I wish I’d started blogging consistently earlier in my time with Murray. I started riding him in October of 2013, came up with the idea of blogging about him because he was hilarious in March 2014, didn’t start blogging until June 2014, and didn’t start blogging regularly until November 2014. So much happened in those intervening months and I wish I had a consistent written record of them so I could return to those posts and remind current-Nicole that past-Nicole and past-Murray got through those moments and became the awesome horse he uh… is/was/could be.
Because right now, baby noddle* is making a hard comeback.
* Sarah made this error in a comment last week and I honestly type “noddle” instead of “noodle” all the time so I’m running with it.
I impromptu-joined a lesson on Wednesday night with our assistant trainer and some friends, thinking that a nice, low-key, stress-free, supervised ride would be a great way to leap back into jumping (pun intended). The jumps would be small, it would be in our arena at home, Murray would be built up to his former levels of amazing confidence and all would be great!
So of course I fell off within three fences.
It was the exact same thing that got us at Camelot, but this time a little more extreme and associated with some new-ish fence filler (a little mini picket-fence that was recently repainted). Going from our warm-up X to the X with the mini-picket Murray said NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHRHRHEKJSF and slammed on the front brakes. Much like when you’re screaming downhill on your road bike and slam on the front brakes, I went flying over Murray’s shoulder with pretty much no other choice. Like the ninja I am, I landed on my feet (I recall a distinct moment where the only part of my body I could feel on contact with my horse/tack was my right toe in the stirrup) and resisted the urge to beat Murray. Instead I said to him firmly “You don’t do that to me.” and we marched over to the mounting block.
I approached the picket fence much more defensively the second time. For my first ride I’d been trying to approximate that defensive-half seat that I used to ride in all the time, but up off his back. For the second ride I sat down and drove him to the fence, and gave Murray a prompt smack behind when he hesitated, closed my legs, and kept him moving forward. It was ugly but we got over it, and did it a few more times with no further incident.
I rode defensively for the rest of the lesson, keeping my weight back and my leg on, and giving Murray a smack with the whip behind if I needed. Unfortunately, coming around to the picket fence the opposite direction that strategy backfired on me: Murray stopped at the base, and while he could easily have hopped it from a standstill, when I smacked him he fruck out and ran backwards in a circle. After another incident of backwards-running, AT advised me to smack less and just trap him between my legs more.
Approaching new, scary filler
We had one or two more stops but also got over some of the fences that Murray initially wanted to stop at initially, so I count that as a win. We also jumped our new jump filler (which I painted!!!), purple glitter cows! I will get a picture. Sadly, much of the glitter is gone, but for one day’s work, I’m fairly proud. And we jumped that without any kind of refusal. Hooray.
Reflecting on AT’s comments during the lesson, I realised that the way Murray had been behaving was exactly how he used to approach jumps when he was a baby. You know, baby Murray of, oh, 2014 and 2013? Sometime over last Winter my dramatic little noddle turned into this super reliable, forward, trustworthy jumper and I thought the DLN phase was gone forever. Apparently not.
With my initial plan of “re-confidence Murray in one lesson on Wednesday night!!” I was hoping that I could use my Friday lesson with Alana to start working on some of our dressage goals. ALAS THAT WAS NOT TO BE.
Its okay, we’ll get back to the sandbox eventually.
Friday I started my lesson with Alana ready to chat about and re-tackle the situation. Of course Alana and AT had talked, so Alana suggested we just go ahead and jump some things and we let Murray show her how he was really feeling. I popped Murray over a warmup vertical and headed for the picket fence, but thanks to my defensive riding (I was not about to come off at this fence again) it was ugly but we went. Alana had us jump that line one more time, then suggested we put together a small course.
It was all the same fences as Wednesday, but we jumped them in a different order and some different directions. Alana spookied-up a few things, and I kept my legs on and my eyes up and rode forward. After that round, wherein we got over everything, Alana was like “Well, it’s not that bad. It’s a herky-jerky ride, but you’re getting there.” and I was like “yeah, it helped me A LOT when I realised that this isn’t some kind of all-new level of assholery that nobody has ever experienced before**. It’s just your average, every-day, run-of-the-mill, slightly-more-dramatic-than-average baby horse antics.
Murray when I ask him to jump something new
I love this movie.
** Okay guys, I know you all told me this. I know you said that it sounds like it’s just baby stuff and it’s not uncommon for a green horse and I know. But I have this thing where I don’t believe anything anyone tells me until I get some kind of secondary confirmation. Ask my boyfriend. He hates it.
Now that I am confident that Murray can get over it — because he already did once, there’s nothing stopping us from doing it again! — I am feeling much more relaxed about my baby noddle. I know what I need to do, though it is unpleasant: treat Murray like he is completely untrustworthy and manage him thoroughly to every fence. I totally preferred when I could trust Murray to trust me that whatever I pointed him at was not terrifying and was totally jumpable. However, something got messed up along the way and he doesn’t trust me any more, so now we get to build trust again. I wish someone could tell me what he needed, but he can’t so… yeah.
We have another show coming up at the end of August (goodbye, money! hello, important confidence-building experiences for baby horse!) and I will probably back off the dressage a little bit and focus some more on jumping in the interim. Towards the end of my lesson on Friday I started to feel the light, forward, trustable pony brain coming back into Murray’s head, so hope is on the horizon. It’s there. We can do it.