Friday Five…. worst things about my life right now

Inspired by Stephanie at Hand Gallop here is a blog-post-with-a-twist.  My Friday Five… worst things about my life right now.

1. Signing up for a horse show that’s two days before I need to move houses was a terrible, terrible, terrible choice.

If you replaced papers with random pieces of tack, clothes, boxes, and perched my cat in the middle, you would have my life right now.

I am not organized for this show.  I packed a trunk and I put some tack in a trailer and I took some home to clean it and I think I have everything I need?  I figure as long as I have clothes to wear each day, a show coat, saddle, girth, and bridle that’s… all I need.  Thank goodness it’s local and less than 15 minutes away from my barn (by zippy little Nissan as opposed to big truck and trailer).

2. The last person who had my office manager clearly sucked at her job and managed to screw some things up so well that I have to go back nearly two entire years to fix them.  Oh and those things are absolutely essential to a deadline I have.  On Monday.

3. My thesis has gone untouched for weeks. I can’t even. I am so busy. I don’t even know how I am this busy. I’m not even teaching right now.

4. This is basically 1B of this list, but I am a shit show.  I took home half my tack but NO TACK CLEANING SUPPLIES.  Thank goodness I didn’t put all my wash cloths in the washing machine because at least things can get a really good wipe down.  My half pads are both still filthy.  I don’t own acceptable XC boots yet.  My roommates dog hates me and is a giant disaster.


RIP Billy

Friday Five… really good things despite all the mess in my life.

1. Murray stood perfectly still for his beauty treatments today and was shiny as fuck after his bath.  Baby shampoo man.  I’m into it.

I'm bringing #sexyback #notoriousottb #punintended #ottb #dressagebitches #itreallyworks

A photo posted by Nicole Sharpe (@nicolegizelle) on Aug 27, 2015 at 10:20pm PDT

2. Even though I had to beat him on Wednesday during the beginning of my dressage lesson, Murray brushed that dirt off his shoulder and put in two solid practice tests.  Not sure why he insists on LOSING all canter departs the week before a show but yeah it’s probs my fault.

3. This show is local.  Only a few people from my barn are competing.  Very few things can go so terribly wrong that my obsessive overpacking of extra tack or a rapid trip back to my barn or a loan from a friend can’t fix.

4. I have beer.

5. One of my friends is bringing me oxyclean tomorrow. ❤

Ariat Odette Show Shirt Review + ingenuity

I have this thing about waived coats.  I don’t have a problem riding without a coat.  I’m down with comfort and not dying of heat stroke.

The thing is this: if I ride in a show without my coat, I need to look fly as fuck.

There are a couple of things that go in to this.

Thing the first: I’ve mentioned it before, but I do not want to be showing anyone my sports bra through my show shirt.  That is a no can do.  White shirt, no sports bra shadow or lines.  If you’ve been in a tack store lately you’ll notice ALL KINDS of adorable, breezy show shirts around.  Unfortunately, they’re mostly completely see through.

summer1Okay you might not be able to see from  here but my sports bra is visible AND my shirt tends to billow out behind my shoulders. No bueno.  Cute pony though.

Thing the second: Good fit.  I can be hard to fit because I’m in the sub-5’1″ category with boobs that can occasionally be hard to control.  I’m short waisted and I have long monkey arms.  My current show shirt is fine under a coat but when I’m wearing just that shirt it makes me look like Quasimodo.  I do have a straight back.  I want to show that off.

Thing the third: Breatheability.  This goes along with Thing the first in that it’s kinda the opposite.  Breatheable =/= completely opaque.

So when I was toodling around the Riding Warehouse Sale rack (I do this a lot), I saw this adorable show shirt by Ariat.

It is tapped into the current lacy equestrian trend that’s going around.  It didn’t look see through.  It had adorable shiny buttons.  It was one sale.

I bought it.

I had to go back to my order history to figure out how much I paid for it.  I thought it was like $22.  I was wrong.  I paid $56.88.  I’m not sure what compelled me to pay so much for a show shirt, but I’m guessing it was the above (lacy, not see through, shiny buttons, on sale).

So you can imagine my disappointment when I ripped open my Riding Warehouse package only to find that the lacy pattern was in the weave of the shirt, not overlaid on the weave.  It would be completely see through.  I was devastated.  But I tried it on and it fit really well.  So I looked into a way I could wear this adorable piece of equestrian nonsense (I mean, who even wears white around horses?!  That is like vomiting into the wind.  No matter how hard you try you are going to get splattered.)

Ingenuity Interlude: Remember when I bemoaned the fact that sports bras in a beige/skin toned color are ridiculously expensive?  See above that I have boobs that can, occasionally, be wildly unpredictable.  And by “wildly unpredictable” I mean they make like squirrels in a rice sack if not appropriately tied down.  Browsing Amazon I realised that there weren’t any good beige sports bras for < $35, there were lots of beige sleeping-style bras for <$10.  For $5, I could layer a beige bra on top of a supportive bra and still come in at less than one of those fancy beige sports bras!  I ordered one of those too.  TL;DR: IT WORKS.  You just layer a cheapo bra over your supportive bra and BLAM: no more sportsbra shadow.  You’re welcome.

odetteBack to the Odette Show Shirt.  I wore it today for my lesson so that I could check with B that my bra wasn’t showing and the shirt fit well enough to be a waived-coats shirt.  I also took a torselfie in the bright morning sun to make sure that the sports bra solution was working to my standards.

What I learned is that trying to take selfies makes me pose like Cameron from Modern Family, and that white balance for a SUPER NEW white shirt makes me look tan as fuck.  I am not that tan.  Also, you can’t see my bra!

I was pleasantly surprised when riding around in this shirt.  The lacy fabric means that it has inbuilt air conditioning/sun shirt cooling capabilities.  I’m not sure it would block ALL the UVs, so you would run the risk of getting a really sweet tan pattern if you rode in this shirt all day, but I repeat my point from above: who wears white around horses habitually anyway?!  The shirt also fits well to my body and didn’t come untucked or billow while I was riding.

TL;DR #2: I approve of this show shirt.  While I wouldn’t normally condone paying >$50 for a shirt, I’m okay with it for something this classy and wearable.  If I amortize its cost over 10 shows, that’s only like $5/use.  For something I really love, I’ll take it.

Features: magnetic collar, floral lace fabric weave, built-in air conditioning/show shirt abilities, shiny buttons.

Magical powers granted: fabulous posture.

(If you’re wondering why all the crazy colours, I’ve been working on the NorCal OTTB website for like three straight days and my brain is melting and so I went a little kookoo.)


Remember a few months ago when I alluded to a nonprofit website I was working on?  Well, it’s finally done.  Finally.  Welcome to the world, NorCal OTTB!


Of course, we also have a blog!


I’ve been working on this in absolutely every moment of my spare time in the last few weeks (plus bits and pieces for months before that).  My brain is melting — and I didn’t even have to code it!  Thanks WebDesigner Mike.  You are my hero.

I’d love it if you’d head on over and check it out!


I don’t think it takes a genius to notice that Murray is occasionally a little odd.  Sometimes he does things that are totally normal for horses his age (green jump judges’ chairs are scary and you can’t make me go near them!!!), a bit weird compared to other horses (I CAN’T POSSIBLY JUMP THOSE TIRES OH WAIT COOKIES?!), and then there are the things that are downright absurd (I’m COMPLETELY LAME FROM YOU TIGHTENING MY GIRTH oh wait I’m fine now).

dressage1 or “I’m nearing the end of this dressage test, better get in some ninja moves!”

One of the things I often say to self-soothe (and other people say it too so I don’t feel totally absurd doing so) is that I would be bored with an easier horse.  And then the other night at happy hour one of my much more experienced friends challenged me.  “Would you really be bored,” she asked “if you were moving up the levels?”

And the totally honest answer is no.  Of course not.

If I were steadily moving up the levels on a horse that was pretty straightforward and not challenging my choices to tack him up daily?  Yeah.  Probably would not be that bored.  Would I learn a lot from this hypothetical schoolmaster?  You betcha.  I’d probably be learning all kinds of wonderful things.  I’d be learning about sitting the trot and jumping combinations at 3’3″.  I’d be learning about half pass and jogs and vet boxes and ice boots.  I’d be jumping the white on black and steeling my courage to jump the green numbers.

IMG_1316Yep, can’t deny it. I wanna jump the green numbers. One day.

Only one little thing can ruin my hypothetical career with Mr. Hypothetical Schoolmaster.  Money.  Let’s ignore the money I never had to buy this unicorn.  I don’t have the money to lesson, school, or show at the frequency that would have me making progress — much faster than I am now — with Mr. Hypothetical Schoolmaster.  I am the limiting factor here.  I don’t have the experience or mental game to show a Novice or above right now.  Mr. Hypothetical Schoolmaster might be able to get me around the course, but what would I be doing up there?

Now, this is not to say that I would not be learning a ton at my current level with Mr. Hypothetical Schoolmaster.  Probably I’d develop a super strong lower leg and my position over fences would be flawless.  Since Mr. Hypothetical Schoolmaster also loves bareback rides, I’d be a fucking master of the bareback nation.  I’d be able to jump holding the reins with one hand and spank my horse with the other — not that I’d ever need to spank Mr. Hypothetical Schoolmaster, probably.  I’d be able to jump with the reins between my teeth and my arms outstretched and take a selfie mid-fence.  However, some of these behaviors are not the behaviors of someone who isn’t a little bored.

Which brings me back to Princess Sensitive over here, and something my Riding Best Friend (RBF) said to me a little while ago.

5-21 dressage 9

In his own asymmetrical and illogical kind of way, Murray is teaching me something that no other horse could.  I’ve talked about this before, but he’s teaching me patience and strength.  He’s teaching me to be subtle and ask for what I want with a quiet firmness.  But Murray is also teaching me how to approach a non-traditional horse.  How do you get Princess Sensitive to accept contact and travel around with a relaxed back?  Time.  Persistence.  And the occasional bitchfight.  I’m learning when to stick with a strategy and when it’s time to get creative and try something else.  I’ve learned how to quit on a good note and when I should push for a little more.  I’ve even learned how to recover from pushing too much and get back to a good mental place when I can.

In fact, every horse teaches you something so perfectly that no other horse could.  I think back on the horses I’ve ridden and I’ve learned something new from every one of them.  Lesson horses taught me to adapt and to not let my perceptions of a horse’s limitations prevent me from the task at hand.  Mighty taught me to keep my leg on and ride aggressively.  To square my corners and keep the outside shoulder under control.  But he also taught me to be brave.  Quincy taught me to be strong in a way I didn’t know I could be (shit, I might need some Quincy lessons again soon!).  He taught me to ride all the way to a fence, to commit, and to pay attention right up until the last minute.

Isn’t it an interesting thought?  Every horse perfectly teaches you something no other horse could.

Just some light thoughts for your Monday morning.


Africa Fridays: Captain Janeway

You asked, and so I deliver: some stories about Jane, my favourite chimp ever.  And I do not say that lightly.  Many chimps have surprised me with their shocking intelligence, made my heart melt with their kindness, and looked into my soul in a way no other animal has (sorry Jelly and boyfriend, but it’s true).  But Jane remains a favourite, in part for being the first, and in part because her personality spoke to me so strongly.

To tell you stories about Jane I need to start from the beginning, which isn’t necessarily the beginning for Jane but a beginning nonetheless.

Since time immemorial the forest-living tribes-people of Africa have hunted and eaten chimpanzees for meat.  This is a fact.  And starting in the late 19th century, white explorers have been obsessed with getting specimens of rare African animals to show either as museum taxidermies or to live in menageries, zoos, and more recently, circuses.  So it was quickly realised, for those tribes that had contact with white explorers, that baby chimpanzees — not great for meat because they are small — were worth much more when sold alive.  Probably young chimpanzees were kept as pets before this; West Africans are comfortable around young chimps, gorillas, and monkeys in a way that I never saw in East Africa (where their contact with primates is much different), so there’s that.

IMG_2237Eva and Angela break up the text

To make a long story short, as I’m already being quite verbose, chimps are bad pets, no matter what way you cut it, and that has created a huge demand of chimps that have had really shitty early lives that need sanctuary.  Across Africa there are close to 1500 chimps in sanctuaries, though fortunately fewer and fewer need sanctuary each year.  One hopes this is because of increasing success in educational and enforcement campaigns.

Jane began her life as all young chimps do, in the forest with her mother.  And then one day, through a series of unfortunate events, she found herself packed in a wooden crate with four other chimps headed for the Middle East.  Kenya, as it turns out, used to be one of the major hubs for trafficking illegal wildlife out of Africa, as the airport security were notoriously corrupt.  On this day, though, the crate was intercepted, and five little chimps ranging in age from 3-6 tumbled out when opened.  It’s unclear where in Africa Jane came from.  I’m not sure even the sanctuary knows where this crate was coming from originally.  And since the largest portion of chimpanzee range is also part of one of the biggest disasters of a country in Africa (sorry DRC, looking at you), it’s quite possible that each chimp in that crate came from a different place and had just accumulated in Kenya before shipment.  Or maybe they were all captured together.  We will likely never know.

When she arrived at the sanctuary, the management was trying a new strategy with little chimps.  Instead of raising them with humans, as had been standard practice in the past, the young chimps that would normally be riding around on their mothers were fostered on trustworthy females.  Ideally, this would mean that the little chimps would be raised more naturally, while also enriching the adult females’ lives, as all of them were on birth control implants to prevent breeding.  (Every chimp born in a sanctuary is one they can’t rescue, you know.)  Jane and the other littlest chimp in the crate, Victoria, were given to Akela.


Akela was in her early twenties at the time, calm, level-headed, and incredibly smart.  However, her overwhelming fear of electricity meant that she never had any incentive to test the fence.  She did, however, happily try to pick any and all locks she could see with sticks or pieces of straw.  One day she got a hold of my digital voice recorder and methodically took it apart piece by piece, licked them all, and then handed them back to me.  All the while — until it was too broken, of course — it played back my recordings of a previous day’s fight.

IMG_7253RIP voice recorder.

Akela dutifully carried her two babies around, one on top and one underneath — or sometimes both on top — until an unfortunate incident with one of the big males made it clear that two babies were too many for one chimp.  Victoria, slightly smaller and much less fierce than Jane, became separated from Akela during some commotion one day and one of the big males picked her up and threw her against the ground.  Jane and Akela made a clean getaway, but the staff decided that probably Victoria should get her own mother, and while she was separated for medical treatment they fostered her onto another incredibly smart chimp in the other group, Alley.  (Remember Alley, protagonist of this story? Yeah.  Victoria is fortunately too dumb to learn Alley’s ways.)  Jane remained with her genius mother, but is sadly not that much of a genius.

To me, Jane was the perfect example of how a chimp should feel about people.  She knew that people fed her, and that they could help her sometimes (one caregiver in particular would go out of his way to make sure Jane got plenty of good fruit, and so she would always keep an eye out for him), but for the most part she didn’t care for us unless we could directly impact her life.  Jane was a chimp’s chimp, always playing and fighting with her best friend Joy and climbing far higher in the trees than all but one other chimp I knew. If nobody wanted to play with her — and that was increasingly true as Joy, only a year Jane’s senior, took after her obese mother and did less playing and more resting — that was fine.  Jane was more than happy to entertain herself splashing around in the water trough or rolling around in the long grass.  On the days the staff would put orange cordial concentrate (ostensibly for added vitamin C but really because the chimps loved it) in the water trough, Jane would dip the top of her head in, and shake it around violently, and end up with a spiky afro for the rest of the day.

IMG_3496Drinking water from the hose

Jane was the first chimp I ever “touched”, though I would not recommend the experience.  After a whole summer of watching her play with Joy and learning all about chimps I thought I knew them sooooo well, and would often joke with the caregivers that if Jane were to escape the enclosure and I were around it would be fine, as we would just play all day and have a grand old time.  They, of course, thought this was fucking ridiculous but said nothing (if she had escaped and it were just me around, and she didn’t freak out and jump back in the enclosure, Jane probably would have beaten the crap out of me).  At the end of the summer, one in which I had carefully stayed a full arms-length away from the chimps at all times and had interacted with none of them, one caregiver asked if I wanted to give Jane a banana during the night feeding in the sleeping quarters.  Did I want to give Jane a banana?! No shit I wanted to give Jane a banana!!!  So the caregiver gave me one of the little forest bananas, and I held it out to Jane happily.  Jane looked me in the eye and snatch-slapped that banana out of my hand violently, the kind of movement that has you withdrawing before you even realise what you’re responding to.  The caregiver laughed at me while Jane ate her banana victoriously and self-righteously.  They both taught me a valuable lesson that day.

IMG_5519Let me just help you with the plumbing here.

In 2011 Jane tamed a small family of warthogs.  The warthogs would visit the chimps’ feeding area after every meal to clean up the leftovers.  Hell, I would have cleaned up the leftovers.  The chimps ate mostly tropical fruit and vegetables, and I ate terribly that year.  When the warthogs showed up with their babies after the long rains (no “spring” on the equator) Jane stealthily grabbed the babies by one leg and dragged them around or held them until they stopped screaming.  Sometimes they got away from her.  Sometimes they didn’t.  She never killed one with love as far as anyone saw.  Eventually the warthogs were so habituated to her that they would share her scraps from right next to her, though they were still very skittish about people.  Once, I saw her very slowly reach out her hand and, knuckles down, gently pet the top of a young warthog’s head the way one would with a shy dog.

This taming was, of course, to backfire on Jane.  In 2012 the warthogs she had tamed outweighed her by 50 pounds and were bolder, pushier, and hungrier than before.  They stopped at nothing, no longer happy to eat the chimps’ scraps, they walked right up to the chimps’ piles of food (typically kept between their legs/in their lap, but chimp legs are short and they don’t usually sit with them straight out so they kinda pile food between their knees) and started stealing food with wanton abandon.  This irritated the other chimps in Jane’s group, but for the most part they shooed the warthogs away with an angry wrist-shake or slap.  Jane was not so lucky.  The warthogs were so accustomed to her that no amount of wrist-shaking or yelling or slapping would get them to leave her alone.  She resorted to beating them with sticks, and still a few of them pestered her relentlessly for food.  In the story that has plagued so many humans, Jane was tricked by Nature.  I found it fitting (and laughed at her mercilessly, sorry kiddo).

IMG_5509Oh this is the second time you’ve laid pipe to that cement trough to deliver water? Let me help you with some employment security.

For all of her virtues that I’ve extolled, I often joked that Jane was the devil in a chimp suit, and not only because her eyes are practically red.  Before she got used to me observing every day she threw things at me frequently — small rocks, dirt, sticks, avocado pits, avocados — and I was only really saved by her abysmal aim.  Whenever I would try to take pictures of her up close she would always throw dirt at my camera lens.  Pretty much the only thing she didn’t throw was feces and mangoes, one of which I’m thankful for and the other a little sad about.  Jane played harder, pant-grunted louder, and gambolled more joyfully than any chimp I knew.  She would break trees swinging in the branches, risk falling into the river to dangle over the edge holding on to the grass just with her toes, and bothered all of her group-mates with her frequent requests for play time.  For all her pestering she knew how to stay out of trouble, and I don’t recall a single time she got in any kind of fight (except with Joy, and those two fought like sisters).

More than a single event, Jane won me over with her overbearingly cheerful approach toward life.  She started out with this absolutely shittacular infancy — ripped away from her real mother, alone for an unknowable amount of time, stuffed in a box and shipped off to anywhere — and yet she showed none of those scars.  Instead, she took what she had and ran with it.  No chimps to play with? No problem, she’d play with a bottle.  No trees to climb in? Not necessary when you can do somersaults.  Big Man in the group in a terrible mood?  Placate, get out of the way, and get on with life.

Jane will never live in the wild, and probably never get to experience the joys of raising her own little hellion.  But I’m glad she made it to a sanctuary, and even more glad I got to know her.  She was a good friend, and I can only hope to see more of her as she grows up and we both get on with our lives.


If you are interested in learning more about the wildlife trade in general, you can do so on the Wildlife Conservation Society Wildlife Trade program page or on the Jane Goodall Institute website.  In many countries WCS does fantastic work educating both citizens and law enforcement on why we should be motivated to keep wildlife wild.  If you are interested in donating to help protect Great Apes, you can do so at the WCS website and many other places.  One of my personal favourites is the Jane Goodall Institute.  JGI works tirelessly in Africa to both directly protect Great Ape habitat as well as provide support for displaced Apes. 

throwback thursday: the tire incident

There are many reasons I wish I’d started my blog earlier, and sharing these old Murray stories are definitely some of them.  My first, oh, nine?, months with Murray were peppered with incidents so absurd that there was nothing to do but laugh about them.  And he had a heavy hand with the pepper.  On the other hand, it’s  good I didn’t write about this when it happened, because now I can flex my storytelling muscles and explain in gory detail the absolute ridiculousness that was the tire incident.

Back in February of 2014 Murray and I were in regular lessons with a friend, but for some reason found ourselves lessoning alone that morning.  After successfully coursing we approached a standard tire jump for one of our last fences.  Murray and I had jumped the tires successfully a few weeks earlier, but for some reason had not jumped them for a little while.  And for the first time, Murray stopped dead in front of the tires.  I was used to his noodly run outs and rider-error-glance-offs, but this was the first time Murray had ever really sat down and said “no way!” to a fence.  I let Murray get up close and personal with the tires, we re-approached, and he stopped hard again.

murraydonwannaPony’s got stops.

At this point B* was like “time for an extra defensive ride!” and so that’s what I did.  I jammed my seat down, kept my leg on, and ran Murray at the tires.  It wasn’t pretty, but we got over it.  Two refusals and one jump later and the tires were just not coming naturally to us.  Our last approach ended with Murray half jumping, then deciding not to at the last minute, and me crashing into the tires over his shoulder with his legs all around me, miraculously not crushing my body.  On the plus side, landing in a bunch of old tires is really not unpleasant.

After crashing spectacularly and only getting Murray over the tires twice in seven attempts, we decided it was time to resort to something that lacked the tired-and-out-of-shape-weakling-amateur element.  We slapped Murray on the lunge line, and F shooed him towards the fence which (we should have known) he said “no, thank you!” to quite handily.  And by said “no, thank you!” I mean that within about ten seconds he had ripped the lunge line out of B’s hands and galloped off to the opposite end of the arena.

I caught Murray (does it surprise any of you to know that he won’t let B catch him?) and brought him back over, and we pointed him at the tires again.  This time he had a much more civilized “no, thank you!” and just ran around the tires.  I mean, he’s an 1100 pound noodle with a great fondness for going sideways.  Of course he just ran around the tires.

14627101506_4b0c8518f2_oMurray’s “no, thank you” face

We propped a pole up on the outside edge of the tires so Murray would be channeled over the jump instead of around it, and he ran out towards the inside instead.  A placement pole on the inside simply encourage him to jump sideways over the outside pole.  At some point in this whole endeavour our barn manager showed up and offered to relieve B of her lunging duty (B had a weak collarbone from a recent break at the time), but B was like nope, gotta do this.  She lunged him away from the tires so he would remember what the whole “circling” deal was, and we got back to it.

The theatrics started.  Murray was doing absolutely everything in his power to avoid going near those tires at any speed greater than a walk.  We would lead him up to them, he would touch them, and then when he reapproached at the trot it was like we were asking him to jump the grand canyon.  Hi-ho Silver! antics were to follow.  And let me tell you, I have never seen a horse rear that high outside of the movies.  Murray went straight up and was striking the air, pawing like he was posing for the cover of a Walter Farley novel.  When he got back on the ground he would throw his head down and try to scrape the lunge line off his face.

We pulled tires out of the jump so it was more inviting for him.  We pulled out so many tires, in fact, that he could walk right through.  I walked back and forth through the gap and tried to lead Murray through and he was not having it.

And then Barn Manager said “do you have a cookie?”

And I was like “why yes, I always keep spare cookies in my jacket pocket.”  I ran over to the mounting block to get my cookies.

I stood in front of the gap between the tires and F led Murray right up to it.  And then I held out my hand and offered him a cookie.  I looked at Murray.  Murray looked at me.

And he went, “OHH COOKIES!!!!!!” and walked right through the gap between the tires.

And then he trotted through the gap between the tires.  And then he jumped over the gap between the tires.  We put the tires back in the gap one by one, and thirty seconds and four jumps later Murray had jumped the tires without any sign of stress or hesitation.

Forty minutes of lunging with absolutely no success, and all Murray needed to agree to what we were trying to get him to do was a cookie. A SINGLE COOKIE.


* After going back and forth I’ve decided to replace my trainer’s name with a single letter on here.  I want to preserve her privacy a little, even though probably nobody cares.

Viva Carlos Blog Hop: My Cubicle

I’m fourteen days late to this party because I really hemmed and hawed about joining the hop.  For various reasons I didn’t really want people knowing exactly where I worked, but then I realised that I kinda shucked all anonymity already on this blog.  So I’m just going to do it… in a kindof cheater way.

I work 2.5 jobs at the momentIMG_20150626_172030, as long as you count my thesis as a job.  When I’m teaching, I guess I would up that to 3.5.  It’s funny, because until I wrote this down I never thought of myself as the type of person holding multiple jobs to make ends meet but… I guess I am.  For my most important job (thesis), I do a lot of work from the safety and comfort of my couch.  From there, my view tends to look a lot like this.

We’re either reading food blogs or looking at a Viva Carlos post. Not even sure.

As you can imagine, my office mates are rather useless for data analysis.  They are extremely useful at convincing me it is time to go to the barn.


When I can escape their siren-like lure and heat into my office on campus, I live in one of those sea-of-cubes type setups.  It’s actually not even fully walled cubes either.  A quadrat of graduate students get four desks that face inwards, with half-walls separating us from the next quadrat.


My desk is decorated prolifically with pictures from Africa and books about primates.  I use an ancient second monitor that is set up poorly, and thus I have to move my mouse off the right hand side of my screen for it to fly in on the left of the other monitor.  I make it work.  I keep food at my desk because I like to flaunt the rules of food safety, and I hate walking back and forth to the refrigerator.  And because I’m a coffee snob I bring my own in every day instead of drinking whatever is available at work, or buying any (because horses).


There are slippers and more books stored under my desk (it gets cold in our office), and I keep a blanket on my chair.  The notecard held up by the red push pin on my bulletin board is a layout of dressage court letters.  One of my best friends and desk predecessor left me the poster that’s above my desk.  I helped collect her data and don’t have any posters of my own, so it seems fitting to leave it there.

I put up a super judgmental picture of one of my favourite chimps behind my computer so that I would be reminded to work hard and go back to see her.  I’m disappointed to say the tactic didn’t work, but I enjoy having my Janie stare down at me whenever I open or close my laptop.

4_IMG_4177Jane is watching you.  (She was actually way cuter than this picture demonstrates.  Unfortunately, she also hated having her picture taken so whenever I would try to she would shield her face or throw dirt at my camera.  This was about as good as I ever got.)

I should tell you guys some stories about Jane some time.  She was the best, man.

Now, none of these office views are particularly inspiring.  So to distract you all, here’s my all time favourite office view.  From when I lived in Congo.  Best office ever.

congo sunset 3a


Murray and I have now proven ourselves to be such delicate flowers that Alana offered to take me on my very own XC schooling adventure last week, to prep for the upcoming show at Woodland Stallion Station.  You see, our last adventure didn’t go so well, and beyond my general lack of understanding how I needed to ride, part of that was the group atmosphere.

If I didn’t tell you before, I hate schooling in big groups.  It’s generally nothing about the people themselves, but just the emergent property of groups that somehow it takes 2^n (where n is the number of people in the group) amount of time to get anything done.  People are gabbing, facing the wrong direction, not paying attention, having a jolly good time and all that… and I’m over here like “let’s jump this shit and move on. Jump it and move on.”  It’s part an adaptive strategy from Murray (who until quite recently couldn’t school in groups), and part just my general desire not to sit around in the sun, wait, or force the horses to do those things.  Now, of course I’m very understanding when someone needs additional schooling — that’s something else entirely, and I get that everyone (especially me) has those days/weeks/months/moments — but it’s all the other sitting around that gets to me.

So we went schooling all by ourselves.  And it was awesome!


The theme of the outing was accountability (much like my life, right now).  Within the first couple of jumps, Murray proved that as long as I’m riding right, he’s willing to go.  As I’ve written about, at Camelot I mistook Murray’s forward gallop for confidence and bravery.  Since then I’ve been slowing everything down so that Murray can remember that fences don’t eat you, and I can re-learn how to ride.  But in the course of slowing everything down I over-corrected too far in the other direction.  On our first approach to a quarter-round-bench-thingy, I mistook Murray’s slow-and-steady canter for quiet confidence and didn’t check in with him to remind him that we were really going.  So we didn’t.

Alana reminded me to actually be present for the ride, and when I re-approached with some leg (possibly more than necessary!), Murray went right over.  For the rest of our time out on course, I worked on finding the pace that was calm and steady enough to be safe, while also containing enough energy and enthusiasm for Murray to feel like this was no big thing.  A very valuable lesson, since clearly balls-out galloping is not a solution.

We worked backwards through the course and came to our old nemesis… the curious case of the extremely steeply downhill log.  Alana had me trot up it first so that Murray would know exactly what the question looked like backwards and forwards.


I was a little apprehensive but just maintained that forward canter and soft contact and Murray took care of the rest.  Thank goodness for awesome ponies.  Also, powerful canter uphill feeling!

And then we trotted down it the other way.  Alana checked out all the footing in front of it first, as part of our problem last time was that Murray skidded in the loose footing.  Clearly we were not the only horses that had slipped because there were two distinct divets/holes right in front of the log.  Alana had me steer to the left of those and approach at a trot but not let Murray die out and lose power.  Our first go over was a bit lurchy, so we repeated it a few times for good measure.



Improvement, right?

We worked our way back towards the beginning of the old course and strung together a few fences at a time.  Murray felt better and better as we went, and finding the right pace became less challenging.  At least part of that was Murray listening to me more — he had to spend less energy just figuring out how to keep the two of us alive (technically my job, but apparently I couldn’t be trusted).  The super awesome upside of this is that it left Murray free to do all those awesome things he used to — like regulate his own striding as we approached the fences, settle back on his haunches, and not rub every single fence we jumped.  Now I just need to get my position back under control.

I have a few new rider-goals for the event at the end of the month.  First, to balance Murray’s energy to prevent him from getting rushed and frantic but keep enough power and speed.  Second, be present for every fence.  Even though you can’t always ride just one fence at a time, I can’t let my thoughts about the next fence prevent me from riding the one in front of me.

I find myself slightly annoyed that I didn’t take the time to learn these lessons before — or at least, did not learn them well enough to implement them when they were critical!  But it is a learning process, and we’re working on it together.  Probably it’s a good thing that Murray let me know I couldn’t ride him absentmindedly at such a low level; much safer than if he’d suddenly put up a fuss at Novice or above.  Yet another thing I ought to thank my horse for.

camelotfallOne more time for good measure.


Accountability has been the name of the game with me and Princess Murray lately.  I made all these goals at the beginning of the quarter, and a big part of achieving them means that we have to start getting serious about some things.  For example, no more yucky transitions.

IMG_3788(Memo to Murray: inverting is not the appropriate response to a request for a transition.)

No more sticky walk where I nag for forward with my seat.

No more rooting the reins out of my hands because I put some leg on.

No more dinosaur screams just because you feel like it. Kidding. Dinosaur screams accepted at all times.

It wasn’t until today that I realised that this means there is much, much more for me to be accountable for too!  Of course I knew that I was the one who was supposed to be setting Princess Murray up for these beautiful transitions, and encouraging him to respond to my aids instead of react to my aids.

So today, as is our program, I flatted a bit in my dressage bridle and jump saddle and reminded Murray that we are polite even on jumping days.  And then I popped around a few fences to work on my “prep” and “maintaining” seats, and Murray was a champ.  He popped around like it was his job (er, duh, it is) and I felt no hesitation from him even when we were approached the quarter round without standards or the scaryscarytires.

I’ve been jumping around on a fairly loose rein so if I get grabby when I get nervous I don’t mess with Murray’s mojo, and after I took a white gate on a floppy rein and tried to turn left, Murray kinda inverted his body and fishtailed around and changed leads up front but not behind and I was like “oh”.

The turn was shitty because I didn’t ride it properly.  Surprise!  And I didn’t ride it because I was so busy flopping around on the loose rein.  Oops!  But in all honesty, if I want us to improve, I have to be accountable too.  I can’t expect Murray to execute a nice turn if I don’t ride it right, and I can hardly expect Murray to remember that turns are to be executed nicely in general if I only ask him to do it half the time.

This requires a bit more planning from me.  If I have to ride up to the fences with a bit of a loose contact, for now, then I need to figure out how to get organized enough on the other side to give Murray the ride that he needs.  It’s not fair to Murray to expect this sometimes and not others, and then get cranky at him when he doesn’t do what I ask sometimes.  I mean, you study animal behavior, Nicole.  Pattern building.  Operant conditioning.  Pattern learning.  Get a grip, girl.

All of this to say that it’s time for me to be accountable all the time too.  Time to ride with more thought and reasonability, to ask what is fair as well as what is right, and to keep my pimp hand strong!!! keep both of us on course without flying into some kind of rage.  If Murray has proven anything to me lately, it’s that he will perform above and beyond expectations if only I ride properly.  It’s cool, Nicole, it’s just time to ride better all the time.  Ride right and don’t mess up and be fair and have good transitions and don’t twist my body and sit up straight and leg on and soft hands and and AND.

Ugh I can already feel the need for a hack coming on.

IMG_20150125_113058Posting this picture makes me wonder where that shirt went.