relax (don’t do it)

Murray got a whole week off after Twin, due in equal parts to the fact that he had been the best pony ever, and also because that whole 40 hour a week job can be a real bitch. ¬†Predictably, I stalked the Ride On website until my videos were uploaded and have watched them all many times (okay, at least several). ¬†There are many interesting parts of the videos, but one of the most interesting is how stiff and tight Murray’s hind end looks in our dressage test.¬†The footing at Twin is¬†nice, and on Friday Murray had lunged really well, and was moving better than he does at home.¬†Even when I lunge him at home, he moves better than he did in that test.

My MIL also commented that the test was lovely, and with more relaxation we’d be able to get rid of the bucking through the transitions. ¬†I agree. ¬†I could feel Murray getting tense and tenser and tenser through the test, so by the time we got to that right canter transition I knew that no matter how subtle my cue, I’d be getting some kind of kick out. ¬†What I really want to be able to do is take the tension that builds in Murray’s back and squeeze it out through the bridle throughout the test, instead of letting it build and build and build until it escapes through his butt.

look at all those blogs in my tabs!

Murray’s stiff-legged movement at Twin also suggests tension to me. ¬†And something that I’ve been working on for some time to get resolved. ¬†There seem to be two ways to get him to really unlock his hind end. ¬†I can do it with lateral work, or I can try to get him moving really straight and forward and sitting on his hocks. ¬†The first method is easier, but tends to end up with a bit of a noodle-horse for the rest of my ride. ¬†The second method is harder — a lot harder — and sometimes means days of fighting before we get to compliance.

tiny steps + head down >> tiny steps + head in the air

Both are essential to our continued development in dressage, so I’ll be playing around with the two techniques over the next few weeks as we gear up for and think about Camelot. ¬†What I would really like is to be able to add a little more pressure at Camelot than I did at Twin and go for a bit more of a forward-thinking test. ¬†I’d also like to see more steadiness in the bridle. ¬†For this, it seems like we just need more practice and consistency. ¬†I have to make sure that I’m sticking to my guns and not letting Murray draw me into tugging or giving too much rein. ¬†I suspect that more forwardness will help with the steadiness too.

I’m also considering a bit change. ¬†Right now, Murray uses a loose ring French link with a flat bit in the middle. ¬†It’s pretty thin and light, but the link is jiggly and I bet there’s some play in his mouth. ¬†My trainer suggested the Stubben EZ Control again — I tried previously¬†and didn’t see enough magical, mystical improvement to shell out $70 for a new bit. ¬†But now that we’re a bit more developed and capable, perhaps something gets really stable¬†when Murray moves¬†into the contact will encourage a bit more steadiness on both of our parts.

moving properly a la JM (can I please have this horse at the show PLEASE)

That’s what I’m thinking about for the next few weeks.¬† Unfortunately, they’ll be somewhat inconsistent weeks as we have the WSS one day coming up, which is sure to take up at least a week of my time. ¬†And Murray started the prep for Camelot well by encouraging his new pasture mates to bite him like crazy in turnout this weekend, and was muscle sore again on Monday. ¬†So we’re back on the “if at first 1g of bute does not succeed” program.

I’m not totally sure how I can diminish tension in Murray by adding something he typically hates (leg), but that’s what dressage trainers are for. ¬†Good thing Tina is coming on Wednesday! ¬†But I’d love any thoughts you have about transforming tension into transcendentalism* in the show ring (Austen? Megan? Jenn? ANY HELP LADIES?) — even the baby steps of just starting to get there, which I know is where we’re at right now.

* Word chosen for alliteration and not meaning or accuracy.

video from twin

I splurged and bought RideOn Videos at Twin, and it was not a waste! ¬†I can’t embed them, but you can find them on the RideOn website.

Dressage (watch out for Murray’s buck right at C!)

Cross Country (I look like a drunk monkey in this video, but since it represents a significant portion of the first 30 minutes I ever spent in that saddle, I’ll take it — plus, Murray was such a star)

Stadium (sometimes, you’ve just got to double check every fence on course to ensure there are no crocodiles or spare mongooses beneath them)


twin recap: enough

Look at where you are,
look at where you started.
The fact that you’re alive is a miracle,
Just stay alive, that would be enough.

– Non-Stop, Hamilton

¬†I told you this entire week would be about Twin. ¬†I needed to get it all down for myself, so I¬†can remember everything. ¬†There are a few more things to wrap up, a little more retrospective, and a little less gloat-worthy. ¬†Though there will still be a bit of gloating — one can’t help oneself after such a weekend.

victory can-NOPE

Between cross country and stadium Murray dug up his entire stall, added a small water complex, and took full advantage of the terrain. ¬†I tried to flatten it out when I checked and walked him on Friday night, but dirt that your horse has dug up and then peed on is HARD to move with a pitch fork. ¬†And he completely dug it up again the next morning so… I gave up.

After stadium Murray was practically throwing himself on the ground, and I knew he’d been struggling with the fact that he’d been essentially unable to roll all “weekend”. ¬†I quickly untacked him and in lieu of a rinse took him down to the lunging arena for a little roll in the soft sand there. ¬†Murray was more than happy to comply, and somehow on his first roll managed to unlatch his halter and stood up happy as a clam… and totally loose. ¬†Fortunately he was also too tired to go running off, and the other girl in the arena thought it was funny rather than annoying. ¬†He had six or seven more good wallows in the sand before I put him back in his stall, which he flattened out over the course of the next day until it was hardly possible to see that he’d completely re-engineered the day before.

The tubigrip solution worked splendidly to ice Murray’s legs. ¬†I cut a¬†length of tubigrip twice that (and a bit) of Murray’s front canons and pulled it on over his shoes, folded over, with the fold at the bottom. ¬†It was very easy to stuff ice cubes in the pocket that created, and then move the ice around with my hands to give coverage where I wanted it. ¬†Since Murray’s extensor tendon swells on front of his left canon, I wanted ice over the front and back of his legs, so this was nice. I wrapped the ice pocket up tightly with a polo wrap, which helped keep the ice up as well as added some cold pressure to the whole shebang. ¬†After that they stayed up nicely for 30 minutes, and I had a cold, wet piece of tubigrip to use over the poultice when I was done to boot!

The most wonderful thing about this entire weekend was feeling all of our hard work and training pay off. ¬†We have both worked hard — Murray to improve me as a rider, me to teach him some fraction of what he ought to know. ¬†And it has been a road full of terrain, water traps, and even a few U-turns and misdirections. ¬†There are so many times when I wished I could have bought a horse who was braver, more reasonable, more compliant, a better mover, smarter¬†— I didn’t want any of those things this weekend.

I bailed on our partnership ways only a human could, and Murray stepped up to fill the gap in the only way his pony self could.  He went forward when he needed to, woahed when I asked, and let me know in no uncertain terms that he had got this.

murray and I feel rather different about the ribbon ceremony

It feels¬†so good to come through every phase of an event filled with pride at what we lay down, even if it wasn’t my vision of a perfect or winning dressage test, even if we didn’t perform as well as we can at home. ¬†There wasn’t a single time this show when I wished I’d made better choices for my horse — though there were obviously¬†several moments when I wished I’d made better choices for me!

Twin showed how far I have come as a rider and horsewoman too. ¬†I didn’t expect Murray to make up for my deficiencies (though he did it anyway), and I didn’t try to bully him through to something that neither of us was entirely sure of. ¬†I¬†knew I’d biffed it getting ready for cross country, so I didn’t try to fight him over the fences, and¬†I was ready to withdraw if he needed it. ¬†But he didn’t, and I’m so, so grateful.

We have truly, finally, built a successful partnership.

this is the cutest we have ever looked

twin recap: blow us all away

Duel before the sun is in the sky.
Pick a place to die where it’s high and dry.
Leave a note for your next of kin,
tell ’em where you been, pray that
hell or heaven lets you in.

– Ten Duel Commandments; Hamilton

i love how Murray treats the landing of fences as if they’re way bigger than they are

Saturday dawned and I was determined to be ready to go with¬†much more time than the day before. ¬†Since I knew what saddle and girth I would be using, and all my fancy butler clothes were carefully packed up in my garment bag already, I knew I was in pretty good shape on that front. ¬†Murray had dug several huge holes in his stall, which is new for him, and when I took him on our hand walk he was shockingly brave — like, walking up to traffic cones and nosing them, and sticking his face¬†inside trash cans to rifle around in the papers and used SmartPak strips thrown in there. ¬†Super weird, brave shit.

The stadium course was really interesting! ¬†It was really just a big¬†serpentine. ¬†Walking the course I was a little surprised by the height and spread of the oxers, but later realized they looked much bigger on foot because my height perspective was skewed (they look smaller from Murray’s back!). ¬†And also because when I see pictures of other humans near BN- and N-sized fences, I assume those humans are the same height as I am. ¬†But I’m a solid 6″ shorter than a lot of people, so suddenly the fences leap up when compared to relative points on my body.

Stadium warmup was less crazy than dressage or XC warmup since it was pretty much just limited to the 12 riders in our division, and a handful of riders from the division after us.  Sitting in 8th/11 (or maybe 12 remaining riders) I knew I was going pretty close to the beginning, so jumped around and then watched a few rounds.  As the rider before me, my teammate, went in I popped back over the vertical one more time for a quick refresher, and Murray was game and good to go!

I tried to give Murray a look at some flowers and spooky standards by walking him past the combination at 7, and he definitely gave them a bit of the side eye.  The buzzer rang as we approached the back fenceline, and I asked Murray if he wanted to pick up the canter.  It was a bit of a sluggish canter, but I kicked him forward to fence 1 and kept my leg on all the way up to the fence.  Murray backed off a touch but I was right there for him with my lower leg, and while he got deep he went over just fine.  I kicked for the 7 stride to the oxer and we got 8, of course, but it was still a pretty good fence.

As we came around to jump 3 I felt Murray hesitate and sputter. ¬†Fence 3 had these big stripey horse-head standards, and while we have horse-shaped standards at home there was clearly something spooky about these ones because horses had trouble with them all day! ¬†Murray actually came all the way to a stop and sidled to the right, but I didn’t let him turn away and I put my leg on. ¬†He walked and then trotted the fence, shockingly leaving it up. ¬†I didn’t know if it would be considered a refusal (it was), but I wasn’t willing to turn him away from the fence just in case. ¬†(I later found out that this is pretty borderline in the eyes of the judges. ¬†Had I been closer I would have been much better off turning and re-presenting, since they would count jumping from a stand still as a refusal anyway, and is also considered a¬†huge no-no in the eyes of officials. The more you know.)

The bending line to 4 rode really nicely, and I felt Murray peer again at fence 5, since it had a big wavy panel underneath. ¬†But I legged on again and Murray didn’t question me. ¬†I rode the bending line to 6 as a right-angled turn so we would get a really straight approach and be able to make the inside-track left turn to 7A. ¬†I really kicked to the two stride but we got deep (of course), and crammed 3 in there anyway (of course).

The last line was pretty straight forward, Murray had finally (really) gotten into a rhythm by that point.  We still managed to do 9 in the 7 strides between fences 8 and 9, but then it was a pretty straightforward gallop down to the closing oxer.  As I tried to pull Murray up I took a moment to look over at the clock and saw our time was in the 99-second mark, just under our allowed time of 100 seconds.

I had looked at the standings before I went in to stadium and knew that, going in, fewer than 4 points separated me and the three riders ahead of me. So with no rails and just 4 jump penalties, now just 2 rails separated me from the magnificent purple ribbon.  Two rails!  Horses knock down two rails ALL THE TIME.

I jumped off Murray and couldn’t stop grinning like a shit-eating monkey because i was just so happy with his performance. ¬†Even if we had ended up sitting in 8th I would have been so happy with him for how he stepped up for me all weekend. ¬†Even with that silly stop at fence 3, Murray didn’t back up or run out — as he did at Camelot in 2016, or even in cross country warmup — and when I kicked him forward he responded by moving forward and not with a tantrum. ¬†It was super.

Then the rider after me fell off at 7A.

I saw the fall just out of the corner of my eye, and said to my teammates “did she just fall?” followed by a really inappropriate expletive of joy. ¬†Not everyone heard me but… a lot of people heard me. ¬†(I’m not proud of it, I’m just telling it like it is.)

he is so happy and relaxed in all of these!! i love that!

Then the rider after her fell off and took her bridle with her at 7B.

I had just gone from 8th to 6th in less than 2 minutes.

The rider sitting pretty high in the rankings — in second or third, I think — had some serious and unfortunate disobedience from her gelding which eliminated her, raising me to 5th.

I was so stupidly, deliriously happy. ¬†Part of me felt that my final placing was a little cheap, since I relied on 4 people getting eliminated on XC and 3 people getting eliminated in stadium to reach 5th. ¬†But at the same time, I¬†didn’t get eliminated on stadium or XC so there is that.

when jumping from real deep, be sure to leap like deer

The only downside to the morning was that after the awards ceremony I chose to take part in the victory round, which broke poor Murray’s already highly-taxed and well-worked brain. ¬†We left the stadium arena and he promptly tried to back into or sit on every human and horse in sight. ¬†I know that the people waiting there were thinking of other things (their own impending stadium rounds, for example), but I was a little surprised by how slow they were to move or even look around them as I frantically yelped “sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry!” and tried to do anything to get Murray out of the fray. ¬†At one point he slammed my leg into another horse’s butt crack, and I was really worried that we were about to get kicked, but a kindly coach nearby yelled at me to trot him forward and it actually worked. ¬†At least, it worked to get us out of the mess of horses, and into the middle of the warmup where I finally got Murray settled enough to get off and try to calm him down.

Lesson learned: no more victory gallops for us.

twin recap: go, man, go!

I’m past patiently waitin’
I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation.
Every action’s an act of creation!

– My Shot; Hamilton

I had a luscious four hours between dressage and cross country, so settled down for a celebratory post-dressage beer and sangwich. ¬†I chatted with the people across from me, bought the big pink hat, and¬†walked the cross country course one more time. ¬†I had already memorized it, but took our barn manager’s kid out with me to¬†talk strategy.

Much of the course was what I had jumped while schooling, but there were a few odd questions scattered in there. ¬†One jump had us turning right to scoot between a prelim fence and the edge of a water complex we didn’t actually have to enter, up to a quarter round with brush under a tree. ¬†(I later heard someone complaining bitterly about that fence, but really found it rode fairly well.) ¬†We had a faux trakehner (aka a vertical with a really fat ground line), a house down bank (about 5 strides), and a half coffin with ditch to log fence. ¬†No truly related distances, but some fun stuff to ride. ¬†There were two fences on course that I was a little worried about. ¬†One was the ditch, which I know Murray is a little looky at when he hasn’t been schooling much, and the other was a very simple log a few strides out of the water. ¬†The complexity with the log was that you had to make a hard left out of the water to get there, and it was flanked by an enormous advanced table with fluffy ferns and all kinds of terrors on it. ¬†So I was worried that Murray would spend all his time peeking at the corner and not listening to me (little did I know).

jump one was quite cute

I also took a moment to check in with the office about the rules of schooling the ditches. ¬†The office girls kindly directed me to the president of the FEI officials )Wayne Quarles), since the president of my ground jury wasn’t in the office at the time. ¬†So Wayne asked me what the rulebook (which I was conveniently carrying with me) said about schooling and I plaintively exclaimed that I couldn’t find a rule in there about it! ¬†Wayne took over the rulebook for me and had a look through and Francis O’Reilly, the president of the ground jury for the HT, showed up. ¬†Francis said I would be able to school any fence a level lower than mine, but if I had no lower level ditch available to me for schooling then I was out of luck.

Wayne pointed out that there is actually no specific wording in the rule book about it and that some officials interpret this to mean that if the obstacle is not flagged on the course at the competitor’s level, it “does not exist”. ¬†And you can’t get eliminated/penalized for doing something that “does not exist”. ¬†The caveat to this, of course, is dangerous riding, for which a rider could be eliminated at any time. ¬†Francis agreed, and told me that I could school the novice ditch if I needed but cautioned me to “be safe”.

extra credit moves after fence 1

The drama of the unfortunate wardrobe malfunction is pretty straightforward: I didn’t unpack the trailer properly, and didn’t pack my pinny holder at all, so I found myself just 36 minutes out from my ride time with no girth, no saddle, and no pinny holder¬†in which to ride. ¬†My barn manager loaned me her daughter’s saddle and I used my short black fuzzy girth (a wardrobe malfunction if I’ve ever seen one!), and ran up to get Murray ready and find me a pinny holder. ¬†There was only a short step stool available to me, and when I tried to jump up into the foreign saddle I didn’t quite make it and landed behind the saddle on Murray’s back instead. ¬†You can imagine just how thrilled that made Murray, but I refused to fall off and dumped my whip and somehow scrambled into the saddle.

We walked down to XC warmup and the steward told me that I had 15 minutes until my ride time, which sounded absolutely awful considering that I was an absolute mess after the last 30 minutes of panic and drama. ¬†I was nearly crying, and nothing felt right — the saddle was different, obviously, and my stirrups were too long but maybe not, and my reins were too slippery and definitely, definitely too long for us — they were practically getting looped around my foot. ¬†I cantered off so I wouldn’t be able to cry, and while B got the other BN rider on my team off to the start box I popped Murray over a couple of fences. ¬†Murray was pretty game at first, cantered the X and vertical well, but when I pointed him back at the vertical he shook his head and ran sideways.

I got back over the vertical and over the log jump once, but at that point more and more horses were joining the warm up and Murray was not having it. ¬†He ran sideways when I pointed him at the fences, and B suggested I just head out to the start box. ¬†And it was a good thing too, because I got to the start box with only 51 seconds to go. ¬†Walking over there, B told me to head out of the start box really relaxed and like we were schooling — no pressure on either of us.

I knew, after all the mayhem leading up to cross country, that I wasn’t going to be going double clear, so it was just a matter of sticking to my goals and managing my expectations. ¬†The goal was to get Murray over all of the fences, and not let him work himself up into a state where he would start running out or stopping at fences. ¬†I’d school the ditch if I needed, and there was nothing on course that we couldn’t trot if it came to it, so that’s what we would do.

scary corner at left, BN log at right

Apparently, I needn’t have worried. ¬†We trotted out of the start box and I let Murray fall into a canter as we approached the first fence, a coop. ¬†Murray didn’t think twice about the flowers or the course or the other horses galloping around him, and he jumped over with some gusto, kicking and playing after the fence. ¬†But then we were on to the turkey feeder for fence 2, and Murray leapt happily over that one too. ¬†I still wasn’t feeling quite myself, so started singing to myself on the long gallop to fence 3 — though it was pretty strangled and un-melodic, just me chanting the words to the only song I could think of at the time: Counting Stars by One Republic.

We schooled the first water, and it was a good thing too since Murray came to a stop and stared at his reflection for a moment before trotting through. ¬†The funny brush jump I mentioned above rode really well — Murray looked at the big fences on the left and trotted into the water, then spooked a little at the water, and right over the fence. ¬†I was the tiniest bit worried about that fence since I heard someone talking loudly about the track I’d taken.

There was a long gallop stretch between fences 8 and 9 and Murray really wanted to stretch out. ¬†I, on the other hand, really needed him to lift his head up and listen to me because 9 was a little house headed down hill to a down bank. ¬†Once again, Murray was ready for the down bank even if I wanted him to slow down and think about it, and he popped right down the bank. ¬†12 was the half coffin and Murray was galloping so well I didn’t really have time to think about schooling the other ditch, we just went for it. ¬†I gave him a big half halt Murray told me to suck it, and cantered over the ditch in stride and out over the logs.

The last potential trick on course was that log by the corner, and I did get Murray to slow to a trot through the water so we could get a good track.  Then it was just up over a little mound, over a table, and down through the flags.

I couldn’t believe it when we got through the flags without a single jump penalty, and only needing to school¬†the water. ¬†I knew I’d made the right choices for Murray and me, but what I didn’t expect was for Murray to take such a big step up to make up for my inadequacies. ¬†I went on to cross country insecure and anxious because I’d been stupid and was ill prepared, but Murray knew his job and took over the rest for us.¬†I didn’t feel a moment of hesitation from him on course, and any time I asked him to take a moment to think about a question he was more than happy to tell me that he’d already thought about it!

It was the best cross country run that I’ve ever had, and even if we did come in 35 seconds over time, now I know that we are more than prepared for¬†this challenge.¬†Next time, we’ll go for time too!

the happiest

twin recap: a powderkeg about to explode

I’m being honest,
I’m working with a third of what our Congress has promised.
We are a powder keg about to explode,
I need someone like you to lighten the load.

– Right Hand Man; Hamilton

This entire weekend’s recap is being brought to you by Hamilton, thanks to ¬†Emma and Austen, since a) Hamilton is great pump up music, and b) appropriate for all times. ¬†No, really. ¬†Also, there is sadly no media of our dressage day just yet – but I ordered a Ride On Video so there will be!!

We arrived at Twin in the early evening on Thursday and quickly unloaded the horses and tack room (which would lead to my later wardrobe malfunction).  After checking in I snagged a little bit of food and wine at the Adult Team Challenge mixer and then jumped on my horse to school before we left them for the night.  Since the whole goal of the weekend was just to be zen and not a freakshow, I opted to go with our standard dressage protocol: lunge, lunge with side reins, then ride.

Murray wasn’t as bananas during the lunge pre-side reins as I thought he would be, mostly just looking around and periscoping a lot, but fairly obedient. ¬†He was super for our actual ride, and we got down to the warm up late enough that there were very few people left and we mostly had the space to ourselves. ¬†After some good walk, trot, and canter work in each direction trainer B left us with the advice to go wander around the courts and judges’ booths a bit before coming back in. ¬†Murray was shockingly¬†incredibly brave (a theme that would, weirdly, last the whole weekend) to walk around the booths, and after a brief pause to take them in he wandered right up to them on a loose rein with only a little tension. ¬†That little tension did lead to him nearly tripping and impaling himself on C, but nobody was looking.

i made myself this silver on cream stock, and i love it.
unicorn pin thanks to a friend at a flea market. ‚̧

Friday morning we woke up very early and I walked Murray for a bit after giving him breakfast.  My ride time was 11:07 so I backed it out to figure out what time everything needed to be done.

20 minute warmup –¬†start at 10:45
20 minute lunge – start at 10:25
20 minutes to get the saddle on – start at 10:05
15 minutes to get dressed – start at 9:50
~1 hour to groom – start at 9:00
~2 hours to braid Рstart at 7:00

It seems really ridiculous to have that much time allotted for things, but I wanted to keep things really, really mellow while I was working on Murray so we could both stay mellow. ¬†While I was braiding I just kept reminding myself “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” — my past experiences with even slightly rushed braiding have led to shitty, messy braids. ¬†Murray was so, so, so good for braiding — like really ridiculously good. I think because I didn’t use any spray, he was just like “well, keep on playing with my hair you ridiculous, tiny human.”

Unfortunately, Murray was also FILTHY because he rolled in the mud right before he got on the trailer, so I spent longer grooming than I intended (and yes, honestly, I got started grooming a bit late).  I decided to forgo the lunging in favor of an extra long walk to warm up, and headed down to the warm up ring around 10:40.

The warm up at Twin was honestly my worst nightmare, but it really wasn’t that bad. ¬†There were horses and riders everywhere in all kinds of undefined and unconfined space. ¬†Murray kept it together with a fair bit of aplomb, and only bucked repeatedly the first time we cantered right. ¬†I kept my leg on and changed direction when he swapped leads and didn’t let him get away with any of that silliness.

i count 19 horses in this warmup, and it was relatively quiet compared to the morning

At one point I trotted past B and said “look how damn short my reins are!!!” ¬†I was holding them between the first and second stops. ¬†(In the past I’ve struggled to keep my hands between the third and fourth stops, which I now realize is a rather absurdly long rein!) ¬†Murray didn’t feel as good as he has at home, but a far sight better than he has ever felt at a show — not perfectly through, but forward and even in the reins and¬†keeping his head down. ¬†Like really, that’s all I can ask for.

When it was time to get going, we walked and trotted around the arena to a cheerful “have a good ride!” from Ann Howard at C.¬†¬†As we trotted down centerline I¬†remembered that Murray and I hadn’t practiced a single centerline prior to the show, and it was definitely evident — we fishtailed and noodled a fair bit to the left turn at C. ¬†The¬†left trot circle was quite reasonable, and the left canter transition was quiet if a little fumbly. ¬†I expected this — we’ve had trouble with trot-canter transitions when Murray doesn’t know exactly when they are coming, and I realized that I don’t have a fully reliable way (aka half halt) of warning him that they a re coming.

The left canter circle was honestly pretty dreamy, but Murray broke to the trot at A, a relic of my constantly schooling of one circle at a time. ¬†He corrected quickly when I put my leg on, and cantered again before the corner, and even came back to the trot between B and M as I instructed — which earned us a “well recovered”.

Tracking right (the walk work was unremarkable) Murray trotted promptly at A without resisting my hand which was¬†wonderful. ¬† In the right trot circle I added a little leg to get some more oomph and forward and Murray took it upon himself to canter instead, which¬†obviously wasn’t what we wanted. ¬†I slowed him back to the trot — prompt once again — and finished up the circle, after which I could feel the annoyance emanating up from Murray’s body and into my seat, so I knew we were in for something in the canter transition.

I was correct.  Murray bucked in the right canter transition.  Of course.

But it was okay. ¬†We kept on cantering right and really did a pretty reasonable canter circle, all things considered! ¬†Murray got a bit strong and heavy on the fore toward the end of the circle and I had to haul him into the trot again, but at least it wasn’t against the hand (a frequent comment on our tests). ¬†I hardly thought about the halt, but peeked out at B from the corner of my eye as I came up to it and somehow we came to a stop. ¬†The judge laughed and told me “well recovered!” after I saluted and walked toward her, and we laughed together about how much Murray was anticipating that canter movement. ¬†“Yes,” she said, “he was looking forward to it for five movements!”

The test was wonderful, really. ¬†We ended up scoring a 42.9 which was right where I expected¬†for a test where we broke to the trot in a canter circle, to the canter in a trot circle, and bucked through a canter transition. ¬†We were dinged for obedience and submission — shocker! — as well as impulsion, none of which are awful or surprising. ¬†We¬†do struggle with obedience, submission, and impulsion!

But Murray went into that arena, kept his head down, and did almost everything I asked. ¬†Even better, I didn’t stop riding just because we went in for a dressage test. ¬†That is truly the biggest accomplishment — I kept my leg on, kept my reins short, and Murray listened and did all the right things. ¬†It was wonderful! ¬†I have rarely felt¬†so proud of the two of us after a dressage test. ¬†There were bobbles and I couldn’t get him as soft and through as he can be at home, but I never expected that! ¬†Next time, I’ll try to squeeze a little more tension out through the each movement of the¬†test, instead of letting it wait until the last canter transition. ¬† Bucking and all, it was a great test, and a huge accomplishment for the two of us.

twin recap: rise up

I am just like my country,
young, scrappy, and hungry.
I am not throwing away my shot.

– Right Hand Man; Hamilton

This weekend at Twin was incredible.  Quite literally unbelievable, had I not been there myself.

murray turned fence 1 into an A-B situation

I forgot my long girth in the trailer (I found it tonight when we got home), so had to borrow a kid’s saddle that I had literally never sat in. ¬† Murray decided he didn’t want to play in the warm up and was running out all over the place — I didn’t even jump all the warm up fences.

Then we got out on cross country proper and he turned into a MACHINE, didn’t¬†look at a single fence twice, and we¬†went clear (with 13 time since we did school the first water).

i bought myself an amazing hat!

Nearly half of the senior BN division was eliminated, quite a few of them in stadium, and we somehow moved up from 12th to 5th.

And then, because so many people had been eliminated, my adult team challenge ended up the last team standing and we got a NECK RIBBON!  A NECK RIBBON!!!!!!!

and if you look closely at the collective comments: bucking not allowed!

We went into this weekend with simple aspirations. ¬†I just wanted to be¬†zen. ¬†There was to be no freaking out about pushing for perfection in dressage or worrying about scores or placings. ¬†We just wanted to get around XC clean and show Murray a good, non-stressful time — not freak out about minute markers or speed or circling or schooling.¬†All we had to do for stadium was jump all the fences, and end on a number not a letter.

And we did all that and SO MUCH MORE.

he is actually not even really sweating after running
his first 6-minute xc course in a year…

There is still so much to work on, but for once I feel like Murray and I have an actual trajectory! ¬†Instead of just muddling around at beginner novice forever, hoping that one day we’ll solve the pesky “scared of everything he’s never seen before” thing, or that with enough outings putting leg on and reminding Murray to dressage in¬†some version of on-the-bit during a test will not necessarily result in a tantrum.

murray worked hard on stall rennovations all of friday night
but, on the upside, actually managed to flatten it all back out by laying down saturday afternoon

Full recap to come over the next few days — depending on how badly my computer actually needs to be replaced¬†(the best kind of surprise when one arrives home). ¬†Can I drag this show out over a whole week of blogging? ¬†You betcha. ¬†There is so much to say about every part, and I am trying not to forget ANY of it.

and we got to update our bingo cards!


Murray and I have been doing some ground work in the rope halter before each dressage ride since we got our rope halter, so for about a month now. ¬†It’s all been very easy stuff, an attempt to remind him of the rules of polite society. ¬†You know, walk next to me here, stop when I stop, go when I go, back up a little. ¬†Stand — and do just that, just stand — is a hard one for Murray. ¬†He doesn’t relax easily and wants to anticipate whatever is coming next,¬†especially if he thinks what is coming next is an attempt to tighten the girth a little. ¬†He thinks that dancing away or small circles around me are exactly what he should be doing.

The ground work, other than helping with our warm up, has been very educational¬†for both of us. ¬†I tried to play with shoulder in when we first started, and Murray would get tense and scoot past me. ¬†At first I got frustrated that he essentially ran me down, but it was easy to see that Murray wasn’t comfortable with¬†what I was asking and couldn’t figure out how to slow himself down. ¬†Figuring out exactly how to get Murray to slow down took a bit of trial and error. ¬†The best solution for us was to drastically slow down my own pace, taking slow and precise steps, and letting Murray go back to a more comfortable speed after a few of these slow shoulder-fore steps. ¬†It is¬†hard for him — the hardest thing ever. ¬†So no more shoulder in for now.

On the ground, and under saddle, Murray’s backing up has been getting so much better. ¬†He was pretty reluctant to back up ¬†unless you really got angry with him, and then he’d march back practically sitting down. ¬†But if you asked him to just back up a little, ¬†even if you pushed him, he’d kindof shuffle backwards with one foot at a time, making a four beat gait out of something supposed to be two beats. ¬†And it would include lots of sideways motion as he tried to pivot around me instead of actually stepping backwards. ¬†Now it’s very reliably a two beat gait, even if it does sometimes rather resemble an egg-shaped circle. ¬†He doesn’t quite get it if I’m facing him, but if I step backwards myself he gamely travels back with me.

So one day, a few weeks ago, when there were some poles laid out on the ground I led Murray forward over them, and then asked him to back up over them as well, after reading that it’s a useful exercise for stifles. ¬†Murray gamely took one step backwards, then one more tentative step wherein his hoof landed on the pole. ¬†That was obviously not okay, and he skittered forward ¬†and around me with a very,¬†very suspicious eye. ¬†I patted him and settled him down, then gave it another go. ¬†Murray was very much¬†not okay with this idea and danced his way forward, shook his head and nipped at me, and struck at the air. ¬†The reaction wasn’t quite what I expected, and really not very polite, but it did give me a lot¬†of information.

I tried one more time, and Murray wouldn’t even stop after walking through the poles this time. ¬†He flung himself forward and away from the poles, trotted around me a little, then stopped and looked at me like “what are you going to do about it?”

If Murray were a monkey, I’d call his behavior redirecting. ¬†The idea of going backward over the poles made him uncomfortable, so he tried to change the¬†context of what we were doing.¬†This is easy to identify with aggression: one monkey gets threatened by another, and turns around and threatens someone nearby (often an innocent human observer).

maybe this new knowledge will help me decipher… this?

I wish I’d written about this sooner, because there was something in particular¬†about the whole incident that showed me this was more than just naughtiness. ¬†But it was quite clear that he was actually very uncomfortable with what I was asking, so responded with silliness. Importantly, it’s changed how I react to Murray being silly with me, on the ground and under saddle. ¬†Sometimes he is silly because he literally can’t control his body, and evidently he is sometimes silly because he’s actually very uncomfortable with what I’m asking him to do.

If he’s actually confused, and not just objecting for the sake of getting out of work, then I should probably reel in my annoyance and reconsider what I’m asking and how I’m asking. I have been consciously trying to be less of an asshole to Murray, but sometimes it’s hard when seemingly very basic things are curiously impossible to him. ¬†But all new information is good information, so we’ll keep chugging forward, and I’ll try to keep this in mind the next time Murray responds with “silly” instead of “trying”.

jumping:dressage with obstacles as showing: ??

Remember when the SAT had that amazing analogies section that confused the fuck out of 96% of people, and the last 4% were major over achievers or just faking their understanding?  Yeah, those were awesome.  I finally understand how to do them, now.  Thirteen years too late.

this is my horse scratching his own sheath with his teeth because he’s just that flexible.
on the other hand, the mystery of how he bloodied his sheath is now solved.

We hear a lot of analogies in training; jumping is just dressage with obstacles, right? (Or, as I like to call it “dressage with shit in the way”). ¬†And I’m going to try to push my own analogy for the forseeable future. ¬†And please, chime in with your opinions on this because I am pretty sure I just made this up and it could be completely, completely invalid.

Showing: just schooling with field trips.

Part of this is a coping mechanism. ¬†Murray and I aren’t anywhere near as “ready” for Twin as I hoped to be (though every ride we have as the show gets closer promises to prove me wrong), and if there’s anything I hate it’s being underprepared. ¬†But my goal is to get him out and showing this year, and so even if we aren’t going out there totally prepared to finish on our dressage score or ready to take home all the prize moneyz, this will still be a valuable experience for us. ¬†Every show that we get through without Murray being a) eaten by a pony-eating jump, b) murdered by his owner, or c) disqualified is another check mark in the “see, shows aren’t that bad Murray!” column. ¬†And that’s what I want.

And really, should an impending show change the way I’m schooling and riding? ¬†I’m trying to create a well-rounded and correct horse, not learn tricks to pick up points on a dressage test. ¬†Sponging my hands or wiggling my ring finger or whatever other nonsense I could come up with to get Murray to look like he’s in a frame for a dressage test aren’t going to be long term solutions that teach him how to come on the bit and use his body better. ¬†Sure, there are movements that need a little more practice and transitions that can be polished, but ideally, I’d be working those transitions in at home as well. ¬†But those aren’t big things that I need be “preparing” for.

things i do need to prepare for: making my fabulous new stock ties!!

So for the rest of the year, I’m going to treat all of my upcoming shows as schooling field trips. ¬†Or try to, at least. ¬†Schooling field trips that I’ll get feedback from strangers on! ¬†And where my tack is really clean and my breeches really white.

The goal is not to change my riding or training or stress out about the fact that shows mean things to people who like to win (I am also one of these people, so I’m trying to be less of one of these people). ¬†Shows are just schooling away from home or schooling after a trailer ride. ¬†We’ll see if this mentality works on Murray!

reality check?

Murray and I have had two really lovely rides after the bullshittery of last week. ¬†Because I was foiled by the wind repeatedly on Thursday and Friday and then spent the weekend out of town, I asked our barn manager’s kid to put in a ride on Murray for me just to get him out and exercising. ¬†She’s ridden him a few times recently, and he’s been fairly reasonable as long as she doesn’t ask for anything too challenging or exciting. ¬†So of course I was rewarded with video of Murray cantering sideways (like a hideous half pass with no bend) and literally crashing into a horse standing at the mounting block.

Um, great.

For a moment I regretted ever asking for help. ¬†I thought I’d made a huge mistake. ¬†And then I was like “you know what, homeboy has got to be able to w/t/c with a stranger on him — especially when they are asking him to do nothing more complicated than go along the rail and¬†turn ¬†before the end of the damn arena.” ¬†I resolved to have a take-no-shit approach on Tuesday, fully expecting some truly atrocious behavior.

I made Murray try on some tubigrip as a strategy for
compression/ice. He tolerated it really well, actually!

Instead, Murray was well behaved on the lunge line, pretty responsive, and absolutely¬†perfect under saddle. ¬†I kept with the recent theme (don’t override with my seat/crotch/ass, don’t nag, just try to be really correct and have Murray meet me there) and Murray rose to the challenge. ¬†We had a couple of sticky w/t transitions but nothing awful. ¬†His canter was a tad less forward than I want, but very round and¬†adjustable.

Having a saddle that fits is absolutely magical. It is SOOO much easier to feel and fix when I am starting to tip forward or perch, and any time I start to anticipate or get too noisy with my seat I can feel it.  I ignored the idea of getting my saddle fit for a long time, but if a well-fitting jump saddle does for us what this dressage saddle has, I will be running 4* in no fucking time flat.  So yeah, it turns out that Robyn did fix all my problems, hooray!

Murray was equally fantastic on Wednesday, and I worked through some of our test movements to get ready for them. ¬†Our biggest challenge is transitions. ¬†Murray does best with them when he knows they are coming —¬†especially when they are part of a pattern. ¬†Conversely, he does poorly with them when he doesn’t know they are coming. ¬†It’s a complaint I’ve had about him a lot, that it’s almost like he’s not “listening” to me when I ask for things, he’s busy doing his own thing (whatever that thing is). ¬†So I’m trying to figure out the balance between doing too much with my body and giving him adequate half halts/notice that we are approaching a transition.

I also specifically practiced letting him walk around on a loose rein and then picking him back up to do some work, which has often been a source of angst for us.  He did much better than on Tuesday or in the past in general, so that was good news.  If only this Dressage Murray can show up to Twin, we will be in good shape!

Apparently Murray just needs another rider to reality check him every once in a while and remind him how good he has it with his well-trained human.  (If this is a legitimate training strategy I am 100% going to continue to employ it in the future.)