best day with my bestie

RBF and I had a gruelling but totally necessary meeting Wednesday morning that kinda took it out of us.  We were ironing out some issues for NorCal OTTB, which is ultimately good, because we are planning on really growing our program this year and kicking things into gear, so we needed to make sure everything is moving forward correctly.  But it’s hard to discuss organisational and fundraising details for three hours, no matter how important they are.


RBF is looking for a new saddle for her OG.  Her current jump saddle isn’t fitting him, and because she is conformationally a little unique (short femur, long calf, overall short legs) she doesn’t fit in a lot of saddles.  I didn’t believe her for a long time, but today I watched her riding around a bit, then I sat in the exact same saddle and rode around and realised how much better it fit me than her.  Long legs, yo.  They are an advantage.  RBF worked her way through a few different saddles on both of her horses, some for the OG and some for her.  One saddle was the absolute worst — we both felt perched up on top of her older guy like little jockeys, like we were a mile away from her horse’s back!  Trotting around it was ok, I could kindof control my leg position, but when I tried to get up into two point it was impossible!  There was no balance in that thing!  We ended up laughing and shrieking and carrying on like idiots riding around in that thing because it really was hilarious.

11822772_10152869404586568_6016804857613291091_nThe OG, almost a year ago.

Murray caught on to our good mood, and when I got back on to school some dressage we cantered joyfully around the arena, posing only a slight steering hazard to the other two people in there.  RBF came back with her older gelding in her own saddle and we raced each other around the arena a bit.  Fortunately, Derb didn’t catch up to Murray too too much, because then Murray really would have been uncontrollable — and I in a dressage saddle would surely have eaten dirt — and the teenager carrying on continued.

I used some of our momentum from the gallop to get Murray sitting in the canter, and then did a couple of good trot-canter transitions each direction and called it good.  I didn’t even mind that Murray threw in a little “don’t hold me, woman!” IMG_3902opinion at the end, because really, I was holding.  Plus the sun was shining, the air smelled like warm root beer, and the towels were oh so fluffy, and  anybody on the street would gladly shave your back for a nickel everything was just peachy!  I haven’t had a good gallop in a while, so even getting close was enough to bring my mood up quite a bit.

I’m entering thesis lock down, so I’m working on some solutions to get Murray ridden a bit more when I won’t necessarily be out at the barn.  I think I’ve got a good one though, so I’m not too worried.

Just a great day with my RBF, (almost) galloping and laughing in the spring air.  I’m not sure I could ask for more.


900 FB Pony Blog Hop: The Little Things



What are the “little things” about your horse that you’re so fond of?

There are so many little things I adore about Murray.  There are the really little things, like his slight-pin-head, and his super soft little nose (all the better for being WILDLY CRAZILY SENSITIVE with), and his star that looks like a little jumping horse, and his dorsal stripe and his handsome, rich, mahogany color when he’s not all sun-bleached.

IMG_20150513_125409Fucking devilisly handsome right here. This was the first day I thought “you look like a horse, not a foal.”  I had so much pride.

I love his funny little mind.  I know it often frustrates me, with his terrible horsey-logic that says that all cup-shaped items (buckets, mugs, bowls, shallow depressions in the ground) ever are made of sugar and spice and everything nice and MUST OBVIOUSLY HAVE DELICIOUS FOOD IN THEM but flowers that are blue are DEFINITELY DIFFERENT from flowers that are red and even more terrifying in orange or yellow.  I do like the puzzle, though.  And when he’s not being slightly weird and absurd, he is smart, and he learns fast.

13683828223_75e197e974_osuper cute baby horse learns to jump!

I love that he makes me laugh!  Every day.  All the time.  Even when I’m angry.

I love when he turns around and gives me that judging-pony face, whether it’s when I’m grooming or riding him.  The face that says “are you for real, lady?”


I especially love that Murray pays attention to me when I’m at the barn. He watches me when I’m puttering around or tacking up another horse, and he always has something to say when I first show up at his paddock.  If he’s inside and I come into the barn singing “Hello, Priiiiiiiiincessssssss!!!!!!!!” he always picks his head up, and does so even when I just stand up against his stall and start a conversation with him.

I love that he is an honest communicator.  If he really just can’t, I know about it.  If he only kinda can’t, then we can usually work through it.




I had a jump lesson scheduled on Thursday afternoon and was looking forward to rebuilding my jumping relationship with Murray and continuing to work on teaching him to jump.  And then, right as I was about to pick up my jump saddle put it on him, it started to pour.  Absolute sheets of rain that obscured my view of the end of the outdoor arena from the barn (not even a 200 meters away) and made me pick up the dressage saddle instead.  B came running in from her previous lesson and was more than happy to have me dressage inside instead.

Of course, less than ten minutes into my dressage lesson the rain absolutely stopped but oh well.  Pics from a previous lesson in the glorious sunshine, not this week’s lesson in the rainy rain and indoor.

febdressage09A dressage lesson was in good order, though, because integrating a bigger stride into my horse’s repertoire is important for both dressage and jumping.  Murray started with quite a good walk, and then I picked up the reins and asked him to quietly walk around with some contact, instead of in his standard stretchy-free-walk-ish-but-not-quite posture.  To my surprise Murray did not object greatly, and we moved into the trot without minimal issue.  Unfortunately, it was Murray’s shitty tiny trot, so I worked hard trying to encourage him to step more forward and move out.  Our indoor footing is still a little on the deep side in the middle since it’s arrival a few weeks ago, so that could kiiiinda be an excuse, but we worked in the better spots a lot too.

B immediately had me push for more than Murray’s little trot, and Murray seemed in a good mental place to receive that pushing.  Instead of resisting and flinging himself around like he did at our lesson with Local Olympian, he was like “ugh FINE”.  B wanted me to push Murray a little beyond where I wanted our working-trot to be — even to feel a little uncofortable/rushed — so that I could settled back down to a “compromise” of a good working trot.  This is a bit the opposite of the strategy Local Olympian had me try (“come with me to this nicer trot!”) but since Murray was responding well to it, I think both probably have a place in my repertoire.

moar trot! moar! I think this frame is stretched though, my horse’s legs aren’t that thick.

We also worked on steadying my connection with the outside rein, especially to the left rein when tracking right.  Murray naturally wants to ping off that rein or use the left rein contact as an excuse to counter-bend lean on his right shoulder, so I worked on quietly reminding him to keep some bend to the right without overdoing it.  I am a bending freak — I love bend! MOAR BEND! — and have, according to Local Olympian (and B agrees) “more bend than I know what to do with”, so I really need to work on taming that instinct.  The correct bend for a 20 meter circle, and even a 15, is less than I feel like it should be.  Having the correct amount of bend, in turn, helped me avoid the feeling of constantly leg yielding around corners and circles, another thing I had wanted to work on.

Too bendy, Nicole!

Next up B taught me how actually lengthen the stride at the trot instead of just dumping my horse on his face and hoping for the best across the diagonal. The aforementioned dump-and-pray was my strategy for the first few lengthenings, until B told me to wait until I could feel Murray coming into the connection and then push my hands forward slowly like I was pushing two chopsticks forward.  We struggled more tracking right than left but we got some.  And damn — you can feel it — when you get them.  I started grinning like an idiot when I got the first one, I could feel Murray’s back come up and he took a hold of the bit and really stepped forward.  My MIL has described a good lengthening as feeling like your horse is on rollerskates, and yes! It does!

After trot extensions we worked on the canter lengthening to 15 meter circle at the canter, which I thought we had a pretty good hold on but it turns out that given my ineptitude and his druthers Murray doesn’t actually use himself in his canter lengthenings, so I had to ask for a little more connection there too.  My trick of riding the next quarter of the 15 meter circle worked out well, and I just had to remind Murray  not to lean on the right shoulder too much when tracking right.

feb dressage canter 3I’m fairly pleased with our dressage progress lately, given that we have spent so little time riding and I’ve been fighting Murray not feeling quite right and not necessarily coming out mentally prepared to work.  It’s a good thing I put nothing on my schedule until April though, because I have no idea how much more this stupid thesis will stop me from schooling my horse.  So at least we have time.  And even then there’s always plenty of that.

Africa Fridays: walk, don’t run

Because I haven’t been riding and therefore lack horse-oriented content, let’s talk about AFRICA again!

IMG_4990Sunrise at elephant dam

The conservancy where I lived/worked/researched in Kenya required that all patrons and visitors and researchers be contained in their vehicles at all times when not inside one of the human enclosures.  That is to say, if you weren’t inside one of the highly trafficked areas near the various tented camps or the research camp or offices, and within the meager electric fence that helped deter some animals from entering those areas, you were not to be on foot.  This was for both visitor and animal safety — they don’t want people accidentally being gored by a buffalo trying to take a selfie and they don’t want animals unnecessarily stressed out by humans walking around them (and also why Kristen Bell and Dax Shephard were recently fined on their safari, and why I don’t love their video a lot — I could have done without the giraffe chasing).  I can tell you for a fact that the wildlife in Kenya viewed vehicles as blase but a human walking within eyeshot was an immediate threat.  When visitors were caught out of their vehicles they were fined heavily (and I personally took great joy in reporting them as well as telling them to get the fuck back into their vehicles).

Researchers were allowed to work on foot but had to pay an armed guard to accompany them.  The guard operated more as an extra pair of eyes than any kind of defensive protection, but most of my friends had stories of when their guard had to tell them to skidaddle back to the car or had to fire their weapon.  I was the one exception.


Because I needed to be on foot every day and would be in close proximity to the chimpanzee enclosure (20 feet of electrified fences to keep the chimps in), I was allowed to work alone on foot.  There were a few reasons for this.  The area around the chimp sanctuary was relatively heavily trafficked by conservancy staff, both humans and vehicles, therefore there were fewer animals in that area than in the more desolate areas of the conservancy.  Also, the gigantic fence on one side of me would mean that at least one of my sides was covered.  And the manpower needed for someone to attend me for a full day every day was ridiculous.  So I was given permission to walk alone — except for the chimps, of course.

Obviously my friends, the chimp keepers and other staff, took some time to teach me how to safely walk in the bush.  You always have to keep one eye and ear on the bush around you — no headphones and no napping!  Look out for buffalo most of all, of all the big five (grouped together because they were the most dangerous to hunt due to their predilection to attack humans: buffalo, rhino, elephant, lion, leopard) they were the most common and most likely to charge me on the ground.  Not too bad on their own, very bad in groups.  Climb a tree (not much use, I couldn’t get more than 10-12 feet into one of the acacia there, and they were covered in thorns) or hide in the middle of a bush and hope they forget about you.  If an elephant smells you, run downhill or into the bushes — their eyesight isn’t good.  Same for rhinos.  But otherwise?  Walk proudly, and never run.  Because when a lion or leopard sees you running, you are already prey.  (Actually, if you see the leopard, you are fucked already.)

IMG_6823angela playing with her (maybe) daddy

One day I was sitting near the building that the chimps had formerly slept in observing a few of the chimps.  The chimps had only recently moved to a newer building (about 400m down the fenceline), and this building was reserved as a quarantine.  It was just before lunch time, and I was just watching three chimps, so I’d be clocking off soon.  I was applying sunscreen.  And then one of the female chimps started to scream — no warning.  She went from grooming the alpha male to screaming a blood curdling scream, and standing bipedally.  She was staring behind me, and this was in no way normal, so I knew there was something there.

I stood up slowly and turned around.  And there she was, standing on the road about 40 meters behind me.  A lioness.

IMG_9540I’m so playful! Why don’t you play with me?!

When I stood up the lioness slipped into a nearby bush.  Humans are predators to lions too, after all.  My heart was pounding in my ears.

I discarded the things I had been holding and carried my backpack over to the outbuilding that serviced this house — it had previously been used to store food and medication, held a large radios and a small bathroom.  The building was about 12-14 feet high and had a tree next to it, so I could climb up onto the roof if I needed to.  I checked the doors to the radio room and food storage but they were firmly locked.  I stashed my backpack under one of the benches so that I wouldn’t be encumbered by it if I needed to climb.  I had a cell phone on me, and I had service — this is literally the first time in the telling of this story that I wonder why I didn’t call someone to pick me up.

sweetwatershelpful diagram of my situation

I waited on the patio of the outbuilding for fifteen minutes, or maybe 25.  The chimp who had alerted me to the lioness’s presence had stopped screaming after a few minutes, and now four chimps were sitting on the fenceline staring out into the bush curiously.  I had to do something — I couldn’t hide on the patio of this building all day.  I decided that it was time to walk to my car, which was parked at the new building about 400 meters away.

I picked up my backpack and secured it tightly to my body.  Usually I would carry my binoculars and camera slung across my body, but in this case I put everything into my backpack and made sure I didn’t have to worry about it.  I remember debating in my mind if I should bring the backpack or leave it, and I don’t remember exactly why I decided to bring it, but I think I rationalized that if I needed to I could drop the pack on my way.  I put my hat on and started walking slowly to my car.

this scene in Jurassic park

Looking down the fence line toward the new chimp house was like that scene in Jurassic Park where Dr. Ellie Sattler has to cross the velociraptor-infested forest to get back inside the safety of the main visitor’s center.  I knew there was a lioness out there — but I didn’t know where she had gone.

So I walked.  With my heart thundering in my ears and every nerve in my body screaming RUN or HIDE or SHIT YOURSELF.  I kept breathing really deeply, and I didn’t see a single animal as I walked to my car.  I ran the last ten feet and leaped in.


The walk probably took me five minutes, and another few minutes to drive back to the place where I had been observing the chimps.  By the time I got back every chimp in the group had congregated there, and were all but one were watching the road carefully.  I drove back to the research center and promptly told all of my friends the story, and they appreciated the Jurassic Park analogy immensely.

So remember — always walk proudly.  And have some sympathy then your horse poops himself in fear — I have intimate knowledge of what it feels like to need to do that.


that red mare: pet peeves

Again with the awesome questions!  Cathryn at That Red Mare started a discussion that totally got my eyes twitching and blood boiling.  Way to go, girl!

Also, the as-requested AWESOME SPUD PIC!!!

What’s your biggest horse-related pet peeve?

First up, horses that try to bully people.  Horse bullies can do so aggressively (lots of other people mentioned this — biting, kicking, etc.), passive-aggressively, or just kindof obtusely.  I despise them all, but most recently have had to deal with several horses in the passive-aggressive and obtuse camps.  One was so busy trying to get to his bucket that he completely forgot his manners around me and pinched my hand between a tie ring and the wall and then hit my in the head with his head.  The second one was after I reminded him to back the fuck off, and he still thought he could just barge through me to get to his bucket.  I am not one to stifle a horse’s autonomy, and I believe that horses have as much of a right as we do to express their desires.  But when I’ve asked for something reasonable (please, let’s move you and your delicious bucket of grain to another location), and asked you once to be more careful about my person, it is garbage for you to go ahead and try to shove me around anyway.

Yes, I know you are bigger than I am. That doesn’t mean you are the boss.

I’ve also talked extensively of my hatred of speed as an evasion.

Horses that cut off arena corners also really bother me.  This is especially true when my own horse decides he’s going to cut off arena corners.  Yes, I know you have your little pony track and you want to make your life easier and your path shorter, but I’m telling you to get over into the corner so GET OVER.

Cathryn also talked about rearing (bad), and refusing to load (bad!), and others have discussed horse-horse aggression (bad!!!), and I agree with all of those.

What is your biggest equestrian related pet peeve?

For people that work with large, unpredictable animals as a hobby, I find an alarming number of equestrians inconsiderate and strangely unobservant.  Why are you feeding your horse grain in the middle of the main tack up area on a busy day?  Why did you not stop lunging your horse when you saw that another horse in the area was REARING AND LEAPING OFF THE GROUND?  My horse is losing his shit in the middle of the arena, perhaps you could not cross on the diagonal in between me and the nearest jump?  And for fuck’s sake CLOSE THE DAMN GATE.  And don’t just hold it shut, latch it.  Do you think a loose horse couldn’t bowl you over by hitting the gate?!

close the gate!

Everyone has off days and is entitled to make mistakes, I get it.  And as someone whose horse is more ridiculous and unpredictable than normal, if you have shared the tacking up space with me I have almost definitely put your life in danger at one point or another — and I’m sorry about that.  But at all other times I do absolutely everything I can to make sure that my velociturd is not inconveniencing or endangering you and your horse outside of our idiot moments.  Yet somehow a shockingly large percentage of equestrians leave breastplates dangling, gates unlatched, and park their horses or spectators in inconvenient — nay, even dangerous! — locations on the reg.  Now that I’m writing this out, it probably really is because I am so often on the recipient end of a helping hand, but I try to absolutely spring into action whenever I see horse people that need help.  Do you need a pony into the water?  Want an extra hand while you get your helmet on?  Do you want me to just leave you alone so you can sort out your ish?

Another huge one is the Dunning-Kruger effect. Don’t know about Dunning-Kruger?  That’s okay, you really do — you just didn’t know it had a name.  It’s the “ignorami don’t know what they don’t know” effect.  More specifically, people with limited abilities tend to vastly overestimate their skills, whereas people with a realistic understanding of their skills tend to underestimate their skills.  So if you think you suck, you’re probably doing pretty okay!  Unfortunate corollary: if you think you’re awesome… you may suck.

oh crap, I think my horse may have Dunning-Kruger…

Dunning-Kruger is rampant in equestrian sports.  You know all those people who comment absurd comments on peoples’ insta photos — “heels down!” “give him more release!” or (my personal fave, on a counter-canter exercise post by Lainey) “wrong lead” on pro accounts?  Yeah, they toooooootally are super knowledgable and capable and never, ever make a mistake riding.  Maybe it’s unfair to consider this a pet peeve, but I feel that it’s probably highly correlated with being a teenager, and I think it’s totally legit to dislike teenagers, right?


exploding pony brainz

Like most problems in my life, Murray’s issues jumping this year weren’t exactly sudden-onset. There was (some) warning, and I probably should have known what was going on sooner than I did, but alas – such is the life of a (sometimes deluded in her horse training abilities) amateur. It started in December with the Chris Scarlett clinic, where I was pushed to encourage Murray to open up his stride and take the good longer spot when it was available, as opposed to the shitty shorter spot he prefers, and will sometimes go out of his way to get to. Then a bigger stride was a focus of dressage camp, at both the trot and canter.

moar! biggar!

The open stride got stuck in my brain. I really pushed Murray for it in warm up and over our warm up fences. And it was going ok. And then I started pushing Murray for a bigger stride and longer spots over slightly bigger (2’6”) fences, and that’s where things really started to go downhill. Murray was stopping basically any time I asked him to take a long spot to a fence bigger than 2’3”, and then when I’d re-present to the fence he was wild-eyed and irrational. During our last jump lesson before the break B lowered all the fences to cross rails and Murray was alternately bolting around the arena and balking any time it was clear we were headed to a fence.

One thing was pretty clear: Murray’s confidence was shot and our trust bank was running dangerously low. But why was our relationship regarding jumping so shitty?

All the evidence suggests it had a lot to do with the number of challenges I was putting in front of Murray. Not new fences or scary filler, but a combination of mental and physical challenges. Murray is not the bravest kid around, but he has usually been pretty willing to try something that’s a little mentally challenging (bounce-one stride-bounce-bounce-one stride grids, for example) or even something that’s a big physically challenging (3’3” fences, tripe bars, etc). But it is rare that I’ve ever asked Murray to do something really mentally challenging that is even a little bit physically challenging.


So let’s go back to this new jumping style. Murray has always, always been the type of horse that wants to take fences a little deeper. From the very beginning he would get right up against the base of little cross rails before popping over them. So to ask him to take a fence a little long is, at the very least, a small physical challenge. To ask him to change the way he addresses every fence? Definitely a mental challenge. I should be clear here that none of these spots were LONG. They were just longer and in pace with the canter we had leading up to the fence. Those extra little stutter-steps that Murray throws in before fences not only puts him in a place he’s more comfortable jumping from, but also gives him the chance to take another peek at whatever we’re coming up on. When I turned Murray toward a fence that, on its own, represented a bit of a challenge and then asked him to do something that he was mentally really uncomfortable with? Yeah, I should have known.

murray brainsplode2

Mental challenge + physical challenge = exploding pony brainz

Because this really isn’t the first time this has happened.

murray brainsplode

Jumping from an open, steady canter stride is obviously a good goal. It is something I want Murray to be comfortable doing. But at the moment he is pretty clearly not comfortable with it, even when I do my absolute best to give him a really good ride to the fence. And that’s ok. Comfort will come with time. For now we will practice the open stride and not making choppy, shitty adjustments immediately before fences over poles and things that are in no way challenging.  I will stop trying to make my horse’s brain explode, and maybe one day we will be able to jump a galloping fence!

crisis averted

Murray and I had our first jump lesson in a little more than four weeks on Wednesday.

Spoiler alert!! We can still jump.

13683828223_75e197e974_oLook at this freaking adorable baby horse jumping!! Jumping around April 2014, when Murray was five. AWWWW.

If you don’t recall, back in early January Murray decided that jumping was both too physically and mentally taxing for him.  I decided that if he felt that way we would just take a break and trouble-shoot some things and dressage ourselves until we desperately wanted to jump again.

There were a few other changes that happened between then and now.  We moved jumping from indoors to outdoors due to the outdoor arena drying out quite a bit (no rain in weeks! pooh).  Plus, a delivery of new footing for the indoor made it a bit sketchy for jumping.  I put Murray on MagRestore instead of my bargain-basement magnesium, and I’ve not seen any major changes.  I also got him a sleazy, which appears to work like some kind of pony Thundershirt so that is amazing.  And my coup-de-grace was splurging on Performance Equine Nutrition’s “FOCUS”, which I keep calling the “magic drug”.  I’m annoyed to say it might be working*.novjump2

I tried to apply my newfound dressage principles to Murray and encourage him to do the right thing WITHOUT forcing it or making it a point of argument, so he doesn’t get frustrated or resistant to the idea.  That meant I asked for nice round transitions but didn’t throw a tantrum if I didn’t get them.  I also did lots of patting and rewarding for a bigger trot, but didn’t go nuts with the kicking over it.

Since we only had a few jumps in the outdoor arena we just strung them together and then reversed the course.  Warm up was problem-free, and B commented that she hadn’t seen Murray so cooperative and willing in quite a while.  When we came up to a fence with a fake potted plant as filler Murray took a hard look but I kept my leg on and we went, even though it was a little stuttery.  I praised him HEAVILY for making the right choice.  Like threw away both my reins and snuggled his neck.

azn horse mom 2
This seems appropriate again

Once we started stringing the fences together B started putting them up each time we came around.  When she added a flower filler on top of a small log stack I tried for the longer-but-still-good-spot we had been getting but Murray was like “oh, actually, no.”  We re-approached and made it over, I just had to sit back and keep my leg ON, and not anticipate the fence since Murray got in pretty deep.  Coming up to the potted plant in the other direction Murray also got a little squirrely a few strides out and I didn’t keep my leg on enough and we stopped again.  One more approach and we got over — but we took it pretty deep again.

B added some more strange filler into one of the other fences, and I kept my leg on and Murray LAUNCHED himself over it.  I even felt him twisting in the air as he stared at the log under the fence, which made me giggle.  A few more of those later, and we called it good.

IMG_9334aww, that jump looks so small!

So the good news is that my horse can still jump.  Duh.  The bad news is that he just doesn’t want to jump exactly the way I want him to jump right now.  Which, considering I’ve been pushing the idea of jumping from a more open/longer spot on him for the last two months, compared to the 2+ years he’s preferred to take fences a little closer to the base.  That Murray isn’t entirely comfortable with this new way of jumping should surprise absolutely nobody — least of all me.

I have a pretty developed thesis regarding why Murray objects to some things and not others, which I will share with you tomorrow.  I hope to add to it hilarious sketches of Murray’s brain exploding, which I’m pretty sure has happened at least a few times.

* It’s annoying that this stupid supplement is working because it costs $20 for 7 doses, and is soooooooo out of my regular budget.  But for $20 I’ll take the extra focus at shows.  As long as this thing turns out not to be fucking hokum.

dressage away from home

I got lucky this week and a barn-mate (Y) offered to trailer me to a nearby barn (like, less than a 10 minute drive! yahoo!) for a lesson with a local Olympian trainer.  Like I was going to say no!  It also helps that I happened to watch this particular trainer with another friend of mine (Q!) and liked her style.  Since I’m always trying to get more opinions and ideas about working with my supah needy princess horse, I was very happy for the offer.  Plus, Q came along and took video of me so not only do I have new VIDEO I also have NEW CRAPPY VIDEO STILLS!

Crappy in the quality of the images. Murray was pretty on point.

Q was particularly excited to hear me give my “this is my horse!” schpiel to Local febdressage06Olympian.  I mean, his history is always so colourful, and that colour is bound to show itself at some point during the lesson and it’s always at least somewhat entertaining to hear other people’s feelings on Murray’s feelings.  Anyway, I elected to give LO the short version of Murray’s history and just said that I had struggled struggle to get him to relax and accept the contact — especially away from home so I want to go to lots of schooling shows to get his and my behavior under control — and that I would like to get my first level scores for my Bronze medal some time this year.  This was basically clear during my warm up, as I struggled to get Murray to move forward into the bridle and not back off any time I asked him to give and stretch a little.

LO wanted to see Murray push from behind a little more, but her experience with thoroughbreds is that they can be simultaneously sensitive and resistant to going forward.  To do this she had me wiggle my legs and just jiggle the whip a little, but not squeeze or kick with my legs or actually touch Murray with the whip.  When I got anything forward from him — either relaxing into the bridle or pushing more from behind — she had me pat and praise Murray a lot.  The idea is to make moving forward his idea, so that I don’t have to work so hard!  Something I can get behind.  We did this on a 20 meter circle for a while in both directions, and LO really called me on my dependence on the inside rein.  She pointed out that if I want to go first this year I can’t be riding him off that inside rein, and Murray will really need to accept the outside rein contact (which is easier for him on the right rein than the left).  Furthermore, I can’t keep letting him get away with ignoring the outside rein, otherwise I will always have contact problem.

febdressage04After getting Murray pushing a bit more in both directions we worked on some shoulder-in and leg yields.  I have too much inside bend in my lateral work, so I have to think about getting Murray straighter and on the outside aids for both of these movements.  LO wanted me to use my outside rein to bring Murray’s shoulders over to my inside leg on the leg yield, instead of using my inside leg and rein to bend him.  At first Murray was pretty confused, especially going right where he wants to avoid putting that RH underneath his body at all costs, but we got it.  In the leg yields, LO had me use my outside rein to encourage Murray to come over into it.  Moving to the right I didn’t have to push my legs at all, Murray wants to go sideways soooo badly that I just needed to open the right rein and he was right there filling it.  All I needed was a little balancing inside rein and some half halts with the outside rein to stop his shoulders from running away without us.  Going to the left we needed a more tactful ride, with the opened and beckoning left rein and some right leg to encourage him to step under and go that direction.


We did have one super leg yield, and the video evidence I provide to you below.

Yeah, I could just watch that on repeat all day.

In the canter the idea was the same, but here LO really emphasized the usefeb dressage canter 4 of timing the elastic-following of my hands to the beat of Murray’s front legs to encourage him to take the contact and give.  In her words, this gives a more playful and active feel in the horse’s mouth, and can help you time your half halts better.  The theme was the same in the canter work: get Murray responsible for moving himself forward, and don’t depend on that inside rein.  Murray took it pretty well, and we added in some shoulder-fore and leg yields at the canter.  Same idea here — just ask for the shoulders to come to you using the outside rein instead of beckoning with the inside rein.

feb dressage canterRight was much harder, as it tends to be, but when I really rode the left rein and left leg for my turns we got some much straighter turns and I could feel him weighting that right hind, so that was good.  LO told me to think about keeping my shoulders over my seat bones to keep my body straight, which would be a better analogy if I ever knew where my shoulders and seat bones were in general.  No, my horse and I totally do not have in common our noodly inability to keep our bodies aligned and straight.  Not at all.

General lesson takeaways
– timing of the half-halts and the elasticity of the hands with the movement of the front legs
– keep the outside rein contact and let Murray fill the rein, no more inside-rein dependence
– align shoulders over seat bones
– legs shouldn’t slip too far back
– wiggle the legs for more activity, avoid creating resentment or resistance with too much squeezing or kicking
– make moving forward/pushing from behind Murray’s idea, so I don’t have to work so hard
– stretchy/long-low work can be productive, but ask Murray to stretch and then come back up for the best stretching over his back

Overall, a super productive lesson and a lot of fun.  Other highlights of the trip include my horse stepping happily into the trailer and backing out like a professional, not breaking away from the trailer while our buddy was having her lesson and I watched, and not throwing any tantrums in front of an Olympian!  I have so much hope for when Hawley Bennett visits!

feb dressage stretch
Oh also stretchy trot. We has it.




battle hymn of the tiger rider

As some of you may know, I am half Chinese.  This is a big part of the reason I never got to ride as a kid — far too expensive, you know.  Plus, I was not supposed to be busy with athletic exploits.  I was supposed to be busy getting As in everything and staring at books, and I was actually busy going to weekend math clubs, entering optional science competitions, studying for standardized tests, and writing essays at the whim of my mother.  Yeah, it’s absolutely as wonderful as it sounds.  Interestingly, I’ve managed to gather quite the coterie of Asian riders — in fact, we make up at least 50% of the Asian representation of any show I’ve gone to.  Some might even call us a gang.

We make a lot of jokes about how our Asian upbringing has affected our riding, and we all agree that the perfectionism insisted upon by our Asian (and sometimes also by the non-Asian) parent gives us a warped perception of what our horses should be capable of.  I mean, come on, Murray — do you think Valegro ever threw tantrums about CANTERING?  And he didn’t even grow up on the track!

So when my RBF was looking at pictures of herself at a dressage schooling show last year and realised she had EPIC ASIAN MOMMY FACE going on, she just had to do something about it.  Something funny, that is.

azn horse mom 1

azn horse mom 2

azn horse mom 3

azn horse mom 4

azn horse mom 6

While they might be horse-centric, these are legitimately things that our Asian mommies could have said.  And probably would have said, if they supported our horse riding.  Of course, Peony and I had to try our hand at this.



Absolutely all credit for this has to go to my RBF, so you should thank her for your Friday Funny.

azn horse mom 5

rider responsibilities

There are some rider responsibilities that are pretty clear cut: a rider needs to ensure that their horse is clean, healthy, well fed, well watered, and well cared for.  Whether you take care of this by doing it yourself or by employing or paying someone to do it, this is indisputably a rider’s responsibility.  The Boy Scouts’ campsite rule is a good baseline: you should aspire to leave a horse in better condition than when you found it.  Of course, there are different levels of responsibility for different levels of riding — a weekly rider on a lesson pony might only pay attention to their horse’s cleanliness, legs, feet, feed, and water for the hours they are at the barn, but the more you ride the more responsibility you take on.  For someone who rides two or more times a week, especially the same horse, you start to have some responsibilities in terms of correctness* of training.  But what about a rider’s responsibility to themselves in terms of understanding their training?

2015-01-21 21.23.00 * Whatever your definition of “correctness” is, which we can discuss ad infinitum, and probably will later.  Correct like desensitizing your horse with a hipster panda scarf.

I’ve always been very interested in the theory behind training, and I know that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.  There’s even more than one correct way to skin a cat.  And since cat skinning is actually a really gross analogy, let’s just go back to talking about horses, and dressage specifically (though perhaps I will pepper this with some jumping examples as well).  I think that anyone who has a basic understanding of the theory and history of dressage understands that we train horses in dressage not only to achieve beautiful, fancy, borderline-ridiculous horsey dance routines, but also to get them to use their bodies more evenly, develop flexibility and strength, and carry themselves well.  And there isn’t just one way to train a horse to do those things, there are lots of methods that have successfully trained horses to carry themselves uphill, and become more symmetrical, supple, and strong.  All of these training techniques involve a long-term commitment, but there are lots of gimmicks, tricks, and cheats that people can use to make a horse look or feel like they are working correctly even if they are not.  We can use tricks or cheats to cover up holes in the short term — for example, I have a show coming up and Murray struggles to stay connected down the long sides, so I put him into a bit of a shoulder-fore to help him stay connected — but in the long term, these things just leave holes in training.

holes like this doggy hellmouth!

So when does it become a rider’s responsibility to understand differences such as these in the way they are being trained and how they are training their horse?  As someone who thinks pretty deeply about these things — as do, in my opinion, most bloggers (and therefore most of the people reading this?) — I obviously think that a rider should aspire to understand as much as they possibly can about their riding and training program.  Why does your trainer have you ride like that to fences?  Why do you want to push your horse up into the bridle, instead of pulling his head down towards his chest?  Why did your horse cram an extra stride in before that fence, and what can you do to help him get a better spot?  What bit are you using, and why?

As a blogger, and one who is extremely interested in theory and training, I obviously take this responsibility upon my self whenever I’m with any trainer.  I ask a lot of questions, I try to get a lot of feedback while I’m riding, and I want to know if what I’m feeling is what I’m supposed to be feeling.  Sometimes this makes my lessons pretty chatty, but I’m also good at asking questions while I’m riding* , so I don’t think I lose out on too much riding.  I like to know exactly why I am doing things, and whether what I’m doing makes sense or not.  I want to understand why pushing like this or holding like that achieves the end goal, and I want my trainer to know what I’m feeling if I’m not getting it right away.  If I’m questioned by a trainer or even a fellow rider I want to be able to explain exactly what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, beyond the basic “because it works.”  I am all about the rider understanding.14627101506_4b0c8518f2_o

* When I was a kid I used to play piano and have conversations with my mom, so apparently I developed the ability to multitask early on.

But on the other hand, I also think that riders should be able to have a reasonable expectation that they can trust their trainer to do the right thing by both rider and the horse.  Trainers should not be teaching gimmicks or tricks as long-term solutions*, and they should be engaging their riders and encouraging them to understand things beyond “I hold the outside rein and flex the inside rein because that’s what I was told to do.”  And sometimes trainers teach you to do things that are a little odd or counter-intuitive because that’s what you and your horse need at the time, and as you get stronger/more precise/more knowledgeable/more developed you can transition to something that is more intuitive and precise.  For example, grabbing mane is not a release — but it is a good trick that taught me both how to get out of my horse’s way and how to get out of his way quickly if I need to.  Plus, now if I get in a sticky spot the muscle memory is already there to just grab some fucking mane, quick.

IMG_3151* This doesn’t mean that there are no trainers who teach gimmicks as a long term strategy, or who are more interested in scores/flashy movement/jumping huge than in long term physical health of the horse.  But for the most part, I believe that people are good and at least think that what they are doing has the best interests of their charges in mind.

Obviously horsemanship is a process, but I find myself bothered when I hear riders saying things like “my trainer taught me wrong,” or “well, I was told to hold onto the right rein so I’m hanging on for dear life!” or “I don’t know why I was told to do that, so I just don’t do it*”.  Sometimes it makes me want to slap people!  Following someone’s instructions completely without understanding why you are supposed to be following those instructions is just as bad as discarding good advice because you don’t know why you’re supposed to be doing that either!  They both suggest that the person saying them is not being a responsible student.

* Oh my god, the number of times I’ve heard people tell me they have never grabbed mane when instructed to….

IMG_7297So what is the responsibility of the rider, and to what level should a rider reasonably be able to just totally trust what their trainer is teaching them?  A good rule of thumb seems like anything you are willing to school on your own without your trainer you should have a pretty good idea of a) how to do that thing with some semblance of correctness, b) why you’re doing that thing, and b-part-two) why you’re doing it the way you are.  Talk to me about it.  Tell me your thoughts. GIVE ME YOUR IDEAS!  I WANT TO LEARN.