new baby horses, new lessons

Murray has been on post-injection stall rest for a few days, so I’ve been riding some of trainer B’s sales/training/baby horses for fun.  I mean, it was also one of my summer “plans“.  So ya know.

Ponyboy was actually real cute this weekend when I took him out for a handwalk. We walked all over the arena and back and forth over the scary, terrifying, horse-eating tarp. I unhooked the leadrope to let him roll, but Murray continued to just follow me around, including back and forth over the tarp!  Totally at liberty.  Like, please, horse: tug on my heart strings some more.

And man.  It’s been a while since I’ve had really prolonged contact with really green/baby horses.  I forgot about all the baby horse things.  Like, walking literally on top of me when I ask them to step up toward the tacking up area.  Or walking at a snail’s pace and literally making me drag them in from the pasture.  (WHY baby horse, WHY? I give you carrots in the barn?!)

But they are good teachers — almost always.  You just have to listen.  Here are some of my recent lessons.

awwwwh look at da baby murray!

you catch more flies with honey

Baby horses don’t know things. Like, sometimes they don’t know any of the things. And there’s only so much beating dragging one can do of a horse who just doesn’t know what the hell is expected of him.  I have some pretty strict expectations when it comes to ground manners in the horses I’m working with.  I realized that this is SUPER LAUGHABLE, since my horse has something like the second worst ground manners on Earth.  But in all honesty, when he’s in a non-stressful situation he knows how to behave around a human — even if he doesn’t want to do it.  The really green horses I’ve worked with have conveniently forgotten all of their racetrack manners — and I know they had them.  I try my hardest not to let them get away with bad behavior (easy, because I seem to use up all of my patience and tolerance on my own horse), and frequently praise the good behavior verbally, as well as with pats and carrots.

auto-narration of my exploits

Because I’m nearly constantly praising or scolding the young horses, I find that I’m nearly constantly talking to them. I kinda like this auto-narration of my rides and ground work.  Not only does it make me feel super important (hah), but it also keeps me thinking about what we’re doing, instead of letting me mindlessly slip into bad habits.

this track pic is so murray
photog: murray/ricothefreako, look at the camera, these are your sale pics!
murray/recothefreako: there’s a thing over there!!

my expecations are way higher now

I used to get on baby horses or other peoples’ horses and let them flop around on a loose rein and be like “wow, they are so cute!”  And I still do that now… kinda.  But then I pick up the reins and ask them for a little bit more.  I don’t need alot, I just need them to put themselves together a little bit.  This seems to be the part where most of the baby horses are like WOAH WHAT.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a horse to learn to start stretching laterally and longitudinally, using their back, and not falling through their shoulders.  I mean, obviously not all at once.  And not for long periods of time.  But these are things that sport horses need to learn.  And we can chip away at them one step at a time.

These days it drives me nuts when a horse responds to what I consider a relatively simple aid by doing the exact opposite (yield to the inside rein =/= stick out your jaw and lean on my hand).  Or even not doing it at all.  DON’T YOU KNOW I’M TRYING TO HELP YOU, BABY HORSES?!

It’s no longer acceptable to me to take no for an answer to these requests.  I do my level best not to be mean about it, and to praise mightily (see above) when I get what I want.  I even back off if the question I’m asking is too hard or incomprehensible.  Every ride I’m putting on these horses is training them one way or the other, and I don’t want to train them that “no” is an okay response to a reasonable request.

the training scale

This thing is golden and was has lasted forever for a reason.  If we’ve got nothing, I know where I need to start: rhythm.  On the flip side, it makes me wonder how some of the older horses I’ve ridden have gotten away so long without this crucial skill…


baby horse goes jump jump

distance makes the heart grow fonder

Riding babies makes me think of nothing so much as how badly I just want my own horse back.  Murray know how to do all the things I want, just the way I want them, pretty much when I want them.  I love you and miss you Murray.  Feel 100% REAL QUICK plz.

 

five things friday

Phew. What a week. I was weirdly emotional about getting Murray’s hocks done, which is strange because that’s exactly what I called the vet to ask about in the first place… but some small, irrational, part of my brain still hoped that by magic my horse would be fine and proclaimed hale and hearty well into his seventies.  Murray, on the other hand, is super sad about being asked to rest again.

Just the saddest.

But as always, you guys were there to add excellent evidence and kind words of support, so I’m feeling much perkier about Murray’s prognosis.

1. Sweat equity

When my boyfriend moved in with me a couple of months ago he brought along his scale and a serious determination to get into a healthier lifestyle.  (Couch surfing and living with his parents for a year took a toll.)  I don’t worry too much about my weight unless something weird is going on, like I don’t fit in to my breeches or something, but I do hop on the scale every now and again.  On Monday, around noon, I jumped on the scale before going to ride, then headed out and rode two horses, worked 3 yearlings (oh man did they get on my bad side that afternoon), ran an errand at the feed store, and came home around six.  I’d polished off my 1 L water bottle and another 500 mL of water after getting home.  I jumped back on the scale out of curiosity before stripping to get in the shower.

Despite consuming 1.5L of water, I’d still somehow lost a pound of weight while I was out of the house.  The water weighed 3.3 lb (1.5 kg), and I didn’t eliminate in other ways while out of the house, so that means I lost a total of 4.3 lbs in sweat + CO2 + water vapor over the course of the afternoon.  That’s a lot of moisture.

2. Electrolytes

In addition to drinking enough water to make up for the sweat I lose while riding and playing outdoors in general, I’ve taken to drinking some electrolytes as well.  A friend gave me a box of Osmo for Women and I actually like the powdered mix a fair bit.  It’s a bit gritty/grainy at the end, but it’s not hard to just swirl it up and down the whole thing.  I used to drink watered down gatorade while at horse shows, but I’ll definitely be replacing it with proper electrolytes in the future.  Eventually I’ll run out of my free Osmo — what do you use?  I’ve heard great things about Smart Water.  Thoughts?

3. Sore muscles

I’m kinda over paying an arm and a leg for liniment and muscle rubs that I feel like actually work.  I like Sore No More Gelotion a lot, but $18 for a little bottle, when I’m pretty sure I can get the ingredients for less.  I’m going to take a whack at making my own liniment. I’m pretty sure I have the basics sorted out (witch hazel base, arnica and comfrey for sure, maybe including camphor, lavender, rosemary, and ginger, emulsify with xantham gum).  What’s important to you in a liniment?  One of my friends loves the cooling feeling of menthol, which you can kinda replicate with peppermint oil (if you don’t want to add straight menthol crystals).  Another online source swears by magnesium salts as a body brace, and it wouldn’t be terribly hard to dissolve some of them in there.

4. International Blogger Contest

Horse Junkies United is running an International Blogger Contest with a bomb prize package.  I write for them occasionally and really enjoy the community on there.  I might enter (I don’t think I’m excluded, but I probably won’t win anything either) — and you should enter too!

5. Tweezerman nail clippers

I actually got these off of someone else’s Friday Five.  Have you ever owned really nice nail clippers?  Me neither, until I got these guys.  I LOVE them.  It’s so nice to trim my nails and not feel the jaggedy sharp edges that you usually get with the $1.99 drug store nail clippers.  10/10 will recommend again.

pain b&b

So. The experiment of last week.

When I took a lesson with Tina in May, I was starting to think about joint maintenance and preventative health.  Or maybe treatment.  Or …. whatever was appropriate.  I asked her thoughts, told her that I wasn’t looking for trouble/to spend money, but, you know, maybe the time had come to inject something?

Tina suggested, very practically (and, I should note, as a DVM), that I could try giving Murray what she calls a “B&B cocktail” for three days to see if it improved anything.  The B&B cocktail being 1g of bute and 250 mg of banamine twice a day.  If there was pain or inflammation somewhere in Murray’s body, the NSAIDs would mask them during that time.  If Murray was better on drugs, then we would know that he likely needs to be injected somewhere.  If he wasn’t… I’m not really sure what the logical conclusion to that would be.

So I put my horse on a pile of NSAIDs and a little bit of ulcer prevention on Tuesday of last week. And boy, did it ever tell us anything.


oh look, those hocks actually bend…

During last week’s lesson, Tina commented immediately that Murray looked great, that he was moving his hocks and his back really well.  This is a comment we don’t usually get until we’ve worked through all the residual stiffness, about halfway through a lesson.  Every exercise we did in the lesson was easier for Murray than it usually is — and it’s not like we’d been practicing a bunch either.  I jumped on him for the first time in a week for that lesson, and he was fantastic. Collecting the canter was so shockingly easy for him when I asked.  The difference was very, very clear.

My Friday  jump lesson was also “on drugs”, though we were coming down from them at the time.  Murray’s last dose of NSAIDs had been that morning right before the lesson, and he’d gone 24 hours between doses, so he probably wasn’t feeling as good as he had during the previous few days.  That, too, might have contributed to his nappiness.


just asking for a little more trot here

vs.


actually going for the extension here

I’ve actually already had the vet out to do Murray’s hocks (since this all took place last week) — I piggybacked on someone else’s PPE appointment.  It will be very interesting to see how it turns out, and whether this actually makes him more comfortable.

cantering on drugs last week

vs.

cantering off drugs

I’m more than happy to include hock injections as part of Murray’s routine maintenance.  He’s proven to me that he’s worth investing in (lol, only took four years), and obviously from a welfare and ethics standpoint I want him to be comfortable in the work we are doing.  I fully acknowledge that we ask horses to do some pretty unnatural things, though, and that some low level of discomfort is likely to be present in doing this.

camelot, june 2017

vs.

during the experiment, last week
not a totally fair comparison as it’s not quite the same moment of the stride, but you get the idea

But I also don’t have the funds to endlessly pursue what might make him feel better if the hock injections don’t help.  It seems like there are a lot of ways I can spend, validly or wastefully, money on this “problem” — and part of it depends on how big I decide the problem itself is.  There are plenty of horses who are comfortable competing at much higher levels than we with similar (or even more) maintenance needed.  Honestly, I’m hoping that this does the trick enough for me to be able to put thoughts of further evaluation and injection out of my mind.  At least until I develop that app and become a grillionaire.

may 2015

january 2017

during the experiment, july 2017

The key will be to keep evaluating Murray’s comfort and happiness in work.  Formerly, Murray’s objections to work always seemed to be to the concept of work in general, which I have always taken as a work ethic problem.  He’s always had a kinda shitty work ethic (but maybe he’s also always kinda needed some more joint support?).  So the next few months will be very telling for us.

the ghost of Murrays past

After our excellent dressage lesson, and in line with experimental protocols (which I promise to tell you about soon), Murray and I had a jump lesson.  This was a multi-purpose jump lesson, as it gave me the opportunity to try out my new jump saddle!  I found an Albion monoflap for super cheap on international eBay, and after hearing so many success stories with international saddle purchases I went for it.  I also knew that the Albion monoflap tree fit Murray reasonably well, because I had the same saddle on trial in too large of a seat size back in May.

wow it looks teeny on him

When I got to the barn at 8, I couldn’t find my horse, which was a touch disconcerting.  I shortly found Murray in a friend’s stall, which was a side effect of another horse being in his stall overnight.  Murray had plowed down 5 lbs of alfalfa in the 30 minutes he’d been in his friend’s stall, however, and since the damage was already done (nothing but crumbs remained of that flake), and I had to ride another horse first, I figured I’d just leave him there. The feed problem was compounded when my barn manager came through and delivered buckets, and didn’t realized Murray wasn’t the horse that belonged in that stall.  In the four seconds it took for her to step out of the stall, grab the next bucket, and turn back to Murray in shock realizing what she’d done, he’d discovered his luck and was absolutely HOOVERING down his friend’s LMF gold.


i couldn’t choose

The lesson itself was like a Freaky Friday/Christmas Carol mashup, because Murray was hardcore channeling the ghosts of his jumping past.  I didn’t blog then, and there’s not much relevant media, but there was a period when every jump lesson with Murray was just a bucking mess.  He balked before fences, bolted after them, and bucked throughout.  I would be so deliriously happy to get through a course of 2’3″ verticals smoothly that I’d call the assistant trainer over to come watch me do it again (which never happened because it was never repeatable).

lol this is a gem i hadn’t looked at in a while

(And yeah, we can play the “he was probably in pain” game, and maybe he was. I had a different saddle then, he definitely had chiro issues that we were addressing from month to month, and — oh yes, pertinent to this story — I still fed him alfalfa.)

We started out unable to get a spot to a pretty small vertical at the trot.  I tried a few different approaches on the way in, adding leg, asking for more balance, but it all ended up messy.  After we changed directions I focused just on the rhythm of the trot and tried not to think too much about the spot, and it rode much more smoothly.

Our next challenge was a little corner built out of a barrel and two standards.  I made the same mistake I’ve made every week for the last month and assumed that a forward canter = a confident horse.  NOT SO.  Murray slammed on the sideways brakes a few strides out from the barrel.  “NO,” I told him. “NO BULLSHIT TODAY.”  (I had already fallen of one horse that morning, and he was a super honest but green sales horse, so I wasn’t about to let my much more trained pony get away with bad behavior.)  I circled, as we’d already passed the point where I could reasonably make the correction and slow up to a manageable pace.  We trotted in, thinking again just about the rhythm, and popped over, and Murray gave a few disgruntled bucks after.

i should get this made into a necklace charm or something

There was a one stride one stride grid set up also, and B lengthened the distances out a touch for our lesson mate, RBF.  It’s what Murray and I are working on right now anyway, so I was cool with it.  Right up until we headed in to the grid.  Murray actually responded really well when we turned to the grid and pulled me toward it, which was fantastic — there was once a time when he’d have backed off hard.  He jumped long and flat through it, and then took off playing immediately afterward.  This was actually exactly how I’d fallen off the sale horse earlier in the morning.  Fortunately for me, Murray is more responsive to my yelling and pulling and slowed down before the arena wall rushed up on us, and I was saved from the disgrace of falling off of two horses, in the exact same fashion, in less than 3 hours.

The rest of the lesson was much of the same. B kept the fences small because we were clearly struggling a little (RBF’s Lucy was also feeling pretty sore from some heavy duty booty dressage rides), and I focused on riding my horse.  Murray was up to his old tricks, balking in front of fences and then bolting after them, and bucking on all the long canter strethces.  At one point I pulled a little to regulate his speed and direction after a fence and instead of adjusting a little Murray slammed on the front brakes and threw his withers and neck in to my pelvis.  I lost my patience at that point and was like “No! No! You can canter like a NORMAL HORSE!!”

all aboard the nope train

I put my leg on, but kept a firm contact with my hands, and didn’t give Murray anywhere to go but between my leg and the bridle.  To his credit, he responded really well (shockingly well, actually).  He put his head down, lifted his back, and cantered like a normal horse.  I didn’t let up for the rest of the lesson — the only time he felt any slack in the reins was when I pushed my hands up his crest a little over the fences.

It will surprise no-one that the fences came much more easily when Murray was keeping a consistent rhythm and actually using his hind end to power his gaits, instead of to fishtail around or kick at imaginary birds.  But it surprised me!  At least a little.  I haven’t really been able to put Murray together this well in the past, so contact to fences usually* == slowing to fences.  Since I don’t want that, I err too far on the other side and flap the reins at him like that will solve some kind of problem.

(* Sometimes short reins/contact to fences == me leaning too far forward, or making other amazing mistakes.)

we’ll end on a happy jumping picture. but wait! where did my form from last august go?!

It was by no means a bust of a lesson, though I do want to start jumping a big bigger coming up to Camelot in August.  First, Murray helped me figure out that I can probably stick his shit in the new saddle.  That’s for sure a win.  Second, it gave me valuable data on exactly how to ride Murray when he gets in one of these moods.  And while they aren’t common any more, they do show up in some unfortunately critical places — stadium jumping rounds at shows, for example.  If I can get Murray as put together during stadium as I did in the lesson, that will be awesome for us.

dressage lesson: all the feels

Murray and I had a fantastically productive dressage lesson with Tina last week.  It wasn’t so much that we worked on new or exciting exercises or revolutionized how the horse went, but it confirmed that we are doing correct work, how to take that work to the next level, and that my feel for what is right is developing and becoming more accurate.  The lesson also gave me some good data on a little experiment I was running last week, but more on that later.


no relevant media from the actual lesson,
but I did the same exercises the next day with only slightly less success

We started out by addressing my (wildest) hope that I am finally able to actually feel when Murray is bending through his ribcage, and not just falling all over himself laterally.  Tina had me put the beast on a large circle, then shrink the circle in and increase the bend in his body as appropriate.  I evidently can feel true bend now (HOORAY!) because I managed to keep Murray bent on a 15m circle, even though we were tracking right (harder direction) and it was our first circle post warm-up.  Tina encouraged me to bring the circle in a little more and push for even more bend.  She wanted me to ride the edge of Murray’s ability to bend without falling apart, in order to enter that zone of maximum learning and skill building (my words! totally my weirdo words).  We got to about a 12m circle before Murray’s haunches started to lose it around the circle, and so I slowly let him back out to the 15m-ish circle before carefully and slowly leg yielding back out.

Before we switched directions I told Tina that one thing I was struggling with in this part of our education is understanding, and obviously helping Murray understand, the difference between an inside leg that asks for bend and an inside leg that asks him to move over.  She told me to think of the inside leg that asks for bend as more of a toned or firmed leg, and the leg that asks for lateral movement to actually push.  This exercise, she pointed out, would help Murray to develop that understanding of submission to the inside leg for bend vs. movement.

i only tracked left in this ride, but just pretend my work to the right was equally neato

When we changed directions to the left Murray was much more competent at the exercise, and we managed to get down to about a 10m circle with a fair bit of effort on both of our parts.  Because Murray struggles more to the right, we went back that direction once more.  Tina reminded me to keep Murray’s haunches in with my outside leg — though I probably did not need to swing it quite so far back, as the first time I tried that he promptly cantered.  But after one attempt left, he was also more capable to the right.

We moved on to the next big challenge I see: developing sit/collection at the canter.  I really struggle with this because it’s something we need for both jumping and dressage.  I also feel like Murray used to be able to sit and shrink his stride at the canter really easily when jumping, usually while  maintaining an uphill  balance.  But lately it seems that his smaller strides have been very downhill and inverted — maybe they have always been that way, but I’ve only just developed a good enough feel to tell the difference.  I also don’t know how much collection I should be aiming for — Murray obviously wants me to think that I’m being too mean/it’s too hard. But progress is hard, kiddo.


i read something about thinking of your elbows as “weighted” and tried to envision it in these rides to stop them from floating off into outer space. instead i way overcorrected and put my hands in my lap. moderation is needed. Murray looks cute though!

We cantered on the big circle, then slowed it down and brought Murray into as small and collected of a canter circle as I could navigate — probably around 10 meters.  The first time we did it was incredible, because Murray was listening really well, but wasn’t anticipating the smaller circle.  So he just sat as much as he was able and we managed a pretty good little circle.  Tina said that I should try to make the next circle even smaller and slow Murray down even more, shortening the sweep of my seat to keep the strides quick and small.  It took me a couple of repetitions to get this down, but on our third try I felt some really uphill and controlled strides from Murray on that little circle that made me very happy.

We struggled more tracking right once again, especially because Murray lost all the bend on our first small/slow circle and dropped his back.  Even though I’m trying not to hang on the right/inside rein, I can’t let Murray lose the bend through these exercises.  For the lesson Tina had me go back to our old way of overbending the neck using more inside rein, but I imagine that as we practice I will be able to transition to a lighter inside rein again.


heading in to the tiny circle. i made my transitions from 20m to tiny circle too abrupt when i repeated this exercise, and the quality suffered for it. so i know for future practice to give murray a little more spiral-down time to get into the small circle.

We ended with a couple of counter canter loops which were seriously our best to date.  They were shallow-ish as there is a big pile of poles and standards stacked in a teepee right at X, and I didn’t want to tackle going past/around X for the first time when Murray was tired and had a bunch of stuff to potentially spook at.  But for the first time our shallow loops in both directions were controlled and balanced, and we kept the tempo.  HUGE progress for us, since I’ve been struggling with downhill running through the counter canter for basically two years (also known as, I suck at counter canter and probably started it too early).

Another huge win for us: not once during this lesson did Tina have to remind me not to nag with my seat. FOR ONCE!

in love with how good Murray  looks in this pic

It was such a great lesson in terms of confirming my feel (for bend and collection) and to do exercises where I can replicate the feeling later on.  Obviously, because the pics came from there, I did these exercises again the next day with not too much degradation of quality — though of course I did make some all new mistakes to learn from.

A few other notes from the lesson and subsequent ride:

  • keep riding seat to hands/don’t get pulled forward and down in canter (especially when trying to collect)
  • ride the extended transition in the canter in the exercise also to develop more elasticity
  • hands and elbows more forward (not so bad in the lesson, but they were a bit too far back the next day)
  • likewise, shorten the reins a little for steadier contact
  • a touch of haunches in is ok for now, while developing better bend
  • still need crispness/clarity/lack of static in the canter transitions – but they are better
  • I need to work on quieting the forward-backward movement of my leg when giving different cues
  • try to develop a more uphill half halt in the canter collection
  • eventually, the goal is to get the canter collection from seat alone — but that is for a year from now! for now, develop strength and suppleness in this work with lots of support from me.
  • work the weak side more, but with lots of breaks — both walk breaks, and breaks where you work the stronger side
  • who cares about sugar-induced navicular if lifesavers keep Murray happy and compliant?!

xc schooling: just keep learning

I spent last week in San Diego for a wedding (+ friend & blogger adventures) this week, which is why the long, pensive silences and deep sighs.  But before I left, on Tuesday morning, I managed to squeeze in a quick XC school at WSS with trainer and my RBF (and others).

I wanted to get out and ride the Novice fences to build my confidence before Camelot, and also because the Novice course at WSS is cool.  RBF wanted to school her new, awesome mare.  One of our friends is working on getting to know her mare and settle her on XC, and the other was trying a mare she is interested in buying.   So it was a total girl power party — Murray didn’t feel out of place in the least, because as we know he is really a mare at heart.

big novice fence, a little cruelly set very early in the course

We had some minor struggles, which are interesting and gave me something to think about.  Part of it may have been due to Murray feeling sore or not quite himself — our Monday ride he was hollow through his lower back and I spent a long time just trying to encourage him to lift and become connected.  But it’s also a new height and new challenge for both of us, so likely that was contributing.  I started out the day with the goal of focusing on my position: I wanted to keep my lower leg underneath me a little better (instead of swinging it out ahead of me — went too far on that one), and follow the motion over the fences better.  I rode differently because of this, and maybe that added to Murray’s confusion.

Anyway.  We warmed up over a little log.  Murray wasn’t pulling me to fences the way he did at Camelot, but he was forward and happy.  Then we hit the log and cantered down to a log box.  Murray turned on the gallop in between the two fences, I fell into the trap of assuming speed is bravery, and he stopped.  It was fine, we looked at it, turned around, and went right over.  I know that’s a problem we have, and should have actually put in the effort to get Murray looking to the next fence before we were on top of it.


I love decorating this produce table fence!

We jumped the next few fences (a coop and another log) successfully, then came up to the big red table.  This is a max size novice fence and it looks and feels BIG — part of that is that the ground around it has sunk and been worn away, so it has gained an inch or so since it was first put in.  (I’m guessing we will need to dig it down or replace it for the September events.)  Galloping up to this fence Murray had a great, forward step, and I tried to keep my leg on with gentle pressure to remind him to keep moving forward.  But, as you saw earlier this week, it did not go as planned.  Murray slammed on the brakes pretty far out — we had huge skid marks leading up to the fence as we stopped.  (Riding the stop I had felt like perhaps I should have kicked him over the fence anyway, but after watching the video I’m SUPER glad I didn’t, as we had no power after skidding so far.)

I turned to my trainer and said “I have no idea what’s going on with us right now. I don’t know if it’s him or if it’s me.”  She told me to try again, let him shrink his stride and get deep if we wanted, and she’d watch us.  We jumped it, but we got really close and I felt like Murray had to put in a LOT of effort to get over it.  I wanted to jump the fence from a more open, galloping stride and better spot, so we tried again. We had a good pace, the step was a little short but not too bad, and yet we stopped again.

I chose to back down to a simpler question.  We both needed to be confident that we could tackle this stupid table.  We jumped the green coop (you can see it in the background above), and Murray was fine.  B suggested I turn around and take it immediately the other direction to give Murray something “different” to object to.  It worked — Murray stiffened his front legs on approach, and I smacked him behind my leg where I wanted him to take off to let him know that we really were going.  We went.

So we tackled the red table one more time.  I kept my leg on, but didn’t chase Murray with my leg or seat.  I insisted he keep an open step, and didn’t pull him back at the last minute.  I didn’t look down, I didn’t stare at the fence, I stayed calm.  I say I did all these things, but really what I probably did was ride slightly less like a drunken monkey.  And we did it, and it was awesome!! (Pic evidence at the top of the post.)

The rest of our adventure was really smooth sailing.  Murray and I really enjoy the technical elements presented at Novice — they are close together enough to be fun, but really welcoming easy to navigate.

We killed it at the half coffin, and the up bank combinations. Murray was slightly less forward than I wanted, but after the success at the red table I wasn’t going to be too pushy.  I know that neither of us handles a lot of change at once well, so I tried to keep it simple-ish: forward step, no more stops.  It worked — Murray was super for everything else on course.  I’m super proud of the pony.  Sure, we had hiccups, but he did the things!  And it has me feeling pretty confident for Camelot, since I’ve seen all their Novice fences and ours are bigger (lollll). (Please don’t change your course suddenly, Camelot!)

novice pencil, four strides to a quarter round (but we made it five, natch)

There’s a lot I’d like to change about my jumping position after watching the media of this school — and that was WITH me trying to change some of those things on the day of!  I’ve always ridden defensively and “unfolded the landing gear” faster than I should.  I also tend to be behind the motion of the fences a little.  Murray is pretty trustworthy now, so it would probably be a good call to make his life a little easier by jumping with him a bit more.  I see grids and no stirrups work in our future!  And if you have books or videos or other resources for me to practice on the ground with jumping positional stuff, I will gladly take them!

small steps to bigger strides

It’s a good thing my Friday lesson after last week’s ridiculousness was a jump lesson, because I’m not sure I had it in me for more fighting about dressage.  As it was, Murray and I got to take our first lesson in a long time with my RBF!  She has just gotten a new pony, who is very spry and pretty fantastique, and finally we’re of a level to lesson together consistently again!  The added challenge in our lesson is the RBF’s pony Lucy has a much bigger stride than Murray and likes to take the long ones, whereas Murray has a shorter stride and often wants to cram extra steps in.  So B set the combinations to a 12 foot step and challenged us both to make it.


majestic mare!! I am completely obsessed with her (pic from her previous owner)

We kept the fences small, which was a good choice given the challenge of getting the striding. I was riding in a borrowed saddle as an experiment — the saddle I’ve had for a long time bridges pretty badly, and last week I found a sore spot in Murray’s lower back after my jump lesson.  The borrowed saddle (same one I used at Twin, actually) doesn’t bridge, but is certifiably too big for me (very clear from the footage).  Probably a good choice not to crank the fences up to 3′ given all that.  (I did want to ask for them to go up for my last course, but wanted to solidify the success we had at the lower height once more, and thought it would be better to do that without changing things. Maybe this is why we progress slowly. Oh well!)


look at that pony taking a reasonable takeoff point for once

Once we had warmed up, I insisted that Murray move forward to the fences.  This worked out well for us. Coming in to the (looking incredibly long to me) two stride to one stride combo, I kept my leg on, floated my reins (/ my whole arms, you’ll see) and we made the distance!  It was a little long to the out oxer, but it wasn’t awful.  Once I knew we could make the longer step, I continued to insist that Murray move forward to the fences.  I sacrificed any contact (and apparently a lot of equitation) to do this — we really aren’t yet at the point where we can do both at once.

After the triple combination, we wrapped around wide to a little gate, and then a bending six strides to a one-stride with a panel that Murray has peeked at a few times before.  On the bigger, more forward step even when Murray peeked at the panel we still had a very reasonable stride coming in and easily made the distance.

The second and third times through we wrapped back around to each of the combinations backward — one stride to two stride, and one stride to bending six stride.  We made the strides every time, which was awesome, but my insistence on the forward pace did come with a bit of a price.  For one, I gave up on all contact and just flopped my reins around the whole time.  Murray was moving fairly flat and downhill, which was to be expected since we are not used to this big open step.  My solution to this apparently to try to lift him up using my hands only?  Not totally sure what I was doing, but I caught my hands floating up weirdly high on a number of occasions.


such magnificent dressage between the fences

The saddle was also clearly too big for me, which was much more evident once I watched the videos.  I did feel a touch in the wrong place during the lesson, but nothing like what the video showed.  I have a smaller saddle (16.5″) coming from the UK but it won’t be here toward the end of the month, so I’ll need to figure out a solution for my jump lessons before then.  Murray was much springier and forward than in my jump saddle, however, so a change is definitely in order.

I did have to get firm at one point, near the beginning of the lesson, giving Murray a sharp smack when he got sticky/balky as we walked off to start our course instead of moving promptly off my leg.  He got his attitude in line pretty quickly after that, and didn’t get snotty or act out when I asked him to move off my leg.  I’d like to start getting him more put together and forward for jump courses, which sounds weirdly familiar like I’ve been saying it for absolute ages?  But it’s a good goal for the next few weeks before Camelot.

um yes, nicole, a 17.5″ seat is too big for you. how very useful that knee block looks.

The video shows the most progress, really, so I’ll leave it at that.

 

there is no try

The quality of my rides in the last week week have run the gamut from really great, progress-making, funtimes to inexplicable shit show.  I’ve been focused on breaking some bad habits — hanging on the inside rein, letting Murray fall through his right shoulder — while developing the strength and discipline we need to think about the 1-3 and 2-1 tests.  The learning curve in First level is actually really steep.  In 1-1, you’re like “oh great, w/t/c in straight lines and circles and maybe a tiny bit of lengthening” and suddenly in 1-3 you’re doing counter canter and getting ready for canter-walk.


much readiness for canter-walk transitions

Anyway.  Megan got on me a while back about not hanging on my inside rein, so I’ve been trying to very consciously release the inside rein while still maintaining the bend and not letting Murray fall all over himself.  It’s especially hard when you use the right rein almost exclusively to keep your horse upright tracking right and prevent him from falling out tracking left.  It requires a lot more push with my inside leg — the whole leg, not just my heel or calf — than I’m used to.  Associated with falling through his right shoulder, we have three problems with working on a circle (because why not): 1) too much neck bend, 2) the haunches too far to the inside, 3) haunches too far to the outside, almost spinning around the inside front foot (a bigger problem to the right than to the left).  I can finally feel a proper bend, avoid all three of these traps, and somehow not haul on the inside rein while doing it (pro tip: it actually helps if you don’t haul on the inside rein when trying to do this) for like… a circle or so.  (This was the really great part, that was a big hurdle for both of us.)

This was all fine for a few rides.  I focused on making my body do the right things and giving Murray plenty of praise when he responded correctly.  A little bit to the left, and a lot to the right (our worse direction) with lots of walk breaks.  It’s a lot harder for both of us at the canter, but we chipped away at it and worked on big figures and it got better for more than a few strides at a time.

sometimes we can kinda do the things

There were a few minutes of bullshit here and there, but it seemed like it was mostly at the beginning of our rides. One ride took more than a moment, but I let Murray get down with his bad self a little, then went back to asking correctly and expecting him to respond correctly.  It wasn’t instantaneous, but we got there.  There may have been some inside rein hauling and a really open mouth and some really awkward tongue flapping.

Then I got it into my (stupid?) head that we should start to incorporate a little more collection and sit into the canter.  I put four poles on an 18 meter circle, measured out three strides between each one for just a little stride compression, and planned to work the circle once we were good and warmed up.  When we trotted through the poles it was fine — Murray maintained a steady-ish rhythm, and I tried to plan the next quarter of my circle to maintain consistent bend throughout.  Sometimes it worked.  Sometimes the rhythm broke down.  Some circles were prettier than others.

The canter was an unmitigated disaster.  His stride was a touch big when we entered the pole circle, so we came to the first pole a little off of the distance.  It spiraled down from there, and Murray would launch over the pole to a long landing, which made turning more difficult, which resulted in more launching, or he break to a trot, or swap leads.  Just messy messy mess.

Back to the trot it was, but this time it was really ugly.  Murray anticipated the poles and went through all kinds of theatrics — to what end, I’m really not sure.  At one point he jammed a tiny stride in front of the pole, totally inverted, and then managed to stomp on the pole with both hind feet.  Talent.

This is my fault.  When we work on poles in a circle I celebrate the most minor successes — if we get through them with one stride between them, no matter how flat, strungout, or growing the pace, I consider it good.  But it’s not good.  I’m rewarding us both for “trying”, not necessarily for succeeding.  And I say “trying”, because it’s hardly an honest effort on either of our parts to complete the exercise precisely or successfully.  Yoda came to me in this moment.

I slowed us down, way down.  I posted very small, kept my legs on, and pushed Murray around that circle into the outside rein.  I made it a circle.  I made sure the pace remained the same.  Then we cantered.  Before we entered the circle I made sure that our canter was small and collected, and I made the circle a little larger so we could fit four in between the poles. And lo and behold – we could make the distances.  And a round circle.  And keep a steady pace.  And not rely on the inside rein.

Huzzah!

More interestingly, Murray totally stepped up to this exercise when I demanded more of him.  The exercise isn’t hard, but it does require that we both think, and plan, and don’t spaz out or sabotage our own ankles for no reason. Murray didn’t insist that this exercise was too hard for him, we did it successfully, and he didn’t need me to baby him through it.  From now on, we aren’t going to try exercises, we are going to do exercises.

This isn’t a hard ask.  Select appropriate exercises.  Do the exercises correctly.  Reward success.

craniology, part 1.5: the force of a falling object

Thanks to Amanda’s super Sunday Blog Roundup, I found this really interesting article from Eventing Nation about what a helmet will and won’t do to protect you in a fall.  It was incredibly fascinating and well worth the read, but left me with a couple of questions:

First, what are the forces at which the helmets in question were tested at when they failed the impact tests?

Second, what are the forces that are frequently experienced by an equestrian falling off of their horse?

gravity can be a real bitch

I couldn’t find any answers to the first question, which is an important one to me.  If the authors were testing helmets at 10,000 gs (G-forces) and they fail to protect the head against two impacts at that force well… that’s unrealistic.  But if the authors were testing helmets at 350 gs (a force easily acquired by an object falling from 3.5 meters with a stopping distance of only 1 cm), then that’s a much more reasonable test.  Fear not, I’ve emailed the main author of the study to get a little more information about how they conducted their research.  I’ll update you when I find out.  (I did discover that they use a really funny machine to test these things!)

To the second question, the answer is: it turns out it depends.  The basic calculation of g-forces involves the rate of deceleration and the force of gravity.  Rate of deceleration can be calculated by using velocity and stopping distance.  And therein lies the rub: stopping distance is highly variable on difference surfaces.  For example, when you drop your phone on asphalt, the stopping distance is basically just the crunch factor of your phone — as little as 1-2 mm in some cases.

The other complication is that there are multiple force vectors at work when you fall off a horse.  Not only do you fall from some height to the ground, but you also stop your forward motion — motion that can vary from 300 mpm (slow canter) to 600 mpm (Rolex gallop) depending on the speed you’re moving.

lets not forget all the physics lessons Murray has given me

I took physics (twice), though, and was pretty confident that I could figure out the force vectors, so set about determining the g forces likely experienced by helmets and riders falling at different speeds.  G forces are a convenient unit to calculate this in, since they are the same no matter the mass of the falling object — and that’s the unit in which the “brain trauma” numbers were reported.

The set up

You can use this handy-dandy fall force calculator from VaultCanada if you’d like to calculate g-forces of objects falling straight down.  It doesn’t add it in horizontal movement, but it is a bit of fun to play around with.

Then there are the basic equations.  I didn’t actually consult a physics text book, but I did use the VaultCanada site (linked above), the physics classroom, and the engineering toolbox.  Pertinent equations are below.

 

Pythagoras will help me with that last one

There are a couple of other caveats here.  Because I was using physics equations, they aren’t taking into account any of those pesky real-life forces like friction (ground or air), the oddity of the human/horse shape, what part of the body hits the ground first, etc. etc.  We are also not taking into account the fact that different parts of the body are likely to encounter different amounts of force by landing at different times.  Just assume that the hypothetical human in these equations always lands directly on their head.  So we’re working with a frictionless, lawn-darting, spherical humanoid riding in a vacuum.  You know.  A really realistic one.

Also, I could be wrong. There aren’t any internet resources that confirmed my plan to add these forces using the Pythagorean theorem.  I bulled ahead regardless.

Also, force vectors for helmet calculation will be pointing in toward the object.  Because what we are interested in is the force the surface is exerting on the object (one’s head, for example) during the stop*, so the force vectors should be reversed from the above image.  It doesn’t affect the calculations.

*You know that old joke about cliff jumping.  It’s not the long drop that kills you; it’s the sudden stop at the end.

With that information, let’s answer a few of my burning questions about forces and riding!

We’ll start with an easy one.  If you drop the helmet on the ground, are you really voiding the protective abilities of your helmet?

Let’s say you’re about my height (1.5 meters), and drop your helmet from your hands (about 1 meter high) on to arena sand, which compresses about 2cm when the helmet hits the ground.

100 cm / 2 cm = 50 gs of force

If the stopping distance decreases to 0.5 cm (5 mm)

100 cm / 0.5 cm = 200 gs of force

I don’t actually know how much force the outside of a helmet can withstand.  But 200 gs is well below what a helmet is supposed to protect you against (300 gs), and likely below what the helmets are tested at.  I’m not going to make any declarations about the safety of a helmet after being dropped on anything but arena sand — which I don’t think is the end of the world.  (When some butterfingers drops her helmet repeatedly on the barn aisle though….)

More pertinent to humans, if someone falls off of a horse onto arena sand, what are the forces experienced by their helmet?  And by their head?

First, what height are they falling from?  Let’s say we have a 16.2 hand horse, and the human’s head is 2.5 feet above that height — like a medium-height person sitting on a relatively tall horse.  That’s 241.2 centimeters high.  Let’s stick with that 2cm stopping distance again.  Without any horizontal motion (i.e. horse is standing still and our spherical rider just falls off the side):

241.2 cm / 2 cm = 120.6 gs of force — a not insubstantial amount of force, but not enough to for sure cause a serious brain injury

If the helmet foam compresses by 2mm during the impact, then the head in question experiences a slightly different amount of force

241.2 cm / 2.2cm = 109.6 gs of force — a pretty awesome decrease, thanks Charles Owen!

What if you fall off at the peak of a fence?  My head was about 292 cm in the air at the peak of that charming 2’6″ fence above (I used a really specific measuring system called PowerPoint), so if we go with our previously calculated stopping distances

292 cm / 2 cm = 146 gs
292 cm / 4 cm = 73 gs

Okay, let’s talk horses in motion.

In stadium, posted speeds vary between 300 and 400 mpm — I think? I’ve never really paid attention except when writing up programs — which is well within the range of a canter.  Let’s say that rider and pony have an unfortunate parting of ways at 350 mpm involving a dirty stop, and our lawn-darting, spherical rider goes flying over pony’s head and on to the ground, where she skids for 30 cm (1 foot) in arena sand that compresses to 4 cm (a little more cushy than the aforementioned arena sand).

vertical forces = 241.2 cm / 4 cm = 60.3 gs
horizontal forces = (5.8 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.3 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 5.7 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 60.57 gs

That’s really a fairly gentle fall, all things considered — barely more significant than falling off your stationary horse.

What if we jack up the speed to 520 mpm?

vertical forces = 60.3 gs (same as above)
horizontal forces = (8.76 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.3 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 38 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 71.44 gs

All in all, it seems like falling in soft, squishy footing in stadium (or dressage, I guess) isn’t all that awful.  4 cm isn’t even that deep of an impact crater.

Cross country is where things get sketchy.

Cross country footing is nowhere near as squishy as stadium footing, so I’m conservatively estimating a 1 cm vertical stopping distance.  This drastically increases the vertical forces right off the bat.

vertical forces = 241.2 cm / 1 cm = 241.2 gs

If our spherical rider falls off of her horse traveling at 400 mpm, and stops in a distance of 10cm (skidding), then

horizontal forces = (6.67 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.1 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 22 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 242.26 gs

If said rider is traveling at 600 mpm and has the same stopping distance (10 cm), it looks worse

vertical forces = 241.2 gs
horizontal forces = (10 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.1 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 51 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 247 gs

Let’s say that the helmet our hypothetical rider is wearing compresses by 2mm (0.2 cm) during the impact, as above.  Then we get

vertical forces = 241.2 / 1.2 = 201 gs
horizontal forces = (10 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.102 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 38 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 208 gs

Once again, that’s an appreciable decrease in force caused by only a 2mm compression within the helmet.  Helmets are cool, man.


I ran out of fall-adjacent media

Just for shits, here’s what happens if someone traveling at Rolex speeds falls and has a stopping distance of only 1cm (maybe they hit a fence, I dunno)

vertical forces = 214.2 gs
horizontal forces = (10 m/s)^2 / (2 * 0.01 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 510 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 563 gs

Helmet compression of 2mm decreases this impact force to 395 gs, which is a really appreciable decrease.  As if I needed more reason to wear a helmet — gotta protect that money maker.

These estimates are probably not all that realistic, given the many caveats I had to list above.  I’m also not taking into account multiple concussions, bouncing, being kicked by horses, hitting other objects… Really, there’s a lot more that could go in to this model to make it more accurate (though as we know, the more predictors you add to a model the less predictive it actually becomes — statistics is a cruel mistress).  But it was an interesting exercise in practicing physics and geometry again, and gave me some idea of the serious forces we put our heads under.  Thank you, helmet, for protecting my melon so often!

(Now I have other questions. What forces are needed to break certain bones, for example?!)