on it — usually, evidently, she gets some kind of reaction on the hoof testers, but Murray remained serene. ¬†I assured her that he was¬†not stoic at all, so if anything was going to show up, he would let us know. ¬†I also told Linda that I wanted to do front hoof x-rays regardless of what showed up, as Murray has a krazy foot and I wanted to know what was going on in there, but also wanted to do radiographs of anything that concerned her during the rest of the exam.

Around this time, Linda’s husband answered a phone call from a worried horse owner regarding a possible emergency, and Butch warned us that an emergency would be coming in shortly. ¬†Linda proceeded with flexions, and talked to me about what she was seeing/hearing/feeling as she did so. ¬†The only thing that turned up, evidently, was a little stiffness during the flexion itself of Murray’s hind legs, but which didn’t show when he trotted out. ¬†Yay more good progress!

During the flexions, Dr. Lisa Wallace arrived for her ultrasound¬†appointments and started getting things set up inside. ¬†I didn’t get to watch any of the imaging, unfortunately, so can’t really comment on it, but I did hear a bit of the results delivery, which I will talk about later.

After flexions, we put Murray on the lunge on a soft surface and a hard surface. ¬†Linda had us change his direction a few times on the soft surface, and I saw nothing, and neither did she. ¬†On the hard surface — the gravelled drive, not the paved driveway — Linda commented on a slight head-bob that was showing up irregularly as Murray tracked right. ¬†We changed directions here as well, and it was odd and inconsistent. ¬†There was nothing for a bunch of steps, and then 2-3 steps with a tiny¬†bob, and then nothing again. ¬†Linda asked me if I’d ever experienced him being foot-sore after cross country, and I replied that I thought he’d been stiff after XC before but had always thought he was more stiff behind than up front. ¬†She commented that this was something to keep an eye on, but it didn’t overly concern her. ¬†As we were finishing up lunging on the hard ground, the trailer another trailer pulled in, and Linda asked me to wait with Murray for a few minutes while she evaluated the situation.


This was, to be honest, one part of the whole day that really impressed me. ¬†Butch opened the trailer door and immediately mobilized to get the horse into the main barn. ¬†Linda met them in a clean stall, and started working immediately — it was clearly an emergency that required action right then. However, Linda didn’t forget that I was standing outside either, and sent the intern out to tell me that she would be a while and that I should put Murray away in his stall and we would get back to his x-rays later.

Even though my appointment was put on hold, I was really impressed with the professionalism with which everyone at Willow Oak handled the emergency.  It was clear to me upon seeing the horse that this was a serious emergency, and I did not at all mind my x-rays being delayed.  Linda moved really quickly to get treatment going, but never once seemed frazzled or panicked, and they handled the horse safely and quietly the entire time.  I would completely trust her with my horse in an emergency.

While we waited for Linda to finish up with the emergency, I watched a little bit of the ultrasound of R and unfortunately, could immediately tell nothing good was going on here either. ¬†Dr. Wallace was explaining to my friend M that the suspensory tear she had found was quite severe. ¬†M asked all the right questions — could this have happened after he came off the track? what is recommended time off and rehab? what is his prognosis for competing — and Dr. Wallace answered them thoroughly and well. ¬†I was pretty devastated for M, and obviously she didn’t go forward with the PPE after that.

Before we got back to Murray, Dr. Wallace started the second ultrasound, on D, and started off by asking the owner what her concerns were, what needed imaging,¬†and what the horse’s history was like. ¬†I never got to see the whole appointment, but both the people who had ultrasounds done felt like Dr. Wallace did a thorough job with both history and ultrasound.

Finally it was time for Murray’s x-rays. ¬†I suggested to Linda that we give him a little sedation since I didn’t know if Murray would be able to keep his foot still on the plate, and I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time if he moved around during the radiographs. ¬†Linda was happy to comply, and I think it was the right choice — I could totally see Murray moving his foot JUST as we tried to take the image, just like how I always seem to blink right as I hear the shutter go off. ¬†Linda pulled Murray’s shoes, packed his feet with play-doh (to eliminate the visibility of the air between frog and sole in the images) and we got right to it. ¬†I opted to have all five views taken for good record keeping.

MURRAY0006Beautiful, fairly-normal foot!

We started with the krazy foot, and Linda explained to me what was going on the entire time. ¬†She answered my questions about the weird black streaking in the coffin bone (it’s blood supply!) and exclaimed happily over the state of Murray’s navicular bones. ¬†Linda also took some time to show me the bones she was talking about on the foot model, and calm my fears about osteoarthritis and ringbone (fears, y’all, they are real). Linda did mention that if I didn’t have a long working history with this horse, she would recommend against buying him¬†— an honesty that I appreciated. ¬†That Linda also considered Murray’s working history in his evaluation was important to me (how often does he work? what is his intended use? what level has he been working at so far?), and I think a valuable part of the exam.¬†Thus ended the successful PPE.

Overall, my experience at Willow Oak was overwhelmingly positive. ¬†Despite the bad things that happened and the emergency, Linda took time to make sure every horse she saw was comfortable and happy, explained post-op care very well to those who needed it, and provided a quiet, comfortable environment for our horses to wait in during our hours there. ¬†If you’re considering using Willow Oak, I definitely recommend it!!

garden, food, thesis, life

Now that the pressure of the PPE is gone, I seem to be able to focus on my thesis again, so I’ve been deep in thesis-mode. ¬†Oddly, writing/coding/analysing/graphics forming for my thesis does not lend itself to lots of blogging time, as somehow when I give myself a break from thesis all I want to do is play solitaire on my phone. ¬†With any luck the chapter will be done in two days and I’ll get a tiny respite in time for Derby Day this weekend!!

Murray and I had a lovely ride Sunday, wherein I popped him over a few tiny jumps and two-pointed around and generally felt unbalanced and floppy. ¬†I haven’t ridden in my jump saddle in close to two weeks, so that was definitely not helpful. ¬†I will need to spend some time reacquainting myself with my correct two point position and strengthening my legs again. ¬†Then, my friend and I switched ponies and I jumped her 25 year old paint mare (yes, a 25 year old paint pony who is KICKING ASS AND TAKING NAMES, she is amazing) and she jumped Murray. ¬†Apache, said paint mare, was hysterical and very sleepy, but perked up quite a bit as we headed to the fences. ¬†I have mad respect for this friend since Apache, despite her many years of training, is a super tough ride. ¬†Give me my skinny little thoroughbred any day!

IMG_069125 year old mare cannot be stopped!! Beast mode engage!

Murray was angelic for my friend. ¬†She was a little worried about antics, but he too was pretty sleepy/mellow, and I told her just to keep her leg on to the fences and be soft with her hands and he’d go over anything. ¬†Which he did. ¬†It was awesome. ¬†I’ve been wanting to see someone else jump Murray for quite a while, and this definitely fulfilled my hopes and dreams — he is just as quiet and perfect with others as with me!

I spent rather more time than I should have this weekend planting my garden at the barn. ¬†Isn’t it magnificent?



What do you mean you can’t see barely any of my 6″ seedlings that I put into ground carefully and lovingly fertilized with shavings and horse manure?!! ¬†It’s true it’s a little disappointing now, but I’m hoping things will pick up fast now that they’re in the ground for real. ¬†I’ve been plotting this garden (see what I did there?) for months, painstakingly started and lost¬†many seedlings, and now that they’re in the ground I’m filled with happy!! ¬†It’s a bit more spread out than it should be, but I’ll fill in the gaps with greens (chard and kale, I think) and herbs (basil everywhere, also dill and cilantro, and probs some parsley), and carrots, beets, and even probably some pepper plants. ¬†None of my pepper starts worked — they all just failed to thrive. ¬†Peppers are bitches.


I also made this epic lasagna. ¬†It was stuffed with meatballs. ¬†It’s kindof a process, but it was one hundred percent worth it. ¬†You can find the recipe here. ¬†The pictures alone are worth looking at on that article.

wpid-wp-1430239269664.jpgWorth every cheesy, meaty, saucy bite.

Food comforts me when I’m deep in thesis. Don’t judge me.

Monday a friend and I went over to our trainer’s house to play with some ottb projects and pick one for her to bring over to our main barn to work with for a few weeks. ¬†Very upsettingly, when her gorgeous chestnut had his ultrasound at our joint-PPE (we scheduled them for the same time to give moral support to one another), we found out that the “suspensory strain” that had been reported was actually a giant, whopping, devastatingly huge and unhealed suspensory¬†tear. ¬†So Ronin is¬†not jumping or even in work any longer, and is going to rehab at trainer’s place for a while (thus us bringing over a different¬†project to take his place.) ¬†We are all really upset by this, as it means we were lied to by his track trainer (they either never imaged, which they claimed they did, or didn’t disclose to us what they did find) and Ronin had really become part of our lives in his short time in training. ¬†Very upsetting.

wpid-wp-1430240287913.jpgComforted by adorable baby thoroughbred faces. ¬†This guy, Cory, is my fave, and I can’t wait to spend some more time playing with¬†him this summer!

So that’s life right now. ¬†This week, we’re back to real work with Mr. Horse and have both a jump¬†and dressage lesson scheduled. ¬†I knew as soon as I had those awesome dressage rides on Murray that I had to get into a lesson to capture/check in on it, so we will see if that lifted-back-pushing-from-behind pony shows up again. ¬†Jump lesson also scheduled, and I’m hoping I keep it together a bit better than my last jump lesson.

too much Rolex!

There can’t be such a thing as too much Rolex, right?! ¬†It’s the best weekend of the year (excepting my birthday!)!!

So, during the watching of Saturday’s XC, solid plans were made to get out to Kentucky for Rolex 2016. ¬†I’ve had just an absurdly good time watching all the horses, international and domestic, compete this year, and I¬†needz to see it in person!!!!!! ¬†I am willing to shell out all that money, especially if I have a real job then!

There have been many, many impressive rides. ¬†Michael Jung, of course (to which my MIL responded “Yes, we Germans really know dressage!”). ¬†I almost half expected one of Michael Jung’s horses to be a little less game XC, because they were¬†so good in the dressage, but they were foot perfect, both of them. ¬†Which goes to show you can have a really, really good dressage horse who¬†is also a cross country beast. ¬†Sooo yeah…. there’s that piece of evidence against one theory.

Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless impressed the pants off me. ¬†Such a bold, forward ride. ¬†I found myself gasping multiple times during her ride and not out of fear — because of the bravery of herself and her horse! ¬†You can check out her helmet cam footage on Horse Junkies United! ¬†I’ve also got to love that Johnny’s¬†an Australian thoroughbred — two words I loved more could¬†never have been uttered, except maybe “salted” and “caramel” — oh and that his barn name is¬†Johnny. ¬†Really, that’s just hysterical.

wpid-wp-1430029046297.jpgalso hysyterical: this goatling climbed into my lap at a friend’s house!

Loving that some of my faves are up towards the top right now — Boyd, Lynn & The Deer, Elisa Wallace (new fave!), PDutty — and equally sad for those who didn’t make it through cross country today. ¬†However, that is the world of eventing, as Dom Schramm put it, and to walk away with a sound horse and continue to fight another day is a pretty good outcome.

Anyway, “too much Rolex” means I’ve not been writing my thesis much this weekend (oops), but will hopefully get to it tonight and tomorrow morning. ¬†I hope. ¬†There’s much to do. ¬†Too much Rolex also means I’ve been riding Murray like we’re at Kentucky Horse Park¬†and having¬†shockingly good rides! ¬†After I got ¬†Murray’s head screwed back on yesterday (yes, we¬†can¬†dressage, yes, you do know how to be steady in the contact, no, canter departs¬†do not require you to kick the arena wall but A+ for effort), suddenly I was riding this really forward, through horse with a lifted back.

I was pretty shocked.  As are we all, I know.

wpid-wp-1430029078385.jpgalso shocking: kitten and Ellie sleep together in harmony!!

Anyway, I got some really great trot work and made a perfect turn down the centerline using¬†literally only my legs. ¬†It was badass. ¬†I felt like I was coming around the corner in some kind of high level dressage test — you know, like First or Second level even!! ¬†The centerline itself was a noodly disaster, and our halt was neither straight nor square, but whatever. ¬†The corner felt amazing. ¬†I asked for some lengthenings across the diagonal — which we actually don’t do yet — and Murray¬†totally got it. ¬†As long as by “got it” we mean he kinda confusedly trotted bigger and then broke into a canter and was like “WTF DO YOU WANT LADY.”

No matter, nothing can kill my enthusiasm.

I thought his forwardness was just an artifact of getting a whole bunch of days off while we waited to get his shoes back on after the x-rays, and was shocked when it showed up today as well! ¬†And the lifted back!! ¬†And the steady contact (after reminders)!!! ¬†I am pretttttyyy pleased with this result, and am sure it has something to do with all that Rolex I’ve been watching.

wpid-wp-1430029168293.jpgDUDE THIS GOAT. I NEEDS HER!!!

not your ten

Important note: THANK YOU, everyone, for your kind words, comments, and support regarding Murray’s very important test this week. ¬†I’m so, so pleased that he passed, and did so with such ease and without smashing any $85,000 machines or killing the vet. ¬†I’ll probably write a whole review of my PPE at the clinic because I was truly impressed with how my veterinarian handled the day — five of our horses, and a dying foal rushed into the middle of everything — and for people in my area, I cannot recommend Willow Oak Equine enough.

I’ve really struggled to balance my work life and blogging life lately. ¬†I’ve been insanely busy, social commitments with friends from out of town have been unmissable, the PPE was eating my nerves, and just LIFE. ¬†Man, life, can you please get yourself under control?! ¬†Anyway, as I sit here watching the Rolex Dressage drinking my coffee, I’m reminded of a concept that my now-roommate taught me when were first getting to know one another: not your ten.

With a horse as personality-full and opinionated as Murray, you can imagine that I’m used to putting up with quite a bit of shit. ¬†Silly shit, real shit, funny shit, bullshit, the kid throws it all at me. ¬†And the one compliment I will give myself here is that I feel like I really handle it well — I can let it all go and just ride in all but the most bullshit situations. ¬†Of course, it’s Murray who taught me how to handle all of that and still get the most out of my horse, so I can’t forget to credit him either, but that is not the point of this paragraph or blog. ¬†Back to the point: so when I hear someone say to me “my horse was¬†so bad today!” or “he threw such a¬†huge tantrum” or “she bucked¬†so big” I used to receive it with a little… skepticism.

If you watched Tuesday’s video, you saw the fights we had (though it wasn’t me riding that day, we put The Problem Solver on to see if it was me or Murray). ¬†That ride was not atypical of any given ride where I asked Murray to canter with any level of contact. ¬†So, like every ride. ¬†Add that to the random, unexplainable, and unreasonable tantrums, weird noises, and the tacking up and, well, it took a fair bit to impress me in terms of bad pony behavior. ¬†Especially at our barn of really reasonable, wonderful horses.

bucking ee721-download_20140428_192928Our arena fencing is five feet

So here’s the thing. ¬†Not everybody has a Murray. ¬†Not everybody wants a Murray. ¬†Not everybody has experienced a Murray. ¬†Just because someone is¬†not used to dramatic dinosaur squeals and five-foot bucks does not mean that their experience is invalid. ¬†Sure, their “ten” isn’t my “ten”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a ten on their richter scale.

When she was explaining it to me, my roommate likened this to children in the emergency room. ¬†Two kids come into the emergency room, and both have a broken arm. ¬†One of them has broken her¬†arm before, and the other one hasn’t. ¬†When the nurses ask them what their pain level is,¬†the girl who has broken her arm before says “About a six”, and the girl who has never broken it before says “IT’S A TEN!!!!” ¬†Those two girls are experiencing two very similar injuries very differently due to their past experiences. ¬†That doesn’t invalidate¬†either of their experiences — the girl who is in 10-level pain should be treated like she’s in 10-level pain, even though she’s never broken her arm before and probably has yet to find a whole other world of pain levels in front of ¬†her. ¬†And the girl with 6-level pain shouldn’t be dismissed either, just because she’s not saying she’s in quite as much pain as the other girl.

I try really hard to stop myself when I’m doing this — dismissing others’ experiences on horseback (or in life) because I’ve had more severe ones — because it is really not a great way to go about life, or even a fair way to treat people. ¬†Sure, your horse may move faster than the quarter horse in your lesson, but that doesn’t mean his bolting to the fences wasn’t as serious as yours. ¬†When I see a green rider getting nervous because she got a few crow-hops out of her horse, I don’t respond with “oh that was NOTHING, come over here and ride MY horse!” ¬†Instead, I try to put those crow hops in the context of her experience, and commend her for riding well through them, or offer constructive criticism for how she can get her horse back on task next time.

horze1Not everyone can look this magnificent jumping a 2′ obstacle, ok?

Ultimately, to dismiss another person’s experience because you have had more/worse/bigger/better/badder/more xxxx-treeme is just another way of putting someone down. ¬†You’re leveraging your experience over theirs to dismiss their feelings, feelings which are completely valid!¬†¬† Just because¬†someone is puking with nerves at their first unrated horse trial and you’re sitting chilly,¬†it doesn’t mean they’re weak and you’re strong. ¬†It means that their ten is not your ten, but¬†it’s still a ten. ¬†Instead, I strive to respond with compassion and context every time, and remember that my ten is probably Boyd Martin’s four — but he would still treat me like it was a ten.

Murray passed the PPE!!

We passed the pre-purchase.  With honors, if I do say so myself.

Nothing showed up on hoof testers, flexions, or on the lunge on soft or hard ground (uhh duh). ¬†Despite his krazy foot, his radiographs were perfect. ¬†Probably the only thing we didn’t get an A+ on was having his heart listened to, which he objected to greatly until barn manager reminded him that he must behave away from home as well as at home (I was already incapable of behaving rationally at that point). ¬†So we’ll work out the papers next week and then he’s mine!

So I made this video to bask in happiness a little bit. ¬†It pretty much perfectly describes Murray’s and my relationship. ¬†Later this week we will return to our regularly-scheduled blabbing.

Many and strong opinions: I hate loris tickling videos, and I always will.

The universe seems to be conspiring against me this week, filling my feeds and IV lines of internet with images I utterly hate seeing.¬† Images I have to pause, cancel, or report when I see them because, yes, I feel that strongly about them.¬† Loris tickling, elephant rides, swimming with dolphins, posing with tigers, and that goddamn Android commercial ‚Äď they all make me cranky.

Why are these images so bad?¬† Well, they all depict wild animals with humans, either being abused, neglected, or poorly treated, or being treated as pets, which is only marginally better.¬† In no universe do I support wild animals being kept as pets ‚Äď I believe there is always a better solution, though, I will admit, not necessarily a quick better solution.¬† And not only do I believe that wild animals are not pets, sharing and viewing these images contributes to the problem more than to the solution ‚Äď regardless of how cute they are.¬† So here they are, my many and strong opinions regarding the adorableness that is lion and chimpanzee, bear and tiger, and any parrot in a cage.

IMG_2237Where baby animals should be: with their mamas.

A brief explanation of why wild animals should never be pets

I worked with mostly orphaned chimpanzees when I lived in Africa, all victims of human actions ‚Äď the vast majority of whom lived with people for at least a few years before they made it to a sanctuary.¬† These chimps were, of course, duly thrown away once they became too large, unruly, willful, and generally chimpanzee-ish for their humans to appreciate or control any longer.¬† So there‚Äôs your reason number one ‚Äď wild animals are just that: wild.¬† They don‚Äôt play by human rules, and their natural selves are not appropriate for any human setting both due to danger to the humans and to the animal in question.

Then, of course, there are the inferior nutritional, space, and cognitive needs of wild animals that almost all humans are in capable of providing ‚Äď either due to a lack of appropriate education or the general lack of human structures to contain wild animals. These, obviously, contribute to the likelihood that someone ‚Äď animal or human ‚Äď will be hurt.¬† And finally, and most importantly to me personally, no human can adequately provide for the social needs of a wild animal.¬† It is pure arrogance to think you can.¬† No animal is completely, utterly, entirely solitary ‚Äď they all need to interact with others at least a little ‚Äď and without other animals in their species, they are missing out on important social and cognitive stimulation that is horrifically detrimental in the long run.

Of course, many others have written about this, so there’s no need for me to continue to beat the dead horse.

IMG_7861Mmm not in my house, thanks.

But lots of the animals in those videos aren’t pets! They are just hanging out on a lawn with a puppy!

This is true.  Much of the media showing wild animals in inappropriate settings doesn’t show them specifically as pets, but in settings where, at least to me, they are being housed extremely inappropriately.

IMG_5147The opposite of inappropriate housing: in a giant enclosure living with her new family.

So those adorable tigers at the sanctuary, they‚Äôre clearly not pets, right?¬† Definitely not.¬† They definitely wouldn‚Äôt have been separated from their mother at birth, replaced with piglets dressed in tiger skins so the mother doesn‚Äôt get mastitis.¬† Those cubs definitely wouldn‚Äôt have been bottle raised by humans, and then sedated for tourists to take pictures of them.¬† They definitely won‚Äôt be discarded when they are too big or rowdy for tourists to cuddle, or subjected to the same breeding schedule as their mother ‚Äď who has, by the way, already had another litter that has been taken away from her.¬† (She may also have eaten a pig or two.)

Of course, not all of this media is of animals living in baaaaaaaaasically the worst case scenario.¬† Many of these animals live in facilities that provide at least a modicum of care, don‚Äôt breed them back to back, and yet somehow still fall short.¬† Sure, a lion cub and a puppy playing together are adorable. ¬†But why is that lion cub playing with a puppy instead of other lions?¬† It‚Äôs not like there are no other lions anywhere in the country or continent for a lion to be appropriately socialized with.¬† Okay, so maybe other lions weren‚Äôt easy to get a hold of.¬† Obviously a little socialization with a puppy is better than nothing?¬† Sure it is, until that lion becomes too big and strong to play with said puppy, and then it‚Äôs into solitary or conspecific housing with him.¬† And you know what skills a lion (insert any other wild animal here) isn‚Äôt going to develop growing up with a puppy?¬† Social skills with his own species.¬† I cannot tell you the sadness I have witnessed in the chimps that were raised with humans for years ‚Äď decades sometimes ‚Äď and then dumped into a social group when their owners were sick of them.¬† It was emotionally devastating.

IMG_3401Poco — sweet, kind, and hated every minute of having to live with other chimps.

It‚Äôs a lot like an orphan colt that‚Äôs been raised in a house, watching TV with people, sitting on the couch, sleeping in the dog beds, and generally enjoying a lot of human company¬† When he grows up to be big, mouthy, and hurt people ‚Äď and he will ‚Äď what happens to him?¬† (I haven‚Äôt seen the documentary, but I‚Äôve been told by many that Buck covers it.)¬† I would posit that it‚Äôs more than mere negligence or a poor choice for a colt to be raised this way ‚Äď it is cruelty.

Those animals are already in captivity, so why shouldn’t I watch a video of them?

You‚Äôre right, in many cases the animals in those videos were taken out of the wild or bred many years ago, and the videos of them are really just soooo cute.¬† So why not watch the videos of them?¬† It‚Äôs not like you‚Äôre watching a video of a baby chimp being brutally ripped off of his mother and handed to a human as a pet ‚Äď how much harm can watching those adorable loris tickling videos really do?

Well, studies on how images influence public opinion have shown that every time someone sees a picture of a primate in a non-wild setting, they are more likely to think both that a) primates make good pets and b) the primate in question is not endangered and populations are doing excellently in the wild.  Every book cover where some white lady is playing with a baby chimp, every video where a tourist bottle feeds a tiger, every selfie with a monkey, every elephant ride, every time someone sees one of these things, it tells their brain that doing those things with those animals is normal, acceptable, safe, and not harmful to the animals in question.  But what do you think happens to the elephants that refuse to carry passengers anymore?  To the macaques who steal too many cell phones, sunglasses, or the dignity of tourists?  To those baby tigers when they grow up and aren’t cute or compliant enough for people to bottle-feed them and take pictures with them?  I know, and I can tell you, it is nothing good.

Even images of animals with other animals can have a harmful effect on public opinion.¬† Every time I see that Android commercial I cry a little inside ‚Äď why is that lion cub hanging out with a bulldog instead of its mother and brothers?¬† Why is that elephant hanging out with a black lab instead of her mother, sister, and daughters?¬† Why is Roscoe the orangutan playing with a dog instead of with other orangutans his age?¬† WHY ARE A BEAR AND A TIGER SO BONDED TO ONE ANOTHER?!


So there you have them ‚Äď a few of my many and strong opinions.¬† Now, this is not to say all captive institutions are bad, and I could talk your ear off about zoos, sanctuaries, accreditation, and the rest of it.¬† I hope that this gives you a little insight to why I don‚Äôt watch those videos, and I hope you won‚Äôt watch them in the future either.

The studies mentioned above, regarding images and public perception of apes, can be read below.  They are public-access and very well written!

Ross, Vreeman, Lonsdorf.¬† 2011. ¬†‚ÄúSpecific Image Characteristics Influence Attitudes about Chimpanzee Conservation and Use as Pets‚ÄĚ

Leighty et al. 2015. ‚ÄúImpact of Visual Context on Public Perceptions of Non-Human Primate Performers‚ÄĚ


the trust bank

This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for some time, and it seems especially pointed after today’s unmitigated disaster* of a lesson.  The Trust Bank is a concept I was first introduced to by, I believe, Yves Sauvignon, and a crucially important aspect of every relationship between human and equine.  It is the reason I can trust Murray to save me, and he trusts me to save him, it is how we have come so far.

* Ok so this is an Asian-mother-reared unmitigated disaster, which really just means that I was a bit off and Murray saved my butt repeatedly, but also spooked ridiculously and unnecessarily.

horze1This image brought to you by: The Trust Bank

The trust bank is not a physical bank, but it is a very real thing.¬† It‚Äôs the balance of trust between you and your horse, and you draw on it every time you ride, but especially when you get into a sticky spot and need your horse to help you out and ‚Äď you know ‚Äď trust you a little bit.¬† Every time you save your horse or make the right choice or ride with forgiveness, you make a little deposit in the trust bank. When the balance is good, when you and your horse trust each other well, you both work better.

IMG_3844Quick baby horse, do your first Novice fence!! Don’t worry, it will be okay.

When my trust bank is strong, I can count on Murray to go over any jump, from any angle, from any spot, without question.  Ignoring the most epic of rider screw-ups, when our trust bank is strong, Murray will get me out of absolutely any sticky spot I can put him into.  When the trust bank is strong, I know that pointing Murray at a fence means he’s going, no matter what.  I imagine the trust bank exists for dressage also, but I don’t really think about it there (dressage is more of a negotiation in my mind).  More importantly when our trust bank is flush, Murray knows that I’m not going to let him down, dump my aids before a fence, or set him up for failure.  When the trust bank is strong, we easily forgive the little mistakes one another might make, and together we are better than we would either be alone.

IMG_0671Making a withdrawl, and ultimately failing (or: how to make my good horse stop).  A scary fence, a crappy position, a bad approach.

When my trust bank is low, Murray might stop if I get ahead of him or don‚Äôt support him enough with my legs to a fence, or if I ask him to take something from a funny angle.¬† When the trust bank is low, there‚Äôs a little hesitation before the fences ‚Äď are we going?¬† When the trust bank is low, Murray is spookier and less inclined to work.¬† When the trust bank is low, I have rides like I did today.¬† When the trust bank is low, I know I need to make a deposit.


There are lots of ways you can make a deposit in the bank, but generally, it involves making the right choices with your horse to the fences (once again, in my jumping-centric example).¬† Every time you support your horse to a fence when he‚Äôs a little confused, and prove to him he can get over it, you make a deposit.¬† And every time you ask your horse to save you, to make up for your mistakes, to get you out of a tough spot you put the two of you in, you make a little withdrawal.¬† Bank accounts of different sizes can stand different sizes and numbers of withdrawals ‚Äď but like any bank account, you can‚Äôt withdraw forever without making a deposit or five.¬† Or ten.

IMG_3768Building trust with tiny fences. Many, many, many tiny, successful, fences.


The beauty of this analogy is that it doesn‚Äôt make trust some immutable, euphoric state that some riders and horses can achieve and others can‚Äôt. ¬†You don’t have to worry about lost trust as something that will never come back, or something that can never be achieved. ¬†Trust isn‚Äôt like zen or nirvana. ¬†It‚Äôs a rising and falling commodity that is completely in your control.¬† If you want your horse to trust you, prove to him you‚Äôre trustworthy.¬† Given time, he will prove it back to you.


good in a crisis

Last week, fortunately while every authority figure of the barn was present and in the barn aisle, one of the horses got his head stuck under the pipe panel in his paddock. ¬†We were alerted to the situation by the cacophonous crashing and banging, and I ran outside. ¬†Poor D was thrashing and thrashing, and at first I thought he was simply cast. ¬†Once I realised he was more than just cast — well and truly stuck — I was paralysed for a few moments because I thought I was watching him die. ¬†It was pretty terrifying¬†— his whole head and neck were under the panel and he was moving so violently I thought he would break a leg or his own neck, if he wasn’t already impaled somehow. ¬†Trainer and BM yelled out at the girls and I who were stuck staring at the situation and¬†I unfroze, ran over talking to D,¬†and Trainer and BM came running out as well.

D settled once we got to him, and Trainer told me to sit on his head while she started undoing the panel D was stuck under. I was like “errr okay” but I will admit to being a little panicked by the idea of sitting on that head and going flying when he thrashed again. ¬†I knelt next to him instead, and covered his eyes at the instructions of Trainer.¬†BM and our assistant trainer were there next, and we worked on getting the panel undone, but unfortunately, it wouldn’t come up enough to let D out and the little amount of freedom he felt when we lifted the panel just restarted the thrashing. ¬†We ran to get a wrench and undo the center part of the panel, interrupted a few times by D’s thrashing. ¬†We needed a halter, and yelled at the teenagers standing around for one (unfortunately had to yell twice), and once someone else was helping keep D calm and by his head, I helped undo the panel. ¬†We eventually lifted the entire panel out, the halter helped keep D¬†lying down until all pointy bits were away, and the pony stood up as soon as he was properly free, groaning the whole way.

I’ve been in lots of crises or potential crises in my time, probably more than the average human my age due to my time in Africa and my extended¬†proximity to giant, suicidal ungulates. ¬†And while I might not always know exactly what to do in these situations, I feel like I’m pretty good in a crisis because I’m good at following direction and know how to keep myself out of the way. ¬†For those who find themselves unsure of what to do, or concerned that they are bad in a crisis, here are my top tips for¬†being helpful when disaster strikes.

Transporting an elephant — not a crisis, but a time when follow directions was crucial.

1. If you can’t help, stay out of the way

One of the most ridiculous things when an accident has happened is the number of useless¬†bystanders that somehow gather around the scene and ultimately clutter things up. ¬†If you can’t actively help¬†get out of the way of first responders. ¬†Whether those responders are paramedics or simply knowledgeable individuals helping the situation, they can’t do their jobs without space to work or with people blocking their way. ¬†(Definitely get out of the way of paramedics, they know what they are doing.)¬† In certain situations, bystanders can also get themselves hurt or make the situation much worse, and that’s the absolute last thing anyone needs — more injured people to worry about!

elephant3This is what an elephant looks like as he’s going under anaesthesia! You can see the dart in his thigh. ¬†This was prior to the truck image above, obviously.

2. If you are helping, make sure you are safe yourself

This follows from the end of #1 — you need to make sure that if you are helping, you are not going to make the situation worse by becoming injured. ¬†This is one of the first tenets of SCUBA rescue — you can’t help anyone if you’re also drowning. ¬†In the example above, before I approached D’s head I made sure to keep well clear of his flailing hooves (front shoes + human tibia = insta-breakage). ¬†If you’re working with any animal that’s down, you need to keep flailing feet and possible teeth in mind — panicked animals often¬†forget¬†to mind their manners.

3. If you have expertise in the area, step in to help

Especially if there are no paramedics on the scene, or you have knowledge that can help the situation (think engineering or architecture for something like D’s situation, veterinary techs, nurses, and obviously doctors in a human/animal emergency), or even if you’re just handy, offer your assistance — and speak up (though try not to be obnoxious). ¬†If you can see an opening to step in and help where someone hasn’t done a task required of them, step in and do that task quickly and quietly. ¬†And if you notice something going on that’s important, speak up, even though it’s hard to do so when older, more experienced people than you are running the show. ¬† A few years ago, when I was helping with chimpanzee health checks, one of the chimps didn’t go all the way under anaesthesia, which I was monitoring. ¬†The techs were so busy focusing on their job that they didn’t notice that every prick and prod they made woke the little chimp up more and she was on the verge of getting up and walking away. ¬†I had to step up and tell people superior to myself to stop what they were doing to re-evaluate the anaesthesia. ¬†This is important in any situation — i f you see something going on that needs addressing, address it.

Keeping the¬†airway open and monitoring air flow — seemingly minor, but crucial.

4. If you don’t know what to do, you can still help by quickly doing exactly what you are told.

Even if you’re not sure what to do in a situation, don’t underestimate the usefulness of someone who promptly does exactly what they are told. ¬†So if you’re a bystander and you see something that’s been asked for going untouched, get on it. ¬†If you hear someone looking for a bandage and you have a sweet first aid kit in your car, run and get it. ¬†If there is a crowd forming and the responders need space, work some crowd control. ¬†Especially in a situation with children (sometimes the person in need has kids, or the responders have kids they have to ignore a bit to get things done), crowd control is necessary — and sometimes crucial. ¬†Nobody wants their seven year old seeing a horse euthanized on course, so help everybody out by ushering children away from emergencies.

5. Think about the other responders

When a crisis situation goes on for a while, first responders can get tired, fatigued, and have their own needs. ¬†Offering water, relief (if someone is bracing something heavy, for example, they will need relief), or just checking in on people with their hands on the scene can be very helpful. ¬†Especially in hot or inclement weather, it’s important to think about the people working as much as the individual being helped.