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.
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.
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.