better quality problems

Tonight’s writing inspired by this facebook post and finding wine in the pantry.

When I first started riding Murray we had all kinds of problems.  Going in a straight line problems.  Using the corners problems.  Turning problems.  Circle problems.  Square problems.  And those are just the steering problems.  Let us not talk about the problems associated with contact, gait, or jumping.  Oh yeah, and tacking up.  That little thing.

DSCF9901(Look, we were so good at dressage!!!!!!!!!)

We have had so many problems.  But those problems have changed a lot over the 2+ years that Murray and I have been together.  More to the point, those problems have changed qualitatively to better problems.

Seriously, I no longer have to struggle just to go deep in the corners or turn left when I want to.¬† I mean, sure, sometimes it’s hard to turn left, but it’s not because Murray is like “WTF IS TURNING”, it’s because he knows that a left twist in my body doesn’t always mean “go that way” it might just mean “move your shoulders that way”.¬† My problems these days have to do with getting my horse to really stretch over his back and use his whole body correctly, not just getting him to relax for one or two steps at a time.¬† Or using his body evenly on both sides, and not just compensating for his right-side tension with his left side.¬† Or trying to get the bend and lateral movement right to school half pass — oh yeah, we can school half pass now.¬† It’s not beautiful. In fact, it’s down right ugly heading left.¬† But we can school that shit.

And bucking.  Still sometimes bucking.

I literally do not even care that the last time we jumped we struggled to get overDSCF0881 an X without rushing/bolting/pushing/balking/garbage, because I know that we can get past that.  We have before, and we will again.  (And also, I sound like Sprinkler Bandit.)

And all the other little stuff is just noise.¬† Porpoising because I asked him to go forward?¬† Fine.¬† We’re going to go forward no matter what, porpoise or not.¬† It’s a hell of a lot more forward than a year ago when we had those fights, or two years ago when we had those fights.¬† When Murray’s trot strides were about six inches long and staying round through a shoulder-in was a world-class problem.

It’s a neat way to think about training.¬† There will always be problems, or holes, or struggles, or room for improvement — whatever you want to call it — but those holes get a) smaller and b) cooler.¬† How cool is it to have a problem with half pass, when before you couldn’t even do shoulder-in?¬† How cool is it to struggle to open the canter to a 2’6″ fence when you previously found yourself buried to everything?¬† PRETTY COOL.

Training a horse is really, really cool.  Sometimes, you just have to be okay with lots and lots of problems.


things that are working

Despite all of our winter shenanigans, Murray and I are making progress, and some things are working.


MIL suggested that I lunge Murray in a pretty specific way for a little while, to help him build strength and become comfortable with the new way we were asking him to go without the complication of my paltry attempts at sitting trot.¬† Murray is a lazy dude, and without the super long lunge whip that I had at MIL’s he’s not totally respectful of the lunging exercises, but we’re getting there.¬† It’s also hard for him, because what I’m asking is a hard thing (take bigger/loftier steps, push forward from your hind end without diving forward with your nose/front end, track up) for his little body and brain.¬† I’ve been lunging for 10+ minutes per dressage ride recently, but it is really improving his outline under saddle and his ability to carry himself without using his entire neck as a counter-weight for his tail.

trotpolefailwe are so good at lunging!

Forgiving Transitions

One of MIL’s big lessons for me was that I need to be more forgiving to Murray through the transitions.¬† This is hard for me because I know Murray can do the good transitions, and that he’s just choosing not to — for whatever reason.¬† MIL really encouraged me to see that reason as “he is legitimately worried about something (possibly completely irrational” and that drilling him or forcing him into a “better” transition was not the way to get good transitions long term.¬† Instead I just ask for Murray to be soft and round right up to the transition and as quickly as I can after the transition, and eventually those two soft-round places will meet in the middle — aka, a soft, round transition.¬† This is really working.¬† Our sitting trot-canter transitions have improved tenfold, and I can do them on a pretty loopy rein these days and they remain pretty soft.¬† Sometimes Murray is a little worked up or feeling some feelings and things get ugly, but this way of thinking about transitions is so helpful and has really changed the way I approach a lot of the “hard” things that Murray protests for (seemingly) no reason.¬† It’s not a hundred percent yet, but it’s definitely getting better.


Sleazy, or Horsey UnderArmour

Readers may or may not recall that I have the girthiest horse on the planet earth.¬† No joke.¬† 2.5 years into this relationship and I still have to work carefully when I’m tacking Murray up, and just recently he dumped my saddle twice — something I thought we were totally over but noooooooo we weren’t.¬† You may also recall that I recently bought Murray this super fashionable Horsey UnderArmour.¬† Interestingly, since I bought and put the sleazy on Murray he has been markedly better for tacking up.¬† As in… holy shit, my horse has finally figured that shit out.¬† My horse has finally grown up.¬† My horse can finally horse.¬† I’ve got two theories about why the sleazy helps.¬† 1) Thundershirt effect.¬† We have always joked that Murray is a bit of a dummy foal (an actual theory of my dressage trainer), and when the article exploring the relationship between dummy foal behavior and squeezing after birth came out (my shitty interpretation, not theirs, but it was by my very own school!) we were like OMG THIS IS THE SOLUTION! LET’S HAVE A SECOND BIRTH FOR MURRAY!!!¬† This was a great joke because if you know Murray, you know it would go something like this, only more violent, wild, and he would run away and never come home once he got free of you.

Theory 2) Constant desensitization.¬† One theory about girthy horses is that the nerves in the girth area are closer to the skin or overly sensitive, which makes some sense.¬† Murray is uber girthy, as are his siblings by the same sire (Dontsellmeshort).¬† So I would not be surprised if there are some really sensitive nerves in there.¬† Well, the sleazy is on him 22 hours a day, and then 1 hour a day he has a girth on… that’s 23 hours a day of girth-zone pressure.¬† Obviously getting a girth put (not even that tightly and sometimes dangerously loosely) on is going to be less stimulating when these nerves are already used to the feeling of something squeezing on them.

Could it be hokum?  Totally.  Do I care? NOPE. THAT SHIT IS WORKING.

You may wonder, why did we not try this earlier? How could we be so STUPID?!¬† Well, I actually thought about this way back in 2014.¬† However, I decided that since Murray’s possible responses to putting the sleazy on included 1) kicking me in the head, 2) running away and never coming back, 3) rearing, or 4) all of the above that the (unlikely) chance it would help was not worth it.¬† I was wrong, and yes I do wish I’d done this two years ago.

Plus he looks hella fly in that thing. I mean just look at that suuuper correct trot…

Smaller Circles

One of the challenging movements for me in the (hopefully upcoming for me) First level tests are the smaller figures.¬† I know the apoctdressage4proximate diameter and size of a 10 meter circle or 15 meter circle but riding them is hard.¬† So at my last dressage lesson I had trainer stick us on a 15 and really worked on keeping it round.¬† It is hard!!!!!¬† But there were two awesome side effects: one, Murray actually focused.¬† He wasn’t like “hey what’s that? OH SHIT A JUMP. lalalalala bonk bonk bonk HOLY SHIT THERE IS LIGHT ON THE GROUND”.¬† He just bent and trotted.¬† Possibly because I was riding the shit out of him to keep him bent and circular instead of egg-shaped or oblongular.¬† Two, I figured out how to ride those damn circles!¬† The trick, at least for me, is to focus on riding the next quarter of the circle.¬† In the past I have focused on four cardinal points on a circle that I know I need to “hit” to stay on a 10 meter circle or 15 meter or whatever, and in between those points things can get kinda… sketchy.¬† Instead of focusing just on that point, if I focus on the shape of the quarter approaching it and getting past that point, I don’t end up thinking of or using that point as a corner, or having no plan for when I get to that point and need to tackle the next quarter.¬† This might bear additional explaining, but it worked super well for me this week and I’m looking forward to working more on it.

Well, friends, what’s been working for you guys lately?¬† Any super sweet exercises or tricks I should be trying or should know?

a poor workman

I have basically never been able to sit the trot.¬† I have only been trying to do so for about, oh, the entire length of time I’ve been riding seriously (admittedly not that long).¬† I don’t have the advantage of having developed an independent seat as a wildchild galloping around bareback on my pony, but I’m not sure many people do these days.

Over the course of three consecutive evenings, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will trace the history and evolution of motion picture formats from the silent era through the current digital age in √íBehind the Motion Picture Canvas: Film Formats through the 21st Century,√ď beginning on Wednesday, September 9, at 8 p.m. at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.  The presentation will continue with screenings of √íManhattan√ď (1979) on Thursday, September 10 and √íThe Black Stallion√ď (1979) on Friday, September 11.  Both screenings will begin at 8 p.m.  Academy Science and Technology Council member Rob Hummel will host each evening. Pictured: Kelly Reno rides the title character in a scene from THE BLACK STALLION, 1979.Can you imagine the unimaginable places horse hair would have gotten shooting this scene?!

What I did have was determination and desire.¬† I didn’t know how to sit the trot, and practicing just seemed to end in sore seat bones and inner thighs.¬† Practicing something incorrectly was not helping, so obviously I needed to learn how to learn to do this.¬† I read a lot of things.¬† You have to trot slower.¬† You have to remove your stirrups.¬† Relax this.¬† Tense that.¬† Move your pelvis.¬† Don’t cling.¬† Hug with your thighs.¬† Hug with nothing.¬† It is a mystery.

he was perfect in other ways

I never had the perfect horse to practice on, as lesson horses are probably predisposed to especially hate attempts at sitting trot.¬† My bouncing and jiggling never seemed to impress them, and there was more than one occasion that I nearly bounced myself off the side of Quincy, cartoon style.¬† Then I started riding this adorable four year old and I was like “Wow! Trying to sit the trot on this weak, tense back would be a huge disservice to this horse. guess I don’t have to try any more!” and I had a sweet out to stop trying to sit the trot for two years.

fistbumpbabyThen MIL said I had to sit the trot half of all my rides and I was like… wahh.¬† But my knees kept bumping the knee rolls.¬† And I was bouncing.¬† And I thought… maybe I should try another saddle.¬† I KNOW, I KNOW.¬† IT’S A POOR WORKMAN WHO BLAMES HIS TOOLS.¬† But I was desperate, and curious.¬† So I sat in my trainer’s new Stubben Euphoria.¬† And it was… if not quite euphoric definitely better than my saddle.¬† So in about four seconds I decided I was getting a new saddle.¬† Since then I’ve tried about four different saddles and all of them have been a marked improvement on my saddle in terms of sitting the trot.¬† I suspect the larger seat size has something to do with it — I’m not bumping up against the cantle or the knee rolls.¬† As it turns out, despite my flat-as ass, my spider monkey legs mean that I need a bigger seat than I thought.

So while I’m not putting all the blame on my saddle, I suspect that I’m going to have a lot easier of a time learning to sit the trot in a saddle that actually facilitates the correct position.¬† I’m going to go ahead and pretend not to be a poor workman blaming her tools, and just get tools that are better suited to the task because they fit my tiny ass and weird long legs better.



potions class

A few more rides and lunging sessions later, Murray’s NQR is invisible and I’m quite happy about it. ¬†Sure, it could come back, but¬†if it’s intermittent or related to being stiff from being stuck inside, then that worries me a bit less. ¬†I plan to keep an especially close eye on him, and we will play it by ear and continue to evaluate as Winter progresses.

jan-play3Unfortunately, while Murray’s body seems fine, his brain seems to have gone awol. ¬†I had a jump lesson Friday that was just an exercise in Murray antics and opinions — he was generally uninterested in going anywhere near the chairs in the corner of the arena, which have been there for a solid two years, or near the gate which we had just come in through, or over any part of the footing that had been smoothed or looked in any way out of the ordinary. ¬†My insistence that he actually¬†do these things resulted in some mild body flailing, a tiny bit of screaming and, of course, many tail swishes. ¬†He took a really hard look at one of the fences, tried to stop, decided he was going to go, LAUNCHED himself over it, bucked upon landing, and somehow I managed to stay in the saddle. ¬†After convincing him to just go¬†forward¬†over a few more fences¬†I called it quits as clearly¬†something was up.

I have a few theories.

It is vaguely possible that whatever magnesium product I am using right now is not really working or I need to feed more. ¬†But given that I’ve had problems on this batch of magnesium before, I think it’s time to give another brand a try. ¬†I’m going with Performance Equine’s MagRestore and — just for shits and giggles — I’m going throw in some Focus too. ¬†Focus promises to “Promotes a willingness to please and a winning, confident, cooperative mood. Use prior to and during competitions, workouts or rehab. Useful in any stressful situation. Decreases excitability while maintaining energy for work.” (straight from the manufacturer’s website) ¬†It sounds¬†like witchcraft to me, but with a money back guarantee on a 7-day trial… why not! ¬†(If that doesn’t work, I’ll try Quiessence, a fan favourite at our barn. ¬†If¬†that doesn’t work, we’ll move on to SmartCalm, or even SmartCalmUltra. ¬†If¬†that doesn’t work… we go digging for a hidden testicle.)

Murray could also be intensely sore from our dressage work, and letting me know the jan-play1work load is a bit intense in the only way he knows how. ¬†An insane amount of spooking¬†doesn’t seem to be the most straightforward method of presenting this fact to me, but it certainly is one way of expressing feelings.

And then there’s the turnout situation… We’re going on three weeks of no turnout at this point, and with a flooded outdoor arena we can only rotate horse through the indoor for as long as we have before someone wants to use the indoor to ride in. ¬†I had turned Murray out alone in the indoor a couple of times to absolutely no positive effect — ¬†he just wandered around, rolled, and then chatted with his friends stabled near the arena. ¬†But on Friday I turned him out with one of his besties, Connor, and it was a¬†completely different story. ¬†He and Connor have, as Connor’s owner puts it, “a deep understanding of one another” and played pretty constantly for half an hour. ¬†The next day they played for an hour. ¬†And then I had a couple of really nice rides.


I’ve always know that Murray isn’t exactly a good-on-no-turnout kinda guy…. but for some reason this year he has¬†really managed to keep it together in the barn. ¬†In the past, when he’s been locked inside he has struggled to mind his manners inside the barn, so I would lunge him or turn him out before even attempting to tack up. ¬†But this year I have a strangely reasonable horse inside the barn, and then this super unreasonable horse under saddle. ¬†Maybe Murray just¬†really, really, really needed to get out and get some playtime and excess energy done away with?

We will see. ¬†I’m basically throwing everything I have at him —¬†such a good scientific method — to see if that improves anything. ¬†Then I’ll start to eliminate things and see where it leaves us.

not the good kind of funk

I spent much of today feeling rather… blergh.¬† I have to re-investigate a part of my analysis that I thought I was ready to just put behind me, and the fact that I have to open that whole can back up irritates me.¬† That was but a minor part of my mood, though.¬† I recently found out that a family friend is super irresponsible with animals (one of those who adopts pets just because the kids think they are cute, then return/rehome them when their landlord demands it or the kids grow tired of it) and I can’t seem to get over it.¬† I’m not close with this person and could not have stopped any of this before I found out about it (but you can bet your sweet ass I will be opening my big, fat mouth in the future), yet the feeling of anger and disappointment is hanging over me.¬† This categorically puts this family friend in the “you are a bad person” category, where once they were just, well, a well-intentioned dullard.

handle-yo-shitthat shit being not getting pets you can’t care for

But the bigger piece of the down-home funk is that Murray has been not quite right for much of this week.¬† Now, all of the horses have been stuck in their stalls since before the new year, as the steady rain (thank you, El Nino, I don’t even care that it is unpleasant because we need this) has kept the pastures 8″ deep in mud.¬† Murray’s been working a bit harder, and the footing in our indoor is due for replacement.¬† He’s been a little stiffer on the left hind than usual, and I even saw a bit of a short-step at the walk when I took advantage of the empty arena to turn him out. But there was no head bob, he didn’t seem in pain, and is otherwise frisky and generally Murray-ish so it definitely fell into the most irritating category of possible horse lameness.¬† I’ve never had to deal with it before (I know, I know, I’ve been lucky), so it’s a new adjustment and feeling for me.¬† My dressage trainer, with whom I had a lesson on Wednesday night, thought it was possible the lower joint in his hocks are fusing — apparently very common in sport horses? — but it was total speculation based on watching him go during my warm up.¬† (More on my lesson in a moment.)¬† He’s also felt a little off and hunchy in the canter, but not his usual hunchy-evasive with a hollow back.¬† More super-stiff-backed and sucked behind my leg while making a rolly, porpoise-y back… so weird.

However, when I lunged Murray on Thursday he was pretty even across both hind legs (I did bute him last night), and did his Murray-best to make me feel better. All I wanted was for him to spin around on the lunge line a little and assess his soundness, as well as let him get out any yayas stuck in there.¬† When I moved him out on the circle Murray frolicked in his most foalish fashion — throwing his legs in all directions and tossing his head down — but as soon as we started going on the circle he was all “business”.¬† “Business”¬† being a lazy, shitty trot.¬† We are working on it.¬† A few more episodes of antics — though nothing at all what I expected was hidden in there — and we determined that he was moving evenly behind and I can probably ride tomorrow, but we will continue to assess daily.¬† The ridiculous, nonsensical frolicking improved my mood greatly.


I’ve been giving him some bute, and just letting him sit isn’t going to do anything for him if it’s a stiffness/soreness kinda thing.¬† So work goes on.

My dressage lesson was very interesting.  Murray was stiff through his back, as usual, and not quite right.  Tina really called me on my rein length, pointing out that Murray is much fussier when my reins are floppy, and when I actually push him into a steady contact he is quieter.  We worked on using the lateral work to get him round, and Tina suggested I ride him always with a little bit of the shoulder-fore feeling to encourage him to really be round.  This is especially helpful now that Murray has discovered he can intentionally put his haunches to the inside and pretend I asked him for it which, most of the time, I did not.


Since the indoor is (f0r) now our only arena and there are almost always fences in the way there is limited work for us to do the counter-canter.  And, since Murray was stiff and a little fussy already, Tina did not want to introduce the full counter-canter figure eight.  Instead she had me work on flexing Murray to the inside and outside on a big canter circle, getting the feel of the counter-canter without having to actually find the space to do it.

Tina didn’t have me work for long, but Murray was exhausted at the end of it.¬† Not sweating necessarily, but really struggling to keep himself together.¬† This was probably compounded by his soreness/stiffness/offness.¬† I am always really interested in how this happens, though.¬† Murray works, four or five or six days a week, and we work pretty solidly.¬† Then we get into a lesson with Tina and he is like “oh my god I am DYING right now” after a quick 30 minutes!¬† Tina is generous and gives us lots of walk breaks, and somehow Murray is like “I’m dying. I’m simply dying.”¬† So clearly… I need to work more like that on my own, because that is probably more like real work.

This week’s images brought to you by: my honest, irrational, rageful, and sometimes inappropriate feels.

pupdate: four-and-a-half-weeks

Penny’s puppies are five weeks old, though I took these pictures when they were four-and-a-half-weeks.¬† We arbitarily-ish decided that they were four weeks on Monday 1/4, and since Penny is giving us bigger, sadder eyes whenever the puppies latch on to her, we started feeding them “solid” food.¬† By which I mean pulverized puppy food mixed with some puppy formula and water.¬† Most of the puppies took to eating solid food immediately — especially the big boys — though a few of them did need us to stuff a little bit of the gruel in their mouths and direct their noses to the dish before they figured out that we were offering them something they did, in fact, want to eat.

IMG_5616Sleepy mama

We also finally let the foster-kittens meet the puppies this week, and they were hysterical together.  Only one kitten was really interested in the puppies, but he was so gentle when he played with them, never using his teeth or claws, and kindly tolerating the puppies chewing him or attempting to put his entire head in their mouth.  Ya know.

IMG_5588Buttercup especially loved her kitten friend! IMG_5604

We are really starting to see differences in the puppies’ faces now.¬† I think the big blue boy below (Andre) has strong bully-features.¬† His head is really round and broad, he has serious wrinkled, and his top incisors are close together and have a little bully snaggle.


Whereas Max (below), though just as big as Andre, has a longer, smoother face.


It’s all speculation at this point, of course.¬† But it’s fun speculation!

IMG_5641Westley already sleeps like a derp

IMG_5651Inigo Montoya is one of the best, because he plays and plays and then crawls into your lap to go to sleep.

The puppies are so much more mobile now, and while their playing and romping still has an element of un-coordinated-ness to it, they are basically “full grown” puppies now.¬† In addition to nail trimming the puppies now get to experience the vacuum cleaner — and not just from inside their playpen — and bathtime!¬† They are incredibly people-oriented, so we’ve been trying to follow some good-puppy-raising guidelines and encourage them to be calm (well, as calm as a puppy can be) before feedings and before getting picked up and played with.¬† Soon we will have to start working on bite inhibition and teaching them the appropriate ways to play with people — i.e. less with their mouths.

IMG_5654Humperdinck IS America’s Next Top Puppy Model!¬† Also, my friend tells me that the little crease you can see in his ears indicates that they will “rose”, or turn up-out the way pibble ears do (as opposed to laying flat like a Dachshund or perking up like a fox terrier).

show expenses breakdown

Last year I set a show schedule that was simultaneously ambitious and reserved.¬† I wanted to hit a bunch of schooling/unrated events and 1-2 rated events.¬† Interestingly, I hit only two rated events… and no unrated events.¬† It was all a matter of timing, and then money.

Since then I’ve gained rather a bit of experience showing, and not just by going to shows.¬† Having photographed at shows and gone to watch, as well as paid to go to shows and thought more about what I need to do to show my personal horse, I thought I’d break down the actual costs of attending an event in California.¬† The categories of the expenses I’ve listed here will by-and-large hold for events anywhere, though the actual amounts will vary.

Show Entry and Stabling

The first cost that most people associate with shows are the costs of the show itself.¬† Rated and unrated shows typically vary the most in this area, but since there are really only 3 unrated events in my area (and a few unrated combined tests) it’s hard for me to predict accurately the cost of unrated events.¬† Based on the 2 unrated events I have been to, cost is between $180 event + $45 stabling and $230 including stabling.¬† Rated events have more standard expenses in California: $230 or $250 for BN/N/T entries, and $260+ for Prelim and above.¬† Stabling (looking at the 2016 omnibus) varies between $115 and $150, and doesn’t necessarily seem to vary based on the number of days of the event.¬† Haul ins usually charge $30 – $60 per day or a flat $75-115 so over a few days may add up to the same amount as stabling.¬† I almost always choose to stable since Murray does much better after a night of sleeping in a place, even if it’s a little more expensive.¬† And you can’t forget USEA starter fees — a whopping $21 goes directly and separately to USEA to help cover the costs of the online scoring system, year end points, and probably those badass little magnets you can get. Adding all that to entry, you’re already in the ballpark of $365.

Unrated: $230+
Rated: $365+



While others might be comfortable attending an event without schooling the facility, I personally am not yet at that place yet.¬† There are a few caveats to this: there are some events further away (8+ hours hauling) that I would attend without schooling if I felt that I was in a good place with Murray or I made it to regional championships, for example.¬† However, I’d probably make up for that by aggressively schooling more local courses that are similar, so it all comes out the same money-wise.¬† Schooling fees in California vary from site to site, from as little as $15/schooling day to $100 for your first time and $70 thereafter.¬† Trainer fees for a schooling day are usually around $65, and then you have to add in hauling to the location.¬† So the cheapest places for me to school are $70 in hauling + $15 in facility fee + $65 training, or $20 hauling + $60 facility fee + $65 training.¬† That’s a solid $150 day.¬† Hauling further away just adds to the cost.

Training Fees

Depending on your trainer, for an n-day event you can count on paying either n or n+1 days of training.¬† B gives us a pretty solid dressage school the day we arrive at an event, time permitting, so we usually end up with n+1.¬† But if you don’t need to school that day, or can’t, that would work out differently.¬† So for a 3 day event I paid for 4 days of training, or $240 in trainer fees.¬† A 2 day event would be around $180.



Not only do you have to get to the event, but you have to get your horse there and live while you are there.¬† So this means you have to haul — cost depends on mileage, of course — stay somewhere yourself, and feed yourself.¬† For me a close event would mean spending $20 in hauling, a medium distance about $110, and a far event would cost up to $250.¬† I spent $90 on hotel for a 3 night stay in a pretty cheap area of California, though due to a bunch of people dropping out I did end up sharing with fewer people than intended.¬† So let’s say that you fill your hotel to the max and spend $75 over three nights in a cheap area and $100 over three nights in a more spendy area.¬† At schooling events, we often camp or (because there is one locally), I can just sleep at home.¬† Then there’s food.¬† We often eat dinners out, and there’s one competitor’s dinner included with entry at most shows, so that’s dinners.¬† Dinner out is at least $15/night so I spend $30 over the weekend.¬† I never know what I will be willing to eat at a show, but know that I need plenty of water and gatorade to get through the weekend, and usually end up spending about $30 on snacks and sports beverages to keep me going between breakfast and dinner.

Hauling: $20-250
Hotel: $75+
Food: $60+

IMG_20150204_192530don’t forget the beer!

Miscellaneous costs

There are always random costs associated with traveling with my horse that I forget about at first.¬† For example, shavings!¬† I’d rather bring extra shavings than buy more at a show.¬† At $6/bag I usually end up spending about $24 on shavings for a 3-night show stay.¬† I also usually buy ice to keep my beverages cold and possibly ice my horse if he ever learns to do that, so another $6 bag if you buy at the show.¬† Miscellaneous shit always comes up though, so I estimate it at an even $50 for miscellaneous costs per show.

Opportunity Costs

Opportunity costs are the costs of things you are losing out on by doing something.¬† For example, by attending a 3-day horse show you may need to take 4 days off of work.¬† Therefore, you are losing out on 4 days of pay.¬† If you are a show photographer you are losing the opportunity to make income at a show by entering the show yourself.¬† While opportunity costs will vary drastically from person to person (I, for example, have never had to give up money in terms of work to attend a horse show. I do, however, forfeit essentially an entire week of work on my thesis, which is an important opportunity cost in my “career”.

wpid-wp-1441001474419.jpgSoooo worth it…

When you add all these things up, even the cheapest schooling show ends up costing me around $740, a cheap rated show costs around $960, and a somewhat-distant rated show costs $1170 (though could move all the way up to $1350 — and that’s just within California).

Wtf why do I do this again?  Geez.

And then just for fun, here’s a handy dandy chart of my calculated costs for various events near me.¬† The columns in green are a rated show.¬† The far left column, at WSS, would be a one-day event at a local venue that I often school anyway, so I nixed the schooling costs.¬† The navy column, the first FCHP, is a rated combined test (no XC).¬† I also nixed schooling costs for CEPF because I will go there at least once this year regardless of whether or not I intend to school there.

eventcostsbecause I am a twit, I didn’t think to remove the useless key on the right hand side of this figure. forgive me, data analysts, for I have sinned, but I really don’t want to make this graph again


2016 show schedule

I have a few major goals this year that pertain to showing, and they are pretty much all geared towards getting me and Murray in sync when we jump or dressage at a new place.¬† This is our greatest shortcoming.¬† If Murray is feeling good and confident, we’re fine!¬† I can handle that.¬† I can handle enthusiastically forward, I can handle bucking with feels, I can handle him being a little bit backed off or behind my leg.¬† What I have so far failed to handle, especially in the context of a whole course, is when he is scared and getting a little shut down.¬† That I am not so good at handling.

20830680750_ca8178fa47_kdouble derp

I would also like to be able to show in one of the many venues California has to offer.¬† I mean, we can run around XC at CEPF until the day we die, but that doesn’t mean we are going to have a successful run at a different show with different challenges.¬† I’m interested in being able to handle all of those challenges.¬† So with that in mind, here’s my proposed show schedule for this year.¬† I color-coded by jumper, dressage, or event.

February 7 — Jumper show at WSS (possible)

March 6 — Jumper show at WSS (unrated) — 2’6″, 2’9″

March 19 — Combined Test at WSS (unrated) — Beginner Novice
March 18,19 — March Mania Dressage at Rancho Murieta¬† (rated) — T-3, 1-1
March 20 — Pacific Equestrian Center Schooling Show (unrated) — T3, 1-1, 1-2

April 16, 17 — Horse Trials at CEPF (unrated) — Beginner Novice

April 24 — Pacific Equestrian Center Schooling Show (unrated) — T3, 1-1, 1-2

May ?? — Event Derby at UCD (unrated) — Beginner Novice

May 13, 14, 15 — Starr Vaughn Dressage (rated) — T3, 1-1, possibly 1-2

May 27, 28, 29 — Woodside Horse Trials (rated) — Beginner Novice

July 9, 10 — Dressage at Pacific Equestrian Center (rated) — T3, 1-1, 1-2

September 11 — Pacific Equestrian Center Schooling Show (unrated) — T3, 1-1, 1-2

September 24, 25 — Hiskens Horse Trials (unrated) — Novice

October 9 — Pacific Equestrian Center Schooling Show Championships (unrated) — wtf they have coolers and neck ribbons! shut the front door!

October 21, 22, 23 — Fresno County Horse Park Horse Trials (rated) — Novice
November 18, 19, 20 — Fresno County Horse Park Horse Trials (rated) — Novice

November 12, 13 — Starr Vaughn Dressage (rated) — T3, 1-1

Shows in Italics are the ones that only might happen, so I have my sights set on fewer shows than are actually on this schedule.¬† And there aren’t even any rated dressage shows (one of my goals… oops) that are more than “maybes”, but looking at the shows available to me it seemed like it might behoove me to show at a few unrated shows before trying to bust out my rated dressage show chops.¬† But perhaps I can squeeze a rated show in there at the end of the year.

IMG_3305I would like to jump this during the show

I would like to show at Camelot (April), because it’s awesome, I love it there, we school there all the time, and I need some redemption on that XC course.¬† And Woodside (May) is, believe it or not, one of the cheaper places in California for me to show at, despite the astronomical costs of getting there and schooling there, because my parents live close enough nearby that I can void all hotel costs.¬† In a perfect world I’d get a bit more time between Camelot and Woodside but I have some external travel plans that make that impossible… so if I’m going to show Woodside, it has to be in May.¬† Woodside is going to be a challenging show environment for both of us, as it’s busy, has lots of people there, and neither of us has been there much.¬† But it’s the good kind of challenge, and while their BN course is solid, it’s essentially the same as what we jumped (most of) at Camelot last year.

My hopeful plans to move up at the end of the year… well, we’ll see how that goes.¬† I’m pretty interested in keeping Murray confident and happy, but I do want to push things a little bit.¬† So I picked Hiskens as a move up in September, as they are known for having a slightly softer course with a few legitimate Novice questions.¬† Another place that Murray and I have never shown, and they have grass dressage courts (terrifying).¬† After that, I’d like to try showing at Fresno at Novice, which is also a pretty good move-up course — not super challenging terrain- or environment-wise, and not too expensive.¬† I am not tied to the goal of moving up.¬† If my lack of experience showing means that we can’t, then we can’t.¬† Then we just ride those venues at BN instead of Novice. It’s not like I’m running out of time

To 2016! Onward and upward.



I was describing to my boyfriend the other night how I know Murray can be fancy and use himself properly, because when he gets agitated he looks beautiful.¬† Lots of horses do it — when they get a bit agitated, suddenly they get really springy and fancy and oooh.¬† (I think) it’s a big part of what makes some show horses so good — we love watching them because they LOVE being watched.¬† It doesn’t make any sense, of course.¬† I’m a little bit scared, quick let me use my body in this big, fancy way to make me feel… less scared?

IMG_7843a tiny bit of fancy

Okay so perhaps it makes a little bit of sense.¬† Horses that “puff up” and get “big” when they are scared or agitated might be trying to make themselves seem bigger to a predator.¬† The same with neck arching.¬† This also might related to how stallions communicate, which seems like a lot of hoity-toity garbage until they go full mustang and beat the shit out of one another.¬† I’ve seen Murray get all stallion-y when he’s angry and look magnificent galloping around on the lunge line, and immediately go “GAH WHY DON’T YOU USE YOURSELF LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME DAMNITTTT”.

IMG_8554pretend stallion fight

Anyway, all that silly analogy made me think of something I learned in a primate socioecology class way back when.¬† There is a behavior that many ungulates perform called “stotting,” “pronking,” or “pronging” and it is solely performed in front of predators (do not question why this was taught in a primate socioecology class).¬† Stotting, as I prefer to call it (though pronking was too good of a title for this blog to give up), is typically characterized by a high jump in the air that leads with the withers and goes beyond a leap.¬† There is much more upward movement than forward movement, and sometimes they kick out behind while doing it.¬† Watch Grants Gazelles stotting here:

When an antelope is stotting a few times you can see all four of its feet leave the ground at the same time, seen in the same video at this cut:

Different taxa do it slightly differently, and the stiff-legged version is not uncommon.  Dama gazelles stott thusly:

This is definitely not stotting, though it is cute:

IMG_9765a baby hartebeest NOTstotting

Oh man, I forgot how funny impala stotting looks!

Though this picture does meet many of the stotting criteria, it is sadly also not stotting.¬† It is, however, an incredibly cute picture of Alyssa‘s mare playing!

Anyway the (longwinded) way I got around to thinking about this is that some ethologists hypothesize that stotting is performed to indicate to predators that they are super high quality individuals and therefore not worth hunting.¬† They are so super athletic that they can waste energy on this ridiculous leap that gets them nowhere that obviously they would be able to outrun a cheetah/lion/leopard (or mountain lion, tiger, jaguar, etc., but not a bullet) and therefore should be focused upon!¬† Another theory is that the stotting helps communicate to other herd members that there is a predator around, but honestly, the fact that all your friends are running the fuck away is usually enough to convince any ungulate that there is a predator present.¬† However, with any behavior as ridiculous as jumping in the air with all four legs straightened, I think ridiculous hypotheses are pretty reasonable.¬† The fact that so many taxa still do it suggests some evolutionary functionality in there… somewhere.

I don’t have any pictures of my own to share with you here.¬† I certainly saw stotting when I lived in Kenya but clearly was not quick enough to get a picture of it.¬† The funniest animals, when they stott, are the heavier ones, as they are less graceful and look more like they are exerting considerable effort to little avail.

Sadly, to my knowledge, perissodactyls do not stott.  They do, however, do ridiculous fancy prancing, which might as well be the same thing.

Oh please Mr. Lion, don’t eat me!


what happens at dressage camp stays at dressage camp

I’ve only ridden dressage three times (or four times?) since coming home from dressage camp, and the first few rides were, uh, uninspiring.¬† I’m not sure what it was, between the lack of a strict German task master telling me what to do every step, perfect footing, arena mirrors, daily bute, or perhaps just the change of scenery back to the place where Murray’s naughtiness reached its truest potential, Murray was like “oh no, no, Miss Nicole…”

consuelaI started each ride out as I had at MIL’s house: lunging, and asking Murray to really push from his hind end and relax through his back.¬† We kinda got it, but everything was so much more lackluster at home.¬† Murray was lazy and behind the leg (or whip, when lunging), and everything was just so much more challenging.¬† Once I got on to ride the challenges continued.¬† My first dressage ride when I got home was in full view of a bunch of friends to whom I had gleefully pronounced my horse’s recent transition to epic dressage horse looooove of dressage camp and my trainer and Murray was like “oh I remember this thing I love to do! It’s called BUCKING!!!!!!!!!!”

kickslowConsidering that he didn’t buck once at dressage camp (he was probably sick and honestly could still be dying, one can never be sure) I was like wwwwwwwtttttttttfffffffffff.¬† I called MIL and said that I think Murray thought of dressage camp as Vegas, “what happens at dressage camp stays at dressage camp.”¬† She suggested I hold the phone up to his ear so he could hear all about how much different his life could be…

(oh hey look it’s a movie?)

Anyway, enter today.¬† I was a bit rushed in the morning, but thanks to Murray’s new sleazy and the glory of winter blankets, he was relatively clean and all I had to do was pick feet and tack up and go ride.¬† I didn’t even bother to put on polos as I knew the indoor would be a disgusting mess, and I want to wait until I have washable boots for that.¬† Once inside the indoor I struggled to find a space big enough for us to lunge, and even after moving a few fences around Murray was like “hah, you must be joking, I’m going to trot around you in a 10 meter circle and go nowhere near those things.

I wasn’t really into that, for many reasons, so I led Murray back and forth near the fences a few times and then continued lunging.¬† I decided that, no matter how “scary” he thought they were, he would just have to pony up and go by them.¬† The first few times I tried to steer him close to the fences he was like “nope! not having none of that!” and tried to run sideways or stopped in front of them.¬† Once I made it abundantly clear (snap snap, goes the lunge whip, snap snap!) that forward was the only acceptable direction Murray was better.¬† I didn’t want him to go over those weird deconstructed fences, just near them.

Understandably this got Murray pretty riled up, and the first few passes were lurch-lurch-lurch-CANTER PAST SUPER FAST OMG SAFE NOW trot OH GOD ARE WE BACK TO THOSE THINGS kinda deal.¬† But I just persisted.¬† I wasn’t mean or angry, I just kept pushing him past the scary place.¬† Eventually this resulted in Murray relaxing and giving me some fairly nice trot, as he would naturally push a little more as he went past the scary spot and then relax as he came around the rest of the circle.¬† I changed directions, and we had the same conversation again, but I knew it was coming.¬† Murray has always spooked more at things on his left side than his right side, and I had always thought it had to do with having better or worse vision in one eye (if his vision was better in the left eye, perhaps he could see how TRULY TERRIFYING that scary thing was, and if the vision was worse, perhaps the once-okay thing was now blurry and TERRIFYING) but my MIL said that most horses react much more extremely on their “stiff” side.¬† Something about them feeling less capable of getting away and more uncomfortable in general heightens their sense of self-presevation and fuckoffery.

cant even

So we played the same game right, and then left again.¬† And by the time we were done with that, Murray was behaving quite nicely.¬† MIL said short rides for a little while until Murray’s muscles are a bit stronger and more elastic, so I planned to do only a little of what we had practiced at dressage camp.¬† Because I’m incapable of riding well without a plan, I decided to work on sitting trot-walk-sitting trot transitions, using only my seat and core and no legs or hands to make each transition happen.¬† Once I’d done a few of these each direction and Murray felt sufficiently loose, I would canter once each way and call it a day.

Getting Murray together at the walk is always one of our biggest challenges, as he has a lovely walk when he feels like it, is leaving the arena, or is power-walking away from something scary, but gets really tense and refuses to use himself with a passenger.¬† Add a little contact to that and we’re practically going backwards.¬† But once we got put together I asked for some trot and… nothing.¬† I clucked and kissed and… nothing.¬† So I smacked him in the stifle.¬† That certainly got a reaction, and once Murray realised that this was for real he was quite responsive to my seat aids.¬† I am still working on saying “trot” with my seat, but combining that movement and a cluck has us moving in the right direction.¬† We did a few transitions, changed direction, and I thought about “shoulder fore” going right.¬† Right is hard for Murray (despite my insistence/thoughts of the past that left is hard!), as he has to stretch out his left side and put that right hind under, and accept the contact on the left rein (the devil rein).¬† He naturally wants to hang out with his haunches inside the circle a little, so to be straight he really has to be doing a little shoulder fore.¬† This was hard, but not sooo hard, and a few more transitions later I was quite pleased.

Oh and all of this? Done at a sitting trot. Magical.

The really interesting part of our ride came when we cantered.¬† Left was fine, and I actually managed a nice canter-sitting trot transition without feeling like I was going to bounce out of the saddle.¬† We changed directions, and going right I struggled to keep Murray forward + round + straight, so was working on that and Murray was like “actually I hate this game” and did what he does when he hates playing a game.¬† Amidst the bucking he tried to re-direct traffic so we were tracking left again, and I was like no way.¬† I did what Chris Scarlett told me to do and took the right rein and made his head go right, and the bucking immediately stopped.¬† We also stopped, but that was okay, we were still pointed right.¬† And then we continued on our merry-right-going way and he was fine.¬† A little agitated, but that lent himself to being a bit more forward, so I just focused on the loose and relaxed portion of things and he was great.¬† We ended our ride shortly thereafter.


I’m not certain exactly what it was that made this ride so much better.¬† I didn’t ask for too much and certainly didn’t let Murray get too tired, and the lunging work really seemed to help.¬† I was also trying out a new saddle (more for me), but possibly that helped too.¬† But it was nice to feel a bit of what I felt at dressage camp and get excited to do more of it soon!