some garbled thoughts

IMG_3788Any reader of this blog is already familiar with The $900 Facebook Pony’s article and subsequent petition regarding the blood seen on upper level event horses at the recent Fair Hill CCI three day event.

I am honestly not very interested in exploring the reasons surrounding this particular event — it happened, and of course I am curious as to why, and find myself hard pressed to believe the reasons that are being presented.  But I don’t need a deep investigation of the rider, equipment, or circumstances, really.  What I’m more interested in is what the USEA, USEF, and FEI might be doing to make this right.  And what we, as members, competitors, and horsepeople would like to see in order to make us comfortable that animal welfare and wellness are not being compromised.

As one commenter on Amanda’s article pointed out, blood on horses at the FEI levels of competition is not as rare as you would expect.  And I think many people would agree that blood anywhere on a horse should not immediately constitute dismissal from the competition.  (Hell, if that were the case, I’d have been eliminated from at least half the shows I tried to go to.  Because when your horse breaks away from the trailer habitually, he inevitably ends up nicking himself and bleeding all over his own feet and that’s not embarrassing ever or at all. Nope, nope.)  However, blood on a horse is always grounds for investigation.  First, on the behalf of the rider, you need to know if your horse is sound enough to continue at that level of work.  Second, from the perspective of the ground jury, it is imperative to know if the injury was sustained in the course of competition.

Why?

Because the horses can’t speak for themselves.

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Communication breakdown / not want

Aside — of course, many horses tell their people in no uncertain terms whether they want to be doing their “chosen” discipline or not, but that is not the point here.  Even when horses love their jobs, they can be endangered by poor human choices in many ways.

So, what can USEA and the FEI honestly do about it?

Making an effort would be a good place to start.  It’s possible that more was done than was revealed to us about the most recent event of blood on a horse, and that information simply wasn’t disclosed to the public.  We don’t need a pile of press releases or publicity stunts, but a little bit of openness would go a long way.  Every rider has a right to keep the health of their horse private, but when a horse’s welfare is compromised in such a visible way, the public also has a right to know that everything is being done to ensure that these are isolated events.  IMG_1316

What does this realistically mean for times when a horse is visibly injured?  Well, I’m not sure.  My gut says that making pictures and a veterinary report of sorts available by request would be one thing (this could easily be done in a members-only portion of the website), but another part of me says that might be a bit much.  A limited veterinary report then?  A possibility.

Whatever level of information is released to the public, it is imperative that the appropriate governing bodies keep track of these matters internally in an organised fashion.  Good records mean that it’s possible to do data analysis later, looking for patterns of when and where such incidents occur.  With good data collection you can ask all kinds of questions, and get all kinds of answers.  Do horses bleed more often at higher levels?  With certain equipment?  At particular venues?

Of course, being a scientist, I think that more data analysis on how equipment use affects horses would be fascinating.  What, really, is the emotional and physiological response of a horse when you change their bit?  Wouldn’t that be interesting to learn?  Probably out on a 1* or up cross country course the hormones and emotions raging through a horse’s body easily overrun anything they might be feeling about their bit… but perhaps not.  Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  That would be an interesting study, but hardly one that will be completed by the USEA any time soon (It’s not like they have spare scientists and funding just hanging around.  And if they do, hey, USEA, drop me a line!)

IMG_8525As participants in a sport, a sport we love, where partnership is an enormous part of the equation, we should aspire for that sport to be the best it can be.  And rule changes aren’t just for the horses, they are for us too.  So that we can respect ourselves as athletes and human beings.

And what doesn’t help?

Ad hominem attacks.  This isn’t about Marilyn Little, or Jock Paget, or this rider or that horse.  It’s not about riding right, being a better rider, or a worse rider, or this technique or that one.  This isn’t even about upper level eventing, dressage, show jumping (or whatever) being abusive or inappropriate (I think all high level athletes would attest that they abuse their bodies to a certain degree).  This is about good horsemanship overall.  It’s about making sure that our equine partners in this endeavor are as happy and healthy as possible, in an endeavour that is already dangerous enough.

late season replacements

I found out two nights ago that there is a local schooling show about 15 minutes away from us on Sunday.  Our assistant trainer casually dropped it to me in conversation along the lines of “so if you wanted to go, of course I’d bring you!” and I was like.

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Um duh.

After our last rated event I was looking at the end of the year a bit forlornly.  I didn’t have any money left for me to head to events, rated or otherwise, and all the dressage schooling shows for the end of the year were cancelled.  Even beyond goal smashing, I had hoped to get a little more show miles for Mr. Horse so he could stop losing his cool every time we go to a show.  There is only space in this relationship for ONE PERSON to lose their cool, Murray.

Fortunately, Murray has proven to me that he is completely prepared for this weekend’s show by spooking wholly and heartily at every single Hallowe’en themed item our assistant trainer has put in the arena.

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Yep. This bodes well.

But show miles are show miles, and even if all we do is go in there and smash down every fence, I will be happy (happy-adjacent, anyway).  Getting Murray more experience in the show ring and learning how to ride the Murray that shows up in the stadium arena is important.  Often stadium-Murray is a different horse from home-jump-lesson-Murray, and he requires a different ride.  So understanding that ride is probably going to be important for future shows.  More arrows in the quiver and what not.

There’s also a late season dressage schooling show that I just found out about in the third week of November.  And that is something to get excited about.  Dressage ride after dressage ride after dressage ride?  MURRAY’S FAVOURITE THING.

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I’m not kidding anyone here — the only tests we are qualified to run are training level tests.  But it will be awesome to get in there and run Training 1-3 and see how we do.  Definitely didn’t download those tests in January and close to memorize them.  Definitely not.  Do we have every single movement?  Nope.  Can we do almost all of them?  Yep.  Also, goal relativity: it’s just about being relaxed and obedient in the ring, not about winning ribbons or big achievements.

So this is pretty exciting.

In other exciting news, last week we taught the Peanut mare to jump!  It was shockingly easy.  I walked her up to lots of jumps and she was like “whatever”, and then over single poles and piles of poles with absolutely no event.  The next day we trotted over some small Xs, and then cantered, and Peanut was like “oh this! this is great!”

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Bravest lil Peanut!!

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Mare don’t care

She’s a pretty professional, classy lady. Once again, it is super awesome to work with a horse that is so reasonable and learns so well.  She is pretty much the exact opposite ride to Murray, though!  Peanut is so gung-ho to get to all the fences that I need to rate her striding so she doesn’t accidentally just smash through them without thinking.  Murray is more “please Murray, let’s just goooooooooooo to this fence, great jobs!”  Very interesting.

I joke that I’m going to keep Peanut and sell Murray instead, in a Houdini-like switcheroo.  At least, I think I’m joking.

the half halt

When I’m not traveling and succumbing to the subsequent jet lag, travel blues, and general hatred of all things associated with leaving my house, I think a lot about half halts.  Shit, who am I kidding.  Even while I’m traveling, I’m pretty obsessed with half halts.  I think about them A LOT.  I think about them a lot a lot because I hardly have one.

Yes, yes, it’s rather a big failing in my riding and training of Murray.  It’s not that I never have a half halt, regardless of the horse I ride.  It’s just that I don’t have a half halt on my horse.  Sometimes I rebalance my core and he just rebalances.  It’s kinda cool.  Sometimes I think about a down transition and keep my leg on and he rebalances.  That’s cool too!  But it’s not predictable.  I somewhat have a balancing half halt when we’re jumping, but since Murray is so good at balancing himself before fences, and I’m typically more focused on the go aspect of things, I have not worked on this even that much while jumping.  In terms of my dressage rides, well, it has taken me so long to get Murray to simply accept contact at more than a feather’s-weight that trying to communicate with more than a little rebalance of my seat has been challenging.  And there is only so much I can tell Murray with my seat, until we can get some actual rebalancing done.

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I read a lot about half halts, and think a lot about enacting them on Murray.  I’ve been collecting information on half halts for a while now, and really appreciate all the different perspectives.  But if you’ve ever read anything about half halts (or anything horse related? saddle fitting, anyone?) you know that there are at least 8239423 ways to skin the cat.  I’ve not tried all of them, because I don’t want to change my strategy in the middle of things too much, and risk frustrating myself and Murray.  But here’s a collection of my current half halting and rebalancing e-resources, all in one place, for all of our enjoyments.

Horse Radio Network — tip of the day.  Austen suggested this half halt resource to me, with the corresponding advice “Ask and if thou dost not receive, ask harder” (paraphrasing).  This little clip talks about the parts of your body involved in the half halt — how the energy travels from your calves through your thighs, the energy moving up through your core (abs and back), and how that translates to your hands.  It includes information on the context of the various half halts and the structure you’re looking for — rebalancing? about to change gaits? — the intention of your half halt.  Another part of this podcast is the timing of sequential half halts and how much   (Austen wrote here about her own positional changes to greater half halt.)

Jane Savoie’s Connecting Half Halt

This is my go-to thought for the half halt.  I love Jane Savoie, and I love her explanations, and the logic and thought of this method works for me.  I even say “go, go, go” as I trot across the arena and try to rebalance.  At it’s most basic, Jane encourages people to add leg for 3 seconds — think “add hind legs, add hind legs, add hind legs!” — and at the same time capture the energy with the outside hand, while finally also encouraging flexion at the poll with the inside hand.  When well trained, these things should be near-simultaneous, but Jane trains them by first adding hind legs, then adding outside hand, then finally putting all three together.  I will admit that I’m incapable of the vibrate/jiggle that Jane suggests to encourage inside flexion, I simply am not that coordinated.  However, I have my own ways of encouraging and asking my horse to give to my inside hand, and that seems to work just as well too.  What I like about this technique is practicing in pieces, which can be really helpful to remind Mr. Behind The Leg what certain things mean, before trying to put them together.

Sustainable Dressage — The Half Halt

octdressage5I’m essentially completely obsessed with Sustainable Dressage, and there are some gems in this particular page about half halts, positioning, and aids.

Sustainable Dressage actually talks about holding with the seat a bit more than some other resources do.  I’m not sure why, but perhaps this is rolled into the “abs” portion of other authors on the half halt.  This website also mentions using lateral work — shoulders-in and haunches-in — to help achieve half halts and rebalancing.  A fascinating part of the Sustainable Dressage half-halt progression is the idea of adding the “halt” before the “go” in young horses, to avoid the thought that you are “punishing” them for moving forward.  For a horse like Murray who is already slow off my legs, this is an idea that might be worth investigating.  (re the pic: leaning is obviously necessary…)

Another of my favourite pony prancing sites, Dressage Different, actually has several articles on the half halt — the first one linked here being the “HOW TO“.  This particular article has a video of Carl Schumaker talking about the half halt, the most basic form of which he insists must always include driving in, some contact with the hands to balance, and then drive out.  However, he proves that as you train your horse all you need is to sit up to achieve the half halt — you can watch it on quite an impressive white gelding.  There are also the “Prerequisites to the Half Halt” and the “Thirty One Flavors of Half Halt” if you want to read more about

Robert Dover on the half halt

Similar ideas, but from Mr. Dover.  The theory of the body positioning is here, but it is a little lacking (for me) in how to make it actually happen.

So that’s where I’m at with half halts.  These are all electronic resources, of course, and I’ve not yet plumbed into any books for this information.  Sometimes online is easier and awesome and sometimes it’s not.  If you’ve got good half halt resources, specifically that explore the details of the half halt and structuring one, I’d LOVE to see them!!

ride right, get results

This week’s lesson brought to you by the letter “DUH”

To say I’ve been a little dissatisfied with Murray’s and my jumping lately would put it lightly.  We’ve just felt… off.  But not off with a clear reason, i.e. being terrified of fences, but off like not on.  The jumping mojo has almost been there, just not quite.

Austin Powers James Bond animated GIF(Oh man, you guys, probably my favourite scene in all Austin Powers is when he’s waking up from the cryo-freeze the first time and he gets covered in the goo and then just can’t really do anything.)

During my jump lesson this week I took my new rule of responsiveness firmly in hand and made sure that Murray was ahead of my leg from the very beginning of the ride.  After my lackluster attempts to build power next week, I approached power from a slightly different angle: first I created energy, and then I could contain the energy.  Right off the bat I gave Murray the chance to add energy to his canter and open up when I asked with my legs, and if I didn’t, well, in the words of Alli, Hello Mr. Sticky.  (It is coming to my attention how much I talk about hitting my horse.  I uh… well… yep.  You go out with a bat for a reason, right?)

I also raised my stirrups, and committed to a light seated canter.  Last week I was trying to get back to my half-half seat and just ended up pumping with my body a ton and looking like I was flopping around in the saddle.  I wanted to still my body but get the energy that I was working for — and that energy doesn’t come from one’s upper body, it comes from legssssssss.

Lesson The First: When you get your horse ahead of your leg, finding your takeoff is way easier than when your horse is behind your leg.

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When Murray is behind my leg, he tends to back off progressively with every stride approaching a fence.  Shocker: this makes it incredibly difficult to find a consistent takeoff point.  When Murray is behind my leg, he doesn’t react when I put leg on to get a better distance to a fence.  So having him ahead of my leg meant that if I needed to put leg on for a better distance — which I did, repeatedly, and without much subtlety (pony kicks ftw), we actually got that distance.  And, ahead of my leg, deep spots and long spots all ride better.  Yep.  Ride right. Get results.

Aside: What’s your definition of “ahead of the leg”?  For me it’s always meant having my horse in that balanced, forward-thinking gait (super hard for me at the walk, barely achievable at trot, possible at the canter) where he responds immediately to any addition of leg or hand.  It isn’t about speed, it’s about reaction time, though in my case being ahead of the leg generally means moving with a little more speed than Murray generally wants to move.

Lesson the Second: Getting Murray listening from the very beginning of the ride will has positive effects for the entire rest of the ride.

When you start with your horse ahead of your leg, he will be more ahead of the leg for the entire ride.   I really don’t have anything else to say about this.

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Lesson the Third: Even when you are sitting up in the saddle, you can still fold over the fences, even if it’s not super dramatically.

There are many tweaks I still want to make to my position, but one thing I have felt in the past is that when I am sitting in the saddle instead of hovering barely above the saddle, I can’t really follow the movement of the jumps as well.  This, it turns out, is false.  If I’m sitting and in balance, I can follow the movement just fine.  It also puts me in a way better position to approach combinations, because I’m more upright through them automatically.  This was super helpful when Murray got a less than perfect spot to the first fence, because then I wasn’t rocked out of the saddle or thrown onto his neck approaching the second fence.  I stayed upright, and even if a weird spot was coming up, we were just fine.

These observations made me think back to how much better my riding, and jumping, was this past winter.  And it makes a lot of sense.  In the smaller indoor we always had a lot of grid work, and I rode more carefully and technically to the grid work.  I got used to this better riding, and it carried over to the single fences.  In the indoor we also used the corners and turns to our benefit, building power around them, instead of letting things get loose and floppy on the long, sweeping approaches.

IMG_3844This was actually “winter” in California.

So, for the future: CONTINUE TO TIGHTEN THAT SHIT UP.  More leg on, more power, more connection.  Set the tone for the ride, and keep it.  Work on fitness, because Murray likes to be a lazy sack and checks out after about 40 minutes because he feels like it.  More riding right.

Oh and…

Lesson the Fourth: I have garbage hands.  WTF ARE THESE GARBAGE HANDS.  Gotta figure out this weird little hand lift/wiggle I do in the stride before some of the fences.

badhands

body language

In case you didn’t know already, I love Queen.

I’m having a crush work week and have a little dressage schooling outing at my MIL’s planned for this weekend and didn’t appropriately plan my rides, so Tuesday’s ride turned out to be a lunging session.  I’ve always wanted to know what Murray’s trot would look like with a little suspension added to it, pole work is important and a goal for this quarter, so I thought I’d lunge the kid over some poles.  I put down one to start because, you know, starting slow and giving him a chance to get used to things and all that, and Murray was like “uhh wut is dis obstakle…?”

octdressage3Almost every approach to the pole he threw in a tiny step or launched himself over it or did that weird young-horse-freeze-frame gait where he kinda paused over the fence with his feet in the air — but NOT in a cute way.  I’m not talented enough to lunge and video so we see no evidence of this.  He did settle down into the exercise, and so I started cantering him over it which actually went much better.  But first I had to convince Murray that I actually meant canter, not just keep trotting at the same pace like nobody every asked you to do anything.  I gave him a whole circle (far too generous) to get his shit together, asked him to canter one more time, and when he didn’t respond within three trot steps I reminded him why lunge whips have poppers.  (Aside: the canter is progressing magnificently, but you can see from this picture and the ones tracking left at the bottom that his right hind really is still weak.)

Murray’s response on the lunge line pretty much any time you scare him is to go straight sideways.  It’s actually a thing to behold, he just increases the diameter of the circle by like 3-6 meters and if he needs to bust outta there, he’s usually ripped the lunge line out of your hands in the process so he’s free to do what he wants.  Murray did two of these little double takes in a row — the second one just for good measure I guess? — and was prompt off my vocal aids for the rest of the session.  After cantering both directions over the pole (which he actually didn’t suck at), I paused, added a second trot pole, and asked him to re-negotiate the “question”

The additional trot pole was actually really helpful in encouraging Murray to keep a consistent pace and actually lift up all his legs.  Shocker.  Although, we definitely are not trot pole experts just yet.  Or even very good at it.

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#whatgaitisthateven (different day, similar exercise)

One of Murray’s body work people (the masseuse, actually) suggested lots of poles to encourage him to lift up the forehand and loosen his shoulders.  Unfortunately, they don’t really seem to do that.  He certainly articulates his joints more, but has a strong tendency to just drag himself through the poles on the forehand.  I’ve tried putting them closer together, but then Murray gets bamboozled and just smashes through them.  It seems like the standard 4.5 foot distance is the best one for Murray, but it’s not the best way to achieve our goal.  At least if I’m up there I can rebalance firmly beforehand and then push Murray through the poles for a little bit more balanced attempt.

trotpoleforehandPretty sure this is the definition of on the forehand

However, trotting Murray through the poles is getting him to lift through the withers, even if he is a little on the forehand (I don’t think these two things are mutually exclusive?).  Murray is really reluctant to lift through the withers when I ask (aka half halt), he just is like “that’s not a thing, nitwit”, but if I can trick him into doing it himself first, then I suspect I can tap into that during our rides.  Also, poles mean more back lift and good use of body, and that is always helpful.

I took my new rule (aid = response) and goal for more correct use of his body to my dressage ride with Murray on Thursday.  First, I dressed him in my brand new white polos and a clean white dressage pad because polos are only ever white once.

After I lunged Murray over trot poles again (pics are from this ride), I worked on unlocking Murray’s right shoulder a bit.  At some point in the last three weeks Murray decided that left bend is not a thing, and even going left he is sooooooo stiff and jerky and sad.  So I counter-bend him on the circle and push him forward, and let him “fall” back to the left bend.  I probably spent about ten minutes just circling left encouraging Murray to trot at a reasonable pace, use his whole back, and not shrink the circle down to nothing.  This reluctance to the left is very apparent during transitions, and some combination of stiffness to the left + general crankiness meant that when I put my leg on at the walk I got nothing out of Murray.  More leg just pushed him sideways, which is a well-known evasion of his (go anywhere but forward).  So at the walk I gave Murray one more chance to pick up the pace based on my leg, and then gave him one solid thwap on the rump with my dressage whip.  Murray responded with his patented “buck and scream” but moved off my leg very promptly after that.

Ah yes, of course.  Demand responsiveness, get responses.

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Awww look at this cute little dressage pony!

octdressage4I worked on a simple pattern of haunches in to shoulder in at the trot down the long side, small canter circle on the short side, and a shallow counter-canter loop down the next long side.  The idea here was that I would access Murray’s weak right hind with the trot work, encourage him to set some weight back with the small canter circle, and then work the counter canter.  Down the short side before I would transition to trot, I tried to really collect and relax Murray’s canter so that I could prep for the canter-walk.  Honestly, I can feel that transition in there.  I know exactly how it should feel, I octdressage5almost even know how I should be able to ask for it.  I know we have it in there.  But when I ask Murray to down transition from the counter he’s like “OH SHIT DISORGANIZATION COMING” and just cannot really sit down for it.  I get it.  It’s hard.  It’s hard for me too, knowing that the transition is in there, and I just can’t bring it out.

(The gangsta lean is strong in this one.)

Murray was shockingly mature for the entire ride.  Even though I asked him to work hard beyond what he wanted to do, he did keep working.  I had to keep working too — when I slacked off for a minute during some left canter at the end of our ride, he immediately broke to the trot.  I growled at him, rebalanced, and kicked him back into a canter, and I got a good transition and only minor reluctance to pick up where we left off.  Who is this reasonable and mature horse that can buckle down and get work done?!

octdressageUmm is he like almost maybe a dressage horse?!

Wordless Wednesday — Peanut Project

Little Peanut Project is going well.  Her transition from polo pony to eventing pony is progressing smoothly, and it is a pleasure to work with such a mature, intelligent horse*.  I love her!

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Figuring out connection after just a few rides — now for some relaxation!  I can’t wait to see what her gaits are like when she supples through her back.  I’m not a mare person, but this mare, guys… sassy AND classy.

* Yes, in fact, the implication here is that someone else is not mature or intelligent.  Fun, yes.  Challenging, always.  Sweet, adorable, and very clever? Check.  Mature and intelligent? Uhh….

Q3 recap, Q4 goals

My third quarter goals post was a little disorganized; a bit of a shambling-rambling mess.  But there were a few things in there that I can pull out logically:

  • shorten reins, maintaining elastic contact
  • acceptance of leg pressure with relaxation
  • poles, all over the world
  • lengthening of gaits
  • canter-walk transitions
  • new jump saddle?

So how did we do on those things?  First off, no new jump saddle: HOORAY!  I just shoved front shims in my Ecogold pad and that solved my saddle fit problems for now.

Let me just plug Ecogold here for a second — when I contacted John, of Ecogold, about needing shims not only was he extremely helpful, they were free.  John sent me a set of 3/4″ front shims for my flip half pad and a full size 1/2″ insert for the flip pad — which would decrease the overall padding underneath my saddle (otherwise it would be a 3/4″ shim atop a 3/4″ insert).  He also suggested a few different combinations of shim-pad-filler-cover that I could try, and my shims arrived two days after our conversation.  WTF IS THIS MAGIC?  I love you, Ecogold.

Oh, and they’re having a sale!  15% off available until 10/15

I also have been working hard at shortening my reins.  It feels unnatural to me, but it is honestly better — I can reach my hands and arms down to give Murray more space to stretch, but I don’t hang out with my hands in my lap.  I do consistently try    keep my reins shorter, and Murray has relaxed into this new relationship, so I’m going to call this one completed also.  Maintaining the elastic contact is a little more challenging, but it’s the same level of challenging that it was when my reins were too long so… ya know.  I have made progress here though.

Acceptance of leg pressure… well, we’re getting there.  I’ve realised that I’m pretty soft with my legs and don’t ask appropriately — I give up too quickly.  So this is going back on the list for this quarter, and I’ve been incorporating a little bit of Jane Savoie into my rides when I add leg — I say “go, go, go” aloud.  Because rarely am I just adding leg, usually I’m rebalancing in some way.  To this goal I’m expanding that I need to be able to add leg and have Murray respond promptly.

I’ve done a pittance of pole exercises.  Let’s not talk about it.

Gait lengthening, actually, has been kindof a success!  During my dressage lessons I’ve been told to lengthen a little, and when I put some leg on and push Murray can actually stretch out that gait in some balance instead of flailing!  THE PRIDE.  I HAS IT.  These need refining, but since I can access several lengths/speeds of gait at both the trot and canter, I’m quite happy.

Canter to walk transitions straight up didn’t happen.  We’re just not ready for them right now, the communication isn’t there.  It’s okay.  We will get there.

So, what is on the table for next quarter?

First up, responsiveness12166619_10153008549491568_976316798_n I want Murray to be responding to my aids promptly without reacting.  I want to be able to add leg and feel the corresponding surge of energy from behind.  This should be done without question.  Same goes for changes of gait — I don’t ask Murray to move from trot to canter so he can do it 12166369_10153008549506568_2105071803_nin his own good time.  This means that I have to be accountable for when I ask, but if I ask appropriately, Murray should do.

My own position needs a fair bit of tweaking.  The crookedness has reached all new levels of insanity.  I need to open my right shoulder/chest and follow with my right elbow.  I need octdressageto stretch up through my left side and down through my left leg.  I need to twist my body in the direction of the bend without shrinking or crumpling.  I need to stop riding so unevenly that my stirrups are TWO HOLES DIFFERENT from one side to the other (what garbage is that, fucking unevenness!!!, makes me so mad).  As evidenced by the pictures at left I can even myself out when I try, so try I must.

I would like Murray to learn how to work over raised cavaletti.  I’ve already started this, at one of the lower settings on the cavaletti, but only one at a time.  I’d like to make a nice, concrete goal of having him be able to trot or canter over three raised cavaletti in a row, and not all on the lowest setting.  Obviously, I will have to be able to ride the corresponding gait that comes with.

Murray needs some work on limbering both sides of his body as well.  He’s quite bendy to the right, but is unwilling to give up his right ribcage, so can be rather, uh, unhappy to the left.  This is ultimately influencing more than just his bendability, and I find that his entire gait is messed up going left.  So we will work on limbering both directions.

Poles all over the world will stay on the list.  I will aspire to do a pole exercise — not just four trot poles! a real exercise! — at least once a week outside of a lesson.

Finally, I really need to start working on the sitting trot.  Everything — position, hands, connection, gaits — seem to go out the window when I try to sit.  But sitting trot is coming for me in my dressage goals, so I can’t keep ignoring it.  I’ll work up to it a bit at a time, with two strategies.  One, sitting successively more steps while posting 4-8 steps in between.  Two, sitting a slow trot and keeping it connected (hard, but possible) so that Murray isn’t jostled too much and gets used to the idea.

I’m going to hold the canter-walk transition on the back burner for now.  I’m not certain that I have the responsiveness or communication skills to work on it right now, and it’s not going anywhere.  If it comes to us, it does.  If not, well, it doesn’t.

GOALS.  WE HAVE THEM!

10/9 lesson recap

I’m making a conscious effort right now to have a more productive attitude toward jump lessons.  Even if I’m not jumping big things, there are always aspects of my courses that can be improved, if they’re accuracy or flow or balance or what have you.  So I’ve decided that, regardless of height, I’m going to really work during my lessons to perfect every course I ride.

octjump2To that end, last Thursday I spent my ride with Murray working on trying to build some power in his canter.  (Aside: one of the professors I TA for commends her students by yelling “POWER” at them, because she believes [rightly so] that knowledge is power.  Sometimes I also yell POWER at my students because of it.  It’s fun.)  One of the things I struggle with is feeling like Murray isn’t ahead of my leg — sure, maybe the speed is there, and he can usually clear the fences without struggle — but I lack the feeling that when I put leg on he will REALLY PUSH or if I rebalance that he’s recycling the energy instead of just letting it go.  Just half-halting through the canter doesn’t always work with Murray (he becomes frustrated with the game too quickly), so I set up a canter pole to a low vertical to get him really thinking power.

This turned out to be more of an exercise for both of us than I had anticipated.  Despite the easy approach, we biffed the distance to the pole, and resultingly the fence, more often than not.  However, when we did make the distance the exercise worked as intended: it added spring and power to Murray’s canter step before the fence.  What will be helpful, I think, will be adding a set of canter poles without a fence so that building a bouncy, powerful canter becomes more natural to us.

10-9In my lesson on Friday I tried to recreate this powerful canter, but it was (slightly) hot and Murray was not at his most enthusiastic.  So add a whole new challenge level to my goals: motivating my un-motivated, hot, furry horse.  That must be done — somehow.  We coursed a somewhat-tricky bending line to start (the green oxer to black tires), the hardest part being that you wanted to take the fences at an angle, but that screwed your approach to the next fence.  So you had to take the first fence angled away from the second fence to give yourself time to make the turn and line up the second fence.  An interesting question.

The biggest challenge came in the form of the combinations.  I remember that at one point I was super gung-ho about combinations with Murray — he would go and it was awesome.  We are no longer so gung-ho.  I’ve had enough stops (in and out of combinations!) to back me off to them.  For the most part as long as I ride straight and add leg, Murray goes.  But if I give him any excuse to refuse — get a little ahead, drop him at the base — he’s is like “oh this is a better choice.”  Which is funny, because I make terrible choices to single-fences not irregularly and Murray saves me over those fences.  For example, during this lesson I suggested that Murray take the long spot to the brown skinny (crossing the arena) and leaned at it — you know, like ya do — and at the last minute I was like “this is a terrible choice!” (the spot I “saw” was about 12 feet out from the fence) and just kinda froze above the saddle.  Murray’s response was “no, you idiot” and while his stride did get a little flat, he didn’t take off early and he saved my butt by taking the closer spot.

octjump1Not a twelve foot long spot. Thank goodness.

The best part about this lesson was that I got some video.  While it was overall a successful lesson — Murray and I got past the stickiness into the combinations — I noticed in the video that there is some weird shit going on with my riding.  For one, I am well entrenched back in the land of the waaaaaaaay too long of stirrups.  Those puppies need to go back up.  I’m also not adding leg as effectively as I think I am — I seem to add a little leg and then pump with my upper body and be like “wtf why am I seeing no effect?”  Well, duh, because you’re not really squeeeeezing, are you, dork?

octjump3I also noticed myself doing some rather odd things with my hands.  I thought that I was just pushing my hands forward before the fences for that auto release, but it turns out I’m doing a complicated wingardium levio-SAH hand waggled before the fences, then just leaving my hands at Murray’s withers for the actual fences.  Yep.  Exactly what I thought I was doing.

This has reminded me that there are lots — LOTS — of reasons to ride in my jump saddle and do jump exercises on non jumping days.  I get a little myopically focused on one thing at times — okay, all the times — so tend to let things fall by the wayside.  I will have to make a conscious effort to do jump-related exercises at least once a week outside of my lesson, and once again really work towards tightening up my riding.  Less flail would be ideal.

hot fuzz

I may have done something rash.

You guys weren’t really with me the last two years when I body clipped Murray, but it was basically… not ideal for anyone involved.  Both years I hired friends to do it for me (to avoid buying clippers and get a quality job done without poisoning my horse’s mind against me, and because no real professional would touch my horse with a ten foot stick at that time).  I had to drug him AND twitch him, after doing varying levels of desensitizing, and both times we still had to take breaks and call it at some reasonable-but-not-perfect amount of clip because otherwise Murray ran the risk of going full nuclear.

So this year decided I’d eat the cost of the clippers and do it myself.  I’ve been hitting the desensitization hard.  I busted out peppermints (rolls of life savers are a cheap and easily stored way to do this!) and have been rubbing a set of clippers all over Murray’s body nearly every day.  I’ve managed to get all the important parts — neck, shoulders, back, belly, butt, tickly loin/flank area — and for more than a few seconds, so I’d say he’s doing pretty well.  Despite the occasional step back, Murray has been quite tolerant.

But of course, barn manager was like “well, it feels different with just the vibration and having the clippers actually cutting hair you know. So you should find some surreptitious places on his body and clip away some hair so that he gets used to that feeling too.”

And I thought: I’m not showing between now and when I plan to clip him…

Why do they have to be surreptitious spots…

Yep.

shave

I shaved random patches of hair off my horse.

He looks like he had about nine catheters placed on random parts of his body.

He looks like he has old man alopecia.

On the bright side, Murray was fine with that too.

Now I just have to get him used to the extension cord and spray lube and maybe, maybe we will be able to clip sans incident this year.

insurmountable

For a long time I’ve had this idea stuck in my head that there are some obstacles Murray and I will simple never get to the other side of. For example, our dressage tests are consistently inconsistent: I never know what horse is coming out of the warmup or what is waiting for me in the sandbox. Obviously this is to the detriment of my riding and our overall performance, but that’s not really the focus of this particular blog. I thought I’d always have this horse that could really be beautiful at home but would never show himself fully away from home – and I was becoming resigned to that. I thought I’d probably always have a horse that would get a little sticky in stadium, peering at strange filler, floral arrangements, or you know, whatever he felt like. So I planned on riding a horse that was strong in warm up and backed off in stadium and never being able to appreciate the bold, brave jumper I knew was hiding in there.

20830856128_429a5bce3a_kOnly took 14 fences to get to “brave”!

And then this weekend while I was listening to podcasts and mucking, the Dressage Radio podcast came on (part of Horse Radio Network! Free podcasts! So fun!) and they were talking about the 10 Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders. The first one they talked about was

6: An effective Dressage rider knows success happens one ride at a time, day in and day out, remaining consistent and realistic in their daily goals and expectations.

And that really struck me. Day to day, I feel like I have pretty reasonable and consistent expectations. Today: be through, be supple, use your body correctly. Tomorrow, be through, be supple, and use your body correctly. Saturday: be through, be supple, use your body correctly. I’m good with that. I get it, and I understand it – perfect practice makes perfect. But it was certainly something to hear really upper level riders talking about using these tiny, teeny weeny increments to train the movements. And obviously, obviously, right?! You can’t expect a horse to hold their body up in a pirouette day after day and not get sore and pissed off – they don’t do the same movements day in and day out. But they do work slowly, with what their horse can do, and that is the road to success.

Next up was Linda Parelli, talking about using the principles of Parelli to help horses understand dressage. A lot of people think dressage is about control and rigidity and structure (Linda pointed this out, but it is also something I have noticed), but it’s not. It’s about – among other things — cooperation and building understanding. I, myself, can’t treat dressage like a place to control and bring rigid structure and my command and will down upon my horse – even if I previously thought like that, someone would disapprove.

buckingLet your body do the talking

Linda talked about taking time with a horse so they understand the game of dressage – that this is something they have a part in as much as the rider. In the Parelli structure this starts with the game of contact, but Parelli or not, taking the time, the little bitty steps and many repetitive hours, of getting your horse to understand their part of the relationship is essential to success. And it seemed, to me, that a big part of this equation was persistence. If you keep changing up your teaching strategy, how is your horse supposed to learn?

After the Dressage Radio Show, on came the US Eventing podcast and who was a guest on it but — lo and behold – Bobby Covington! Bobby was talking with Chris Stafford about his win at the AECs and Chris, as she tends to, asked a lot of questions about how Bobby and Halo came together and their riding and competition history. Now I’m on Team Amanda all the way, but you have to admit that Bobby and Halo have an impressive competition record. They have finished in the top 3 at their last four events at beginner novice, and finished first at their move-up to Novice this year. I mean, no matter who’s team you’re on, that’s impressive.

Impressive indeed.

The interesting part to me, however, wasn’t just how well these two have done. It was actually the amount of time they have been together (since 2008! If I recall correctly). Hearing a bit about Bobby’s history – that he evented through Prelim with his warmblood mare and after college was finally able to get a second horse, Halo, and started at the beginning again – really made me think about learning and time. Obviously Bobby and Halo have a great relationship, and Bobby knows how to ride his horse for the best performance. But more than that, they have clearly really, really taken the time they need to get it right.  And make sure it stays right.

I know right?! BeyondPod was hammering the message home on Saturday.

There were the pieces. Do things incrementally and a tiny bit at a time. Be persistent. Even spooky thoroughbred can score under 30 in dressage consistently. They percolated while I mucked and fed approximately nine million horses and dropped hay off the wagon and had to go back and pick up the flakes I dropped every time I turned a corner so that everyone would get fed.

And I realized – what kind of crack have I been smoking that I think it’s impossible for Murray to ever be consistent in the dressage court and I’ll just have to accept the wildly shitty and disappointing rides for the frequency that they are likely to come?! That isn’t logic. That isn’t what I understand of animal learning. That isn’t what I want. I don’t want to move up the levels accepting my shitty dressage tests and hoping for clear cross country and stadium runs to get in the ribbons. I want to be strong in all three phases. I know we can be strong in all three phases. I want people to see my name on entries lists and fear competing against me because we can kick such ass.


Weird/fat/drunk/sad tiny shoulder Napoloen is back!

This isn’t something that we can never get past. In fact, I doubt that with time, creativity, and the right learning structure there is anything that Murray will never be able to get past. He is smarter than I am, especially about learning things, but I am stubborn as hell, and now that I’ve got this idea in mind I am not giving up on it. It’s just that somewhere along the way I got wrapped up in all the other distracting things that come along with riding and competing – shiny things, satiny things, bigger things, lower-numbered-things, jealous things… all the things. I’m not sure that I ever completely equated those things with success or reaching my goals, but they seem to be correlated often enough that it’s honestly a bit hard not to. It’s hard not to think that the goal is the move up, or the ribbon, or the score, or the next level. But that’s not the end goal, is it? The goal is total eventing world domination being really kick ass all the fucking time*.

As I seem to pledge to every few months on here, I am anew-committed to taking the time we need to kick ass and take names. I’m sure in a few months I’ll get all ahead of myself again and have to remember to get back to this place.

*Or as much of the time as we reasonably can.