oh honey, that does not fit

Last Friday I had Robyn Dorius, certified saddle fitter at Advanced Equine Saddle Fit, out to check on Murray (along with a few of the other horses at the barn). ¬†I was running late all day so showed up late for my appointment — just what I wanted, to be late and underprepared for an appointment where a stranger would be slapping saddles on Murray’s back.

Fortunately, besties to the rescue and one of my friends had Murray bridled and was lunging him a bit for me. ¬†He was unappreciative and recalcitrant because… Murray. ¬†Robyn started out by examining Murray while he was naked, and palpated both sides of his back and along his topline. ¬†I prepped her by apologizing profusely for his potentially bad behavior and told her to let me know at any time if I needed to just kick his butt a little. ¬†She collected a little information on me — what disciplines I ride in, what level, and whether or not I compete.

camelot (265)-(ZF-8462-66896-1-003)
sometimes, and with varied success

Robyn started me in the dressage saddle and comforted me when Murray made his most ridiculous girthy pony moves. ¬†Interestingly, she commented that she knows a few horses that go “girth lame” during tacking up — Robyn attributed it to the horses getting so tight in their pecs that they can’t walk properly. ¬†She felt underneath the saddle on both sides before I got on then had me walk and trot both directions. ¬†It didn’t take long before she called me in to the center to give me the bad, but not unexpected, news: my dressage saddle doesn’t fit.

Robyn was forthright and blunt without being unkind. ¬†“For what you want to do, if you want his topline muscles to develop properly, you cannot keep riding in these saddles.” ¬†She also took the time to explain to me exactly what was wrong with the saddle. ¬†To start with, the tree was too narrow. ¬†Exacerbating the problem was that the tree is the wrong shape. ¬†And adding insult to injury is the fact that it was really, weirdly tight in the gullet around Murray’s withers. ¬†Robyn showed me where she¬†should be able to slide her hand in under my saddle but couldn’t (at the wither behind the shoulders), and where she shouldn’t be able to slide her hand under the saddle but could (under my seat).

probably not a coincidence that my best-ever dressaging was done in not-my-saddle

We switched to my jump saddle. ¬†Murray was being as bad as he ever is about warming up (I’ve been lunging him to warm up lately and that helps a lot), but Robyn insisted that seeing him on a bad day was actually a good thing. ¬†After a couple of circles in each direction Robyn showed me again the problems with the saddle: this time it wasn’t too narrow, but the tree was still the wrong shape. ¬†The bridging problem¬†was exacerbated even more in my jump saddle and Robyn managed to get essentially her whole arm under my butt while I was on Murray’s back.

Murray did not really appreciate, but behaved.

So with that in mind, Robyn suggested that we put a saddle with a more appropriate tree shape on Murray to see if it could change his movement at all. ¬†She started with a dressage saddle that she had taken out for one of the other girls. ¬†I felt underneath the front panels and up in the back and wasn’t really sure what to look for, so Robyn guided me in what she was looking for in the saddle. ¬†Ultimately she decided to go and get a different saddle from her truck to try on Murray. ¬†This second saddle, a Custom, fit him much better than any of the others we had tried on so far, though Robyn said that if it were his saddle she would have changed the flocking a bit over the withers. ¬†(During this portion of the appointment Murray was biting the air above my jacket sleeve and giving Robyn and me the side eye. ¬†It was like he knew he wasn’t allowed to bite me — he’s not — but had to get his dissatisfaction out in some way so the air was what had to suffer. I was amused.) ¬†We tacked up a third time and I got on.

murray: is this REAL LIFE?! is this FOREVER?!

Immediately Murray’s walk felt bigger. I complain about his walk a lot. ¬†This was not his walk. ¬†We walked and trotted and at this point Murray was well and truly sick of my shit and threw in some haunches swinging and sass of his own. ¬†Getting tacked up and half ridden at the walk and trot only three times in an hour is not on his list of favourite things to do. ¬†This was no magic bullet, and I didn’t expect it to be, but I did enjoy sitting in the Custom. ¬†Robyn had me feel under this saddle again too, and pointed out where it was a little tight against his withers – she said she would change the flocking there (if it were my saddle, that is).

In the end, Robyn suggested several saddle brand trees that might work for us (Custom – but I don’t like big blocks so it’s probably moo), older Schleese’s, and… some other trees. ¬†I don’t remember. ¬†But she said that if I got a saddle/saddles out on trial she would happily evaluate them for me and could bring along a few of the consignment saddles she has at home to do a full on comparison. ¬†(I always keep an eye on The Horse Of Course consignment saddles, because I lust after a Sommer, and Robyn said she’d happily evaluate those for me too.)

can you believe how good I’ve been, putting up with your
saddle-fit garbage, Nicole?!

So there it is. I need two new saddles. ¬†But honestly, I’m not even upset about it. ¬†Robyn took the time to teach me her saddle fitting philosophy and how to look for signs of good and bad saddle fit on my precious pony. ¬†I’ve played around with a few saddles since then and can see which ones totally suck (like my dressage saddle) and which ones seem to suck less. ¬†This is a major improvement over my previous level of saddle fitting knowledge.

And look at the even brighter side: it turns out that my SUPER sensitive pony has been toughing it out and showing up through a couple of pretty poorly fitting saddles.  Very, very proud of him for that.

Cherry on top: knocked one off the 2017 goal list already!

more meltdown musings

I just cannot get over the alliterative potential.

To round out the week and make it absolutely all about Murray’s Monday Meltdown (MMM was a radio station in Adelaide when I was a child, but if I recall correctly it was nowhere near as cool as its competitor station, JJJ), I have some additional thoughts on the event brought on by discussions with some very thoughtful and kind friends/observers.

we get by with a little help from our friends

SB pointed out the C-rage has impeccable ground manners but just can’t tolerate one wash stall at their barn because of slippery footing. ¬†Our barn does not have the grippiest floors around, and Monday was cold and damp which always exacerbates the floor being slippery. ¬†Murray skittering around like a spider on ice supports this idea. ¬†But even more evidence lines up when I think about how tentatively he steps inside the barn, almost like he’s on tippy-toes, and how much more reasonable he can be when we are on grass, gravel, or sand. ¬†So maybe I need to separate the standing on unpleasant surfaces from the tacking up while I’m trying to get one or the other handled. ¬†I can tack up in his stall, or at a different spot in the barn, or even — imagine this! — in the arena where the footing his nice and grippy. ¬†There are things I can do to make this better for him.

Or maybe there are other factors about our barn (or being inside or barn) that are making Murray struggle with behavior there. ¬†I do not think Murray hates his living situation by any means — he loves going out for turnout and he loves coming back in, he naps inside his stall and out in his paddock, and loves playing with his friends. ¬†But there are things he does not love. ¬†Is this something I’m willing to change for him right now? ¬†Nope. ¬†I like where I’m at for many reasons, and there is no guarantee Mr. Sensitive will like anything else more than this. ¬†But we’ll circle back to this theory if/when I inevitably have to move (for work).


My barn manager asked me if I thought his magnesium was working. ¬†Murray has been on Animed Remission for more than six months at this point, and I have so far been very satisfied with it. ¬†But we did just open a new box. ¬†And if magnesium helps treat anxiety,¬†and Murray is particularly anxious at the moment for whatever reason — it’s cold, he isn’t getting turnout at this moment, I went on vacation and abandoned him for a month and he missed me¬†soooooooooooo much — it also stands to reason that he should be getting more magnesium. ¬†That’s an easy fix: doubled that.

And then there’s the thing that I actually don’t think anyone has suggested to me yet — or have you all? — saddle fit. ¬†I always assumed that Murray’s issues with tacking up didn’t have anything to do with saddle fit as they have been bad across a variety of saddles and for years and years and years and go waaaaaaaaay beyond just having a girth put on. ¬†For real. ¬†But I had a saddle fitter out and these words actually, literally,¬†left her mouth: “I see this type of behavior all the time with horses who have poor saddle fit.” ¬†Murray’s behavior has been better and worse in a variety of saddles, and I’ve never taken enough data on it to see real patterns. ¬†I’m looking for two new saddles (yes two, if you can believe it), and we’ll see if there are any changes/differences.

I hate your stupid ebay tack!

Proactive/reactive coping style — I went to a really interesting talk on Friday about coping styles in pigs and behavioral and physiological correlates of two different major coping styles. ¬†Sows that are proactive (run away from you, resist handling, approach novel objects) gain more weight and (in a few studies) have more surviving offspring than sows that are reactive (freeze during handling, reluctant to approach novel objects). ¬†Are there behavior/temperament/coping style differences between horses? ¬†You betcha. ¬†Do I know anything about them? ¬†Nope.

So that’s where I’m at. ¬†If I get it together to do so, maybe I’ll put something together about horse personality types for you all.

in which I finally get to ride my horse again

After Murray’s Monday morning melting moment (gosh there are just so many fun alliterations I can make with this!), I knew that Tuesday would take a little more care and tact. ¬†I got out to the barn in the evening, when the arena was already busy. ¬†I tied Murray up in the same place as on Monday, and took it really, really easy with him while I was grooming and as I started tacking up. ¬†I unhooked him when we got to the girth, gave him plenty of carrots, and walked him around the barn twice to both settle him and enforce manners (walk, stop, stand, good boy, walk more, etc.). ¬†Murray walked around a bit more than usual, but didn’t¬†seem like he was particularly scarred by Monday’s misadventure.

I started with lunging, as I almost always do for dressage lessons these days, and Murray wiggled and spooked around a few times. ¬†He was a little short behind but he always has to work into a proper trot. ¬†And then he was dramatically, absurdly, cartoonishly lame for five steps. ¬†Like he had three normal legs and his left hind was wearing a rollerskate. ¬†I stopped, checked his feet, walked him for a minute, and trotted him out again. ¬†Back to normal Murray short-steppin’. ¬†I called it a night to be on the safe side and gave Murray a big scoop of bute with a nice warm mash.

img_20170113_131724puddle drinking with friends

I wasn’t terribly surprised he was a little lame. ¬†It could have been a rock/abscess/twisted ankle easily, since it came on very suddenly after passing through a deep-ish spot and disappeared just as quickly. ¬†But Murray had also spent five minutes freaking THE FUCK OUT the day before, then a grand total of ten minutes on the lunge, and promptly stood in his stall for more than 24 hours while it plummeted from 50 degrees to 35 degrees. ¬†I wiped his feet down when we got back to the barn to check more carefully for potential abscesses (nothing). ¬†But when I put my hand on his glutes he tensed his quads and lower back¬†so tight that the muscles were bulging like crazy.

So no riding on Tuesday.

Wednesday was just as cold and horrible, and it was pouring to boot. ¬†Luckily when I got to the barn there was only one other person there, and she had just gotten done riding, so I quickly walked Murray out to the arena to check how sound he was. ¬†I left his blanket on thinking that I could take it off if I needed to for further diagnostics. ¬†When we got to the arena Murray was so excited for turnout, just so so so excited, and he kept letting me walk a few feet out in front of him and then leaping and flailing and high fiving the air with joy. ¬†But manners, we must remember them. ¬†So I insisted on a little sobriety for a moment, lunged, identified very quickly that Murray was not lame, and turned him out, to his great joy. ¬†Then I brought in Murray’s best friend, confidante, and emotional support animal, Logan, and the two of them had a fantastic time. ¬†Logan started out with a little scared side-eye, but once the two of them had run the wiggles out he was much happier and softer.

turnout01his happiness was a golden poem

Tacking up was much better. ¬†I tried tying to a different spot and gave Murray lots of reinforcement for standing and being polite (which he is starting to get, as he will sometimes pointedly look away from me when I’m working with him). ¬†We walked up and down inside the barn since it was pouring outside, and Murray was very reasonable. ¬†Very reasonable.

I lunged quickly both ways and got on. ¬†Murray was pretty forward but I could see that his back remained tense and wasn’t really working. ¬†The wind picked up, and the lights in the arena danced the wild dance of poorly secured lights. ¬†I forgot my tall boots, so had to ride in my Dublins, which was not my first choice. ¬†But I was actually able to ride, so I took it. ¬†This did not help, of course, with feeling secure and comfortable in the saddle with crazy winds + potentially crazy pony.

turnout03nope, not lame

Murray was wiggly, tense, and very forward, so I rode a bit front to back.  But I did not feel secure enough in the tack to really push him forward into my hands properly.  My whole goal was just to get him working and listening, instead of looking around the arena for things to spook at.  I started to feel more comfortable in the Dublins after we cantered, and Murray actually managed to put his head down and get some work done.  Every time the lights shook over us or the arena creaked and groaned he wanted to run in the opposite direction, of course, but he settled pretty well afterward and would get back to work after just a short spook.  Right up until a huge gust of wind shook the arena right on top of us, and Murray scooted off in the canter, and then right as I got him settled again a huge gust of wind made the whole arena shake, groan, and rattle above us and blew open the enormous double doors at the end.  I called it then and there and walked Murray back to the barn, where it sounded like we were inside a hurricane and the other girls in the arena joined me a few minutes later.

I checked the weather station on campus and the wind averaged 37 mph with gusts up to 47 mph at 10 meters height – i.e. arena roof height. ¬†Definitely more than the 15 mph predicted by the weather app. ¬†And there’s more of this to come! ¬†HOORAY!

turnout02let me freak!

major malfunction; meltdown inevitable

I made a miscalculation this (Monday)¬†morning that led to a major meltdown and malfunction from Murray the likes of which I haven’t seen in at least a year. ¬†It was… something else.

I was tacking up and, per my new goal, trying very hard not to let Murray get away with wandering, wiggling, or generally being poorly behaved during the exercise. ¬†I thought we actually had a pretty good thing going: I had put the square pad on very crookedly at first and didn’t catch it until after I got the saddle on. ¬†So we were on our second try and Murray was being pretty responsive to my requests to stand and was not constantly turning back and demanding treats from me.

I often hold the dressage girth against his belly for a moment before I try doing up any buckles so Murray isn’t confronted with the cold girth + tightening buckles sensations all at the same time. ¬†He had a funny response when I did this, standing still for a few seconds and then suddenly scrunching up his abdomen and¬†then trying to scoot away from me. ¬†I didn’t really understand what was going on, but since that’s how Murray typically responds to girthing pressure in general, I thought he needed a little longer to get used to the sensation of the cold leather. ¬†He was still for¬†just long enough before tensing and scooting that I thought he might have exceeded his limit for patience and was trying another strategy to get treats (wiggles = distraction treats = reinforcement for wiggles).

The first time I held the girth against his belly he actually managed to writhe away from me, which I wasn’t going to accept, so I tried again. ¬†I held the girth against his side even as he tensed and then bulged his side in to me, and after he settled I gave him a piece of carrot. ¬†I then quickly moved to buckle the girth up on the 4th hole which, when Murray’s abdomen is at its fattest, tensest, and most absurd just touches the skin, and once he lets the air out there’s a good half inch of space between the girth and his skin. ¬†I managed to get both billets buckled and was just patting Murray when he sidestepped forward-ish. ¬†I told him no — I’m trying not to be baited into rewarding him for bad behavior¬†— and he stepped sideways, more directly towards me. ¬†I warned him with a “hey!”, but he blew sideways into me with his hindquarters, actually knocking me to the side. ¬†(The first time I’ve actually been knocked aside by him, as I usually get out of the way quickly but I’m also trying not to teach him that he can move me around with bad behavior.) ¬†I marched toward the tie ring to unhook him and really give him a piece of my mind; alas, the meltdown was already engaged.

Murray skittered sideways and back at the end of his lead rope, never giving me enough slack to unhook him from the blocker tie. ¬†(I always put him on a blocker tie ring but I’ve recently taking to knotting the lead rope about 30″ down so he can’t pull himself loose and end up with¬†ten feet of rope to wander around with while I’m grooming or not paying attention.) ¬†He pulled back and got his front feet off the ground a few times, though he never really reached the point of sitting, and his halter held. ¬†At one point I could see the bottom of the halter sliding over his lower lip and up in to his nostrils and I wondered whether he’d be able to get out of it entirely. It was all legs and slipping feet and burning hoof smell and sparks in a ten foot radius around the post we were tied to, and the whole time I was trying to get just a few inches of slack so I could unhook him and get him under control myself.

He reared and couldn’t get all the way up and just… came down. ¬†At one point his knees started to buckle and his pasterns folded and he started to lay down and half of my brain¬†actually thought “why am I not filming this?” and I put my hand in my pocket to get my phone out, then decided I’d better have two hands on me. ¬†The other half of my brain was thinking “please, YES, please just lay down,” because if he gave up and lay down it would indicate that¬†he chose to yield to the pressure, and would have been a major step forward in his problem solving process. ¬†I’ve seen Murray get to a really similar point where he’s about to crumple to the ground before, with my barn manager when she was very understandably¬†disciplining him for something, and that was the moment in the discussion where he turned reasonable.

Instead, Murray leapt out of the half-crouch-thing and hit the end of the rope again and the meltdown continued. ¬†(I mean, you should see all the skid marks on the barn floor after this morning…) Since the “hoooo, hoooo, easy, settle”, deep, soothing voice wasn’t working I tried yelling and growling at him in turns to absolutely no effect. ¬†He wasn’t even registering me. ¬†We finally got to the point where he was part-ways in a downward dog stretch — front legs splayed out toward me, leaning back on the rope as far as he could, just staring at me. ¬†I kept talking to him while I tried to pull myself out a few inches of slack so I could unhook the lead rope, and then had the bright idea to offer him some of the remaining carrot bits I had in my pocket. ¬†I was¬†well beyond trying to avoid rewarding bad behavior at that point. ¬†But instead of responding to “cookie” he jerked his head to the side, snapped the lead rope, and skittered off down the barn aisle.

I managed to get my hands on him before he left the barn and he was truly beside himself. ¬†I walked him back up to the tie ring and he wanted¬†nothing to do with it. ¬†Obviously with only two and a half feet of lead rope left attached to him I wasn’t about to tie him, but I made the decision then to just continue to insist on good behavior. ¬†Ignore the meltdown (so to speak) and insist that he continue to behave like a rational horse beast. ¬†Since Murray was still in panic mode and unable to even think about what I was asking him to do I had a bit of time to catch my breath and think.

I slowed myself down and managed to avoid crying, though if anyone had tried to talk to me just then I probably would have.  Murray would stand for a minute or so and then start to skitter sideways/into me and I reminded him that the exercise we were working on was just standing still where I told him to stand the fuck still.  Nothing too aggressive, but not rewarding the bad behavior by walking off with him, and not acknowledging his distaste for the area by letting him stand somewhere else.  I thought about how much I hate this horse sometimes and why I ever think that I can improve or change these absurd, deep-seeded, irrational instincts.

Murray kept trying to yank me to the side or pull his head around to get a look at what was going on elsewhere in the barn or… wherever. ¬†I was more than a little sick of him at this point and yanked him back to look at me and¬†just stand. ¬†I thought about what, exactly, I had done wrong to induce¬†this particular meltdown, and how I could have avoided it, or snapped Murray out of it while it was happening.

While we were standing there thinking, Murray threw his head in to mine and instead of ducking (which I usually do), I threw my hand into his head and yelled “REALLY?” ¬†He chose to fly away from me backwards at that, so I took him up on the offer and marched him backward, at which he promptly slammed into and tried to sit on a trash can, scared the shit out of himself, flew backward out the barn door, and then tried to sit on my trainer’s truck’s front bumper.

Since we were already outside I decided that we would try to walk it off (the stupidity of this is just now dawning on me since I only had about 3 feet of lead rope to hold on to), and after he settled a little we stepped into the barn. ¬†A friend held him while I found a replacement rope, and then we walked back to the tie ring to start over. ¬†My barn manager came out and commiserated with me a little and Murray proved that he couldn’t even he just¬†couldn’t even while she was standing there, trying to run in to me (because he knew he isn’t allowed to run in to her).

I ultimately tacked him up two more times (not tied, but still insisting that he stand relatively still), he was relatively good, I lunged him and he was great, and we called it a day.  Because when it takes 75 minutes to get your horse groomed and tacked up you quickly run out of time to ride.

In some ways this meltdown indicated major progress for Murray. ¬†In the past he would have hit the end of his lead rope one time, felt the pressure, ripped right through it, and disappeared. ¬†So the fact that he was feeling the resistance and not¬†automatically increasing the pressure by an order of magnitude (just continuing at the current level of freak out) just to get free is progress. ¬†And he did come back to me and, though it was a struggle, did eventually figure out that he was expected to just stand still in front of me (and only somewhat invaded my personal space). ¬†He was so reasonable during his freak out that I think he might be ready for a rope halter — IMAGINE THAT! Graduating TO a rope halter. Hah.

But¬†the meltdown itself was over¬†nothing. ¬†I mean, yes, it was about being scared and tied, but the trigger to being scared was… what, being asked to stand for one second longer than he thought he could tolerate? Not getting a treat or being ale to walk off the instant he wanted to? ¬†Sure, I could have avoided the whole thing if I’d just not asked him to stand for that one second, but was the ask really that unreasonable?

I managed to keep myself calm too, and handle it, and not beat the living snot out of him after the fact. ¬†So that’s progress for me.

We will see how Tuesday goes I guess.

I do so desperately wish I’d gotten video. ¬†Dangerous, unpleasant, and indicative of poor training and upbringing as the meltdowns are, they are also ridiculous and absurd and, in their own way, funny.

post-nasal drip

Do all the things collided head-first with disease caught from babies this week and so all my well-laid plans have been put to the wayside as I lay in bed watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (you should watch, no really, it’s GREAT) and The Crown.

It’s okay. I still got a few things done.


I clipped Murray again. It went… poorly to start with, but got better. ¬†It turns out that he has crazy super thick winter hair and if I choose to clip this late in the season again I will straight up need a pair of those mega industrial clippers because my little Andis could hardly get through his butt hair. ¬†I also left tracks everywhere because homeboy is still learning how to stand still. ¬†They’ll grow out… right?

Or I could just never clip after the solstice again. That’s not a bad plan.


I learned that Murray will tie with the halter around his neck while I clip his face.  At first he was confused and concerned, then he was annoyed.  The whole thing amused me greatly.  Also homeboy had little scabs all over his face which ALSO made clipping really hard because I kept catching them.  Sorry, Murray.

I made a big deal about putting¬†his blanket on and taking it off while he was tied because he was giving me the stink eye and running away when I lifted it up near him. ¬†I’m sure it didn’t help that on Monday he somehow wiggled out of it (without breaking any straps?!) and (probably)¬†terrified himself in the process.

Murray got some turnout and did his best to drain the arena by drinking the puddle down.  Because dirty arena water is the best water.


That’s been our week. Hopefully this weekend I am well enough to ride, or at least lunge. ¬†I leave you with a super accurate depiction of my horse when he hears his neighbor’s grain bucket being filled.


torrential downpour(s)

Northern California (plus much of Oregon, Western Nevada, and maybe even some of Washington?) is having some kinda record-breaking storm this week. I say “some kinda” because while it¬†is rather abnormal for the time of year, it’s hardly the 15″ boldly and ridiculously predicted by a few news outlets.

Yes, a few places got 15″ over the last 7 days. A few exceptionally wet and rainy places. ¬†Most of us got a bit less than was predicted — I think we were supposed to get 5-7″ in Sacramento and we got about 4. Maybe 5, if you include yesterday’s totals.

That’s nothing to sneeze at for us, though! ¬†That’s January’s average rainfall in one week. ¬†It’s left us feeling rather… damp, if you will.

This used to be a road.


This was a hay field. ¬†I would say that at least 20 acres of the property/ies picture here are under at least 6″ of water. ¬†I have no idea when it will dry out, since there is no accessible ditch nearby (on the other three sides it’s separated from roads/canals/ditches by at least 30 meters). ¬†So… that will be an inland sea for the for-sea-able future (see what I did there?!)


On the upside, our barn drained incredibly well and we aren’t experiencing any adverse effects. ¬†Our outdoor arena was already closed and sealed – coincidentally, since we got a new delivery of footing right before the rain started in December. ¬†The paddocks off the stallsa re holding up, and the pastures are looking solid. ¬†Across the street from us though…


Maybe they’ll grow rice again this year?

no more dr. nice guy

Per my goals post, a big one for me and Murray is to¬†stop taking short cuts. ¬†I don’t really know where to start with this, there’s no clever preamble to this stuff, I just need to dive right in.

I have¬†skipped a lot of steps in training Murray in favor of funner/better/other things that I wanted or felt like I needed to do. ¬†After three years we still can’t reliably tack up while tied, let alone stands still for grooming and tacking up like most other non-feral eight year olds. ¬†We can’t use the cross ties, don’t stand for the vet, still freak out when people move things nearby (especially blankets), have knocked down at least two people on the way to turnout, break away from the trailer half the times we go out, and still can’t use cross ties. ¬†And that’s just things on¬†the ground that Murray can’t do. ¬†I would list¬†the things we can’t do/suck at while lunging, doing ground work, or under saddle except I just started¬†that and it was super embarrassing so I deleted them.


When I first started working with Murray I skipped things like really, properly working with him to tack up while standing still because I thought that with repeated exposure he would just… figure it out. ¬†Other horses do that, right? ¬†Later, I just wanted to get to¬†riding. ¬†I know how to work around his wiggling and get him tacked up so I can just¬†go and ride. ¬†I am very talented at¬†doing up all the buckles on his bridle while he’s wandering off, and tightening the girth while he circles me suspiciously. ¬†I know just how to lunge so he doesn’t stop and turn in on the circle.

After three years together, Murray and I know each other well enough that we can get some things done. ¬†But just because I can do it with him doesn’t mean that Murray “can do” that stuff. ¬†I can just trick, needle, or bribe him in to it, and it’s unreliable when most other people try.

But honestly, these are just the¬†glaring holes that I’ve left in Murray’s skill set/training. ¬†Even under saddle, and especially in dressage, I skipped a looooot of steps. ¬†Not always because I just wanted to get on to funner things, but I’m not going to pretend that wasn’t some of the reason. ¬†Trotting in circles working on connection, gaits, and relaxation is boring when the progress you make from day to day is miniscule, backward, and/or generally non-linear. ¬†It’s a lot more fun to have a stab at putting on leg yields and do it with varying levels of success and correctness and then move on to walk to canter because those are pony dancing moves, right!?! Right?


So I just… skipped to the fun stuff. ¬†A lot.

I think everyone does it. ¬†There are always times when you just want to get past the babyness or silliness or garbage or whatever and do something else. ¬†A lot of the time I suspect there is no lasting effect — someone is having an off or funky day and can’t figure out how to ground pole so you just skip it for a ride — and you get on with your lives. ¬†But in my case, I’ve ended up with a horse who dances around and¬†still panics while I’m tacking up, walks away while I’m ¬†bridling, can only be ridden and handled by a literal handful of people, and has a pretty reasonable number of days where we can hardly get anything done.

Murray has also learned a lot of things. ¬†I’m not trying to have a (full blown) pity party blame game¬†here. ¬†I¬†can actually get him tacked up, ride in all kinds of different arenas, jump all kinds of different things, and do some pretty solidly 5-6 scoring pony dancing moves. ¬†We can walk from the barn to the turnouts in the pitch black¬†or with a scaryscaryscary patch of light from a flash light wobbling in front of us. ¬†I can put his blanket on over his head or over his back. ¬†We¬†can really do leg yields and even some counter canter loops — sure, they need polish, but we can do some shit!

It’s time to really get the rest of that stuff done. ¬†Even if it means I don’t get to ride that day because I spend all my free time working on basic ground manners or getting Murray to stand properly for tacking up. ¬†No more short cuts. ¬†It’s time to train this pony right, from the bottom to the top.

I don’t have a fully conceived plan for everything I want to get done. ¬†A lot of it just involves making a point of doing stuff that Murray purposely doesn’t want to do – like walking with impulsion and connection. ¬†Even if it means we never trot that day. ¬†Even if it means Murray kicks out and flings his head around. ¬†We¬†must be able to do these things.

So no more short cuts. Even if it means I don’t get to ride that day. Even if it means I spend weeks on the ground. ¬†Even if it means having my feet trodden on and tears of desperation and frustration.

Making Murray a well rounded and well-broke horse is worth it.

he also tried to commit suicide in the crossties once
the last time Murray set foot in the x-ties was more than a year ago

2017 goals

I feel like Murray and I are situated to get some great work done this year. ¬†We are both more skilled and k knowledgeable than in years past, and I have a much better understanding of what I’m looking for and how I should try to get it. ¬†It helps that I finally understand¬†how-when-what to push and what I should leave alone — and how those things change from day to day.

I also hope to have more time and money this year — sure, it might be a pipe dream, but a girl has got to hope! ¬†With a little more of those two valuable resources at my disposal I should be able to get a bit more done this year!

riding-goalsSit the trot – how many years do I have¬†to put this f*&$!ing goal on my goals list before I properly make it happen?!! ¬†But for real, I don’t need to sit¬†all the trots. ¬†I just want to be able to sit the working trot and perform a first level trot sitting (not necessarily at a show).

Even out my hands – They are uneven. And I often open my fingers. Bad Nicole, bad.

Even out my weight in the stirrups – I am uneven. And my right stirrup leather is longer. Always.

Get myself and Murray fit – enough to run a Novice 3 day, even though we won’t do it until 2018 (at the very earliest).

Show rated – enough times to make my membership dues worth it. That’s three times at BN (I think) or once at Novice (no workaround for Novice level events), and I have no idea how many times for dressage memberships.

IMG_8478this was fun!

Go to at least two new venues – schooling or rated, it doesn’t matter. But Murray and I will never get better at showing and riding away from home if we don’t do it.

Go to at least one dressage-only show – rated or unrated. Get our dressage on!

Ride in two clinics – Riding with clinicians takes a little forethought, but I’d like to make it happen.

Develop the auto release – I fake it right now. It’s not pretty. Time to follow with the hands and use those elastic elbows.

Develop my seat – life goals = truly independent seat.

murray-goalsMurray gets his very own goals segment, because Murray.

My biggest goal this year with Murray is to stop taking short cuts.¬† There are a lot of things I’ve skipped over in Murray’s training in favor of funner/better/other things. ¬†“Things” like installing truly solid ground manners, in-hand work,¬†and some under-saddle basics. ¬†I have ignored, tolerated, and even enabled some downright bad behaviors in order to get to the thing(s) I want to do (the riding, and honestly probably the jumping). ¬†I will write more about this because it warrants its very own post, but this will be the focus of our year.

I do have some specific goals for him.

Tack up while tied¬†reliably – Murray and I have been getting a lot better at this, but we’re still not 100%. We need to be able to do this.

Full grooming in the cross ties РMurray hates, fears, and loathes the cross ties. Axtiesnything that startles or even worries him causes him to get squirrely, and the second he hits the end of the ties and feels them both on his face he spirals into a full-blown pony panic attack.  This has resulted in multiple cross-tie-breakings.  We must get over this.

Accept tacking up/handling/etc. by other people – There are currently two people who Murray will reliably behave for. Depending on the context he’ll do fine with other people but it’s far from reliable. ¬†See “truly solid ground manners”.

Behave while being ridden by other people –¬†Murray has been ridden by a handful of people since I took over his care, but rarely have they ever tried to get him to really¬†work. ¬†He’s basically goes into lesson pony mode when I throw someone else on him — or spiteful kicking monster when my trainer gets on him. ¬†See “under saddle basics”.

Confirm the first-level movements – Murray can¬†do the first level movements, but they aren’t show worthy. ¬†We want to show first, right? ¬†Time to get those movements scoring in the 7’s and up.

Grow Murray’s confidence – Last year was great for Murray’s confidence. We didn’t necessarily go out a ton to test this, but even at home his responses to hard questions have become more reasonable and less anxiety-driven. ¬†Confidence is key with this ¬†horse, I have to keep putting that first.

Improve symmetry¬†– Murray falls over his right shoulder pretty hard, and I’ve been correcting for it in both directions with my right hand. We should probably, instead, focus on strengthening his body symmetrically.

Get a saddle fitter out – I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. He’s worth it.

Put up my Murray wall – I have some Murray art and his shoes I want to mount.¬†I’ve been meaning to for a while, it’s kinda a personal-x-Murray project.

blog-goalsBlog more –¬†I blogged less than I wanted to last year thanks to Real Life getting in the way. ¬†I’d aim to write more and more regularly this year – at least 3x each week.

More ride recaps – I used to keep a pretty cut-and-dried ride journal for Murray, including a calendar of behavior/accomplishments. I no longer do this because I spend so much time writing here (and forgetfulness). ¬†Ride recaps¬†can be really valuable, so I’d like to get back to writing more of these.

Read more blogs –¬†Pretty simple. Find more blogs to read and enjoy!

Comment more – I love getting blog comments and feel that I don’t reciprocate equally. I should fix that.

Meet more bloggers РI had so much fun stalking Peony, dining with L and Megan, and lunching with a whole bunch of California bloggers in the last two years! More, more, I want to meet more!



I made this ribbon vector thinking I’d have a “competition goals” header, and then I didn’t. ¬†So I threw it in for personal goals instead, because obviously my major personal goal is to continue winning at life. ¬†(By the by, if anyone wants a swirly ribbon vector… you know where to find me). ¬†My personal goals might better be represented by a stack of money but… ribbons are kinda like money?

Improve fitness and strength – I let myself get really pillowy over Christmas, and riding minimally this year has not helped things. ¬†I want to make sure that my fitness is not impeding my ability to ride, or Murray’s ability to perform. ¬†Specific goals include…

Run 5k – Not an actual 5k race (I have no interest in that), but I want to be able to run 5k on a semi-regular basis without feeling like it’s the end of the world. ¬†I’m shooting for 4 total 5k runs this year.

ConqdBNjr3Z - Imguruer the¬†pull-up – maybe even a few?! ¬†I’ve never been able to do one, not even when I was in gymnastics as a child (and arguably the strongest in terms of mass that I have ever been).

Get a full time job – OMG maybe even career track?

Publish two chapters – Maybe even all three chapters?! I have to do some significant data re-analysis for two of the chapters (and then need to figure out how to frame the third chapter in all of its terrifying implications in a way that satisfies all authors, even the statisticians¬†sigh), but the framework is there and I don’t need to do¬†too¬†much more literature reviewing to make it happen I think…

Properly pursue my side project(s) – I’m working with a primate nonprofit right now and really want to establish myself as¬†a valued member of that organization. I’m exploring partnerships with community development orgs as well, which is something I’m very interested in. I don’t exactly know what I’m doing but I’m diving in head first.

Contribute to my Roth IRA – Retirement. Savings. Life. I need to think about it.

setting up for success

One of my goals for 2017 (though you don’t know it yet as I haven’t pushed the goals post) is to write more ride recaps. ¬†They are really helpful, and since I don’t jot things down in my ride journal consistently any more, it’s good to have information preserved here.

When I got back from Thanksgiving last year I launched right into riding and Murray was Not Into It. ¬†I stuck it out because I didn’t want to get off and lunge him simply for the sake of lunging and letting him “win”, but… better choices have been made. ¬†Another¬†of my general goals (for this year and forever) is to set both Murray and I up for more successes (success = confidence = more success = more confidence = NOTHING BUT A CIRCLE OF AWESOME). ¬†So after 17 days off and very limited turnout, I threw Murray on the lunge line to start off our ride.

lunge02pony looks strangely huge in this image

Murray is typically less¬†reactive to the long girth (setting up for success!), so I put on his jump saddle and brought the lunging equipment out to the arena. ¬†I haven’t lunged Murray without some kind of dressagery-contraption on him (side reins, chambon, etc.) and boy does he look funny with his head all poking up in the air. ¬†After his mini vacation Murray had the steering and go button of a lesson pony — it was adorable. ¬†He got a couple of wiggles out, shook his head a few times, tried to pretend that he didn’t know what to do when poles SUDDENLY APPEARED in front of him, and then we got to work. ¬†He struggled a little to hold the canter going right, which was odd, but I figured that he’s allowed to be a little stiff after so much time in his stall.

After getting on I tried to stick to my principles of making things go right from the beginning, asked Murray to soften into the bridle and keep marching forward (weirdly, he was capable of this), and then move into the trot with minimal fuss. ¬†Since I was in the jump saddle I practiced a little two point, but felt weirdly slippery and insecure in the tack. ¬†I guess that’s what I get for not riding for two weeks? ¬†I let him stretch out at the canter and blessedly (thank you, pony gods) he did not buck or kick me out of the tack.

lunge01I’m feeling sooooooo reasonable tonight!

Murray got a little tense in the corners of the arena that had stuff in them, but he did pretty well when I pushed him off my inside leg to ask for more bend and more give. ¬†He was falling over his right shoulder also, but that’s nothing new. ¬†I focused on twisting my body along with his bend to help control his right shoulder, and while it wasn’t perfect, it helped. ¬†Cantering right he kept breaking into the trot when I asked him to sit ¬†a little more on his hocks, so I didn’t ask too much.

We were sharing the arena with one baby horse, who was being pretty good but had one minor meltdown when she kicked a clod of dirt against the wall. ¬†Murray scooted and shuffled after the baby’s freakout, but got his ish back together really well. ¬†I did one spiral in-out in each direction trying really, really hard and failing to keep Murray straight while we did it. ¬†I just want the neck bend, let me have the neck bend! PLEASE. ¬†I am an inside rein addict. ¬†Ah well – just another thing to work on!

Since it was already 37 when I got back to the barn, I put Murray’s medium weight purple blanket on. ¬†Okay, that’s a lie. ¬†I put it on to admire the purpleness. ¬†It looks kinda weird but I think it was the right choice (also, hopefully it will not rub his shoulders, but looking at the picture I think it will rub his hips goddamnit).


dissertation vacation

I told my friends and colleagues that I was taking my Dissertation Vacation over Christmas and they shouldn’t expect to hear from me until I returned from Oregon in the new year. ¬†Everyone seemed to understand immediately and agree it was¬†a good idea (and a few even said they took a few months on theirs, though others didn’t take a break at all).

Jumping forward in time (we will go back shortly), my secret Santa gift was awaiting me when I got home on Wednesday evening!  Micaylah sent a package with a big toy for Jelly, a darling set of studs and matching necklace for me, and cookies for Murray.  Murray will get his cookies when I go to the barn on Thursday, but Ellie got her present immediately.  Because she deserves it.


She loved it, obviously. ¬†And¬†I love it and so do my roommates, because it has a¬†quiet squeaker!!!! Ellie will go to town on squeaky toys for hours and hours minutes on end (we have never let her go as long as she wants). ¬†Most squeakers are loud and obnoxious and this one is pretty quiet – but still entertaining enough that Ellie wants it.¬†The newspaper also does not have stuffing (major requirement of my boyfriend’s as he doesn’t find cleaning clouds of fluff up from the floor very appealing), and I can already tell it will last. ¬†Micaylah wins for puppy toys! ¬†And the way to my heart is 100% by treating Ellie (but not too much, because then it’s like you’re trying to steal her love from me, and that is unacceptable).


So, back to vacation.  I went with my boyfriend to see his family in Oregon where we ate a lot of food, drank a lot of beer, I played a lot of pokemon, and packed on the pounds.  Like a lot of pounds.

I spent most¬†of my time sitting in front of fireplaces and heaters, only opened my laptop a few times, and read a lot. ¬†I got most of the way through one book (Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson, only giving it like a 6/10), and finished another (Taming the Truffle, Ian Hall, 9/10 if you’re interested in growing Truffles). ¬†We went snowmobiling and the snow was PERFECT for playing in — soft and fluffy and not too deep. ¬†About a foot of dry powder, but not so dry that you just fell through. ¬†Boyfriend and his step brother (a fair bit younger) had a great time throwing me around in it, I did not object, and managed to dump them a few times myself.


It was seriously lovely to be able to relax and not worry about not working on my thesis for fifteen days.  I still have to re-analyze data and prepare for publication, but at least the first big deadline is behind me!


We also spent a few days in Portland hanging out with my friends from graduate school. ¬†Almost everyone from my lab has ended up in Portland in the last three years — so perhaps I was just looking into my future?! ¬†Food was central to our Porland detour. ¬†We made a crown roast of lamb for NYE, a crispy roast pork shoulder the next night, and fried chicken for our last night in Portland. ¬†I failed to go to the zoo (oops), but did spend lots of time

wp-1483593271096.jpgFried chicken – gluten free on the left, regular flour on the right. I 100% recommend Bob’s Red Mill GF mix for fried chicken — it was so crispy and delicious! The difference in color is a little unfortunate, the brown rice flour just doesn’t golden up as well as AP wheat flour. ¬†I will probably do a 50/50 mix with regular flour for added crunch for my own fried chicken in the future.

img_20170102_145051Lompoc brewing.  If you look carefully, you can see standing rings in the surface of the dark beer (LSD РLompoc Special Draft), because our table vibrated the entire time we were there. This bemused us mightily until I realized that the family on the other side of the booth had a portable compressor of some kind.

I did not get to meet up with Megan (boo, sadness), as we couldn’t quite get our schedules to sync up. ¬†Portland was just too big and interesting for both of us! ¬†However, based on past experience, I rate Megan 10/10, will hang out again.


Now that I’m all rested and rejuvenated I’m ready to attack 2017!