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.
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.
One of the challenging movements for me in the (hopefully upcoming for me) First level tests are the smaller figures. I know the approximate 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?