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.

21 thoughts on “relax (don’t do it)”

  1. This is kind of the horse I used to have, but mine was less dramatic about it. Still, he is the king of holding all his tension in his back. Honestly the thing that has made the biggest difference for him is SI injections. It was amazing how much better everything worked once he was more comfortable in his back/hind end. Now when he gets tight it is MUCH easier to work him out of it with lateral work and lots of forward/back transitions within the gaits, whereas before it was very difficult. And well… uh… that’s because he was uncomfortable. Ah, hindsight. Not saying that’s what’s going on with Murray, but with the way he kicks out I do wonder if there’s something in his back (has it ever been x-rayed?) or SI area. Granted, I always default to looking for physical things first, because apparently I love giving my money to vets.


    1. I’ve been considering getting the vet out to “finish” my PPE and get more rads, since I only did flexions and front rads when I bought Murray. So I could easily tack this on. It’s something my dressage coach has mused over before too but since it comes and goes it’s hard to know for sure!


      1. I think it’d be worth x-raying his spine and checking his SI (and maybe stifles and hocks), at least. Then if there’s nothing you can move into the training aspect with no nagging worries. The couple of times that Henry got particularly sore he did want to kick out a bit, so that behavior is always a raised eyebrow for me.


      2. I dunno if they can rad the SI but they can rad his spine. Mine has two close vertebra plus SI soreness. Vet thought they could be related so we did cortisone in the back and then injected the SI. The SI is hard to clinically diagnose, a lot of times it’s just a “I feel xyz. Sometimes.”. Because I could never SEE anything, but I could feel it when I asked for certain things. As soon as I described that to my vet he went straight to the SI. It’s a fun one. Not.


  2. obvi charlie is super green still and we’ve got like… myriad other things to work on in tandem with addressing tension… but something you said reminded me of something my trainer dan used to have me work on with isabel. when you talk about riding him really straight and forward and sitting on his hocks (vs using the lateral work), the words that dan used for that, that helped me really visualize and understand the feeling, was “riding both hind legs into both reins.” for whatever reason, that always made the most sense and suddenly i could actually feel if we were straight, or if we weren’t, where the problem was.

    anyway good luck and hopefully you’re riding isn’t too sporadic!! these jobs really suck sometimes lol


  3. Ditto both above. What Amanda said re physical discomfort resonates though. Last year when Annie refused to pick up the right lead I threw money at my vets. We finally got some body work for her and that element of the issue is somewhat resolved. When in doubt I always consult the vet bc pain will make a horse do all sorts of things. She still gets sore bc of the tension she carries but regular body work helps.

    All that said with Annie being a tense freak of nature I have to do literally ALLLLL of the transitions, loops, serpentines. When we warm up I’m all over the arena. I spiral in and out on the circle. And generally keep her very busy. She has less time to be a giraffe if I keep her wondering about the next step. I’m still figuring this out though and it’s of course not fail proof bc she still does the giraffe move whenever she gets tense.

    Will be interested to see what other ideas are tossed out! 🙂


  4. If all is well in Murray’s body physically, I love how Emma described riding the horse straight and forward! While Dino is not as… expressive as Murray, he can tend to be tense over his topline in the dressage and respond poorly to (or outright ignore) me adding more leg, and just tuck his little nose behind the vertical and stay behind the leg; because then at least his head is down so I’ll stop bothering him. Which is… not ideal. So I have to really tune him up to the leg in warm-up, and keep my reins short and hands up but not actively look to create a connection there. Squeeze the pony, leave the pony alone until he starts slowing down, then squeeze again. Wash, rinse, repeat until he’s forward enough that the energy from his hind legs is now going into my hands, and I can take a good solid contact without him sneaking behind the bridle or losing impulsion. At that point, if he’s in front of the leg enough, I can push my hands forward and still have contact and lengthen/loosen the topline. But like Emma said, that comes with the sensation of riding the hind legs into the bit. Does that make any sense?! Tension is so hard to overcome, we just want to DO THE THING AND DO IT GOOD AND HORSE WHY U NOT PARTICIPATING IN MY FRANTIC DOING OF THE THING?!?!?

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  5. I switched Fiction from a thin, jiggly bit like the one you described to a thicker, heavier bit, and it really helped submission and contact. Worth a shot!

    Also, just for a different sort of input than the others….Fiction used to be absurdly tense and moved a lot like Murray. Very tight in the hind and kicked out in the canter (also swapped leads in the back as well). I thought something was wrong. I got all kinds of xrays, put him on adequan and legend…no improvement.

    Then I was taught to move him forward and keep him forward, under saddle and on the lunge. Especially on the lunge. We spent 30 days just lunging in a dressage get-up a clinician taught me, in which I asked Fiction to do his best harness racing horse impression (well, close enough). He learned to carry himself without a rider and move forward. It did wonders to relax him. Then I mimicked it on his back and all weird tense issues we had in his hind end went away (we still had some in the poll area, but that’s another story). Long story short – it was bad training (as my blog mentions, my last trainer was shit). I’m not saying that is the case with Murray, but I’m not going to lie – he doesn’t look forward at all to me, in all three stages. He looks backed off and hesitant. But that’s just how I see it. I could be completely wrong. I do hope nothing is causing him pain!


    1. He’s definitely not forward in dressage!! Story of my life. Cross country I was holding him back intentionally and unintentionally because of the saddle drama for sure.

      But tell me more about this harness racing impression. Just…. Running forward?


      1. It’s very hard to explain over the internet – I’m sorry! You want the horse to quite literally trot as forward as possible…without running out of control. That is where the gear comes into play – it mimic’s the rider’s hands and thus gives the horse something to go forward into – so they aren’t just careening around. You’re basically attempting to ask for a very large, very forward extended trot. I think I have video somewhere that I can find for a demonstration.


  6. Ha! I literally just wrote a post about this. Like. Ten minutes ago. It’s such a complicated balance between training and vet work ups.

    I find that when I’m at a junction in training where I have explained every step multiple times and multiple different ways and I’m still not getting the logical (good) result, that is an EXCELLENT time to call a vet. Fwiw, I’ve just started doing vet-recommended stuff on C and it’s already making a huge difference.

    As always, YMMV.


    1. You’re description of the junction is awesome. I’m​ not quite there yet, but definitely can see myself approaching it.

      Really, I can hardly fault the horse for being tense in public. We only ever achieve level 6 relaxation at home anyway, and show warm-ups are my idea of hell (and his, honestly). But if repetition and good experiences don’t improve things, then I’m clearly doing something wrong.


  7. Have you thought about hock injections? A chiropractor visit might also help. I know chiros are scientifically unproven and all that, but I can tell you my horses DO go much better after an adjustment. Are you looking at the rated Camelot or the schooling? We’ll be at the schooling…


  8. When I started P off the track, I put him in a super thin and light loose ring Myler bit. After a year or so, he became increasingly fussy with the bit and I tried a bunch of different ones; he’s finally settled on the KK Ultra to be the Chosen One (pony has champagne taste on MY dime). I used to flat in the Myler and then jump him in a baucher because he was doing the land-and-bolt, but once I found this bit, it’s all he goes in now because he’s so much happier. There are SO MANY bits out there, so just a suggestion from someone whose horse hated the light bits that moved all around 🙂


  9. We’re working on the similar “seek contact, use hind end” exercise as you are. Mae’s in a pretty thick bit snaffle and chews on it incessantly. I’m hoping that with more work, she’ll continue to drop her head down nicely instead of running with her head up and hollowing out her back. In high tension situations or when she is distracted, that head pops right up again and I have to bring her focus back to me. We’re working on it too 🙂 Can’t wait to see how everything ends up turning out for y’all


  10. Yeah Vermont is having weird issues too. Especially in the canter. The clinician gave me some methods to try on the lunge so I’ll blog about it and maybe it will be useful for you too!


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