everyday threads

Much to my dismay, I did not get to attend this weekend’s blogger meetup with L, Megan, and probably others. ¬†Instead, we went stadium schooling at a nearby facility to prep for Camelot, and fuck is it a good thing I did. ¬†Stops all over the place man. ¬†I wore my show coat and shirt to see what the coat rides like, and it’s a good thing I did, as the weather report is just going down down down for this weekend and maybe coats won’t ¬†be waived after all. ¬†I might do a more detailed recap later, but maybe not. ¬†I have lots of pictures, at least, which will fuel my annoyance at my equitation for weeks to come.

Anyway.

hgbhToday is about Murray’s every day tack set up, as suggested by Stephanie!

I’ve actually really enjoyed reading about everyone else’s every day tack setups. ¬†I’m not even¬†that jealous of all the beautiful shiny tack and high quality saddles. ¬†Not really. ¬†At all. ¬†Or maybe only a little bit.

I had a very entertaining time taking pictures of Murray for this, especially because he seemed thoroughly unimpressed by the whole process. ¬†However, he was quite good and didn’t run off as soon as I stepped away from him. ¬†It’s funny, the things I will trust this horse to do — like not run away from me when I release his reins and duck into the tack room to find a whip — when he’s so untrustworthy in other ways.

Anyway. ¬†I have only two sets of tack for Murray, because while mine¬†is an equipment-heavy sport, I don’t have that much stuff. ¬†All of my everyday tack is also my show tack, and I’m not even really clever enough to keep certain pads for shows (except one white dressage one).

Jumping Setup

IMG_20150624_193357Murray says staaahhhhpp.

For jump lessons or conditioning rides, I use an HDR figure-8 bridle with a loop gag bit. ¬†Currently the bit is adjusted so it’s basically a single-jointed snaffle and has no gag action, but if I need it’s an easy switch to move the reins into the looped portion of the gag, which you can see better below. ¬†I also ride in rainbow reins, as per a blog post a few weeks ago, which are not hideously ugly but are, instead, semi-patriotic in a kinda ¬†navy-red-white scheme. ¬†I’m also all about rubber reins, so I have two spare sets in my tack trunk. ¬†If I’m in a jump lesson, I will also use a 5-point breastplate with a running martingale, but am frequently too lazy to put it on for conditioning, and Murray doesn’t need it that badly.

In this picture I’m using a Roma pad which is also my stadium show pad, but I have a few other AP pads¬†(a solid purple Roma, a burgundy Dover¬†with our barn logo on it) that I rotate through also. ¬†For a half pad I use an Ecogold Flip Half Pad, which I seriously appreciate because it is #flippinggenius. ¬†Murray used to get pretty sassy after the jumps sometimes, especially when I’d land funny, and since I got this pad he’s basically stopped that at home. ¬†Is that definitive evidence? ¬†In no way. ¬†He also got older, more schooled, and lazier in that time. ¬†But I appreciate it’s cushy padding and memory foam for his back. ¬†It’s on the white side in this picture, but obviously my flip side is JEWEL TONED PURPLLEEEE.

Okay, on to saddles. ¬†I have a 17″ BT Crump TomBoy that I found on Tack Trader for super cheap and essentially new last year. ¬†Its still got that (rather heinous, IMO) new-leather feel that not-super-high-quality leather gets. ¬†The seat and billets¬†are breaking in nicely but the flaps are hard going. ¬†I need to ride more in the rain or something. ¬†It’s not a perfect fit for me or Murray, but he’s not a pansy boy and I’m not too fussy, so we’ll stick with it for now. ¬†I’d almost like to wait to upgrade our saddle until we can get a really nice one, which won’t be for several years at least. ¬†This is both because until someone STOPS dumping saddles I am not going to spend a lot of money on a saddle, and also because I am poor.

FAFSA sorry for 'I'm poor' tweet + other social fails

I use HDR leathers that are calfskin (I think) sewn over nylon that I bought back in 2010 and are still going strong. ¬†It helps that I’ve changed my stirrup length a ton in the last five years so no one hole is particularly worn. ¬†I also have regular Fillis irons with Super Comfort Iron Pads that provide extra grip. ¬†And finally a Stubben overlay girth that is quite nice and squishy with double elastic (someone thinks he’s really fat and then has to have the girth tightened mightily in the arena). ¬†Sometimes I also have a Nunn Finer neck strap, but right now I need to punch some extra holes in that baby to make it usable.

IMG_20150624_193400

 

Murray always wears velcro bell boots on the front, because in the beginning I thought that would help him stop pulling shoes (spoiler alert: it doesn’t; rubber breaks more easily than nails) but now I mostly keep on to stop him from grabbing a quarter in turnout. ¬†My only set of jumping boots are Woof Wear brushing boots, which Murray sports for stadium, XC, and conditioning, typically on all four feet but once again: laziness can sometimes get me. ¬†I am lucky that he doesn’t interfere too much.

Okay so that was a shocking amount to write about my jumping outfit. Let’s see what I have to say about dressage.

Dressage Tack aka Purple Rain Outfit

I’ve seen several times on Facebook (and other locations) the meme that’s all “don’t make your gelding wear purple! he’s confused enough as it is!”

IMG_20150626_100854Don’t look at me.

To which I say, “fuck off, horses don’t have the same colour vision as us, and my horse will wear whatever the fuck I want him to.”

Anyway.

I only own two sets of polo wraps (purple and pink plaid), so homie gets to wear my favourite colors. ¬†Murray is also rocking the one bell boot look here because he ripped up the other and I hadn’t yet replaced it. ¬†I have a few dressage pads, but use either this purple one or a white one with purple piping regularly. ¬†My Equine Couture pad folds up funny on him and, as I don’t have any black or red boots or polos, does not make for a matchymatchy outfit. ¬†I also got my dressage saddle on tack trader, it’s a Forestier monoflap. ¬†Forestier is a French brand that isn’t very well known in the US, so I didn’t spend toooo much on it. ¬†I find it quite comfy, it fits Murray and I fairly well, and it has never hit the dirt thank goodness. ¬†I have the same calfskin HDR leathers on here, only in black, and regular Fillis stirrups as well. ¬†Since a certain somebody is sensitive about cold leather touching his precious tummy, when I first got this saddle I also bought a used Smartpak brand (I think) fleecy dressage girth that suits us just fine. ¬†Under my dressage saddle I use my Ecogold Stabilizer Pad, which I got originally for jumping but fits my dressage saddle fine.

 

IMG_20150626_100859I’m so ashamed.

Murray goes in a regular French-link D-ring for dressage, the kind with the flat middle piece. ¬†I originally had him in a Korsteel version with the bead in the middle, but Alana thought it was too big/heavy for his mouth, and he’s been just fine with this one since then. ¬†Our bridle is by Delfina Saddlery, a brand actually owned by a friend that I have some… mixed opinions on. ¬†The reins are lovely and soft and I adore them, but somehow not all the keepers fit the leather pieces. ¬†My browband I won in a raffle on Horse Junkies United, and it’s a magnificent, sparkly Judi browband that I hope to blind judges with so they can’t see our flaws. ¬†I seriously adore the way the rhinestones are set on the Judi browband, but it’s a good thing I won that baby because I would¬†never have been able to afford it for myself.

 

doing it right vs doing it right

I mentioned yesterday that my friend got on Murray at the end of my ride and I was really impressed with how they did together.¬† Murray is one of those horses that lets you know pretty immediately when you‚Äôre on his shit list.¬† Literally the second my trainer, the assistant trainer, or our barn manager‚Äôs daughter set their butt down in the saddle he‚Äôs ready for a fight.¬† He knows that they are going to ask him to work, and apparently takes great offense to that.¬† (This actually results in hilarity for everyone involved, as long as they have a sense of humor, because as mentioned previously, I find it funny when horses are cranky for no reason.)¬† To avoid this when my friends ride him, I always prime them with ‚Äújust give him a long rein and the benefit of the doubt, and be light with your leg aids.‚Ä̬† The primer works really well, and has even allowed some of my friends to get real work out of Murray by sneakily upping the demands as they go along.

bucking
He’s very clear about his feelings

That little aside isn‚Äôt really the point of this post.¬† What I did want to talk about is how quietly and steadily Murray went when my friend (let‚Äôs call her B for ease) rode him.¬† B didn‚Äôt do a whole ton, just walk/trot/canter whole arena, but Murray didn‚Äôt fuss in the bridle too much or make any velociraptor screams or anything during the transitions.¬† B complimented him on being so light in the bridle and easy to steer (probably my favourite thing about him ‚Äď turn your head, he changes direction! Mostly).¬† If I could achieve that level of steadiness for an entire dressage test I would be pretty happy with it.¬† And then I was like, jeeeeez what am I doing wrong that I can‚Äôt get that level of steadiness?

Tracy is right, ain’t nothing like an upcoming horse show to fill you with self-doubt.

I thought about it some more.  I thought about it a lot, actually, while I was watching B ride.  I should have taken some video or something so I could have visual aids to help with this discussion.  And what it made me think about a lot is doing dressage right vs doing dressage right.

It’s a tough dichotomy.

So I‚Äôm probably going to get diverted in this discussion of my horse into some more general discussion of dressage philosophy, and what various trainers/people think is correct vs. incorrect.¬† To this end I‚Äôm not going to use any pictures of people I‚Äôve shot at shows or anyone I know, just myself and famous riders/horses that I‚Äôve seen on the internet.¬† I mean, if they put their pictures on the internet, they‚Äôre out there for all to see, and I feel that critiquing them is fair.¬† I know it‚Äôs a super controversial topic and I‚Äôd love to engage in discussion with you guys!¬† But I also want you to know that I‚Äôm not trying to offend anyone or criticize how you do dressage ‚Äď you have your own trainers and coaches and I‚Äôm not you or them.

fakeframe2Not B riding, but this is kinda how Murray looked. Not quiiite tracking up, a little “forced” into a frame in front

Arching up and out, lifting the base of the neckHe looked a lot like this, actually. Credit to¬†Sustainable Dressage because it’s an amazing dressage resource.

So.¬† Dressage right or dressage… right?¬† As I said above, if Murray went around like he did with B in a dressage test I imagine he would have gotten a pretty reasonable score for the acceptance of the bridle/submission collective marks, as well as avoiding the ever-present-in-my-tests ‚Äúfussy‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúabove bit‚ÄĚ.¬† I‚Äôm struggling to find a photo in my own records of how he was going, it was just not how I tend to like or ask him to go.¬† It was a nice frame, and at the same time an example of why I don‚Äôt really like to use the word ‚Äúframe‚ÄĚ when talking dressage.¬† Because despite it looking nice, and steady, and pretty much ‚Äúon the bit,‚ÄĚ Murray wasn‚Äôt really through or using his back and neck properly.¬† I like to ask Murray to really use his neck and back when we‚Äôre dressaging ‚Äď and sure, I know I don‚Äôt get it all the time, but it‚Äôs what I‚Äôm aiming for ‚Äď because I know these are things he needs to strengthen.¬† And when I can get him really using his neck and back, his whole gait changes for the better, more flowing, supple, and open.

5-21 dressage 8Pic from the same day as above. A much more open, whole-body trot — WAY more how I prefer Murray to go around.

But I also know that at this level having Murray go around a little less through than I typically want isn’t exactly a cardinal sin either.  It’s not like he’s dropping his back and flicking his legs around at GP; this is beginner-novice test and there are lots of acceptable body shapes and frames it can be ridden in.  (I think? This is based on my experience watching lots of different BN tests get similar scores for collective marks and overall scores with, to me, very similarly-ridden tests in terms of geometry and accuracy.)

It makes me wonder.  Maybe I should have plafakeframenned to sacrifice a little through-ness and quality of gaits for some submission and quietness in the bridle?  Would we get a better score if I insisted on less push from behind and accepted a bit less correct use of his neck?  I’m not really in this for the scores but I’m totally kinda in this for the scores (I can’t heelllppp ittttt).  Scores are an impartial third party’s assessment of how well I’m doing in my training, and after all this hard work I’m at least a little invested in what they have to think!  But even more to the point, maybe Murray would be happier if I let up on him a little and asked a bit less of him at shows?  Maybe it would be better for him mentally if I didn’t ask for those really good canter transitions to the right that I know he has in him?  If I didn’t insist that we rode really through and supple and bouncy and properly?  Properly as I’ve been taught, of course.

Illustrating the modern ideal of pushing behind and braking infront An unusually bad illustration of selfcarriage, compared to alternative photo unless you want to prove an erroneous specific pointThis is a weird and interesting line of thought for me.¬† It‚Äôs not like I‚Äôm having to choose between Dressage Right and Dressage Wrong.¬† Nobody is telling me to crank Murray into a frame and ride him front to back (which is incidentally the back-to-front way to do it) and get him to break over at the third vertebra and ride him around with a big hollow behind the saddle.¬† That would be an easy choice.¬† There‚Äôs clearly no benefit to rollkurrrrring him in either the short term or the long term. ¬†But I wonder what it would mean for our overall training if I were to succumb to that strategy — to let him run around a little more upright and falsely collected. ¬†Doesn’t seem to match my overall training plan. ¬†But… points on a test maybe?

(PC to Sustainable Dressage again)

I mean, I’m not changing anything at this point in the game.  I’m committed to this strategy and I’m not a nitwit, I’m not changing things up a week before the show.  And I know what my dressage trainer would tell me to do: ride the way she’s taught me to.  I know what I want to do: ride the way I know is better for Murray in the long run.  But still.  I wonder.

and haunches in, and haunches out

I’m probably being completely irrational because we’re coming upon the show, but I seriously feel like I have lost all ability to ride and Murray has lost all ability to horse and everything next week is going to be an¬†unmitigated disaster. ¬†This is probably not true but… the nerves man. ¬†They are getting to me.

Of course my feelings are the purple feeling.

Tonight I hopped on in my jump tack with the intention to trot a little, condition a little, jump a little, and flat a little. ¬†Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but I somehow don’t think that Murray should have to do a 20 minute trot set and 7 minute canter sets on the same day. ¬†Plus, pony is¬†much more receptive to cantering around in circles lengthening and coming back and lengthening and coming back and lengthening and coming back when I throw a few small jump in here and there. ¬†So that is what we did.

I started out with some dressage in my jump tack. ¬†I didn’t even put my stirrups down from jumping length, just… made do. ¬†Oh and you should all know that a couple of dressage rides are¬†just what the doctor ordered for calf muscles screaming from three hours of drunken wedding dancing. ¬†I’m feeling top notch today. ¬†I asked Murray to shoulder in and haunches in at the walk, and actually made a point of doing it with both bends in both directions. ¬†He’s happy to keep quite a nice, deep neck bending left, but bending right I can really feel his hesitation when he has to step under with that right hind. ¬†He gets better and better the more I ask, but I’m not sure if the solution to this is more shoulder in/haunches in or more stretching. Equine Fitness said that too much repetition can just lead to soreness and guarding, but homie is¬†never going to strengthen that leg if we don’t do reps of SOME kind. ¬†Equine biomechanics gods, GIVE ME AN ANSWER.

5-21 dressage 8Huh… this is going left. Interesting. Good thing¬†I have media to reflect upon!

At the trot I did more lateral work as well as trying to get Murray really straight between my legs. ¬†These things might be counter-productive as exercises together, I’m not sure, but I’d do a bit of shoulder in, a bit of straight, a bit of haunches in, etc. ¬†The straightness and listening were also because we’ve started to drift in and cut corners a lot in the arena, and I am not actually a fan of that.

Murray was more forward and happy to canter than I’ve ever seen him be in a conditioning set, but it was probably greatly helped by the presence of another horse cantering around the arena that made Murray think he was racing. ¬†I actually got a hand-gallop out of him in the arena, which I’ve never done before. ¬†I just worked on keeping my position really solid, with a good two-point or half seat and a straight, flat back (instead of the arched one I seemed to prefer a few weeks ago), and bringing Murray back to me without leaning on my hands. ¬†I realised, when reviewing XC footage from our last outing, that I rely really heavily on my hands on XC and I am pretty much always grabbing mane. ¬†So for one, I have a grab strap to help with that. ¬†And for two… maybe less hands and more seat, Nicole? ¬†We’ll see how that works out for us.

trakLooking fantastic over the trakehner, as always. Perfect spot. Much form. Quiet seat. Sending this one in to George’s column.

At the end of my ride I had a friend get on Murray for fun, as she’s never ridden him. ¬†I was surprised by how good he looked, and how good he¬†was. ¬†In fact, I was very impressed. ¬†It also helped me reflect upon my own riding a bit. ¬†The first thing I tell people when they get on Murray is to be really soft with their hands and let him get used to their presence, and with said friend on his back Murray was suuuuper steady. ¬†If I can get that steadiness at a show I will be¬†thrilled. ¬†So there will definitely be some over-riding questions and evaluation coming in the next few days! ¬†We will see.

the little things

It feels strange to write about the little problems and triumphs in my life when someone I know, respect, and care for is suffering so deeply. ¬†Another thing that I can’t help but strike me as strange is that I’ve never met this person face to face, yet her mere internet presence has clearly made an impression upon my life.

My life continues here in California, though. ¬†I taught my first two sessions of the Summer today (I have a 100% teaching appointment which will hopefully get me through the paycheck drought of September/October) and while my sections are being purposefully overenrolled to allow more students into the class, I think we’ll have a good time. ¬†Both classes were engaging and fun and that is¬†much¬†preferable to the sleep-deprived zombies I seemed to be teaching last quarter.

IMG_20150617_112358Saw this in Oregon. Made me lawl.

Importantly, I have a couple of opinion questions for you all. ¬†Temps at the¬†show next weekend promise to hit¬†105 on dressage day (guessing XC will definitely be split) and I suspect this will get our coats waived. ¬†Agree? ¬†This makes me super sad that I won’t get to wear my new Horze soft shell with¬†subtle bling but also means I won’t have to roast my boobies off. ¬†Also, it means Murray will probably behave (I am not above using the weather to my advantage). ¬†However, it means I have to go find a nude or white sports bra — nude is preferable, right? — and make some stock tie adjustments. ¬†Any suggestions from my fellow show-folks on the best way to tie your stock when it runs the risk of slapping you in the face? ¬†Also, will a dime-sized¬†purple unicorn stock pin be out of line?

IMG_20150623_073613Stone cold killer right here.

My ride tonight promised an interesting test next week. ¬†Murray has been having Resistance Face going left the last few weeks so our circles are kinda, uh, squares. ¬†And today he decided to Just Say No to canter departs. ¬†So our beautifully cultivated canter departs — that we got a 7 and 8 on last year at Intro — are now giant piles of crap that shame me. ¬†I know this is at least partially my fault. ¬†In my ride today I specifically wanted to re-crisp up those puppies but when I put my leg on Murray was like “nah” and so I asked with a slightly increasing aid two more times and then went WOMP and he was like “well fuck this shit then!” and poof! No more pretty canter departs.

But for real, what am I supposed to do in that situation? ¬†Let him decide when and where we canter depart? ¬†Alana always advises me to lighten up my aids when he gets fussy and resistant, but this wasn’t even fussy resistance. ¬†He was straight up ignoring me.

LE SIGH. PONIEZ.

We got back to almost-acceptable during our ride, but it took a while. ¬†I had to be like “no remember this, you like these!” and made a HUUUUUGE fuss over Murray¬†when he did a semi-reasonable one which seemed to appease his tortured soul. ¬†Also, my dressage girth when missing which threw me into an absolute apoplexy of rage. ¬†Do people not know my horse is GIRTH CHALLENGED?!?! ¬†And so am I. ¬†I had to borrow a leather girth and it was on so loosely I had to get off to hike it up a bunch of holes. ¬†It was embarrassing. ¬†BUT FOR REAL BRING BACK MY GIRTH. ¬†It’s literally the smallest girth at our barn that’s still in use — no joke — so I GUARANTEE nobody wants it. GIVE IT BACKKKKKKK GREMLINS.

IMG_20150623_182927

Fortunately, my garden has started to yield quite magnificently. ¬†I’ve been snacking on Sun Gold cherry tomatoes off one bush for the last two days, and another is showing the first blush of promise. ¬†Eggplants are starting to come out, but really seem to be getting absolutely scrooged by some kind of aphid pest that is eating the crap out of their leaves. ¬†Kale and basil are taking off and I’ll start some more basil here so I have a continuous crop. ¬†Cucumbers going nuts. ¬†Squash are — as squash will do — spreading out. ¬†There is a heinous watermelon pest eating my vines though — and not even eating the whole vines, just cutting them in the middle — so I let Ellie go all scorched earth on some fossorial mammal tunnels we found today in the hopes that would deter them.

IMG_20150623_180654 IMG_20150623_180658

Only six more rides til show time.

Gulp.

taming the tiny Napoleon

I’m not sure if I should blame it on my Asian upbringing or my big brothers or what, but I am, deep inside, a fiercely competitive person. ¬†Throughout my swimming “career” I loved racking up the ribbons, and even more appreciated moving up time divisions (that was a cleverly devised scheme to get people competing in more appropriate speed brackets as well as encouraging progress). ¬†Once, at a fifth grade swim carnival (that’s what swim meets are¬†called in Australia, swimming “carnivals”, it’s so much more festive)¬†I came up from behind in a race to shockingly beat the older, bigger girls in my group, and that night my mother heard me sleep talking to myself repeating over and over, “yeah, I won.”

So it’s been interesting to see how my naturally competitive nature meshes with riding, where not only am I an amateur even among amateurs, but a creature with its own mind and set of opinions comes into play. ¬†Luckily for me, I have happily embraced the collaborative and cooperative aspects of riding — helping one another out, good sportsmanship, etc. — as well as the mentality that the only person I’m competing against is¬†myself. ¬†I truly believe that, too. ¬†Every show I go to I aim to do better than I did last time; to have cleaner, more balanced turns or crisper, quieter transitions. ¬†To not get eliminated for horse abuse.

There’s just this one tiny problem with that.

Camelot Horse Trials -- but mostly tribulations!
SATIN MONSTERRRRRRRRRRR

I’ve been rewarded a few too many times — emotionally and literally — for doing better than the people around me for placings to¬†truly¬†mean nothing to me.

Additionally, and even more importantly, the kid and I have been working¬†hard on our dressage. ¬†And through a lifetime of doing it off and on, I’ve kinda learned that hard work pays. ¬†It pays in cleaner, more balanced turns and it pays off in crisper, quieter transitions. ¬†But it also pays off in better rides, better scores, higher placings, and the emotional cache¬†happiness that comes with knowing you finished on your dressage score at your first rated show succeeding in knocking several goals off the list at once and proving to the haterz that Murray is a badass. (He has no haters, I’m his only hater.)

I deeply respect the slow work lifestyle. ¬†I respect it in¬†SB (recent BAMF at a dressage show near you), Jenn (working hard to be the best partner possible for her horse), and Lauren (kicking ass and taking names in the 2’9″) among many others. ¬†I respect it in the friends I have in the real world and in myself. ¬†But accepting and embracing slow progress does not mean I do not have expectations. ¬†And it does not mean those expectations don’t get a little, uh, out of hand sometimes.

You see, like another tiny person much more famous than I, I seem to have these rather grandiose hopes.

LOL new fave pic of this guy.

You know, I hope that we can look a little bit more like this.

5-21 dressage 3

 

Aaaand less like this.

5-21 dressage 9

 

More this.

5-21 dressage 8

 

Less this.

DSCF9901

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I basically hope that we can perform at least 75% as well as we typically do at home.  And honestly, is that really too much to ask?

I think not. But I let my expectations run away with me. ¬†One¬†advantage of photographing shows it that I get to watch a lot of dressage tests, and thanks to things like StartBox Scoring I know what¬†low scoring tests¬†look like. ¬†I know that if we could ride in a test like we ride at home (on a good day) we could¬†easily blow our current scores out of the water, as well as much of the competition I’ve seen at our level. ¬†Yes, I’m bragging, because I am absurdly proud of the work we have done. ¬†When he wants to, Murray¬†can dressage like a mofo. ¬†At home, my horse can be an absolute dressage¬†beast.

Unfortunately, he can be an absolute actual beast as well. ¬†The kind that doesn’t like it when you try to touch the rose in his secret attic and gets all hulked out when the villagers come to burn down his mansion that’s probably super flammable due to all the wood lacquer. ¬†The kind that says “bitch can’t tell me what to do” in the second half of the left canter circle, bucks and switches to the right lead, then gets super upset and confused that¬†someone made him switch to the right lead and is now forcing him to counter canter and discombobulatedly falls into a trot only to scream in horror when asked to finish his left canter circle. ¬†The kind that convinces dressage judges he’s mightily abused and that someone ought to be more sympathetic with her aids.

ee721-download_20140428_192928
I was sympathetic the first five times I asked.

This dichotomy means that I have to be pretty careful in managing my expectations. ¬†Sure, we could perform just as well as we do at home. ¬†And that would be¬†amazing!!! ¬†But more likely, we will put in a conservative, workman-like test that is nothing spectacular but doesn’t result in elimination. ¬†Shit, who am I kidding. ¬†A workman-like test where we can maintain some semblance of steadiness without any tantrums in it would be a¬†spectacular showing for us. ¬†Much more likely we will put in a strategically under-ridden, mediocre test where Murray insists on noodling his way up all the long sides. ¬†Quite possibly we will perform a test where Murray’s Beast Mode emerges and I could very well get eliminated in the first phase, or be happy about my fave score — the one that reads the same whether you do eventing dressage or dressage dressage — again.

Some of these options do not live up to my short-man syndrome expectations.  And for three out of four of these options I will cry over my test, either due to extreme happiness or the let down of not being able to perform as well as I know we can.

IMG_1632At least after the competitive pony prancing we get to do this!!!!

It’s extremely helpful to remember that this is just a step in the careful, long-term plan I have for this pony (thanks RBF for this reminder!). ¬†On my budget, I can’t¬†quite afford to get him oot and aboot enough to really make showing feel like schooling at home, so I must play the hand that is dealt when I get to the show grounds. ¬†Regardless of whether¬†Murray shows up willing or unwilling to play the game, the show must go on. ¬†It will be a learning experience for both of us: I will learn how far I can push Murray, and Murray will learn, once more, that pushing my buttons in the dressage court means he gets away with anything he can throw at me¬†we are doing this, regardless of what he throws down. ¬†Unless the thing he throws down is literally his body, in which case we may be fucked.

And it’s just a show, right? ¬†There will be many more in our future, and every time we have a chance to fix what we didn’t do right last time. ¬†Maybe one day we won’t change leads or kick out at some point in the left canter circle. ¬†One day soon we’ll get through the walk-trot transition without some kind of passive-aggressive bulging abdominal muscles and snake-eyed avoidance. ¬†In my dreams I ride a horse that piaffes on command not because he is spooking at a piece of grass.

But I can’t help but hope.


I mean, I’ll essentially be dressed like this anyway….

So I will continue to prepare for my¬†great expectations. ¬†There’s literally no point in preparing for a bad test, except mentally. ¬†I will warm up as I have planned to and hope to get Murray to the sweet spot of settled but not overworked and pissed. ¬†I will trot down the centerline with a smile on my face, leave all my expectations at A, and ride like I have nothing to lose. ¬†Because I don’t.

 

weekend (and then some) recap

I did an absolutely terrible job of prepping last week for my planned absence. ¬†I knew I was going to a conference from Tuesday through Friday and just… ran out of time to write blogs in my epic lack of preparation. ¬†So what I did do was go to a primate people conference in Bend, Oregon which was an amazing choice because it’s delicious and full of good beer and beautiful.

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Our road trip there was made a teeeennnsy weensy bit (approximately 20%) longer due to Google Maps/navigator error (depending on if you ask the navigator) and I ended up driving through some absolutely beautiful alpine meadows and high Sierra and national forests and it was gorgeous.

IMG_20150619_173741-2It must be so unpleasant to live near Mt Shasta….

Bend itself was also gorgeous — green and lush and riverine and full of promising beer menus. ¬†I got to hang out with my friends from grad school who have since departed, and attend a bunch of talks related to my research interests. ¬†I’m super pumped to work on my thesis again now! ¬†Hanging out around scientists and going to talks always gets me stoked on science again. ¬†So that is awesome.

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I left the conference early to head to one of my best friends’ weddings in Monterey which was amazing and beautiful in and of itself. ¬†This is one of my first friends to get married and it’s so awesome to see your friends so happy. ¬†And seriously, the bride was gorgeous. ¬†And the groom was super handsome. ¬†The ceremony was perfect — light and cheerful and full of love. ¬†And the party. ¬†Oh my god. ¬†I danced so much my calves are killing me today. ¬†I’ve never had sore calves from riding but yet jumping up and down for hours on end will, apparently, make them sore.

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I’m a little freaked out that Murray had such a big vacation right before the show, but he did get a couple of rides from friends. ¬†This week is my last week to do any prep, so that will be, uh… interesting. ¬†Well, what I really hope is that it’s not interesting and just goes really smoothly.

xc schooling at camelot

It has been getting hot¬†fast here in the central valley. ¬†Temps this week were up in the hundreds (although we had one super weird summer storm Tuesday/Wednesday) and my weather app said something absurd like “Actual Temperature: 93. Feels like: 98” which I super do not understand. ¬†But it was correct. ¬†That meant, of course, that in order to beat the heat we left to school Camelot at 5:15.

No time like the present, right?

Anyway, we of course left a little late (horse people problems) but still got to Camelot in good time.  I was fortunately riding in the first group and tacked up Murray supah fast (new ground manners work is going excellently!) and we were all on and ready to go in about fifteen minutes.

IMG_0690Murray is extremely excited for the day. ¬†However, I’m fairly pleased at his shininess because I barely groomed him before tacking up.

Murray marched right towards the cross country course as soon as I got on him, which I thought was pretty funny because a) he totally remembers Camelot and why we even go there and b) he walked into a blocked off section between the concessions trailer and a giant wood pile because he¬†thought he knew the way. ¬†Silly pony. ¬†He was super fab when we got out there — quiet for warming up (no theatrics), into the water, cantering around, all of it. ¬†Very good.

I’m a bit more of an aggressive XC schooler than some of my friends, which really means that I just really don’t appreciate sitting around. ¬†I like a good walk break as much as the next girl, but I don’t think there’s any reason to be sitting around in our horses shooting the shit when we could be JUMPING ALL THE THINGS. ¬†I know who I inherited this from (Mr. Impatience himself!) but I also feel that it’s fairly functional — don’t use up your horse any more than you need to be sitting around shooting the shit. ¬†So I was a bit frustrated because it was a little windy so people were having a hard time hearing Alana about which fences to go to, and there was some confusion on course about which fences we should be schooling and what direction some of the symmetrical ones rode. ¬†No matter. ¬†We jumped all the shit anyway.

IMG_0707Novice warm up log

I also managed to achieve all of my goals for this XC school too.  I hit up every possible scary BN element on course, as well as several novice elements, and it was very confidence-building.

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Murray looked hard at the guillotine above — it was a training & prelim fence with lots of scary decorations sandwiched between the BN and Novice benches — but he just skittered sideways and I managed to get his attention back on me in time to re-direct him to the bench and ride it at an angle. ¬†I don’t think that move would, technically, count as a refusal, as we never pointed away from the fence and I was pleased that Murray was willing to take on the bench (that I think he’s never jumped?) from essentially a standstill just a few strides away.

Murray is¬†so game out on XC it’s almost ridiculous. ¬†In fact, it does get him into a bit of trouble on occasion. ¬†He’s barreling down at a fence — with a completely huge, open stride that I never ever see in stadium — and will listen to my half halts to balance up a little when he realises there’s a fence coming. ¬†But he’s still strong and forward until, on occasion, he realises the fence has a huge shadow or is neon blue or something, and then I really feel him suck back. ¬†When I’m riding in a more forward, open-hipped XC stance this can get in me in trouble as the combination of momentum change and hesitation often leads me to jumping ahead. ¬†So I really tried to work on keeping my weight back and up, and doing what Denny Emerson describes as the “light sitting canter” before the fence to get my heels down and keep my leg on Murray. ¬†I found that really worked well to keep him bold to some fences where he might otherwise have been a little looky.

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However, I also need to commit to a distance and ride it, because letting Murray choose to add or takeoff early is not always the solution.

We jumped our first trakehner — first for each of us!! — and it was as awesome as I hoped. ¬†I’ve been waiting to jump trakehners for like four years. ¬†I’ve always thought they looked awesome.

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After a few perfect runs at the BN trakehner we moved up to the Novice one, which evidently presented us with a little more difficulty.

IMG_0813Murray wanted to add, I said no but stayed in a defensive seat, and fortunately he didn’t add. ¬†But then he did deer-leap. ¬†No matter. ¬†I’m not sure anyone was harmed by the experience.

Our last three fences were a galloping line of three that went up and over a hill. ¬†We couldn’t see the fences on the other side, but Alana assured us that there were options for everyone (BN for me, Novice for three others, Training/Prelim for one) and so we jumped them without looking. ¬†After the first horse galloped off I pushed Murray forward and over a little bit so our line to the first fence would be a bit more reasonable. ¬†Evidently, Murray thought he’d been¬†completely and utterly abandoned on cross country and started pitching a fit. ¬†In all his leaping and kicking around he managed to unseat me over his shoulder, and I thought, well, I could save this, buuuut that will be hard so I just popped off and landed on my feet holding the reins. ¬†This¬†also upset Mr. Horse and he was like “what? NO NO NO NO NO” and started to back away from me as I stood there and tried to soothingly (will admit it probably was more like exasperated yelling) say “Murray, I’m not hurting you. Murray, I’m not doing anything to you.”¬† Eventually he realised nothing was actually attacking him, I wasn’t going to hit him, and settled down. ¬†I patted him and walked him over to a training corner to get back on, which he was quite polite for, and we headed back towards our “starting” point for the last few fences. ¬†Alas, there is no media of this as everyone on foot was headed over to the other side of the hill to see the ending line.

Sweneyway. ¬†I jumped a little roll top with some brush on it — which is actually where I would have incurred a jump penalty earlier as Murray was like “WTF BRUSH NOOO WAYYYYYY” and I had to let him investigate it before he would jump it (but then he was very game). ¬†We then galloped down the hill to a cutout-table that we have jumped many times before, and then over to a very friendly BN house by what I can only assume is the finish line.

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I’m not going to lie: the fact that Murray handily clears the BN fences with plenty of room to spare is extremely comforting to me. ¬†He really doesn’t feel like he’s expending much effort on these fences, so hopefully moving up in the future will not be an epic challenge. ¬†At home though, some days it feels like he’s got springs in his feet and some days he’s like “meh, minimum effort” so I can never tell. ¬†Photographic evidence is good that way.

We finished off the ride by going to investigate some of the KRAZY stadium standards that Camelot has built. ¬†In addition to a castle with dragons on it they have a shark, a pool table (complete with a panel with all kinds of pool balls on it), and these MAJIKAL SPARKLY UNICORN STANDARDS. ¬†Obviously I had to take a picture with them. ¬†I stupidly didn’t think to open my vest and reveal that I was wearing a unicorn tee at the time. ¬†Ah well — in the future.

 

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Ah yes, and this is the head of the aforementioned dragon wall. ¬†Her wings aren’t quite as scary as I had thought, and her name is Camille. ¬†Which is really not that comforting at all.

 

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the really weird reasons I love horses

There are lots of reasons I love horses. ¬†I imagine there are lots of reasons anyone reading this blog loves horses! ¬†But I will be the first to admit to you there are some¬†slightly odd reasons I love horses. ¬†Perhaps even “really odd” or straight up “weird”… I’ll let you decide.

wpid-wp-1424051689499.jpegWeird like my pony’s face.

I think sweaty horse smells good

Yep, I said it. ¬†I think that horses after a workout smell pretty damn good. ¬†Gray horses excepted — sorry gray lovers. ¬†There’s just something about gray horses that smells a little funny, more like wet dog than horse. ¬†Maybe it’s from a childhood of riding mostly during summer camp instead of during the year. ¬†I don’t know why. ¬†I just love it. ¬†And I don’t mean “it’s a hundred degrees out and I stepped out of my stall sweating bullets” sweat, I mean “I just did an awesome conditioning set in the fields and raced the barn manager’s daughter and her thoroughbred and it was AMAZING” sweat. ¬†It smells like hard work, honesty, and love.

“Grooming”

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I am an inveterate picker, it’s one of the traits I share most¬†with chimps. (You should see a chimp go crazy on a pimple sometime!)¬†If I have a scab, I worry it until it’s all peeled off. ¬†If Ellie has a patch of funny hair, I pull it out. ¬†Horses — especially Murray — are a veritable cornucopia of shit you can pick off them and feel like you’re “helping” them while you do so. ¬†Murray is constantly covered in scabs that I can peel off, little burrs or fox tails buried in his mane and tail,¬†ergots that can be trimmed down. ¬†There’s¬†all kinds of currying, manes need pulling, tails need banging, and there’s always CHESTNUTS. ¬†Chestnuts, you beautiful, groomer’s daydream. ¬†Always peely, and they look better flat anyway, and it doesn’t hurt anything! ¬†Then there’s¬†abscesses. ¬†Do not pretend you aren’t a little morbidly fascinated with abscesses. ¬†The internet is in love with them. ¬†I have seem just the foulest and yet most fascinating stuff come out of some horses’ skin. ¬†And it is awesome. ¬†And you get the clean them every day when they have them!!!

I like being held to a higher standard

Maybe this isn’t just a riding thing, but I like when my trainer tells me I can do better. ¬†I¬†love being told that I’m doing well, and I love it even more when I’m told that I can improve. ¬†It’s not just that I¬†should do better, or should ride better, or should be better, but that I¬†can¬†do it. ¬†That someone, other than myself, holds me to a high standard is pretty awesome.

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I love being covered in dust and sweat at the end of a hot day

There are definitely Summer days when I will spend the entire day at the barn (and Fall days, and Winter days, and Spring days… it’s not necessarily limited to Summer!). ¬†I’ll ride my pony, ride other peoples’ ponies, clean tack, move jumps, turn horses in and out, and lately, garden. ¬†And after all that I come home at the end of the day covered in dust and sweat and salt and horse and, let’s be real, probably some poop and I love it. ¬†It feels like an honest day’s work — though I didn’t do anything income-producing at all. ¬†It’s a really good kind of tired feeling. ¬†And then showering feels AMAZING when you finally get to it. ¬†It’s only slightly disconcerting to see the water run down the drain all brown and dirty.

Horse Breath

Okay, so possibly not such a weird one here, but if you think about it, liking the smell of another animal’s semi-digested food and unbrushed teeth is at least a¬†little weird. ¬†You know when your horse breathes on you and you’re just like ahhhhhhhhh pony smell? ¬†Yeah, love that. ¬†Even better after a mouthful of grass!!

Grain Car

I will often pick up my grain while out running an errand and might not make it to the barn for a day or two.  In the central valley, that means that it heats up a little and my whole car smells like delicious, delicious grain.  Sometimes the rolled barley smells a little vinegary but no matter.  Stable mix smells absurdly delicious.  I would probably eat it with a spoon if I were hungry enough.

I like it when Murray looks sad/defeated

2014-07-10 12.17.26

 

We’ve been having a lot of¬†discussions lately, Mr. Murray and I, and I’ve been winning them. (YESSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!) ¬†And after I’ve put a solid kibosh on one of Murray’s absurd demands that he get to run all over the barn aisle while I’m tacking up and instead insisted that he stands quietly without moving, he always looks a little miserable. ¬†It’s a very “I have the¬†worst life ever” kind of look. ¬†And if I have any humor left over from the fight, I have to say, I think it is¬†hilarious. ¬†I don’t think I’m a mean person, or a mean-spirited person, but I think Miserable Murray looks hilarious.

Along the same lines, I love it when a really naughty pony is having their butt kicked by someone who totally has their number. ¬†The look on their faces when they realise they can’t get away with¬†anything is priceless. ¬†PRICELESS.

how do you show prep?

If it seems like Camelot Equestrian Park Horse Trials are the only think I can talk, write, think, or dream about at the moment, it’s because they are. ¬†Seriously. ¬†Coming up on my first rated horse trials has my brain whirring and I am all about it. ¬†I’m super, super, super, super, super, super excited. ¬†It doesn’t help that my brain is in¬†total summer mode which means I’m thinking about all poniez all the timezzzzzzz and that’s really all I want to do all day errey day.

As I’ve spoken about a bit before, I do have a plan for show prep. ¬†And to be honest, I feel a little bit silly that I’ve gone into “show prep” mode and that it’s so different from my every-day riding. ¬†But it¬†is different. ¬†I don’t ride every day to do dressage tests — lots of the exercises I do in my every day are for strengthening and suppling and not really for perfect circles and crisp corners. ¬†Maybe I should be riding perfect circles and crisp corners all the time? ¬†I dunno. ¬†But the things I like to do every day in my dressage rides (a little more counter canter each week, working on the haunches in, etc.) are not the things that need to be polished for a good dressage test. ¬†Likewise with jumping — no placement poles in the stadium arena! ¬†Those things are super useful, but they are not going to be present in competition.


These don’t show up at BN. They just don’t.

So here it is.  My show prep.  And I want to know what YOU guys do for show prep so I can see if I should do those things too!

Dressage Prep

Dressage requires by far the most prep for me. ¬†This year, I’ve been prepping by riding a lot of tests on Murray, and reminding him (and myself) that just because we’re inside the white plastic thingies does not mean that either of us can get away with slacking. ¬†I want transitions when I ask for them, and that means requiring that I prepare for them well in advance and let Murray know they are coming. ¬†It also means that he must listen to me when I ask for those well-prepared-for transitions. ¬†(They are our biggest struggle — for real.)

I also do a full dress rehearsal. ¬†Yeah. ¬†Like in theatre. ¬†I get up in the morning (or the afternoon or whatever — I try to approximate my ride time) and I groom and braid Murray like I would at a show, and tack up. ¬†I also time myself, so I will know how much time I need. ¬†Then I change into my show shirt and coat (I always groom in my breeches with coverup pants on. ¬†More on that later. ¬†If I’m even a little sweaty I really struggle to get into pants.), ¬†warm up, and do a test ride. ¬†I’ll sometimes do a second test ride if I feel like we both need it.

The dress rehearsal is important to me because it let’s me ballpark how long I will need to get braided and ready. ¬†I really can’t trust Murray not to rub out a braid, and I’d rather occupy him with treats or hand-grazing after he’s braided than put him back in his stall. ¬†I guess I could get a sleazy on him but… nah. ¬†It’s also important for me to feel how I move in my dressage breeches and coat and how that influences my riding.

2014-07-10 12.17.26Why did she do this to me?!

Stadium

I think preparing for stadium is the least different from my regular rides than any other phase. ¬†In stadium away from home I want Murray the same as I want him at home — brave and forward. ¬†I am a little more nitpicky about my position and the way Murray responds to me. ¬†I demand balance in the corners and¬†listening. ¬†But for the most part, I do those things on any day. ¬†The real prep for me is that I like to have one, bigger-than-I’m-going-to-show jump lesson¬†about a week out from the show. ¬†I warm up like I would at a show — jump an X, a vertical, and an oxer a little below or at height — and then do a course cold. ¬†I used to have this weird issue where I would ride in warm up and then stop riding on course, and obviously that led to issues. ¬†So I practice like I would at a show to get myself in the right mindset. ¬†In the fall I coursed 3′-3’3″ for the first time right before a show and it put me in SUCH a confident place. ¬†In the next week and a half or so I’ll probably try to do that again in a lesson (building up to it): warm up like at a show, jump a 2’7-3′ course cold, then move the fences up if we’re feeling good.

crop1I hope we’ve got this.

Cross Country

I will admit to being a little nervous about cross country this time. ¬†When Murray and I were showing at intro, it didn’t matter if we approached something badly because I knew I could get him turned back towards it and step over it if we needed to. ¬†Camelot is known for having gnarly courses, and it has been no different in the past. ¬†And in prep for their rated event, they’ve been turning all their fences into magnificent works of art.

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This joyous moment came about because of that stone wall in the background. ¬†I didn’t realise it at the time, but Murray was terrified of it. ¬†And this was our first time to Camelot, so we didn’t school it, so he never got a good look at it. ¬†And as I’ve since discovered, when my pony is scared he goes to his happy place. ¬†And his happy place is rolling in the dirt.

That wall in the background? ¬†Camelot calls it “the dragon wall” for a good reason. ¬†Now it’s bright green and covered in sparkly scales. ¬†It has a head. ¬†IT HAS GIANT ASS WELDED WINGS.

We are completely possibly a little fucked.  I really hope their footing is soft because I cannot afford a new saddle right now.

Anyway, so I’m not sure how I’m going to prep this. ¬†We’re schooling Camelot this weekend, the last weekend before they close the course, and will hopefully get a good read of what beginner novice fences are out there. ¬†We have schooled almost all the BN fences and a handful of the novice fences, so I know that physically, we can do it. ¬†Whether or not I ride like we can do it… well, that’s another story.

My goal is to not come off.

IMG_1627Is glitter goo too gaudy for events? I really wanna glitter him. ¬†And this fence is almost guaranteed to be on our course and it is¬†way bigger in person. Part of it is hidden by the rise in the ground here. ¬†It’s a completely maxed out fence and a few years ago (at my first event) it was at the bottom of a hill and it was terrifying.

Packing

Okay, finally something I can COMPLETELY control!

I like to pack early and pack often pack once.

I start by making checklists.  I find the act of checking things off extremely gratifying.  I list out every possible thing Murray and I could need for the show.  And then about a week out, I start packing them.

I start with silly little things — making sure all our show pads are clean, washed, and put in a plastic tub of some kind. ¬†I like to pack in tubs instead of bags because I feel like they stack neatly in trailers and trucks. ¬†Nobody else seems to do this though, so my stackable desires are mostly left un-met. ¬†I pack grain, I pack extra electrolytes and barley, and I pack extra magnesium. ¬†You can never pack too much magnesium. ¬†I get my garment bag packed early too, and put my optimum time watch, arm band, extra hair nets, etc. in there. ¬†All my show clothes for the weekend — and spares — are in one place. ¬†I pack all my braiding supplies in — you got it — a tiny tub. ¬†I put my first aid supplies in a tiny tub.

I pack snacks.  I pack a lot of snacks.  I fear being hungry and cranky and in a place where the only food available is a hot dog or hamburger or chips and a grease bomb in my stomach is liable to make my poo my pants on my saddle because of nerves.  Yeah.  I said it.  But admit it.  Nobody wants to shit on their saddle.  I clean my tack early and pack extra things that might break.  Mostly reins.  I pack a lot of reins and halters.

And then I make lists of what’s in the tubs and tape them to the outside and fret about whether I put enough stuff in my tubs. ¬†Everything in the tubs is in smaller tubs. ¬†It’s tubception.

2013-05-19When it doubt, make your dog pack too.

So, how do you prep for a show?  What do you pack?  What is your routine?  How do you get comfortable for the questions you will be asked?  Share your secrets with me!!

a beautiful day

Saturday was a beautiful, thoroughbred-y day.

I started the morning riding one of Alana’s new prospects, who I shall refer to as the Gray Baby. ¬†(We just can’t decide on a name for him, and he’a resale project, so really, why waste a good name on him?!) ¬†He’s been off the track a few months and I’m not sure if he ever raced or not. ¬†He’s shockingly well balanced with great brakes and steering. ¬†He’s a bit timid on the ground but super under saddle. ¬†Such a fun baby to ride.

IMG_20150607_124837Gray babies look adorable in pink and purple.

After my ride, I went with my roomie J and Alana to get a couple of new horses off the track. ¬†We went to a trainer-friend’s barn and toured around and patted her winners and the losers and even coaxed the goat out of her stall for some cuddles too. ¬†I met my future project horse — a big gray stallion who is horny as all get up (even though he’s never bred anything but his hay bag) but who works fast. ¬†Anyway, the horse we picked up, Auggie, is a 17.2 hand 2 and 1/2 year old who had brain surgery recently — by which I mean, he was castrated. ¬†He took a bit of a tough look at the trailer but got on for his trainer and settled in for the ride.

IMG_20150606_175948Auggie after settling in at Alana’s — his pen got a little mod to help him rehab a minor injury.

Next we picked up a mare from a breeding farm. ¬†Scarlet hated the track, and went off all feed, so she was quickly retired and we’re hoping to place her as a sport horse soon. ¬†She’s petite and adorable and I, like a twit, didn’t get pictures.

On our way back from the breeding farm we stopped in at Tractor Supply to get a couple of new big water tubs and some shavings for Auggie to sleep in on his tender nuts.  We were there during the Belmont, so J quickly pulled HRTV up on her phone (thank you HRTV!!!) and we watched the Belmont in Tractor Supply.  The three of us were crowded around the little phone screen watching American Pharoah win by miles with two ottbs in the trailer.  It was insane.

I cried.

I don’t know that I could accurately describe all my feelings watching the Belmont, but AP was impressive. ¬†And it was amazing to watch history in the making — for a title¬†I have read so much fact and fiction about. ¬†I know there are so many mixed feelings and fucked up things that happen in racing. ¬†I know there are bad trainers and bad breeders and people who don’t care about the horses. ¬†But I spent my day in the company of people and a trainer who really, really, really care about the horses.

So that was pretty sweet.

IMG_20150606_100040Gray Baby