new baby horses, new lessons

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

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

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

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

awwwwh look at da baby murray!

you catch more flies with honey

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

auto-narration of my exploits

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

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

my expecations are way higher now

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

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

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

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

the training scale

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

baby horse goes jump jump

distance makes the heart grow fonder

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



in the green

A couple of weeks ago Karen posted about the behaviors Eli has adapted and developed while under her care. So while I’ve been sulking about the fact that I don’t have a job, don’t have a house, and don’t own anything of value except Murray, I started doing the same and comforted myself quite a bit.  Murray has made a ton of progress in our time together, and it is nothing to sneeze about.

wp-1464679577850.jpgCamelot Horse Trials -- but mostly tribulations!
The resemblance really is striking…

So I made my own chart.  Murray’s previous behaviors are listed on the left, and comments on the right.  I color-coded the comments as red (no change/still bad), yellow (some progress), and green (legit progress!) and gave a little description about them.  I also realised that Murray is waaaay weirder on the ground than he is under saddle.  Like… a lot.

ground behaviors

under saddle

There’s a lot of green in these charts.  That is a lot to be proud of, even if I don’t own a house.

lessons from baby horses

It seems like at least half the teachers in my horse education are baby horses themselves.  They are wise and clever and sneaky in their baby horse ways.  Murray has taught me a lot, but he was just one horse, and it turns out there’s still a lot to learn.  Trainer took students to Fresno County Horse Park this weekend, so and I was in town for once, so of course I offered to work the baby horses (all two of them…  but I also worked two friends’ babies so that kinda counts).  And I had a pretty neat little a-ha moment while doing so.

First up was zennMr. Zen, who is very cute but pretty lazy.  He thinks he’s too cute to lunge.  He wasn’t directly disobedient, but any time I asked him to slow down he used it as an excuse to turn to the inside to avoid more work.  He was quite clever, too, and knew that if he just kept himself pointed slightly away from me he could most effectively spin his hind end away from me.  But I buckled down and engaged ninja mode, and focused on just the most basic of lunging manners.  Zen was somewhat shocked by these rules, but I let up and praised him mightily after just 3 good circles with polite walk-halt transitions. Result?  Today we only had one disagreement about it.  I still had to be quick and I obviously couldn’t text and lunge the same way I can when I’m working Murray (pinnacle of safety over here), but massive improvement.  This is standard baby horse training, though, and not the massive a-ha moment.

The a-ha moment came when I was working little Marshawn Lynch.  Marshawn’s only tasks in life right now are to relax and learn to go and woah when asked, both on the lunge line and under saddle.  Marshawn was a little tense on the lunge though, so it was a bit tough for him to get the “woahhhs” through his ears.  But even baby horses relax eventually, and so when I saw Marshawn slow his step and stretch out his topline a bit I took advantage of that moment to say “woahhh,” and Marshawn came to a walk.  Super.  Back up to a trot, and this time Marshawn was quicker to relax, so we came back to a walk easily.  I repeated this a few times in each direction, and I could really see the wheels turning in little Marshawn’s head as I said “woah” and then put a little pressure on the lunge line.  It was very cool, and a good example of antecedent-behavior-consequence training.

Antecedent: I say “woah”
Behavior: Marshawn slows
Consequence: praise, less pressure

The neat part to me was connecting all the piece of the training.  First, rewarding Marshawn for relaxing on the lunge line, which is a huge thing to me.  I’m not interested in contributing to tension, or making a horse who just wants to run around on the lunge like a maniac.  I don’t mind getting your yayas out, but lunging is also for work, yo!  Marshawn visibly relaxed in the first lunging session and was much more relaxed coming into the second session.  Second, putting together the voice aids (woah, clucking/kissing) with the behavior Marshawn was already demonstrating — relaxation or slowing.  And finally, adding in the lunge aids (which will contribute to rein aids, as the lunge goes to the bit) with the voice aids.  All just one piece of the puzzle of creating a well-trained horse.

I love learning from baby horses!!  They are so fun.

When your trainer goes out of town and you get to play with all the baby #ottb's #ridealltheponies

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Last year Murray’s trainer bred a mare that she adores (Breaking Daylight) but who couldn’t cut it on the track to her winning stallion, Coach Bob.  She wanted Scarlett to have somewhere quiet and peaceful for her pregnancy, to foal out, and raise the foal; enter my trainer’s house.

Since Scarlett arrived last year I’ve been grooming her to be my bestie so she would let me play with her baby once it arrived. It wasn’t exactly hard, as she’s a very sweet mare, but I put in some time rubbing her ears kissing her nose.  Scarlett’s pregnancy dragged on and on and on and on…. until 1 AM this morning.


Trainer found a healthy filly in Scarlett’s stall at 1 AM.  I headed out this morning to help with a few antenatal chores and — DUH — to see baby!!!  Baby was brave and feisty when I got in there, so I promptly christened her Feist. B agreed with my naming when we tried to put a halter on her — this overcooked little nugget was rearing and kicking out and an absolute firecracker!

IMG_20160421_092535Horse placentas are enormous!

I spent some time investigating the placenta and exploring its stupendous neatness.  So cool!  For one, enormous.  For two, the ceins and cords are all ropy and magnificent.  The bit fat horn (I think it’s called the pregnant horn?) feels like velvet.  Insane coolness in there.

IMG_20160421_095729Mama Scarlett keeps a watchful eye.

Prepare yourself for many gratuitous baby pics, since I will be out at B’s place pretty often this Summer.  For now, enjoy a ten-hour-old filly’s first day in the world!

IMG_20160421_095557I love dis wall.

IMG_20160421_090908Give me the noms!  Don’t you think she’s tall compared to her mama?

time heals most things

Adult Camp 2016 was interesting for many reasons.

DSC_0256-2I don’t know why I anticipate this image showing up on the blog a lot.

This was Murray’s third adult camp.  I took him to his first one as a measly five year old, only six months into our relationship, and we haven’t missed one since.

At five, I didn’t have high expectations of Murray at camp.  I don’t remember my exact plans, though I do remember that I conceived of this blog during that time when I was watching my friends deal with delightful baby horse antics that required plenty of zen.  Back to the horsey side of things, I know that Murray was as good as I could have expected him to be at that camp, impressing me with some adorable baby horse jumps and even letting me relax enough to goof off a bit on the XC course.

Murray 2Ever-loving dork.

But Murray also absolutely melted. down.  During our cross country school, which was in a group of friend horses and friend people and was a mix of elementary and BN fences, Murray quit about 15 minutes before the end of our lesson.  He wouldn’t walk forward, only backward, and when I tried to employ a technique that I learned reading a Chrono of the Horse article about backing Murray all the way to our next fence he practically sat down.  So that was a no-go.  So for a quarter hour I dealt with a horse tossing his head and spinning and deciding he could only do things in one direction — ass first — unless pointed directly at a fence and about three strides away from said fence.  B had to walk us right up to several fences and Murray jumped them from practically on top of her.

Murray 1Sometimes we try so hard and are so goddamn cute.

Adult camp 2015 was also an epic success.  We did many things.  We jumped many things.  We didn’t even totally suck at dressage.  Murray had come full circle by camp 2015 — after camp 2014 he had lost the ability to school cross country in groups at all, and sometimes even just melted down and went backwards for no reason in the arena at home.  One day a fifteen year old had to walk us back and forth through the middle of the arena so Murray could get back to the gate.  Fun times.

IMG_9513Using a newer, bigger neck!

This year, I watched several of my friends struggle with their horses — not necessarily SERIOUS struggles, but there were horses that were fresh and leaping and throwing out all kinds of antics — one poor guy totally melted down on XC for no reason and ended up nearly kicking his own hind boots off, and walked back to the stables in a froth with one boot off and one boot partially on.

In response to this, some of my friends were understandably perturbed.  Their normally sensible, reasonable, rational, and in some cases campaigner horses, were going completely off the rails for apparently no reason — especially since almost everyone had visited Camelot and schooled there before.  And the whole time I was like “don’t worry, it will get better.”

I know, I know.  Rich coming from me.

But I do know it gets better.  I do know that horses get more sensible and dressage court shenanigans get more grounded, and cross country celebrations get more rideable.  It’s not necessarily easy or quick or fun, but if your horse doesn’t hate cross country (and isn’t in legitimate pain and and and possibly a whole host of other things), every calm, stress-limited outing translates into more sensible future outings.


I was lucky, because Murray frontloaded all the bullshit.  Pretty much anything he felt like throwing at me, he threw at me at home.  He didn’t save it for special occasions, saving up his bucks and kicks and freakouts for trips away from home or presentations in front of a clinician.  He let me know any and all of his feelings any and all of the times that he felt them.  There was no quiet, reasonable horse at home, replaced by a wild, spooky, exuberant demon away from home.  The spooky, exuberant demon let himself be seen whenever so much as an errant jump standard was in the wrong place in the arena.  So I really do have a very solid foundation suggesting that the bullshit that comes during outings really does go away.  It went away at home, so that seems to suggest it will go away from home, right??  I mean, it’s the only a priori evidence I’ve got, so I gotta run with it.

If my horse, my completely insensible, ridiculous, idiotic, sometimes total moron of a horse can learn to be quiet and reasonable on cross country?  Well, there’s hope for all of them then.


(Honestly, Murray wasn’t even that unreasonable.  He wasn’t dangerous, didn’t rear, didn’t actually, legitimately threaten my life.  He just let everybody know, in no uncertain terms, that he was having feelings.  But on the other hand, I don’t think any of the horses I know are so far from “average” that they really fall into a different learning curve than he did.)

So don’t worry.  It gets better.  Most things do!

throwback thursday: the tire incident

There are many reasons I wish I’d started my blog earlier, and sharing these old Murray stories are definitely some of them.  My first, oh, nine?, months with Murray were peppered with incidents so absurd that there was nothing to do but laugh about them.  And he had a heavy hand with the pepper.  On the other hand, it’s  good I didn’t write about this when it happened, because now I can flex my storytelling muscles and explain in gory detail the absolute ridiculousness that was the tire incident.

Back in February of 2014 Murray and I were in regular lessons with a friend, but for some reason found ourselves lessoning alone that morning.  After successfully coursing we approached a standard tire jump for one of our last fences.  Murray and I had jumped the tires successfully a few weeks earlier, but for some reason had not jumped them for a little while.  And for the first time, Murray stopped dead in front of the tires.  I was used to his noodly run outs and rider-error-glance-offs, but this was the first time Murray had ever really sat down and said “no way!” to a fence.  I let Murray get up close and personal with the tires, we re-approached, and he stopped hard again.

murraydonwannaPony’s got stops.

At this point B* was like “time for an extra defensive ride!” and so that’s what I did.  I jammed my seat down, kept my leg on, and ran Murray at the tires.  It wasn’t pretty, but we got over it.  Two refusals and one jump later and the tires were just not coming naturally to us.  Our last approach ended with Murray half jumping, then deciding not to at the last minute, and me crashing into the tires over his shoulder with his legs all around me, miraculously not crushing my body.  On the plus side, landing in a bunch of old tires is really not unpleasant.

After crashing spectacularly and only getting Murray over the tires twice in seven attempts, we decided it was time to resort to something that lacked the tired-and-out-of-shape-weakling-amateur element.  We slapped Murray on the lunge line, and F shooed him towards the fence which (we should have known) he said “no, thank you!” to quite handily.  And by said “no, thank you!” I mean that within about ten seconds he had ripped the lunge line out of B’s hands and galloped off to the opposite end of the arena.

I caught Murray (does it surprise any of you to know that he won’t let B catch him?) and brought him back over, and we pointed him at the tires again.  This time he had a much more civilized “no, thank you!” and just ran around the tires.  I mean, he’s an 1100 pound noodle with a great fondness for going sideways.  Of course he just ran around the tires.

14627101506_4b0c8518f2_oMurray’s “no, thank you” face

We propped a pole up on the outside edge of the tires so Murray would be channeled over the jump instead of around it, and he ran out towards the inside instead.  A placement pole on the inside simply encourage him to jump sideways over the outside pole.  At some point in this whole endeavour our barn manager showed up and offered to relieve B of her lunging duty (B had a weak collarbone from a recent break at the time), but B was like nope, gotta do this.  She lunged him away from the tires so he would remember what the whole “circling” deal was, and we got back to it.

The theatrics started.  Murray was doing absolutely everything in his power to avoid going near those tires at any speed greater than a walk.  We would lead him up to them, he would touch them, and then when he reapproached at the trot it was like we were asking him to jump the grand canyon.  Hi-ho Silver! antics were to follow.  And let me tell you, I have never seen a horse rear that high outside of the movies.  Murray went straight up and was striking the air, pawing like he was posing for the cover of a Walter Farley novel.  When he got back on the ground he would throw his head down and try to scrape the lunge line off his face.

We pulled tires out of the jump so it was more inviting for him.  We pulled out so many tires, in fact, that he could walk right through.  I walked back and forth through the gap and tried to lead Murray through and he was not having it.

And then Barn Manager said “do you have a cookie?”

And I was like “why yes, I always keep spare cookies in my jacket pocket.”  I ran over to the mounting block to get my cookies.

I stood in front of the gap between the tires and F led Murray right up to it.  And then I held out my hand and offered him a cookie.  I looked at Murray.  Murray looked at me.

And he went, “OHH COOKIES!!!!!!” and walked right through the gap between the tires.

And then he trotted through the gap between the tires.  And then he jumped over the gap between the tires.  We put the tires back in the gap one by one, and thirty seconds and four jumps later Murray had jumped the tires without any sign of stress or hesitation.

Forty minutes of lunging with absolutely no success, and all Murray needed to agree to what we were trying to get him to do was a cookie. A SINGLE COOKIE.


* After going back and forth I’ve decided to replace my trainer’s name with a single letter on here.  I want to preserve her privacy a little, even though probably nobody cares.

it’s the little things

that can just derail your ENTIRE RIDE.  These little things.  These tiny, irritatingly significant little things.

I’ve mentioned that Murray and I are seeking a new bit for dressage.  The D-rings might be poking him, he doesn’t really seek out the contact, he occasionally violently inverts himself… these things happen.  I’m okay with looking for a new bit.  It beats looking for a new saddle.
Me after five minutes saddle shopping

A lot of horses at our barn love the Stubben EZ Control, in both D- and loose-ring versions.  They love them!  They go insanely well in them!  They are made for princesses!!!!!  So I borrowed one and tried it.  And at first, I kinda hated it. I was deeply suspicious.  I did not like.

So there was that.  But I know I’m supposed to give a bit a few rides to get used to it, so I rode in it again.  And it was okay, so I thought, sure! Let’s give it the full two weeks.  Today, when I went to bridle Mr. Princess I got full on teeth-squeezed-shut-lips-pinched-closed-run-away-from-the-bridle antics.  We had to discuss.  I got the suspicion that Murray really wasn’t a fan of this bit either.

(You should know that this is not intended, in any way to disparage Stubben or their bits.  I know several horses who genuinely love that bit.  Mine just turns out not to be one of them. I also love their leatherwork and saddles. This is not a story about Stubben, it’s a story about princess creatures.)

My hesitation with this bit was that riding in it just didn’t feel quite right.  It was super hard for me to pin down.  Nothing I asked for was challenging, but nothing was right either.  I did some counter canter loops and Murray did flying changes instead.  I asked him for a half halt and to sit down at the canter and got no response.  I asked him to come through at the canter and he was like, “meh, don’t gotta.”

I was seriously losing my absolute mind over it before I realised it.  I did not understand how I could have gone from “Everything is great! I had a fantastic dressage lesson tackling new, challenging concepts with my trainer!” to “My horse has lost all ability to dressage hahahaha *sobs*”  And then I realised.  Murray was not listening to a single goddamn thing I was trying to communicate to him through my hands.

He is a soft horse.  I try my hardest to be an equally soft rider.  I don’t think of the bit as some kind of punishment or torture device or evil thing that I put in his mouth — it’s there for communication.  But we were not communicating.  At least, not communicating the way I had become accustomed to (and, I would like to say, Murray if you are reading this, the way you have trained me to communicate with you.)

Something about the action of the bit did one of the following:
a) completely translated my half halts to another language that Murray does not speak
b) suggested to Murray that dressage schooling now means “do whatever you want time!”
c) allowed Murray to hear my half halts but run through them because he’s bigger than a tiny piece of metal
d) all of the above

So we’re out of the EZ control.  I took it off right after our ride.  I have some more ideas, got some advice from a Tack Ho, and also offers from the ever-lovely Peony for loans.

But isn’t it funny how this one, tiny piece of metal can completely unhinge my ride?  Like one tiny thing can make everything so not right?  Yeah, Murray ain’t the only princess in this equation.

All credit for gif finding goes to my boyfriend, who filters the filtered internet to find perfect things just for me.