right hind, right hind, where art thou?

I have, it turns out, been pretty extremely bad about following my MIL’s generously given lesson and training advice for my horse since getting back from dressage camp.  Though in my defense, January was a wash of weird jumping shit, February I rode less and less as we approached March: Month of No Fun, and since April started I’ve been cramming for Camelot.  With no shows on the horizon for a few months, it’s time to get back to the everyday grind of improving myself and my horse in the long run, and that means it’s back to the MIL lunging system and some old riding goals (hello, sitting trot!).

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The MIL lunging system is a lot like the Tina lunging system, demonstrated above as my horse fails over trot poles.  MIL added loose side reins on either side to encourage Murray to flex his poll and lower his neck, which he does beautifully.  The side reins never even have any tension on them, he’s just like “okay”.  I start with lunging both directions asking Murray to push from behind and letting him loosen his sacroiliac region with trot-canter-trot-canter transitions, as many as he can reasonably stand without giving me the evil eye.

Another MIL directive was to start strengthening both myself and Murray by sitting more trot, which I have dutifully been doing.  It turns out that your back is waaaay more connected with you sit the trot (who knew? definitely not all the greats or anything) and you can feel your horse’s body waaaay better.  It’s not perfect, but I can sit for just about a whole 20 meter circle, and Murray is giving me a place to sit, so that’s rather nice.  I’d like to think I’m approaching position four on the handy dandy Evolution of the Rider scale, but in reality I’m probably closer to a 3 still.

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And then there’s that right hind.  I read through Megan’s pushing vs. carrying post a few times and I’m pretty sure Murray wants to neither push nor carry with that right hind. Quite frankly we could probably cut it off and get as good of results as we have now.  (Oh fine, we couldn’t, but only because Megan hasn’t invented leg transplants yet.)  But in reality, what I feel when I ask Murray to put his right hind under and bend through his ribcage is this slow whine of noooooooo

Thanks to sitting the trot, not only can I feel Murray get glued to the wall when we are trying to circle, but I can feel him trail his haunches to the inside, then fishtail them wide when I finally kick him around so that he’s never truly bent on a circle, just traveling in some level of straight-ish leg yield-y thing.  I got pretty cheesed about it in our last right, as not only was this no-right-bend bullshit happening, but it was accompanied by Murray trying to evade the left rein totally by flexing his neck to the left as I tried to keep a steady contact and push him around the circle with his shoulder.  So down to the walk we went, and I focused on getting Murray to walk in a 15 meter circle with bend the whole way through, haunches tracking up in the line of his shoulders, without any fishtailing or booty tooching, all while I had a soft and steady contact on the left rein.  I had to add in some gentle and not-so-gentle reminders to bend to the right, both with some steady leg pressure and a couple of big old thumps (leg is sacred, after all!).  But in the end we really did get the whole inside rein-outside leg = bend thing, and then I could start pushing him to fill the outside rein.

febdressage13Hmm ok maybe the right leg wants to carry.

I directly asked Tina how she approaches the weaker side of a horse the last time I saw her, and she said more reps with more breaks.  So I took the time to give Murray a walk break after some good 15 meter circles right, and then switched to some first position and shoulder in, with big circles in the middle of the long side, and let me get the bend back (usually with another smaller circle).  I’ve been ultra-sensitive to Murray’s neck position in our shoulder-in and lateral work, as I tend to have too much neck bend and not enough body bend.  Unfortunately, it’s making me kinda fussy on the lateral work so it’s getting less steady.  But I think we’ve almost figured out how to have just a leeeeetle bend in the body without a looooot of bend in the neck, so hopefully we will be able to renew the steadiness soon.

Murray’s unwillingness to “push” with his right hind is also very evident when we do both trot poles and canter poles — if we hit a funny stride to them Murray will jam or stretch a stride so that his LH is the one that has to work hard.  If we hit a funny stride at the canter when tracking right Murray will always break to trot, I really have to boot him through to get him to push from behind and actually make the strides.  And we drift more.   And it’s even more evident in the right counter canter, where he is more inclined to switch in front but not behind (okay thank sa lot, weirdo). I would really, really like him to even out and strengthen up a bit more, so that he feels more confident on both leads.

feb dressage canter 2So the plan is moar strength.  I’m down with that.  For me, this means more poles (ALL THE POLES, but actually not too many because they can be more tiring than you think, per Hawley), and a little bit more lateral work on both straight lines and circles.  I am trying not to enforce the haunches-in too much at the moment, as Murray has been using this particular power against me recently.  Somehow, I’m not such a fan of that.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t do plenty of shoulders in and leg yields, and I’m going to bring the diagonal leg yield (head into the wall) back into rotation so that we can enforce the aids for the half pass again.

What are your favourite exercises for strengthening a hind leg’s ability to carry and push?  If you say “hills” I will slap you.  There are no hills, I live in a valley that is 300 miles wide and flat and hills are not an easy possibility.  But I’m willing to put my legs and hands all over the baby horse to get him fitter and stronger! So have at it — give me your exercises!!!

IMG_20150125_122711Shut up these hills are far away and I can’t drive that behemoth trailer.

local blogger & reader conscription

wpid-wp-1447825079562.jpgLocal and not-so local bloggers, readers, and fans!  WE NEED YOU!!

The Woodland Stallion Station Horse Trials wants YOU to come out and help us run our event!  We are putting on Northern California’s only one-day event and it is going to be INCREDIBLE!

But to make it incredible, we need volunteers, and since bloggers and blog readers are among the most competent, capable people I know, I really really really really really want you to help.  Please.

 

Things I can offer you: food, a volunteer shirt, and tons of fun at the event.  Plus: a place to stay (with me), and time with these incredible creatures:

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IMG_20151230_113424Also puppies.  Yah we got more puppies. You can play with those too.

Comment or email me for details!  WE NEED YOU!

(email is confetti [dot] airplane [at] gmail [dot] com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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That Red Mare: Overly Honest Ads

Daaaaaaaaaamn Cathryn!  Back at it with the on point blog hops!

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Offered for your careful consideration, 2009 OTTB Ima Looking Cool, aka “Murray”.  Murray is a 16.2 hand bay thoroughbred who was an utter failure at racing, due not only to his small size at the time of his races (15 hands during his 2-year-old year), but also his lack of focus during training, hatred of the start gate, and refusal to be ridden by anyone but a single female jockey.  This was not for lack of trying, however — the kid is fast.  Which you will very quickly discover if you ever ride him on cross country, turn him out after a few days locked inside, or take him away from home where he will escape your control and run away from you.

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Murray is coursing 2’9″-3′ and has free jumped over 4′ at home, but only when psychologically tricked into thinking the fences were 3’3″ or smaller.  In actual fact, this only happened once, as the second time we attempted to free jump him he went screaming through the chute then galloped around the arena for ten minutes and refused to be caught.  See above re: he’s really fast.  Under saddle Murray is really a very straightforward jumper.  He will let you know early and often that if he doesn’t want to jump a fence, so you will become very quick with the whip and develop a really fantastic seat.  If he does want to jump a fence you really don’t have to worry about it — he’ll pull you to it and save your ass every time you miscalculate your distance based on your previous experience with him.  Fortunately, Murray is incredibly quick with his front end and can get himself out of trouble easily; he can jump from basically on top of a fence and still make it over.  Also, will jump absolutely anything up to 2’6″ from a stand still.

Murray has some natural dressage talent, but is unwilling to push with his hind legs, bend his hocks, or come into the bridle without a lengthy warm up.  He is incredibly smart and will memorize his dressage tests after 2-3 run throughs, so at least you won’t need to remember them yourself.  Murray’s cute face and pathetic expressions win lots of points with judges and clinicians, so you’re bound to gain some sympathy points, especially after they see you sit a buck or two.  Dressage tests will never be boring again, I promise.

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Loads, clips, ties, and bathes.  Details: Murray will load onto absolutely any trailer ever, as long as you don’t screw up the angle putting him in the last slot on a slant load, at which point he will stand there with two feet in the trailer and look back at you with great consternation.  He does consternation well.  He clips, provided you are willing to outlast his objections and wiggling and get to the point where he regretfully succumbs to his fate.  He kinda ties.  You can’t really tie him, as he might freak out, rear, and/or pull back, but he can also untie blocker rings and many safety knots.  Does not cross tie, just don’t even try it.  Bathes provided warm water is available, will depart rapidly if cold water is the only option.  No stable vices, unless you count shitting in his water bucket if he’s kept in his stall without turnout for more than two days at a time.

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Murray is the definition of an honest horse — he wears his heart on his sleeve and lets you know what he is thinking absolutely whenever he is thinking it.  These unfiltered thoughts and opinions will come to you as a combination of velociraptor screams, sideways/backwards steps, bucks, leaps, and occasional violent throwing of himself upon the ground.  No rear, kick, or bite though!  Murray is very respectful of rules that are laid down firmly and consistently, as long as he doesn’t think that they are stupid or are preventing him from eating grass.  If the latter is the case, he will consistently test your rules, occasionally while maintaining eye contact and then become deeply offended when you punish him for breaking a rule.

Murray will teach you the patience of a stone and the creativity of Andy Warhol as you work out the best strategy for getting a girth on him.  Consider this a positive aspect of his personality — we could all use a little more patience and creativity (and supple — we ALL need more supple).  Great horse for a blogger — you will never lack for content or entertaining media.

sidewaysExtremely talented at lateral movements and backing — can go from 500 mpm forward to backward in 1 second.  Possibly too talented.  Has changes — not auto but willing to do one-tempis any time he feels like it or is upset in any way.  Very flexible lower back when he feels like using it.

murrybuckSpritely, fun, and cheerful, Murray is a once in a lifetime horse for the teenager with a good attitude and great sense of humor!  Like a good wine, Murray gets better with time, so a lengthy trial will be an option (I took 18 months).  Come and meet him today — as long as you’re not too manly.  Murray doesn’t really like men, or women who are really dominant, or anyone who has ever wronged him.

AES Unofficial Blog Hop: Realistic Awards

First Megan and now L wrote posts about the realistic awards their horses would have won, and damn.  If that wasn’t an almost-blog-hop made for me.  Frankly, Murray needs all the awards he can get, especially if I have any hope of getting a magnificent ribbon blanket sometime in my life.

 

2011
Most Likely to Lay Down on Hot Walker

Okay, so technically a superlative and not an award.  Self explanatory, either way.

2011
Did Not Buck Jockey out of Start Gate

Murray’s jockey did not know if she would make it through his first race.  She did, and three more!  We all know who the real star is here.

2012-6-1

2011
Cutest Face

Murray fully deserves the cutest face award.  His cute ass face won over many a girl at our barn who gushed over his adorable two year old self and wanted to ride him.  It even scored him a super home as a trail horse, where he actually ended up being a pasture ornament.

2013
Defeated All The Working Students

Murray’s greatest accomplishment of 2013 was probably defeating every one of the working students asked to ride him.  In the end it was a lone eleven year old who put in the majority of the rides on him, though my RBF did some as well when she was back in town.  But through a carefully planned strategy of refusing to be tacked up, pulling back, dumping saddles, and lying down when mounted, Murray let eeeeverybody know that he is NOT a cheap date.

2013 (award to Nicole)
Learned to Tack Up Murray

This was probably MY greatest accomplishment after coming home from Congo.  To learn how to tack up the four year old ninja known as Murray.

2014
Tacked Up While Tied

Sometime in 2014 Murray transitioned from needing to be untied and walked during all tack ups (and frequently being lunged prior to being tacked up) to being able to be — occasionally — girthed up while tied.  It was a very proud day for me.

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2014
Taught Silly Rider to Sit Bucks / Learned How to Sit Bucks (award to Nicole)

Murray did his best to make my seat independent and stable.   I did my best to gain an independent and stable seat.  We both win awards.

2014
Tricked Rider Into Thinking He Couldn’t Canter In Dressage Saddle

His powers of persuasion were incredibly strong.

2014
Achieved Mental Maturity of a Three Year Old

Murray has always been a late bloomer.  Sometime in his five-year-old year, he finally reached the logic and reasoning skills of a three year old horse.  Barn manager, body worker, and dressage trainer were all immensely proud.

2014
Cutest Face

All was forgiven because this is still true.

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2014
Got Loose at All Events Away from Home

Didn’t survive a single event in 2014 without a loose Murray incident.  On the upside: learned to carry extra halters, lead ropes, and reins everywhere.

2015
Stopped Looking Like a Foal

Murray looked like a baby horse for an incredibly long time.  I felt bad riding and competing a foal.  It was weird.

2015
Did Not Get Loose At An Event

This one time I took Murray away from home and he did not rip away from the trailer or break his halter or get away from some person’s control a single time and it was magical.

2015
Saved Nicole’s Life on XC

Murray saved my life on XC by avoiding all jump judges at all costs.  His incredibly brave and technical evasive maneuvers are probably the only reason I am alive today.

2016
Changed Opinion About Nicole’s RBF

Murray previously hated my RBF because one time I accidentally put him on crazy supplements and then had her ride him and not only did he pull back and lay down on her saddle, he then threw an epic tantrum under saddle and had to be schooled for an hour.  That was in 2014.  Two years of treats later, she is finally forgiven!

2016 (repeat winner)
Saved Nicole’s Life on XC

Murray saved my life on XC once again by avoiding all jump judges at all costs!  I don’t know what I’d do without him.

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week of Camelot wrap up

Let’s wrap up this entire weeks’ worth of Camelot Schooling Horse Trials inspired posts with some thoughts about the whole thing.

I didn’t write much about the show before we went there, as I didn’t want to delve into the various nitty gritty details of my many plans and contingencies.  One of my big goals this year was to get Murray more show broke, and to do that I need to go to plenty of shows.  Not only do I need to go to said shows, I need Murray to understand both that shows are not scary places (no, no, Murray, no need to save my life this time!) and that certain rules do stay in place at shows (yes, yes Murray, we jump what I say we jump, we don’t bail right before the last jump because we are afraid of a little wooden hut).  So I knew that it could go a lot of ways, and we would need to figure it out as we went along.

camelotfallA lot of ways…. Oh hey look, there’s that pony eating demon hut!

My overall feeling about Camelot this year is that everything went right.  I don’t even care that I got a forty in dressage and Murray was distracted, or that we got time on cross country AND stadium, and took rails and had a stop in the latter.  There was a tiny part of me that was like “what are you DOING paying this much money to not be competitive?!” but the rest of me (and that was a lot of me) really believed in and stood behind every single decision I made during the weekend.

There isn’t anything about our ride that wasn’t improved over last year – except the dressage score.  But when I look at my video from last year and compare it to this year, I can see so much improvement in my riding.  I am so much more centered, I use both reins evenly, and I don’t half hang off my horse in the circles.  Better yet, Murray is so much more secure in our relationship, he is more confident in himself, and we communicate better.  Fuck yeah.

leaningGoodbye gangsta lean, goodbye doggie hands, goodbye floppy reins!  (Goodbye round forward horse… but that test was an anomaly anyway.)

Cross country was also a monstrous improvement.  I think Murray and I both went into the start box feeling 100% more confident out on XC than we did last year, and man does it feel good to ride a calm, confident horse over to the start box instead of one who is anxious and unsure of himself and can only find comfort in the running-as-fast-as-he-can part.  It feels way better than having to be walked to the start box, only to rocket around the intro course at top speed and somehow stumble over all the logs and water entrances in our way as we go.

IMG_3659On top of that, I made decisions about our ride out on cross country and Murray listened to me.  Actually, the fact that he listened isn’t even the coolest part – did you see that I actually made decisions out there?!  I went into the start box knowing that if there was something scaring Murray on course I had the tools to handle it, and that if there was a fence he felt unsure about I would be able to figure that out quickly and make the adjustments I needed to, and that if we had a refusal I could confidently get him over the obstacle at the second presentation.  I have never been that capable of a rider before, and knowing that I have reached a new place in my riding feels FUCKING AMAZING.  The cherry on top is that Murray listened to me when his brain was in its most compromised state – running fast into the great wide open!

Another improvement: after we had a stop in stadium neither Murray nor I lost our cool.  And when I tapped him to keep him forward he didn’t lose his shit over that either – and I didn’t lose my shit and over-arm wallop him.

IMG_3333I walked away from the show at Camelot knowing that I could completely stand behind every single decision I had made.  I made the right decisions, and I made them for the right reasons.  I gave Murray the ride that he needed to get through all three phases successfully, and he responded by doing what I asked.  All of the stupid little problems we’ve had lately didn’t rear their ugly heads, and when they threatened to we smashed them down together.  It definitely makes the troubles we have had over the last year (or two) worth it.  We are both braver and stronger after ten more months together; we are a better team.

we interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for this important announcement

FEIST IS HERE!!

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Last year Murray’s trainer bred a mare that she adores (Breaking Daylight) but who couldn’t cut it on the track to her winning stallion, Coach Bob.  She wanted Scarlett to have somewhere quiet and peaceful for her pregnancy, to foal out, and raise the foal; enter my trainer’s house.

Since Scarlett arrived last year I’ve been grooming her to be my bestie so she would let me play with her baby once it arrived. It wasn’t exactly hard, as she’s a very sweet mare, but I put in some time rubbing her ears kissing her nose.  Scarlett’s pregnancy dragged on and on and on and on…. until 1 AM this morning.

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Trainer found a healthy filly in Scarlett’s stall at 1 AM.  I headed out this morning to help with a few antenatal chores and — DUH — to see baby!!!  Baby was brave and feisty when I got in there, so I promptly christened her Feist. B agreed with my naming when we tried to put a halter on her — this overcooked little nugget was rearing and kicking out and an absolute firecracker!

IMG_20160421_092535Horse placentas are enormous!

I spent some time investigating the placenta and exploring its stupendous neatness.  So cool!  For one, enormous.  For two, the ceins and cords are all ropy and magnificent.  The bit fat horn (I think it’s called the pregnant horn?) feels like velvet.  Insane coolness in there.

IMG_20160421_095729Mama Scarlett keeps a watchful eye.

Prepare yourself for many gratuitous baby pics, since I will be out at B’s place pretty often this Summer.  For now, enjoy a ten-hour-old filly’s first day in the world!

IMG_20160421_095557I love dis wall.

IMG_20160421_090908Give me the noms!  Don’t you think she’s tall compared to her mama?

Camelot stadium review

By Sunday I had gained absolutely no ground, after adding 8.4 time penalties to my luscious dressage score of 40. The wonderful thing about being in 8th place in a class of 11 is that you get to ride really close to the beginning of the class.  Which I like.  I hate waiting.

When I took Murray’s wraps off in the morning his legs looked clean and tight, and I was relieved that the bump that had appeared on his leg after last year’s Camelot run was not there.  The extensor tendon on the front of his cannon was definitely there, but was cool and flat.  Unfortunately, when I took Murray out of his stall two hours later to tack up the extensor tendon had filled in and the ugly lump re-appeared.  It wasn’t warm and not tender or squidgy, so I texted my trainer that I would put XC boots on (to avoid exacerbating the lump with open-fronts), and if Murray was lame in stadium I would scratch.

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I gave myself plenty of time to warm up, since I had run out of time for both dressage and cross country warm up on Saturday, so got to walk, trot, and canter around a bit with the first placed rider in my class on an adorable OTTB named X Factor.  Adorbs.  Murray was extremely quiet and obedient (and SOUND), which let me know he was pretty pooped after our cross country run.  He wasn’t even stiff, and actually moved pretty well while we warmed up – and did I mention SOUND?  We will be playing doctor-on-the-internet with that cannon lump in the future.

IMG_8452We are not touching that oxer. Not touching it.

Trainer showed up for warmup and Murray was predictably a little backed off — but I legged him up to the first X and he clambered over.  After that we had a much smoother ride as I remembered to sit back and drive him to the fences.  There was a little extra pep in Murray’s step after we started jumping, and even though he was taking the deeper spots he was absolutely launching himself over the fences, which felt nice.

IMG_8458silly knigits

I let Murray relax and eat grass before we headed into the ring, since we did not seamlessly transition from warm up to jumping as I’d hoped (and per Hawley’s advice to go straight from warm up to a stadium round).  But I had lots of time to walked him past some of the scary fences and then pick up a canter for the first fence – the pandas!  Murray was fairly backed off coming in but I went thump thump with my legs and we popped over – rocket launchers engaged.  Coming in to fence two, a three (so four for us) stride “combo” of a castle-to-magic-8-ball and I could feel Murray backing off from five or six strides out.  I thumped with my legs but was getting no response, and my whip was STUPIDLY in my left hand instead of my right, so I couldn’t give him the little encouragement tap that is what we need to get past a fence.  So Murray cantered smaller and smaller and I really thought he would go, but we stopped.  He bumped the front rail of the oxer with his legs.  I didn’t let it rattle me – I just patted him, said “that’s okay”, and circled and came back to the fence, which we jumped the second time, and then noodled our way over the 8 ball.

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Then it was an easy vertical to oxer bending line, and around to the unicorns of death.  As I turned in to the unicorns Murray was like WOAH WOAH WOOOOOAAAAAH now and ran to the right.  He pulled us so far off the track to the fence, and it was a two (so three for us) stride combo that I knew there was no reasonable way we could get through both fences without at least one refusal.  I decelerated to the trot, circled, and cantered back towards the unicorns which Murray reluctantly jumped, and three strides (I’m so good at predicting our striding in combos) out of the vertical.  What is it with the oxer-vertical combos, Camelot?

IMG_8468Out past the unicorns

The last fence was the worst set up for us, and I knew that we would probably have trouble with it: it was right by the announcer’s booth (same as the terrifying finisher’s booth), right by not one but TWO sets of un-used standards, and the announcer’s speakers were right there.  I had tried to avoid the issue by walking Murray back and forth past all that scary shit earlier, but he did not appreciate my efforts — he didn’t give a crap until we were in the ring for stadium.  Murray saw the piles of scary crap and was pretty sure that he would noooooooooooooooot be doing that.  He trotted.  I was like, well, we’re going to go my friend!  I kept him trotting.  I pointed him at the last fence – it was a single oxer after all, and I was pretty sure we could get over it.  Get over it we did, but ooooh it was a little ugly.  We took a rail.  I was okay with it.

IMG_8494Because this is how you clear a nice square (descending????) oxer cleanly.

So really, not the stadium round of my dreams.  But honestly?  The stadium round of my dreams lately!  Our one stop wasn’t because Murray was flat out ignoring me and behaving in his own self interest – it was because I was too stupid to remember to put my whip in the right hand.  Would the stop just have come later in the round?  Maybe.  Maybe it would have changed our entire ride!  But honestly, Murray listened to me when I said go, listened to me when I said come back, and went even if he wasn’t totally convinced that’s what he wanted to be doing.  I call that a success.

IMG_8482So beefy!!  Why did I not untuck my collar from my coat? Sigh.

funniest cross country ride ever

This post is out of order because I wanted to frontload the good stuff — i.e. the most hysterical cross country ride I’ve ever had, seen, or heard about — and then get back to the rest of the stuff.  So first: Cross Country at Camelot!

The funniest cross country ride there ever was…

I was, of course, late getting tacked up for cross country, in part due to running around pinning numbers on my class-mates’ saddle pads in addition to getting their bibs tied on.  I wasn’t too worried about running late, as Murray had done very well the day before with a minimal warm up, so I just focused on getting him loose and listening and popped over a couple of fences.  I had one stop at a smallish vertical, which surprised me, but when I kept my chest up and leg on he went over the next time.  Murray was calm walking up to the start box, which was somewhat shocking, but pleasantly so.  And then we were in for the funniest cross country ride I have ever been a part of — or witnessed, honestly.

camp2Including all the other ridiculous times we have been on XC together.

Our approach to the first fence was easy — a welcoming log — but fence number two was near the dreaded finisher’s booth, and Murray was busy staring at that booth and tried to skitter away to the novice fence instead.  I pointed him back at the BN feeder, and we popped over a little crookedly.  Fortunately for us we got to turn away from the dreaded finisher’s booth right after that.  Fence three was easy, we’ve schooled it many times, and I took advantage of a long gallop to fence four to get Murray moving forward a bit.  Coming up on fence 4 we approached the observation tower and an all-new horror — A FIRE TRUCK.  Murray was not having it with the fire truck, so I got him back to a trot and just kept talking to him to get him forward.  Unfortunately, at this point on course (a long open stretch by the water), the horse ahead of me was passing me in the other direction, essentially we were on the same track going to different fences.  Murray and this other horse saw one another and let out mutual “OH THANK GOD COMPANY” sighs and scampered over to one another, much to my chagrin.  I was like “Murray, stay in your lane!”  He did not.  I came to a complete stop, and the other girl had an opportunity to trot past me, at which point Murray flipped a bitch and was like “super, I’m just going to be following this guy now!”

Luckily for us we were well out from fence four and it didn’t count as any kind of refusal, and with just a little cajoling I got Murray pointed back towards fence four — one of our favourite big tables that we have jumped many times before.  Over fence four, up the bank, and around to the downhill fence that had defeated us on schooling day.  Approaching the scary landingless table I asked Murray to trot so he had plenty of time to look at it, but he PULLED me toward it and leaped over it with no questions asked!  Much pride.

camelot (265)-(ZF-8462-66896-1-003)Much like this — same story, different fence. Many thanks to Big Shot Images for the fantastic photos!

Six and seven were straight forward, though we had not jumped them during schooling, and then it was back to the passing lane!  As predicted (I was almost on time), the next horse on course was coming up behind me and he was COOKING.  Murray saw that horse’s confidence and was like “I’M AUDI 500!” and pulled off the track into the weeds to follow the spunky little connemara.  I circled, got him back to the trot to pass the scary scary fire truck again, and pointed him at our fence 8 — a purple rolltop into the water.

IMG_2800Yep, this one again. We still jumped it from a trot, we just looked better doing it this time.

Our next challenge came at fence 9 — the canoe out of the water.  Something near there spooked the boy a little and he skittered sideways in his trademark Murray move.  In my trademark Nicole move I kicked him forward to the fence at a walk and patted him and UP AND OVER WE WENT.  The show photographer got such a magnificent picture of it.

camelot (264)-(ZF-8462-66896-1-001sNicole: WE ARE JUMPING THIS. Murray: we are jumping this!

The rest of the course was fairly straight forward — a quick hop over the dragon wall (pictured above), pull far left to make the turn to a bicycle rack, then a funny little turn to a coffin — easy house-ditch-little house, and then the finish flags.

But oh dear.  By the finish flags was that dreaded finisher’s booth again, and Murray saw it after the ditch and was like “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”  He slammed on the front brakes and I nearly came off in front of the last fence — AGAIN!!  Fortunately for me, it didn’t take much to convince him to trot the little house, and then it was just a teeny weeny bit of convincing needed to get him through the finish flags and past that pony-eating booth.

camelot (263)-(ZF-8462-66896-1-002sThe pony who occasionally floats on water.  No more lying about the extended trot for you, my friend!

I had cleverly untied my bib on the cross country course, so it was little matter to slip it over my head, jump off of Murray, run up my stirrups, return the bib, and shower the boy with affection.  He deserved it.

Meanwhile, back in Derpssage land….

We started out the weekend with a rather unfortunate series of events that resulted in a two-hour road trip turning into a five hour road trip.  In short: the hay blew off the trailer, I tried to fix it, the wind was too strong, we got a flat, 20,000 lbs on a slanted road is too much for a trailer aid, diesel mechanic came to our rescue, etc.  We got to Camelot in the late afternoon, and since the schooling event is so generous we were allowed to school the course before the show began the next day.  At first I felt rather silly about this — part of the whole reason I was paying for this schooling show was to get Murray a little more show-broke.  I want him to be good at venues when he’s very familiar with them and only a little familiar with them.  But when I saw several professionals rocking around the XC course themselves (both of whom were in my division) I thought fuck it, and my schooling continued without

Murray was the most cheerful, happy, forward, pleasant, fun pony to ride for schooling that evening.  I’d look at a jump, say “let’s go!” and he’d leap into an uphill canter and attack that shit.  He was so soft in my hands, but so forward to the fences, there was nothing we couldn’t conquer!  We did have a stop at table on a downhill slope with a funny turn after, but we’d been waiting a long time and I was worried about the funny turn so I wasn’t really riding the table.  We picked up on more skittery-sideways stop when Murray suddenly saw some flowers in front of another table — one where the  landing was invisible from the top side — so I let him have a look, and approached it at the trot and all was well.  Since we had such a late “start” to the day, all that there was time for in the evening was taking care of ponies and food for ourselves and literally falling into our tents to sleep.

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Saturday morning dawned bright and early, and my lovely teammates fed Murray for me.  Thanks to his prolific and public displays of affection feels, everybody knows he gets no alfalfa, but that also makes him super easy to feed.  My tack was filthy and so was he, so I gave him a really solid curry down with a rubber curry and a jelly scrubber, a firm brushing, and then got down to braiding.  Of course, I was running late, so I had to press some children into tack-cleaning service, but we got braided and tacked up and dressed and I was really only missing my stock tie — which I was too lazy to tie myself anyway.  Murray warmed up really well; he has honestly become 1000% more rideable in dressage away from home.  I’m not sure exactly what has influenced him the most, but I’m sure it’s some combination of Murray becoming more mature, getting more experience away from home, and better riding on my part, including more consistent communication through tighter aids.  I also have a pretty consistent warm-up routine: walk a fair bit on a loose rein, stretchy trot/canter, then walk again, and finally pick up some real contact and ask for a bit of connection.

IMG_7831Murray is noooot totally on board with the dressage test just yet….

From braiding through my warm up it got windier and windier at Camelot — it was blustering pretty well when I finally got in to my test, and given everything that was going on (scary monopod lady, wind, scary judges booth, scary wind, scary crowd watching our dressage test, scary wind, etc.).  When we went into our test Murray was pretty noodly, trying to avoid… various things?  I couldn’t see anything ahead of us down the first centerline but he was certainly all over the place, but I managed to push him back onto the centerline and got him back togethear ound the first corner.  Unfortunately, I was losing my shoulders a bit and kept falling forward a touch when Murray would lean on me, then he would use the slack he’d generated to poke his nose out a bit and take a peek around.  I wasn’t quick enough to keep him totally through and round in the environment, so I did my best, and we pretty much got all the movements in the right place.  The crowd and monopod lady on one side of the arena made Murray reluctant to head over there in the circles (at the canter especially, and made him quite inverted during the canter), but at least he listened to me when I pushed him out on the circles.

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I already mentioned our little flubber moment during the free walk — but basically, while Murray was just getting to X and really stretching down and monopod lady picked up and moved her monopod right in front of us, and Murray was like “uh, nope.”  I picked up the contact and asked him to come into it a bit more, but he wasn’t having it, so I just settled for picking up the medium walk early.  Our trot transition to the right was obedient but hollow, and our geometry got a little better going right, thanks to the scary things being a bit less visible.  Our last centerline was good, but instead of Murray’s typical crisp, square halt, we practically walked into it (and then were critiqued for it being “abrupt” which I found confusing).

IMG_7858Do not like this game that much.

After reviewing the pics and video, we pretty much deserved our 40.  Murray wasn’t really round or through for more than a few steps at a time for the entire test, and I think I was so focused on keeping him in the court and doing the movements that I didn’t have any brain power left to encourage him to actually use himself.  But ah well, live and learn.  I’ll push a teeny bit more for the connection next time and see what happens.  The tough thing is that I often lose the connection pretty seriously on the first centerline, but I can also often pick it back up in the first corner…. so we will see.

IMG_1985Last year for comparison… I think we have definitely improved, but he certainly had his head down during this test!

Some final thoughts…

Overall, Saturday was a huge success.  We didn’t get eliminated or throw any tantrums in dressage.  Murray listened to me and jumped everything on cross country!  We came in 21 seconds over optimum time( and the optimum time was pretty generous already), which I was very okay with given that we trotted large sections of the course, circled, and came to a dead stop at least once.  The goal had never been to blast around without a care, but to get Murray trusting and listening to me, despite his instincts to save my life through his high-brow jump-judge evasion techniques.  I will have a more detailed wrap up/discussion of this later in the week, but it felt incredible to come off course and know that I had made the right choice EVERY TIME and that it had truly paid off for Murray.  It felt so much better than blasting around the intro course and finishing with no jump/time penalties, and SO much better than fighting my way around a soft BN course, and SO SO SO much better than being eliminated after riding my ass off!

Tomorrow: stadium.  For which I will leave you a little foreshadowing…

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monday media (dump): showtime!

I didn’t intend to just dump a bunch of media again today, but after the show ended on Sunday I got caught up making poke and playing Catan with my roommates (pirates and spice aisles expansion pack!) and looking and pictures and writing just didn’t happen.  So enjoy some highlights of my show this weekend!  Many more (extremely, extremely) entertaining details to come.

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We put in a solid dressage test.  Among our best, actually.  Our scores did not reflect this.

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Some of which was due to a photographer moving her monopod right in front of Murray’s face at this particularly opportune moment.  UP PERISCOPE!

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Murray expresses dressage feels and my show coat makes me look wildly portly.  Those braids are pretty legit, considering I rather desperately needed to pull the top of his mane more.

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We also did some derpssage!  Murray is faking it here, and probably not really listening to me or using himself, but look at that neck!  Sometime in the last year it seems that princess horse discovered he has one of those!  Also, I look like David Schwimmer.

Since we camped I had the clever idea to take some long exposure shots of the dressage court illuminated by the moon with Orion and Taurus hangin’ out above us.  It was worth it.

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I took this on ISO 400 with something like a 13 second exposure at 9 or 10 at night.  I am pretty impressed with my little camera’s abilities.  (It’s actually not very little, it’s quite large.)

Speaking of dressage — look at baby G’s first big-kid dressage test at a real show venue!

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They went on to win their class, by the way!  He is a cute baby.

Murray rocked the stadium warm up but we biffed the actual stadium a bit.  We started out by refusing to look at the first fence…

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And then I forgot to sit up WHILE I put my leg on, and ended up curled a little foetally around his withers…

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Much to my dismay, Murray was afraid of the unicorns.  Not the knights, though!

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Super weekend with super learning experiences!  There is much to tell (tomorrow).

time heals most things

Adult Camp 2016 was interesting for many reasons.

DSC_0256-2I don’t know why I anticipate this image showing up on the blog a lot.

This was Murray’s third adult camp.  I took him to his first one as a measly five year old, only six months into our relationship, and we haven’t missed one since.

At five, I didn’t have high expectations of Murray at camp.  I don’t remember my exact plans, though I do remember that I conceived of this blog during that time when I was watching my friends deal with delightful baby horse antics that required plenty of zen.  Back to the horsey side of things, I know that Murray was as good as I could have expected him to be at that camp, impressing me with some adorable baby horse jumps and even letting me relax enough to goof off a bit on the XC course.

Murray 2Ever-loving dork.

But Murray also absolutely melted. down.  During our cross country school, which was in a group of friend horses and friend people and was a mix of elementary and BN fences, Murray quit about 15 minutes before the end of our lesson.  He wouldn’t walk forward, only backward, and when I tried to employ a technique that I learned reading a Chrono of the Horse article about backing Murray all the way to our next fence he practically sat down.  So that was a no-go.  So for a quarter hour I dealt with a horse tossing his head and spinning and deciding he could only do things in one direction — ass first — unless pointed directly at a fence and about three strides away from said fence.  B had to walk us right up to several fences and Murray jumped them from practically on top of her.

Murray 1Sometimes we try so hard and are so goddamn cute.

Adult camp 2015 was also an epic success.  We did many things.  We jumped many things.  We didn’t even totally suck at dressage.  Murray had come full circle by camp 2015 — after camp 2014 he had lost the ability to school cross country in groups at all, and sometimes even just melted down and went backwards for no reason in the arena at home.  One day a fifteen year old had to walk us back and forth through the middle of the arena so Murray could get back to the gate.  Fun times.

IMG_9513Using a newer, bigger neck!

This year, I watched several of my friends struggle with their horses — not necessarily SERIOUS struggles, but there were horses that were fresh and leaping and throwing out all kinds of antics — one poor guy totally melted down on XC for no reason and ended up nearly kicking his own hind boots off, and walked back to the stables in a froth with one boot off and one boot partially on.

In response to this, some of my friends were understandably perturbed.  Their normally sensible, reasonable, rational, and in some cases campaigner horses, were going completely off the rails for apparently no reason — especially since almost everyone had visited Camelot and schooled there before.  And the whole time I was like “don’t worry, it will get better.”

I know, I know.  Rich coming from me.

But I do know it gets better.  I do know that horses get more sensible and dressage court shenanigans get more grounded, and cross country celebrations get more rideable.  It’s not necessarily easy or quick or fun, but if your horse doesn’t hate cross country (and isn’t in legitimate pain and and and possibly a whole host of other things), every calm, stress-limited outing translates into more sensible future outings.

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I was lucky, because Murray frontloaded all the bullshit.  Pretty much anything he felt like throwing at me, he threw at me at home.  He didn’t save it for special occasions, saving up his bucks and kicks and freakouts for trips away from home or presentations in front of a clinician.  He let me know any and all of his feelings any and all of the times that he felt them.  There was no quiet, reasonable horse at home, replaced by a wild, spooky, exuberant demon away from home.  The spooky, exuberant demon let himself be seen whenever so much as an errant jump standard was in the wrong place in the arena.  So I really do have a very solid foundation suggesting that the bullshit that comes during outings really does go away.  It went away at home, so that seems to suggest it will go away from home, right??  I mean, it’s the only a priori evidence I’ve got, so I gotta run with it.

If my horse, my completely insensible, ridiculous, idiotic, sometimes total moron of a horse can learn to be quiet and reasonable on cross country?  Well, there’s hope for all of them then.

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(Honestly, Murray wasn’t even that unreasonable.  He wasn’t dangerous, didn’t rear, didn’t actually, legitimately threaten my life.  He just let everybody know, in no uncertain terms, that he was having feelings.  But on the other hand, I don’t think any of the horses I know are so far from “average” that they really fall into a different learning curve than he did.)

So don’t worry.  It gets better.  Most things do!