crazy ex-racehorse

Murray has been a pendulum under saddle this week — swinging between successfully executing some quality flat work and successfully pissing me the fuck off.  There are a few extenuating circumstances that have prevented me from throttling him:

  1. It’s windy AF in Davis right now, and everybody knows that wind makes horses the most happy and reasonable creatures ever
  2. I did just take a ten day vacation and he was locked in the entire time
  3. His timing is great. Every time he starts to be so horrendous I am about to stab him, he turns on the normal

i’m the santa ana winds, i make things weird
from crazy ex girlfriend, which is hilarious and you should watch it

On Tuesday my saddle fitter happened to be at the barn, and she reflocked my new dressage saddle for me and tried to help me find the source of the squeaking I’ve been hearing when I post.  Murray was his usual sticky self, but when the saddle went back on after the reflock he went into full on “can’t even” mode.  He couldn’t he couldn’t walk forward, he couldn’t trot, he couldn’t turn to the right, and he most CERTAINLY couldn’t do any of those things without a raging ewe-neck.

Robyn was actually worried that she’d messed up the flocking, since Murray hadn’t shown any behaviors near this awful during our initial appointments. “Oh no,” I told her, “This is very normal for us.”  Eventually Murray got it together and dressaged a little, after which Robyn commented that he actually looked quite good and much happier than in the other saddles I had tried.  She suggested I sit the trot a little to see if the squeaking got better or worse when I did that, and it got a bit better.  But more importantly, I COULD SIT THE TROT.  Even more importantly, Murray didn’t immediately tense and resist the motion! MY SADDLE FITTER IS A MIRACLE WORKER.

On Wednesday I wanted to do a little conditioning and get both Murray and I used to the impending pain that I am sure XC and stadium at Twin will bring.  But as per the new rules, I wasn’t willing to accept any shitty inverted walk work or walk-trot transitions.  So we walked for a long time.  I am trying really, really hard not to be offensive while I insist on something more approaching, but it’s hard when Murray wants to do anything other than let his head drop down into the contact and relax.  Finally we were ready to trot, and then Murray just tuned out my leg.

I tried a couple of the thins that have worked for us recently — a little more leg, softer hands — and eventually got a really ugly, inverted, neck-dependent transition.  We trotted forward a little, and then I asked him to come back to the walk so we could try again.  But every time I added leg to get him to move forward, Murray sucked back a little more until we were practically at a stand still.  I even abandoned all contact in favor of just getting a forward response to the leg and still nothing.  Out came the pony club kick, and in response Murray leaped up in front, bucked behind, and screamed at me.

Crazy Ex-GIFs car i dont care crazy ex-girlfriend crazy ex girlfriend GIFstill crazy ex girlfriend

There was a fair bit more ridiculous screaming and kicking as I asked for a trot and then canter transition, but I did not accept no for an answer, and forward he went.  We had a few canter circles of stupidity, then came back to a walk.  Murray was actually reasonably forward and moving into the contact, if not totally relaxed, and this time instead of asking him for anything with my leg, I firmly told him “TROT” as I do when lunging.

And what would you know.  Totally normal, very reasonable, drama-free, and correct-ish trot transition.

For the rest of the ride I tried to stay really still through my body, add just a whisper of leg, think “trot” with my seat, and then say “TROT” firmly for the transition.  It worked nearly every time, with just a little bobble when we changed direction.  Even better, the trot work after the transitions was forward, and when Murray got too heavy on the forehand he actually balanced himself up a little.  The same went for the canter transitions, and while the trot after the canter was totally a hot, rushy mess, I got a really reasonable response to the half halt when I applied it.

Crazy Ex-GIFs season 1 discussion theme argument GIFmurray’s feels

Every time Murray heard another rider cantering behind us though he had a mini-meltdown, so I left the arena after I was satisfied with the trot work since we were clearly working through more than just a bad attitude.

On Thursday, I walked into Murray’s stall and he promptly departed into his paddock and stayed there looking away from me.  Even when I rattled his bucket.  So I took the hint and turned him out instead of trying to ride.  It was the right choice, kid needed a mental health day.  Murray played and played on his own and only nearly kicked my head off once, and then played and played some more when we brought his buddy Logan in.

Twin approaches, and we’re not where I’d hoped in terms of schooling and fitness.  I actually feel awful about the fitness part of it, but I hope I can baby Murray through the weekend and he’ll come out on the other side somewhat unscathed.  In terms of preparedness, well, I have a new strategy I’m trying in terms of that, which you will hear about later.

hot mess

In the last six months I feel like there have been an absurd number of “and then I rode Murray for the first time in ten days” moments.  Good news for me is that he’s actually getting better despite all of these breaks, and we continue our slow climb up the mountain of dressage, training, and more generally: life.

So here we are again.  Another first ride after ten days away, although at least this time Murray managed to get out for a few rides with our barn manager’s kid.  Unfortunately, Davis also got buckets of weird and aseasonal weather with thunderstorms and a hurricane warning (an actual hurricane warning!), and aforementioned kid made the same decision as I have many times this season and chose not to ride any time the rain and wind got louder than her phone.  Murray appreciated it, and I totally understand.

remember when I did this in january and thought it was a good idea?
NEVER AGAIN

Murray was a ball of filth when I got to him.  Earlier my barn manager had sent me a video of him poking his tail through the bars of his stall and scratching his dock and butt crack on there, so the boy must have had an absolutely wild itch.  In fact, the whole of his body was probably one big itch because he has bug bites seemingly all over, and several scrapes from where he’s clearly tried to scratch too vigorously.  This amounted to a nice, fist-sized edema/bite on his belly, and a raw and slightly bloody patch on his sheath.  Yes, his sheath.  Pony somehow scratched himself so hard he bloodied his own dongle.

I curried him ferociously, channeling a bit of L and my former self in terms of grooming habits, and was very happy to see his hair coming out in brush-fuls.  Even the hair I clipped is also coming out, and with a fair bit of skin gunk and dust I also managed to dislodge a lot of that short hair.  There is a summer coat coming in underneath, it’s just not terribly long or strong just yet.  While currying I found all kinds of lumps and bumps on him associated with bug bites, nicking himself in turnout, or just general stupidity I think?  He had a big scrape across the point of his hip where the hair is now gone, and through his front legs and in his armpits he’s got dandruff like woah.  For a moment I even thought that the kid had given him spur rubs because the hair at Murray’s girth area is falling out in tufts, but I think it’s just a yucky humidity-associated skin bug.  I’m going to try to bathe him in tea-tree oil shampoo this week to see if that will help, but if nothing else the drop in humidity should dry out the skin gunk.

I miss shiny summer ponies

Murray’s feet were also a touch thrushy, for the second time I’ve ever seen in four years. I scraped them out and put some Sore No More “The Sauce” in them after my ride, and expect it won’t go any further than that.  And in doing so I found a whole host of little nicks and cuts on his lower legs from … whatever it is he’s been doing.

Then we lunged. And Murray was like “did you not hear? I don’t canter any more.”  He’d shake his head around and flail and tranter a bit and then fall back into the trot.  He cantered once when he spooked but not for more than half a circle.

The horse was the definition of a hot mess.  I could do nothing but roll my eyes at him.

He was surprisingly reasonable under saddle.  There were a few pony club kicks when he didn’t feel like trotting at first.  And I had to get a little rude when he thought that sticking his neck to the right and twisting his head left was a good way to trick me into thinking he was moving into the contact.  I felt really centered and quiet through my lower body, and Murray eventually gave up his charade, so I kept it short and sweet.

can we have summer again PLEASE?!

island time

I went to Hawai’i for a week.  I intended to post but then I didn’t write anything in advance, and I thought I’d write while I was there, but that didn’t happen either.  Shocking.

the milky way, several shooting stars, and a little moon aurora from partway up mauna kea
the little red glow in the bottom is the lava pool at kilauea

We went to the actual island of Hawai’i.  It was beautiful, in an unfamiliar kind of way.  The whole island is lava flows from several rather large volcanoes (as are all the Hawaiian islands), and it’s very strange to see the jutting, rocking A’a lava flows across the island.  They look like someone did a terrible job of discing a field, but of course, you can’t really disc lava.

I wish we’d had time to go to the Hawai’i botanical gardens — I’m such a plant nerd.  The plant life in Hawai’i was already amazing, so it would have been extra neat to see it all collected in one spot.  Next time.

lava tube coming out of the kilauea eruption

What we did get, before we even left, was a rather alarming wake-up call.  We stayed overnight at my in laws’ place (it was a family vacation so we were all driving to the airport together), with luscious plans to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and drive to the airport for our 7:20 flight.  At 3:15 in the morning, MIL knocked on our door and I bolted upright in bed, afraid we’d missed the wakeup call.

“You don’t need to get up right now,” she said, “but the toilet’s been overflowing for hours and the hallway is full of water. Your carpet will probably be wet.”

there are thousands of feet of waterfalls in the more heavily-forested regions of Hawai’i
this one was in a valley over from the Waipio valley

I mean, there’s no response to that really.

The house is on septic, being out in the boondoggles, and the leachfield on the side of the house where our bedroom is situated has been struggling this winter. The heavy rain and waterlogged ground just don’t drain the water from the toilet and shower away the way it should.  It was actually two plumbing problems at once that caused the issue.  Someone used the bathroom late at night and didn’t notice that the bowl was filling.  Normally this would never crest the bowl of the toilet, but the tank also malfunctioned and kept running. And running. And running.

Boyfriend’s sister got up in the middle of the night to pee and thought, at first, that she’d stepped in puppy pee.  But when she put her second foot down on the carpet she knew it was no pee spot.  When she opened the door to the hallway, an inch of standing water greeted her.

We spent from 3:15 to 4:20 mopping the hallway and drying off anything that we needed for the trip.  We still made it to the airport, and fortunately there’s nothing left of the incident but a vaguely mildewy smell that should go away soon.

Nothing like country life, amirite?

#sunrise on the peak of Mauna Kea

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Eventing Bingo

Emma is winning at getting me to post twice in one day, but MAN is this Eventing Bingo challenge one and a freaking half.  I mean, damn!  My cards are not smiling upon me for likelihood.  But since my bingo entry is allowed to be a work of fiction…

It was a bad day — awful day, really.  Just the worst day that anyone has ever had happen to them!  And nobody knows more about bad days than me.  First of all we were competing in heavy rain — an absolute deluge of rain.  I haven’t seen rain like this in my entire life.  There was so much rain everywhere, it probably broke the drought in California.

We went in to dressage and the judge — good guy, really. A great friend, just a real quality human being — gave me straight 6s across the board.  Of course, this was enough to land us a score of 0%!  Not that it was to anyone’s surprise, of course.  Nobody knows more about dressage than me.

This amazing score was enough to land us in first place after dressage.  In a huge class!  There were hundreds of people there!  Our show was going so well, right up until cross country.  We got lost in the woods on course, and it took a whole search and rescue team to find us again.  No joke!  They were looking for us for weeks in there.  Murray and I survived by foraging for nuts and berries, and eating a lot of grass and shrubbery.  I never knew that humans could survive on shrubbery, but we can, and we did.

When we finally got back out of the woods, another show had conveniently started and we were just in time for the stadium rounds! The show officials decided that they would let me run stadium in this division since I never got to complete at the previous show, due to being lost in the woods for several weeks. I was feeling great, as good as you can after being lost in the woods for a few weeks.  Murray, likewise, was full of sass.  He was the sassiest he’s ever been!  He was so sassy that I fell off in warm up.

Despite that, we went on to win our class.  Because that’s what winners do.  And we’re winners.

 

Viva Carlos Blog Hop: Naivete

When L first posted this blog hop about funny things we believed when we were less educated riders, I was like “ha! good thing I’ve had such a thorough and correct riding education in my adulthood.”

I know.  I make even myself laugh.

Despite many attempts to teach her otherwise, past Nicole straight up did not understand pushing a horse into the bridle.  She definitely thought pulling was a thing there.  And even after she knew it was about pushing the horse forward, her ability to execute such a thin was really astonishingly limited.

A big mistake of past Nicole’s was believing that just because you could do a movement on a horse you should do it to school it.  Thus, poor past Nicole’s past horses have schooled a lot of really atrocious leg yield, shoulder in, and haunches in.  Past Nicole also may have believed that if you could do something smoothly it was obviously good (like, the transition between going straight + leg yield was smooth and we slid over to the wall no prob? awesome, first level movement), and show ready.  Past Nicole was broken of that one REAL fast.

Past Nicole also legitimately believed that you could get any horse fat on just hay.  Like, not just that hay should be the staple of the diet, but that the first thing you should do to a horse who wasn’t gaining weight appropriately was shove more/better/different/other hay in front of them until they decided to stop being borderline anorexic and cave to your ridiculous human behavior.  Present Nicole understands that horses are mysterious and complex individuals who may not like eating hay and may just need grain to keep their dumb asses alive.

A lot of past Nicole’s naiivete was around riding myths/herself.  Things like

  • if I could ride a difficult horse, I would be a good rider
  • if I could sit a buck, I would be a good rider
  • if I could ride this particular difficult horse, I would be a good rider

Of course, now I know that none of the above are indicators of anything other than being able to ride one or a few difficult horses.  And it turns out that just riding the difficult horse isn’t all that difficult.  It’s coaxing an excellent performance out of them, or even just the relaxation and suppleness needed for a good performance that’s the challenge.  But none of those instantly make you, or indicate that you are, a good rider.


correlation =/= causation or even really an actual effect (apha errors are real yo)

Past Nicole also believed that since Murray was athletic and could jump real big, if she could just get him strong and fit he would be totally confident and competent over big fences.  While confidence is certainly intrinsically tied up in ability, it’s hardly the be-all-and-end-all.  I now know that there is soooo much more that goes in to confidence than strength and ability — including rider confidence.

Additionally, past Nicole also used to believe that if Murray were confident over big fences, she would magically be confident over big fences.  Sorry, kiddo!  It doesn’t work that way.  Especially not with a horse who is really, really, really tuned in to finding anything potentially scary about a situation and RUNNING THE FUCK AWAY from it.  Confidence has to go Nicole first, then Murray, then positive reinforcement loop & trust bank that leads to more confidence.

murray is so good for carting me over stuff like this even when
i promise to ride terribly over it!

I learn so much about horses and riding every day that I look back on myself just a few months ago and think “WTF was I doing/thinking/saying” and then immediately “omg what must people think of me?!?!”  Past Nicole is always screwing over Present and Future Nicole(s) in that way. She’s such a bitch.

 

twin schooling part 2

Among the challenges of schooling cross country for the first time in a year is remembering how to ride cross country.  On Sunday we waited until the kids were pretty much done with their XC rides before getting Murray tacked up and ready to go.  Since he did so well on Saturday, I wanted to just school him over everything once and Aftermake it a bit more “run” like — stringing together six or seven fences in a go — so that we could get the feel for running and jumping in sequence back.


down banks are really not my strong suit

Murray was definitely feeling the work from Saturday, and wasn’t quite as peppy or forward as he had been earlier in the weekend.  But that was an important aspect of the ride to me.  I need to be able to ride Murray when he is tired and punky and not his fresh XC schooling self as much as I need to be able to ride the supercharger forward pony.  Fortunately, despite being a little tired he was still right there with me.  When he got a little sticky to the base of a few warm up fences I just kept my leg on and he went right over them – no problem.

We cruised over the first few fences in the course, a coop and a turkey feeder, then I took a wrong turn and headed over to the intro course for a little house and hanging log.  I backtracked when I saw the real hanging log we were supposed to jump, and went back for that one and another go at the half-coffin.  This was where I made my first real mistake.  I assumed that since Murray had seen and jumped everything the day before with such professionalism that he would be okay right off the bat with them on Sunday.  Not so — he still needed a hard second look at the ditches, so he stopped at the jump element of the half-coffin as he peered down into the ditches below.

Half coffin with the silly 🏇. My fave part of all the videos is @_ac_eventing_ cheering us on! #notoriousottb

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After we schooled back and forth over the ditch we headed back up to the top of the half coffin and it wasn’t a problem.  Then it was up the hill to the upper plateau and some of the benches that Murray literally flew over on Saturday.  I skipped the water since there were a bunch of people schooling there and headed over to the down banks.  After our stop at the coffin I decided that I was going to give Murray a good chance to look at everything technical if he showed any hesitation — I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after so many months without seeing this stuff!  So we trotted over to the down bank and let him look at it.  He walked a couple of strides then went down without a problem, so we schooled up and down the bank again just to solidify it in his mind.

This video is from his first look at the bank on Saturday.  What I love so much about it is how he’s thinking.  There’s a little bit of “can I get away with not doing this?” but once he understands the question and it’s clear what I want, he’s just like “oh okay, down we go!”

thinking pony from Nicole Sharpe on Vimeo.

After the down banks we came around to the wine barrel table again, which I pulled Murray to a stop in front of so he could look at it again.  I didn’t want to fuss with him getting spooked by it again, and wanted him to really have the opportunity to stare the fence down.  It might be just me, but it seemed like most of the questions we had problems with were painted black — not something we see a lot of at our barn.

The last few fences were little roll tops before and after the water, a jump on a small mound (giving you just a little something to gallop up and down), and some straightforward tables toward the finish.  Murray finished strong even though he was soooo tired, and lifted his head up to look at the next fence when I made it clear there was still work to be done.

murray: I am not touching that weird black wood

I can tell that we have some fitness work to do before we will be ready for the event, but we have a few weeks for that!  (More running for me, more trot sets for pony.)  And it feels absolutely awesome to know that Murray is ready to go out and jump our BN fences and then some.  I just need to get my show nerves under control and learn how to give him a supportive and forward ride, especially if he is tired. (Hahaha, “just”!)

back in the game

We left to school Twin Rivers on Friday at noon, though not without significant disorganization on my part. I packed everything that seemed to be absolutely essential — the horse, a saddle, girth, bridle, tall boots, and helmet — and then kinda threw anything that seemed like I might need it in my car and stopped at Target on the way.  It worked (ish): I ended up with three hind boots and only one front boot, and only three standing wraps, but me, my horse, and all of the other essentials got there just fine!

The ponies had about ten minutes to settle in after we arrived before we got on for a dusk hack.  My goal for the weekend was to see how feasible it would be for Murray and I to show at Twin in April (a mere four weeks away!!!), i.e. show him the fences, see if he remembers anything about cross country, etc.  But I also wanted to use my newfound skills of expecting professionalism and telling him firmly exactly what I expected of him (with frequent rewards).  (Murray is also modeling his fabulous new rainbow rope halter from Sundance halters, which I am IN LOVE WITH, and I love my rainbow neck strap EVEN MORE.)

At a new venue Murray is often, predictably, looky, spooky, and bucky under saddle.  He was all three of these things during our ride, but the amount of looking, spooking, and general silliness I got was SO much less than I have experienced in the past.  He was awful to tack up because I was in a rush, but once I got on I just asked him to keep walking forward.  In the schooling arena I brought him back to a walk from a jig, or a trot, and when we did pick up the trot I immediately asked him to pick up some semblance of contact as well.  And what do you know – it worked.  He stopped looking for things to look at, and got down to business.  There was a little bit of bucking and swapping in the canter, but I got up off his back and let him have a little canter around, and then asked him to get back to business, and there he was again – right there with me.

It was super.

 I find hanging logs really weirdly intimidating, despite my attempts
to adore trakehners. Murray don’t care.

On Saturday morning I watched the kids at a couple of their young rider lessons, then got tacked up for my cross country schooling with B.  We decided that we would try for a longer, more educational school on Saturday with a short, review + XC-run-simulation on Sunday, provided that Murray’s brain could handle it.  Murray came out ready to JUMP.  It was like we haven’t taken a year off from XC and competition, and he was attacking the warm up fences.  The course is in the middle of some fairly big changes right now, so I jumped a few sizes of each element. I wanted to school mostly beginner novice fences, with an eye to a possible move up in the Fall.  But we will be showing BN until I can get my show nerves under control and give Murray the supportive ride that he needs to be successful.  Schooling bigger definitely helps me feel more confident, but I wanted to make sure that I gave Murray (and myself) the chance to look at everything we might see on a course.

Murray was SUPER forward to the fences, literally pulling me to most of them.  All I had to do was keep my leg on and get out of his way.  Of course, that meant I kept getting left behind because I’ve been riding somewhat defensively for the last year, and I’m pretty weak and rusty.  I’m not used to riding this forward jumping horse, and I also didn’t want to let myself get sucked back into the old mistake of assuming fast = confident.  I checked Murray a little too much to a fair number of fences, but he persisted despite my bumbling in those cases, and every re-approach got better!

We did have a handful of stops at technical questions that we haven’t seen since our last XC outing.  The ditches and down banks all posed a big problem for us at first, and I had to walk Murray up to them and back and forth in front of them before he was willing to go.  Once he remembered what ditches and down banks were, he was fine, but it took a few tries.  At a second set of ditches on course he slowed and I let him come down to a halt, but after a second of looking he pulled us right over them!

We schooled a brush roll thing that I thought was Novice, and Murray stopped at it when we came up to it the first time.  I think we both realized that it wasn’t a Novice fence at that point, but it wasn’t terribly oversized.  The thing that had me worried was the terrain — immediately after the landing to the fence was a steep but short downhill, and jumping into a downhill landing is something that we can always do to practice more.  I think Murray wasn’t sure of the fence itself — he’s never seen a brush roll before.  We came back to it with a little more determination and he cleared it easily, landing off the edge of the landing pad and partway down the hill with no problem.

I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t super pleased we so easily schooled a Training level fence.  Even though it wasn’t our goal when we came out, it’s a nice little feather in our cap to know we can do it.

Of course, there is a whole list of new mistakes I’m making that I need to work on now!  The classic problem is strength and my position — I still need to sit up a little straighter and get used to these long, two-point canters.  I will need to study a little more video of riders with a similar body shape to mine to see how they hold their bodies on cross country.  I also need to practice following and staying with Murray more over fences.  The defensive position works for us in stadium because he so often gets behind my leg and super deep to the jumps.  But out on XC he was leaving strides out (read: using an appropriate take off point for any other horse), and jumping me right out of the tack.  And for the first time ever, I kept pulling my reins too short, and noticed that my elbows were locking.  So I will have to get a new set of reins (mine have an inconvenient tear in the rubber grip), and work on those elastic elbows.

We schooled Sunday too and he was just as faboo!