Prepare yourselves for an absolute blow-by-blow of my weekend. It was a good one. And there’s so much to remember and write about! This is simultaneous documenting for myself as well as storytelling for you.
Thursday morning I loaded Murray on to the trailer bright and early — 6 AM, in fact. Then I immediately returned to campus to proctor an exam and teach my sections, then jumped in my car upon finishing my teaching and drove to Camelot! My drive was a bit different than the route we usually take to Camelot, as I didn’t have to take a trailer-friendly drive and just took the back roads up to Oroville. When I got there, the facility was hopping with activity! Pretty much everyone had already arrived and was done warming up and lots of horse bathing and stall prep was happening.
I tacked Murray up in my schooling gear and jumped on for a dressage school. Alana escorted me out to the dressage arena and I walked Murray around for ten minutes to look at everything, as was my plan. I did this both inside and outside of the arena. Then we did some trot work where I asked him to stretch into the bit just a little bit, but nothing too demanding just yet. After another walk break, I tried some canter work. And hoooo boy, Murray let me know how he felt about being in a new place. I was laughing and laughing as he bucked, kicked, and screamed his way around the warm up XC fences. I was expecting this, so I wasn’t too worried about it, it was just “new place” opinions. After it seemed like all the kicking was out of him, we got to work for real as the sun set.
Once we got to real work and Murray got all the bucks out, he found something new to fuss about: the bridle tag! Apparently it was a little too close to his ear (or eye, or brain, or aura, or something) and as we cantered around he was violently shaking his head side to side like we were at a Kiss concert. While not perfect or in any way awesome, I was like well… not much we can do about that. We got in some great walk, trot, and canter work in both directions and called it a night.
We headed to Camelot early early on Friday and thus started my most amazing driving adventure. Another rider, J, and I wanted to get some coffee (Dutch Bros right down the road!) before we started braiding. Dutch Brothers, for those of you unfamiliar, is an Oregon-based drive-through coffee-hub chain. So we got in to the drive through and after getting our coffees, I tried to turn around to go out the other side. But it turns out that the drive through was not designed to be an in-and-out venture, it was an in-and-in venture; the drive I was trying to exit through was just another entrance, and the turn was far too sharp for even my little Nissan to make. So I hastily changed direction, but didn’t do so soon enough, and was going to hit the curb. I backed up to correct, didn’t want to hit the drivers behind me, and went forward again. Alas, I didn’t back up enough. So I backed up again. This may have happened five times.
A couple of construction workers asked if I was okay (they probably thought I was drunk, it was pretty early) and I hastily yelled that I was fine before driving off the curb of the parking lot and onto the street.
Day one of show: going well.
I actually had to do Dutch braids on Murray because his mane was too long for standard braids, and I adored the way his neck looked with those braids, and with Beka’s braid charm adorned them so perfectly. Loved it!
I was running late for my warm up, of course, so J wiped Murray’s boogers out and got him bridled for me. He didn’t kill her, so I was already ahead of previous shows in that regard. We popped over to the warm up and the ring steward let me know that they were running about three minutes early, but I still had some time to get ready. So I walked, trotted, and Murray rocked out like Steven Tyler — to the point that the ring steward actually commented to Alana “I don’t think that horse likes his bridle tag!”
Once we got to the dressage court, Murray was like “Uh WHAT” and the soft warm-up pony kinda disappeared.
The judge, Renee Johnson, was so sympathetic and kind though. As Murray spooked past the judges’ booth she talked to both of us, told me to take a breath, get organized, and that I had a full minute left before I needed to go in. I circled the judges’ booth, continued around the court, and when I got back to them the second time Murray had settled fairly well. The judge asked me if I was ready, I said yes, and she whistled me in.
Down the first centerline, I felt Murray bobble right pretty hard only a few strides into the court. I couldn’t see what he was avoiding — I thought it was a patch of funny dirt — but Alana said that a swarm of butterflies was taking off and Murray decided that he would not be going near those. Fair enough, princess! I got him back (fairly well), and pushed him straight down the centerline towards the judge. Our left turn wasn’t overly prepared for, so Murray didn’t bulge right unnecessarily beforehand, but it also wasn’t super balanced. However, Murray did soften and balance nicely through the turn, so that worked to our advantage.
I think our left circle was a good size and shape, and Murray felt fairly consistent throughout. Our left canter transition was far from perfect, but I got him back during the circle, despite my doggy hands.
Our walk transition was nice and smooth and forward, but I definitely felt Murray lose impulsion after the walk. I also, evidently, did not use my corners very well at all, because look how far we are from the “wall”!
But the free walk was almost as good as I have come to expect from Murray at home!
On Alana’s advice I strategically asked Murray for the walk-trot transition right early, because I was afraid that if I asked closer to C he would either a) bulge out of the court or b) resist so much that we would end up getting into a fight. The plan worked perfectly and I got a soft, if early, trot transition that wasn’t penalized too heavily for its placement.
Our right work was very similar to the left, but I had to over-bend Murray and push him out a bit to get him to stay soft. The judge noticed this and reminded me to keep him more evenly between my reins, which was super reasonable and very true. As I completed each movement my smile got bigger and bigger, because I was so proud of how well Murray was doing, and there was subsequently less and less of the test for us to mess up! As we approached H and I prepared for the right canter transition, I kept in mind that I should ask Murray really lightly to capitalize on his good behavior through the rest of the test, and I gently leaned back and put my outside leg on in the windshield-wiper movement I have been practicing.
And Murray said “wait I minute, I am running out of test and haven’t been bad yet!!!!!!” and let out his classic velociraptor scream, kicked out, threw his body to the inside, and picked up the left lead. I kept my cool though — I was too happy to really be upset — and followed Alana’s advice getting him a little organized and asking again so that I wouldn’t destroy the next movement. We ended up picking up the right canter around M, got a fairly balanced canter through the rest of our circle, and a reasonable down-transition on the long side. Our last centerline was straight and true and our halt, while not as perfectly straight and square as I have become accustomed to at home, certainly wasn’t horrendous.
I got a 5 on my first centerline, and then the rest of our movements were evenly split between 6’s and 6.5s for the rest of the test — excepting our right canter depart, which got a 3 (!!), and the turn down the centerline which scored a 7 (for being fairly balanced!). Murray got a 7 for gaits and the judge gave me a 6 for rider effectiveness and aids, circling aids and reminding me to rely less on my right rein. Overall, the judge commented that we were a “really capable pair” and that I should ask for more roundness and suppleness on an even contact — a perceptive and fair comment that I don’t disagree with.
There was so, so much to be happy with and proud of in this test. I love this picture because Murray looks like he knew he did a good job. I am one hundred percent okay with one Murray Moment after a 90% good test — he can have that one movement. And we clearly managed to get our shit back together enough to get a 6 on the rest of that canter circle.
In fact, the test really made me think about the conversation we had here last week about riding a horse one way vs. the other in a dressage test. Several people commented that the best way to ride a young horse at a show is to ride them the way they need to keep them calm and relaxed and to make the experience a good one. And I think I succeeded in that aim. I over-use the right rein, but that’s because right now that’s the way Murray responds best. Keeping him focused on the task at hand (professional pony prancing) is much better than letting him look all around the arena, and overbending and overflexing him right is the best way to get him to do that. Sure, it’s not ideal. I’d obviously rather ride him a bit more evenly between my hands, but for now, this is okay.
I was also really pleased that I managed to keep my cool during the Murray Moment and get him back together for the next movement. I can thank Alana (and probably Beka’s zen charm!) for that: Alana reminded me to go in and feel like “whatever” and just ride the horse I had right then.
Obviously I immediately started crying once I left the arena (because I’m a crybaby). Dressage tests are stressful, man! There’s so much tension and emotion that goes into looking that soft and relaxed and supple, and to have Murray show up and perform for me after all our hard work the last 18 months was so, so gratifying. Alana told me to stop crying before I made her cry, and I’m quite sure I confused several spectators as I cried and laughed my way back to my stable. In fact, three of us ended up crying with happiness after our dressage rides, all under the same judge, which I’m sure made the poor judge wonder what on earth was wrong with the women at our barn.
To top it all off, our almost-perfect ride earned us a goal-smashing score of 39.2.
Sometime this week there will be video (I ordered the professional ones), at which point we can all enjoy his excellent performance and misbehavior on repeat again and again.