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!

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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?!)

creeping uphill

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


being cute at Twin

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

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

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


murray goes hrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

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


smile for the camera!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

lies, damn lies, and statistics

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

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

Image result for malingering

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

And then there are the Chicken Littles of the world.

Image result for chicken little sky is falling

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

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


dummy foal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

murray: who’s the asshole now?!

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

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

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

hot and tired trot sets

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

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

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

like maybe just a skosh less of this, mmkay?

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

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

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

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

redirection

Murray and I have been doing some ground work in the rope halter before each dressage ride since we got our rope halter, so for about a month now.  It’s all been very easy stuff, an attempt to remind him of the rules of polite society.  You know, walk next to me here, stop when I stop, go when I go, back up a little.  Stand — and do just that, just stand — is a hard one for Murray.  He doesn’t relax easily and wants to anticipate whatever is coming next, especially if he thinks what is coming next is an attempt to tighten the girth a little.  He thinks that dancing away or small circles around me are exactly what he should be doing.

The ground work, other than helping with our warm up, has been very educational for both of us.  I tried to play with shoulder in when we first started, and Murray would get tense and scoot past me.  At first I got frustrated that he essentially ran me down, but it was easy to see that Murray wasn’t comfortable with what I was asking and couldn’t figure out how to slow himself down.  Figuring out exactly how to get Murray to slow down took a bit of trial and error.  The best solution for us was to drastically slow down my own pace, taking slow and precise steps, and letting Murray go back to a more comfortable speed after a few of these slow shoulder-fore steps.  It is hard for him — the hardest thing ever.  So no more shoulder in for now.

On the ground, and under saddle, Murray’s backing up has been getting so much better.  He was pretty reluctant to back up  unless you really got angry with him, and then he’d march back practically sitting down.  But if you asked him to just back up a little,  even if you pushed him, he’d kindof shuffle backwards with one foot at a time, making a four beat gait out of something supposed to be two beats.  And it would include lots of sideways motion as he tried to pivot around me instead of actually stepping backwards.  Now it’s very reliably a two beat gait, even if it does sometimes rather resemble an egg-shaped circle.  He doesn’t quite get it if I’m facing him, but if I step backwards myself he gamely travels back with me.

So one day, a few weeks ago, when there were some poles laid out on the ground I led Murray forward over them, and then asked him to back up over them as well, after reading that it’s a useful exercise for stifles.  Murray gamely took one step backwards, then one more tentative step wherein his hoof landed on the pole.  That was obviously not okay, and he skittered forward  and around me with a very, very suspicious eye.  I patted him and settled him down, then gave it another go.  Murray was very much not okay with this idea and danced his way forward, shook his head and nipped at me, and struck at the air.  The reaction wasn’t quite what I expected, and really not very polite, but it did give me a lot of information.

I tried one more time, and Murray wouldn’t even stop after walking through the poles this time.  He flung himself forward and away from the poles, trotted around me a little, then stopped and looked at me like “what are you going to do about it?”

If Murray were a monkey, I’d call his behavior redirecting.  The idea of going backward over the poles made him uncomfortable, so he tried to change the context of what we were doing. This is easy to identify with aggression: one monkey gets threatened by another, and turns around and threatens someone nearby (often an innocent human observer).


maybe this new knowledge will help me decipher… this?

I wish I’d written about this sooner, because there was something in particular about the whole incident that showed me this was more than just naughtiness.  But it was quite clear that he was actually very uncomfortable with what I was asking, so responded with silliness. Importantly, it’s changed how I react to Murray being silly with me, on the ground and under saddle.  Sometimes he is silly because he literally can’t control his body, and evidently he is sometimes silly because he’s actually very uncomfortable with what I’m asking him to do.

If he’s actually confused, and not just objecting for the sake of getting out of work, then I should probably reel in my annoyance and reconsider what I’m asking and how I’m asking. I have been consciously trying to be less of an asshole to Murray, but sometimes it’s hard when seemingly very basic things are curiously impossible to him.  But all new information is good information, so we’ll keep chugging forward, and I’ll try to keep this in mind the next time Murray responds with “silly” instead of “trying”.

reality check?

Murray and I have had two really lovely rides after the bullshittery of last week.  Because I was foiled by the wind repeatedly on Thursday and Friday and then spent the weekend out of town, I asked our barn manager’s kid to put in a ride on Murray for me just to get him out and exercising.  She’s ridden him a few times recently, and he’s been fairly reasonable as long as she doesn’t ask for anything too challenging or exciting.  So of course I was rewarded with video of Murray cantering sideways (like a hideous half pass with no bend) and literally crashing into a horse standing at the mounting block.

Um, great.

For a moment I regretted ever asking for help.  I thought I’d made a huge mistake.  And then I was like “you know what, homeboy has got to be able to w/t/c with a stranger on him — especially when they are asking him to do nothing more complicated than go along the rail and turn  before the end of the damn arena.”  I resolved to have a take-no-shit approach on Tuesday, fully expecting some truly atrocious behavior.

I made Murray try on some tubigrip as a strategy for
compression/ice. He tolerated it really well, actually!

Instead, Murray was well behaved on the lunge line, pretty responsive, and absolutely perfect under saddle.  I kept with the recent theme (don’t override with my seat/crotch/ass, don’t nag, just try to be really correct and have Murray meet me there) and Murray rose to the challenge.  We had a couple of sticky w/t transitions but nothing awful.  His canter was a tad less forward than I want, but very round and adjustable.

Having a saddle that fits is absolutely magical. It is SOOO much easier to feel and fix when I am starting to tip forward or perch, and any time I start to anticipate or get too noisy with my seat I can feel it.  I ignored the idea of getting my saddle fit for a long time, but if a well-fitting jump saddle does for us what this dressage saddle has, I will be running 4* in no fucking time flat.  So yeah, it turns out that Robyn did fix all my problems, hooray!

Murray was equally fantastic on Wednesday, and I worked through some of our test movements to get ready for them.  Our biggest challenge is transitions.  Murray does best with them when he knows they are coming — especially when they are part of a pattern.  Conversely, he does poorly with them when he doesn’t know they are coming.  It’s a complaint I’ve had about him a lot, that it’s almost like he’s not “listening” to me when I ask for things, he’s busy doing his own thing (whatever that thing is).  So I’m trying to figure out the balance between doing too much with my body and giving him adequate half halts/notice that we are approaching a transition.

I also specifically practiced letting him walk around on a loose rein and then picking him back up to do some work, which has often been a source of angst for us.  He did much better than on Tuesday or in the past in general, so that was good news.  If only this Dressage Murray can show up to Twin, we will be in good shape!

Apparently Murray just needs another rider to reality check him every once in a while and remind him how good he has it with his well-trained human.  (If this is a legitimate training strategy I am 100% going to continue to employ it in the future.)