i do not believe

An animal communicator came to my barn this week, and while they were setting up appointments (well in advance) trainer told me that several people were willing to pitch in to hear my horse’s feels, needs, and communications if I’d be willing to cover the rest of the appointment cost. ¬†I somewhat reluctantly acquiesced — who I am I to keep the people from what they want? ¬†The experience was interesting. ¬†I’ll split it up into a few major sections: the set up, the mildly interesting, the hokum, and the inconsistencies.

Let me preface this by telling you that I’m not religious, or even really spiritual. ¬†I don’t rule out that there is life on other plants, but I certainly don’t buy any cryptozoology here on earth (no Nessie, yeti, etc.). ¬†“Spooky” occurrences never strike me as anything more than the¬†least interesting of coincidences, I¬†understand well-explained engineering explanations for the pyramids and Easter Island Moai, and I don’t believe that people can read minds — animal or human. ¬†Certainly some humans are better at understanding human body language, intonation, verbal language, psychology, and micro-cues better than others that might lead them to a greater insight about that person. ¬†These are all well-described aspects of how psychics “work”. ¬†And I don’t doubt at all that some humans are better at doing that with some animals than others. ¬†But for not one second have I ever believed that a person can read an animal’s mind (in the classic sense that we think of it).

Now? I still do not believe.

Aimee understands me

(Oh, and there’s no media associated with this experience because pictures of my horse standing around tied to a post while someone talks at me are simply not good media.)

The Set Up

I learned very early on in the appointment-making process that people wanted Murray read. ¬†So he was on the list pretty early. ¬†But at Camelot a few weekends ago, some teenagers (and even a few adults) who had recently had their horses “read” by this particular communicator were singing her praises. ¬†The word of mouth from the teenagers was nigh unbelievable. ¬†And, quite frankly, coming from teenagers, it was sure to be unreliable. ¬†If you’re a teenager reading this, please know that I mean you no personal offense. ¬†It’s not your fault, it’s just biology: your forebrain is literally not developed yet. ¬†In fact, it won’t be until you’re around 26. ¬†Teenagers are all, categorically, missing an important part of their brain. ¬†Don’t worry — you’ll grow out of it.

he grew out of it!

I was told that this communicator knew and said things — without prompting — that¬†no living human except the owner could know. ¬†For example, communicator told an owner that her new horse loved his new, monogrammed clothes that she had gotten him — and that girl had¬†literally just received a monogrammed cooler the day before and immediately put them in her tack locker without showing any other humans, but she did stop off at her stall and show her horse his new cooler. ¬†She told another girl that her horse didn’t like his neighbor, and if the neighbor didn’t start behaving soon, he would kick that neighbor in the head to teach him a lesson — just as he had been kicked in the head when he was an annoying youngster. ¬†One horse told his owner that she’d better make sure his insurance was current, as he was feeling a little colicky. ¬†He needed colic surgery two weeks later.

The adults were more circumspect. ¬†One trainer just told me “I’m pretty sure she reads humans, and projects that on to the horse. Because she told me my own goals as if my horse were telling me she wanted to do those things — but I don’t talk to the mare about my goals.”

It’s easy for stories like this to get amplified and exaggerated. ¬†Communicator guesses that a new horse might get a little colicky on new feed and new schedule, horse colics within some “reasonable” time frame, and boom — communicator was right. ¬†Let’s ignore the fact that probably a third of all horses colic to some degree or another every year. ¬†All it takes is one person putting their own experience and knowledge on top of what the communicator says for a) the communicator to take that info and run with it, and b) the stories people tell one another to become full on lies about what did and didn’t happen.

Skepticorn wasn’t buying it.

The Mildly Interesting

I was slightly anxious on my way to the barn for my appointment. ¬†I didn’t know why. ¬†I think it was because I was about to confront someone in a position of “authority”, and that always makes me a little gkrhfk. ¬†Yeah, that’s a feeling. ¬†I resolved not to tell any lies, but not to offer up any more information than I was directly asked for. ¬†I was obviously going to be polite — just because I don’t believe in something doesn’t mean I have the right to be rude — but I didn’t know what kind of ridiculousness I might be up against. ¬†Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any other appointments, as I had to work (and the part of one I did see was incredible uninteresting), so I didn’t know what I was in for.

The communicator walked up to Murray, introduced herself to him, let him sniff a few essential oils she offered him, then mumbled to him and made signs with her hands over his body. ¬†She started talking standing next to him, but he wasn’t the hugest fan of her casual touching, so she moved a safe distance away and sat down.

she said his lower back/lumbar was hurting and he wants rads
it’s not exactly a hard thing to “read” — murray has a not-insignificant lump/roach in his lower back that is very obvious right now

The first interesting thing she said was that Murray has a lot of opinions and likes to complain. ¬†That elicited a laugh from me and the eight (yes, eight) spectators watching. ¬†Later she said he had a really big ego (then complimented me for managing it). ¬†I mean, eight people were watching his appointment, sooo….

The second interesting thing was that Murray stood really,¬†really quietly during the appointment. ¬†Like, his head was down, he was halfway napping, and he even gently rested his face on me a few times. ¬†The communicator said he was trying to hide from her, he didn’t want to talk to her, and he felt like he was being “busted”, because he kept putting his head behind the post he was tied at, and positioning himself away from her. ¬†I think that was just closer to where I and barn manager were standing. ¬†I don’t really ever hang out with him tied without fussing over him to some degree or another, and I was very clearly not in riding clothes (another context in which I don’t normally just “hang out” at the barn with Murray), so perhaps that contributed. I’ll do an experiment to that end soon.

The Hokum

I’m not going to be able to list all of Murray’s complaints and comments, since I don’t remember them all, but there were some notable ones. ¬†There were also plenty of moments where the psychic-playing-off-human-reactions stuff was incredibly evident.

For one, Murray reported that his GI tract was feeling great (stomach, lower intestine, upper intestine, and cecum all good!) and his lungs (left and right) are solid. ¬†Um, great. ¬†But his bladder is apparently bothering him. ¬†When discussing his behavior a bit later in the appointment, she asked if he bucked or played under saddle (or something to that effect). ¬†I responded that yes, he can buck under saddle, and we had a brief discussion about when the last time that was. ¬†Communicator came back to the bladder, saying that she had a horse who was a big bucker who stopped immediately after his bladder health was addressed. ¬†I was also assured that Murray is pretty sure the hind end pain isn’t in his hocks (ok thx dude, still going to get them checked out). ¬†She circled back to the bucking later too, and told me that he doesn’t want to be bad, he’s not trying to be malicious (incredibly obvious if you’ve ever seen him going, but will admit that she hasn’t), he sometimes just can’t help himself.

She kept coming back to his mouth as a source of some concern, but couldn’t seem to get any more details about it. ¬†She asked me what my bit is (loose ring French link) and said that was a fine baby bit. ¬†I didn’t tell her that Murray sometimes gets foxtails under his lips in the Spring and I’ve had to pull them out (I’ve checked a few times this year and no problems). ¬†She did wonder if he gets food under his tongue while the bit is in, and I do give him treats while we’re working under saddle sometimes, so that I guess could go in the “mildly interesting” category.

The communicator also asked me if Murray had ever disappointed me. ¬†“Of course he has!” I responded. ¬†I included that I haven’t really been disappointed in him for two years or so, and that a lot of my disappointment was unrealistic expectations. ¬†She said that he felt bad for breaking my heart, and disappointing me “often”. ¬†Often was his word. ¬†Can you say generic? ¬†What horse and rider haven’t been disappointed by one another and lived to regret it at some point in a multi-year career? ¬†Only robots, that’s who.

Murray also wanted me to know that he likes me. ¬†He was worried that I thought he didn’t like me. ¬†I was like “okay”. ¬†I did not tell her that, while I do sometimes wish my horse were cuddlier by nature, I do not give any shits that he may or may not “like me”. ¬†I’m not here to make friends, dude.

Communicator also asked if we show, at what level, and how often. ¬†I said we would be moving up to Novice in August. ¬†She was like “great, he thinks you’ve been at the lower level long enough!” ¬†She got a fair bit of detail from me about it, and we discussed his showing “anxiety” and how Murray thinks he will soon — by the end of the year — be able to meet my expectations and “mental image” of him.

Lest you think these are all the trappings of a “bad” communicator, let me assure you that some people at my barn (and the aforementioned teenagers) think that this woman is very,¬†very,¬†very good. ¬†I’m just explaining in an absurd amount of detail the way that¬†any¬†psychic or communicator works to draw the information out of you. ¬†I felt so comfortable with this woman, and it would be really easy to tell her anything and everything. ¬†And if she’s good at reading people and horses, I’m sure she could, and did, take absolutely every cue that I was offering her — whether it was my crossed arms, or “secret” eye rolls, or the eagerness in my voice when I asked if Murray liked to jump (see below for more detail) — and run with it to get me more info.

Also, he doesn’t like his show name. ¬†Uncertainty Principle, even though he’s earned it, is too much like a black mark — a little too honest, eh kiddo? ¬†Suck it the fuck up, it’s staying. ¬†Murray wouldn’t tell the communicator his¬†true name though. ¬†To which I say, good fucking call dude. ¬†Telling someone your real name isn’t safe.

about as tight as that front end ever gets

The Inconsistencies

There were several things that came up during the appointment that were downright false, or changed through our discussion.

She said his saddle fit is great. ¬†That can’t be true. ¬†I have two wildly differently fitting saddles — they can’t¬†both fit him great. ¬†And she didn’t mention a single thing about tacking up as a problem or complaint. ¬†I’ve only been trying to teach this horse that tacking up isn’t the equivalent of being skinned alive for¬†four years, and he doesn’t have any complaints or suggestions? ¬†Yeah. Fucking. Right. ¬†(She did say he was thin skinned but fucking DUH, thoroughbred.)

I asked her if Murray likes jumping. ¬†Her immediate response was “Not as much as you do.” ¬†I was pretty eager when I asked this question, trying not to be too ridiculous, so it was easy to tell that I like jumping. ¬†It wasn’t like I gloomily asked “does he like to jump” and hoped she would say no. ¬†As we discussed, the communicator said “he feels like he looks really pretty when he jumps, his front end is like this (indicated tight front end with her hands) but his hind end doesn’t follow yet”. ¬†Well that’s not true. ¬†If you’ve seen my horse jump, you’ll know he’s the king of the loose front end but can have a pretty snappy hind end.

She also suggested that one lead change was harder than the other for him. ¬†Congratulations, you’ve just told me something that is true for 100% of the horses on planet Earth. ¬†She said “the left lead, right to left is harder?” and I responded “no, that’s his better change, he struggles left to right”. ¬†“Oh right,” she responded, “he must mean¬†from the left lead.” ¬†Sure, that’s cool, go right ahead and change your answer.

she did say he feels like he can look really pretty and put his ears forward over fences, so that’s something i guess

As we chatted through the jumping thing, Murray’s opinion of jumping slowly morphed from “I don’t love it as much as Nicole does” to “I think we’ll be doing so great at jumping by the end of the year!!” ¬†The communicator didn’t make a big deal about it, and she worked through it fairly seamlessly. ¬†This was the only corner I really saw her get herself in to, and it wasn’t even that hard really — to say that Murray doesn’t like something¬†as much as I do leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

In the end, the communicator apologized to me for having such an awful reading. ¬†Murray was, apparently, very quiet and not giving her much (despite being the type that could complain all day?), so she was really grasping at straws and struggling to hear him. ¬†I get it. ¬†I was skeptical, and wasn’t giving her much to go on, so she could hardly tell me everything my horse was “saying”.

All in all, it probably wasn’t worth the money spent on it, but was an interesting thing to witness once. ¬†And at least it will keep me in good spirits making fun of all the teenagers at my barn who¬†are eating all this shit up.

pony stuff for mf’in adults

There are some pony stuff purchases that I feel are much more “adult” than others. ¬†Rainbow neck strap? ¬†Definitely not adult. ¬†Pink plaid polos? ¬†Not very adult. ¬†Lunge line, side reins, and lunge whip? ¬†Somewhat more adult. ¬†Leather hole punch? ¬†Very adult.

Leather hole punches abound, but most of the ones I’ve ever laid my hands on are garbage. ¬†You know the standard, all-metal ones that are typically completely rusted out from being used one time in 1948 and left out in the barn aisle ever since? ¬†Nobody is surprised that those don’t work.

I was spoiled early on by having access to a couple of the black, expensive Miracle Hole Punches (not their actual name or brand). ¬†I’m honestly not even sure what the brand was, but both my trainer and another Adult Human friend who owned them were like “yeah, this was not cheap, but it’s the best leather hole punch known to man”. ¬†And they were right. ¬†Those fancy, heavy duty hole punches went through triple-stitched leather like butter.

And then, like almost all barn tools that multiple people lay their hands on, they disappeared. ¬†Maybe trainer just hid them better, maybe they got lost — hell, maybe aliens will find them totally rusted out in the middle of the barn aisle in 2052. ¬†Who knows. ¬†The point remains that I lost my access to a valuable and quality tool. ¬†Fortunately, I didn’t need them anyway.

Until last week. ¬†My stirrup leathers were too long and I’d run out of holes to put them up. (Yes, I know my leathers are overall too long, I ¬†bought them on sale and picked the wrong size by mistake. No takebacks.) ¬†No rusted out hole punch would do the job. ¬†I looked through my trainer’s trunk twice and couldn’t find the punch. ¬†I wrapped my stirrups for a week, but in the end decided it was time for me to make this acutely Adult purchase, and get my own leather hole punch. ¬†So I went on The Amazon and read a bunch of reviews for hole punches, looking to find the quality hole punch. ¬†I was totally willing to spend $70 or $80 on something that would last forever and punch holes easily. ¬†Lucky me, I found what I needed for a mere $15.

The WoneNice Leather Hole punch (pictured above) is easy to use, and does a fantastic job. ¬†The dial to change the hole size is easy to turn, but clicks firmly in to place when you have it in the right position. ¬†The punch is large and a touch ungainly (I seem to recall the Miracle Punch being a bit smaller than this, and therefore easier for someone with little hands like mine to handle), but certainly not so large that it makes them impossible to use. ¬†On a scale of one to tacking up Murray, I’d score the challenge of using this hole punch around a 2. ¬†Plus, not everyone has hands as tiny as mine.

For all 4 holes punched, this product is 10/10 would absolutely purchase again.  But I hope never to need another, since my passive aggressive note and initials all over my new punch should deter accidental loss.  Plus, they have a two year warranty!  (Interestingly, this exact same punch appears to be available under different names and at different price points on Amazon, with varying reviews.)

So if it’s time for you to make a mf’in adult purchase and pick yourself up a quality leather hole punch, this one comes highly recommended.


summer… plans?

I have lived my entire life on an academic schedule, so the beginning of Summer — not always June, since the first half of my life was spent in a Southern Hemisphere school — has always meant a break from the normal routine for me. ¬†This plan typically starts with the firm assertion that I will have¬†no plans, and will do whatever I want, and that what I want includes

ellie’s summer list: wallow, wallow, chase squirrels, wallow

  • sleep for 12 hours per day
  • ride my pony
  • ride all the ponies!
  • craftsy things
  • road trip
  • read all the books!
  • play with my friends
  • go swimming
  • read by the pool
  • read in the pool
  • lay in the sun
  • go to the beach
  • swim with my pony
  • garden
  • go berry picking
  • go to friends weddings (San Diego!!!)
  • visit the East Coast
  • develop an app to make me independently wealthy

Image result for duck rolling on money

Unshockingly, I do about four of the things on the list (and somehow, sleep 12 hours per day is rarely one of them) and then September arrives and it’s back to the grind.

And really, there isn’t much no-plans-Summer to go around, especially if I stick to the current plan of heading to Camelot for an August 19-20 debut at Novice. ¬†That’s basically eight weeks out. ¬†Eight weeks!! ¬†Lucky for Nicole and Murray, there’s not terribly much to prep for Novice. ¬†We already know how to:

  • walk, trot, and canter in a variety of straight line and circle patterns — more or less obediently
  • course 2’11” stadium
  • jump all of the Novice elements on the Camelot XC course

So in terms of technicality, we will be fine.  There are quite a few things I would like to finesse in my riding this Summer though.  You know, less drunk-monkey-ing, more active riding.  Improving myself so that Murray and I can tackle some more big horsey learning goals.

murray: canter down centerline? got it

Sitting trot –¬†This stupid skill has been on my goal list for literal years. Time to make it happen.

Turn my toes in РMy toes point out.  And I use the back of my leg instead of the inside of my leg.  These are not, I have heard, the things I am supposed to do.

Following hands – I’m still wavering back and forth between my hands too high and grabby, and loose, floppy reins.

Strengthen my two-point – the position I think is an appropriately forward two-point is not appropriately forward. I need to lower my seat to the saddle and close my hip angle a little more, which should help with the above.

All of these will only get better with deliberate practice (have I talked about deliberate practice before? I’m kinda obsessed with the concept). ¬†I have some plans. ¬†For example, I plan to increase the number of sitting trot circles I do by one each week. ¬†I did two (one each direction) on Tuesday this week, and if I can squeeze in two more before the end of the week that will be good. ¬†Turning my toes in will require constant, conscious adjustment. ¬†As will following hands. ¬†And the crowning jewel of all of it is that I need to keep Murray put together all at the same time. ¬†That is the real challenge.

what, what, what is your left hand doing?!

But I have fun plans too! ¬†For example, swim with my pony! ¬†I think Murray will love swimming. ¬†He will also love the beach. ¬†He may love it so much that I never see him again… will have to be careful with that one. ¬†Go off property more! ¬†I hope to have/plan for lots of XC schooling on my horizon (see goals 3 and 4), and lots more truck and trailer driving practice.

So, you know. ¬†A nice, relaxed summer “plan”. ¬†Any exciting summer plans for you? ¬†Anything I should add to my list — riding my horse backward on the beach, maybe?

Image result for riding a horse backward on the beach

reconsidering pentosan

Since Twin, I’ve been thinking about what I might be able to do for Murray to make him more comfortable and extend our competition career. ¬†A part of what inspired me to start thinking about it more seriously was his super-stardom at Twin, but I also have a lot more income than I ever have in the past. This makes entertaining the idea of spending/potentially wasting money on my horse’s well-being possible — I literally* did not have the money to pour money into joint maintenance before.

* The actual literally, not the millennial “literally” that really means “figuratively” or “maybe”

I first heard about Pentosan on Amanda’s blog (like, where I hear about most things apparently), and after following the trail of evidence she left, I wasn’t terribly convinced. ¬†Use of the drug was based mostly on anecdotal reports of improved movement and comfort after IM/IV injections among Australian horse owners, and there wasn’t a ton of peer-reviewed evidence to back up using Pentosan IM/IV for joint maintenance.

murray is a skeptical walrus

Pentosan, if you’re unfamiliar, is a semi-synthetic polysulfyated xylan (don’t know what that really means? me neither!). ¬†It is used for several purposes, including treatment and prevention of osteoarthritis. ¬†The most interesting thing, to me, about pentosan is that it is used during open-joint surgery to help heal the joints after they are put back together. ¬†Literally, surgeons squirt the stuff all over the open joint to help avoid cartilage break down and improve synovial fluid viscosity. ¬†edit: Austen pointed out to me this important clarification: joint lavage (which is done both surgically or arthroscopically) works by helping to wash away debris that accumulates in the joint and may cause pain (at least in humans). ¬†Therefore, the pentosan may not be having as much of an effect as might be reported — the lavage process itself is extremely helpful in this case.

I’m won’t rule out a treatment or medication as ineffective simply because it doesn’t have veterinarian or peer-reviewed evidence. ¬†I know that it takes time to conduct studies and gather data, and that what is currently being studied may not be what is in vogue with horse owners at the time. ¬†Joint pain and comfort is terribly hard to quantitatively evaluate, especially when you want to look at more than just the articulation of a specific joint (how far that joint can flex/bend), and supplements/drugs for joint pain in companion and production animals aren’t necessarily at the top of the research ladder. ¬†Particularly in equines, the amount of scientific inquiry into the efficacy of drugs or supplements is quite sparse.

All that said, I’m not going to rush out and spend a lot of money on a product that is anecdotally reported by horse owners to make their horses “feel better”. ¬†The placebo effect*, even among animal caregivers and owners, is a real thing. ¬†(Also in 2014 my horse was five, not actually mine, and it wasn’t the time to think seriously about maintenance.)

* Have just realised this could make an incredible horse name!!

placebo effect is sooooo good at canter poles

When I started thinking about and exploring joint maintenance for Murray this year, pentosan popped up both on the interwebs and at the suggestion of a friend. ¬†I took some time to look into the drug more seriously, and found that in the last three years, enough evidence about the efficacy of pentosan in prevention and treatment of OA has accumulated to convince me it’s worth a try. ¬†If you’re interested in my research, just hit me up and I can share the details with you. ¬†But here are some of my more general findings. ¬†(Links here may be behind a paywall.)

First of all, pentosan appears to be safe to use in ¬†horses both intra-articularly (i.e. joint injections), as well as IV and IM. ¬†That’s great, because it means that you don’t have to pony up for expensive IA injections just to get the drug, an if you can’t do IV, you can safely go IM.

There is also good evidence that IM pentosan actually makes its way into both the plasma (blood) and intra-articular spaces (joints). ¬†And in dogs, pentosan has been used to successfully treat chronic osteoarthritis. ¬†If you want to dive a bit deeper into the cell-biology literature (exposing oneself to some serious jargon at the same time), there’s at least one proposed method for pentosan to treat osteoarthritis by acting as a chondroprotective agent (cartilage protective agent).

unrelated puppy throwbac pic

Pentosan was demonstrated to modify the healing of experimentally-induced OA in donkeys and horses.  In these studies, donkeys and horses with experimentally induced OA were given IV pentosan (treatment) or saline (control).  At the beginning of the treatment period, all animals were lame, and their levels of lameness, synovial fluid, cartilage damage, and the levels of certain elements (Mg, Ca) were tracked over time (among other factors associated with joint health).  All of the above mentioned factors improved significantly in treatment animals, i.e. synovial fluid was decreased compared to controls, cartilage damage was less.  Most importantly to me, lameness score in treatment animals decreased to baseline (which I believe was 0) after pentosan treatment, whereas in control animals lameness score decreased, but never achieved baseline levels.

Certainly, this is a pretty extreme way to check the utility of pentosan. ¬†And it doesn’t necessarily speak to the maintenance side of the drug, or how pentosan interacts with joints that might have mild-moderate OA. Notably, a similar study using pentosan¬†and hyaluronic acid was inconclusive and demonstrated no improvement with treatment.¬† So there is still plenty of room for skepticism. ¬†However, if the proposed relationship between increased synovial fluid and cartilage degeneration in osteoarthritis is correct (an extremely reasonable and supported assumption), and pentosan really does decrease synovial fluid and help decrease cartilage damage, then it seems reasonable that pentosan may help¬†prevent¬†or mitigate osteoarthritis (by mitigating cartilage damage and preventing the forces that result in increased synovial fluid).

There are still lots of “ifs” here. ¬†But I’ll definitely be talking to my vet about pentosan in the coming weeks.

shut up and take my money

camelot: final thoughts

Years ago, when I first started care leasing Murray, an adult rider whom I really respect told me that 8 is the magic age for horses. ¬†For Murray and I, 8 is pretty fucking magic. ¬†This is the year that everything is coming together, that all of our hard work is being reflected in out performance away from home as well as at home. ¬†I can feel myself riding better and thinking more, and Murray is doing the same! ¬†It is just the coolest feeling. ¬†I am so in love with eventing and showing now — I’m already desperately trying to figure out how I can squeeze the budget to get to more shows this year.

I have a collection of disorganized thoughts that didn’t totally fit in the other posts — or I didn’t think about them in time to write about them — from last weekend.

horse themed beverages for horse themed weekends

We’ll start with the big one first — we are so ready to move up. ¬†I told myself, and several friends, that if Murray and I went clear and within the time at this show, we’d move up to Novice at our next show. ¬†Even though we didn’t go clear, we’re totally ready to move up. ¬†Murray and I have been jumping Novice height at home for a while now, and while we haven’t done very many schooling outings or full-ish size courses at that height, I know all of the fences at Novice at the facilities I’m familiar with are well within our capabilities. ¬†A big part of my decision to keep us down at BN for so long (just three short years, nothing really!) was my own ability to ride and make decisions under pressure. ¬†I don’t have the ability to wing it at shows, I really need to know what I’m doing, and I don’t (yet) have the kind of horse where I could bumble around at anything above intro. ¬†I wanted to set the two of us up for success before this move, and I finally feel like we’re ready to be successful at Novice — and set our sights on training!

horse show shit sprawl
(I cleaned this all up to the trunk and blue box by the end of the day)

We had¬†so much fun!!¬†In the past, horse shows have been fun but fairly stressful. ¬†But this entire weekend we had fun, and the level of stress was low — and not just because we kept expectations low the whole time. ¬†It was just fun in general! ¬†I’m sure this will change as we move up, but I think I’ve finally managed to reach a place of zen about showing. ¬†Ultimately, I can only control how I ride and respond to my own performance. ¬†I can’t control whether or not Murray has a bug up his butt that day, how he feels about the footing, or whether or not the footing is any good. ¬†I can’t control what the judge thinks of us, how other people ride, or where we place in the pack. I can only prepare him as best I can before hand, set him up for a good ride, and ride my heart out. ¬†If I did all of that, what else is there to feel but happiness*?

*of course, you should remind me about that the next time I don’t perform as well as I should

Showing happy is SO MUCH BETTER than showing stressed. I have more to say about that but… basically, gonna try to hold on to this mentality for as long as I can in the future.

Showing has also become so much more routine for us. ¬†I didn’t forget to pack anything this time (okay, I forgot my Mango Bay belt, but I got a loaner), and I gave myself plenty of time before my rounds to tack up and get shit done. ¬†I didn’t need people holding my horse for me, or helping with my vest, I planned it all out, and got it done in advance. ¬†Murray was¬†great for tacking up too! ¬†Which always makes me happy. ¬†It’s a great feeling not to be stressed out because you’re missing stuff or running late for your ride time.

You know what else feels AMAZING at shows? ¬†Actually being able RIDE during your rides. ¬†For me, being able to respond to what’s happening during a dressage test and adjust for better movement is huge! ¬†I have been a passenger for so long, but now I can add bend or inside leg, or actually ask Murray to come through his back more without having to use an entire movement to reset. ¬†I’m pretty happy that I’ve developed that skill as a rider.

My horse is also plenty fit right now. ¬†We ran fast(ish), and not over a short course (1900 m), and Murray came off course barely sweating or breathing hard. ¬†And on Sunday he was fresh and ready to go over the fences, there was no fatigue there. ¬†I know that this is hardly a feat at beginner novice, but it made me feel good that my pony was more than adequately prepared for the event. ¬†I had tons of fun “getting fit” for the event, doing gallops at WSS, and hopefully I can keep those up this summer!

gallop position still needs work though.

My partnership with Murray and our¬†trust bank are so strong right now. ¬†I first felt the weight of all the deposits I’ve been making in the last few years at Twin, when he totally took care of me. ¬†And, as I predicted, when we were¬†both there for the ride, things went even better! ¬†Even better, we continue to grow as a team at an amazing rate! ¬†It’s super cool to feel the progress we are making right now. ¬†We are both in such a good place to learn, from one another and our trainers, and grow our partnership. ¬†And it really feels like that — a partnership.


camelot: stadium

Ending cross country day in last place, while not exactly my goal, definitely takes the pressure off on stadium day.  I felt surprisingly zen and stress-free on Sunday morning, and treated myself to a breakfast burrito with my coffee (which I immediately regretted, because I suck at eating breakfast).

pretty sure this was immediately before he spooked at left shark

Murray was feeling footloose and fancy free on Sunday himself, and he attacked the warm up fences.  Seriously, he felt amazing.

The course was a typical Camelot stadium course — twisty, turny, and full of fucking terrifying jump standards. ¬†The standards and fill were what I worried about on course, since Murray is not exactly known for his bravery in the face of new filler.

The course didn’t feel amazing like cross country had, but we went forward to every fence and had no stops. ¬†After fences 1 and 2 Murray spooked fairly hard left away from the shark standards, so I jammed my feet a little deeper into my stirrups and gave Murray a little smack coming in to fence 3, the knights. ¬†I felt a tiny bit of that hesitation again after the rollback to fence 5 — red white and blue — and got it together for a proper booty smack. ¬†We put six in the five stride line, and when we finally came around to the sharks Murray slowed to a trot… but he trotted forward and over the fence no problem!

blurry victory

I was pretty stoked coming out of the round, even though it didn’t feel all that smooth. ¬†Trainer was like “that was great!!!” and I was like “err really?!” But watching the video, I realised, it really wasn’t that bad! ¬†It was far from Rolex, but I wasn’t fighting for every fence the way I sometimes feel like I am. ¬†For the most part, Murray needed just a little bit of reassurance to move up to the fences, and I was right there for him.

supposed to be a triple bar, loooool

I moved up one spot after stadium due to someone else’s misfortune, but it didn’t matter to me. ¬†Murray went in the ring and did the thing — there was nothing more I could ask from either of us. ¬†I jumped off and we stood around watching the other rides and chatting with Alyssa (Murray didn’t speak too much, mostly just nibbled dead grass).

I have some more thoughts to sum up Camelot, but I think it’s pretty clear that I’m deliriously happy with how everything turned out.

camelot: cross country rebate

The last time I ran rated cross country at Camelot did not end well.  I had better luck last year with an unrated course, but that course was a bit on the soft side and not terribly long.  This year, I was excited to see many of the old fences on the BN course, lots of nice long gallop tracks, and noticed that I felt like everything looked tiny!  It was awesome.

I didn’t ride until noon on Saturday, so I had plenty of time to jump judge for prelim and training. ¬†The divisions went pretty smoothly, minus a rider fall at the coffin in training that created a little hold on course. ¬†The EMTs were not totally sure how to get out to her, and once they were there how to get back, which was both hilarious and exasperating. ¬†But the EMTs were very kind, and the rider was fine, so all was well. ¬†Unfortunately, there was another hold on course due to a rider fall in warm up that did not end so well — the rider was rushed off with sirens and needed surgery. ¬†Sobering.

Despite knowing about both of these holds, I somehow tacked up way, way, way too early.  Like a full hour before I needed to be trotting around in the warm up too early.  The upside of this is that Murray was extremely well behaved to tack up.  I did it loose in his stall, and he just stood quietly and nibbled on hay while I slowly put on my vest, sipped on some water, and made sure that my pinny was on nice and tight.  Eventually I could stand it no longer, and headed over to the warm up ten minutes before I would have been in there for my original ride time.

Murray and I stood in the shade grazing for a while, and after I couldn’t stand it any longer I climbed aboard. ¬†Murray was not really impressed with this idea, and wanted to run (forward or backward, either would be fine) home to stabling. ¬†I walked him in small circles and figure eights until his back relaxed, and finally, finally, we headed in to warm up. ¬†This did not help the feeling of nervousness, of course, but c’est la vie. ¬†The one thing I wish the show venue/warm up steward had done was announced an approximate delay time for the division so that we could have avoided constantly checking in. ¬†But c’est la vie — I get that they wanted to try to hurry things along as much as they could.

Murray warmed up perfectly, moving up toward the fences without hesitation.  Camelot has a fabulous, huge cross country warm up, and there were lots of fences for us to jump.  I did everything once, repeated my approach to a table so I could have Murray jump it a bit more out of stride, and then headed out on course.  I got to watch my teammate Suzanne ride the first few fences with her 5 year old (or maybe only 4?).  Then it was our turn out of the start box!

I didn’t feel any hesitation from Murray at all as we came up to the first fence, he was all go, go, go! ¬†Between fences 1 and 2 we got up a pretty good canter, and Murray only went off the track for a little while as he gave the prelim/training start box a wide berth. ¬†Fence two was a bright blue bicycle rack off of a tight turn that I rode firmly too, since we’d had a stop there last year. ¬†Fence three was Excalibur, and Murray had some second thoughts about the line of fences and jump judges to the left of the sword. ¬†He ran pretty far to the right, but I pointed him back at the fence, trotted him to it, and over we went.

Fence three to four was where Murray really started to gallop, and since fence four was a little table I let him at it. ¬†There was a huge stretch between four and five as well, and Murray really got moving there. ¬†We were going pretty fast — around 500 mpm — and as we came up the small rise to fence 5 I over-checked Murray a little. ¬†He didn’t care, leaped over the post and rail fence, and continued on to six. ¬†Six A-B were close to five, and my main spot of worry for the course: they were on a downhill, not quite a straight approach from 5, and had a bending line between the two fences. ¬†But I pointed Murray at them and he just went! ¬†It was the exact same thing with fence 7 — he was galloping over to it so fast, I remember thinking that the wind was really, really loud in my ears — and about six strides out I asked him to come back to me a bit and look at the fence. ¬†He looked at it, decided it wasn’t a problem despite being pretty slanted and bright pink, and galloped on.

rainbow neck strap ftw

Fence eight was where I got us in trouble. ¬†We were barreling down to the trakhener, and I knew we were going to have trouble with it at that speed. ¬†Murray wasn’t listening to the brakes though, so I tried to keep my leg on while I aggressively half halted. ¬†This got his attention back, but it was too much hand a little too late, and he came to a jerky stop about a stride from the fence. ¬†I had heard the TD describe earlier that she did¬†not want any horses jumping fences from a stand still, so I knew I wasn’t going to squeak by without the stop anyway, so I walked Murray up to the fence, circled at the canter, and he leaped over no problem.

I should have known this could be a problem spot for us, but I guess I was too worried about the 6AB combo to think about the downhill approach to the trak. ¬†I also didn’t think we’d be going 450+ mpm, I thought we’d be cruising along at a much more rateable 350 mpm. ¬†Had I thought about it in advance, I would have asked my trainer (duh), or thought to circle well back from the fence to get Murray’s attention back on me. ¬†Alas, I didn’t think about it, and I certainly wasn’t able to think about it out on course. ¬†But at least it was a new mistake, and not one that I will make again!

camelot is quite pretty!

I briefly pondered how I should handle the rest of the course now that I had a stop. ¬†Should I slow down? ¬†Should I school the water? ¬†I decided to push on — we’d had such a good run so far, there was no reason to slow Murray down and disrupt the flow of the course. ¬†There was also not very much course left — we were 3/4 of the way home anyway.

Despite the ¬†many training and prelim fences surrounding our water entrance, Murray cantered in no problem. ¬†Our second to last two fences were a half coffin, and I slowed Murray up a fair bit so he would see the ditch and not step in it. ¬†I needn’t have worried, since he went right over it, and happily redirected over the sharkstooth second element.

jumping ahead was quite prevalent on course – ah well

I’m so, so happy with how cross country turned out. ¬†I had wanted to run clear and within the time, but I’m okay that it didn’t happen. ¬†The mistake was mine, not Murray’s, and it was an honest one. ¬†Everything about the course minus that one moment felt fantastic — we were going fast, but were totally in control (well, we had steering, if bad brakes), and the speed wasn’t an evasion. ¬†Instead of using speed to mask his insecurities, Murray was excited to be out there, and whatever I pointed him at he was game to jump. ¬†THAT is a huge accomplishment. ¬†Even if it’s not all that different from Twin, this time I was right there with him, instead of holding on for dear life!


camelot: dressage day

Friday morning dawned drizzly and awful at Camelot. ¬†I’d opted to stable Murray in the pipe panels (12×24) there instead of a stall (12×12), because a) we’ve done that a lot and he’s always fine and b) he literally tried to dig his way out of his stall at Twin. ¬†I was regretting that decision while sitting in my car and simultaneously listening to the rain hammering on my roof and looking at my weather app telling me there was a 0% chance of rain in Oroville.

a 0% chance of rain, huh?

The yellow cell passed us fairly quickly though, and other than being wet, Murray was fine. ¬†The rain also provided me with an excellent excuse not to put terribly much effort into cleaning him. ¬†It also made braiding easier, since his mane was pre-soaked! ¬†While braiding Murray’s forelock I discovered a huge scab at his poll, which did make forelock braiding a little challenging, but I didn’t let Murray get away with being an ass (hanging off of his forelock with one hand) and he eventually snuggled in to my chest and let me gently finish the braid.

After braiding I watched Alyssa and Bacon and a few other of the training riders. ¬†Alyssa put in a lovely test. ¬†Everyone was conservative on the lengthenings because the arena was sloppy from the rain. ¬†Watching a few more tests, I realised that people were riding Training B. ¬†And then I was like “oh shit.” ¬†I texted a friend, and she confirmed for me that yes, we were in fact riding BN-B. ¬†I scurried off to learn my test.

Murray tacked up quietly, and I had given myself enough time to change, do ground work, and lunge before heading in to warm up.  This was a good call, since Murray had plenty of opinions on the lunge line, but settled down fairly quickly.  From the lunging arena to the warm up the footing had a pretty drastic change, and Murray let me know his displeasure.  He settled in to warm up nicely though, and even after a few walk  breaks went back to work without a problem.

feat Alyssa!

We were running early, so I headed in to the ring early. ¬†The footing changed again from warm up to the ring, and Murray immediately tensed up as we walked around the ring. ¬†Extra warm up time wouldn’t have helped us, but a bit more space to circle at the bottom of the arena and a few minutes to do it in would have been nice. ¬†Alas, it was not to be. ¬†We trotted down centerline, and Murray decided that he wasn’t really down with the situation, so broke into a canter. ¬†I asked him to trot again, and he was like “maybe just canter tinier? Tiny, tiny canter?” ¬†We did eventually trot, but then I added insult to injury by having him turn¬†right at C instead of left, and his annoyance with me mounted.

that neck, tho!

Despite having never practiced this test all the way through, Murray was great! ¬†He got annoyed a few times and hopped or spazzed out when something unexpected came up, but for the most part he was incredibly rideable and listened to me. ¬†We had plenty of Murray moments sprinkled throughout, like whenever I put my leg on or changed gait. ¬†But his protests were brief and he got back to work very quickly after each one. ¬†The best protest was after the stupid short free walk — which I thought would be easier because there is less time to get distracted, but it is harder because there’s less time to develop stretch and march!!!! — when I asked Murray to pick up the trot. ¬†He squealed, leaped in the air, and then we trotted down centerline minus my left stirrup.

murray: flying change between A and K!
nicole: that is not a movement!!!!

The judge had been generous all morning, and I (kinda for the first time!!) felt like she was equally generous to me. ¬†For movements where we pulled it together quickly, she scored us for the better work we had done. ¬†The score sheet ended up with a mix of 7s/6s and 3s/4s, so we were either solidly above average or super inadequate. ¬†I ended up with a 42, and honestly probably deserved more like a 46 — easier to acknowledge when given the more generous of the two scores, though. ¬†This was about on par with how generous the judge was being to other riders in my division. ¬†It also put me solidly in last place.

new favourite test comment: “not today!”

Megan and Kate had come up on their way to Horse Expo to watch me and Alyssa, and we all got a good laugh out of Murray’s display of great talent. ¬†(I think one of them may even have gotten some good pics of Murray’s objections!) He clearly knew he had a blogging audience and had to put on his best behavior for them!!¬†But honestly, how could I be annoyed at him for this? ¬†He did everything I asked, he just did it with flair. ¬†And while I’d love to have the type of horse who trots over all different footing without batting an eye, he¬†isn’t that horse. ¬†There’s no point wishing for something that doesn’t exist. ¬†In the end, I’m very happy that we stayed in the ring (there’s a canter transition after a diagonal where I was legitimately worried we’d bolt out over the arena PVC) and that I kept riding.


We have been on such a roll lately — every outing we take, he becomes more rideable and relaxed, and I get better at thinking and riding to ask for better performance. ¬†We still have a lot of work to do — Murray is still tense through the base of his neck and not totally through — but all of that work feels achievable and within reach. ¬†This pony has come a long way from the one who couldn’t even canter in the arena because he was so tense. ¬†And I’ve come a long way from the rider who melted down because she couldn’t get her pony to canter in the arena because she was so tense. ¬†Seriously, it made me so happy. ¬†So, so happy.

i loaf my pony!!!!!

the best weekend

I had the best freaking weekend at Camelot.

I got to meet some super cool animals and their even cooler humans. (Stupidly forgot to take a pic with Skully or Meaty!  I am a fool.)

My horse was as brave as he knew how, never stopped being himself, and was  handsome AF to boot.

I rode my little heart out and made all new mistakes!  And I learned from them!

We went really, really, really fast. ¬†Like, speed faults if we hadn’t circled for the refusal fast.

The jumps all looked tiny!!

Losing never felt so good!!!

ucd schooling dressage show

Because Peony is an enabler, a few weeks ago she encouraged me to sign up for a schooling show at Davis with the tantalizing offer of being my ride. ¬†Why not? I thought. ¬†Murray and I need the practice, and it will be fun to see how we stand up to pure dressage judging! ¬†I’m pretty sure I still remember T3 and 1-1 from that November that I had to scratch this same show, right?

Wrong, Nicole, wrong. You do not remember T3 and 1-1 except for the first few moves, minus the halt at X.  You do not have time to practice, and seeing how you stand up to pure dressage judging is really not necessary for an eventer!

we r so magnificentz

The night before the show, Murray got some kind of weird scratch on his back that went just under the saddle region.  Perfect!  I thought.  This is a great excuse to scratch!!  But my barn manager ruined all my plans by inspecting the scrape, poking Murray rather violently, and telling me to ride.  So ride I did.

On Saturday morning, Peony’s husband kindly picked me up bright and early (second theme of the weekend: horse husbands being awesome), and Murray politely loaded directly into the trailer. ¬†We picked up Peony, Spot loaded like a champ, and we were on our way. ¬†I will admit, it’s very nice to have a show venue just 20 minutes down the road with the trailer, albeit a show that is frequently a little poorly organized (this year was no exception, but they were very flexible and accommodating, which more than made up for it).

When we got to UCD, we checked in and unloaded the ponies. ¬†Murray and I went for a little graze and groundwork stroll while Peony got Spot ready for her T1 and T2 tests. ¬†I didn’t ask Murray to do too many of our groundwork exercises, but did ask him to stop and go and back a few times, with plenty of cookies as a reward. ¬†I set him up at the trailer with our new blocker tie ring and a hay bag full of alfalfa. ¬†Yep. ¬†Alfalfa. ¬†I gave my pony a forbidden food to shut him up at the trailer. ¬†I regret nothing (because I haven’t ridden since that day).

“5.5 – stretch never achieved” (that is accurate)

It was around this time that one of the organizers came up to me and pointed out a grievous (her word! but accurate) error she had made. ¬†In scheduling the times, she had scheduled one ride at 10:24 and the following ride at 11:30. So really, I could go an hour earlier than my ride time — as early as 10:39 — if I wanted! ¬†I looked at my watch. 10:10. ¬†There was no universe in which Murray and I were ready to go at 10:39. ¬†Fortunately, the organizers were very flexible and worked hard to make the ride times run smoothly for everyone.

After Peony’s rides, I headed over to Murray and quickly threw on a saddle. ¬†He had pulled all the way to the end of the leadrope at the trailer, but thanks to the blocker ring was just wandering around on an extremely long leash. ¬†Mostly it seemed like he was trying to reach the water bucket that Peony and I had put down for Spot. ¬†Tacking up went¬†really well. ¬†Andy and Peony both commented on how mellow and relaxed Murray looked compared to previous outings at UCD (and elsewhere). ¬†He really was just chilling.

“6.0, some lengthening shown”

We popped into one of the small turnouts and lunged both ways with no dramatics. ¬†Murray just… walked, trotted, and cantered with no dramatics or theatrics. ¬†So I walked him over to the warm up by the ring, and chatted with the organizers about my rides. ¬†I was ahead of time, so I rode ahead of time and they said I could go in for my T3 test and immediately follow it up with the 1-1 test. ¬†Super! ¬†That was the best possible outcome!

As we warmed up I tried to keep a few things that I’ve been working on in mind. ¬†I didn’t give up on my position or the reins — no giving it away just because someone doesn’t want contact. ¬†Same thing for trot and canter cues: I know how to ask Murray for them correctly, and he knows what they mean, so there’s no reason to back off just because I don’t get what I want immediately. ¬†And Murray respected that. ¬†There was a moment when I felt his back back get a little tight in the canter, so I just stood up in my stirrups and let him canter around on a loose rein.

he’s looking thin here which really annoys me.¬†our barn had to switch hay types, so Murray’s on a self-imposed starvation diet again. such a freaking diva.

Our T3 test went smoothly. ¬†Really, both tests went smoothly. ¬†The extra time you have to ask for canter departs between A and F (instead of at A, for example) really let me prepare and ask correctly and not give up the cue just because Murray didn’t step into the canter immediately. ¬†But we went in, he put his head down, and did the thing! It was so cool!

After the test, the judge commented that Murray was tense in the canter and he needed more suppleness there.  Our cadence and steadiness was evident, but the suppleness was not.  She suggested a bit more hip and seat to get him bending.  That was fine by  me!  The 1-1 test has more bending than the T3 one does, so I made that my goal to improve upon for the next test.

case in point: tense and somewhat horrifyingly upside-down canter.
this got a “6,5 – bold effort” for the lengthening though

Doing the two tests back to back was HUGELY beneficial to us. ¬†Because Murray never thought we were done working, he just stayed on task. ¬†And because I got the feedback on my riding without a big gap, I could incorporate it immediately. ¬†I was especially please that Murray didn’t break to canter in either of the trot lengthenings, and that he was so good at coming back after the canter lengthenings.

I was incredibly happy with both of the tests even before I saw the scores. ¬†I’d gone in expecting to score in the 50s (I like to set my sights low to avoid disappointment) an work through some weird dramatics. ¬†That was the whole point of going to a schooling show, to get the drama llama out of the way and into work mode. ¬†And instead, Murray turned up worked with me!

he fucking dropped the mic on 3 of our 4 halts too — this one got an 8

I got a sweet flow chart drawn on the comments section of my test (it makes a lot of sense, actually) and came home with 2nd and 3rd in 1-1 and T3 respectively!  This has obviously got me pretty jazzed for Camelot this weekend.  If Murray and I can keep it together half as well at Camelot as we did at UCD, we will be in GREAT shape!

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