hindsight is 20/16

I was going to skip writing this post all together since I feel like we didn’t really get a ton done this year. ¬†I barely rode from March through July and have had to skip plenty of days since then, showed only once (okay, maybe twice), and barely went to any clinics. I couldn’t even seem to pull together good ride recaps. ¬†But then I started reviewing my posts from throughout the year and it turns out we¬†have done some things!

January dawned with jumping¬†and dressage problems, which was not terribly inspiring after an amazing dressage camp at my MIL’s place in late 2014. ¬†I took it easy on the riding front and decided to skip jumping for a few weeks, and instead calculated exactly how much it would cost me to event essentially all over California (TL;DR too much). ¬†Murray was a little NQR for a few more days, Tina suggested it might be his hocks fusing, and so we took it even easier. ¬†I decided I was getting a new dressage saddle, and Murray’s sleazy somehow magically made his girthiness basically disappear. ¬†And I pondered the fact that, while we still had problems, at least they were better quality ones!

Also, puppies.


Murray started to feel better in February, and I worked on some of our deep-rooted positional issues that influence our ability to work correctly. ¬†I also thought a fair bit about my responsibilities as a rider — to both myself and my horse. ¬†I got lucky and took a dressage lesson away from home with a local trainer and Murray was great! ¬†Magical, super high quality footing did not magically turn him into a GP horse, for which I am grateful. ¬†And I realised that the problem with Murray’s jumping wasn’t Murray, but me (obvi): I was asking him to jump in a way that was far too uncomfortable for him, either mentally or physically (or both). ¬†[Later in the ¬†year we would conquer this particular problem.] ¬† I also discovered that if I did it right, I could start asking Murray for the¬†moar!! that we want and need.

I also wrote about running walking away from lions.

febdressage07keep this in mind for reference

I took an unannounced hiatus in March. I needed to work on my thesis and riding and writing were too distracting.  I got a lot of good work done (but probably could have posted and ridden all month long and still gotten done this month! hah.)

April was full of so many awesome things. ¬†I rode with Hawley Bennett which proved to be both everything I hoped and dreamed¬†and very challenging. ¬†We went to camp and jumped all the jumps and finally showed some progress in dressage. ¬†I also competed in the Camelot Horse Trials at BN, and while it wasn’t a perfect run it was a great learning experience. ¬†Murray listened to me instead of just doing his own thing, and I made decisions, stuck to them, and enacted them. ¬†It is probably the first time I have really pro-actively ridden a full test, course, and round. ¬†It felt great.

helicopter tail


May started out with the crazy stressful but also fairly successful Woodland Stallion Station One Day event. ¬†It also turned into a clinic-ful month! ¬†I tried out another saddle that I thought was magic (spoiler alert: this ¬†happened a lot), and I rode with Megan and with Yves! ¬†Despite being the¬†worst on the ground that he has been in a long time, breaking a lead rope, his halter, a trailer tie, and just generally being a raging douchebag, Murray was in great form for the actual riding portion of the clinic and took Megan’s instruction well. ¬†Looking back on the pictures of Murray at the Yves clinic, I can see that he was finally back to feeling really good about jumping, and was forward and confident the whole time.


Then I went to Australia for two weeks and consequently missed more riding.

The second half of June I juggled my new life schedule (no teaching, more zoo-ing) and trying to ride with moving and couch surfing and everything else that was going on. ¬†It was… delightful. ¬†Karen inspired me with her list of Eli’s behavioral changes and I discovered that, for every bad thing I could think of that Murray could do, we were mostly in the green in terms of behavior change. I struggled to incorporate the lessons I had learned with Megan and Yves into my inconsistent riding schedule. ¬†Murray took a lot of naps, and neither of us minded the relaxed schedule.

wp-1464679577850.jpgMurray taking a nap

I still wasn’t doing a ton of riding in July, and I finally figured out why: after you’ve not ridden for a while, it suddenly becomes easier to just¬†not ride. ¬†I thought about back seat riding and training bravery. ¬†Murray and I got back to some jump lessons and I had a great learning experience on the different uses of my seat. ¬†We also schooled cross country at Hiskens where Murray was fantastic, especially for the small amount of jumping we had done to that point, and then my phone killed itself on the drive home.¬†I wrote a personal story about the death of a good friend.

july jump 04

August was a month of hectic activity on the personal front, and the consequence was even more limited riding for Murray! ¬†Are we sensing a theme for this year? ¬†Nicole gets busy; Murray gets a vacay. ¬†I traveled for a wedding and a conference, defended my thesis, and moved — again! ¬†I started using yet another different dressage saddle to see if I could fix my leaning/pitching issues.


September finally settled down and Murray and I got back to real work.  I rode for the first time with John Michael Durr, and he gave us a fantastic new tool to develop strength and straightness.  He also called Murray on his laziness and encouraged me to really insist on a proper step when jumping.  After all our time off and mini-vacations and legitimate vacations and inconsistency, I saw that Murray really was making some great progress.  That was a bright point in my year, because I had definitely been feeling a little down in the dumps about my progress until I looked back like this.

dress-4biiiig difference from January, huh?!

Being funemployed in October meant that I finally got to ride as much as I wanted and had been doing in the past! ¬†I clipped him early and got it done – again! ¬†I then promptly pretended that clipping so early was a strategic training decision so that I would¬†have to clip him twice this year, therefore reinforcing the “stand for clipping” lessons that I started installing. I tried to stick to the lessons I had learned from JM and Megan and really get Murray to move into the contact and engage his whole body. ¬†More consistent riding helped immensely with Murray’s understanding of the concepts that I had been working on, but also brought back the lazy reluctance that often characterizes him. ¬†Fortunately for me, I also started to figure out how to push him¬†for more without pushing his buttons. ¬†We also managed to get to a schooling show and snag a pretty sixth place ribbon!


November was another quiet month on the riding and writing front. ¬†We had a tack room re-org that has made our tack room so much more functional even with a couple of new boarders in the room. ¬†It’s magnificent. ¬†I wrote about being a good student¬†and the principle of punctuated equilibrium and learning. ¬†I incorporated a bit of work in the field into my repertoire, and then fell off the back of my horse.

Africa Friday featured baboons!

img_4931so much overstep and a beautifully engaged back

I boarded two trains in December: the blog hop train and the what if train. ¬†The horses started to lose turnout privileges since the pastures were swamped, and so Murray expressed his feelings on that the only way he knows how: bucking. ¬†As the year wound down (and the wind and cold picked up, brrrrr) I started to opt for playtime instead of riding. ¬†Murray continued to be a super star for our rides, and I realised how desperately I needed a lesson. Tina was my lesson savior and nailed me for nagging, and helped me unlock Murray’s body so that we could get¬†more out of our straightness exercises.

And last but not least РI became a doctor!!!! It still feels damn good, by the way.



2016 goals review

I haven’t even looked at my goals list for this year yet and I know how minimal my accomplishments will be. ¬†The year was not what I thought it would be for money, competition, fame, fortune, or anything that goes with it. ¬†But it was a great year nonetheless, and has certainly shown me a thing or two about what my goals and “timeline” really¬†should be¬†for myself and my princess pony.

So let’s see how things really went.


I apparently set myself up for success by having my big goal this year be to¬†keep learning from Murray. ¬†I definitely did this. ¬†He has taught me many things, but key among them has been to stop ¬†being a dick about things. ¬†Just because I’m right doesn’t give me an excuse to be an asshole.

Keep Murray’s health and wellbeing a priority —¬†Success! ¬†Pony is strong and a little chubby and pretty happy and shiny.


Increase Murray’s strength and suppleness —¬†Also going to call this one a success. ¬†Murray might not be as cardiovascularly fit as he was at this time last year since we have had so much time off this year, but he is overall stronger and more capable. ¬†He’s also straighter¬†and more flexible, if you can believe it. Wiinning.

Keep working on Murray’s behavior away from home —¬†We didn’t go many places this year. ¬†We had one horrifying, disastrous outing¬†where I got publicly reprimanded for beating (some sense into) my horse. ¬†But we also had two outings where Murray didn’t break away or get loose once! ¬†Call it a halfie?

Show 2’9″ and 3′ and go clear the first time around —¬†Nope. I showed BN once and went to no other away-from-home jumping events.

Show Beginner Novice and end on my dressage score —¬†I didn’t do this either. ¬†I did show BN once this year, but I accrued both time penalties and rails. ¬†But it was the right choice. ¬†I didn’t have the time, money, or opportunity to show more this year. ¬†Despite not achieving this goal, I’m satisfied with Murray’s and my progress. ¬†We did good work.

Show First level dressage —¬†Nope. ¬†I was soooo not ready. ¬†I didn’t know it then, but I know it now.

Attend a rated dressage show —¬†More nope.

Show at two new venues this year

Image result for nopetopus

Move up to Novice —¬†This was a stretch goal, and neither Murray nor I was really ready for it. ¬†That’s okay, there are other years for this.


Learn to sit the trot —¬†I don’t do this very much with Murray, but I¬†can do it. ¬†Especially on my MIL’s horses. ¬†I’m giving myself a 75% on this one.

Even out my hands —¬†Success! ¬†I am still inclined to be right-hand dominant, but I am way, way, way better than in the past.

Elastic elbows, consistent rein length —¬†Success!! I can do this both jumping and in dressage. ¬†This is epic. ¬†I don’t even remember that I set this goal so it’s pretty awesome that I achieved it!


Learn how to ride like Hawley Bennett —¬†Uhhh well, not really sure how well this worked out. ¬†Let’s give it a 7% success?

Precision —¬†I am still working on precision, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it. ¬†Murray and I are both better at listening to one another and getting the long spot or the short spot¬†as appropriate¬†(not “as Murray feels like it”). ¬†So I’d say I did pretty good on this one too!


Pay off the credit card —¬†Nope. Embarrassing. ¬†It’s not a huge balance, but it’s still carrying one. ¬†It turns out that being funemployed for 6 months does not make for success in this realm.

Create a budget, stay within it —¬†I pretty much did this. ¬†I forwent a lot of potential shows and clinics, worked off my lessons, didn’t buy things I didn’t need, and didn’t make my debt any¬†worse, at least.

Be able to run 3 miles without getting winded —¬†I… cannot do this.


play06and it feels like this….

Develop a steady source of adult-adjacent income — I really did not do this. ¬†I didn’t have a real adult income for at least 3 months this year, and while I’ve managed to get it together toward the end of the year and find a job for the new year (hooray!) this wasn’t really achieved in 2016.

Sell the horse —¬†I did, in fact, find the Peanut a new home.


Post regularly through 2016 — My planned hiatus in March notwithstanding, I posted a fair bit. ¬†Less than last year, but still fairly cosistent.

Develop NorCal OTTB blog into something¬†more —¬†I did not do this. ¬†For reasons that needn’t be discussed in depth on the internet, NorCal OTTB has taken a back seat in the lives of everyone involved. ¬†It lives on but in a smaller form.

december 10 questions

I really enjoy¬†learning about everyone’s opinions, ponies, and lives through the monthly ten questions.

Does your horse need shoes?¬† Questionable. ¬†Murray was 100% sound when he was barefoot and lived on hills and rocky soils in Oregon. ¬†For the work we do now he needs front shoes at least — his upright RF has rotation of the coffin bone that diverges from a foot with a normal angle (nothing more than to be expected of a foot with that shape), which places it close to the sole. ¬†I have had several veterinarians (including a lameness specialist) recommend that I not take his front shoes off as long as we are in work.

2014-02-12 08.49.18
these need a little extra help

What do you think of the barefoot vs. shoes debate? So many things. I have so many thoughts on this. ¬†I think that we don’t have a good enough understanding or what it means for a horse to be barefoot, or any rigorously performed scientific studies on how being barefoot influences movement, long term soundness, and performance. ¬†I think we don’t have a good understanding of what adding a shoe to the foot really does in terms of traction and pressure distribution*.¬† I think that in over a year of living and traveling in Africa I saw zebras (barefoot, in case you didn’t know already) hauling ass away from me/lions/cheetahs/hyenas/scary wind across wet¬†grass, rocky outcrops, gravel, slick mud, and hills without slipping, falling, tripping, or collapsing. ¬†I know I¬†saw a couple of zebras get caught, and many more than one lame zebra. ¬†I think that we don’t really understand how selective forces on horses have affected the strength, shape, and quality of their feet in regard to the jobs we expect them to perform, or truly how the way we keep them diverges from what may be “best” or “healthiest”. ¬†I think that there are people keeping and competing barefoot horses very successfully.¬†I think that if you have something that works for you, there’s no need to mess with it.

* I could very well be wrong – please tell me if I am because I want to know MORE!.

Favourite season for riding? Any season when it isn’t actively raining on me.

img_5067zebras are, incidentally, hilarious

How many shows do you think¬†know you’ve gone to?¬†I can count them! It’s not many. 2011 – SAHJA at HNR. 2012 – Camelot in April and June. 2013 – busy living in Africa. 2014 – SAHJA at WSS (didn’t compete, Murray was lame) in Jan, Camelot in May and July. 2015 – SAHJA at WSS in Jan, Camelot in June, WSS in August, SAHJA at WSS in October. 2016 – Camelot in April. ¬†That comes to¬†ten! ¬†Such a nice, round number. Perhaps I’ll keep it that way and never show again.

Do you consider yourself a good rider? For the amount of time I have been riding, the amount of training I have been able to afford, and the quality of horse I have? Good enough.  I could be much better with more money/time/horse power/access/talent.

How experienced do you think someone should be to own a horse?¬†Experienced enough to know when to ask for help and listen to people who know more. ¬†It’s different for everyone.


Have you ever gotten into a fight with your trainer? I don’t really get in fights. I have discussions. ¬†It seems like a pedantic distinction (and it is, to some degree), but a fight implies irrationality and a discussion is an exercise in trading rational arguments. ¬†If you aren’t interested in listening to logic or trying to convince me with logic, I’m not interested in talking to you.

Describe your dream horse. Tall, dark, and handsome. Hard enough to ride that he makes me look good, but easy enough to ride that he makes me look great. ¬†Goes fast, comes back easily. ¬†Jumps big and always goes but doesn’t let me get away with bad habits. ¬†Dressages like Valegro and jumps like Bioesthetique Sam. ¬†You said dream horse, right?

Does anyone in your family ride? I have ranching family that used to use horses for work, but don’t really any longer.

If you could ride any horse in the world, which one would it be? Why?¬†Hawley’s Livingstone when he was still running fast and jumping big. ¬†He was beautiful, fun, talented, and continues to be an amazing teacher at 26 — imagine what he was at 10 or 15?! ¬†Plus he has the name of an incredible African explorer.

the what-if train

Sometimes I board the what-if train.

What if Murray had been trained (pun intended) by a professional from the beginning?


What if Murray was owned by a better rider?


What if I had trained Murray “right” from the beginning? ¬†What if I got him on the outside rein and insisted he go straight and forward and¬†use his body properly?

DSCF9914 - Copy

Where would he be?

Obviously I don’t know. Nobody does. We don’t get to play Quantum Universe Skipper and check it out, or watch Man in the High Castle videos about our horses in other “could be” universes.

It doesn’t stop me from wondering though. ¬†Would he be further along in his training? Undoubtedly. ¬†Would he be stronger, more confident, more capable, and better behaved on the ground? ¬†Maybe. ¬†Would he still be breaking away from trailers at shows and running over assistant trainers? ¬†A distinct possibility.

I think I can say, without hubris, that I am doing¬†the best I am capable of with Murray. ¬†I know we’re learning together, and that makes things slower and less accurate. Maybe that’s a boon to us. ¬†If I knew more I might expect more, and I might push more.

I’ve met a few fried horses before. ¬†Horses pushed too fast or to hard or given too many inconsistent signals. ¬†Would Murray fry? ¬†Maybe. ¬†I know from past experience that trying to bully push him beyond what he is physically comfortable with results in … nothing good.

At the end of the day, I get off the what-if train because I’m truly satisfied with Murray’s progress. ¬†Maybe we would both be doing better if we had other halves. ¬†But that isn’t what we have. ¬†What we do have is a fantastic partnership, and the ability to learn with each other. ¬†We have taught one another how to be better and stronger. ¬†We will go where we can, do what we can, and that will be enough.

It helps that his face is the sweetest and most squishable.


nag less, expect more

I had a dressage lesson with our fantastatrainer Tina on Wednesday, and it was aaaaaah-mazing!  I mentioned last week that we are right in the place where I need a lesson to start to get the next set of tools, and I can always count on Tina to help us problem solve.  (Alas, no relevant media exist.  Maybe next week I will get some new video.)

Murray started out feeling pretty honest,¬†though I promptly forgot everything I’ve learned in the last year about keeping my reins an appropriate length, which was unfortunate. ¬†I told Tina that I had been working on being straight and forward and encouraging Murray to take on bigger and more expressive (and correct) gaits, but also keeping him balanced. ¬†Tina honed in on one of my bad habits immediately, nagging Murray with my seat and legs at the walk. ¬†I recently decided to stop babying Murray about walking — he will never get better at walking with contact if we never do it, right?¬†This was a fight several days in a row until the Tina lesson, and Murray had just started to accept going forward+connection. ¬†So of course I was nagging him every single step to get more forward. ¬†Tina had me give him a kick and then sit quietly when he responded correctly.

img_20161129_191637chubby dressage pony

The problem with this (for me) is that I feel like the response to a kick is an inverted spazzy revolt. ¬†But after a few yucky, sticky, gross responses, Murray figured out that kick = forward. ¬†This was the first lesson in the lesson — reward for the right response. Even if it isn’t the exact response I want at this moment, we want to keep Murray thinking in the right direction. ¬†We can finess later (I hope!!).

We moved on to the trot work and Tina encouraged me to get Murray working a little more over his back by getting his neck a little lower.  I have been trying to avoid letting Murray get his neck tooooo low lately, because he can get really on the forehand and downhill.  But his balance actually felt pretty good during the lesson, and it unlocked a bigger and freer trot.  Tina had me encourage the bigger trot on the diagonals, so that Murray can learn the cue for more/forward/bigger where there is more space (than a circle) and then bring it to other work.  She encouraged me to really get him to fly on the diagonals.

Tracking left we got a couple of good extensions on the diagonal (for him Рobviously not real extended work), but tracking right I got almost nothing.  Tina told me to really boot him on that right-ways diagonal, and Murray responded by breaking into the canter Рbut not, as I later found out, an acceptable canter.  The next time around he did the same thing, so Tina had me kick him into a more forward canter.  Murray bucked twice and suddenly on the next right diagonal, he could move forward!

dress-4moar! bigger!

Tina’s assessment was thus: Murray doesn’t want to trot the big trot. The big trot is¬†hard. The small canter is easier – and it’s more forward! But it isn’t really¬†thinking forward ¬†– it’s thinking just forward enough to not actually have to do real work.

All of the following diagonals got bigger and better trots, and Murray was really willing and compliant.  Tina continued to encourage me to get Murray lower, and every time we did his trot got better and involved more of his body.  We were both breathing quite hard after this.

Next, Tina had me add a little engagement in the trot by starting in a shoulder-in and then shooting across the diagonal from that. ¬†I actually didn’t expect this to work, because Murray loves to use lateral work as a way to waste energy. ¬†Maybe the diagonals earlier in the lesson helped us, because once I got him straightened out he shot right across the diagonal with more hind end engagement. ¬†We only did this twice each way, Murray got it and it worked so well.

In the canter we did similar work. ¬†We started with some shoulder in down the long side – making sure not to drift off the rail tracking right – and an extension down the next long side. ¬†Tina helped me with another thing I have struggled with lately, which is Murray getting tense and inverted when I push him to be straight down the long side. ¬†He’s not¬†quiiiite ready to be really straight cantering just yet, but if I got him to lower his head more he could take MUCH bigger and loftier steps. ¬†Tracking right I got a few more steps of the floating canter, which was awesome. ¬†Left was a bit harder, since we were both so tired. ¬†We ended both of our extended canter stints with a little circle — almost 10 meters — where Tina told me to think about pausing in the upswing of the canter (like Megan did!) to get Murray to sit and hold himself up a little more. ¬†It felt great, almost like the canter-in-place that my MIL had me doing the other day (a coming post).

dress-8moar and better canter than this one!

As I expected, it was an excellent lesson. ¬†Tina gave us a few more exercises to practice and Murray stood up to the pressure¬†really well. ¬†Tina agreed with my assessment that Murray is mentally ready to take a little more pressure now, so I need to take advantage of this time to impress some important lessons upon his moldable mind. ¬†And I got a solid plan to move forward with – keep encouraging Murray to move forward, but don’t let him get away with not using his body properly.

I was a little worried that my lack of strength and balance was holding us back in the bigger gaits, but Tina said I shouldn’t fret too much. ¬†I wasn’t unbalanced in the extensions we did in the lesson, and only got unseated when Murray went from cross cantering into a really fast, tense trot. ¬†There is, apparently, time for us to grow in strength in the bigger gaits together.

nap 01hey, remember when it was sunny?! yeah me neither.

sffs blog hop: location, location, location

I have had so much fun reading the responses to Sarah’s blog hop about our horsey locations! ¬†I live in Davis, California, which is a small university town located in 2015’s favourite county — #YOLO. ¬†The town keeps about 60,000 people, around 10,000 of whom are probably students, with another 20,000 or¬†so students that flood in during the school year. ¬†The town is small — 6 miles end to end (I measured on Google) — and you can’t drive more than 10 minutes in any one direction without hitting ag fields.

locationanimals not to scale

It takes me about 20 minutes to get to my barn on the ag roads. ¬†Much of the housing development that I live in used to be a thoroughbred breeding ranch. ¬†My trainer and barn manager actually used to rent¬†one of their old barns — it’s where I started riding with them. ¬†(Our new location is a MASSIVE upgrade).

Davis is a little expensive for what you’d expect in the area, because we are¬†kinda near the bay area and the land is expensive and the schools are good, so… I don’t know. Inflation. Or something. ¬†My barn is inexpensive for the area (we do not have the world’s most amazing footing, but we do have all night turnout when pastures permit).

Trim – $40-60
Shoes – $65 for a half set is the cheapest I have heard of, I pay $85 for a full set, others start out around $100 for a full set
Monthly training – $600+ is the price I’ve seen thrown around, but I’m sure it doesn’t come close to what some of the trainers in the area charge
Pasture board¬†– $350+ (weirdly there is NOT a ton of pasture board in the area – it’s more profitable to grow tomatoes/sunflower seeds/corn/hay or almonds/walnuts)
Stall board – $450+ (closer to $550-$600 average I’d say)
Hay – $13+/bale for rye, $15+/bale for orchard grass, $18+/bale for alfalfa. These are three string bales and weigh well over a hundred pounds, and you can get them cheaper when you buy by the truckload. ¬†But it’s ABSURD how much of our hay gets shipped to Asia. ¬†There’s a hay broker down the road from our barn called HAYKINGDOM and they don’t even sell within the US!
I have literally never seen a round bale in this county. I have seen cow bales, but have never seen a price on them.


The weather in Davis is pretty good, with spurts of absolutely awful. ¬†It hangs out in the 90s from basically mid-June to mid-September (and sometimes into October, ick), with spikes up into the 100’s (and some waves). ¬†In winter it gets down to the 40s, but we don’t get a terribly large amount of rain (I think something like 30″ per year?). ¬†We are technically in a desert so we get massive swings between daytime and nighttime temps (sometimes 70 degree days are followed by 40 degree nights). ¬†We get some of the central valley weather but none of the worst of it — it will freeze (sometimes hard enough to freeze the arena), but not all that often. ¬†I complain a lot about the cold, but really, Davis rocks much of the year.

One of the most interesting weather phenomena in Davis is the tule fog (I call it ground fog). ¬†The soil in the area is incredibly clay-y, and water doesn’t drain very fast. ¬†When it rains a lot, followed by clear sunny days, the moisture evaporates into the air. ¬†After sunset the air cools and the moisture trapped in the air condenses into a thick cloud that just… hangs out. ¬†Sometimes it will take days for the fog to clear, sometimes the fog will be heavy and strong in the mornings and evenings and disappear during the days. ¬†It gives the area a wonderfully eerie ambiance, but does occasionally make you skip your freeway exit.

IMG_0238Showing in the Tule fog in 2014.

There’s a pretty even split between English and Western riders here. ¬†I imagine there are very few trail riders, as we have no trails to speak of — the land is flat, flat, flat. ¬†I don’t know anything about the Western scene, but there are English riders of all shapes, sizes, colors, and disciplines here. ¬†Just within our barn — an eventing barn — we have a couple of hunters, a couple of dressage riders, and the rest of will us dabble in jumpers/hunters for fun. ¬† There are tons of dressage and H/J shows within a 3 hour haul, and even a decent number in the Sacramento area within a 1 hour hall. ¬†WSS is the only event within 1 hour of Davis, though Camelot comes in at just over 2 hours away, and there are plenty more south of us.

We do have one tack store in the area. There’s another in the foothills. I… don’t want to talk about it right now.

Prior to white occupation, much of the central valley was a series of vernal pools, which are shallow ponds, lakes, and creeks that fill up with the winter rains.  Ever since human occupation of the area the creeks have been dammed and diverted until we got this pattern of agricultural land we preferred.  It means that there are fewer of the vernal pool species that used to exist (like salamanders), and the environment changed rather radically from a seasonal wetland to a mostly dry-land with a few seasonal rivers and wetlands.  Sometimes humpback whales come up the delta.  Some have even made it as far as Sacramento, following the river up from the Pacific ocean.  Nutty, right?

boreal-020believe it or not I used to spend all my free time and money doing THIS! underlying story: I have never been good at saving money

We’re pretty close to the mountains, not far from the beach, surrounded by good wine and good breweries, and absolutely no fucking hills whatsoever. ¬†That is my biggest complaint: NO HILLS.

deep thoughts

On Tuesday and Wednesday I attended a seminar at the San Francisco Zoo addressing the care and welfare of elderly animals. ¬†It was an incredibly thought provoking and enlightening seminar, though at times really, really sad. ¬†The most difficult part was discussing hospice care for animals — which you would expect, at a conference about caring for elderly animals. ¬†It really made me think about the way we make end of life decisions for our pets and horses, and how even in “hospice” our animals can still have valuable and meaningful lives.

There were cuter and happier things too – like a geriatric polar bear playing in artificial snow and digging dens in her enclosure on the reg. And a really old rhino who likes to sneak out of her night house in the dark, roll in a secret area of her enclosure, and then head back to bed. ¬†And an ancient gray seal who has no teeth left and is blind and pretty deaf but still loves doing her training activities and doing ring fetch games with her group. ¬†It’s so easy for us to marginalize older animals and diminish their lives because of our own perceptions of their experience. ¬†But they can have meaningful and valuable individual and social lives well beyond our expectations.

IMG_3401Poco was pretty old, though definitely not the oldest chimp I’ve met

I turned Murray out on Thursday with some friends to see if he wanted to have a little play before I rode, but none of them wanted to play for more than a moment. ¬†So after a little gallop we went back inside and tacked up. ¬†I’ve been taking a hard line with tacking up lately because Murray has been so horrendously reactive and absurd about girthing. ¬†So I now do his girth up very, very slowly while he’s tied to the safety ring.¬†I¬†don’t respond to him at all (positively or negatively), unless he’s standing still(ish). ¬†It’s certainly easier than chasing him up and down the barn aisle with a girth, though the jury is still out on whether or not it’s working. ¬†We’ll see in a few weeks.

Tucker is absurdly cute and human-oriented. Not that old, just really cute.

After thinking a bit about Murray’s constant leaning/falling to the right, I decided that I would try to be extra accountable for¬†my bend while riding him. ¬†Because of both of our weaknesses I tend to hold my torso facing a little to the left even when we are tracking right. ¬†So I exaggerated my own inside bend and found that it helped him keep his shoulders underneath him a bit more. ¬†I can’t figure out how to employ that strategy tracking left, so it still requires a little more thought. ¬†We’ll see how¬†it holds up under trainer scrutiny next week.

We practiced JM’s straightness exercises at the trot and canter, which also needs some trainer scrutiny honestly. ¬†I feel like we’re getting pretty straight, but now I can’t tell if I’m over-doing it with the haunches. ¬†Murray got super connected cantering left though, and for a few strides on each of the long sides his canter felt so fucking good!! Like we were floating! ¬†Not pulling or brace or rushing, just powerful and forward and balanced. ¬†I’m terrified I will NEVER get it back.

feb dressage canter 3(from feb 2016) I wish I remembered how this¬†felt and not just how it looks… ¬†hrm

As always, Murray struggled with being through + forward at the walk. ¬†I just can’t seem to get him to maintain impulsion and connection, it’s a one-or-the-other situation — and realistically, neither. ¬†I’m kinda addressing it by doing a lot of walk work and trying to keep him forward and with some connection through it, but I’m a little worried it’s just teaching him to lean on the bit with his underneck…

I finished up with a some test movements (10m half circles at the trot, canter transitions and 20m circles) and some sitting trot circles, which were shockingly not the worst thing that have ever happened to us. ¬†Maybe next year will be the year I¬†actually learn to sit the trot? ¬†Probably not. ¬†Hasn’t happened yet.


Murray brought his A game to our last three rides, which means that I could really focus on exactly what I’m doing and fixing/refining that instead of flailing around just trying to stay on.¬† Our rides have really started to take on a familiar shape.¬† I think the routine is helping us both, though it does mean that I fairly frequently trick myself and use Murray up too much before we get to the canter work. Since the canter is where we really need work right now, this is not great, but I’m working on it.

All of this cooperation means that both my and Murray’s little problems are being brought to the fore.¬† For example, our walk-trot transitions are utterly atrocious.¬† Both in May and October (was it October?) with Megan I got the “I know you’re working on that on your own,” comment, with the implicit “So I trust that garbage will be fixed ASAP”, and there were plenty of ugly transitions for Hawley in March, Yves in April, and JM this Fall.¬† So, a full year later and the walk-trot transitions are still pretty much garbage.¬† Which proves that I, apparently, have not been working on them. At least, not correctly.

img_20161129_191637my goodness, someone is getting round back there

Mostly, it feels like the same old problem as always — Murray wants to transition using his neck, not his hind.¬† But now the old solution (just hold on to his face) isn’t going to cut it.¬† But without the face-holding, he still gets to fling his neck around and invert — even when my reins are the correct length, because it turns out that you can make a really short line between his mouth and your hands if his face is waaay up.¬† Part of this problem is that our walk is chronically underpowered and Murray doesn’t step under during it, so there’s nothing to push off from in the up transition.¬† But when I power up the walk, it leads to a lot of anticipation of coming trot transitions at every single possible change of anything — moving the outside leg, squeezing with both legs, squeezing with one leg, pushing with my seat.¬† It has really opened my eyes to how busy my leg and seat aids could be, so I’m working hard to quiet them down and only aid what I really want.

Another subtle, yet pervasive, problem is our right-shoulder drift.¬† Murray almost always steps short with his right front, which I imagine has something to do with his teeny weeny upright right front hoof and his whole right front leg being a little shorter than the left front*.¬† This means that no matter what we are doing we are always drifting sliiiightly to the right.¬† It used to be a lot worse, and for a while it “seemed” like it was gone, but it’s clearly still there.¬† And I know it is because I find my right fore-arm spontaneously flexing when we are tracking right.¬† Because I’m holding Murray up with my inside rein.

dress-1if I hang on my right rein, that will fix this, right? (also I just realized this but is JM face palming in this screen grab?!?!)

I do it even without thinking now — I feel Murray drifting to the right and I just grab on to that rein to stop the drift.¬† Which is bad, because it means I’m not pushing him over with my leg and/or he’s not listening to that leg.¬† Really both, because when I do make a concerted effort to push him over with my leg — and not just my heel, but really my whole calf, knee, and thigh — I get next to nothing.¬† I’ve been backing it up with a light shoulder tap from the crop, and that does seem to work for a step or two.¬† Tracking left I’m practically crossing my right hand over the withers to get that shoulder to come around, and I know I’m not supposed to be doing that.

(* I think this also has a lot to do with our other troubles as well. If you’re always stepping a little short on one leg and consequently walking in a bit of a circle, the easiest way to go where you want is obviously not to just take even steps with your two front legs — no, that would be too reasonable. The easiest way is obviously to re-orient your body slightly to the left of where you want to go, thus putting the short inside step on a shorter track to the thing you want. Voila! Problem solved. And while you’re at it, you can trail your hind end and never have to bother stepping under with that right hind either.)

The only reason I even¬†can complain about these problems is that everything else is going so WELL.¬†¬† Murray is listening and forward(ish) and responsive. I mean, we’re even getting FOAM.¬† And he’s willing to try new things and doesn’t overreact when I get a little snippy about transitions or drifting.¬† We’re not fighting about working on the quality of gaits or turning right or energy.¬† He’s been so great that I can start to pick on these little things that I hadn’t thought about in a while and really refine the way we work.

I’m butting right up against the limit of how long I can go without a dressage lesson though.¬† All of the stuff above?¬† I’m not really sure how to fix it. I have some ideas, but based on my past history of “ideas that fix Murray” they are bound to be wrong.¬† So it’s a good thing that we get to have our first lesson with Tina next week and there’s a clinic with JM in early January.¬† Time to put some more tools in my kit!

sunday funday

Murray got some much-needed turnout this week, after a week of being locked in because our pastures were partially flooded from the rain a few weeks ago.  Murray took full advantage by rolling seven times, high fiving himself and the air repeatedly, and then galloping around at full speed with his friends.

wallOh and also licking the wall for like ten minutes.  Not sure what that was about. (Murray ignored his himalayan salt lick for the last six months and literally just started on it yesterday. After two other horses who borrowed his stall briefly had taste tested.)

play01Such a graceful and athletic beast

His butt looks HYUUUUGE compared to his little pin head!

play06run free!

Synchronized rolling with his bestie Cormac…

play02And later, synchronized bucking!

play05Also, some light/casual levitation

play04After indoor playtime Murray got to go out in the big grass pasture with his friends for half an hour or so. This promptly turned into “a few hours” because somebody wouldn’t let his pasture mate’s owner catch him.¬† Our barn manager had to go stand at the gate for him to acquiesce to coming in for his dinner.


Murray, I love you.