dressage check in

Camelot is just five weeks away, and so of course I’ve planned out both a general plan, weekly plan, and daily plan for seven days out of each week between now and then.

Planning soothes the soul.

Our dressage definitely requires the most planning.  Last year, my dressage goals were “stay in the court, don’t get eliminated” which I managed to barely succeed at.  I didn’t have any goals about scores or placing or actually performing tests to their specifications — I just wanted to get in and get out and get on to jumping.  So I rode the way I knew would make Murray the least annoyed, keep him the most consistent, and generally just tried to make dressage fun.

I do love dressage, and over the last year, we’ve been working very hard at it.  Very hard.  But the way I work on dressage is not what gets points in dressage tests.  I use a lot of over bending and shoulder-in and shoulder-fore to get Murray using his back.  I deter Murray’s attempts to not use his haunches by asking him to haunches-in or -out every time he drifts them one way or the other, making him really use his haunches if he wants to be lazy.  I try to do a lot of stretchy trot.  Cantering is usually a bit of a torrid affair of noooooooo I can’t possibly lift my back in the canter oh wait, you want me to flex a bunch and give that way okay!  It’s not the prettiest, but it achieves the goal of strengthening his back, and we are working up to relative elevation of the forehand slowly.

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I know I can’t ride the test the way I ride at home.  And I need to figure out how to ride in the test to get the best results out of Murray while still achieving my ultimate obsession with sustainable dressage.  So I had a test-check-in lesson with Alana where I warmed Murray up like I would at the show (long walk, a little trot and canter, transitions, then a break and walk into the other arena for the test) and rode Novice A for her.  I have to ride all different tests because Murray learns tests pretty quickly and anticipates and gets tense, but since Novice A has all the same movements as BN A, I figured it is comparable.

Murray was fairly foul to warm up, and I will admit I was pretty disappointed. I got cranky, kicking canter transitions, and hollow trot transitions.  But that might just be all I get at a show, so I have to be prepared to ride that too.  I tried not to override Murray in the warm up, and after I got a good canter transition I called it and wandered over to the other arena for the test.

two-legged dressage is Murray’s favourite dressage

Murray was suuuuuuper noodly and uneven, falling through his haunches pretty badly down the centerline (and throughout).  He also got really cranky about his right circle and it was much more a rounded square.  I rode conservatively and didn’t really get the canter transitions.  And the walk-trot transition was a freaking joke — it is supposed to happen at C and I didn’t get it until H.  Embarrasssinnngggg.  Murray was also really inconsistent in the contact.  Overall, what I got was tense and disobedient.  I did, however, get a banging free walk and a square, straight, badass halt.  So I anticipate those two things will never turn up at a show ever.

Alana was like “damn he’s got a bug up his butt!” and told me to just try to make all my cues a little lighter to see if I couldn’t make Murray think they were more of his idea.  Even though she said she can barely even see when I’m cuing him to the next gait, I should just think trot and lighten my seat and see if that works a bit better.  Alana also advised me to drive him straight down the centerline, pretend I’m going to smash him into the judges’ booth right up until three strides before the turn so I don’t accidentally make him bulge with my legs, and keep my reins shorter for a more consistent contact.  So after a long walk break, we did the test again.

Murray was definitely better the second go around, but there’s clearly something about the way I ride practice tests and real dressage tests that lets Murray know he can be more opinionated than during a schooling ride and get away with it.  He refused to canter when I first asked him to, and I had to kick him into it.  The walk-trot transition also got him all cranky and squealing and horrid again, so we re-did it and after a longer medium walk he had a perfect transition.  His right canter transition I had to really thump him, and ended up having to do it a few times to get it right.  However, we managed to maintain the good halt again, so that was nice.

5-21 dressage 4

Despite Murray being cranky in the lesson, it was a really good one.  I have to be able to maintain my composure if he comes into the test rotten, and ride each movement independently.  But in order to avert the dressage monster’s emergence, here’s our homework.

  • Practice dressage rides like the tests more often — warm up, work, long walk break, then go to the indoor and do a test.  Instead of letting him get away with ignoring me during the test, I have to keep things black and white in my practice tests, so he doesn’t think that the dressage court is a canvas for his opinions.
  • School the transitions a lot.  And all kinds of transitions — long walk break, short trot, short walk break, long trot. Walk, trot, canter.  Murray has to be right on the aids, and has to get over his ‘tude regarding me asking him to do things.
  • Develop a warm up plan — more on this later.  But I need to figure out the best way to get Murray calm and relaxed in the show environment but also working and listening to me.  If you have any suggestions for a horse who tends to be tense, looky, and unpredictably cranky, I’d love to hear them!
  • Develop a soft canter off a soft transition — every time!

I feel like there was more homework from this lesson, but I honestly can’t remember it.  Which is bad.  However, there it is.  Five week plan.  Five more practice test rides (it’s too weird to do a full practice test more than once a week!), probably ten or fifteen more dressage rides on top of that, and a few lessons.  So scary when I think of it like that!  Five more jump lessons, five jump schools, five conditioning rides.  So little time!!

Anyway, I will get a chance to practice the test off property on Saturday, so we will see what warm up strategies I can come up with then!

raise your expectations

I seriously love you guys. You are awesome. I love being part of this blogging community of people that have never met but can touch one another’s lives anyway.  It’s pretty awesome.  But more on that another day.

Despite my hopes that we were on the upswing towards tacking-up normalcy with Murray, the general malaise of a few weeks ago seemed to also erase that progress and deposit us solidly in last year in terms of tacking up skills.  Possibly we are even back in 2013.

So here’s a basic rundown of how tacking up usually goes.  I plop the saddle pads on Murray’s back just fine.  Then I meander over with the saddle, and that is just fine too.  I head over to his right side and attach one side of the girth — at this point, Murray may or may not sidle away from me a bit.  When I move back over to the left is when things really go sideways — literally and figuratively.  Murray has dumped my saddle twice in the past few weeks, which he hasn’t done in quite a while, and despite my many attempts to bribe/distract him with carrots, he just can’t.  The second the distraction is down his gullet, he’s back to wigging out.

Weird thing is, as soon as we have an actual fight about it, he seems to remember that — oh yeah — he can do that whole standing for the saddle thing.

I had L, barn manager, help me out the other day because I was really struggling to read Murray.  I didn’t know if he was legitimately panicked or simply being really, really rude.  Considering the amount of doubt benefit he’s been given in the last few weeks, L thinks it’s not actually panic.  Probably rude.  Despite L being the person to basically put all the tacking up training on Murray before me, and being his absolute favorite person in the world, he still was utterly horrid for her.  Which validated me a tiny bit — it clearly isn’t just me.

L also gave me a general life lesson in pony management, criticising me for letting Murray bump me with his nose while I am grooming him (I literally don’t even notice this begging behavior any more), moving out of his way when he rudely swings his weight into me (teaching him that yes, he is, in fact, the boss), and letting him get away with poor ground manners in general.  She told me to raise my expectations — Murray is not a baby any more, and does not get to behave like one just because he thinks he should.

So while we rule out legitimate causes for his bad behavior (sucks to be him if they are ulcers, as I spent all my money on buying him and can’t treat him for a month) I am trying to work through this behaviorally.  Since the presence of treats actually seems to make Murray worse about wiggling around, we are going no-food, and just rewarding him with pats and praise.  It sucks for me that I can’t go all-positive with this, like I want to, but whatever training history is there is messing up something that needs to happen.

This is, on many levels, disheartening and embarrassing.  Like, to the point that I don’t even want to complain about it publicly as it’s all my own fault.  But… you know, journaling.  I’m disappointed and embarrassed that I seem to be the only person I know who can’t install ground manners on a horse.  Sure, his manners have improved in general in the last two years, but in large part I feel like that’s just growing up and… life, you know?  For such a long time I was just so glad that I got tacked up that I let Murray get away with whatever, and that’s really not acceptable now.  Though, I shouldn’t be too too hard on myself, I guess.  I did teach Murray to get on a trailer with absolutely no hesitation, and there are plenty of other horses at our barn who give it a hairy eyeball every once in a while.  And he doesn’t attack me with voracious gusto when I deliver his bucket, though evidently this couretsey doesn’t extend to anyone beyond me and L.  And he picks up his feet a lot better than some horses I know.  I will cling to those three things.  THOSE ARE MY THINGS. I DID THEM.

Ground manners boot camp is on all the time, now.  It’s probably going to be way harder for me than for Murray — I am just too damn nice.  Please, please, please, let us be done with boot camp by the time Camelot rolls around.

life, the universe, and everything

The answer is, of course, 42.

Thanks for all your support last week, blogger friends!  Due to my deeply procrastinatory nature, I spent literally every spare moment of my life working on my presentation last week.  I didn’t see Murray for five days, but on the up side, my presentation went really well.  I got good feedback, and I didn’t disgrace myself.  Despite being really nervous about my presentation in general, once I started talking I got kinda zen and didn’t have the voice or hand shakes I’d experienced previously.

graphAlso, I made graphs like this! With my own data! MY OWN DATA MAN!  I know not everyone gets excited about graphs like me and Megan, but damn guys.  There is something to creating graphs out of your own data that is awesome.

I had a totally self-indulgent weekend of doing NO WORK and only all the most funnest leisure time activities.  So Saturday I gardened my little heart out, and transplanted my last few seedlings to the garden.  I put in the last of my home-started eggplant and peppers, put in the basil and kale, and conditioned the soil for planting carrots, which is basically why I started this whole garden to begin with.  My whole plan was to feed Murray carrots and sing “Circle of Life” while I did so, because I used his poo to grow them.  Boyfriend helped me build a little wabbit-deterrent fence around those tender greens, as many of my plants have been nibbled by the herbivorous kittens* that seem to populate our barn.  We also planted mint, and I started prepping some mounds for pumpkins which we will transplant in a few weeks.  Ellie helped by taking a dump in the middle of one of my watermelon plants and rolling in the grass.

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Regular mint and lemon balm!

* This stems from an argument I had with my boyfriend where I insisted that there are no little fossorial creatures at our barn that would eat my plants. Then my plants got eaten.  I blamed it on the barn cats.

Gardening totally took it out of us, and I declined to ride Murray Saturday.  I did get to see him and pat him and tell him he’s so totally adorable.  I’m kinda getting paranoid that he’s losing all the beautiful topline I’ve worked so hard to put on him, but he’s looking really fabulous weight-wise.  So that is a plus.

Boyrfriend and I also made scotch eggs, which are soft-boiled eggs that you wrap in meat. Then you bread it, then you fry it, AND THEN YOU EAT IT.  They are freaking delicious, though next time we will incorporate cheese and hot sauce.

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Scotch eggs and sriracha. Breakfast of champions.

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Saturday I also got a fantastic package from Sarah at Eventing in Color and Beka’s metalworking shop, Straight Shot Metal.  So, I was basically about to buy from Beka’s store, because I couldn’t resist the horseshoe cuff and love metal work, and then I won Sarah’s raffle.  What whaaat!  Beka said she’d make me a gift pack and so I told her my colours (purple and pink, duhhh) and what I got was an AMAZING AWESOME PACKAGE!!!

image (2)Dressage mantra + collaging.

Beka sent me a dressage cuff as well as the thin horseshoe cuff, and I’m wearing both constantly.  I’m very into permanent jewelry — stuff I don’t ever have to take off — and I’ve been wearing these since I got them.  They’re super comfy, even with the computer work I’m always doing.  And they look swanky to boot.  And they jingle!  I love jingling while I walk.

imageI am very clearly not a hand/arm model.  My new bracelets join one I bought in Zambia in 2011 and haven’t taken off since.

Beka also included a bunch of charms which I will review more thoroughly in another post, but this one is absolutely perfect.  It’s copper and stainless, and it says “zen” (says Capt. Obvious, just in case you can’t read…. which isn’t going to help you if you can’t read anyway).  It’s about the size of a dime (best American coin btw) and is the perfect size for a braid charm.  Which is exactly what I need: a braid charm to remind me to be zen.

image (1)Eff. Yes.

Sunday a colic emergency bogarted my riding again, as I had to rush out to my trainer’s house in the morning because one of the horses had an upset tummy.  We administered banamine and waited for the vet to tube him, and at the end of all that I was tired and exhausted and sweaty so Murray got another day off.

All in all, a delightful way to spend a weekend.  Now, on to the big plans for the next five weeks: Prepping for CAMELOT!!!

shit is getting real

Entry for my first recognized horse trials opens today.  So I did what everyone does and registered their horse under their stupid JC name even though I so want to use one of the better names we talked about but… JC, man

murray reg

 

This was, of course, a total procrastinatory tactic because I have basically daily deadlines this week leading up to a huge presentation on Friday.  Just presenting all my research to my entire graduate group and whatever faculty want to come.  No big.

So I’m just going to go ahead and neglect my horse, health, and blog while I finish that shit up.

I did have a fantastic day Sunday shooting the cross country portion of a show.  Nothing to make you want to run prelim like watching horses LOVE their jobs at prelim!

IMG_1316How freaking happy do these two look?!  First training and they were awesome.

IMG_0742That is a galloping fence!

Last night Lainey Ashker commented on my position on an instragram photo. So that was badass.  And liked a selfie. #madeit

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Jumping the big N! With my matchy matchy @ecogold !

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LAE is clearly way cooler than me because she uses the word “fleek” and I didn’t even know that was a word until like two weeks ago.

So that’s this week.  See you all after my presentation.

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Throwback Thursday: May, 2014

As I alluded to on Tuesday, May 2014 was not a great month for me and Murray.  Specifically, this week last year was a really bad week.

On Monday, after currying Murray out after I ride, I knelt down to take off his bell boots.  I liked to do this every so often to clean underneath them (mud and dirt, you know) and get a look at his krazy foot.  Murray, seemingly never having heard the sound of velcro before (no, never!) panics.  He scrambled backwards, elbowed me in the face, and I threw myself away from him seeing stars.  Murray, much to his credit, calmed down rather quickly, and I sat miserably on the rubber mats in the barn while I regained my breath and vision.  Clearly my nose wasn’t broken, and my skin just felt a little raw, so I went on my merry way.  Little did I know he had scraped the skin off the bridge of my nose and over one eye and I would get a large and delightful burgundy scab there shortly.

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Tuesday I fell off in a lesson.  Murray was stopping all over the place, but most notably in the middle of combinations.  He slammed on the brakes in the middle of a two-stride and left a 5-foot skid mark in the footing.  I’m not sure how I didn’t fall that time, but when he slammed on the brakes in the middle of the one-stride I went flying over his shoulder and into the fence.  It’s the only time I’ve ever taken down a fence due to falling, and it was shockingly not that painful.  It was my most spectacular fall to date.  I limped into lab and explained to my students why I had a huge scrape in the middle of my face.  They were extremely amused, and many were surprised that horses even had elbows.

Wednesday I tried out a new bit.  Murray had been bolting around in the eggbutt French-link I had him in, so at my trainer’s suggestion (she had been suggesting it for ages) I put him in the loop gag.  Murray jumped around just fine, until we got to the new fence that our assistant trainer had just got done painting neon green and blue.  Murray said no thank you to that fence, and I hit the dirt again.

IMG_7448These are the offending poles. They were terrifying when new, apparently.

Thursday I jumped again while Alana was watching me, to check out the new bit.  Alana liked it, right up until we got to the combination.  Murray pitched a fit much farther out this time.  He skittered out from under me at least six strides away from the fence.  I landed on my feet and patted him, then walked back to the mounting block to approach the fence again.  Alana turned this into an impromptu lesson, and schooled me back to the combo.  I talked to Murray the whole way in, but got a little ahead, and at the last minute he threw on the brakes, snapped his head straight up in the air and smashed me in the face as I popped off over his shoulder to and on my feet.  The top of his skull had hit my chin and I immediately felt my mouth fill with blood.  I cried while Alana comforted me, then got back on, got through the combo, and called it a day.

Back in the barn I texted my boss to ask if I could cancel my office hours for that day.  Because every time I spoke my mouth filled with blood.   He said okay.  I sent out this email and got some delightful responses from my students.

email

My personal fave is the one at the bottom, but I also enjoyed one student’s sentiment of “Gurl you gotta fight back.”  Trust me, I’m trying.

Friday I did not ride.

And that, my friends, is how I got dumped or injured five times in four rides.  Happy anniversary, baby horse!  I still love you.

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It’s show time: pump up playlist

Lots of my friends, blogland and otherwise, are going to their first show of the year (or not their first, but still a show!) this weekend.  While I’m super jealous, I know it’s important for me to keep my eye on the prize (graduation) right now, and I will be showing in the ball-sweltering heat of July so that will be JUST FINE OKAY.

Anyway, a show playlist is pretty important to me.  One thing I want to invest in this year is a set of portable, battery-operated speakers so I can bump my pump up play list in public AT ALL TIMES.  Daniel Stewart was a big fan of incorporating motivational songs into your showing routine (they help you keep rhythm and put you in the right mindset!) and I have a bunch that I love to listen to on the way to schooling or showing or what have you.  So, for your listening or purchasing pleasure, here’s a portion of my pump up play list.

One Republic, Counting Stars

Yes, I know this song is super played. But it has so many eventing references!!!!  Counting stars, as in CIC 1/2*, CIC*, CIC**, etc? YEP.  I also misheard a lot of lyrics when I first heard this song on the radio, like “I’ve been playing hard” — what else is riding but playing hard? — and “sing in the rhythm the lessons I’ve learned” — and what else is riding all about but RHYTHM?!  I also personally identify with “dreaming about the things that we could be”.  Do that a lot too.

Biggie Smalls / ratatat remix, Party & Bullshit

This is Murray’s theme song, but also works well if you replace “party and bullshit” with “gallop and jump shit”

Monty Python, The Galaxy Song

I find this song super adorable and relaxing to listen to.  And I’m a HUGE Monty Python fan!!

Walk The Moon, Shut Up And Dance

Okay, if the adorable video of every movie dance scene ever set to this song didn’t get to you, you are soulless and I don’t know if we can be friends!!  This song is fucking adorable, and I LOVE IT.  “Shut up and dance with me” I replace with “shut up and jump with me,” also, don’t you dare look back!  Murray and me, we were born to be together.  Also, this is the first time I’ve watched the video, and I find this lead singer curiously sexy in his weird 80’s way.

One Republic, Love Runs Out

This song has a BANGIN’ beat and is just on pace for galloping 600 meters per minute.  I know ’cause that’s what I sang on the gallop track!!  I also see a lot of metaphor in here for me and Murray, but specifically “there’s a maniac out in front of me” and “there’s an angel on my shoulder”.  Oh and of course, we’ll be “doing this, if you ever doubt, til the love runs out!”  We WILL be doing this, Murray!!

Sheppard, Geronimo

Just jump out of that starting box, say geronimo!

Modest Mouse, Float On

If I need something a little more chill before getting out there, Modest Mouse is where I go.  I backed my car into a cop car the other day?  Well he just drove off sometimes life’s okay.  We’ll all float on, okay?

Taylor Swift, Shake It Off

My anthem of last summer, this got me through a LOT of dressage rides!

Meghan Trainor, All About That Bass

Another dressage song, this song somehow lets me keep my cool during dressage.

Electric Light Orchestra, Mr. Blue Sky

What we always hope for, right? A little blue sky on XC day?

So, tell me, blogosphereoland, what are your favourite show pump up songs? What do I need to add to my playlist?

Good luck to all my friends competing this weekend!! I hope you have amazing rides.

spring is in the air

And so is my ass and Murray’s hind feet, more often than not this last week.

Okay, okay, I kid.  His hind feet are only in the air a few times per ride, but it’s alarmingly similar to the epic dressage battle he waged with BM’s kid last year.

IMG_8525Hella flexible

Letsee now… first there was the Waste of Time dressage ride that I got good footage out of.  That was the last semblance we had of a good ride.  The day after, I was hung over so… no riding.  I regret nothing.  I spent the weekend out of town, and got on Monday night for some conditioning and possibly light jumping, and Murray was out of his mind.  Spooky, cranky, unpleasant, he was simultaneously completely ignoring my legitimate leg aids and overreacting to any time my leg brushed against him.  I stopped one of my friends during her ride to ask if my spurs were accidentally hitting his sides, and after she said that they might be, on the outside leg, I took them off and continued to get brattitude so called an end to things early.

Tuesday Murray re-enacted the ass-whooping dressage ride from a year ago, bucking every two strides down the long side of the arena for multiple laps.  I was truly shocked, since I had just lunged him and he was perfectly compliant and happy, but as soon as we got outside it was rodeo time.  I thought he just had some kinks to work out so sat quietly and kept him moving forward, and the ride ended pretty well, all things considered.  Murray quieted down, no more bucking or screaming was heard from him, and we put in some reasonable dressage work.  But I was seriously wondering if he had learned, from the prior three rides, that bad behavior = Nicole getting off.  Was he really that smart?  Was three rides all it would take?

IMG_3749Say NO to rider requests to move off your leg!

(Incidentally, I then went to my trainer’s house and sat through a rodeo on a horse who is supposed to be rehabbing!! B is allowed to do 10 minutes of trot a day, and has been super fun for my other rides on him.  Instead, all he wanted was to go, go, go!! and insisted that my demand that he trot was worth slow-motion porpoising and bucking.  I was completely convinced that I just couldn’t horse that day and promptly got off and then nearly cried when another horse refused to even back up for me.  Turns out it was me and it was them, but damn, the horses were conspiring against me that day!)

I had put myself down for a semi-private jump lesson on Wednesday afternoon, but due to time constraints I moved into a group lesson with three kids.  That afternoon’s tack up was a perfect shit storm of not-great for Murray: it was super crowded, and right as I was about to start tightening up his girth, another horse appeared, his rider just holding him in the middle of the barn aisle right in my way.  I was like no no, child, this is not okay, don’t you know this horse is about to explode?!

don-t-you-know-who-i-am-i-m-the-juggernaut-bitch
For a little comedic relief that is kindof niche in humor, this youtube video.

So we get into the ring, and I pop Murray over a couple of things I think will be particularly terrifying, including a faux-brick wall and a jump all decorated like a little woodland glade.  AT wants to get a squirrel toy to put on it.  Murray turns on the nope many strides out from the woodland glade, which is absurd because he’s jumped all the pieces of that fence before, but I eventually get him over it (because it’s tiny, like 2’3″), causing every other horse in our lesson to also refuse and give it hard looks.  Then Murray jumps the silly brick wall he’s never seen like it’s nothing! Weirdo.  The lesson was a master class in nope though, as Murray stopped at basically anything and everything that gave him pause.

This was in large part my fault, as I can tell from the video (which I am not sharing with you).  Basically, Murray was unconfident and anxious, and I wasn’t riding.  I don’t think I got ahead of him for any of the stops, but I certainly wasn’t supporting him with my leg and that quiet seat I know he appreciates.  Much post-hoc analysis of the video revealed to me that I’ve been so busy jamming my heels down that I’ve let my pelvis tilt forward (not sure how).  But I know I have to keep my shoulders up and back, so I’m cranking my back in order to do that.  Somehow that is not such an effective seat.  After our second round, which I don’t think had any stops but where Murray repeatedly put two and three strides in a one-two combo, Alana asked me if anything had changed recently that I might be anxious or upset about.

Errr, well, I bought the damn horse…

She counseled me to just ride really light and breezy and talk to Murray for the next round, and not sweat the possible stops.  Which I did.  And it was the best round yet (attitude-wise), but quite sloppy riding-wise.

I added another lesson Friday to see if I couldn’t fix some of those problems.  We kept everything super low, but Murray was still extremely looky and suspicious.  So much more so than he has been in the past.  We didn’t have any stops, but I definitely felt his noodly hesitation heading into a couple of the fences.  Instead of getting angry about it, I just kept my leg on (quietly, though) and tried to keep my back straight and seat quiet.  I had one stop when I leaned for a long spot and Murray was like “haha, no, that is not possible”, but that was one hundred percent my fault.  Overall an okay ride, but not our best.

By this point, I had realised that part of my problem is how Murray and I approach courses.  Often, by the second or third course of the lesson, Murray is phoning it in: he knows the course, doesn’t want to listen to my leg aids, and cuts corners (literally and figuratively).  Instead of getting him ahead of my leg and listening right in the beginning, I’ll let him scramble over a fence or two, then panic and run him at the bigger fences.  This is, obviously, a super tactic for confidence building, correct fence jumping, clean stadium rounds, and generally a good time had by all.

Saturday I jumped around a little more with slightly bigger jumps than in the Friday lesson, and had boyfriend film me.  This was fortunately (or unfortunately? Boyfriend is an excellent media-taker) free of any antics, so was, I guess, quite a good ride in that regard.  Much more video analysis revealed that not only am I failing to get Murray ahead of my leg, I don’t have him in a bouncy, impulsion-filled canter.  I let my reins get long because I don’t want to hit Murray in the mouth over fences, and he tends to overreact to anything but a light touch.  So I default to “longer is better” instead of “elastic and following”, which is really the coward’s way out.  With this knowledge, I added a new piece of equipment to my Fixing My Shit arsenal.

Yep. Rainbow reins.  I voluntarily bought myself rainbow reins.  I had secretly wanted the hideous blue-green-red-yellow ones pictured, but the tack store only had a slightly more classy red-white-navy version.  Fortunately, they were cheap.  This made assistant trainer very excited as the lesson pair melted in the loft storage and now she can threaten more people with them.

Now we’re up to Monday, for which I had scheduled another jump lesson.  If it sounds like I’m jumping the snot out of my horse… I kinda am.  This is not how I would rather structure a riding week, but I really need to hammer out these issues with Murray before they a) snowball or b) I develop my own bad habits to deal with them.  This is all trainer approved and we’re not jumping big, or sometimes even that much (Saturday I probably went over 15 fences total, including the warm up fences), just enough to diagnose some things.  And Murray has gotten lots of days off in between (Thursday and Sunday, as well as the weekend before last).

Monday’s lesson rolls around, and Murray is as spooktacular as before.  To his defense, the hay trucks were working (weirdly unpredictably, but okay) in the field behind the arena, and both horses were looking at those a bit.  But the weird thing is that Murray was spooking at fences in a way he hasn’t done in almost a year!  Through the first six months or so of us working together, Murray would give the hairy eyeball to any fence was passed laterally, as if I was about to suddenly turn him to it and ask him to jump it.  I worked on this a lot, circling jumps bent both towards and away from them, and weaving in, out, around, and through lots of fences to show him that just because we are near a fence doesn’t mean that fence is going to eat you.  So since last year, he’s been fairly chill working around fences, even when the filler has been a little spooky.

But not today.  Murray was whale-eyeing and refusing to go between fences that we had jumped just last week (course was unchanged).  My goals for today were to keep my position (straight backed, not distorted like on Wednesday), learn how to really build that impulsion every ride, and keep my reins short!  Assistant trainer therefore set us up a grid exercise, with two canter poles, then a one stride to a two stride.  Murray was totally on board until I asked him to trot through the grid, which was set to poles at that point.

All went well until we got to the last “fence”, which was a huge bucket of nope.  AT asked me to pat him, praise him for being a good boy (even though he wasn’t), and just keep pressing him forward over the last set of poles.  We trotted back and forth over the demon poles a few times, then started the grid exercise, which went much better.  The rainbow reins were amazingly helpful for keeping my reins the right length, and I managed to keep my back straight during the lesson.  When I felt a lack of impulsion coming into the grid one time, and Murray didn’t respond to my leg, I went right to the crop.  That is where the dinosaur sounds began again, as Murray responded with a big dolphin leap-buck combination.  Coming around the next time, he bucked three times in a row in the exact same spot, and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to being bucked off!  I hadn’t been expecting it, and without a stride in between to recover my seat a little, even leaning back I was popped sideways out of the tack.  Fortunately, three was all he had in him, and I recovered.

The funny thing is, the jumping part of the lesson was great!  After the initial pole refusal, I didn’t have a single problem with Murray stopping or even questioning the fences.  And with our new found powers of having impulsion in the canter, I could comfortably still my upper body over fences and stop doing the Miley Cyrus!  It was just between the jumps that was a problem.

So basically, it’s been an interesting last eight rides.  Or, an interesting first eight rides as a horse owner.  You decide.  I’ve been asked by everyone if I’ve changed Murray’s feed in any way, and I haven’t!!  He’s been on the same three supplements (magnesium, electrolytes, Omega Horse Shine) and grain mix (Stable Mix and rolled barley) for months now, and unless our feeder is sneaking Murray alfalfa, there is nothing we can think of to explain this.  I am choosing to blame it on the month of May, because last May I had a week where I fell off/was injured by Murray five times in four rides.

Which is a story for another day.

Rider Review: Professionals Choice Fly Sheet

When I started leasing Murray I was determined not to be the type of person who keeps her horse rugged up from head to toe in the Summer.  I mean, it’s Summer! It’s beautiful!  I know it’s hot and it’s California but sunshine! Shade! Cool breeze!  I’m not vain, I don’t care about sun bleaching (and my horse is turned out at night anyway and I always curry the sweat off!!)!

Murray, of course, was determined to prove me wrong by promptly getting hives from fly bites and looking cranky about it.  So I went on Tack Trader on Facebook and saw a screaming deal for a fly sheet ($35 shipped) and bought it.  I shoulda known better.

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The one and only time Murray wore his new fly sheet he got all four feet tangled within five minutes.

So I went in search of a new fly sheet.  Given Murray’s clear ability as a destructomaton, I knew I would need something a little more hardy than the soft-and-silky variety, and I wanted a good fit that would help avoid such debacles.  My local tack store (Tack Warehouse) was kind enough to let me take a couple home and try them on.  Enter the Professional’s Choice fly sheet.

Professionals Choice - Professional's Choice Fly Sheet

MSRP: $120 + tax
What I paid: ~$110

I walked into Tack Warehouse with very specific requirements, and made a nuisance of myself touching every sheet they had until I found what I wanted (Brenda and Holly are so understanding!).  After going through several sheets with the staff, I found the Professional’s Choice one which had me intrigued.  The fabric is lightweight but sturdy and breathable.  I ran around the store in it — it wasn’t shabby.  It’s made of a very pale blue-and-black nylon mesh with gusseted shoulders, two belly surcingles, and leg wraps.  The front closures are buckles and snaps, which I greatly appreciate (adjustability and ease of use?! Yes please!) and there is a little fleece patch along the wither.

Not only do I love the construction, I love the color and weight of the fabric.  While I pretend I don’t care about sun bleaching, I kinda do, and Professional’s Choice includes UV protection in the fabric!  This is awesome even when your pony doesn’t have sweat stains.  Plus, dark horses absorb more heat and therefore get hotter — a light sheet is important to me to help Murray regulate his temperature.  Also, I didn’t realise this until I read the product description just now, but the fabric is also designed to be wrinkle and stain resistant, which I can also say is true.  Despite Murray’s penchant for lying in pee at shows, the sheet is pretty clean.

2014-07-12 10.05.32Dressage is tiring, guys!!

Fit-wise, my only concern was the way the sheet sits back on Murray’s wither and shoulder.  It looked like it might better fit a horse with a slightly wider front end, but despite my concerns Murray didn’t get any rubs from the sheet.  So I wouldn’t be concerned if your horse does have a slightly wider front end, as this is bound to fit fairly well.  I did end up sizing down to a 76″ sheet (Murray is between a 76″ and 78″) and I think it fits really well, so that’s an option for narrower horses.

I also know this fly sheet works, because Murray has always gotten some fly or mosquito or whatever bites when we’ve stayed overnight at Camelot Equestrian Park.  I’m not exactly sure what it is, but they don’t seem to bug him toooo much.  Anyway, when he wore his sheet overnight there was a clear delineation where the bites ended — on his neck, but not onto his shoulder, which the sheet was covering.

I did pay a little more than I originally wanted to for this sheet, because it really did seem like the best option available to me, and I like to torture myself by thinking about how many uses anything I buy gets and how much its “cost per use” is.  Though I did only use this sheet about 45 times last Summer (coming in at a little more than $2.40 per use), I don’t regret spending the money on it, and would (and have!) recommended it to others!  The sheet is pristine this year (after Murray wore it in turn out repeatedly and didn’t destroy it like that other one!) and I anticipate getting a good deal of use out of it this year as well.  I’ll tell you how much I amortized it down to after another Summer’s worth of use!

Overall Rating

Price: 3/5                   (I’m a cheap bitch, what can I say)
Fit:
 4/5                       (I may harbor some lingering concerns about the shoulder)
Breathe-ability: 5/5  (better than many sillkier shieets!)
Durability: 4/5          (so far!)
Efficacy: 5/5              (it keeps the flies off his skin, not sure what else I could want)

non-trainer approved moves

Ever find yourself doing something that your trainer just hates and yet somehow you’re doing it anyway?  Yeah me too.  Can’t seem to stop myself.  These are my top postural oddities, as explained by popular media.

 

Shoulder Lean
as imagined by Young Dro & DJ Drama

Let me see you bounce right and left and let your shoulder lean,
Let your shoulder lean, just let your shoulder leeeeaaaaannnn

This is one of my worst habits, to the point even when I’m not in a lesson and trainer sees me riding around I’ll hear “stop collapsing your right side” or “stop collapsing your left side!!!!!!!”  It’s bad.

If you photoshopped Murray under these rappers, that would be how I often look riding.

 

Brush Your Shoulder Off
Jay-Z

Jay-Z’s lyrics are not blog approppriate, so I’m not posting them.  This is how I look when I’m trying to straighten my shoulders and get myself aligned properly.  I’m all “whatever, body misalignment, let’s get on with this” while simultaneously ducking/shaking and checking on each shoulder.  Macklemore is really a better example of how I tend to look.

 

The Creep
as imagined by The Lonely Island

Well, we got a new dance so get up on your feet
It’s real easy to do, and it’s called ‘The Creep’
Let your hands flap around like a Marionette
Pop your knees up and down, sh-sh-shaking your neck

Context: whenever I try to sit the trot. ’nuff said.

Hips Don’t Lie
best performed by: Shakira

Wait this isn’t how you’re supposed to move when canter?

The Miley Cyrus
has anyone else considered how gross Robin Thicke’s name is?

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I’m not sure where I developed the misguided notion that if I straightened my legs and snapped my back over fences that it was a good choice, but I am utterly resentful that when I do so there’s no Robin Thicke to back me up.  Oooorrr maybe I’m glad of that fact.  Not sure yet.

show season hacks

Show season has arrived for many of my blogging friends!!!  Hooray you!  While I’m not showing until after graduation (grumble grumble) I did gather a few horse show hacks last year that I feel are worth sharing.  My life philosophy is “cheap is good, free is better!” and if there was a way I could bring this to already-expensive showing, you can bet your ass I was going to do it.  So here are a couple of things I’ve done in the last year or so that helped me out with my showing.  They are all cheap or, better yet, free!!

Bathe your horse with baby shampoo

What has super sensitive skin yet still needs to be bathed and get clean almost every day? BABIES!!  I actually got this one from the Groom Secrets account on Twitter, but it makes a lot of sense.  Baby shampoo is gentle yet effective, and has left Murray’s hair very soft when I have used it on him.  Better yet, it’s cheap!  I got a bottle last year at Target for around $4 (I honestly don’t even know what I paid, but it can’t have been significant if I’ve forgotten!) and it has lasted well into this year.  Now, I’m not a prolific bather, or anything, but I’m willing to bed you’d get 20 baths out of that bottle — and that’s on my fussy, squirmy, irritating 16 hand noodle.  You could definitely get more on a more reasonable (or pony-sized) bath-time citizen.

Apple cider vinegar + mineral oil body rinse

This tip I picked up from a USEA podcast interview, and is actually supposed to help get rid of “Florida Funk” (whatever that is?), but I use it as a general body rinse/conditioner, especially in Murray’s prone-to-dandruff mane.  Basically, in a gallon of water you add a couple of good glugs of apple cider vinegar (they recommend organic, and I happened to have Bragg’s on hand at home so that’s what I used, but I reckon you could go el-cheapo and still get good results) and a tablespoon of mineral oil to a bucket, and use it as an after-shampooing rinse for your horse (I make this up in a mason jar with 1 cup apple cider vinegar to 1 tbs mineral oil, and dispense into a 3-gallon bucket as needed).  The slight acidity of the apple cider vinegar will help strip mineral deposits from your horse’s hair, which is especially useful if, like me, you live in a region with hard water.  In addition, apple cider vinegar is purported to have all kinds of mystical properties, including suppressing fungal infections and other miscellanea.  I personally like the way the mineral oil makes Murray’s skin less dandruffy, and it’s easier for me to put on his dock and base of his mane than conditioner (because he is bad at baths).  The podcast I listened to said they use this daily in Florida, I use it once every three months or so when I bathe because I’m a filth monster.

(PS Mineral oil is just unscented baby oil, in case you’re wondering. It’s not organic, but it is effective!!  It will also moisturize the crap out of your hands if you have dry barn-hands like I do.)

Use a yarn sewing needle to sew your braids in

2014-07-10 12.17.26

I will not claim to be a braiding expert by any means, but I’ve braided a few horses for shows now, and Murray always looks like his life isn’t worth living afterwards.  What can I say — he hates being beautiful.  More to the point, after pondering various methods (rubber bands, yarn, string), I decided to take our assistant trainer’s advice and do a combo approach.  I braid yarn into the braid, and then sew it in like one would do with thread.  Because of this hybrid approach, I have to get the yarn to go through the knot I’ve created, and that is just not possible to do (neatly) with a pull through.  I’m also absolutely terrified that if I use a braiding needle I will stab Murray’s neck causing him to throw his head up and whip it around, and the needle — now thoroughly stabbed into the meat of his neck, of course — will stab me in the eye.  Not only will we careen around the show grounds joined like some kind of Frankenmonster, but I will be blinded and Murray will never accept braiding again.

Irrational fear, meet child-safe yarn needle!  The price is right on these puppies, ringing up at something like $2.80 at Jo-Ann fabrics, they are essentially disposable.  They aren’t going to hurt my precious pumpkin if I accidentally hit his neck with one, and they go through even a tight braid quite smoothly.  The large eye makes them super easy to thread, and you can use a variety of products with them — I imagine they would sew dental floss just as well as they do yarn.

Take a leaf out of a bedazzler’s book and use a bead organizer to sort little show items

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate when I get to a show and I don’t have enough safety pins to properly affix my number to my self or saddle pad.  Then I lose some during the show and I end up with only one safety pin attaching my number to my pad during stadium and that is just not okay.  I also keep all the safety pins from every show ever, if I can, (why, no, I’ve never found two rusted, old safety pins attached to a show pad from prior to my trip to Africa before… never), as well as bobby pins, hair nets, and other little items.  I used to keep them all in a little toiletries-bag like thing, but then I discovered these handy-dandy little crafting storage containers!

They usually lock quite tight to keep everything you need inside the containers (if I were a crafter I would lose my shit over beads going everywhere), and have neat little compartments for you to keep your safety pins, pre-dressage-test tums (some for you, some for pony), sugar cubes, bobby pins, spare hair nets, spare yarn strands, bridle charms, and probably everything else you could ever need in one place.

Tums before your dressage test

One for you, two for pony. Who needs to deal with extra acid sloshing around in their stomach?!

(Some people swear by this, some don’t. If your horse will eat them, I’m sure it can’t hurt.)

Pre-made faux baby wipes

Baby wipes are incredibly useful little bastards, but I just can’t get over the waste associated with them.  So instead of using baby wipes, I use wash cloths (older are often better, because the new ones can be a little too fluffy and sometimes leave lint) that I’ve pre-moistened and put in a ziplock bag to maintain their dampness.  To avoid them molding and becoming gross, I usually just do this the morning of or the night before a show.  I fold up 2-4 wash clothes and get them appropriately damp, then seal them in a gallon ziplock.  When I need to wipe out Murray’s boogers, clean up my bridle at the last minute, or wipe down my own fevered brow, one of those damp wash cloths usually does the trick.  If I can’t fix it with that, there’s probably not time anyway.

Damp cloth, then show sheen, to remove dirt

When I was a kid I would always read in fantasy novels that people were rubbing their horses down until they shined or stopped sweating or majikally sprouted wings and took flight.  I always kinda wondered what this rubbing down was for because I never rubbed anything down at riding camp… Anyway, sometimes I’ll be grooming my horse with my impeccably clean brushes and somehow — somehow — overnight he became so deeply filth-rodden that the dirt is evading all of my best attempts.  It turns out that if, after you’ve gone over and over and over and over the hair with your best brush and the dust is still clinging to the hairs, you run a damp cloth over the hair it will pick up the little dust particles that are just clinging to the surface there.  I apply show sheen the same way, actually — spritz on a cloth and then rub the cloth over the hair.

Are there any show season hacks you reliably use?  I’m into anything that will simplify my routine or get things cleaner, quicker, faster!  Especially if they have a basis in fantasy novels — those are the best tips.