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.)

train ’em up

There has been a consistent theme through all the Hawley clinic’s I’ve attended — and not just themes I’ve written about explicitly, like precision, rhythm, or strong basics.  Something a little more hard to put my finger on.

For example, one of my lesson mates biffed the approach to an oxer and hit it on an odd stride, but her horse went and even if he didn’t do it perfectly, he did it. Hawley was like good!, you did it.  When another rider said she didn’t think she could do the angle because her horse was so green, Hawley didn’t accept it (and with the right ride, the horse did the angle just fine).  When I couldn’t seem to get a rhythm or the correct lead on the circle of death, Hawley didn’t want me to break out of the exercise to fix things, but to fix them from within the circle.

WHYYY did i not train him to do this on purpose?

And to all of these small mistakes she said “there’s no other way, but to train them up”.

I didn’t hear Hawley give a long explanation for this, though I think I’ve heard her do so in the past (and stupidly didn’t write about it! wtf past Nicole?!?!).  This statement seems to be a bit of the riff on the old “if you’re not making mistakes, you are not doing anything / trying hard enough / learning / pushing yourself.”  Sure, we want to train our horses to be better, smarter, quicker, stronger, cleverer.  But if we only ever put them in situations where they will never have to  be better, smarter, quicker, stronger, or cleverer, they will never learn to how to become those things.

By extension, it means that if we aren’t giving ourselves opportunities to fail, we will never become better, smarter, quicker, stronger, or cleverer.  An interesting corollary to screwing up with confidence.

Along with this, I noticed that Hawley  has a different attitude towards horses than many of her students (clinic students?) seem to.  When we did screw up, she applauded us for committing, and frequently told us to pat our horses and make a big deal over them when they made the correct choices.  That wasn’t really new.  But when someone apologized to her and said she felt so terrible making her horse put up with her (admittedly very honest and reasonable) mistakes, HB was like “So? Give him an extra handful of grain tonight. That’s what you have him for.”


I’ve not attended a lot of clinics with big name trainers, olympians, or fancy riders, so I’m not sure if this is pervasive in the professional levels, though I imagine to some extent it must be.  And this is also not to say, in the least way, that she is not a kind, respectable, incredibly savvy horsewoman and rider.  Just that, perhaps, being all of those things on a professional level means that you cannot necessarily afford all the soft squishiness that tends to accompany amateur riders.  It’s a little less “this hairy beast is my whole heart” and a little more “we have a working relationship”.

But it’s true!  We have this giant, expensive, oversized pets to have fun and learn on.  If I’m doing those two things, what am I doing this for?  I feel far more awful when I’ve been making mistakes of hubris with Murray, like pushing him for something I thought we should be ready to achieve “just because”, than when I make an honest mistake, like riding him in a saddle that didn’t really fit for a year.  And as much as I appreciate his quirkiness and silliness and the feeling of connection we have both in the tack and out, he’s not the shoulder-to-cry-on-best-friend-through-thick-and-thin that some people profess their horses to be.

broseph just isn’t that into cuddling

I’m not trying to be more like Hawley or distance myself from my horse thinking that it makes me a better or more accomplished rider. (OKAY YOU CAUGHT ME I’M ALWAYS TRYING TO BE MORE LIKE HAWLEY!) But it is interesting to think about where, on the relationship spectrum, Murray falls in my life.  He’s no Ellie, that’s for sure, but I value him more than I do my chickens.  (A lot more, and not just because of price/size/weight.)  I will never, ever be able to sell him, but that’s not really because of our relationship… But I don’t want to, either, because I value our partnership and everything he has to teach me.

I do want to know where you fall on the spectrum — from “pony would sleep in my bed every night if I could” to “this is nothing more than a business arrangement” — and how you think it influences your riding.

previously on “nicole rides a horse”

It’s wet in Northern California right now. Like really, really wet.  And it’s not so much a problem that we’re getting rain, it’s that we’re completely ill equipped to handle all the rain we are getting.  And even when you have a covered arena, if the roof starts leaking and the rain is coming in the one open side, and the whole structure creaks and groans in the gale-force winds, riding is not terribly appealing.

2-20-dressage-02murray doesn’t like the idea either

With nothing important in the forseeable future and having already missed all the potential prep time for the Hawley clinic (that may yet be cancelled), skipping another ride seems like it will hardly speed the slow slide of our skills into oblivion.  But I decided last week that I needed to get off my butt and ride some more, and probably to set some proper show or clinic goals for the coming months to help me get there.  So I dragged boyfriend out to the barn with me to keep me company, call 911 if needed, and act as a vital videography service for my first ride in my new saddle.  (Ah yes, the saddle is now mine. My check book pleads for mercy.)

Murray was a total spaz to start out with, and kicked off his lunge rather literally with a side-kick that was got far too close to my face to be acceptable.  Murray repeatedly spooked at boyfriend sitting on a chair in the corner, despite the fact the two of them spent five minutes walking around together (“he has dumdum teenage brain, and he can’t poop and walk” was the report) while I looked for my side reins.  When I finally got on we had some major stickiness issues to the right, though interestingly not in our usual spot — the side entrance gate — but on the opposite side of the arena.  So we circled and circled until Murray remembered that he can, in fact, walk forward AND bend on a 15 meter circle, and that his only options aren’t actually sideways or bust.


The trot work got better and better as we went on.  Murray was pretty uninspired by the idea of moving forward at first, but since all I wanted was for him to move forward and into the contact it was easy for me to focus.  I nagged too much with my leg to start with because I was babying him about the whip (especially obvious in the video).  I should have employed a few more tactics to get him really moving into the contact instead of faking it, but didn’t really think of them at the time.  I was mostly thinking about forward, which isn’t the worst thing for us to practice.  We did struggle a bit with straightness and drifting out through Murray’s shoulders.  It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but I will definitely need to get back to regularly incorporating JM’s straightness exercises into our rides.

Murray’s best trot work always comes right after we canter.  I’ll get a few strides of big, uphill, trot that is frequently pretty balanced.  I need to work on capturing and replicating that feeling when we’re not coming down from the canter, and probably extending the number of strides of that quality trot we can get after a down transition.  How to do this is an interesting question, though.


The canter work was good.  Like, a little surprisingly good.  There were plenty of icky moments, but enough good ones that it wasn’t hard to cherry-pick a quality screen shot from them.  Murray was balanced in both directions, relatively uphill, and fairly willing to get round.  Not perfect, by any means, but I didn’t feel stuck between “head in the air” or “head down and totally on the forehand croup in the air”.  To the right I just schooled canter transitions, trying to get Murray to respond crisply from a forward trot.  I felt like I had it under saddle, but reviewing the video the transitions are a mess — Murray was clearly anticipating what I wanted and fell apart in the trot before popping up into the canter right as I asked a few times.  Definitely not what I wanted.  So it’s back to the drawing board on that one.  To the left I tried to work on a quality-of-gaits exercise Megan introduced me to, but video (and reflection upon the actual ride) showed absolutely no effect.  I assume I left out the essential step of “add leg” before trying to lift the up-swing of the canter more.

It was good work for our first day back after a week of rain-and-shoe-induced delays.  Boyfriend absolutely fucking won the day though, because when I recapped my video it was filled with all manner of incredible little narrative comments.  Probably his best came before and after pauses in filming, where he offered me some In A World style recaps on what was to come/had just occurred.  I will be laughing about these for DAYS.

In a world…. where boyfriends narrate dressage rides. #inaworld #horsehubby #previouslyonnicoleridesahorse

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no work ethic

Murray is really struggling to get back into this “work” thing.  He’s been objecting to all kinds of everything in his favourite way.  On Monday there was a little baby California King snake sheltering from the rain in the arena.  Another rider and I decided it was probably in the safest place it could be, tucked up against the permanently-closed doors on the East side of the arena.  Of course, that was exactly the place that Murray chose to kick in anger when I asked for a canter transition.  He WOULD be the one to murder a baby king snake.

Image result for danger noodle

But we have clinics and lessons and things stacked up for this month, so to work we must return.  Hawley comes on the 25th and 26th, and I’d like to demonstrate that I have progressed at least somewhat since she last saw us.  I don’t see us getting any real turnout any time soon, so Murray and I will both have to grow a better Winter Work Ethic.  Schedule-making WILL be happening.

The saddle search is going terribly.  I don’t know where to start so… I’m pretty lost.  Fitter is coming back this weekend with a bunch of saddles for me to try that will hopefully help narrow my focus a little.  Then I can hit up the eBay and ETT and haggle my little heart out. (Kidding, Peony’s gonna haggle for me!)

Fortunately, there are plenty of things that are also keeping me going through the winter. Like puppies.

My barn manager can’t seem to stop. It’s her third foster litter in a year.

wp-1486451834928.jpgGinny is the cutest. I want her to go home with Megan.


Also, blue eggs!  To get more blue egg layers we went to a chicken show. A CHICKEN SHOW.  It was amazing.  And noisy. So noisy.

If we are lucky, one of the hens will go broody on some fertilized eggs (and damn are those eggs fertilized! Dawkins, our rooster, boinks his lady friends about seventeen times a day EACH, so unless he’s sterile they are ALL super pregnant right now), and we can hatch some olive- and green- and blue layers.  We are totally addicted to colored eggs now.

I have plants growing in my bedroom still.  Lots of tomatoes and peppers right now, and perhaps some cucumbers later in the season.  If you’re local and want some tomatoes or peppers… talk to me.

I’ve also been riding a friend’s horse for her while she’s gone.  I adore Logan and always have fun riding him.  Sometimes I even prioritize his rides over Murray’s, because I know that Murray is happy to sit for a few days and Logan does better with a more regular schedule (even if the rides are quite short).  Today when I pulled Murray out of his stall after riding Logan my heart was so full and happy to see his little pin-head and baby face.  I do so love my horse.


2017 goals

I feel like Murray and I are situated to get some great work done this year.  We are both more skilled and k knowledgeable than in years past, and I have a much better understanding of what I’m looking for and how I should try to get it.  It helps that I finally understand how-when-what to push and what I should leave alone — and how those things change from day to day.

I also hope to have more time and money this year — sure, it might be a pipe dream, but a girl has got to hope!  With a little more of those two valuable resources at my disposal I should be able to get a bit more done this year!

riding-goalsSit the trot – how many years do I have to put this f*&$!ing goal on my goals list before I properly make it happen?!!  But for real, I don’t need to sit all the trots.  I just want to be able to sit the working trot and perform a first level trot sitting (not necessarily at a show).

Even out my hands – They are uneven. And I often open my fingers. Bad Nicole, bad.

Even out my weight in the stirrups – I am uneven. And my right stirrup leather is longer. Always.

Get myself and Murray fit – enough to run a Novice 3 day, even though we won’t do it until 2018 (at the very earliest).

Show rated – enough times to make my membership dues worth it. That’s three times at BN (I think) or once at Novice (no workaround for Novice level events), and I have no idea how many times for dressage memberships.

IMG_8478this was fun!

Go to at least two new venues – schooling or rated, it doesn’t matter. But Murray and I will never get better at showing and riding away from home if we don’t do it.

Go to at least one dressage-only show – rated or unrated. Get our dressage on!

Ride in two clinics – Riding with clinicians takes a little forethought, but I’d like to make it happen.

Develop the auto release – I fake it right now. It’s not pretty. Time to follow with the hands and use those elastic elbows.

Develop my seat – life goals = truly independent seat.

murray-goalsMurray gets his very own goals segment, because Murray.

My biggest goal this year with Murray is to stop taking short cuts.  There are a lot of things I’ve skipped over in Murray’s training in favor of funner/better/other things.  “Things” like installing truly solid ground manners, in-hand work, and some under-saddle basics.  I have ignored, tolerated, and even enabled some downright bad behaviors in order to get to the thing(s) I want to do (the riding, and honestly probably the jumping).  I will write more about this because it warrants its very own post, but this will be the focus of our year.

I do have some specific goals for him.

Tack up while tied reliably – Murray and I have been getting a lot better at this, but we’re still not 100%. We need to be able to do this.

Full grooming in the cross ties – Murray hates, fears, and loathes the cross ties. Axtiesnything that startles or even worries him causes him to get squirrely, and the second he hits the end of the ties and feels them both on his face he spirals into a full-blown pony panic attack.  This has resulted in multiple cross-tie-breakings.  We must get over this.

Accept tacking up/handling/etc. by other people – There are currently two people who Murray will reliably behave for. Depending on the context he’ll do fine with other people but it’s far from reliable.  See “truly solid ground manners”.

Behave while being ridden by other people – Murray has been ridden by a handful of people since I took over his care, but rarely have they ever tried to get him to really work.  He’s basically goes into lesson pony mode when I throw someone else on him — or spiteful kicking monster when my trainer gets on him.  See “under saddle basics”.

Confirm the first-level movements – Murray can do the first level movements, but they aren’t show worthy.  We want to show first, right?  Time to get those movements scoring in the 7’s and up.

Grow Murray’s confidence – Last year was great for Murray’s confidence. We didn’t necessarily go out a ton to test this, but even at home his responses to hard questions have become more reasonable and less anxiety-driven.  Confidence is key with this  horse, I have to keep putting that first.

Improve symmetry – Murray falls over his right shoulder pretty hard, and I’ve been correcting for it in both directions with my right hand. We should probably, instead, focus on strengthening his body symmetrically.

Get a saddle fitter out – I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. He’s worth it.

Put up my Murray wall – I have some Murray art and his shoes I want to mount. I’ve been meaning to for a while, it’s kinda a personal-x-Murray project.

blog-goalsBlog more – I blogged less than I wanted to last year thanks to Real Life getting in the way.  I’d aim to write more and more regularly this year – at least 3x each week.

More ride recaps – I used to keep a pretty cut-and-dried ride journal for Murray, including a calendar of behavior/accomplishments. I no longer do this because I spend so much time writing here (and forgetfulness).  Ride recaps can be really valuable, so I’d like to get back to writing more of these.

Read more blogs – Pretty simple. Find more blogs to read and enjoy!

Comment more – I love getting blog comments and feel that I don’t reciprocate equally. I should fix that.

Meet more bloggers – I had so much fun stalking Peony, dining with L and Megan, and lunching with a whole bunch of California bloggers in the last two years! More, more, I want to meet more!



I made this ribbon vector thinking I’d have a “competition goals” header, and then I didn’t.  So I threw it in for personal goals instead, because obviously my major personal goal is to continue winning at life.  (By the by, if anyone wants a swirly ribbon vector… you know where to find me).  My personal goals might better be represented by a stack of money but… ribbons are kinda like money?

Improve fitness and strength – I let myself get really pillowy over Christmas, and riding minimally this year has not helped things.  I want to make sure that my fitness is not impeding my ability to ride, or Murray’s ability to perform.  Specific goals include…

Run 5k – Not an actual 5k race (I have no interest in that), but I want to be able to run 5k on a semi-regular basis without feeling like it’s the end of the world.  I’m shooting for 4 total 5k runs this year.

ConqdBNjr3Z - Imguruer the pull-up – maybe even a few?!  I’ve never been able to do one, not even when I was in gymnastics as a child (and arguably the strongest in terms of mass that I have ever been).

Get a full time job – OMG maybe even career track?

Publish two chapters – Maybe even all three chapters?! I have to do some significant data re-analysis for two of the chapters (and then need to figure out how to frame the third chapter in all of its terrifying implications in a way that satisfies all authors, even the statisticians sigh), but the framework is there and I don’t need to do too much more literature reviewing to make it happen I think…

Properly pursue my side project(s) – I’m working with a primate nonprofit right now and really want to establish myself as a valued member of that organization. I’m exploring partnerships with community development orgs as well, which is something I’m very interested in. I don’t exactly know what I’m doing but I’m diving in head first.

Contribute to my Roth IRA – Retirement. Savings. Life. I need to think about it.

hindsight is 20/16

I was going to skip writing this post all together since I feel like we didn’t really get a ton done this year.  I barely rode from March through July and have had to skip plenty of days since then, showed only once (okay, maybe twice), and barely went to any clinics. I couldn’t even seem to pull together good ride recaps.  But then I started reviewing my posts from throughout the year and it turns out we have done some things!

January dawned with jumping and dressage problems, which was not terribly inspiring after an amazing dressage camp at my MIL’s place in late 2014.  I took it easy on the riding front and decided to skip jumping for a few weeks, and instead calculated exactly how much it would cost me to event essentially all over California (TL;DR too much).  Murray was a little NQR for a few more days, Tina suggested it might be his hocks fusing, and so we took it even easier.  I decided I was getting a new dressage saddle, and Murray’s sleazy somehow magically made his girthiness basically disappear.  And I pondered the fact that, while we still had problems, at least they were better quality ones!

Also, puppies.


Murray started to feel better in February, and I worked on some of our deep-rooted positional issues that influence our ability to work correctly.  I also thought a fair bit about my responsibilities as a rider — to both myself and my horse.  I got lucky and took a dressage lesson away from home with a local trainer and Murray was great!  Magical, super high quality footing did not magically turn him into a GP horse, for which I am grateful.  And I realised that the problem with Murray’s jumping wasn’t Murray, but me (obvi): I was asking him to jump in a way that was far too uncomfortable for him, either mentally or physically (or both).  [Later in the  year we would conquer this particular problem.]   I also discovered that if I did it right, I could start asking Murray for the moar!! that we want and need.

I also wrote about running walking away from lions.

febdressage07keep this in mind for reference

I took an unannounced hiatus in March. I needed to work on my thesis and riding and writing were too distracting.  I got a lot of good work done (but probably could have posted and ridden all month long and still gotten done this month! hah.)

April was full of so many awesome things.  I rode with Hawley Bennett which proved to be both everything I hoped and dreamed and very challenging.  We went to camp and jumped all the jumps and finally showed some progress in dressage.  I also competed in the Camelot Horse Trials at BN, and while it wasn’t a perfect run it was a great learning experience.  Murray listened to me instead of just doing his own thing, and I made decisions, stuck to them, and enacted them.  It is probably the first time I have really pro-actively ridden a full test, course, and round.  It felt great.

helicopter tail


May started out with the crazy stressful but also fairly successful Woodland Stallion Station One Day event.  It also turned into a clinic-ful month!  I tried out another saddle that I thought was magic (spoiler alert: this  happened a lot), and I rode with Megan and with Yves!  Despite being the worst on the ground that he has been in a long time, breaking a lead rope, his halter, a trailer tie, and just generally being a raging douchebag, Murray was in great form for the actual riding portion of the clinic and took Megan’s instruction well.  Looking back on the pictures of Murray at the Yves clinic, I can see that he was finally back to feeling really good about jumping, and was forward and confident the whole time.


Then I went to Australia for two weeks and consequently missed more riding.

The second half of June I juggled my new life schedule (no teaching, more zoo-ing) and trying to ride with moving and couch surfing and everything else that was going on.  It was… delightful.  Karen inspired me with her list of Eli’s behavioral changes and I discovered that, for every bad thing I could think of that Murray could do, we were mostly in the green in terms of behavior change. I struggled to incorporate the lessons I had learned with Megan and Yves into my inconsistent riding schedule.  Murray took a lot of naps, and neither of us minded the relaxed schedule.

wp-1464679577850.jpgMurray taking a nap

I still wasn’t doing a ton of riding in July, and I finally figured out why: after you’ve not ridden for a while, it suddenly becomes easier to just not ride.  I thought about back seat riding and training bravery.  Murray and I got back to some jump lessons and I had a great learning experience on the different uses of my seat.  We also schooled cross country at Hiskens where Murray was fantastic, especially for the small amount of jumping we had done to that point, and then my phone killed itself on the drive home. I wrote a personal story about the death of a good friend.

july jump 04

August was a month of hectic activity on the personal front, and the consequence was even more limited riding for Murray!  Are we sensing a theme for this year?  Nicole gets busy; Murray gets a vacay.  I traveled for a wedding and a conference, defended my thesis, and moved — again!  I started using yet another different dressage saddle to see if I could fix my leaning/pitching issues.


September finally settled down and Murray and I got back to real work.  I rode for the first time with John Michael Durr, and he gave us a fantastic new tool to develop strength and straightness.  He also called Murray on his laziness and encouraged me to really insist on a proper step when jumping.  After all our time off and mini-vacations and legitimate vacations and inconsistency, I saw that Murray really was making some great progress.  That was a bright point in my year, because I had definitely been feeling a little down in the dumps about my progress until I looked back like this.

dress-4biiiig difference from January, huh?!

Being funemployed in October meant that I finally got to ride as much as I wanted and had been doing in the past!  I clipped him early and got it done – again!  I then promptly pretended that clipping so early was a strategic training decision so that I would have to clip him twice this year, therefore reinforcing the “stand for clipping” lessons that I started installing. I tried to stick to the lessons I had learned from JM and Megan and really get Murray to move into the contact and engage his whole body.  More consistent riding helped immensely with Murray’s understanding of the concepts that I had been working on, but also brought back the lazy reluctance that often characterizes him.  Fortunately for me, I also started to figure out how to push him for more without pushing his buttons.  We also managed to get to a schooling show and snag a pretty sixth place ribbon!


November was another quiet month on the riding and writing front.  We had a tack room re-org that has made our tack room so much more functional even with a couple of new boarders in the room.  It’s magnificent.  I wrote about being a good student and the principle of punctuated equilibrium and learning.  I incorporated a bit of work in the field into my repertoire, and then fell off the back of my horse.

Africa Friday featured baboons!

img_4931so much overstep and a beautifully engaged back

I boarded two trains in December: the blog hop train and the what if train.  The horses started to lose turnout privileges since the pastures were swamped, and so Murray expressed his feelings on that the only way he knows how: bucking.  As the year wound down (and the wind and cold picked up, brrrrr) I started to opt for playtime instead of riding.  Murray continued to be a super star for our rides, and I realised how desperately I needed a lesson. Tina was my lesson savior and nailed me for nagging, and helped me unlock Murray’s body so that we could get more out of our straightness exercises.

And last but not least – I became a doctor!!!! It still feels damn good, by the way.