Original Gangsta

A couple of months ago I posted this picture on Instagram:

Because I couldn’t help myself.  Sometimes I go to Trainer’s house and clean out the stalls there for her (or house sit or whatever) and this young man, Wise Guy Rog, was such a super fun and friendly stallion that I had to take a selfie with him.  (That day I also discovered that front-facing camera selfies are so much easier than back-facing ones! But I digress.)

Then I kept quiet about Wise Guy for a while because of superstition.  WG was a sale prospect and my RBF was like “oh maybe I want him?” but after our former bad luck with Ronin’s injury, we wanted to keep it low key.  So RBF rode WG a bit and I reminded her how hideously ugly he was so we wouldn’t get too attached.

11760227_10152869371321568_2438874380580634384_nHideously ugly. Shudder.

As these things go, RBF scheduled a vet check.  And WG failed.

The vet was a little worried.  Apparently four year old horses who have been in super light work are supposed to be sound.  Interestingly, he passed all his flexions, it was just trotting in a circle on the hard ground that gave off a little something.  Maybe stone bruises because his feet were soft like putty?  They rescheduled.

11058301_10152869371461568_404131125869352898_nHe gets wicked itchy ass and has to scratch like woah.

So we kept quiet again.  And WG stayed on stall rest and tried not to explode all of his buckets while his feet healed.  Second vet check: another failure.  This time a different foot was off on the circle on hard ground.  The farrier found more bruises and a small abscess at his next appointment.

11796442_10152869371716568_7144697552761830725_nUgly and talentless and a hideous mover!

By this point, we were understandably upset.  We’d all become attached but buying a lame four year old is not really a sound idea. Pun intended.  He got a two week ultimatum.

Vet check the third: passed!  With flying colors.  And nothing scary in his rads.


So evidently, all a little horse needed was some time.  Two and a half months of time, to be exact.  To grow some new feet and get rid of some bruises.  And worry us sick in the meantime, but whatever.  Now there is a new baby horse in the family!  And my RBF will get to experience all the tears and trauma and drama and dramatics and theatrics of a velocirpatorish baby ottb too.  Sorrynotsorry, RBF.  It’s kinda worth it.


So now we can happily present to you Gryphon.  The newest member of our family, a gumby-deer-energizer-bunny-rooster extraordinaire, possible Original Gangasta, likely tear-creator and equally large parts joy-maker.  We can’t wait to watch you grow up!




the love below

I so appreciate everyone’s support lately.  I feel super whiny right now, when things aren’t going perfectly with Murray.  It’s funny.  Over the winter when I was writing this blog and nothing Murrayish was happening, I was like “wtf! that would be such amazing blog fodder!” and then it turns out that when things just go a little bit Murray I am not entertaining.  I am not funny in the face of Pony’Tude.  I am no Poor Woman Showing, guys.

Below all of these feels and drama and sturm and drang and maudlin theatrics (on my part, Murray is pretty much as Theatrical as his pedigree demands [which is 1/8, just so you know]), there is love for this horse.  This silly, ridiculous horse who shows so much talent(ish) and has taught me so much.  So, to remind myself as much as to tell all of you, here are some of the reasons I love this horse that, somehow, I don’t trust right now.

Murray has given me strength

If you can't be kind, be quiet

I started riding Murray when he was still a baby noodle (in contrast to  his current behavior as a teenage mutant noodle turtle) and as with any baby noodle, a fair bit of determination is required to get certain things done.  With Murray, this ranged from everything from steering (“No! I will not turn in front of that terrifying jump! No! Just say NO!”) to accepting contact to jumping to anything.  All of this required me to keep a forward-thinking mind and win the battle of wills that Murray was totally willing to engage in, and if I could just be persistent without being mean, I would win.

Murray has given me subtlety


As much as Murray requires a strong ride, he is also a really sensitive guy.  I barely have to think about a walk transition and we’re cruising along at a much slower pace than we were before.  A little leg pressure at the girth and there we are, cris-crossing our way across the arena.  He responds to voice commands as much as to any body position, and too much leg will always get a kick out of him.  Murray has taught me how to negotiate with him to get the best out of both of us, to get him to do what I want (in dressage or jumping!) and to do so without crazy objections.  In fact, that’s probably what we’re in the middle of right now; another lesson in how to be subtle and get what I want.  Murray’s legacy will not be akin to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.  Or maybe… do I need to read that thing?

Murray makes me feel special


Lots of people have told me that Murray would not do well in a traditional training program.  Even if it’s just lip service, I appreciate the comment.  He’s too willful/silly/ridiculous/spastic/stupid/smart/doesn’t act like other horses/dinosaur/gumby/whatever.  I tend to agree with them: I don’t think he would do very well in the traditional training programs I’m familiar with.  He’s very much a one-person horse, and you have to be ready to move backwards and sideways as much as you do forward.  He definitely wouldn’t have made anybody any money in those off-the-track-to-prelim-in-18-months programs (hahaha he never would have made it), and I kindof thing he would have cracked under the pressure.

More than that, working with Murray, and being successful with Murray makes me feel like I could do anything.  Perhaps not brain surgery, but it certainly makes me feel like I could probably negotiate with most other little baby ottbs to get them to accept contact, jump the jumps, and do some circles in the sandbox.  By no means do I think of myself as a professional or a great trainer, but Murray has taught me a lot about the value of quiet persistence.  I appreciate that.

Murray keeps me entertained

magnesiumAs much as I sometimes wish that we were progressing faster, jumping bigger jumps, competing in higher divisions (hell, completing our division), and always keeping to that ever-so-realistic ideal of progress as a straight line, that is a) not real life and b) kindof boring.  Yes, I would learn a lot on a horse who was a bit more straightforward, and I he would be able to teach me things Murray (probably) never will.  But I enjoy the challenge of working with Murray, and I love working out the little Rubik’s cube of his mind.  It is without vanity that I say I think I would be bored working with a horse that is too straightforward — but perhaps it is also a little nearsighted?  I suspect that every horse is merely as easy as you let him be.


Murray is really cute


He is for real cute.  And his star looks like a tiny jumping horse with me jumping ahead.




too smart by half

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts and well-wishes last week.  I am happy to report that the Wragg fire is contained and mandatory evacuations have ended, and all our bonus-ponies get to return home!  I am even happier to report that no lives were lost in the fire, and that the emergency crews are unscathed.  Unfortunately, there are yet more fires burning in California, and fire crews will have their work cut out for them for quite a while.  My thoughts are with all of the emergency responders working to contain fires in California.

The Murraycoaster continues its thrilling and wild ride.  I didn’t ride too much last week — enough horsey drama was had and I needed sleep! — but I did get in one ride Friday and then Saturday we went schooling at Woodland Stallion Station.

During Friday’s ride I tackled one of those delightful goals from my list: determining if I need a new saddle.  One of my concerns about Murray’s fussiness and stopping jumping was that my saddle might not perfectly fit — I’d seen pics where the back of my saddle was lifting as we jumped — and I know that is not ideal.  So assistant trainer and I had a look at my saddle as well as some other saddles to determine fit.  Murray is not AT’s biggest fan (she usually has to twitch him/drug him/deworm him/etc., but she also gives him lots of love and pats) and he objected MIGHTILY to having a bare leather saddle put on his back by trying to run AT right over.  Fortunately, this was not her first time at the Murray rodeo and she was like “get a grip dude” and he settled down.

The even worse part of this bit of news is that my saddle really doesn’t fit.

IMG_3844You can kinda see the lifting here.

Cue epic sadness.

It’s too wide in the front and sits down on Murray’s shoulders, which could definitely cause some discomfort for him while I’m riding.  We popped a few different saddles on (“NOTHING EXPENSIVE!” I insisted.  Why? “I CAN’T AFFORD ONE.”) and one of the lesson saddles (a Pessoa) fit so AT suggested I go ride around in it.  Which I did.

Murray did not seem to have any problem jumping around in the lesson Pessoa.  Unfortunately, I hated it.  Absolutely hated it.  I hated it so much I nearly cried.  Murray jumped over everything, only balked once (and it wasn’t even at a fence), and I couldn’t ride in that thing.  I just couldn’t.

IMG_20150624_193357Plus that would have completely thrown off my recently-posted everyday tack setup

So I went back in, put my saddle on, and jumped around in that for AT.  Murray was fine.  No discernible difference from jumping in the Pessoa.  But AT could see that it really didn’t quite fit — with me in and out of the saddle, it still pressed down on Murray’s shoulder blades.  Off I ran to get a wither riser pad.


A saddle that fits the way it’s supposed to!  I was also really pleasantly surprised with the way I felt with the saddle raised in the front.  It was much easier to sit up straight and my leg felt good.  I popped around and was really happy.  And then I realised how abjectly tired and emotionally drained I must have been, because I nearly cried over saddle fit.  Saddle fit.  That is not something I typically cry over.

I tried to sleep early that night, but did not succeed, and thus when I headed out to schooling on Saturday I was still tired.  I probably should have trusted my instincts and no schooled that day, however I didn’t want to force a second trip (joke’s on me, I’m going on another trip to school there in two weeks) just on my behalf, and so I sucked it up and went schooling.  I rode terribly, and I cried twice, but I did it.  For the most part.


Murray ditched me within 30 minutes of getting on, of course.  We were cantering towards a fence and the rest of the group happened to be walking in the opposite direction and when we passed Murray kinda lost control of his body and I ended up in the dirt.  I kinda landed on my feet but as Murray fruck out I lost my footing, and then did that thing you’re not supposed to do (hang on) and got dragged through the dirt because hell if I was going to let him gallop half a mile back to the trailers.  I can just see it now — Murray’s ass happily fleeing in a cloud of dust as he gleefully returned to the place from whence he came.  (At least he likes the trailer?)

Once again the exhaustion hit me and I started crying, but we cantered back, jumped the fence, and all was well and good for a while.  It’s hard to cry while you’re actively riding.  I’m pretty sure it’s a strategy of Alana’s to get me out of my head.  Oh Nicole, go do that thing over there! Yay you did it, happy now? Good girl.

We had some trouble at the next fence too, a Novice-sized house that I was totally amped to jump.  But coming up to it, all I could feel was Murray getting faster and stronger toward the fence, and I felt like I had zero control, and when I half halted to get a little attention back we came to a not-even-that-dramatic stop right in front of the fence.  I was like “look Alana, I’m not jumping anything bigger than BN or in any way scary after this fence, but I just have to get over this thing and then it will be fine. WTF.  I have no control.  He’s fast and strong and I don’t know what I’m feeling and I don’t trust him to go.”  And Alana was like “Girl, just sit back and dressage that shit. What you’re feeling is your Notorious OTTB rocking back onto his hindquarters before the fence, but he’s using any bit contact as an excuse to say no because he’s a rat bastard. So just half halt that monster with your seat and core if you need to*.”  And damn if it didn’t work.  Of course.

* Alana doesn’t actually speak like this. Much creative license was taken.

IMG_3800Beautiful uphill canter

After that I reminded myself to take the small options from now on because I clearly couldn’t life and did not want to overface myself or my horse.  Of course, that doesn’t mean I didn’t still somehow fuck it up.

jumpfailThat approach is way steeper than it looks and Murray slipped in the loose footing the first time and was like “NO WAY” (and slipped) the second time.  Both were spectacular fails.  I’m saving the other picture for my Everyday Fails wrap up post.

So yeah.  I’m struggling right now with not trusting my horse, which is shitty.  It’s not really a position I ever thought I’d be in.  For a long time I could at least trust him and myself to get over it, even if it wasn’t pretty or perfect.  I need to get my confidence in Murray back, get my lower leg under control (I’m putting those stirrups back down until he stops spazzing out over random artifacts in the arena), and both of us back to that place where we can trust one another.  And also that place where I don’t suck at riding.


fire break

And this, my friends, is why you teach your horses to get onto a trailer. Any trailer. Any time. Anywhere.

Right now there’s a moderately large forest fire burning about fifteen miles from me. It started on a windy highway near Lake Berryessa, when some likely jackhole probably driving way too fast crashed his car into the side of the highway, which was covered in dry grass and obviously lit up like the fourth of July. Between biking to campus on Wednesday at 2 PM and coming home at 4PM a huge plume of smoke started to cover the sky. My trainer’s house is in the area of the fire, and as soon as I found out they were evacuating (Wednesday) I texted her to ask what we could do, and was promptly dispatched to the barn to prepare for incoming evacuations.

Alana evacuated all the horses from her house and some from neighbors on either side and we ended up with 15 additional horses at the barn. We also got four goats, seven chickens, a cat, four dogs, and a pet ground squirrel. Everyone is fine. I ended up with a bonus dog for a

What was not fine were the horses we had to evacuate from one neighbor’s house. Without giving away too many personal details – because I literally know none! I didn’t even get the woman’s name – I can tell you with absolute honesty that it was an absolute shit show at that house. The woman had three horses and one of them had only ever trailered twice, another was essentially a corpse on three legs, and she had clearly only ever trailered a few times herself. She had not even thought about the best way to get the horses on the trailer.

wpid-wp-1437806538339.jpgApocalyptic skies

So we went about fighting with one horse, who was clearly an absolute spoiled brat that refused – flatly – to get on the trailer. He totally had his owner’s number and knew exactly what to do to unnerve her and get away from her. He threw his weight around, kicked, reared, struck, and broke away on multiple occasions.  After forty minutes of trying to cajole him in, we convinced to woman that he needed drugs, but even after ace-ing him he was steady enough to resist. Finally wehad to winch him into the trailer using a makeshift corral, and even then he nearly threw himself out twice.

All of this made me extremely grateful for Murray. He may be spoiled and he may say “no” to me rather more than he should but he will get in whatever trailer you point him at.

I get that it was stressful and suboptimal – perhaps that spoiled bad horse would have loaded just fine on another day given enough time and enough bribery. I doubt it, but it’s always possible. But all the horses that we have trained to get in trailers right off the bat had no problem loading when asked to, even with the fire cresting the ridge behind them!

Okay, perhaps no problem is an exaggeration, but they got on.

Anyway, right now everyone is safe and sound and the community in the fire zone worked hard to come together and get everyone out.  Now we just hope the weather is cooperating with the firefighters.

Considering all this drama around me, I thought I’d post a reminder-link about my “Good In a Crisis” blog.  Everything I said then applied to this crisis too!  I’m thinking about writing about evacuation plans too — mostly: have one and train your horses to trailer and accept that you might need to leave someone behind.  Especially if that someone is trying to KILL the people volunteering to help evacuate you.  Grumble.

And here is an article two LA Times reporters made about our barn taking in horses, and how the drought has affected us.  Murray is featured several times. 😀


she told her horse she hated him — you won’t believe what happened next!

Blame Amanda for the clickbaity title.  Does anyone even click on those things any more?  I certainly don’t.  Anyway.

Riding Murray has been, uh… challenging for the last few days.  Yesterday I went in for a standard, let’s review what we know and maybe do a few of those new tricks we’re learning! ride and Murray was stuck epicly behind my leg.  He was so behind my leg at the trot that I kept getting lurched forward as I posted.  I tapped him with the whip a couple of times and instead of moving forward he just kinda hitched his hip and squealed at me.  I mean really, what are you, a mare in heat?  You squealed at me?!

I cantered to get him ahead of my leg and BOY did he ever want to canter.  He was barely maintaining three beats down the long sides (but did), and stretched down a little.  We did have a fight about the Spooky Corner, which is not my favourite, but I’m trying to work through it.  Anyway, we finished up with some walk to canter (okay) and an absolutely abysmal attempt to slow down the canter to walk speed, make a 10 meter circle (Murray was so on the forehand and heaving his body around he probably thought I’d just asked him to do a pirouette), and work on canter-walk.  Sigh.

Today I popped on for an easy jump school with everything set really low — sub 2 feet.  After fighting about the Scary Corner again (inside bend, inside bend, get off my inside aids creature!) in both directions, I popped him over a little X.  Noodle emerged but didn’t prevail, so we had a little walk break.  After the walk break the Noodle emerged in full force.  Every time we went by something that I felt Murray looking at I counter flexed him, and then he would find something “terrifying” on the other side to avoid!  He stopped DEAD at some flowers we have jumped approximately 20983487340 times, but with some strong leg and clucking he went over from a standstill.  It was like an 18″ X.  It was fine.

I did the same thing over a couple of other fences, and took another walk break.  It is really disheartening that absolutely every drop of courage Murray once had seems to have flown away.  The worst part is that it’s my fault but I don’t even know what I did to make this happen!  At the risk of sounding obtuse, everything seemed great (with minor bobbles) right up until it wasn’t.

Anyway, we jumped a few more new fences and I insisted that Murray listen to me by working on the jump-then-halt-a-few-strides-out exercise.  Which for Murray meant jump, break to a trot, DRAG DOWN INTO THE BIT AND NEARLY RUN INTO THE FENCE.  So that was nice.  I did eventually get down to about 10 trot steps before the halt, but it was hard.  I also insisted that Murray hop promptly into every transition when I asked him to every time, instead of at some to-be-determined-time-later.  This was hard.  It got me a few angry head flips but after a few goes seemed to be working.

Our last jump round was a little course I mashed together and Murray was quite good.  Then I went to the cows, which we jumped both ways in our last lesson, and the front brakes were in HEAVY use for Murray.  I’m honestly astonished this horse doesn’t break a leg with the speed at which he can go from moving forward to moving sideways all based on his front legs.  However, Murray did jump it upon re-presenting and again after that.  He rubbed it hard both times, which was interesting — I don’t know the last time he gave a hard rub to anything he was really scared of.

To add insult to injury, after our ride I went to walk into the wash racks and Murray put on the brakes there too.  At this point I’d had enough of asshattery and BEAT him backwards.  Murray flew backwards, FLEW, so fast that he actually skidded behind when he stopped.  He did not balk at going into the wash racks after.  All of this, of course, made me really feel like I LOVE this horse.  When I was leasing him rides (weeks/months) like this would just go in the column of “hahaha probably not buying this one” but now that I’m stuck with him… it’s so different.

I put him out in his pasture with his friend, and even his well-behaved friend was all kinds of in my way.  She wouldn’t move away from the gate and I had to beat her to get her out of my way so I could actually go through the gate.  It’s clearly me, right now, being so much less tolerant of horsie shenanigans, but I’m like HORZESSSS!!!! you making me cray!  Murray of course went to roll immediately, as he was all wet, and I stood around to watch because Murray is hilarious when he rolls.  He did not disappoint.

First, he let out his patented high-pitched post-roll raspberry before rolling, so that was awesome.  Then he pawed around, lay down, made fantastic noises while he was rolling, went right over, groaned, rotated 180 degrees, groaned a whole lot more, and then got up on one side.  He made this groaning “hhhheeeeeee” while he wiped his face on his forearms, then stood up, and made another amazing high pitched raspberry.  And I laughed.  And laughed.  And laughed.

I do love this horse.  With everything he’s throwing at me, I do love him.

baby noodle stages his comback tour

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.

Nope Nope Nope Octopus

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 fillerhttps://i0.wp.com/i.imgur.com/rfFWukr.gif

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.

18857776603_ab9c1b8495_kIts 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 newdBNjr3Z - Imgur
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.

help me help you jerry macguire animated GIF

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.

goals, all over the world!

This blog title is actually in reference to this SNL sketch (NSFW, but not offensive, merely HILARIOUS).

Since Camelot I’ve been running on a bit of a sleep and calories deficit.  There’s just been so much to do that I’ve been subsisting on tried-and-true staples (like RAMEN) which get me through the day but don’t actually provide me with, you know, long term energy.  I’m also teaching 100% this summer, so teach 6 hours of lab on Tuesdays and Thursdays and somehow at the end of those days there’s just nothing left over.  I ride Murray late, which is actually really pleasant and cool and quiet most of the time, and get home late and fall into bed and whatever.  I’m also on the board of a fledgling nonprofit and we’re pushing this month to get our website launched and paperwork finally turned in, and I’m bad at delegating and firmly believe that if I want something done right I have to do it myself so you can imagine who ends up doing all the website work.  So after riding yesterday I made myself a huge bowl of pasta with chicken and fresh tomatoes (THAT I GREW) and let myself sleep for nine hours because I’m worth it.

My rides on Murray have been up and down so not too much to report there.  During my first ride back after Camelot Murray happily and perfectly executed every single dressage thing (shoulder in, haunches in, leg yield, walk to canter, BOOM) he’s ever learned in sub-45 minutes and convinced me that he’s worth keeping.  Then he spent the entirety of the next ride spooking at random shit in the arena and I regretted writing the check that was almost-the-last of his payments the day before.  At this time, I owe a whopping $47 on him.  This week he’s not been the worst, but is having a bit of a hard time adjusting to our new riding program (which you will see more about below).

And here we are, in the second half of the year, and I’ve pretty much fallen off the goals-making bandwagon.  So I’m making like some other bloggers and doing quarterly goals, because it gives me a little more breathing room than monthly ones.  So first, a recap and some completion of old goals, and then on to some new ones.

of our remaining Horse Goals
Show 2’9″ and 3′ — Haven’t been to a jumper show since Feb sooooo….
Show Beginner Novice and finish on my dressage score — HAHAHA NOPE.
Go to a rated show — hmm, I went but I didn’t complete. Does that count?
Show training level dressage — hasn’t happened yet
Dressage, dressage, dressage! — I’m going to give myself this one, I have been dressaging the shit out of that horse.
Increase Murray’s confidence and independence — working on it
Sit the trot and no-stirrups weekly — nope
Improve my cardio fitness — big fat nope.

So I’m doing well so far.

I’m also adding in some new behavioral goals for Murray.  I’m calling it the “Behavior Bucket List

– Learn to tack up in the cross ties
– Learn to tack up while tied
– Get over girthing issues
– Work past something scary without leaping sideways
– Personal space

We’ve already conquered a lot of behavioral bucket list items that exist for most horses (like trailering, being able to at least accept the girth, getting shipping boots put on, uhh… other things that I thought of last night while falling asleep but can’t seem to remember), but Murray’s list is just longer than some others.  Who knows why (okay I know why: it’s his dad’s fault).

OKAY SO as we ramble on through this blog post, let’s talk about quarterly goals moving from here through September.  I was really, really proud of the way Murray performed in dressage at Camelot, in case you hadn’t heard.  He’s mastered lifting his back by lowering his neck (though he still tends to drop the base of his neck, I’m working on it), so now what I need to do is encourage him to actually shift some weight to his hind quarters.


We also need to work on getting more comfortable working with more contact and a shorter rein length.  I err on the side of under-riding, and Murray likes a really light contact and goes around happily in it.  However, as you can see, that light contact is essentially a loopy rein, which makes communicating with him a little challenging, and does not facilitate encouraging him to shift weight behind.  So the first thing I need to do is shorten my reins but maintain a light, elastic contact.  Sometimes I do shorten my reins on Murray, especially when he’s being bad and I need to really manage him, but he doesn’t love it and tends to get tense and pin-ball-y (bouncing around between my legs).  So the next thing to work on is encouraging acceptance of leg pressure and relaxation in this new working relationship.  I think that this will really help with our showing, because then when I put my leg on for a transition Murray won’t be like WTF?!

dressage1Pretty much his exact thoughts here. WTF or “WHEEEEEE”

Next, to encourage him to lift the base of his neck and continue to work over his back, it’s time for poles, all over the world.  MOAR trot and canter poles, please!  This will also help with my final flatwork goal for this quarter, which is to start working on lengthening the gaits.  Murray pretty much has one walk, one trot, and fortunately lots of canters.  So I need to start teaching him to be able to extend and collect his trot while maintaining energy.  I’m really looking forward to this.  With this, I will try to hammer down our canter to walk transitions.

These are all flat goals, because I think they are things that will translate over to jumping as well.  However the one thing I really need to do this quarter is determine whether or not I will need to get a new jump saddle.  I’m super excited because we all loooooooooooove saddle shopping, especially on a budget.  The flaps on my jump saddle are not forward enough for my legs in their optimal position, and while I can tolerate this, it’s not ideal and is starting to irritate me.  It’s also possible that my saddle is rocking on Murray’s back over fences, and I just read an article suggesting that the pressure of jumping (approx 150 lbs per foot of fence comes down on your horse’s back upon landing) with an ill-fitting saddle will try the patience of even the best horse after a while.  So I’m going to investigate that whole thing.

In summary, my third quarter goals are to:

– shorten my reins but maintain a light, elastic contact during flat work
– encourage acceptance of leg pressure and relaxation in this new connection
– trot and canter poles with connection
– lengthening and collecting of walk, trot, and canter
– canter to walk transitions
– figure out the jump saddle situation
– keep working in the cross ties daily!

ZBH Blog Hop: Everyday Fail

Last week Emma wrote an excellent post about constructive criticism vs. public shaming.  I don’t think anyone who reads my blog hasn’t seen it at this point, but if you haven’t, go read it!  It summarises the many joys of posting a picture on the internet — especially a riding picture, in a sport where there are approximately 293740 opinions on how to do anything — and how people should and shouldn’t behave.  Now, I don’t now about you guys, but I am good at riding about 2% of the time that I put into it, and there’s a lot of evidence of that.  In fact, most of the pictures on this website are carefully curated so that Murray and I look as good as possible.

That’s not how we typically look.

In honor of this, I wanted to share some of the many pictures of Murray and I being less than perfect.  Things that I might not normally put on the twinternet because, you know, judging judger pants.  Media I might be proud of — ’cause we did it, fuckers! — but that isn’t really, uh, a demonstration of how I generally try to ride my horse.

blog hop

Because we all make mistakes.  And we all fail.  Every day, if you’re me.

I have seen, over and over again, that bloggers are far more self-reflective than most other people.  So I know that we know when we could use a little improving.  And I think that most of the time, we don’t need anyone else telling us what to do.  Sometimes we encourage it, and welcome it!  I often welcome critique and suggestion.  But for the most part, I know when I’m not quite on point — but not epic enough for a really good fail — and how to fix it.  Let me show you.

Because thaaaaaaat’s the way to encourage your horse to jump scary new obstacles, Nicole.

IMG_0671 IMG_0678

Yep, my horse is a saint.


Hmm, how about that time I taught my baby horse that bucking during the canter was a fantastic way to get out of work?


(No, he doesn’t need his back checked. Or his hocks. Or his stifles. Or his saddle. I swear, it’s just his brain.)

What, what, what are you doing with your body?!IMG_0404

Super proud that Murray jumped this Training arrow.  My position is also thing of wonders.IMG_3326

One from the way back machine.  I call this “nobody ever fell off the back of a horse” or… I don’t even know.IMG_9910

I dunno if I ever told you guys this, but I used to be hella good at dressage.




I see this ending well.


And to cap it all off: when I first started leasing Quincy he couldn’t canter right on cue.  He could pick up the right lead off a fence or if you tricked him (aka ran him at the wall and pulled a hard right at the last minute), but not on a circle or anything.  So I thought we’d give it a go on the lunge line.  Bareback.  In my onesie.


Judge away, haters!  Quincy and I are too fucking fabulous for your words.


If you guys want to join me, post a link in the comments!  I don’t want to pay to get InLinkz to work.  Post your silly, your tired, your teeming, your ridiculous, your hungry.  Join me in ridiculing myself.  And to make things fun, I’ll enter anyone who posts between now and the end of July in a raffle for a custom saddle cover, because sometimes I sew things for fun (ask Beka, she knows).

we’re on each others team

It takes a village to raise a baby, and Murray and I are no exception.  This weekend would have been absolutely miserable without my wonderfully supportive team of friends, trainers, fellow competitors, mentors, and even the utter strangers that cheered for me on cross country.  The feeling of camaraderie that comes from knowing so many people are on my team definitely brought me to tears itself once or twice.

I know she’s my trainer and it’s technically her job, but that doesn’t make the support I get from Alana any less sincere, meaningful, or that she does not go above and beyond to get her riders in the best possible position she can.  Alana is, without a doubt, the coach for me.  She knows when to just let me do my thing (Murray bucking around the warm up is one example), when to correct, what exercises to suggest, when to push, when to back off, how to work with me on a warm up plan and routine, and when it’s time to call it.  Alana hauled ASS across the XC course to leg me back up on to Murray, and took me back out there at the end of the weekend for some redemption.

In case you didn’t catch it in the comments last week, a lovely lady named Sheryl commented on one of my blogs trying to find out some more about Camelot.  We chatted a little in the comments, and Sheryl was kind and clever enough to come and find me on our first day of competition!  First of all, it was super cool to meet another person through this blog – so cool, hi Sheryl!  Second, Sheryl proved to be so kind and supportive throughout the show!  I got to meet Sheryl’s daughter and watch her wonderful rides on an absolutely adorable pony, and this all helped me appreciate the meaning of team a little more.  More than that, Sheryl totally celebrated with me for my happy tears, and sympathized with my sad ones.  How’s that for making connections on the internet?

Peony texted me all weekend to remind me to keep thuggin’.

RBF and I had detailed texting discussions about my dressage ride and the injustices of dressage scores because obviously little Notorious was spectacular and couldn’t the judge see that?!

Friends from the barn came up to watch on XC day, and after I got Murray hosed off and put away they helped pick up all the tack I had angrily discarded on the ground (I tend to get into a “who the fuck needs a jump saddle when they’re never doing XC again” headspace and throw my shit on the ground when I’m having a tantrum. I’m super proud of it, don’t worry.) and reminded me of all the things that I should be focusing on instead.  That Murray hadn’t escaped once that weekend, that our dressage test went really well, that we managed to jump things Alana was standing next to in warm up.  Remember, they reminded me, when Murray couldn’t even school in a group because it blew his little mind?  Remember when you couldn’t get around a warm up arena and had to go into XC and stadium cold?  Remember when he rolled because he was afraid of Camille?  Remember when he got his feet tangled up in a ground pole and crumpled in fear?  They bought me lemonade, let me cry sob uncontrollably, quietly made some choice words to Murray about growing a brain, and assured me all this was fixable and sometime soon I would be laughing over this cross country ride.

My lesson buddy reminded me to feed my horse after XC because I would never be able to sell a skinny horse.  When I responded with “who are you kidding, I can’t sell this horse. I’m killing him!” lesson buddy also reminded me that slaughter buyers pay by the pound*.

Emma emailed to check in and make sure I was okay after she saw my unplanned dismount recorded on StartBox.  I was surprised by how touched I was by this gesture; at that point my shattering disappointment had died down and Emma was right there ready to brainstorm solutions with me, including encouraging me to move to the East Coast.  So sweet.

And then you guys showed up on here and applauded my dressage ride and helped me problem solve my XC woes!  You reminded me that it is not that strange for a baby horse to be scared of unknown things (but I swear I’m the ooonnnnlllyyy one who has ever had this problem!!!!!!) and offered to drive, fly, or apparate out to California to be my chair-occupiers, umbrella holders, and de-spookifiers.  You gave me extra ideas to train little Notorious, reminded me that I’m on the right track, and encouraged me to continue on this slow and steady road to get things done right.

You might not know how meaningful your words of encouragement and encouragement were.  Of course, everyone’s happy for you when you’re doing well, but I think we know who our real friends are when we’re not doing so well.  Especially when we’re not doing so well and it’s probably our own fault.  This little blogland community that we have is pretty badass, in its own way.

I’m glad I have you on my team.  I’m glad I have everyone on my team.

* Don’t worry, this won’t happen. I don’t know any slaughter buyers anyway.