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.
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?
(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?!
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.