crunchy hippy granola groundwork

My background in clicker training and positive reinforcement training of all kinds of animals (dogs, cats, macaques, giraffes, eland, elephants, horses, chimpanzees, zebras, tigers, gorillas… that’s basically the list) may make my dismissive attitude towards Natural Horsemanship (the type with the capital N and H) a little surprising. ¬†Honestly, I don’t know a ton about Natural Horsemanship, and I would probably learn a lot from the philosophy if I gave it the old College Try. ¬†But I’ve seen a few choices videos that don’t quite make sense, and my general inclination to avoid any one “doctrine” in training my horse (or doing anything) makes me shy away from the plan.

a curiously difficult species to clicker train

What I do like is the antecedent-behavior-consequence sequence that I can usually find in many other animal behavior modification programs. ¬†Since I’ve recently been taking a more serious approach to ground work, this now plays an even larger portion in my interactions with Murray. ¬†(Which is stupid, really, since behavior modification happens constantly, including under saddle. But it’s much easier to see, and evaluate, from the ground than the saddle.)

As with all things in horses/my life, I jumped in way too deep to start with and became frustrated that Murray couldn’t shoulder-in with me on the ground and wanted to run away from me or run in circle. ¬†So (for once!) I stepped back, looked in to some really basic exercises, and committed to doing those until I could call them done. ¬†Mostly I used Emma’s fabulous write-ups to give me a baseline for what I wanted to do. ¬†There were a few behaviors I already knew that we needed to work on — standing while I touch all over his body and walk behind him, letting me approach the girth without running off, go forward, go back. ¬†And then there was the whole “I want you to be able to step backwards over a pole” thing. ¬†I somewhat-irrationally decided I needed my horse to be able to do this. ¬†But it turns out it was a good thing anyway.

belly rubs and the subsequent rhino lip are an important part of groundwork games

Fortunately, Murray has gotten past the extinction burst of awful begging behaviors (including trying to and successfully biting me) that showed up when we first started playing this game, which makes it much more fun for me. ¬†He’s also gotten “worse” at some of the behaviors we’ve been working on, specifically backing up. ¬†Which is interesting. ¬†But the important thing here is how you define “worse”. ¬†Murray doesn’t respond as quickly to the back up cue, go as far, or move as fast as he used to when we first started playing this game. ¬†But, he is much more relaxed when we do it, and processes a response to the cue to back up instead of just flying backwards whenever I stop.¬†¬†So maybe this one is actually a win?

Troubleshooting Murray’s reluctance to back up over a pole was also fun, and I’m pretty pleased with how it’s panned out so far. ¬†Once Murray knew that I had some intention of asking him to back over a pole, i.e. after the first time I asked him to perform this behavior, he had absolutely no interest in doing anything remotely akin to backing up over a pole. ¬†He would walk really quickly over the pole, then immediately re-position his body so that there was no possible way I could reasonably get him to go backwards over that pole.

First, we worked on stopping and standing quietly with front and back legs on either side of the pole, and then positioned just in front of and behind the pole. ¬†We progressed to stepping front feet only over a pole, and then finally getting hind feet, and then all four feet backwards over a pole. ¬†Murray scared himself at one point, when he stepped on the pole, rolled it on to his own feet, then kicked it backwards with his front feet on to his hinds. ¬†While funny at the time, it did make Murray’s confidence take a dive.

Hopefully, after a few more weeks, we’ll be able to back up over a couple of sequential poles. ¬†Though that will require a little more careful footwork than Murray has so far demonstrated. ¬†We’ll see.

The better part of all of this, is that Murray is taking me more seriously on the ground in general. ¬†Obviously nobody would ever have been able to predict that¬†developing better communication for essential and important groundwork behaviors would lead to better communication overall — NO, NOBODY EVER.

I don’t think Murray’s and my relationship has suffered tooooooo negatively from missing out on this relationship building through groundwork. ¬†I’m not entirely sure I would have been able to take such a logical and reasonable approach to it when we first got together, though. ¬†I was too impatient, even all wrapped up in my ideas of going slowly. ¬†But now we both have a little more perspective, and Murray’s really learned now to learn, and we’re making progress.

This paid dividends when I took a little outing this week for another fitness hack (over an hour of walking, and two short gallops, 900m and 1300m respectively). ¬†Murray didn’t want to get in the trailer again, which is par for the course post Twin. ¬†I had put a flat leather halter on over the rope halter to tie him with inside the trailer, but the lead rope was still hooked up to the lead rope. ¬†When Murray stopped at the open door of the trailer and said, thanks but no thanks and tried to run off backwards, I had a much better idea of how to handle it. ¬†First, I didn’t let him get away with running off backwards (I actually grabbed on to the trailer with my hand not holding the lead rope so I’d have an anchor), which at least made him stop and reconsider the situation. ¬†Then I pulled him over to the side and we had a little discussion of “yes, this means forward, and it means forward now!”. ¬†On the second go it took him a moment to accept, but jumped right in after a little think. ¬†On the way home, he jumped in first go.

I’ve stopped being amazed at the aspects of horsemanship that I still have to learn about. ¬†The answer is simply: everything.

creeping uphill

Another big life event, another week off of work for Murray. ¬†It’s our pattern, but he doesn’t seem to hate it. That week was actually punctuated with a few days of riding as I evaluate the trial saddle, but none of them were particularly strenuous. ¬†We come back from each mini break pretty quickly, and I’ve been very pleased with the progress made in between mini breaks. ¬†Maybe this really is just a schedule that works for certain princess ponies? ¬†Or maybe our new routine of ground work + lunging –> riding is really working for us.

being cute at Twin

We spent most of last week trying to rebalance Murray from totally on the forehand and dragging himself around, to some semblance of moving uphill. ¬†On Monday I felt like we were cantering downhill during our warmup, and that I could slide off of Murray’s neck at any moment. ¬†It was supremely unpleasant, not only because I know that’s not how we’re supposed to go, but because it’s really just rather uncomfortable. ¬†Murray wasn’t terribly responsive to my half halts, so I took a moment to re-assess and figure out how to attack the problem without picking a fight.

our video from Twin is mostly sass punctuated by cute moments
presently pictured: sass, in case you couldn’t tell

I tried to sit up and use my core, instead of tipping forward into Murray’s downhill-ness, and started to incorporate the lateral work back in to our routine. ¬†I’ve generally avoided lateral work since December, since Murray and I both use it as such an out: he is more than happy to go sideways if he doesn’t want to work, and when I get bored/stupid I start to think “porque no los leg yields?” instead of “let’s really shore up your shitty connection, Nicole”.

murray goes hrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

And slowly but surely, throughout the week, Murray’s balance started to come up. ¬†He still wanted to lean on my hand and PLOW down any straight line we did, especially when they were off the wall (uh… will have to fix that before we show FOR SURE). ¬†But I found that if I moderated his pace a little more with my seat and core — which I am finally figuring out how to use — that¬†we could maintain a little bit more uphill balance. ¬†There is still a lot of work to be done there, but straight lines are hard. ¬†(Though, I’ve just realised that is exactly what JM was focusing on with me, so I could probably bring some of the straightness/slight counter flexion exercises to those off-the-wall-straight-lines and potentially achieve the same results. Food for thought.)

smile for the camera!

We also had a jump lesson where Murray was a super freaking rockstar mashing around a grid and some bigger (for our recent exploits) fences on a much bigger and more forward step. ¬†It felt amazing. ¬†It wasn’t the same as the pookums usually feels — there was less of that¬†launch off the ground that sometimes accompanies bigger fences — ¬†but great nonetheless. ¬†And there were only two hiccups, both attributed to me riding an awful, very angled line to an airy oxer that Murray just couldn’t seem to see as a jump. ¬†I discovered two new things in that lesson: one, my new phone’s camera is bullshit at taking videos indoors (I mean, thanks a lot you freaking potato), and two, Murray goes around pretty upside-down on that more forward step.

RBF made a very important point, which is that the big, forward step and jump is new to both Murray and I, and we’re still figuring it out. ¬†Obviously we weren’t going to figure it out in perfect balance or make it look pretty the first time around. ¬†She encouraged me to be patient while we get strong on this new step. ¬†Man, RBFs. ¬†They are so good to have around.

we’ve seen this before, but it’s soooo worth posting in HD

A big piece of the puzzle is helping Murray to understand how to use his neck while it is in a different position on his body. ¬†Right now, he feels like/seems/is convinced that he only has access to his neck muscles (and back muscles) when his neck is pretty low — head below withers. ¬†Actually, that’s not true. ¬†He is convinced that he can only use his neck the way¬†I want him to use it when his neck is very low. ¬†He is happy to use his neck when it’s lifted a little higher — as long as he gets to use his underneck. ¬†Which is, of course, the great secret of all dressage: MOAR UNDERNECK.

murray rejects this corner. this message brought to you by the letter H.

So my big goal has been taking that underneck access away from Murray in both sets of tack — yup, even on conditioning rides. ¬†Add in to that the continued insistence on some kind of communication-connection through the reins (even in the stretchy trot), sitting up and using my core, keeping my aids simple and consistent, and turning my god forsaken toes in (he really has abandoned my lower leg), and it feels like I’m juggling a lot of balls to put together some okay-ish work right now. ¬†But we really are making steps in the right direction (I think), and it’s not nearly as hard as it would have been for me to work on even 2 of those things simultaneously two months ago.

We’re getting there. ¬†Slowly but surely. ¬†Creeping uphill. ¬†The only way we know how.

Anyone else feeling their progress creeping along in the good way lately?

for the cleanest clean: hand wash your breeches

A few weeks ago Olivia posted a hilarious How Not To about her show clothes. ¬†And I was like, dammit, Olivia, you stole my thunder! ¬†But honestly, it’s essentially the same way I clean my show clothes, just minus the bleach and super hot washer cycles. ¬†So here’s the How To on getting all those crazy stains you thought were stuck in there forever out of your show clothes.

I am the messiest human on earth,
yet through the miracle of careful washing,
this shirt is still white

TL;DR Wash them by hand.

Yep, it’s really that simple. ¬†When I lived in Kenya I would pay a local woman to do my laundry*, and of course I had brought all my grungiest, most stained shirts to the field with me because I knew I would only stain and ruin them more. ¬†I was absolutely floored when Catherine returned my first load of laundry to me with almost all of those neck sweat and pit sweat stains totally gone. ¬†The secret ingredient to getting your clothes really, really clean is just liberal dosing with powder detergent, elbow grease, and cracked and skinned knuckles from rubbing so hard (be careful not to get the blood from your now-destroyed hands on your now-clean clothes, though).

* Yes, it felt very weird. I’m totally capable of washing my own clothes, even without a machine. ¬†But Catherine insisted, and I was not about to take away a source of income that I could easily give her. ¬†Totally unrelated to this, there was a rat that liked to climb into my laundry hamper and eat my dirty underwear. ¬†It later made a nest and had babies in a box of bubble wrap. ¬†Such a fucking weird rat.

You will need

  • OxiClean (fragrance free is fine)
  • Detergent of your choice
  • Bucket or large bowl (a vestibule large enough for your show clothes + water + splashing)

Step 1 – Collect your dirty show clothes.


These breeches had actually just come out of the washer. I was shocked at how bad of a job the washer did getting absolutely any stains out. And I simultaneously realized the problem with silicone grip patches on light colored breeches — you can see the clean breech color under the silicon while the dirt surrounds them. Unacceptable.

I tend to sort my clothes by color (ish). ¬†I don’t want any color seeping on my whites, so always wash those alone. ¬†I also don’t want any dirt from other clothes accidentally staining my whites, somehow. ¬†Other than that, I am indiscriminate about what gets washed where.

Step 2 – Dissolve OxiClean in the bucket.

I don’t wash or soak my stained clothes in hot water, as hot water can set stains. ¬†But OxiClean dissolves best in hot water, so I usually dissolve the powder in some hot water, then fill the rest of the way with cool water. ¬†How much water is the rest of the way? ¬†Usually about 1/4 to 1/3 of the bucket. ¬†I need space to splash around in. ¬†I now just splash some OxiClean down in the bucket before getting started, but when I was being careful I followed the concentrations on the back of the OxiClean box for this purpose. ¬†It is something like 1-2 tablespoons OxiClean per gallon of water.

Step 3 – Soak.

This part is easy. Put in soiled clothes.  Make sure soiled clothes are in contact with detergent solution, and jostle them around to get some dirt loose.  Weigh down soiled clothes with a plate or something.  Wait.

I use 5 gallon Home Depot or Lowes buckets that I acquired for approximately $6.  I have like five lying around.  A standard size dinner plate seems to do the job for weighing them down.

Step 4  РChange the water and scrub.

Depending on the soilage of my clothing, I will sometimes drain the water and do a second soak before starting this step. ¬†Regardless, unless your soaking water has very little dirt in it, I tend to get rid of the old soaking water and start fresh for the scrubbing step. ¬†I dissolve another, smaller amount of OxiClean in the bucket this time, and add in a little of my detergent of choice. ¬†(For saddle pads or other items that would benefit from a high-agitation spin, I put them in the machine after scrubbing, so don’t add detergent.)

Then we scrub. ¬†This isn’t rocket science. ¬†You just need to rub the soiled parts of the clothing on other clothes or parts of clothing to lift the stains out. ¬†I’m not sure, but it seems like stretching and pulling the fibers gently also helps to free the stains. ¬†I find that I can usually scrub on my own knuckles and lift out any stains there, but it can be helpful to have a spare rag in the water to really attack the clothing with. ¬†If you feel like there’s not enough soap in there, splash in some more. ¬†Don’t expect the water to actually get really sudsy (if it is, you’ve probably used too much), but there should be some bubbles.

You might want to wear gloves for this part. ¬†Thanks to a lifetime of abuse in the kitchen and garden, my hands aren’t particularly sensitive or beautiful. ¬†But if you’re a hand model or something, this will not do you any favors. ¬†The OxiClean is very drying on your hands, and it will take forever to rinse the soap off of them.

Step 5 – Rinse in cold water/machine wash.

If I am planning to machine wash the clothing in question, I just wring them out gently over the bucket and throw them straight in the washer with more OxiClean and laundry detergent.

If I’m not planning on doing that, they get several rinses with fresh cold water before I wring them out and hang dry them. ¬†When I rinse, I use plenty of water, and take the time to really agitate my clothes in the bucket to get out any remaining suds. ¬†I usually rinse 2-4 times to make sure they are really, really free of soap. ¬†By the time I get to the second rinse, I will start pouring the water on hardy plants or areas of my yard that I know get a lot of additional water runoff — the detergent is pretty dilute at this point. ¬†But the first few rinses and drains should go into the sink or shower to avoid poisoning your lawn/flowers/vegetables etc.

Step 6 – Profit Revel in your clean new breeches.


This method also works for saddle pads, but I tend to soak only one saddle pad at a time, and never with show clothes. ¬†They are a bit more cumbersome, so I will also just spot soak with OxiClean — I’ll make up a batch of OxiClean and pour a little on the stain, then scrub with a little brush. ¬†Those vegetable scrubber brushes are¬†perfect for this — not too harsh, and not too soft. ¬†I’ll splash on more OxiClean and let it sit before throwing the pad in the washer.

Obviously, this is a good way to get¬†neck sweat stains out of a stock tie, rat catcher, or show shirts (especially if you can’t just throw them in the machine for some reason). ¬†And it’s the method I use on Murray’s brushing boots, after I’ve scraped the dirt clods off with a stiff brush.

Yes, it’s more work than just throwing clothes in the washer. ¬†But it also gets them¬†waaaay cleaner. ¬†Which, if you’re like me, is weirdly important at the beginning of a show or clinic. ¬†And after washing two weeks worth of laundry at a time, sitting in the shower on a hot Sunday and wishing I was out in the field with my friends, washing a few pairs of breeches or saddle pads feels like nothing!


GoT Bloghop: Murray is Craig Middlebrooks

Over a year ago, Austen started this clever little blog hop talking about our horses as characters from movies (or TV). ¬†And at the time I was like “I don’t know what character my horse is! He’s just Murray! All the good characters are taken! I HATE THIS BLOG HOP!!!”

Never let it be said that we are not well matched in melodrama.

But I finally figured it out! ¬†I now know who Murray’s television personality is.

Murray is Craig Middlebrooks from Parks and Rec.

We all know that Murray just feels way too many feels.  He, quite literally, cannot keep the feels inside his body.

And he is always happy to tell you about them.

Murray freaks out easily.


And when that happens, he very desperately needs your help.

His responses to normal stimuli generally fall somewhere between “wildly inappropriate” and “way over the top”.

Especially when he doesn’t want you to know that he likes something.

Lying down is his happy place.

Despite the fact that he just can’t control himself, we love Murray anyway. ¬†He’s just so cute when he’s upset!

lies, damn lies, and statistics

Murray and I recently had a development¬†in our communication that makes me seem like a huge asshole. ¬†Which I will readily admit that¬†I am, sometimes. ¬†But I’m not sure this is really one of those times.

Horse professionals have long been telling me things like “horses don’t lie”, or “listen to your horse, they’re trying to tell you something”, or “horses are inherently truthful creatures”, or even “horses don’t have the ability to be deceptive”. ¬†And I don’t necessarily disagree with these things. ¬†I don’t think that the vast majority of horses (going to go ahead an say 99% here) have the ability for premeditated deception. ¬†Sure, some horses will learn that when they come out a little stiff and janky they get put right back, so it might behoove them to be stiff and janky because they keep getting rewarded for such behavior. ¬†But no horse sits in his stall and thinks, “now, if I just make sure not to put any weight on that right front hoof today, my owner will definitely think something is wrong and give me the well deserved spa day that I actually deserve.”

Image result for malingering

But I have never totally bought it that a horse is¬†always telling me the truth. ¬†There are little lies, like “I’ve never seen a trot pole before in my life! How does one horse this contraption?!” which are some variation of “I can’t”/”I don’t wanna”. ¬†And I even understand how “I can’t” and “I don’t wanna” can be really valuable and truthful indicators of something hinkey going on physically or mentally, and should be paid attention to. ¬†And there are occasionally big misunderstandings, like “holy shit that patch of weird ground is the most horrifying thing I have¬†EVER SEEN¬†oh actually it’s fine, nevermind.”

And then there are the Chicken Littles of the world.

Image result for chicken little sky is falling

For a long time, trying to understand what Murray was telling me behaviorally was ridiculously difficult. ¬†He could be so sensitive and reactive that absolutely anything that upset him turned into a¬†huge deal. ¬†Sometimes he seemed to respond really reasonably to the various stimuli of life — a leaf blowing across the barn aisle, a funny sound, a wheelbarrow going by — and sometimes the sky was absolutely falling for weeks on end, and anything more exciting than another horse casually walking past him was cause for IMMEDIATE ALARM. ¬†Responses were scaled proportionately to the¬†level of excitement elicited, just starting around a 7 on a 1-10 scale and going up from there.

This is not exactly what I would call reliable or honest communication. ¬†At some point, when someone tells you that there’s a wolf in the pasture every single day and there is¬†never a wolf there, you stop listening. ¬†There is no wolf out there, the sky isn’t falling, yes that is a saddle, and there is an extension cord that wasn’t there yesterday, and this is just¬†real life, and you have to get used to it. ¬†(Part of me feels like this is something baby animals are supposed to learn. ¬†It’s what I teach puppies — the world is a large and dynamic place, and we don’t get to live in a box that never changes. ¬†Am I wrong in thinking that foals/yearlings/young horses with good handling probably get taught those things too?)

dummy foal?

This type of communication isn’t what I would call honest, but it isn’t distinctly dishonest either. ¬†Sure, Murray was (probably) trying to tell me about one of the fifty six butterfly-sized things that might be bothering him at any one time — there’s a cat over there, that trash can is new, someone is putting a blanket¬†on another horse!!!!¬† But those aren’t things that bother 95% of the equine population, and they certainly aren’t things that ought to bother him. ¬†And they aren’t the kind of communication that is actually telling me something — it doesn’t necessarily mean he is sore, or has an abscess, or needs his hocks injected. ¬†It just means a gnat farted somewhere in a mile radius and Murray took offense.

So maybe I’m an asshole for not listening. ¬†But unless the horse was really, physically trying to kill himself (or at risk of doing so), it was so much easier to just tune it out.

A few weeks ago, Murray didn’t want to pick up his left hind foot for me to pick out. ¬†It was strange and¬†annoying, because I thought I’d solved the whole foot picking out situation years ago with a lot of treats and praise. ¬†He would dance away from me all around the tying post (yeah, we still don’t cross tie), and finally for a few days I gave up on picking the foot out and settled with picking it up to look in it briefly and put it down again. ¬†It was ridiculous but it resolved itself in four or five days.

Twin Peaks on Showtime season 1 episode 1 twin peaks showtime GIF

Then last week, I found two blown out abscess holes on his right hind.  One from the coronet band, an one in the heel bulb.  Probably from about the time of the not foot pick upsies issue.

Last week I also had a saddle on trial. ¬†It was a great saddle, at a steal of a price, and everything about it said it would probably fit Murray (I ultimately returned it because it was a hair too long and didn’t fit me). ¬†And when I tried it on Murray he had a pretty horrified, violent reaction. ¬†But, I thought, that was because I stupidly put a bare leather saddle on his naked back. ¬†Everybody knows you put the saddle pad down before the saddle, you silly human.

So we did the whole routine, I put a pad under it because it looked a little wide, we did a very loose girth, and then because Murray was especially touchy that morning I went outside to do the girth up the rest of the way. ¬†And he just about ran me down when I finally did get it all the way done up. ¬†Normally he runs away from you when he’s freaking out, but this time he ran to the end of the lead rope, turned around, and ran¬†right at me. ¬†I checked under the saddle and it was awfully tight under there, so I pulled the half pad out, and homeboy seemed a bit better.

murray: who’s the asshole now?!

The next day, though, saw the exact same reaction. ¬†And Murray really, really does not usually try to run humans down. ¬†He’s very respectful in his panicking and freaking out — he’d much rather stay far, far away from all bipeds, thanks all the same. ¬†So I shoved my hands in under the saddle, and back just past his shoulders were two firm spots of flocking that were really quite tight. ¬†And when I took the saddle off of him, you could tell that those spots were extra tight even without a girth done up.

So. What do you know. ¬†The child has learned to communicate actual problems to me! ¬†Or maybe…. I just learned how to listen.

So once again, my horse is proving to me that he’s not the asshole who isn’t listening,¬†I’m¬†the asshole who isn’t listening. ¬†And it would be great if he could do it in a more succinct way, but the lessons probably wouldn’t stick quite as hard then.

smells like team spirit

The May one day is over!! Phew.

This year we ran like a well oiled machine, compared to last year’s steaming hot mess. ¬†Holy crap we were a mess last May. ¬†We were still decorating cross country at 9 PM on Friday night, and I didn’t even print out orders of go until 5 AM that morning. ¬†What a difference a year (and several more shows’ worth) of experience makes.

when in doubt, add shrubbery

I’ve adopted cross country course decorations as my own personal mission. ¬†It means I get to make the fences juuuust how I like them — which means lots of fun fences for BN/N. ¬†It seems like a lot of effort gets put in to Training and Prelim fences, for safety reasons as much as appearances, and the intro fences at WSS always get a lot of attention because they are basically just a series of logs of slightly different heights, shapes, and textures. ¬†So to keep it interesting we theme them. ¬†But then BN and Novice seem to get a bit neglected… so I like to make some of their fences really fun.

flower stand!

It’s pretty emotional to watch those first few horses go out on course. ¬†Especially since we run from Prelim down, to see those horses charging out and eating up the course… well, it definitely brought a tear to my eye. ¬†As did watching a few friends at their first event with new baby horses.

The other cool thing about working the events is getting to cozy up to officials! ¬†I’m only half joking here. ¬†There’s a ton to learn from eventing officials, and it’s so much fun to start to recognize them when you go places! ¬†I’ve already learned a lot about how to make a fence easier to read or scarier just by the way we add flowers, as well as some little tidbits about measurement (did you know they measure jumps from 6ft out? so a fence can be shorter or taller than the height for the level at the base, as long as at 6 feet out it’s an appropriate height based on the level of the ground). ¬†We also use a big ass drill to get those flowers in the ground. ¬†It’s one of the best parts of flowering the course.

baby rolex jump for the BN course

And of course we can’t do it without the volunteers! ¬†We’d literally be lost without them. ¬†Hug your volunteers — you wouldn’t ever get out on course without them!

hot and tired trot sets

After our cross country run at Twin I was surprised at how little Murray was sweating and how low his breathing rate was — we had just run a 5:50* XC course and the boy was barely sweating! ¬†Then I found out I had 13 time penalties (aka 33 seconds over time), and watched the video and realized we did the first 3 minutes at a slow canter and realization dawned upon me. ¬†Murray wasn’t out of breath because we¬†hadn’t run anywhere.

does anyone else feel kinda cheated when their cross country
courses are sub five minutes?
when optimum is like 4:19 i just feel like i’ve been tricked into getting less time
doing the funnest part of the show.
so a 5:50 optimum is awesome for me.

It wasn’t that I thought Murray was super fit, by any means. ¬†But I was surprised at how fit he appeared to be, based on the very, very minimal work we have done this year. ¬†Like, pleasantly surprised at my pony’s baseline level of fitness! ¬†Look at him go, fit thoroughbred pony, not needing any prep for his first rated even in 18 months! ¬†So I guess, yay that he was fit enough to do that, but really… if you aren’t fit enough for BN you’ve got to re-evaluate your pony priorities.

like maybe just a skosh less of this, mmkay?

My regular rides probably range from 30-50 minutes, but that typically includes a bit of ground work, lunging (before dressage rides), and a fair bit of walking. ¬†I’m trying to integrate more extended trot sets and dynamic transitions into our regular work outs, but there’s only so much I can do to think about timing/length of time I’ve spent trotting while also attempting to dressage. ¬†My mind may be mighty, but it’s not that capable. ¬†Plus, the best reward for Murray when he offers up good dressage is a walk break. ¬†It hardly seems fair to keep him trotting and cantering and trotting on when he’s trying to be good in the fetid black tack. ¬†So this weekend I made a concerted effort to put in some fitness hours for me and the pony, even though it was hot and I knew it would be kinda boring. ¬†Because fitness is important, and I hear that if you’re doing it right you can work cardio fitness while also practicing some of those all-important dressage skyllz, and it’s super fun.

And Murray was great, and more than handled the trot and canter sets. ¬†Based on the advice in Equine Fitness, we did two 3 minute canter sets sandwiched between 6 minute trot sets. ¬†It was the first kinda warm day of the year (we burst out of winter and RIGHT into 90 degree weather, wtf), so I was terribly unmotivated to do anything much longer than that. ¬†We both sweated, my left leg hurt from all the two-pointing, and we went both directions. ¬†I consider that conditioning ride #1 success. ¬†I really should get a TPR baseline on him, but (wouldn’t you know it) it’s a little hard to approach Murray with a stethoscope. ¬†Put a foreign body up his ass and he’s totally fine with it, but auscultate near where the girth goes? NO THANK YOU.

I’m firmly of the belief that part of conditioning isn’t just the slow and steady increase of cardiovascular capacity and stamina, but also the ability to persist and work through tiredness. ¬†Tired and sore muscles are a legit thing for athletes, but nobody is stopping on cross country for a walk break. ¬†So if we want to be successful (I mean, probably not at Novice but maybe in the future we’ll get beyond that?!), Murray and I both need to be able to behaviorally manage lactic acid build up and fatigue, by knowing what pace will allow our muscles a bit of a break. ¬†But we also need to know how to mentally push through the pain and unpleasantness of the lactic acid build up and keep jumping and running.

Another piece of the puzzle, on my side of things, is becoming a good enough rider and horseman to manage a tired Murray. ¬†I’ve heard this on the live stream nearly every time I’ve watched Rolex, but the horse you have in the last two minutes of a 4* course is not a horse you have necessarily ever ridden before — they are so tired and so spent that you have to manage them fence by fence as you go. ¬†I’m not trying to say that running BN is anything like running a 4*, but as we move up the levels managing a tired pony is something I’ll have to think of.


It’s Spring in Davis, and that always means one thing: WIND. ¬†The Spring winds are¬†awful¬†and persistent and awful. ¬†Last week it was gray and windy, and this week it is hot as balls and windy, but sandwiched in the middle there were a couple of days of beautiful, 72* weather and no wind. ¬†So friends and I took advantage and hauled out for a hack.

Our journey wasn’t without drama. ¬†Murray decided that post-Twin he was never getting in a horse trailer again, or something like that. ¬†The trailer we used for that 5 hour haul was on the small side, and Murray and his big ego don’t do small-horse trailers, I guess. ¬†On the way home he flat out wouldn’t get into the second spot (which is actually bigger, but appears smaller and harder to get in to), and only got in to the first spot after my trainer took a hold of him. ¬†I was a little worried about it on Thursday, but since we were using a different trailer that Murray¬†likes¬†(normally), I tried to play it off like I was super cool. ¬†Alas, Murray wasn’t buying it, and would get two front feet on and then pause and wildly back up when I asked him to come forward. ¬†I’m not really willing to let him slam his head on the top of the trailer, so I’d let him. ¬†He was so not on board with the trailering game that he wouldn’t even eat a carrot out of my hand, which is pretty clearly¬†not¬†a happy Murray state to be in.

Eventually my barn manager got him on, but not after standing for about five minutes with his hind feet out of the trailer, stretching his neck as far forward as possible to be with her, little toes pointed. ¬†I can’t remember exactly what precipitated it, but eventually he bunny-hopped his little feetsies into the trailer and off we went.

We joined a friend at WSS, and the three of us cruised all over the property.¬† Murray is always pretty good in groups on trail, as long as nothing too exciting is happening.¬† Too exciting is defined as a gait above a sedate walk, or doing anything other than eating grass when other horses are achieving said gaits.¬† That was awesome for my friends, as their ponies needed a little mellowing out away from ‚Äúhome‚ÄĚ (though she boards there, my friend‚Äôs horse is not totally comfortable in the wide open spaces just yet).¬† In his own way, Murray was a great teacher for this.¬† Want to trot? Eat some grass.¬† Worried? Eat some grass.¬† Don‚Äôt know where you‚Äôre going? Eat some grass. Feeling a little queasy by the vast expanse of the unknown and your sudden realization of your own miniscule existence in the universe? Eat some grass.

solution focused, this one

We walked all over the cross country course, and would have gone through the water were there any.  We even cruised over toward a many-mile (I think like 12 miles?) perimeter trail that goes around several neighboring properties and is part of an easement agreement between all the owners.  I would be totally game for that trail some time, just maybe not on a weekday when I have work to get to at home.

We cruised for nearly two hours, and were probably past due to head home, really.  Though we did nothing but walk, I felt like it was a good notch in Murray’s fitness belt, since the terrain undulated gently, in addition to a couple of nice hills.  Plus, how often do I walk my horse around for more than ten minutes, even?

I would like to do more hacking out this year, and add in some trot and canter sets.¬† I think I can find a mile long track on the perimeter to canter, which would be a fantastic fitness exercise.¬† But we will see ‚Äď real life and real jobs have a habit of getting in the way of these things.

bringing bending back

Our dressage trainer/chiro/all around miracle worker Tina¬†came to the barn last week, which was perfect timing for us. ¬†Coming out of Twin I knew I wanted her insight to improve our relaxation and steadiness, but I also wanted to pick her DVM brain about Murray’s physical health and what I might want to focus on to keep him physically healthy too. ¬†I’m not trying to look for trouble, but if there are medical interventions that will keep the horse happy and healthy and extend his competitive life (and thereby his ability to cart me around XC while I’m still in panic mode), I can probably stand to shell out for it.

We started with a quick body check — nothing stood out to Tina as needing adjustment, so away we went for our lesson. ¬†Tina and I briefly discussed Twin and the hangups we had in dressage there — building tension to canter transitions, lack of steadiness and relaxation in general, very stiff behind — and we got to work. ¬†Murray has been¬†way better in our walk work lately, but we walked for just a touch too long before picking up a trot and he started to get slower and stickier and slower and stickier. ¬†Tina immediately caught me nagging with my seat (again. she catches me EVERY LESSON even though I swear I practice not nagging between our lessons), and when Murray¬†offered up fussiness in the bridle instead of a steady connection she had me put him into a shoulder-in right away.

Murray has always been happy to escape from work laterally, mostly by swinging his haunches away from whatever ails him. ¬†So I have been trying to ride him really straight, so that escaping sideways is less of an option, and energy transfer from his hind end becomes a thing. ¬†And it’s definitely been working, but there are times when it doesn’t work, and I’m not quick enough to catch Murray out before he can pull the reins out of my hands and pop up through his neck. ¬†It’s been a while since I asked Murray for a shoulder in on purpose, and he was definitely a bit reluctant to bend and step under his own body, but it did get him to stop fussing and get to work.

It was a similar story in the trot. ¬†We were steadier, for sure, but we didn’t have a great connection and Murray was avoiding the contact by setting his neck in one position. ¬†Tina had us slide into a shoulder in down the long side as we came around the circle, and then straighten out along the next long side. ¬†The long sides definitely got Murray movin forward with more energy, but he was also fairly downhill, so the key here was to slow down the tempo (but try to keep some of the ground cover) to increase the activity behind. ¬†Which, it turns out, is really, really hard for us on a straight line. ¬†Too easy to just plow downhill and into the ground.

When Murray tried to use our renewed lateral work against me by sliding laterally around the circle instead of bending and tracking forward, Tina had me¬†catch him with the outside rein. ¬†If a little more connection to that outside rein didn’t work, I was to counter bend him until he couldn’t spin his haunches out from my inside leg, and then resume the inside bend when we were straight again. ¬†I really only needed this move in its entirety twice (but then again, we did move on to other activities fairly quickly).

Our canter transitions were a little inverted, though fairly reasonable. ¬†Tina noted that Murray was using his neck to get himself through the transition, which he doesn’t really do on the lunge line in side reins, so had me plant my inside fist on the saddle so that Murray¬†couldn’t pop his neck up to use it through the transition. ¬†It’s an old move of ours,¬†but I’d mostly phased it out in an attempt to avoid being so reliant on the inside rein and increase Murray’s evenness through both reins. ¬†Fortunately, I only needed it for a moment through the transition, and then could get Murray back fairly evenly between both reins. ¬†All of the canter transitions were pretty good, Tina was like “I don’t see what the problem is!” and really, neither did I.

But honestly, I can’t blame Murray for being tense at Twin. ¬†The warmup was a madhouse, I didn’t get to our full pre-flight routine¬†(tack up, ground work, lunge in side reins, get on and¬†ride) because of time. ¬†Tina agreed that with exposure and increased relaxation at home, one would expect that to go away.

The next step in the canter was to get Murray to take some bigger steps and use his body some more, so back came the shallow counter-canter loops and shoulder-in at the canter. ¬†Murray really surprised me here: as soon as I asked for a little bend down the long side in the canter, all this energy came out of¬†nowhere and his canter got huge and marginally uncontrollable. ¬†Suddenly he was right there in my hands and really listening to what I had to ask him.¬†His back was somewhat tense, but he wasn’t disobedient and the quality of his canter got better as we went. ¬†The key was to really slow him down through the short sides, then keep half halting and asking for a slower step through the shoulder in and counter canter. ¬†And even though we haven’t done it in ages, he didn’t try breaking once in the right counter canter.

yes we are sooooooooo good at trot poles

The best work, though, came after our next walk break. ¬†We talked more about the best way to tackle Murray’s stiffness behind, and some ideas of what to do next (more on that later). ¬†Tina said she wanted to see how he did over poles, so she set up five poles at about 4′ apart. ¬†Murray and I do trot poles all the time, so we trotted in and he bumbled his way through them without much help from me — as we often do the first time. ¬†So Tina brought the poles in a little more, to about 3’3″, and had us slow down to tackle them. ¬†The next go through was still a bit messy, but the spacing was right and Murray didn’t hit any or scare himself. ¬†She had us go even slower, and Murray really picked his feet up and even pushed a little from behind. ¬†She pushed for an even slower tempo, and after several more repetitions Murray came around the corner quite slowly and as soon as he saw the poles started picking up his feet, bending his hocks, and pushing more from behind.

It was a lot to think about, and a great lesson in that it addressed a lot of questions and issues without overloading us. ¬†Even though I have been given homework of things I already “know” how to do, the application of them is getting different results — and one would hope I can apply the techniques with a little more subtlety now.