secret santa awesomeness

Participating in the Blogger Secret Santa last year was one of the best ideas I’d basically ever had, and to be fully truthful I should give credit to Kristen at If the Saddle Fits and Tracy at Fly on Over, because they are the ones who made it known that we should all join!  So when Blogger Secret Santa rolled around this year I was like “um, yeah, that is definitely happening again.”

I was delighted when I got Tracy’s email, and even more delighted when I saw that I’d drawn our Gracious Leader herself for my gift recipient!  I hemmed, hawed, and procrastinated, and finally went on to Etsy to find her a gift.  I’m trying to take a leaf out of Amanda’s book and support more small businesses, and so I browsed until I saw something that caught my eye: monograms and coffee mugs.  It took me a little while to find just what I wanted — I wanted something to be useful as well as pretty, and while I enjoy sitting at home with a pretty mug, I am pretty sure that Tracy doesn’t have the work-from-home-luxurious-grad-student lifestyle I do, so I went with a travel mug.  Then it was a simple matter of deciding on colors (helped out by Tracy describing Miles’ colors for me and having excellent taste to begin with!) and placing my order.  Oh boy do I ever love the internet.

I spent Christmas away from the house, but when I got back my own secret santa gift was waiting for me at the house.  Though it was packed into a single flat rate box that box was heavy so I got really, really excited.  I LOVE PRESENTS.

The gift I received put me slightly to shame* as it was absolutely full of goodies.  The wonderful Terise at Breeches and Boat Shoes sent me a delicious cake scented soap, Herbal Horse lip balm, a Mrs. Conn’s soap filled sponge (incidentally I received another one of these for Christmas, and it was also the calming and soothing chaparral and sage flavor… are Murray and I REALLY THAT OBVIOUS?!), several Equine Journals for reading (how did she know all I want to do is sit in front of the fireplace and read? yes, we do light fires in California.  On clear days.) oh and… a magnificent print of Murray and I.


The print/painting/sketch is made by Jessie Pagenkopf at JRyann studios, and is based on one of my favourite pictures of Murray from schooling at Camelot (I believe it is the one Lainey Ashker complimented my equitation on!) and I love! the colour!  This year I managed to collect enough Murray accouterments that I can now start putting things together on the wall.  I have a neat-o idea for that, so stay tuned!


Thank you so much Terise!  This is an absolutely wonderful gift, and I can’t wait to look at Murray on my wall every day!

* There is a little care package coming Tracy’s way if I ever get to the post office… I just hate that place already and holidays and blah blah blah.  But I’ll get there!  As an extra special thanks for organizing!

this one time at dressage camp

Days three and four of dressage camp were cold, cold, cold.  I had snugged Murray up in his medium weight blanket with a stable sheet underneath because it was supposed to be in the 30s for several hours at night, and in the morning he wasn’t sweating so I figured I had done the right thing.

During lunging we really focused on opening up Murray’s stride and asking him to push and stretch through his SI joint and across his croup*.  The neat thing about having a horse who’s a sub-par mover is that you can easily tell when he’s improving, because the change is really, really obvious.  For Murray, if he’s not on the forehand it’s hard for him to track up, so all we were looking for was push and stretch behind.  At first he could only keep it together for a few steps at a time, and when I asked for a little more he would break into the canter.  MIL said to accept these transitions and go with it — but Murray has to canter for at least a couple of circles when he chooses to canter.  While it’s not what I’m asking for (therefore less than ideal), the gymnasticizing benefits of good transitions make the good ones worthwhile*.  In a month or so if Murray refuses to stretch out his trot and chooses only to canter instead, then we can get firm and insist on trotting.

trotpoleforehandThere’s stretch here, even if he is on the forehand.

We also added a new element at the walk — the BIG walk.  MIL was like “come on Murray! Thoroughbreds are KNOWN for their big walks!” as he shuffled along all “it’s not actually possible to stretch into the contact and swing my pelvis at the same time, you are mistaken.”  Murray was relaxed enough that I could incorporate the whip a little bit, and ask for a bit more walk.  I really had to focus on “allowing” the walk with my body, which in my case feels a lot like pushing at the walk*.  But I’m a naturally stiff-backed person (British-adjacent upbringing and all) with a stiff seat, so I have to really feel the following to actually be following.  All of our walk has to be big, big, big, and forward!!! from now on.  Which is true at home, too, but apparently I want it to be even bigger.

We kept our trot work a little shorter, but incorporated a few new exercises.  Murray started to pull his patented Murray evasions, which was like “oh hey, you want me in the outside rein?  Cool!  That must mean sideways! I can go sideways all day!  LOOK HOW SIDEWAYS I CAN RUN!” or “oh a little circle? I CAN MAKE THE TINIEST CIRCLE FALLING ALL OVER MYSELF BUT LOOK IT SO TIIINNNYYYY!!!”  MIL noticed pretty quickly that I was not actually asking for teeny weeny circles when she asked me to make bigger ones, and gave me a good way to evade the evasions*.  When Murray wants to go all sideways, I open the door forward (hands forward, leg on) and are like “nope, remember, straight!”.  When Murray wants to make a teeny weeny circle, I treat it like a shoulders in and spiral him out.  Ha, Murray! Take that!

octdressage2During ride three we worked on leg yields to change direction across the diagonal.  The mirrors were so amazingly wonderful for the lateral work — I could see everything that was going on and tell when I was on three tracks, what legs were crossing over, and how straight we were.  MIRRORS I WANTS THEM.  *grabby hands*  In the leg yields MIL had me focus on not letting Murray’s haunches lead, and not overbending his neck (shocker that I do that, right?!).  While you want the body to be straight, you don’t want one of the hind legs to be the first moving over.  And I tend to get a little crazy on the idea of straightness so I actually end up crooked.

We also worked on starting the half pass, which made me pretty super happy!  It was a very baby half pass to be sure, but it was the beginning of one!  We started with the shoulders in down the long side for 2-3 strides, then I moved my hands over to the inside and put my outside leg on to say “let’s go over that way!” and Murray was like “sure! let’s go that way!”  So proud.  Instead of half-passing all the way across the arena, MIL had me stop at the centerline (or opposite quarterline if I couldn’t get it together before the centerline), straighten out, and then turn and do it again.  The goal, in addition to learning half pass, is to bend and straighten and bend and straighten* — which I understand is better than just locking the body into one shape and drifting across the arena.

In the canter work we focused again on the sitting trot-canter transitions, and Murray was MUCH improved.  Clearly the idea that the round trot would meet the round canter at some point has merit, and letting Murray sit on the idea of the transitions without losing my shit on him sent the transitions in the right direction.  Nearly every transition got better, and so we started using a bit more leg and less voice to get them.  The goal here is for Murray to really understand that you canter off the outside leg only*, so that I can easily put him a counter canter if needed.  That in addition to the gymnastic work of the canter-trot-canter transitions*.

So, two more days of take-aways!

  • following body at the walk (and all gaits)
  • BIG walk
  • evade the evasions with clever work!
  • lateral work isn’t just about going sideways — it’s also about straightening out!
  • canter off the outside leg only
  • gymnastic canter-trot-canter transitions (through sitting trot as much as possible), with as few trot steps as needed to be forward and supple
  • jelly legs, until I need to add an aid, then jelly legs!

Of course I also have PAGES of notes to keep me riding-inspired for months next year!

2015 goals review

For the first time this year I set some goals for myself, Murray, and my blog.  So for the first time, I will be checking in to see how I did (lies, I checked in all throughout the year, but wasn’t necessarily being official about it).

Horse Goals

Show 2’6″, 2’9″, and 3′ — I only showed 2’6″, so at only a 33% success rate, I’m going to call this one a fail.  I didn’t get out to as many shows as I wanted to (shocking?) and only showed 2’6″ at the ones I did get to.  Ah well!  There’s always next year.


Show Beginner Novice and finish on my dressage score — Success!  We did it at WSS!

Go to a rated show – Another success!  We showed rated at both WSS and Camelot.

Show training level dressage — Failure.  I had high hopes to show First level at a schooling show, but Murray had to go ahead and cut his face open so… that did not happen.

Dressage, dressage, dressage! — Considering that I rode dressage 2-4 days a week this year, and just spent four days at mother-in-law dressage camp, I’m going to go ahead and call this one donezo!


Hammer down Murray’s feeding routine — done.  I am really, really, really pleased with Murray’s weight, and I’m done with alfalfa for-almost-the-most-part.  If I need a little more weight I know how to add it, and if I need a little less screaming hot energy, I know how to get that too.  Success!

Increase Murray’s confidence and independence — this is a work in progress, but considering that I worked at it pretty solidly, I will call it a success.

Hills work off property — I trailered out in February and March and again in April, but haven’t really done hills since the early part of this year.  Still, fairly successful… I will go ahead and give myself this one.


Breeze Murray for giggles — well, I didn’t breeze him, but I have let him go pretty fucking fast a few times and we broke 600 meters per minute on a gallop track.

Sit the trot and no-stirrups weekly — big fat fail on this one, but I will most certainly be sitting the trot weekly this year, as MIL has dictated it for my future dressage study.

Improve my cardio fitness — I… did not do this. I call it a fail.

Personal Goals

Graduate! — nope, don’t wanna talk about it.


Get a job! — I did actually get another job, just not one that uses my skills as a soon-to-be-PhD

Make a budget for life and stay within it — Also don’t want to talk about it.

Be less judgmental and more grateful — YES.  I AM WAY LESS JUDGMENTAL NOW AND HELLA GRATEFUL ALL THE TIME.

Train Ellie to heel and have her nails trimmed — my dog does not give a fuck what I want and is not food motivated and I love her deeply anyway.


Monetize some aspect of my life to make extra income for ponies — I did a bit of this, and am planning to do more!

Learn to drive a truck and trailer — I drove quad and a bobcat with a trailer on them… does that count?

Blog Goals

Keep blogging regularly — I succeeded the shit out of this goal.


slow feet, thinking mind

Happy Holidays y’all!  I am not a big Christmas person myself, so every year am like “shit… that month where I have to give gifts is coming up” and find myself in a bank account hole for a little while.  I should know better, as I like receiving gifts… a lot.

In addition to several other awesome gifts I got this year, Murray and I were lucky enough to be invited to dressage bootcamp and my mother in law’s!  This was actually a birthday gift arranged by my boyfriend (okay, she’s not my real mother in law, but it’s fewer letters and less confusing than “boyfriend’s mom” and even if it isn’t, MIL is a way better abbreviation s I’m going with it), for which he traded several weekends of little-brother-sitting.  For my part, all I had to do was pack my car, throw shipping boots on Murray, load him up, and then watch him fall out of and sit down behind the trailer upon unloading.

Making a good first impression.  He excels at it.

I am extremely lucky to have awesome in laws.  Both sets, actually (boyfriend gets the bonus giant family), are badass.  But having a horsey MIL is the most badassedest, because it means that I can pick her brain about dressage questions whenever I want, and get useful feedback!  MIL is a pretty legit dressage rider, competing her home-bred-and-trained mare at Intermediare I right now.  So you can imagine I was all over this gift like white on rice.  But I was also fairly apprehensive, as I’ve watched MIL ride a lot and she is a strict rider.  She has expectations for her horses, and she wants them to step up and meet those expectations.  Murray is occasionally a total toad about expectations, and sometimes dressage rides make me want to nose dive into the footing voluntarily.  It turns out I had nothing to worry about.

wp-1451108540781.jpgWe started Murray out on the lunge, and MIL had me go through my standard lunging routine.  She pointed out that Murray is very stiff through his SI and hamstrings — other people have commented on this also — and wants to take short, choppy steps behind.  The challenge is getting him to relax that back and encourage him to take bigger steps behind without rushing.  When Murray rushes, he gets on the forehand, so what I’m looking for are slow, airy, relaxed steps with a swinging back*.

(I tricked Murray into thinking my phone was cookies so he let me take a picture with him.)

Under saddle Murray was amazingly compliant.  We started with a small-circle exercise to encourage him to step under with his inside hind.  MIL had me do three things differently than I usually do at home: 1) pulse the inside leg; it doesn’t just squeeze constantly but when you squeeze he should move over, and then you give (this is a big theme with all the aids — aid and then release), 2) keep my outside rein steady (I’m a big inside rein bandit so that is hard for me), 3)* flex the inside rein and release immediately to remind Murray of the direction we are bending.  If Murray got “stuck” and just started going sideways, I pushed my hands forward and let things go on a little (10, 15, or 20 meter circle) until he remembered to go forward, then asked for sideways again.  Going left this was much easier for Murray than going right, and we got great cross over left and only a little to the right.  But magical beautiful amazing arena mirrors meant that I could see when we were doing it well.

For the trot work, MIL had me really focus on riding the outside shoulder*.  I’m pretty inside-rein dependent, which is a hold-over from when I was learning to dressage and teaching Murray to dressage, but it’s time to graduate from the inside rein.  I was to do the same thing at the trot as I did in the walk work: outside rein steady (that is where your contact always is), and ask-release with the inside rein when I needed to remind Murray about the flexion.  It may sound like I was see-sawing with my hands, but it really wasn’t, it was a very defined “hey, remember, we are flexing to the inside!” and immediate release.  Almost like a very coarse and primitive half-halt (for a coarse and primitive dressage rider).  The first day we focused on slowing Murray’s trot to that slow, relaxed, bouncy trot, and I did some sitting trot work which — shocker — is easier when his back is relaxed.  The second day I sat the trot a lot more and we worked on some shoulder in-haunches in and leg yields to get Murray crossing over.  I have to be really careful with Murray’s haunches whenever I am asking for them to move right, as he likes to just twist his body and avoid the bend on that left side (his stiffer side).

At the canter we started working on teaching Murray to shift his weight behind, starting with some little spiral in.  By riding the outside shoulder I could feel Murray really jump and push from behind in the canter, and when he got round his canter felt awwweeesomeee!  And when I shrank the circle down to 15 meters, then turned in to make an even smaller circle and thought “walk” with my body and my legs I got a really solid attempt at a walk transition.  It was through the trot, yes.  But Murray had shifted his weight behind and the trot was soft and supple and there was no mouth hauling or misunderstanding or fighting.  MIL said to practice this regularly and in a few weeks canter-walk will be a thing.  HOORAY!  During my second ride we focused on the sitting trot-canter transitions, which Murray anticipates terribly.  Even when I don’t move my leg he wildly flings his head in the air and runs off into the canter, as if I’m going to do…. something to him.  I’ve not done many of the sitting trot-canter transitions yet, so I don’t know how we got to this place, but MIL thinks it’s a confidence thing.  Murray isn’t confident in me, and I do have a history of getting on his case about transitions so…

wp-1451111374194.jpgThe plan is just to practice being round and soft in the trot before the transition, and then immediately getting round and soft in the canter after the transition.  Eventually the round, soft trot will meet up with the round, soft canter and we will have a round, soft transition!*

For the majority of both of my rides there haven’t been any wild Murray moments or opinions, and I have been shocked and delighted.  MIL wants me to give Murray more opportunities to do the right thing (aka be soft, round, and flexed in the correct direction) and put a little more trust in him so he does do the right thing more often*.  This reminded me a lot about what Megan wrote about TC, and which I have experienced to a small degree with Murray, that if you just treat your horse like he will do it right, they can sometimes rise to meet you.

I marked all the big, newer-ish, remind-yourself-often-Nicole takeaways in this post with bold stars, so here they are again, in summary:

  • slow, relaxed, airy steps with a swinging back
  • give and release aids
  • ride the outside shoulder (outside rein is always there)
  • be forgiving about mistakes — round-softness will come in the transitions
  • open to door for Murray to do the right thing more often

I am going to have a few more rides before the weekend is through, I think, so with any luck I will have more to report here.  So far, this has been amazingly educational and

horse tangled


This weekend was a small, informal-adjacent clinic at the barn with Christine Scarlett, former Area VI Young Riders coach, Advanced rider, and trainer of many years.  Chris was my trainer’s coach when B was on Young Riders, and has been training locally for a long time, but she’s hard to find on the twinternet.  B recommended her highly, and the price was right, so I signed up.  And what a clinic it was.

scarlettTo start with, the course was simple but highly technical. There were three lines set — oxers on the right, about 21 feet between each set, the line with the two diagonals in the middle, 21-21-33 feet from navy to pale blue, and then a single angled fence on the quarterline.  I set the course with B the night before the clinic and it was hard to set!  The angled fences make you go cross-eyed when you set them, and we kept second-guessing them.  In the end, Chris ended up moving the fences around a little bit to sort the distances out for the horses, but I feel that we did a fairly good job.

As you can probably tell from the lines, the theme of the clinic was straightness, but Chris was interested in more than just riding the horses straight through the grid.  She wanted riders keeping their horses straight through the turns in addition to the grid (more on this in a little bit), and precision with every step of the ride.

I got a bit of a head start on my riding by watching the first ride of the day, one student with her lovely thoroughbred gelding who is a little green but very game.  This particular kid (I guess I’ll just call her “the kid!”) is one who I’ve had ride Murray for me when I’m out of town in the past, as she has a very forgiving seat and leg.  She’s even taught me some pretty valuable lessons about riding my own horse, which is cool.  Aaaaaaaaanyway, Chris got on the kid pretty quickly about her reins being too long — a crime for which I would also be committed — and really emphasized giving through elastic elbows instead of by letting the reins get long.  Additionally Chris really enforced the “ride the canter” philosophy, and wanted people to “ignore” the fences and just ride the canter, letting the jumps come as they may.

We started our lesson trotting over the poles in the oxer line laid down into a row of trot poles.  Each trot pole was actually a pyramid of three poles and Murray took one look at them coming down the line and was like “uh… NOPE.”  In his defense, we were approaching a neon green pole and the sun had just come out after a morning of no sun?  No defense.  Just… dorkin’ out.  Chris stopped me and explained the idea of the “prep zone” before a fence, and reminded me that my job was to let my horse know “hey dumbass*, look ahead that thing is coming and we’re doing it!”

* colorful language not necessarily verbatim

Please enjoy this video of our “straightness” through the line as a text breaker.

Our next few runs through the trot poles Chris had me keep posting no matter what and keep my leg on to manage the pace.  I have a bad habit of going “WAAAH OKAY MURRAY FIX THIS SHIT NOW” and taking all my aids off (longstanding bad habit actually), which is, shockingly, not actually riding the gait.  Next we warmed up over the angled fence on the quarterline, and took it straight — straight down the quarterline.  Chris actually didn’t care what angle we took the fence at, as long as the horse’s head was in line with his shoulders were in line with his haunches.  Taking a fence and landing crooked on the other side = not straight.  Haunches flopping around up to a fence = not straight.  Many Murray antics = not straight.

Sweneyway, my lesson buddy and I both demonstrated amazing examples of not riding the canter to the fence.  I let Murray shrink his stride as we approached the fence and he jumped from basically atop the ground line (which was rolled to the base of the X so that’s not embarrassing or anything), and my lesson buddy’s horse leaped from a full stride out.  So to really enforce the idea of the preparatory half halt Chris had me canter down to the angled X and then halt about 10 strides out.  After a little halt I was to canter on and take the X.

“I have a question,” I piped up. “What if I don’t have a canter to halt transition? Or halt to canter?”

“Well,” responded Chris, “just give it a go and we’ll see what happens”  As I cantered off I heard “I should be asking why you don’t have a halt transition.”

Buuuuurn, Nicole. Sssszzzzzzz.

So I did it.  And we halted through the trot and cantered through the trot but it really got Murray listening to my half halts.

Chris set the center line to Xs where the centers all lined up, and our goal was to ride really straight through the line after taking the X on the quarterline.  My first attempt through is linked above (instagram video) — observe my fantastic straightness through the grid.  If you listen carefully, you can hear Chris saying “that was ridiculous” at the end.  I agree.  But she did commend me for sticking to the line despite my clearly fantastic setup, so there was that.  Chris instructed me to ride just so: shorten my (damn) reins, keep the canter with my lower leg (don’t let Murray die out/shorten the stride in front of the fences), and make a straight turn my riding my outside aids.  To ride the turn straight with the outside aids, Chris said to think about turning one’s back towards the inside of the turn (or turning your chest to the outside) and making the horse’s inside hind make the turn first.  Very interesting, and resulted in a very straight approach after the turn.

Unfortunately, Murray had some uh… feelings about this strict riding.  And Chris had some feelings about Murray’s feelings.

That awkward embarrassment over, I pulled Murray out of future bucking attempts and he soon cut that shit out.  And we started to ride with precision and straightness to all the lines.  About half way through the ride Chris adjusted my seat from sitting to a half seat again, as it would help me take the jumps in stride better, instead of going from “sitting” to “jump position” every time a jump came up.  It did, of course.

We rode through the grid several more times, and Chris really encouraged me to stay straight but KICK Murray to make the striding in the grid.  I struggled with this, as I don’t think of kicking through a grid as riding the canter, but turns out that taking my leg off and letting Murray shrink into a faster/shorter/shittier stride through the grid is the opposite of riding the canter.  So there’s that.

I had a chat with Chris at the end of our lesson about my struggle with that feeling.  A few times when Murray and I have felt really “on” and together, I can feel the energy and step are just right and we make strides easily and don’t struggle with the shrinking step before fences.  But it’s a fine line from there to pushing Murray into fast/flat/strung out and that is where I get burned over fences — every time I’ve gone crashing into a fence was associated with some kind of fast/flat disaster.

Chris pointed out that a slower canter is almost always going to be a bigger canter, because you are covering more ground with each jump.  I’m not sure that I always believe this, I’ve felt Murray do some pretty tiny, slow canter, but I understood the idea behind it.  Murray, however, does not like to lengthen his hind legs in the canter (or trot), he likes to quicken them, shrinking the step.  So Chris set me up with a little leg yield exercise to help him learn to lengthen his stride instead of getting stabby and short.

This was as really great clinic, because Chris called you on everything you were doing wrong.  It wasn’t enough to get through the grid straight with flappy reins, she wanted short reins, leg on, and turns on the outside aids (in addition to standard equitation: heels down, straight back, not jumping ahead &c).  I truly felt that Chris could do amazing things for my riding, and is just the person I would go to in order to really perfect my riding and hammer out some shit.  None of my rides were perfect — in fact, there was no run through the grid where I was really satisfied with the way it played out, but I came away with a lot I know I can work on.  Praise was a little sparse, but it felt pretty awesome when you got it!

Best go through — still not that great

In the end, one of my biggest takeaways was that precision is really a kinder, more sympathetic (and more effective) way to ride your horse.  When I ride with long reins, not only do I make my messages unclear, but when I need to make a correction it comes later and is necessarily harsher than it would be if I maintained a steady contact.  With a shorter rein and a leg that is active and on, I can let Murray know that I mean things right away, instead of having to fight about whether or not I really mean “go” when I put my leg on.  Much to think upon, and much to improve within myself!

the most important part

I’ve been barn-sitting this week, which is way bigger of a job than I always assume it is, and without internet on my computer I was like “haha, yeah, I’m not writing anything on the blog I’m just going to sit here after filling waters in the sideways rain* and watch four hours of Criminal Intent”  I just… I’m not of the mobile generation.

* As an aside, sideways rain is the worst.  It doesn’t fill water troughs but it does make epic fucking puddles.

So because this is a horse blog and I’ve a “long” absence to explain, I thought I’d start with the most important part.



A few weeks ago I saw a dog on a facebook share chain that made my heart melt.  She was pregnant and miserable in a shitty, high-kill shelter and I pulled some strings, made some super compelling arguments to some people, and my barn manager agreed to foster the sad pregnant girl dog.  We arranged for transport from the shitty shelter up north, I ran around getting a whelping box and puppy supplies, and less than 24 hours before the blue mama was supposed to arrive we got notice from the shelter staff that a few days earlier they had sent her to a different rescue that could pick her up sooner.  Uh… thanks for letting me know, I guess?  I was glad she made it out of the shelter, but disappointed that I had wasted my time and wasn’t going to have any EPIC cuteness in my life any time soon.

Last week we saw an urgent call for foster for another pittie mama needed help at another shitty high-kill shelter.  This one had already delivered seven puppies, and was surrendered with them.  We still had all the stuff, and I had a pittie-sized hole in my heart (made worse by Ellie living with my boyfriend for the last few weeks), and were more than willing.  Everything came together over a few hours, and on Sunday Penny and her seven babies came to the barn!


wp-1450763312911.jpgPenny is sweet and petite (only 35-ish lbs) and with six behemoth boys and one girl in the litter, we named them after Princess Bride characters.  The pups are already about two weeks old (unclear – not listed on the surrender paperwork) and are fat, fat, fat!  Their eyes are open (though not all the way) and the babies are starting to wobble around the pen.

We gave the litter puppy-names after characters in The Princess Bride.  So may I please present to you: the Princess Bridal Party (working title).

wp-1450758876350.jpgPenny and Buttercup (because Buttercup is the smallest I take advantage of the fat boys sleeping to give her a chance to dine alone at the milk bar)

IMG_5423My name is Inigo Montoya.

IMG_5460Westley and Humperdinck (who appears to have slightly long/rex/wire hair?)

IMG_5531Inigo spooning his little sister Buttercup, with Vizzini and Andre to the right

IMG_5543I lined them up by color and then proceeded to take a shitty picture. Inigo Montoya, Buttercup, Vizzini, Andre/Fezzik, Humperdinck, Westley, and Miracle Max.

Many more pictures to come. Duh.


I don’t know if any of you guys remember Regretsy, back from when the internet was new Etsy was still young.  One amazing person on the internet called it “DIY” meats “WTF” and that’s exactly what it was: all the crazy shit you never expected people would actually make.  My favorite thing I ever saw on Regretsy was a unicorn statue on a bed of grass — realistically, a newborn lamb skin stuffed and shaped into a horrific horse-adjacent shape with a horn attached to its forehead, curled up like a little white demon on a bed of astroturf.

And this holiday season as I was looking up horse gifts, once again I encountered DIY (or sometimes machines-IY) meets WTF.  Have they ever SEEN a horse?!

What gait is this? What is going on with its face? Its hind legs? Can it even stand up straight?!

Also in the: wtf is this gait category

regretsy1 regretsy2

Although that second one also fulfills the “this might not actually be a horse” category.

I can only assume that this next charm was made by the same people who painted on caves approximately 14,000 years ago in France.


regretsy5Then there is, of course, the down-right terrifying…


Why anyone would want to iron this onto their shirt is utterly beyond me.






This pony was taught how to booty tooch by Tyra.





And this one is actually pretty solid, until you get to the ears…


Those widdle eaws….

Normally I would feel a little bad making fun of handcrafted items in public, but I’m pretty sure all of these are made by machines, so I have no regret.  Plus, there’s still plenty of really awesome stuff on Etsy that isn’t weirdly unrealistic/distorted/scary.

SALE - Hand Carved Dragon Horse Skull Real Mule/ Animal Skull Bone with Teeth/ Vintage TaxidermyLike this.  Which is actually kinda badass.



oops I did it again

Oh baby baby, how was I supposed to know… that something wasn’t right

music 90s britney spears pop lucky

Yeah, today’s learning opportunity comes to you courtesy of Britney Spears.  I mean Murray.

Murray and I have been on a little bit of a struggle bus lately, mostly going left.  Starting in October when he didn’t really want to bend left and instead wanted to crank his neck around.  I’ve fixed one thing after the other, but he just doesn’t feel as good going left as right.  I’ve checked him out with the chiro and there’s nothing seriously wrong with his body (just his brain probably), so I figured it was a strengthening thing.

And then for our last few rides Murray has started up our trot work with a  generally pissy attitude, and the bucking that generally accompanies that feeling of “nope”.  Today as I tried to get him forward at the trot going left he launched into full fledged Murray feels.  I let him buck it out for a few laps, cantered a little, and then got back to our left trot work.  Murray was really behind my leg and I kept having to push him forward ahead of my leg, as I could feel him sucked back and doing Shitty Trot.  When I remembered my new No Nagging policy I decided to just really boot him forward instead, and I some more feels came out.  I wasn’t exactly happy with that, so I pulled Murray back down to a trot and tried to push him ahead of my leg again.  More feels, and in the same spot….

Wait a minute.

This story was starting to sound awfully familiar.

murrybuckIn 2013 I cleverly trained Murray to buck whenever he didn’t want to canter forward (always during dressage rides, because jumping is fun!) by assuming that he was hurting during the canter and pulling him back down out of the gait whenever he bucked more than a time or two.  I let it go on for about five months and then had to call in a Fixer to undo my handiwork.

And this month that little bastard was trying the same trick on me.  Last Thursday when I tried to push him into the reins going left he threw a fit, and multiples times today when I tried to push him into the reins going left he threw a fit.  TWO POINTS MAKE A TREND, MURRAY.

r-squared = 1

So that happened… again.  Murray decided he didn’t want to do something, expressed his feelings about it, and evidently in our last few weeks of riding, I’ve let him get away with it enough that he thinks it’s a strategy worth pursuing.  Sigh.  At least I only let it go for two weeks this time, not five months.  So I’ll figure out what is going on that he really doesn’t want to do and both attack it and do it until he fucking loves it.  But also I’ll probably attack whatever it is from another angle as well to see if I can’t trick Murray into it.

This horse guys.  It is like I’m on Survivor, but there’s not a million dollars on the line.  Just my happiness.  Just gotta outwit, outlast, and outplay him to ear that dressage mastery…

mountains and molehills

I busted my ass on my thesis last week, which was why the distinct lack of writing here.  I was barely riding, and basically just programmed R all day for three days so didn’t have much left in me to write at the end of the day.

I just got “When Two Spines Align“, and the first few chapters are — SHOCKER — all about position.  Since this is something I really need to work on, I’ve been starting all of my rides with some stretching and flexing exercises that will hopefully help me even out my body a bit.  One of my biggest problems is dropping/falling through my right hip/shoulder.  It’s not just my shoulder that scrunches down, but my body is just… scrunched on that side.  Unfortunately, I can’t fix it by just stretching down through the right, because my shoulder is already dropped right.  It’s just my hip that is held up somehow!  Ugh things to work on.

Thursday I got on Murray with the intention of having a nice, basic warm-up-for-the-week dressage ride after a few days off, and Murray let me know that he was feeling both cold backed and annoyed at my stupid position exercises and I felt him get scrunchy and accordion-like in the bad way as soon as I asked him wp-1449989989647.jpgto trot.  I’m getting a lot better at anticipating when Murray needs to just get some yayas out, and sometimes we can just canter it out, but at that point I’d backed myself into a corner and couldn’t get out of it.  So I got the trot transition I “wanted” — but ugly and impolite — and Murray immediately transitioned to a wild, uncontrolled, buckanter, careening through the middle of a dressage lesson while I shrilled apologies at my trainer and her student.  B was laughing and laughing at us, not only because I couldn’t steer, but also because Murray decided he would use the full extent of whatever height he had and looked about 17 hands tall.

(17 hands of precious!)

But after that, we got some relatively good work done.  In addition to working on my position I’ve been trying to add some new elements to our riding and crisping up some movements that I’ve been letting both of us get away with.  One of them is trot-canter transitions.  I tend to crunch and fold forward when I sit through canter transitions, and Murray couldn’t handle me sitting through them in the past, so I trained both of us to make the transition while I posted.  It actually worked out really nicely, as his back comes up it meets my seat and I can then transition nicely into the canter.  But that’s not what we’ll need to do in the future — with sitting trot in our future someday, I hope! — so I focused on sitting through the trot-canter transition.

At first Murray was confused and interpreted the outside leg as an aid to move his haunches over — an effort I really appreciated!  So I tried to half halt him first and then “windshield wiper” that outside eg and Murray was like “oh right, I know what you want, spastic trot!”  Uhhh nope, sorry.  I tried again and booted him with my outside leg when he didn’t get it, and more spastic trot ensued, so the next transition involved a little whip smack and that got his attention.  We’ve since practiced a bit more and Murray is okay with the transition in both directions.

wp-1449989989656.jpgI so love driving into a giant wall of fog to get to work… that definitely doesn’t feel like driving into a horror movie or anything.

During our next ride I tried to tackle the Devil’s Transition with really really really really no success.  Murray does not seem to understand at all that you can transition from cantering to walking without trotting or stopping in between.  And when I think about it, it makes senseI’ve definitely seen Murray canter to trot or GALLOP HIS FUCKING ASS OFF to a dead stop four foot skid at liberty, but I have never seen him canter to walk.  And I’ve definitely felt Murray canter to NOPE in front of a jump, but no canter to walk.  Canter to sideways, yes.  Canter to stop, yes. Canter to walk? Not a thing.  BUT… he has four legs and can canter to halt, so canter to walk is in there.  Just gotta put a jump in front of him, apparently.  So I gave up on the canter-walk and just crispi-fied the walk-canter, as in the process of trying to activate some canter-walk I had allowed walk-canter to turn into walk-spastic trot.

There are lots of pieces in the bag right now.  I can feel them there, like scrabble tiles, actually.  I know that I have all the pieces to put together something like canter-walk or more counter-canter work but sometimes I just can’t always pull them all out in the right order.

Equestian Haikus Roundup

Last month we haiku-ed!  It was cute and fun.  I enjoyed reading everybody’s poems, and marvel over their creativity.  But it turns out I’m not such a trail blazer with the whole equestrian haikus thing.  There was a whole Horse Nation column devoted to them, as well as a twitter account and a few other things. WHATEVER.

Over at No Hour Wasted I found this gem

IMG_3333This is who I am
six legs, four eyes, and two hearts
one soul between us



Feel free to take a few minutes to contemplate the universal truth of that one.




Emma wrote about fences that 12 year olds jump that are actually still too big for some of us.  I also have these feels.

“that jump’s too scary
oh but 12 year olds do it?
still not trying it”

Karen extolled the virtues of Saddle Tite (and Conrad looked clutch in his harness) and then wrote haikus about Conrad while he looked clutch in his cable knit sweater.

“Dog sweaters are es-
pecially cute when worn by
a very cute dog”

Lauren revealed secret show plans!

“Instead, a tiny
Schooling show in the hunters.
Well, this should be good.”

Also, Lauren and SprinklerBandit got into a rap haiku battle in the comments so be sure to check that out.

Redheadlins made graphics! GRAPHICS GUYS.

With beautiful pictures too!

Over at Going Rogue Dancer, Remmie wrote about the “joys” of rehab…

“I want to gallop
Rehab is a bummer-er
ACE is my best friend”

I feel you on the ACE my friend.

And M at Canter and Candor wrote about her noodlekind’s learning process!

“C, stop pretending.
I can tell you’re not bending.
Use your damn muscles.”

I bend, you bend, we
all bend on a circle, right?
Also, T-REX hands.

And Alyssa wrote about the number one goat rules of life.  Which are indisputable, of course.

Put it in your mouth
It is number one goat rule
And stand on the things

Carly wrote a pretty succinct treatise on changes in different disciplines.  And also on basically every jump course where I try to make a change:

“Get the change, she said.
Sit up and add leg, she said.
Too late. We’re jumping.”

My RBF wrote some too!

Left, right, shoulder-fore
Added leg but noodled more

IMG_20151108_120010~2Centerline, a 4

Bronc, leap, shadow spook,
karate kick, self-high-five.
Pony on rice bran.

Hairs in my bra itch,
sticking to my Chapsticked lips.
Clipping season blues.

(Her clipping blues are awesome for me though, because that’s how I got THE DINOSAUR!)

And if noodling down a centerline isn’t a fact of life, I don’t know what is.

SB wrote about training with her thousand pound best friend — ain’t that the truth?

“Training by myself
With my thousand pound best friend
Gives me focus now”

Alli’s haikus featured MINI DONKS.  But actually my fave was the one about work ethic… because my thoroughbred seems to have misplaced his.

“Oh, event pony
Why don’t you have work ethic?
TB’s like their jobs”

This was fun, guys!  If there are any I missed, link me below, and I will add you and include you on my excel spreadsheet random number generator for flashy* prizes.

* and by flashy I mean handsewn and made with love.