long spot

Ever since Camelot Murray and I have been struggling to get our jumping groove back.  What once seemed so effortless and flowing has left me huffing and puffing and wondering where our mojo is.

It’s not been all bad.  This has forced me to iron out many kinks I was allowing to linger in my riding.  Because, you see, when you have this really forward, honest horse that will jump anything from whatever shitty angle/spot/position/swinging lower leg you put him into it at, a little part of you might just keep letting your horse jump like that, even when you know better and know you have to improve.  Murray has also had some lateral imbalance/weakness going on, and I’ve had to come to terms with how much my own position might be affecting those things too.

After a jump lesson where Murray basically couldn’t not drift left over the jumps, and in which I reacted rather poorly to such behavior, I paid very, very close attention to how my body was “sitting” on Murray’s during my next jump lesson.  Much to my surprise and dismay, I discovered that when we’re tracking left, if he’s blowing through  my left aids I — for some reason — twist my upper body to the right in an attempt to move him over.  So no wonder he was falling left.

The left drift isn’t all me, I noticed it even when I was being super conscious of pushing him into my right rein, so there’s definitely some strengthening to do there.  But now that I know my part of it, I will work on forcing that out of the equation.

B demanded that we jump a vertical in both directions without drifting before we moved on to adding additional jumps.  Once we had the no-drift on the vertical down, B added in another vertical halfway around the arena.  Our first ride into that Murray chipped in a pretty short stride, so B had me push him for the open spot.  It worked, but since my pushing him to scary fences in my last lesson didn’t work out so well I was a bit apprehensive.  Our lesson was pretty fast-paced with lots of cantering around, and the little beast is getting hairy quite rapidly, so we were both sweating and huffing and puffing by the time we got to the first fence that he questioned.

Murray just kinda… stopped in front of a cord wood stack that we have jumped several times before (though not in this location).  It was in a bending line coming off a big-ish oxer, and I blamed his tiredness as he sputtered out to the fence.  B was having none of it.  Apparently we are both advanced enough that being “a little bit tired” is not an excuse, and Murray wasn’t that tired anyway.  So I drove him to the cord wood and he jumped it, but put in a pretty big chip again.  I watched my left drift and forced him onto it straight, and it was fine.

When we started up our next course I could feel Murray sputtering out as we approached a fence that crossed the arena, so as we came out of the corner I reached back and gave him a tap on the bum with my whip.  I’ve been practicing moving my hands around and jumping one handed so I’m more comfortable giving up the reins close to a fence, and in this case it really paid off.  Murray picked up the pace, added power, and took a huge long spot to the fence.  I mean, we’re talking a solid 9′ takeoff to a 2’9″ fence (which he jumped more like it was 3’3″).  The kid barely has a 9′ stride, so that was a launcher.  My whip hand kinda flailed in the air over the fence and I only really regained my reins upon landing, so Murray was a bit flustered and concerned that I might hit him again, but it got him really listening for the rest of the lesson.

IMG_0813Like this, but less like a deer and more like a horse.

Coming into the two-stride line for the first time I opted to back off a bit and let Murray pick his own spots, even if it meant getting 3 in the combination.  B said I should just be prepared to ride the combination either as a 3 or, if the chip into the first one sent us forward, as a 2.  Murray was predictable and put 3 in the first time.  The second time we came around to it he also chipped into the first fence, but instead of sitting back for the three he opened up his stride and made the 2 with another launcher over the second oxer.

The two long spots are really the notable parts of the lesson.  First, Murray has never been inclined to decide to take long spots.  Some combination of my personality and his personality and athleticism have made it such that we can chip into anything up to — oh about 3’3″ — and get over it reasonably.  That’s not to say I prefer to chip into big fences, just that we have and it’s not been the end of the world.  B pointed out that chipping in is not always the right choice.  It doesn’t always get you out of trouble, you can’t always make it over the fences, and it’s not the most energetically efficient thing.  So it shows some maturity (I hope?) that Murray considered some long spots and didn’t think they were the worst thing ever.  In fact, he thought they were so much not the worst thing ever he put in several others throughout the lesson and a subsequent jump school.

Even better, these weren’t flaily-flat long spots that he took out of a misjudged distance or mistaken ground line.  Murray coiled up his haunches and launched us over those fences with plenty of room and energy to spare.  This is where my old position — imperfect in many ways — was superior to my current position.  If I’m a little bit out of the saddle and balanced in a half seat, then I’m more prepared to fold my body into those long spots as they come, instead of being surprised by them because I’m actively sitting back.  However, the better thing would be to strike a balance between sitting back and up and just slightly out of the saddle (as I saw many riders do at the Sac International this weekend) so that those spots aren’t surprising and I’m in a defensive position if I need it.

There is much to work on.  But it’s really nice to know that my horse is both mentally and athletically inclined to jump better, and bigger, things.

Couldn’t resist. Needed one more.


I’m attempting to get back to something of a normal blogging schedule.  School is starting back up, so now I will be juggling my time between my jobs and school a bit more, but I honestly think I can manage it.  As long as I don’t waste too much time driving between places…. I think.

Anyway, this weekend I celebrated a couple of anniversaries.  First, mine!  I had my golden birthday (turned 27 on the 27th!) and one of my friends made me the most magnificent cake EVER.

unicakeThat this cake coincided with team Always Be A Unicorn’s victory at the AECs is no coincidence, I am sure.  Unicorns are majikal.

It looked even better with 27 candles.


And then I sacrificed the horn to the gods.  i.e. I put it on my head and my friends took pictures.

And photoshopped them.


My birthday is also, almost, Murray’s and my anniversary of starting to work together.  I was technically out of the country on my birthday in 2014, and started working with Murray on the 29th of September, but I call them close enough.  This year, I was lucky enough to ride my horse on my birthday.  A first.  It felt pretty awesome.  I’m trying to come up with some kind of fitting ode to Murray this year.  Other than feeding him unicorn cake, of course.

 logoHorse Junkies United, where I also blog, just underwent a remodel.  One of the things we released with the remodel was a series of blogs about why we blog, and I wrote one that was pretty hard.  I sorted out a lot of my feelings about Murray post-Camelot (much of which I did on here, and with your help) and came to a pretty awesome-feeling conclusion: that I was being a giant cockhead.  I’ve written about much of that on here already, but this blog put it all together in one place and was really soul-cleansing to write.

ecogoldAlso, Ecogold is doing two half pad giveaways right now, if you’re interested.  One over at Heels Down Magazine, which is a pretty fucking swank swag bag for the winner, and one on The Legal Equestrian.

And that is it for me, for now.  Tonight I will recap some jumping exercises and progress Murray and I have made, and tomorrow I TEACH.  Oh undergrads, fear me.


I’m going to have to conduct a sub-study on whether or not radio-silence on blogs correlates with great leaps of progress in thesis.  I redid an analysis last week, experimented with a few different ways of looking at my data, ultimately settled on thresholding at a different level, got a better result, and then wrote sixteen pages on Monday.  I guess I really “re-wrote” sixteen pages, as it was revisions to a chapter I already had a draft of but… whatevs.


Anyway, to do that I kinda had to reserve my writing juju for my thesis and not use it up here.  While writing here every day has definitely made writing easier, it seems that I have a finite amount of writing resources and I can’t fritter them away on blogging.  Or more realistically, I probably do better when I’m not distracted by all the cool and wonderful things happening in the horsey blog world.  My absence made my heart quite fond, though.

Murray and I have been riding our own little rollercoaster lately. We had an absolutely fantastic jump lessons where, despite being a little bit concerned about some new fences out there, Murray was jumping everything in stride and really listening to me.  I could ask for the add, I could ask for the long spot, I could get him to go over something even when he was like “err that might eat me?”  It felt AMAZING.  We jumped a wide hogsback and turned it into a triple bar and it felt effortless — if not perfect, the power was there.  And then a week later we had a lesson where I could not get that horse back.  I tried so hard, and I asked him for the long spots, and he was like “Uhhh, fuck that.”  He nearly ditched me into a one-stride combo twice (once at the first jump once at the second one), and came not to a screeching halt — that would have been preferable — but to a disorganized, spastic, ugly-trotting halt in front of it once.


It’s been much the same in our dressage rides.  One day Murray spent the entire day busting through my left leg, regardless of which direction we were going, and his once-quite-lovely canter was suddenly this five-beat monstrosity that actually made me want to cry.  Quite literally I was like “where did my horse go? what is wrong with him?”  I wasn’t even asking him to do anything challenging, and his canter was like garbage.  I thought it felt like a bag of trash (reference to The Lonely Island).

With a dressage lesson coming up I wanted Murray to feel good and loose and happy, so I just backed off and went back to doing the things that we used to do all the time.  I’ve noticed a growing weakness in Murray’s right hind, or perhaps a growing disparity in the strength of his left and right sides, so I just focused on getting that right hind under him again.  Shoulder in, leg yield, and a little haunches in (it still makes him booboo faced so I try not to do it too much).  And not only did I get some really quiet, solid work from him, but his gaits were clean and we avoided fights.  Big sigh.  So much better.

Why did I abandon these exercises in my rides?  What did I replace them with?  I don’t not do shoulder-in and leg yields in my rides, but they stopped being the majority of my work and being little transitory bits of my work.  What did I replace them with?  I don’t even know!  Gah, so frustrating.  For now we’ll be back to incorporating lots of shoulder in (shoulder fore at the canter), leg yield, and working on getting the haunches in on all three gaits to make sure that Murray is limbered and strengthened and all those magnificent dressage things.

People say progress/success looks like this.  You’ve seen it around.

I suggest a more accurate version.


I mean, I feel like we are just going around and around and around this staircase.  Same shit, different day.  Good shit, bad shit, boring shit, it’s all the same.  Logically I know we are making progress.  But the steps are tiny.  And there’s a lot of wiggling.  Some days are good.  Some days are mediocre.  Some days are bad.

So this progress is slower than… I thought?  Than I expected?  Did I expect anything other than slow progress on this horse?  No, not really.  When I find myself frustrated I have to wonder at why.  Inevitably, it is the crashing let down from progress the day before.  Somewhere in my brain I assume that because we made some level of progress the day before, not that we should be able to make that same amount of progress the next day, but we should at least be able to maintain the things we did the day before.  But often we can’t.  Those days are the flukes.  They are indicators of a shifting mean, but the mean is shifting waaaay more slowly than those days of progress (or regress) might suggest.

Murray’s progress is like global temperature change models.

Like the Great Wall of China, the stairs are all different sizes.  Sometimes you trip on them.  There’s not really a watch tower or anything at the end, it’s just more stairs going in a different direction.

Tomorrow: dressage lesson with the wonderful Tina.  And hopefully another tiny stair.

mirror mirror

This post seems especially pertinent coming on the heels of SprinklerBandit’s treatise on behavior and communication, and Saiph’s thoughts about animal behavior. It’s been percolating for a while.

My trainer has always maintained that long-term horse and human partners are a lot like one another in personality. I agree, as I’ve seen it so many times in the people around me. Stubborn, sassy people and stubborn, sassy horses. Quiet, steady horses and their quiet, steady people. And more subtle similarities: hiding anxiety in bravado, or masking mistakes with annoyance. Weirdly overreactive, explosively opinionated, slightly crazy with a penchant for cheekiness… nope not talking about anyone specific here. My trainer and our friends always tease me about it when Murray and I are clashing, or when we’re at a show and I’m like “I can’t eat I’m going to puke” and Murray is all “DON’T ANYBODY TOUCH ME I’M GOING TO EXPLODE”.

And then when talking about making a match between a young horse and prospective buyers, my trainer dropped another bomb on me. With young horses, she hypothesized, they become like the people who ride them the most. They take on aspects of their human’s personality. Trainer smiled apologetically at me while she said it. At first I was like “no WAY did I make Murray what he is, he was always a beastie!” but then I stopped to think about it.

IMG_3745Oh I would never flip someone off thusly….

Research suggests that we tend to get along with people that we understand, and we tend to have friends that have similar personalities to ourselves (this is a whole chapter of my thesis, just trust me on this one). Sure, we have friends with complementary or differing personalities, but the vast majority of literature suggests that similarity attracts in terms of friendships.

But research also suggests that as people spend time together their personalities may converge. Are long-time friends similar because they were always similar and that’s the strength of their friendship, or are they similar because over time they became more and more like one another?


Maybe this is like astrology. Maybe if you are just broad enough in your statements there’s enough similarity between any horse-person pair that you can make this statement true. But I’m not so sure. The similarities between me and Murray are what make us a great pair. He’s silly and ridiculous and a little bit naughty – and I can appreciate that. I like to be silly and ridiculous and a little bit naughty myself, so how can I fault the guy when he is? When he’s overstimulated and just needs quiet time, well, more often than not I need some quiet time too. I can’t eat anything more than goldfish crackers at shows, and Murray breaks away from the trailer. We both have a problem with waistbands: I habitually eat too much and need to undo my pants – even in pubic – and Murray hates having a girth put on. And we both love a little Biggie Smalls for pump up music.

Silly superficial similarities aside, sometimes these things are what make us clash so strongly. If I’m being a little bit lazy and not riding quite right and Murray isn’t responding to me, it’s because he has taken the opportunity to be a little bit lazy too. And when I stubbornly insist on doing something my way and only win half the time, it’s because someone just as stubborn insisted that we were going to do it his way instead. I don’t mind too much. Most of the time, it’s a flattering mirror I look into.

Let’s take my RBF (riding best friend!) and her new baby horse, G, as a case study on changing together. When RBF and I went to meet G he was still a colt, and he was sweet and kind and goofy. RBF was coming out of a really hard failed vet check on the horse she’d just been trying, and wasn’t quite herself. Once we moved him over to our barn and started to learn more about him, G proved himself to be the happiest horse I’ve ever met – he’s seriously never had a bad day. As RBF got happier, so did G. Did his cheerful personality help her? Probably. But if she weren’t inclined to smile at his silly horse antics they wouldn’t have worked anyway. G likes to play with anything and everything, and is brave to a point. Even if he doesn’t really understand what you’re asking of him he’s willing to give it a go – and when our trainer tells me RBF to do something she’s a little doubtful of you won’t hear her saying “I can’t” or “no”.

gplayInvisible jumps!

Recently, G discovered that he looooves to play under saddle. Not all the time, but especially out on cross country where the blood is up and excitement is high, G has decided that he’s more than happy to throw his athletic “little” body around for fun. RBF has a great sense of humor, so when G plays around and rolls his back and broncs a little on cross country, she just laughs it off. After all, what does a little play hurt anyone if you don’t have another fence rushing up? I would even go so far as to say my RBF enjoys the playful antics, as an expression of G’s joy.

But what if RBF had more workmanlike goals in mind and didn’t want the play? Probably she’d shut it down fairly quickly and move him along to the next thing. G is a smart boy. He’d learn pretty quickly that RBF doesn’t enjoy his playtime and that one little leap or buck of amusement is all he could get out of her.

12033249_10152970267496568_1851465552_nPure joy. I would have uploaded videos but WP said no.

Taking it even further, if G’s playing around made my RBF legitimately uncomfortable, even just a little bit? When she stopped him from playing, it might be with just a little more force than was necessary. And G might learn that cross country fences are a little more scary than he originally anticipated. Probably they would be fine for a while, and for the things they are both confident about, everything would be peachy keen. But when G felt like celebrating, he’d be told in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t. RBF would get anxious that he would celebrate, and G would get anxious that he couldn’t celebrate. And then suddenly that anxiety would always be there.

It may seem a little farfetched, but I’ve watched it happen to a couple of horse and rider pairs. I’m sure it could happen to an older horse too, with enough time, but young horses are probably more susceptible – and you notice it more. Probably some personalities are more susceptible than others. And on the other hand, think of the good things your horse might impress upon you. I, for one, have learned not to give a fuck where I shit.  Trust, for a start.  If Murray can lay so much trust in my hands, then I ought to be able to do the same for him.  He makes me brave when I would otherwise not be, because he remembers how to do something even if I don’t.

Good or bad, day/month/quarter/year, my horse is a mirror.  Whether I want to or not, what I’m getting from him is a reflection of myself.  So damn if I’m not going to work to make sure it’s the best reflection I’ve ever seen.

horze1Paragons of beauty and talent.


I like to think of myself as someone who has a lot of integrity. Sure, in the past, I’ve done some silly, childish things that didn’t necessarily smack of morals, but kids are not exactly known for making good choices. I’ve also been trained throughout my life to respect authority and the decisions they make. Even though I might personally disagree with someone’s decision, I know very well that people in authoritative positions tend to have a lot more experience than I do and that superior experience is what they based their decision upon.

I also get pretty riled up by people not following the rules, especially when it affects me. I’ve never gone so far as to complain to a technical delegate about another competitor breaking the rules, but I’ve seen some pretty borderline, or even outright “illegal”, things happen at horse shows and that has always lowered my opinion of the individual competing when they just ignore it or let it slide. A few years ago, a professional in my class at a schooling show had his horse stop dead at a fence with flowers in front of it – one that was actually catching many horses off guard. Someone on the sidelines at that fence then clapped and the horse popped over the fence from where she stood. It wasn’t the refusal that galled me, but the help. I’d picked up a stop at that fence too, and maybe if my trainer had been on the sidelines clapping or yelling at my horse, I would have gone too.

IMG_2781Definitely a stop

Worse – and now I’m just complaining – was a video post I saw from a professional who professed proudly that his young horse had gone clean on XC his first time out. After watching the video it was quite clear to me that the horse had stopped twice on course, once at each water. And not only had the horse stopped, he had walked backwards at both water entrances, thus ensuring that the stops constituted a refusal. I understand that from the jump judges’ angle they may not have seen the backward steps the way you could see them in the video. But what was with this young trainer that he was exclaiming this to be a clear run and then posting a video where the horse clearly had not gone clear? Rant over.

rulesgraphicI spent far too much time making this info graphic.  Left of the yellow line you broke the rules, right of the yellow line you didn’t.  Above the black line you got penalized as if you broke the rules, below the black line you didn’t get penalized as if you broke the rules.  Sometimes you break the rules and don’t get penalized.  Sometimes you didn’t break the rules and do get penalized.  Sometimes I should just work on my thesis instead of my blog.

I don’t have much respect for people who complain their way out of penalties they did get, either. In my mind, the rules are quite clear, but I acknowledge that gray area exists. Sometimes you’re in the gray area and the ruling falls in your favor. Sometimes it doesn’t. I believe that it all evens out in the end, and over time the number of times things go in your favor will probably equal the number of times they don’t. If it seems like you’re always getting penalized for rules you think you didn’t break, well, maybe you should go back and read the rules.

Basically, I feel like you should know the rules and stand behind your ride. Even if the end result isn’t really what you wanted.

Thus, it was a very interesting experience for me to go and lodge a complaint a few weekends ago (at the WSS event) about being given a refusal in cross country. The ride was not a perfectly smooth one and there were a few spots where we lurched over the fences from very nearly a standstill. If I had been given a refusal at one of those fences, I may well have taken it and accepted that what the jump judge saw as slightly different from my experience. Calls like that happen in other sports all the time.

Not all those who wander are lost. Some are just scared of jump judges and video cameras by fences.

But the refusal that I did get was, in my mind, very clearly not a refusal. I have jump judged before, at Woodside’s May event where they run BN through Advanced, and am interested in becoming a technical delegate in the future, so the rules of jump judging are important to me. I also have a horse that can behave a bit like a cracked out squirrel, so knowing the rules regarding run outs and refusals is important to me so that I can ride to avoid such penalties.

Another thing that wasn’t on my side was the timing. I came in to the office about two minutes after the official “end” of the period when complaints could be lodged. I didn’t know this, but as I’d been on the show grounds where my horse was stabled for the entire 30 minutes and had never heard an announcement that scores were posted I felt that at least that should be remedied for next time. And fortunately, the ground jury was kind enough to hear me out.

I got lucky. Even though the jump judge and I disagreed on what had happened, the head of the ground jury had seen my wayward adventure and decided that it wasn’t clear enough to call a refusal. So the show staff wiped it from my record and I ended with a clean cross country ride. But it could easily have gone another way. It could easily have turned out such that the head of the ground jury hadn’t seen my ride, or even that the head of the ground jury agreed with the jump judge and my refusal stood.

11667400_943642205658653_1188966562006450135_nWe’re facing away from the fence. Pretty sure I deserved a refusal here.

One of the best things I saw a few years ago was a kid I ride with tell the ground jury at a rated event that she did have a refusal on cross country, when she was given a clear ride. The 20 penalties took her well out of contention for the ribbons, yet this fourteen-year-old did this without a hint of guile or even a second thought. I hope that my integrity is as good as hers if the time comes for it.

Regardless of how the refusal panned out, I would like to think I would have accepted the decision of the ground jury and tried to learn from the incident. But it’s clearly gotten me thinking; about integrity in general as well as my own integrity.  And thinking enough to write a rambling only half-sensical blog post about it.  For now, I will satisfy myself with being very familiar with the rule book, so I know whether my own ride sits in the gray zone and how to avoid them.

safety paradox

Whenever discussions of helmet safety pop up, there’s always that one person out there who is like “well, helmets make you feel more safe and therefore more willing to do dangerous things so ultimately it’s less safe to wear one overall!”  And I always was like

nicki minaj animated GIF uh-huh…

Then I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, Freakonomics, and their very first episode addressed a paradox where the incentives to perform a behavior make it such that this behavior is performed to a level where the incentives no longer exist.  In sporting parlance, adding equipment to make riding (or football or NASCAR or add in your sport of choice here) safer make it such that people do this sport or activity to such a level (bigger, faster, stronger, more dangerouser) that the incentives no longer exist.  So apparently those helmet wearing naysayers were right.

emma stone animated GIF Ugh fine

So there does, in fact, exist a safety paradox.  And if you look at the statistics (I’m not going to repeat them here because it is late and I don’t want to go and get them from the twinternet), the number of serious injuries in sports like football have increased an insane amount as protective equipment has increased.  I suspect that in sports like hockey and other full-contact sports (forgive me for not knowing more, I don’t really follow… other sports) the number of serious injuries have increased as safety equipment has been added also.  I am not sure this statistic holds true for things like NASCAR (do you capitalise that whole word? I don’t even know), when things like fire-resistant suits and cages that keep the driver safe during rolls have made the sport overall safer, however I definitely think that there are probably much more spectacular crashes than in the past.

FOX Sports: Watch. Enjoy. Repeat. animated GIF
Gettin’ some

When I thought deeply about the safety paradox and how it might apply to my life, there are definitely things I will not do without my safety equipment.  I will not ride my horse without a helmet on.  I will not go out on XC and jump the jumps without a vest and helmet.  Now, for the sake of this argument, I will admit that I would could probably jump my horse around a course even up to 3′ without incurring a traumatic brain injury.  Also, I could probably jump around a BN cross country course without having my torso crushed by my horse.  However, and this ties in below, the things I am protecting myself against are not the everyday injuries and casualties of my sport (as in football, where people habitually smash their bodies against other bodies and the ground).  I am protecting myself against the horrible freak accidents that are, sadly, all too common in our sport.

And this ties in to why I don’t think the safety paradox exists as strongly in equine sports than in others.

First, in no equine sport is the human or equine body use as an offensive weapon.

Second, in no equine sport have advancements in equine safety been made such that horse injury or death can be prevented by a single piece of equipment.

corgiderpEven happy XC corgis wear a helmet!

To expound upon my first point, neither my body nor my horses body is used as an offensive device against another horse, human, or obstacle.  The goal of my sport, and most equine sports, is to avoid bashing down the various obstacles that we are presented with.  So… no aspect of the safety elements that we wear make it such that hitting an obstacle is more alluring.


Second, there’s a whole other creature in the equation here!  It’s not just about my safety but also my horse’s safety.  No piece of safety equipment for myself or my horse makes it such that an injury to my horse could be prevented by wearing them.  Tendon boots?  Breakable.  Air vest?  Doesn’t help a horse.  Helmet?  My horse don’t wear one.

But maybe he should! I could see Murray rocking this with a little sparkle and rhinestone action!

So what does this mean in terms of the safety paradox?  Well… I would think it defies it.  There aren’t safety incentives available that make riding so safe for the horse that riding dangerously should be more common.  At least not in my opinion.

Of course, on the other side of this argument, it’s quite possible that safety equipment empowers people to do stupid things they wouldn’t otherwise do with their horses.  Jumping bigger than they or their horse are capable of.  Galloping in an unsafe position or out of control.  Unbalanced sliding stops (I don’t know I’m searching for an example here).  Maybe that is the whole point of this paradox, but “stupid” is the key word for me here.  However, in all of these cases I posit that a person could be killed or seriously injured even with their safety equipment.  There ain’t no* cure for stupid.

camelotfallJust throwing this in here for good measure.

* Double negative intentional, because there is a cure for stupid. But only one.

tricksy hobbitses

My glorious return to riding after Murray’s week off post event (and Nicole’s week off due to moving) was not in any way glorious.  I had this obviously ridiculous expectation that we would leap right back into our dressage work like we had never had any time off, but I didn’t quite expect that we would have so many issues with, uh, everything…

Fall is fast arriving in Northern California, as evidenced by the BLASTING North wind coming through my barn Saturday.  This is a hallmark of the valley fall, and makes biking to campus SUPER unpleasant.  And with all the El Nino talk this year, it sounds like we’ll be getting a lot of it…

Anyway!  I got on Murray and we started to stretchy trot around and he was like “steering what?”  He was leaning in to my left leg and cutting corners and when I tried to turn we would wildly overshoot or undershoot.  There was no good steering.  None.  He was also extremely dissatisfied with the contact and couldn’t come to terms with the idea of stretching down or working properly.  It kinda seemed like he really just wanted to trot around with a lesson-pony head set and call it a day.  I didn’t really want to fight about it, and I was riding with two other people in the arena, so I decided to visit the pastures for a bit of a gallop to work it out.

wpid-wp-1441599638966.jpgThe goats are cooler than I am.

The gallop turned out to be an excellent choice.  I got into the pasture and Murray immediately picked up the contact and cantered around beautifully.  We did an accidental conditioning set where I would gallop him out the long side, collect along the short side, and then try to really work on collecting in a circle, and gallop out the long side again.  Murray was obedient and consistent and we saw LOTS of variation in his canter stride.  It was fabulous!  We managed to work on so many things in the canter that I’ve not been able to achieve in the arena, and Murray was connected and bending appropriately even at the gallop.

I’m house sitting for trainer right now, so I came “home” and worked my new project horse.  Yep.  Mine.  It turns out Murray was a total gateway horse, so when the opportunity popped up to go in on a project mare I was like “OH OKAY GREAT IDEA.”  Great idea or not, I’m in it now.  “Peanut” is a former polo mare, so she’s fairly well trained already, and we think she might love jumping too!

wpid-wp-1441599751059.jpgPeanut has no forelock!! I actually kinda think it’s adorable.

Sunday I rode Murray again with every intention of playing some hobbit trickses on him and using a pasture gallop if he was resistant or unsteerable again.  Fortunately, Murray came out ready to work and was super rideable!  We did a little spiral in-spiral out, shoulder-in on a circle, leg yields, and haunches in.  I need to work on his connection going right to left, he tends to get a little more tense and resistant.  But our left leg yield is like woah.

My next riding goal for Sunday was to start collecting the canter up.  One of the things Tina suggested to me was to drive and “pause” at the apex of the canter.  However, the driving motion of my seat really made Murray hollow his back, so instead I tried lightening up my seat and pausing in that motion.  It worked quite well at first, but then Murray was like “obviously you just mean trot when you do that” and I had to really kick on to get him to stay in the canter.  Going left we struggled a little bit with bending left and staying through and shortening up our stride, but we got a few good moments so I praised him profusely and we switched directions.  Right we actually struggled a lot more to slow down the canter, I suspect because Murray was already quite tired and that shit is hard work.  But I convinced him to do it a few times for me and we called it a day.

wpid-wp-1441599724861.jpgHello handsome new foundation horse! Yomybato is such a lovely guy!

This week we’re starting a new lesson regime!  I finagled my way into 2x a week lessons for a little while, so I will be schooling a lot soon.  I can’t wait, seriously.  There are so many things that Murray and I will improve upon with super regular dressage lessons!!  And he will be sooooo saddddd and I will laugh muchly.


Fortunately I have much more media to show for the cross country phase at the WSS Horse Trials. Though first, let me say that the Ariat Odette shirt was on point during stadium.  Coats were waived, and I managed to get the darn thing dirty between dressage and stadium, and you couldn’t tell thanks to the lacy weave!  I got so many compliments on the shirt, it was insane.  Honestly, completely, completely worth it.  If you’re looking for a show shirt right now, it is highly, highly recommended.

11899793_10152969319292676_5243524804442304869_oYep still looks fab.

Also, I forgot to mention that our double clear round in stadium on Saturday moved us up two places, from 11th to 9th (of 12).

After the competitors dinner on Saturday night I went home, went to bed at 9 PM, had super weird dreams, and woke up bright and early at 7 AM.  I had a late-ish XC ride time (11:56) so I ran a few errands, took a monster nerves dump (yep, I said it), and headed out to the event.  I got to watch a few of the riders from my barn going training, and then I was the next rider to go.  So I chilled a bit.

At around 11 I started tacking up with all my friends.  We blasted some Notorious BIG, Jay Z, AIH vs. Busta Rhymes (Touch It Whirlwind, so good but a little dirty) and of course a little Killer Queen.  I had to get pumped.  My friends helped me tack up and it was like, the best.  I love my friends.

20830680750_ca8178fa47_kGalloping with the happiest face ever!

In warm up, Murray was like “WTF IS THIS HELL” because all the juniors in addition to all of the adult BN division had come down and there were waaaaay too many people in the warm up.  I kept my leg on and we chipped in to every warm up fence and I was like “uhhhh…. at least we went?”  B comforted me with the fact that there was a ton of activity (including horses with zero steering, for once it wasn’t me?) and reminded me: leg on, sit tall.

Murray was a professional about the start box.  I was impressed.


The first jump was a teeny weeny little log, and I felt Murray express his confusion a bit as we approached it.  However, it was teeny so he went.  The second fence was where I realised I was in for a push ride — Murray was just a touch backed off to everything.  So I sat down and kept my leg on, and over we went.  Though it was sticky and lurchy, we went over everything.  Murray didn’t look twice at the dirty water, and even though our downhill log was NOT beautiful, we did not stop and did not get freaked out over it.

The only fence that gave us a notable problem was #8 — a little log stack to an up bank.  Murray spooked sideways at the Ride On Video people (oh Murray…), as is his MO, but I managed to turn him back towards the fence and popped over it without crossing our tracks or stopping.

murraypathScary shit to the left. Murray’s path in black.  Important for story below.

And then it was through the water and over the coop  by the crayons and then the log coop and then we were done!

20396132524_a719b570d2_kI might be jumping ahead but we fucking did it.

I nearly cried when we were done.  I’m honestly surprised I didn’t.  Finishing cross country was more than enough redemption for me — sticky though it may have been.

When the scores came out I was confused, because we had somehow incurred 20 jump penalties.  I was pretty sure we didn’t have any stops on course, so I went to look at the detailed results and talk to the officials in charge of jump judging, and lo and behold it was fence 8 where I was penalized.  I was more than happy to accept whatever ruling the ground jury made, however I felt that it was important that I actually understand what counts as a refusal and what doesn’t — especially given that Murray does this sideways behavior more than never.  I chatted with the head of the jump judges and she checked the score sheets, but unfortunately the jump judge hadn’t written anything down about the incident.  The official then went to speak with the head of the ground jury, who fortunately had seen the incident, and ruled that it was not clear enough to call a refusal and removed the penalties from the scores.

20830856128_429a5bce3a_kLast fence!

Obviously in the future I will not be trying to toe the line between runouts and non-runouts, but I was really very sure that jump didn’t count as a run out.  So I was happy that the head of the ground jury agreed with me.

I was really proud of Murray after Sunday.  I know that he wasn’t as confident and brave as he usually feels when we are out schooling, but he did everything I asked him to, and listened to me the whole time.  He also didn’t insist on galloping 500 mpm between the fences, which was actually amazing, so nice to have a reasonable, controlled canter the entire course.  Gives me a lot more time to think!  I don’t think I could have asked for anything more from him — he listened, he went, and we finished without being eliminated.  I would have been happy even if we had kept the refusal.

wpid-wp-1441001474419.jpgYep that shit is real! One of five finishers with no jump/time penalties!

As it was, I managed to achieve one of my big goals for this year, finishing on my dressage score at beginner novice.  More importantly, I think this event put trust in the bank for me and Murray, and helped build his confidence.  Most importantly, redemption.  Yep, I’m that petty.  Redemption was important to me.

Also, the happiest galloping picture from above?  One of my friends suggested a more… appropriate creature to represent my feelings at that moment.


WSS HT: Dressage and Stadium

Phew, long time no blogging.  Moving takes it out of me!  It’s a good thing Murray is  taking a well-deserved mini-vacation right now because I would be useless as a rider.  Due to a lack of media (except one picture from Stadium, thanks Kim!!!), please enjoy some show-related but semi-random photos.

So. The WSS Horse Trials!  I smanged some major goals.  I didn’t get eliminated!  There was joy.  I also suffered disappointment.  I learned.  It was a very well-rounded weekend.

On Friday we trailered over to WSS to stable the horses.  Though the facility is only 20 minutes from our barn, I really wanted to give Murray a chance to get used to the idea of temporary stabling at a place where I could easily come back and get him (and find another solution if necessary).  It was only $30 more, and I reasoned that was well worth it for the experience.  Also, for the likely much-more-balanced dressage ride I would get after letting Murray really settle in to the facility.

IMG_20150829_194301Friday evening, after it was blazingly Sahara hot all day, B came around to school the three of us stabling together in the dressage warm up.  I had a couple of main goals headed in to dressage this weekend, and none of them had to do with scores (thank goodness!).  I wanted to: 1) keep a steadier contact with Murray throughout the test (no more floppy reins!), 2) stay even in the saddle with my left leg long and weight in my left seat bone, and most importantly 3) give Murray the ride he needed to gain confidence and relaxation in dressage.

(Murray enjoys some attention from his teenage staff after stadium.)

During our schooling ride everything seemed to really click.  I was working hard at keeping my left seatbone appropriately weighted and keeping my left leg long.  Murray only had one explosive moment of “wtfffffffffff” and it wasn’t even that explosive.  I felt him get bunchy in the canter, he bucked a few times, and then we got back to work.  B commented that I was the most centered in the saddle that she’s ever seen me, and we looked great.

Dressage warm up the next morning was much the same, without even any explosions.  Murray was a complete professional.  He walked, trotted, and cantered around without kicking anyone in the face or having any major tantrums.  We even managed to achieve the slower, more deliberate canter that Tina likes us to have because it’s a better, more powerful canter (as opposed to flat and rushy).  The only problem we encountered was that I got ready too quickly, shocking, and so I had about seven extra minutes to kill.  I thought “what can it hurt if I get on a little early and hack a little longer?” so I did.  Spoiler alert: I was wrong.

We got into the dressage court and Murray was about as looky and tense as I expected based on past performance.  I managed to get him to give a little and soften in a circle around the judges’ booth, and the judge kindly gave us another whole lap around the ring to settle a bit and told me that she would ring me in as I passed E, which I thought was a really kind thing to alert me to.  Murray stopped spooking at the booth and flowers and ground and we headed in to our test.  I don’t think I ride drastically differently in tests than I do in warm up, but I must because Murray always seems to pick his head up down the centerline and I have to struggle to get him relaxed and soft throughout the first half of the test.  He never really got soft like he did at Camelot, and was a little resistant through the first circle.  When I asked him to canter, all of our beautiful canter transitions from warmup went out the window, and unfortunately Murray hopped and swished his tail like he was doing tempi changes throughout the entire second half of the circle.  The right canter circle was worse — Murray swapped leads behind (BEHIND ONLY. WTF HORSE.), hopped, swapped, did at least one flying change, and I had to trot to correct it.  Of course, once we’d trotted he was like “no, no, no more canter Miss Nicole” and so that was a bit of ugly right in front of the dressage judge.  We did have a quiet down transition and a damn straight halt after the centerline.

There were both good and bad things in the test, but I was overall disappointed by the way Murray “turned off” during the test.  He wasn’t violently rude or angry or upset, just generally grouchy and cranky.  I had a little cry (because I’m a cry baby, yes) and whined to Assistant Trainer about why I didn’t pick an easier horse for a bit.  She told me to take the good with the bad, accept the test for what it was, learn from it, and walk my horse out.  So I did.

IMG_20150829_190729Delicious competitor’s dinner. Both of those plates were mine.  I cleaned them both.

Then we got to wait around for several hours before stadium, and I watched Prelim go and some of the kids ride their Training stadium course, and learned the course while watching.  Obviously there were combinations that were taken out, but it’s nice to be able to watch a bunch of people tackle the course to help learn it.  When I got Murray down to stadium warm up about 15 minutes before our ride he was a rocket.  He was launching himself at the warm up fences, and galloping around the arena, and I was like “UHHH I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH THIS ENERGY” to my trainer.

I love that energy, and honestly wish I got to ride more of it at home, because it’s the type of energy that makes me really feel like Murray can go places.  But he’s lazy at home, so I don’t ride that energy very often, and don’t have the opportunity to learn how to rate it and ride it away from home.  B was just like “do not change your riding (read: don’t get ahead, don’t lean to the fences, don’t expect that just because he’s energetic he’ll do it for you), and point that energy at the fences.”  So I did.  And it was not the worst thing that ever happened.  Murray launched himself over the warm up fences and barely touched a thing — including the vertical that someone’s trainer put up to a solid 3′ and I surprised him with.

So we went up to the stadium ring and only had to wait for a moment before being sent in.  I took a moment to nod to the judge (didn’t know you had to do this until this show, so I really took a moment to do it), and circled around to the first fence.  Murray trotted in fairly calm and then was like “WTF THERE ARE PLANTS HERE” as we went to the first fence and I felt him suck his entire body up and back.  I just let him keep trotting to the first fence with my leg on quite firmly, and he broke into a canter as we got close.  I also felt Murray hesitate at the fence but was like “nope, you are going!” and so we went.

BSS_LRgCAAAYcJbRBF originally sent me this thinking it would be useful from Murray’s perspective, I suspect.  Turns out that it works for when you get your horse through a course he didn’t really want to do, also!

It was not a pretty ride.  I felt Murray suck back to several fences, and he kinda defaulted to “not sure” canter, which is not very rhythmic and therefore hard to gauge a distance from.  However he listened to my insistent leg and we went over everything, even a “big” red and white oxer that Murray hesitated over way far away from the fence.  We took really short ones to a few fences, and my equitation was not there.  I have been finding it really hard to resist the urge to jump ahead when I must use my seat to drive Murray to the fences, and apparently I’ve also developed the amazing habit of putting my tongue out between my lips… so that’s a shortcut to a ruined show shirt.

11899793_10152969319292676_5243524804442304869_oThank you Kim for the picture!!

But we did it!  And now I have a better feeling for the kind of ride Murray will probably give me when he’s not feeling super confident, or when he’s distracted by the other stuff going on at the show.  I’m hoping with some practice that he will be able to give me that awesome, explosive energy in stadium that I can feel in warm up.

Tomorrow: XC recap!  Which features all the joy this tiny corgi picture can convey.