cooling off

When Murray first decided I first realized that Murray needed to be retired, I was interested in getting a new horse right away. Interested doesn’t even cover it, really. I was desperate. It was like I didn’t know what I would do without a horsey project to call my own. When I went to see that horse back in December (who ultimately didn’t work out) I had spent plenty of time stalking him online and was already imagining what my life would be like with his fabulous show name. I found all of his old sale videos, watched his current sale videos relentlessly, and when he didn’t work out, I was back to scouring the internet, looking for a good deal.


a certain extremely cute pony’s begging behavior is so firmly ingrained that he even begs for treats in the field

It’s a good thing that horse didn’t work out, because the reality is that I didn’t have the money for another horse just then — not the cash up front, and not the cash flow to pay for all the horsey expenses. And I’m still not in the financial or work position where I’d feel comfortable taking on a full-time horse — owned or otherwise.

In January when I posted about my thoughts on future horsey-dom, I had come to terms with the fact that I didn’t really have the money for a new horse yet, but I was still medium-key bummed about it. Sure, pony lessons were fun, but I couldn’t help but think about how much progress I could be making with my new horse in that time. And also heavily window shopping for said horse in the mean time. If a great deal had fallen into my lap in March, I don’t think I would have turned it down.


Murray was never into selfies pre-retirement

More than six months down the line, I’ve no longer got my-own-horse FOMO and I’m very glad I didn’t rush into anything with a new horse. Completely ignoring the money issue — I think we can all take that limitation to its logical conclusion — there are so many things about my current life that make horse ownership impractical. Especially green horse ownership! The glaring issue is the time. All that time I spent driving back and forth to California would not be doing my new (inevitably green) horse any favors. Even when I’m home, the farm isn’t exactly a low-key and undemanding job. I’ve spent more than a few days sitting in the truck or on the tractor for eight hours at a time, doing water runs, prepping fields, checking trees. And those are absolutely not things that I can just ditch to go riding (unlike constantly skipping out on writing up my thesis, lollll).

Also, if I’d bought a horse right after retiring Murray, you bet I would have rushed into it somewhat. Like, sure. I had a list and all that, but I’m also a sucker for a cute face and even more of a sucker for a good price. Emotionally/mentally compromised Nicole is not necessarily logical Nicole — and who knows how much TrJ would have been able to hold me back. That would very possibly have led to me being in a Murray-like position again because I think horses with a lot of “personality” are super funny and adorable. But it could also have led to a not-so-great fit between me and the horse, and then I’d be in the position of trying to sell a young, green horse. Which I know would suck. It absolutely would have led to me being back in the position of riding a green horse and trying to teach a green horse the basics of connection and dressage and jumping and not in the position to grow my skills where Murray and I left off. If I had my own horse, I wouldn’t have the lease on Timer right now.


me with every cute horse I see on the internet: I love you so much and you will be mine

Ultimately, this cooling off period was really good for me. I would never have asked for it at first, but I am so glad it happened. Time really was what I needed to chill out, but having great horses to ride in the interim certainly helped. At this point, I’m completely willing to wait on horse buying — for 6 more months, for a year, for two years — I’m no longer in a rush at all. My new dream situation is to pick up my second horse while maintaining my lease on Timer, so I can keep building my skills on T while new horse settles into the routine and gets with the program.

A few months ago, I was worried that not having my own horse would expedite losing my identity as a rider and someone who loves to learn about and improve my riding. But I’m not worried about that any more. Clearly I’m able to fit riding into my weird and wacky schedule given enough horsey enough flexibility. And even if riding isn’t my seven-day-a-week-all-day-at-the-barn-whenever-I-can-make-it-work hobby obsession of 2014/2015, that doesn’t make me any less able to work hard and grow in the time I do get to spend there. I’d love to get back to riding every day or even multiple horses a day in the future, but it’s just not in the cards right now. And that’s way more okay than I realised back in December.


more idyllic trail rides in my future, please!

Advertisements

bay ears again

Back in February, one of the ladies at the barn (J, not to be confused with Trainer J/TrJ) floated a really interesting idea to me at TrJ’s birthday party. J and I were talking about her two horses, and she said she needed to find a leaser for her gelding now that he was back in full work, and then said “you should lease him!”

who would not want to play with this adorable snoot

I was just a month into the pony lease at this point, and didn’t want to offend my new trainer further (after the offense of having to deal with Murray while I was gone in Australia) by dumping her pony for a lease that doesn’t really benefit her. Plus, I was deep into being poor and having not very much time, so I wasn’t in a rush to make any changes. I told J as much, and she thought that was totally reasonable.

As the pony and I continued to work together, and I accumulated a bit more money, the full-size-horse bug came back. Sammy is awesome, and he’s a ton of fun. But riding a pony is not the same as riding a horse, and there was always a part of me that felt like I would struggle with showing him even at BN. Maybe it was totally mental — 2’7″ fences do look pretty big from the back of a 13.2 hand pony — but I just felt weird about taking him out and galloping him XC. Plus, my ability to grow my skills at Novice were definitely curtailed with the pony. So when J and I talked one day about my concerns with showing the pony, she asked again if I wanted to lease her gelding. And I was definitely interested.


the forking cutest

We figured out a way to present this idea to TrJ in the most appealing way possible, and luckily for us, she thought it was a good idea too! So in mid May, I got to swing a leg over this adorable brown lug: Timer. (The pony has not been abandoned, he’s enjoying a full lease from the kid who half-leases him during the school year.)

he has the sweetest face

Timer was pulled from the track by TrJ when he was 8, after racing nearly 50 times and winning around $40,000. (Which is actually not a lot of money for a horse who spent so long on the track.) T took a long while to adjust to being off the track — he was strong and opinionated and liked things to be just so. J bought him a few years after he came off the track, and with TrJ did much of his training. Timer and J were competing at training level when he injured his suspensory (about 3 years ago, I think). The tear itself was straightforward, but the vets were not optimistic about his prognosis because Timer hated stall rest and behaved very poorly in there. So J opted to throw him out in pasture and just let him do his own thing. Three years later, he’s healed up and back in full work, but J has a second horse and not enough time for both of them. Which means that I’m lucky enough to get to half lease him!

also cannot wait to tackle our 1200m gallop track with him!

It works out perfectly for both me and J. She’s busy, and I’m flexible. If she can’t make it out, she just lets me know and I’m happy to make the time to ride him. If she wants to show him, it’s not a big deal for me to cancel a couple of rides, and she’s been great about giving me extra time on Timer after a show. If I want to show him, she’s happy to have me get him out! J is really super encouraging and very excited for me to take him out to a show. It’s kinda a half lease dream, honestly. I am SUPER excited.

Timer is quite literally the nicest horse I’ve ever had a chance to ride for more than one or two lessons/pony ride type things. He’s basically a Novice packer, and J is working on getting him back up to Training level this year. He’s particular, but he responds really well to good biomechanics and good riding. And TrJ knows him inside and out — literally all I have to do is what TrJ is telling me, and I can fix any problem on him. T is a quirky fixture at our barn — he’s talented and funny and fast and well known and sweet and sassy and awesome. I can already tell that I’m going to learn SO MUCH from him.

a pasture full of brown horses

I’ve only had the chance to ride a handful of times so far, but I LOVE sitting on this horse. HE GIVES ME SUCH A GOOD FEELING. For real. There are times he’s a bit strong or it’s clear that my cues are not the ones he’s used to, but time and lessons will fix that. And he is a fabulous ride. He’s comfy and feels fancy and despite being particular, is actually pretty easy as long as I don’t do any weird shit or pull on him all the time. I’m sure I’ll be humbled very soon, but for now, he’s perfect.

You know when you’re a kid (or a teenager or a young adult or whatever) in a barn, and someone else gets given the lease/ride on the nicest horse in the barn or your trainer’s favourite horse? (And maybe you’re kinda jealous and butthurt because why wasn’t it you?) I’M FINALLY THE ONE WHO GETS THE RIDE THE FAVOURITE HORSE! And it is awesome.

feeling a titch smug

murpdate

One of the benefits of going to California all the damn time this Spring was being able to drop in on Murray a couple of times. The first time I visited he was VERY wary. But after he realized it was me, and that I was delivering many and varied delights in the form of carrots and scratches in all his favourite places, he capitulated and stood still for a photo.

it will shock nobody to hear that he’s still a dweeb

Murray loves living in pasture. Shocking, I know. But he’s still Murray, and he’s not quite living up to his 2019 goals. Namely that he’s not tooootally behaving himself.

First, he was a huge pain in the ass to the farrier. In the beginning he wouldn’t even let the farrier touch him at all. They worked up to doing his front feet just fine, but Murray still had a major problem with the farrier touching his back feet. I tried to help out and manage him during a farrier appointment in May, but he was beyond bribery at that point. The farrier was like “how do you feel about drugs?” and I was like “drugs are great.”


keep scratching, human

And that little fucker let the farrier give him a light sedative with no complaints, then went right to sleep for a hind trim. He acts up juuust enough to get drugs from the farrier, and then goes right to sleep. He’s basically a junkie.

He’s also a bit of a pain in the ass to my MIL about being caught. When Murray first got to the ranch he was RUDE about EVERYTHING (um…. surprise?). So MIL was doing ground work with him a few times a week to make him a bit more respectful. After which, he would go on a bit of a strike about being caught. Even with a grain bribe he can be a bit iffy for her.

got a mane trim because I couldn’t handle the feral hair situation

Bizarrely enough, the horse now stands in the cross ties. For like, an hour at a time if needed. As feral as he is, apparently cross ties are now acceptable.

Visiting Murray is truly bittersweet. I don’t think I’ve gotten through a visit without having a bit of a cry. When he’s 600+ miles away, it’s easy to just think of his recalcitrant and difficult behavior and conformational (and mental) challenges. But in reality he’s still a cute, sweet, goofy, hilarious horse. He’s not even a bad-looking horse. There are many more hideous horses out there successfully working and competing with their riders. It doesn’t feel fair. But, life’s not fair.

Fortunately, it’s very clear that retirement is what he needs. He’s pasture sound, but he’s not sound sound. He’s perfectly comfortable and happy in doing whatever he wants all day, but his short-stepping behind has become more pronounced. That helps, because it erases all the “what ifs” from my mind.

Next time I visit, I’m going to start teaching him silly tricks like bowing or Spanish walking (or lying down even?!!) for fun. Just because he’s retired doesn’t mean he gets to escape all torture.

the red queen’s race

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” – Lewis Carroll

Do you ever feel like you’re working flat out, as hard as you possibly can, and just barely keeping up with the bare minimum of what needs to get done? The last two months — three months? — have been an absolute blur. Shit, it’s not even two full months. I got to ride a grand total of three times in May. THREE. And so far in June I’m also up to a whopping three.

At the end of April, I packed up the truck and headed down to California to prep for the May Horse Trials at WSS. Our show was on May 11th, but I committed two full weeks of work down there to get things ready. And it was a good thing I had the time — because of the late rains in California this year, the entire team worked around the clock to get the footing and arenas ready for the coming show and we just  made it. Like by the skin of our teeth.

actual depiction of me when forced to paint cross country fences

And then because I was distracted by a billion things during the show, I somehow managed to lose a signed-but-not-yet-scored dressage test. FOR FIVE HOURS. AT A ONE DAY. Right as the riders were about to riot for their scores one of my team members found the dressage test, on the legal size clipboard with all the orders of go attached, in the horse ambulance out on cross country. How fucking embarrassing. (And talk about where bad dressage tests go to die.)

But we pulled it off. And I finally got to sleep after that.


tiny horse found in san diego

I got to come home for a lovely two weeks, and then back to Cali it was for beach time in San Diego! Because my friends are the best, they encouraged me to crash Kate’s barn for a few days, where I watched lessons, took lessons, and ate tacos and salad pizza. (Yes, salad pizza. It’s a thing they sell at Mod Pizza. It’s shockingly amazing.)

We also went on the world’s most gorgeous trail ride. I want to go back RIGHT NOW.

I thought that the June show would be a breeze to prep for compared to May. After working from 7 am to 10 pm (or longer) for 15 straight days, how many more hours could I put in? Especially in a much hotter month when the hours from 3-7 pm are pretty much unbearable on a tractor or in the sun.

A lot more, it turns out. I tried to enact a bimodal sleeping plan where I would get to work at 5:30 am, work until 1 pm or so, nap from 2-5, then get back to work from 6-midnight. But instead of napping from 2-5 I just ended up working in a building with air conditioning. So I just cut down on my sleep to an ABSURDLY small amount (for me — I am a 9 hours a night kinda girl) and became sliiiightly manic in response.

BUT it absolutely paid off. EVERY possibly aspect of our June HT was better than the May HT. Even with me majorly fucking up a portion of the footing on cross country at the 11th hour (literally the Thursday before), we ran a MUCH better show, with way better footing, and a way better competitor experience.

All the while, I was remotely managing the team at home to get 8000 hazelnut trees planted and the irrigation put in for them. I mean, my partner helped a lot obviously, since he was there. But let me tell you, a kinda hinky irrigation system for 8000 trees does NOT present you with a small number or problems to solve. And we have 4000 more plants to get in the ground this month, ifyoucanfuckingbelieveit.

I’m honestly a little scared of what’s in store for me before the August show. Our team has been mashing so hard on improvements to the facility, courses, fences, amenities, rider experience…. basically everything. I know there’s still a long way to go before we measure up to one of the big venues like Woodside or Twin, but as a new and growing venue, we are turning into a really cool place. We are ambitious, and it seems like we keep conquering these semi-insurmountable goals by working together. I just know there’s going to be some kinda crazy big project that we take on before this next show to improve things even more.

But I get an eight week reprieve before I have to think about any of that for a while.

changing my buttprint

One of the hardest things about adapting to PonyLyfe has been actively working to not ride Sammy like I rode Murray, and training my brain to not expect him to ride like Murray. (It is a little embarrassing for Murray that I’m a skosh unseated by the pony’s relatively “big” gaits though.)


I took Emma’s advice and put my phone on the fence and this was the first shot I got and it’s pretty exemplary of pony’s and my relationship

This has been the biggest problem in jumping, though of course it’s come up in dressage too.  Our first few jump lessons were super easy and straight forward, and I didn’t try to put too much buttprint on the pony anyway. I pretty much just pointed him at the fences and let him get us there, which worked well for him. The courses weren’t terribly complicated and I wasn’t fussed by a deep or long spot so I just went with it. Then around my third jump lesson I started to be like “wait just one darn minute, I get to have some input on how we get to those fences!”


exhibit a: Nicole is very good with a braced hand

That’s when the trouble started, of course. When I insisted that we not just bomb around at the fences, Sammy was like “ok well that’s not actually part of the agreement, which means I don’t have to do my part either.” Mostly he didn’t stop dirty, but a couple of times I thought we had a pretty good step to a fence and he was like “NOPE”. Luckily for me, this coincided with a couple of frigid, snowy weeks in early March when most people weren’t making it to Sunday group jumps, so I got several private jump lessons (for the price of group jumps – yay!).

We had two main problems. Number one, that I couldn’t figure out how to get the pony to slow the fuck down. Number two, that I couldn’t figure out how to shorten his step when we were coming up to a fence because of number one. To fix number two, I kept trying to sit down into the pony coming in to the fences which would be when Murray naturally shortened his step. This made us both jump super awkwardly. To fix number one, I basically yanked on the pony’s face for dear life, because I had zero other tools in that particular kit. It’s what I get for riding a super sensitive push ride for five years.

TrJ fixed number two first, then tackled number one. The fix to number two was basically: keep a lighter seat, don’t drive to the fences. Just a matter of practice. The bigger fix came when we started to get the speed issue sorted.

Because of the way Sammy was like “just don’t touch me approaching the fences”, I was feeling both too fast, and out of control, and like I had no influences over what was going to happen. Which just made me go *grab grab grab* at his face more, and resulted in stops. TrJ emphasized that I really need to get my step on the turn to a fence, and approaching the fence just stay steady. Sammy can be trusted not to BARREL down to a fence and then get on the forehand and stop, but he can’t jump if he thinks you’re getting in his way. And if I didn’t get my step around the turn when I asked for it quietly? Add a bigger half halt until I got the step.


this is SUCH HUGE PROGRESS for us

TrJ is big on having a rider half halt in time with the canter step, and of course in my head I was like “wow this sounds a lot like see-sawing”. But, as I’m discovering with TrJ, there’s a lot more to riding that I don’t understand than there is that I do. Half halting in time with the canter could be see-sawing, sure, if I wrenched back and forth with a see-sawing motion in time with the canter. But if I half halt and release in time with the canter to avoid getting a fixed hand that Sammy then ignores and braces into? Not really a see-saw.

Once I started to figure out how to stop just hanging on one or both reins to ask him to slow down, and making it clear that I really mean it when I ask for him to slow his feet down, all of my half halts got more effective.

Sometimes when I’m riding the pony I feel like such an utter n00b. He weirdly manages to make me feel like I don’t know how to keep my leg on or my hands following or stay up in a two point, and I’m just flapping along like an utterly out-of-control pony rider. Little bits of progress like this have made a huge difference to our rides, though! And for all our struggz, this little guy is making my butt way more educated.

unlocking pony

One super bummer thing about my new barn sitch is that even though there are a fair few people around, and it’s a pretty vibrant and friendly place, there aren’t a lot of people loitering around in the arena who could be hijacked into taking video or pictures for me. Seriously, I think there have been two days (of probably 30 rides since I started leasing the pony?) that there has been a free human in the arena. And the other part is that I’m just not quiiite comfortable enough to yell out and ask for video.

WHYYYY GREYY

Proof or not, we’ve been making some major progress unlocking the pony. Even just five-ish weeks ago Sammy and I were really struggling to get on the same page about dressage. During one of our rides, he tried zipping off in a little fastfast trot as an evasion when I put my leg on. I was thrown off balance the first time, and even though I shut the second zip down pretty quickly, I felt him try it at least three more times during the ride for seemingly no reason (I mean, there’s always a reason). It was one of the most annoyed response I’ve gotten from him. Ignoring me? Sure. Wrong response because he’s unbalance or not sure what I’m asking? Totally reasonably. Annoyed? Not really a thing he did.

But we’ve gotten more and more in sync since then, and it feels like our progress has been taking big strides lately! Now that we have the pony mostly ahead of the leg and working with multiple different gears within each gait, TrJ has me trying to get him to unlock his left side and stop leaning on it quite so much. At first I was confused by this, because I feel like whenever I take a hold of the left rein, Sammy falls hard to the right and so of course I grab the right rein in response (it’s the best response, obviously). I thought I was feeling a right-side problem, particularly with getting his right hind under his body. And maybe I was, but cranking his neck around to the right was not the solution there.


a cleaner pony from a drier day – showing off the vast expanse of his chubby back

In my most recent lesson, TrJ had me focus on making sure my left and right reins were the same length and not letting Sammy hang on that left rein. Part of the problem is that the pony gets “locked up” on the left side of his body — as if instead of being toned but pliable muscle that moves in both directions, it is a bowed 2-by-4 that is held in place by a short rein, but isn’t fixed by a longer or following rein. Hmm. It’s a bit hard to explain in words. Like the left rein pulls the pony into a slight C-shape to the left that he then leans on and relies on in order to maintain that C. At the same time, he leans on the left corner of his mouth on the bit, and seems to ignore the pressure there. So if you drop the rein, he falls over his right shoulder but doesn’t soften, and if you keep holding the rein he’s happy to lean on you for quite a while. Like, maybe forever.

TrJ had me tackle the problem in a more fiddly-way than I would really like, but explained that she wanted us to try this just as a short term solution. Sammy is pretty set in his ways, and we don’t want to fiddlefuck around in the future. But for right now, it’s one of the only ways we can communicate to him that we want something different than what he’s used to delivering. So there’s a bit more grabbing of the left rein and massaging with my fingers than I’d like to do (not least of all because I literally can’t manage to keep track of all those things I’m “supposed” to be doing when instructed to ride that way), but every ride we work toward a quieter, softer way to ask Sammy keep moving through both sides of his body and not brace through his left side.

so very not-tall

As much as I don’t want or really like using that tool, it is another tool in my kit. And I can totally see why some people become reliant on fiddling — it does get some immediate results. Plus, just because it’s not my preferred tool, doesn’t mean I can’t learn to use it well, or apply some Academic Horse Training-type principles to it. It fits into a learning paradigm along with many other training tools, and I should remember that.

we got sprung

When I moved to the Pacific North West everyone was like “you better get some good rain gear!” or “I hope you have good waterproof boots” or “if you don’t like the weather in Oregon, just wait five minutes!”

I was still unprepared.

In January, it was gorgeous. Cold, but gorgeous. We burned a lot of wood in the stove. We set our garden up. I was like “holy shit! I better get ready to plant my garden sooner rather than later and move up all my seed starting!” This resulted in me starting way too many seeds way too early, but it’s a good thing I did because then I killed a bunch of later starts by being a bit too casual with the water (whoops).

February started to get cool again. It snowed. I didn’t work in the garden much. But I still went for a couple of runs. I think.

March was psychotic. It snowed four or five times.

And then we got sprung.

In a matter of days the sun came out, the world dried up, and daffodils started bursting out of the ground all over my yard. Sunsets were gorgeous, the days started to get a lot longer, and the ponies blankets were thrown off!

nudist pony!

I started riding in tee shirts, and shedding layers like crazy. The ponies were enjoying themselves, lying flat out in the field and rocketing around like nutcases at bring-in time. It got dry super fast!

And then it started raining again.

Two days ago it was sunny most of the day, and then it absolutely poured for about half an hour around 5. Thirty minutes later? Sunshine again. The water was draining so quickly through my back field that I could literally hear the soil sucking it up. The sun came right back out after the rain.

When I peeked out  my back window around sunset, I could see the fog rising up from the ground. I’ve never literally watched fog coming up from the ground before. (This is called radiation fog and is caused by the cooling of the earth that rapidly cools the air and brings moisture close to the dew point, resulting in fog. I’ve always thought of it as Tule fog because I first learned about it in the Sacramento valley.)


scampered out to my back field to watch the fog

Today it’s raining off and on again. Last night I saw some lightening.

I am pretty sure we got sprung in Oregon. But wait five minutes. I’ll update you then.