sore pony butt

So it turns out I did get Murray in a little over his head with schooling stadium right after a two week vacay, because the poor little pumpkin has such a sore tush right now that his hind end is tracking all crooked.  Whoops!  I really thought he would let me know that he was tired/struggling while schooling before we go to the point where he would get muscle sore after, but I guess we were both just having too much fun.

So I’ve been massaging his butt, sponging on liniment, and riding him around at a marching walk and loose trot to get the oxygen flowing back to those big muscles.  It’s also January, which last year was when Murray’s hamstrings got so tight he was trying to hold himself up on the wall by pushing his butt into it and gave himself a huge blanket rub on his ass.  So it’s not unexpected, and every day that I ride him he’s felt a bit better and with any luck we’ll be back in business next week.  C’est la vie equestrienne.

barebackI never take these pictures and am alarmingly bad at them.

Just because I’m not riding hard doesn’t mean we’re not working though.  I rode in just a halter the last two days because why not (and also, New Good Horse attitude), and I added my quarter sheet today.  We did leg yields, a little turn on the forehand, and even practiced some shoulder in and haunches in (our newest trick) all at the walk.  Murray loooooves just having the halter on (or perhaps he looooooooves not having to work hard) and is even being a tiny bit of a dressage pony with halter contact which I think is super adorbs.

Alas, Murray’s disdain and hatred for our barn staff member R and his wife (who often helps muck) is getting pretty outrageously extreme, and the silly kid nearly ran away from me in the barn aisle today because the muck cart was coming down the barn aisle with — sacre bleu!!! — a dirty poopy bucket in it.  I’m thinking I’ll have to pin a bag of treats outside Murray’s stall specifically for R to give him, so that Murray can stop  being such a twit.

Since I can’t go XC schooling Sunday now (keeping it low key for the kid so he doesn’t actually injure himself), I’m going to day drink mulled wine and take photos of the people who are riding instead.  Because day drinking.

IMG_8826Bonus picture: my dog makes the most amazing faces when she runs.

1/4 Schooling Recap

In what was probably one of the most responsible decisions I’ve ever made, I decided that I would take Murray schooling with my trainer immediately after getting home from my 13 day Christmas break.  As in, my first ride of the year was to be schooling off property when I planned to get home at nine the night before.  But whatever.  I’m coming to terms with this new “good horse” I have, and that means I can take him schooling after two weeks of vacation no problem, right?

In fact, that would be correct.  With just a little bit of assistance from two friends in the form of some rides while I was gone, Murray was an absolute angel today.  The only thing that suffered from a big jump lesson after two weeks of vacation was my position and my thighs.   They quiver as we speak.

IMG_9297 IMG_9298Not so hot of me, but Murray is really getting it!

Fortunately for me, today we weren’t cross country schooling (or I might be a sad sack of jello right now), just stadium schooling off-property to get a bit of a break from the indoor at a friend’s with all-weather felt footing.  It was Murray’s first time at the property, and he proved to be every bit the almost-Grown Up Boy I have come to know and love.  He jumped right on the trailer no stud chain required, and didn’t even force me to perform some kind of ridiculous girthing-up-voodoo on him.  The only bad thing he did was try to walk off while I was doing up the buckled on the bridle, and honestly that’s something we’ve been struggling with a lot lately (yeah, #realworldproblems).

I asked Alana if we could treat today like a show — warm up a bit, and then get straight to coursing.  I actually do this a fair bit in my lessons too, but at home it’s much less high stakes.  One of the reasons I practice this so much is because I used to seize up and stop riding after warm-up, so if my former lease-horse wasn’t a hundred percent honest or was feeling even a little bit lazy he was like “hahaha yeah just kidding, we’re getting eliminated on fence two” and then I would cry (not joking).  I also like to practice scary show-like things for Murray, so that he can have confidence and feel successful at the “scary thing” (jumping things he’s never seen all together in a course) even if those scary new fences are all of 2’3″.


So we did a little warmup, did a couple of little lines to get started, and then threw it all together into a 2’3″+ course.  And, interestingly, I had a couple of refusals.  This was especially good for me to feel because the last few times we’ve been off property Murray’s been very point-and-shoot to small stuff, but kinda looky at the big stuff, and I’d not paid attention to it.  We’ll get to some of his reasons in a minute, but suffice to say the first approach we had to a couple of scary filler jumps (old Christmas tree, a wine barrels panel jump) resulted in runouts and stops, though several equally scary things did not (cord wood, combos).

Our first big refusal was at a two-stride combo, where Murray just ran out to the side and I could feel it from way back in the turn.  I did what I usually do at home — big whack, re-approach — and he still noodled his way through it, resulting in me losing a stirrup and jumping two more fences without it but with consistently degrading form.  To be fair to him, we would normally have jumped a bunch more times in a warmup — probably five times over each fence, really — so this could be treated like a warmup hiccup.  But what I really think is that I just need to be a bit more tactful approaching things when I feel like he’s backing off and ride more like I do to something scary at home — soft, reasonable, but definitely forward.  Alana agrees, and had me just circle him if he refused on the first approach and come back to it really straight, and usually that worked really well.

IMG_9334Although evidently, jumping with a super angry face and only one stirrup through a combo will make your pony pick up his knees and get really round!

All of our other stops came about because Murray was barreling down on some kind of new jump and I wasn’t trying hard enough/he wasn’t listening hard enough to get the quality of the canter back so we both had more time to think about the fence. My gut reaction, from back when I was first jumping Murray, is just to push him to a fence when he gets like that, and go for the long spot.  But I’ve really learned better, and know that waiting for the deep spot results in a much better jump, and that the quality of the canter radically affects our coursing.  So I know what we’re working on this month: half halts!  And didn’t I just see Robert Dover saying the half halt is everything in riding?

IMG_9371A bit better here, at least my ass is out of the tack.

I’ve been watching the George Morris clinics so I tucked in my shirt and wore a belt and my clean-ish show boots, but as you can see, the V-neck is really not appropriate on me for athletics (well, not in George’s world).  The hot pink I refuse to give up — it’s just who we are.

In terms of my riding, I was definitely suffering from having had the break, but I am soooo glad I went schooling.  It really showed me what we need to work on, and how important it is to get away from home, and made me rethink my schooling/showing schedule for the year.  All my old bad habits reared their ugly heads — pinching with my knees, weighting my right stirrup more than my left, and sitting too soon over the fences — but I was glad to see/feel that my automatic release is at least somewhat coming along.  All of my previous attempts at releases on Murray have been hideous and result in me throwing myself at his neck over jumps (yes, even more than in one of those photos above!!) so auto is how I’ll have to go, I think.  Lots to work on, but at least I know what it is from the photos!

All in all, just a super fun day out coursing with my pony who proved himself, once again, to be more than I ever expected.  We ended up jumping around 2’7-3′ (if you measure the poles, Mr. Hanging Knees has never been much of one for following recommended height guidelines), so a solid BN+/Novice school.  What a fantastic way to start out my riding year.

IMG_9457I am not exactly sure what my body is doing in this picture, and we’re jumping into a Winnebago, but I like it nonetheless.

After my ride, I got to watch three of the baby/green horses go with their riders and it was awesome.  The ponies are all so adorable, and their riders are working their butts off with them.  I love watching babies learn.  It’s great.  Murray, in the mean time, life-hacked his hay bag and then fell asleep once he’d emptied it.  What a champ.

IMG_9599Using the little eating hole is for n00bz, I just break PVC pipes to get full access… (which reminds me, Tough1, we are going to be having words about your brand name vs. my five SIX year old)

A tiny pony adventure

Yesterday I was the first person to arrive at our barn, right after our barn manager ran out to drop her kids off at school.  I was a bit earlier than I needed, so I decided to walk my Jellington before my lesson.

Two of Ellie’s favourite barntime activities

As we exited the hay barn, I noticed something amiss.

We are NOT inside a pasture…

Patti, our barn manager’s retired mini/shetland had escaped the confines of her pasture and was freeeeee!!  It seems that in the night the latch on the gate had come undone. Fortunately, all of our gates are all secured with a chain in addition to the latches, so only tiny creature managed to slip under and escape.

Unfortunately, Patti has decided that she is a Wild Creature since her tiny rider outgrew her, and shuns the love of most humans.  When I approached her with a carrot and her halter, she fled the scene, running into the corridor between the main pastures.  Our barn was set up by someone very clever, and all I had to do to keep Patti confined was shut the gates to the corridor.  Hooray, problem semi-solved!

>Patti has a siren-like allure to most full size horses (those that aren’t terrified of minis, that is) and as soon as the horses in turnout saw her they came GALLOPING to her aid. Patti greeted them, squealed her challenge, and went joyfully off down the corridor — full size horses following, rearing, and handstanding behind her.

Fortunately, when Patti returned just a moment later she accepted my carrot peace offering and let me put on her halter and lead her back to her pasture.  Much to the annoyance of the rest of the ponies, who thought this whole thing was So Unfair.

Camelot Horse Trials — but mostly tribulations!

This weekend I attended the first of the Summer Horse Trials series at Camelot Equestrian Park.

If you live in Northern California and haven’t heard about Camelot, you should get on that link!  Camelot is an amazing facility for all riders!  With multiple dressage courts, two stadium arenas, a cross country course catering to riders from intro to intermediate (with more jumps being built every day!!!), miles of trails and hills, there is something there for every rider.  They take meticulous care of their footing and provide plentiful, safe housing for horses staying overnight at a great price.  And they have events for all — two-day horse trials (and their first rated event next Summer!), hunter/jumper shows, dressage shows, hit the trail for life, ride and dine.  Did I mention their super, super, super reasonable pricing?  XC schooling for the day is $15.  FIFTEEN DOLLARS GUYS.  In short: GET THERE AND CHECK IT OUT!

Their footing is so good Murray can’t help but roll in it…

Our cross country school the night before the event went really, really well.  Murray acted up in every way I thought he would: he panicked at a cloud of dust brought up by the wind, couldn’t stand still, and refused the tiniest jumps; only singing “Yellow Submarine” kept me from tears (a coping strategy provided by DStew, more details on this later).  My trainer (Alana) and our assistant trainer (Tatiana) worked me through it though, and we ended on a really strong note after jumping all over the course.  (Another benefit of Camelot as a show location for inexperienced horses and riders: they let you school the course before you do it!)  Murray and I entered at intro. Though we have schooled up to 2’9″ at home (ok, one jump) I wanted our first horse trials to be a relaxed event for both of us, with an all-positive cross-country filled with running, jumping, and no baby horse/Bad Eventer antics.  Recently Murray and I have had some problems that I haven’t been able to get to the root of.  At our most recent XC school at a nearby facility, Murray kinda…. melted down.  He couldn’t figure out how to go forwards, and spent most of the second half of our time out there going sideways and backwards unless directly pointed at a jump from a few feet away.  M has melted down a few times at home too, and has been really strong and opinionated in our jumping lessons (bucking before and after jumps, through the changes, and grabbing the bit and running away, to mention a few of his opinions).  I wanted to enter at a level where I was beyond confident we could do the jumps, so I could just concentrate on getting the job done, instead of that job we had to get done.

Thankfully, ponyface loves the water.

The morning of dressage was a little more eventful than I had wanted.  I was running a little short on time after braiding and Tati offered to bridle Murray while I changed into my show clothes.  As I closed the tack room door, I heard that all-too-familiar cry: LOOSE HORSE*.  My last show at Camelot, one unfortunate soul’s horse got loose four times, and I had just been reflecting on how lucky we had been that there were no loose horses so far.  After a second, I snapped to: that’s probably MY HORSE that’s loose.  Sure enough, as I opened the tack room door, I saw Murray bucking his way across our line of stalls, dressage saddle slipping precariously back and pad nearly completely shed.

Like this, but without the rider.

Thankfully, Murray stopped for a chat with his friends and we managed to get things righted.  It only took four of us!  In warm up, Murray got out a few more of his baby nerves bucking at the canter and giraffing around the arena.  Thankful for shows that run late, we got a bit more time to warm up and relax before entering the ring.  We put in a solid dressage test, an improvement from a schooling combined test back in April, with some really lovely moments.  Murray couldn’t relax enough to really show off his beautiful neck and back, but there were times when he shined.  We even got an 8 on the right canter circle!

Sleepy pony after dressage & antics….

Cross country warm up was an utter disaster.  They were running an hour late as the YEH judge was nowhere to be found, and the warm up arena was packed with galloping ponies.  Murray immediately reverted to panic mode: sideways, backwards, half-pass, turn and spin were the order of the day.  Instead of panicking, I employed some of Alana and Tati’s tactics from the day before and took Murray to a quiet part of the warm up to do some polite canter transitions and quiet canter circles.  This worked beautifully, and when things calmed down a bit in the warm up we did our warm up jumps.  That was a bit challenging, as Murray was still pretty distracted, but after six pretty spastic solid jumps Alana and I thought we were warmed up enough for intro.

When we got to the start box, Murray was still a little confused about what the plan was.  We did get into the start box though, and out of it.  Once we got about six strides out to the first jump, Murray locked on and broke into a canter, which is honestly the best feeling in the world.  We ran a fast intro round (30 seconds under optimum, oops) without any run outs or refusals, and Murray locked onto every single jump.  There were a couple of moments when he wasn’t sure exactly where we were going, but steering isn’t his job, it’s mine!

Stadium on Sunday morning was also fantastic.  Warm up was much of the same: too many ponies + too much action = distracted baby horse.  We leapt over the X and vertical a few times and called it good.  Waiting for stadium was honestly the worst: Murray couldn’t stand with any of the other horses, but he couldn’t stand to be away from them.  He couldn’t watch the stadium rounds because it made him nervous, but he couldn’t look away.  Some cleverly timed and over-bent figure-eights (thanks Tati!) helped him get his brain back together, and I was extremely proud when the gate opened for our round and Murray marched right towards it.  Wait until the other horse gets out maybe?  Nope, Murray is going, and I’m not stopping him.

Don’t tell me what to do!

Once in Stadium, Murray was confused again. Where is jump one? What is this sea of crazy? Where do I go? Oh god, what is that whistle?!  My plan of cantering him around a bit to settle went out the window, and we rather uncoordinatedly trotted towards jump one.  Fortunately for us, Murray’s instincts kicked in: once pointed towards jump one, a little kiss got him moving and he became very rideable for the entire course.  I am super lucky to have a horse that is just spooky enough to be careful over everything and weirdly braver away from home, but who is also willing to listen to me when I say “no for real, we’re jumping this jump.”  We didn’t even have any of the over-tired pulling problems from our recent lessons, and Murray still jumped things that I aimed him to poorly.

Murray flexing his sweet abs during our mini-victory gallop.

Over all, a super, super successful weekend where I accomplished all of my goals and more.  We lived and made it through all three phases without getting eliminated.  Even better, we finished on our dressage score!  I worked out some of the kinks in our riding, and figured out how to warm up without killing my horse or crying in frustration.  Murray proved to me that he does like eventing and is capable of everything I ask and more!  A shiny red ribbon was just icing on the cake.

* My trainer heard this in the warm up as well, as Murray galloped toured the stabling area.  As people around spread the word and half-heartedly attempted to catch my bucking steed with nothing to grab on to, Alana recognized Murray and said “Oh, it’s just Murray.”  Evidently, the other trainers found this quite amusing.