Everyday Fail Wrap Up

I have to say, I was not quite anticipating the absolute onslaught of Everyday Fails you guys posted.  When I came up with my blog hop idea I was like “well, this will either succeed or be an absolute flop and people will just laugh at me and insult my riding”.  But man, you guys definitely rose to the challenge!

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Because I’m too cheap for InLinkz here’s a compilation album, so to speak, of all the Everyday Fails that people posted in response.  Thank you all for participating!

In no particular order, i.e. the order in which I found them on Google and my comments.

DIY Horse Ownership

My Red Mare

Eventing in Color

The $900 Facebook Pony

Fraidy Cat Eventing

jumpfail

Oh, Gingersnap!

Little Pieces of Me

Contact

An Analytical Ammy

Thoughtful Equestrian

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Alchemy Eventing

HelloMyLivia

Hey Hey Holls — who wins for best rhyming title!

Bay With Chrome

Dig My Size

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Stories From The Saddle

She Moved To Texas

A Gift Horse

All In

SprinklerBandits

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The PerfEq

Smooth Strides

EquiNovice

A Enter Spooking

The Story So Far

Four Mares No Money

Bel Joeor

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Did you participate and I missed you?  Comment or shoot me a message so I can include you, before I do a FancySchmancy Excel randomization of blogs so I can see who wins that saddle cover!

Original Gangsta

A couple of months ago I posted this picture on Instagram:

Because I couldn’t help myself.  Sometimes I go to Trainer’s house and clean out the stalls there for her (or house sit or whatever) and this young man, Wise Guy Rog, was such a super fun and friendly stallion that I had to take a selfie with him.  (That day I also discovered that front-facing camera selfies are so much easier than back-facing ones! But I digress.)

Then I kept quiet about Wise Guy for a while because of superstition.  WG was a sale prospect and my RBF was like “oh maybe I want him?” but after our former bad luck with Ronin’s injury, we wanted to keep it low key.  So RBF rode WG a bit and I reminded her how hideously ugly he was so we wouldn’t get too attached.

11760227_10152869371321568_2438874380580634384_nHideously ugly. Shudder.

As these things go, RBF scheduled a vet check.  And WG failed.

The vet was a little worried.  Apparently four year old horses who have been in super light work are supposed to be sound.  Interestingly, he passed all his flexions, it was just trotting in a circle on the hard ground that gave off a little something.  Maybe stone bruises because his feet were soft like putty?  They rescheduled.

11058301_10152869371461568_404131125869352898_nHe gets wicked itchy ass and has to scratch like woah.

So we kept quiet again.  And WG stayed on stall rest and tried not to explode all of his buckets while his feet healed.  Second vet check: another failure.  This time a different foot was off on the circle on hard ground.  The farrier found more bruises and a small abscess at his next appointment.

11796442_10152869371716568_7144697552761830725_nUgly and talentless and a hideous mover!

By this point, we were understandably upset.  We’d all become attached but buying a lame four year old is not really a sound idea. Pun intended.  He got a two week ultimatum.

Vet check the third: passed!  With flying colors.  And nothing scary in his rads.

11817123_10152869371766568_3336292790798687738_nFLYING!!

So evidently, all a little horse needed was some time.  Two and a half months of time, to be exact.  To grow some new feet and get rid of some bruises.  And worry us sick in the meantime, but whatever.  Now there is a new baby horse in the family!  And my RBF will get to experience all the tears and trauma and drama and dramatics and theatrics of a velocirpatorish baby ottb too.  Sorrynotsorry, RBF.  It’s kinda worth it.

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So now we can happily present to you Gryphon.  The newest member of our family, a gumby-deer-energizer-bunny-rooster extraordinaire, possible Original Gangasta, likely tear-creator and equally large parts joy-maker.  We can’t wait to watch you grow up!

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the love below

I so appreciate everyone’s support lately.  I feel super whiny right now, when things aren’t going perfectly with Murray.  It’s funny.  Over the winter when I was writing this blog and nothing Murrayish was happening, I was like “wtf! that would be such amazing blog fodder!” and then it turns out that when things just go a little bit Murray I am not entertaining.  I am not funny in the face of Pony’Tude.  I am no Poor Woman Showing, guys.

Below all of these feels and drama and sturm and drang and maudlin theatrics (on my part, Murray is pretty much as Theatrical as his pedigree demands [which is 1/8, just so you know]), there is love for this horse.  This silly, ridiculous horse who shows so much talent(ish) and has taught me so much.  So, to remind myself as much as to tell all of you, here are some of the reasons I love this horse that, somehow, I don’t trust right now.

Murray has given me strength

If you can't be kind, be quiet

I started riding Murray when he was still a baby noodle (in contrast to  his current behavior as a teenage mutant noodle turtle) and as with any baby noodle, a fair bit of determination is required to get certain things done.  With Murray, this ranged from everything from steering (“No! I will not turn in front of that terrifying jump! No! Just say NO!”) to accepting contact to jumping to anything.  All of this required me to keep a forward-thinking mind and win the battle of wills that Murray was totally willing to engage in, and if I could just be persistent without being mean, I would win.

Murray has given me subtlety

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As much as Murray requires a strong ride, he is also a really sensitive guy.  I barely have to think about a walk transition and we’re cruising along at a much slower pace than we were before.  A little leg pressure at the girth and there we are, cris-crossing our way across the arena.  He responds to voice commands as much as to any body position, and too much leg will always get a kick out of him.  Murray has taught me how to negotiate with him to get the best out of both of us, to get him to do what I want (in dressage or jumping!) and to do so without crazy objections.  In fact, that’s probably what we’re in the middle of right now; another lesson in how to be subtle and get what I want.  Murray’s legacy will not be akin to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.  Or maybe… do I need to read that thing?

Murray makes me feel special

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Lots of people have told me that Murray would not do well in a traditional training program.  Even if it’s just lip service, I appreciate the comment.  He’s too willful/silly/ridiculous/spastic/stupid/smart/doesn’t act like other horses/dinosaur/gumby/whatever.  I tend to agree with them: I don’t think he would do very well in the traditional training programs I’m familiar with.  He’s very much a one-person horse, and you have to be ready to move backwards and sideways as much as you do forward.  He definitely wouldn’t have made anybody any money in those off-the-track-to-prelim-in-18-months programs (hahaha he never would have made it), and I kindof thing he would have cracked under the pressure.

More than that, working with Murray, and being successful with Murray makes me feel like I could do anything.  Perhaps not brain surgery, but it certainly makes me feel like I could probably negotiate with most other little baby ottbs to get them to accept contact, jump the jumps, and do some circles in the sandbox.  By no means do I think of myself as a professional or a great trainer, but Murray has taught me a lot about the value of quiet persistence.  I appreciate that.

Murray keeps me entertained

magnesiumAs much as I sometimes wish that we were progressing faster, jumping bigger jumps, competing in higher divisions (hell, completing our division), and always keeping to that ever-so-realistic ideal of progress as a straight line, that is a) not real life and b) kindof boring.  Yes, I would learn a lot on a horse who was a bit more straightforward, and I he would be able to teach me things Murray (probably) never will.  But I enjoy the challenge of working with Murray, and I love working out the little Rubik’s cube of his mind.  It is without vanity that I say I think I would be bored working with a horse that is too straightforward — but perhaps it is also a little nearsighted?  I suspect that every horse is merely as easy as you let him be.

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Murray is really cute

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He is for real cute.  And his star looks like a tiny jumping horse with me jumping ahead.

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Bonus picture: HOW TINY AND ADORABLE WAS MILO WHEN I GOT HIM?!

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too smart by half

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts and well-wishes last week.  I am happy to report that the Wragg fire is contained and mandatory evacuations have ended, and all our bonus-ponies get to return home!  I am even happier to report that no lives were lost in the fire, and that the emergency crews are unscathed.  Unfortunately, there are yet more fires burning in California, and fire crews will have their work cut out for them for quite a while.  My thoughts are with all of the emergency responders working to contain fires in California.

The Murraycoaster continues its thrilling and wild ride.  I didn’t ride too much last week — enough horsey drama was had and I needed sleep! — but I did get in one ride Friday and then Saturday we went schooling at Woodland Stallion Station.

During Friday’s ride I tackled one of those delightful goals from my list: determining if I need a new saddle.  One of my concerns about Murray’s fussiness and stopping jumping was that my saddle might not perfectly fit — I’d seen pics where the back of my saddle was lifting as we jumped — and I know that is not ideal.  So assistant trainer and I had a look at my saddle as well as some other saddles to determine fit.  Murray is not AT’s biggest fan (she usually has to twitch him/drug him/deworm him/etc., but she also gives him lots of love and pats) and he objected MIGHTILY to having a bare leather saddle put on his back by trying to run AT right over.  Fortunately, this was not her first time at the Murray rodeo and she was like “get a grip dude” and he settled down.

The even worse part of this bit of news is that my saddle really doesn’t fit.

IMG_3844You can kinda see the lifting here.

Cue epic sadness.

It’s too wide in the front and sits down on Murray’s shoulders, which could definitely cause some discomfort for him while I’m riding.  We popped a few different saddles on (“NOTHING EXPENSIVE!” I insisted.  Why? “I CAN’T AFFORD ONE.”) and one of the lesson saddles (a Pessoa) fit so AT suggested I go ride around in it.  Which I did.

Murray did not seem to have any problem jumping around in the lesson Pessoa.  Unfortunately, I hated it.  Absolutely hated it.  I hated it so much I nearly cried.  Murray jumped over everything, only balked once (and it wasn’t even at a fence), and I couldn’t ride in that thing.  I just couldn’t.

IMG_20150624_193357Plus that would have completely thrown off my recently-posted everyday tack setup

So I went back in, put my saddle on, and jumped around in that for AT.  Murray was fine.  No discernible difference from jumping in the Pessoa.  But AT could see that it really didn’t quite fit — with me in and out of the saddle, it still pressed down on Murray’s shoulder blades.  Off I ran to get a wither riser pad.

Bingo.

A saddle that fits the way it’s supposed to!  I was also really pleasantly surprised with the way I felt with the saddle raised in the front.  It was much easier to sit up straight and my leg felt good.  I popped around and was really happy.  And then I realised how abjectly tired and emotionally drained I must have been, because I nearly cried over saddle fit.  Saddle fit.  That is not something I typically cry over.

I tried to sleep early that night, but did not succeed, and thus when I headed out to schooling on Saturday I was still tired.  I probably should have trusted my instincts and no schooled that day, however I didn’t want to force a second trip (joke’s on me, I’m going on another trip to school there in two weeks) just on my behalf, and so I sucked it up and went schooling.  I rode terribly, and I cried twice, but I did it.  For the most part.

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Murray ditched me within 30 minutes of getting on, of course.  We were cantering towards a fence and the rest of the group happened to be walking in the opposite direction and when we passed Murray kinda lost control of his body and I ended up in the dirt.  I kinda landed on my feet but as Murray fruck out I lost my footing, and then did that thing you’re not supposed to do (hang on) and got dragged through the dirt because hell if I was going to let him gallop half a mile back to the trailers.  I can just see it now — Murray’s ass happily fleeing in a cloud of dust as he gleefully returned to the place from whence he came.  (At least he likes the trailer?)

Once again the exhaustion hit me and I started crying, but we cantered back, jumped the fence, and all was well and good for a while.  It’s hard to cry while you’re actively riding.  I’m pretty sure it’s a strategy of Alana’s to get me out of my head.  Oh Nicole, go do that thing over there! Yay you did it, happy now? Good girl.

We had some trouble at the next fence too, a Novice-sized house that I was totally amped to jump.  But coming up to it, all I could feel was Murray getting faster and stronger toward the fence, and I felt like I had zero control, and when I half halted to get a little attention back we came to a not-even-that-dramatic stop right in front of the fence.  I was like “look Alana, I’m not jumping anything bigger than BN or in any way scary after this fence, but I just have to get over this thing and then it will be fine. WTF.  I have no control.  He’s fast and strong and I don’t know what I’m feeling and I don’t trust him to go.”  And Alana was like “Girl, just sit back and dressage that shit. What you’re feeling is your Notorious OTTB rocking back onto his hindquarters before the fence, but he’s using any bit contact as an excuse to say no because he’s a rat bastard. So just half halt that monster with your seat and core if you need to*.”  And damn if it didn’t work.  Of course.

* Alana doesn’t actually speak like this. Much creative license was taken.

IMG_3800Beautiful uphill canter

After that I reminded myself to take the small options from now on because I clearly couldn’t life and did not want to overface myself or my horse.  Of course, that doesn’t mean I didn’t still somehow fuck it up.

jumpfailThat approach is way steeper than it looks and Murray slipped in the loose footing the first time and was like “NO WAY” (and slipped) the second time.  Both were spectacular fails.  I’m saving the other picture for my Everyday Fails wrap up post.

So yeah.  I’m struggling right now with not trusting my horse, which is shitty.  It’s not really a position I ever thought I’d be in.  For a long time I could at least trust him and myself to get over it, even if it wasn’t pretty or perfect.  I need to get my confidence in Murray back, get my lower leg under control (I’m putting those stirrups back down until he stops spazzing out over random artifacts in the arena), and both of us back to that place where we can trust one another.  And also that place where I don’t suck at riding.

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she told her horse she hated him — you won’t believe what happened next!

Blame Amanda for the clickbaity title.  Does anyone even click on those things any more?  I certainly don’t.  Anyway.

Riding Murray has been, uh… challenging for the last few days.  Yesterday I went in for a standard, let’s review what we know and maybe do a few of those new tricks we’re learning! ride and Murray was stuck epicly behind my leg.  He was so behind my leg at the trot that I kept getting lurched forward as I posted.  I tapped him with the whip a couple of times and instead of moving forward he just kinda hitched his hip and squealed at me.  I mean really, what are you, a mare in heat?  You squealed at me?!

I cantered to get him ahead of my leg and BOY did he ever want to canter.  He was barely maintaining three beats down the long sides (but did), and stretched down a little.  We did have a fight about the Spooky Corner, which is not my favourite, but I’m trying to work through it.  Anyway, we finished up with some walk to canter (okay) and an absolutely abysmal attempt to slow down the canter to walk speed, make a 10 meter circle (Murray was so on the forehand and heaving his body around he probably thought I’d just asked him to do a pirouette), and work on canter-walk.  Sigh.

Today I popped on for an easy jump school with everything set really low — sub 2 feet.  After fighting about the Scary Corner again (inside bend, inside bend, get off my inside aids creature!) in both directions, I popped him over a little X.  Noodle emerged but didn’t prevail, so we had a little walk break.  After the walk break the Noodle emerged in full force.  Every time we went by something that I felt Murray looking at I counter flexed him, and then he would find something “terrifying” on the other side to avoid!  He stopped DEAD at some flowers we have jumped approximately 20983487340 times, but with some strong leg and clucking he went over from a standstill.  It was like an 18″ X.  It was fine.

I did the same thing over a couple of other fences, and took another walk break.  It is really disheartening that absolutely every drop of courage Murray once had seems to have flown away.  The worst part is that it’s my fault but I don’t even know what I did to make this happen!  At the risk of sounding obtuse, everything seemed great (with minor bobbles) right up until it wasn’t.

Anyway, we jumped a few more new fences and I insisted that Murray listen to me by working on the jump-then-halt-a-few-strides-out exercise.  Which for Murray meant jump, break to a trot, DRAG DOWN INTO THE BIT AND NEARLY RUN INTO THE FENCE.  So that was nice.  I did eventually get down to about 10 trot steps before the halt, but it was hard.  I also insisted that Murray hop promptly into every transition when I asked him to every time, instead of at some to-be-determined-time-later.  This was hard.  It got me a few angry head flips but after a few goes seemed to be working.

Our last jump round was a little course I mashed together and Murray was quite good.  Then I went to the cows, which we jumped both ways in our last lesson, and the front brakes were in HEAVY use for Murray.  I’m honestly astonished this horse doesn’t break a leg with the speed at which he can go from moving forward to moving sideways all based on his front legs.  However, Murray did jump it upon re-presenting and again after that.  He rubbed it hard both times, which was interesting — I don’t know the last time he gave a hard rub to anything he was really scared of.

To add insult to injury, after our ride I went to walk into the wash racks and Murray put on the brakes there too.  At this point I’d had enough of asshattery and BEAT him backwards.  Murray flew backwards, FLEW, so fast that he actually skidded behind when he stopped.  He did not balk at going into the wash racks after.  All of this, of course, made me really feel like I LOVE this horse.  When I was leasing him rides (weeks/months) like this would just go in the column of “hahaha probably not buying this one” but now that I’m stuck with him… it’s so different.

I put him out in his pasture with his friend, and even his well-behaved friend was all kinds of in my way.  She wouldn’t move away from the gate and I had to beat her to get her out of my way so I could actually go through the gate.  It’s clearly me, right now, being so much less tolerant of horsie shenanigans, but I’m like HORZESSSS!!!! you making me cray!  Murray of course went to roll immediately, as he was all wet, and I stood around to watch because Murray is hilarious when he rolls.  He did not disappoint.

First, he let out his patented high-pitched post-roll raspberry before rolling, so that was awesome.  Then he pawed around, lay down, made fantastic noises while he was rolling, went right over, groaned, rotated 180 degrees, groaned a whole lot more, and then got up on one side.  He made this groaning “hhhheeeeeee” while he wiped his face on his forearms, then stood up, and made another amazing high pitched raspberry.  And I laughed.  And laughed.  And laughed.

I do love this horse.  With everything he’s throwing at me, I do love him.

baby noodle stages his comback tour

I wish I’d started blogging consistently earlier in my time with Murray.  I started riding him in October of 2013, came up with the idea of blogging about him because he was hilarious in March 2014, didn’t start blogging until June 2014, and didn’t start blogging regularly until November 2014.  So much happened in those intervening months and I wish I had a consistent written record of them so I could return to those posts and remind current-Nicole that past-Nicole and past-Murray got through those moments and became the awesome horse he uh… is/was/could be.

Because right now, baby noddle* is making a hard comeback.

* Sarah made this error in a comment last week and I honestly type “noddle” instead of “noodle” all the time so I’m running with it.

I impromptu-joined a lesson on Wednesday night with our assistant trainer and some friends, thinking that a nice, low-key, stress-free, supervised ride would be a great way to leap back into jumping (pun intended).  The jumps would be small, it would be in our arena at home, Murray would be built up to his former levels of amazing confidence and all would be great!

So of course I fell off within three fences.

Nope Nope Nope Octopus

It was the exact same thing that got us at Camelot, but this time a little more extreme and associated with some new-ish fence filler (a little mini picket-fence that was recently repainted).  Going from our warm-up X to the X with the mini-picket Murray said NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHRHRHEKJSF and slammed on the front brakes.  Much like when you’re screaming downhill on your road bike and slam on the front brakes, I went flying over Murray’s shoulder with pretty much no other choice.  Like the ninja I am, I landed on my feet (I recall a distinct moment where the only part of my body I could feel on contact with my horse/tack was my right toe in the stirrup) and resisted the urge to beat Murray.  Instead I said to him firmly “You don’t do that to me.” and we marched over to the mounting block.

I approached the picket fence much more defensively the second time.  For my first ride I’d been trying to approximate that defensive-half seat that I used to ride in all the time, but up off his back.  For the second ride I sat down and drove him to the fence, and gave Murray a prompt smack behind when he hesitated, closed my legs, and kept him moving forward.  It was ugly but we got over it, and did it a few more times with no further incident.

I rode defensively for the rest of the lesson, keeping my weight back and my leg on, and giving Murray a smack with the whip behind if I needed.  Unfortunately, coming around to the picket fence the opposite direction that strategy backfired on me: Murray stopped at the base, and while he could easily have hopped it from a standstill, when I smacked him he fruck out and ran backwards in a circle.  After another incident of backwards-running, AT advised me to smack less and just trap him between my legs more.

Approaching new, scary fillerhttps://i0.wp.com/i.imgur.com/rfFWukr.gif

We had one or two more stops but also got over some of the fences that Murray initially wanted to stop at initially, so I count that as a win.  We also jumped our new jump filler (which I painted!!!), purple glitter cows!  I will get a picture.  Sadly, much of the glitter is gone, but for one day’s work, I’m fairly proud.  And we jumped that without any kind of refusal. Hooray.

Reflecting on AT’s comments during the lesson, I realised that the way Murray had been behaving was exactly how he used to approach jumps when he was a baby.  You know, baby Murray of, oh, 2014 and 2013?  Sometime over last Winter my dramatic little noddle turned into this super reliable, forward, trustworthy jumper and I thought the DLN phase was gone forever.  Apparently not.

With my initial plan of “re-confidence Murray in one lesson on Wednesday night!!” I was hoping that I could use my Friday lesson with Alana to start working on some of our dressage goals.  ALAS THAT WAS NOT TO BE.

18857776603_ab9c1b8495_kIts okay, we’ll get back to the sandbox eventually.

Friday I started my lesson with Alana ready to chat about and re-tackle the situation.  Of course Alana and AT had talked, so Alana suggested we just go ahead and jump some things and we let Murray show her how he was really feeling.  I popped Murray over a warmup vertical and headed for the picket fence, but thanks to my defensive riding (I was not about to come off at this fence again) it was ugly but we went.  Alana had us jump that line one more time, then suggested we put together a small course.

It was all the same fences as Wednesday, but we jumped them in a different order and some different directions.  Alana spookied-up a few things, and I kept my legs on and my eyes up and rode forward.  After that round, wherein we got over everything, Alana was like “Well, it’s not that bad. It’s a herky-jerky ride, but you’re getting there.” and I was like “yeah, it helped me A LOT when I realised that this isn’t some kind of all-new level of assholery that nobody has ever experienced before**.  It’s just your average, every-day, run-of-the-mill, slightly-more-dramatic-than-average baby horse antics.

Murray when I ask him to jump something newdBNjr3Z - Imgur
I love this movie.

Phew.

** Okay guys, I know you all told me this.  I know you said that it sounds like it’s just baby stuff and it’s not uncommon for a green horse and I know.  But I have this thing where I don’t believe anything anyone tells me until I get some kind of secondary confirmation.  Ask my boyfriend.  He hates it.

Now that I am confident that Murray can get over it — because he already did once, there’s nothing stopping us from doing it again! — I am feeling much more relaxed about my baby noddle.  I know what I need to do, though it is unpleasant: treat Murray like he is completely untrustworthy and manage him thoroughly to every fence.  I totally preferred when I could trust Murray to trust me that whatever I pointed him at was not terrifying and was totally jumpable.  However, something got messed up along the way and he doesn’t trust me any more, so now we get to build trust again.  I wish someone could tell me what he needed, but he can’t so… yeah.

help me help you jerry macguire animated GIF

We have another show coming up at the end of August (goodbye, money! hello, important confidence-building experiences for baby horse!) and I will probably back off the dressage a little bit and focus some more on jumping in the interim.  Towards the end of my lesson on Friday I started to feel the light, forward, trustable pony brain coming back into Murray’s head, so hope is on the horizon.  It’s there.  We can do it.

CEPF Horse Trials: where XC went wrong, and what I plan to do about it

If you saw my recap on Monday you saw under “ugly” that cross country had more than one mishap.  Don’t worry; I bought the professional video so we can all enjoy this mishap for generations to come.  There’s also a little bit of video from a friend, but it is a little disappointing because I was riding really hard yet I look kinda like a sack of potatoes up there.  Whatevs.

Instead of dwelling on how things went wrong fence by fence, since they all went bad basically the same way, I want to instead think about the bigger picture of things going wrong.  I will preface this by saying that out on course, and in the immediate aftermath, I had no idea what had just happened to make the ride so bad.  I mean, I knew what the proximate cause of all the fuckups were, but I didn’t understand why the course never got any better, why Murray couldn’t or wouldn’t just listen to me, and was both devastated and furious that I had been unable to adapt my riding to get it done.

19482783501_95bcf337d6_kGetting it done at the scary brush rolltop

It started in warm up.  I felt Murray noodle to our first XC warm up fence (a small lattice coop) but I got him over it with a strong leg and words of encouragement.  Unfortunately he stopped at our next two XC warm up fences and I had to smack him to get him over them.  After all the times I’ve read that run outs are the rider’s fault and stops are the horse’s fault (and knowing there are caveats to this, like when I climb Murray’s neck and he’s like “nope too heavy for takeoff, Houston”) these stops were definitely on Murray.  I was balanced back on both of them, and as he rocked his weight back on to his hind I softened my hands to encourage him to use his body correctly, and instead of taking off he planted his front feet.

Ultimately, this is my fault too.  It’s a training issue that, somehow, I’ve let him come to think that it’s acceptable to stop thusly.  However, at the time I didn’t want to get into a huge fight with Murray in the warm up because a) show officials (remember how I didn’t want to be disqualified for horse abuse? I read the rule book section on horse abuse very carefully.) and b) getting into a fight with Murray has never the first ingredient to a good ride.  Sometimes it’s the fourth or fifth, but never the first.  Gotta give the princess some benefit of the doubt before resorting to the jockey bat.

IMG_2781Bad stopping pony. This was after his momentum change threw my forward — I assure you that I was sitting back right up until this moment, and he could easily have taken off had the urge struck.

After our third stop (at the up bank) I did give Murray a solid smack and rocked his world a little bit.  He hopped up and flung himself backwards a bit but listened to me whenever I pointed him at another fence in the warm up.  But as you can imagine that did not inspire great confidence in our ride.  I told Alana I wasn’t feeling confident, but I went on to the course with the intent of growling a bit if I had to and with the hope that my trusty XC loving Murray would return when he saw the awesomeness ahead.

Out on course I started as I often have – letting Murray pick his own pace (within reason), following softly with my hands, and rebalancing him as necessary, particularly as we approached the fences.  I’m pretty much never going to have to trip balls about speed until training or above: we’re fast enough that we’ll easily make optimum, but not so fast or talented that we’ll get faults.  The problems started with fence three where Murray first spooked at a jump judge and skittered sideways to the fence. This continued to be Murray’s MO for any fence where there was anything remotely scary nearby: spook and bulge to the opposite side of the scary thing (typically right but sometimes left).  I would then re-direct his attention to the question at hand (the fence), and with the exception of the trakehner he went over everything once reminded what we were actually doing.

IMG_2773 IMG_2776But I don’t want to jump it — YOU WILL TOO JUMP IT

At first I was really angry with Murray for not realizing, after successfully passing several jump judges that didn’t jump up and kill us, that the remaining jump judges on course were probably not going to try to murder us either.  I know, I know.  Horse “logic”.  I should lower my expectations.  In his mind, whatever behavior he was demonstrating towards the jump judges (DISTRUST! HATE!) was working just fine to keep us alive and therefore he must continue that behavior at all costs.  Sigh.  Our best fences were honestly the ones where there were no jump judges visible – the up bank, ditch, water, and canoe all warranted zero looks.  My barn manager Lisa (remember, Murray adores her above all else, and she’s a Murray Whisperer as well as generally fantastic read of horse body language and behavior) watched the whole thing and said that after every fence Murray just got more and more frantic and bunchy and that frenetic energy just compounded his fear of the random shit that was clearly going to kill both of us.

11540849_943642228991984_1621103932468790413_nAt least we know how to gallop

(When I first started this whole blogging thing, I thought about featuring “shit my horse spooked at today” Wednesdays or something.)

When I thought back on the course in the past few days, I really chastised myself for not containing that frantic energy better.  In a jump lesson before Camelot Murray got super disorganized during one round, but all I felt was this open, forward, powerful canter, and I misinterpreted his speed and gameness.  In my cloud of hindsight misery I kept dwelling on how things might have gone differently if I’d instead slowed Murray down and really forced him to get organized and focused on me between fences, instead of just seeking out the next fence and trusting his view of the next fence to get him organized.

However, upon reviewing the video it turns out that even with getting him balanced and organized before a fence, he wasn’t really focused, and was more than capable of unnecessarily looking out for scary things, so I feel a little less like chastising myself in that regard.

Typically when I am working with something scary at home, I demand that Murray soften and get his head down and listen to my aids and bend away from the scuurrrryy thing.  Once he’s done that, I then ask him to walk up to the sccurrrryyyy thing and make him touch it.  Typically we can then work past it just fine.  So while that works fine at home, it’s obviously not a viable solution for away.

Unless… can I perhaps walk him up to one of those jump judges next time?!!  Maybe I can yell “SCHOOLING!!!!!!” and trot him up to a scary jump judge and make him nose it then continue on our merry way?  As long as they don’t talk to us it’s not outside interference RIGHT?

IMG_2800Though he did end up picking his knees up better than usual here

As many times as I told people over the weekend that he was, Murray isn’t an asshole.  He’s not a hundred percent honest or listening, but he isn’t an asshole.  Most of the things he does aren’t out of some kind of defiance or annoyance, but it seems because the little cogs are turning faster than I can keep up with and he doesn’t actually trust me when I say that these things aren’t something to be scared of.  (Not an asshole, just an idiot.)

This annoys me, of course, because I’ve worked really hard for the last few years to get Murray trusting me and working right.  And for fuck’s sake horse, nobody wants to be nice to you except me, just cut me some fucking slack all right?  Whatever, horse logic, I do have higher expectations of you.  Alana and Lisa really think that Murray entered a place of extreme sensory overload, which got worse as the course went on, and finally hit his breaking point at a really unfortunate location.  This is corroborated by Alana’s observation that once I was off, Murray completely relaxed.  I was too fucking angry at him at the time to notice it, but apparently once I was on the ground he put his head into me and his scared, panicked eye disappeared.  He didn’t jig on the way back to the stall, he didn’t try to run away or spook any more, he just wanted to be on top of me (which you can imagine was absolutely the last thing I wanted from him at that point).

IMG_3305Excalibur redemption

I hear that there’s a way to fix the overstimulation that comes with showing.  It’s called: more showing.

Yes, of course Murray, you would pick THE MOST EXPENSIVE POSSIBLE FIXABLE PROBLEM TO HAVE.  THANKS A LOT.

This isn’t something we can fix (easily) with just schooling.  Schooling isn’t scary enough – there aren’t announcers, fifty other horses, pop tents, flags, or jump judges.  Sure, I could invite two hundred of my closest friends to come and scream and carry on and make schooling just like a showing environment, but I feel like that’s a lot to ask even of my wonderful team. (OH GREAT IDEA: CALIFORNIA BLOGGER MEET UP?!  We will call it “bombproof the baby”!)  But we can work on it by going to lots more shows, to compete or just to school (so I don’t have the pressure of performing well, but I feel like if I’m going to pay a non-comp fee I might as well pay the whole entry fee and just accept many more eliminations), and going to all different types of shows.  Though schooling stadium on Saturday was fine, it wasn’t great, and clearly the distractions are going to get to Murray in that arena too.  So stadium schooling shows (or even little rated ones) will be a good idea too.  So hopefully we can get him over this.

IMG_3333I’m also considering some kind of new supplement program.  Something with the word calm in it.  Perhaps that starts with “smart”.  I am also considering Quiessence, but when I tried it last September it most emphatically did not work, but if I can get away with making it free I’ll give it a go.  Obviously I will stop short of actually sedating him… maybe.  Additional considerations include poneh earplugs, and a shadow roll.  A shadow roll worked in the past with Quincy, who went over almost every fence with his head under his belly because he was so busy looking at things.  The earplugs will mandate a bonnet, which I have never been the world’s  biggest fan of, but as Lisa put it “what do you dislike more, bonnets or elimination?”

Blogland: I am open to suggestions.  Let them at me!

a beautiful day

Saturday was a beautiful, thoroughbred-y day.

I started the morning riding one of Alana’s new prospects, who I shall refer to as the Gray Baby.  (We just can’t decide on a name for him, and he’a resale project, so really, why waste a good name on him?!)  He’s been off the track a few months and I’m not sure if he ever raced or not.  He’s shockingly well balanced with great brakes and steering.  He’s a bit timid on the ground but super under saddle.  Such a fun baby to ride.

IMG_20150607_124837Gray babies look adorable in pink and purple.

After my ride, I went with my roomie J and Alana to get a couple of new horses off the track.  We went to a trainer-friend’s barn and toured around and patted her winners and the losers and even coaxed the goat out of her stall for some cuddles too.  I met my future project horse — a big gray stallion who is horny as all get up (even though he’s never bred anything but his hay bag) but who works fast.  Anyway, the horse we picked up, Auggie, is a 17.2 hand 2 and 1/2 year old who had brain surgery recently — by which I mean, he was castrated.  He took a bit of a tough look at the trailer but got on for his trainer and settled in for the ride.

IMG_20150606_175948Auggie after settling in at Alana’s — his pen got a little mod to help him rehab a minor injury.

Next we picked up a mare from a breeding farm.  Scarlet hated the track, and went off all feed, so she was quickly retired and we’re hoping to place her as a sport horse soon.  She’s petite and adorable and I, like a twit, didn’t get pictures.

On our way back from the breeding farm we stopped in at Tractor Supply to get a couple of new big water tubs and some shavings for Auggie to sleep in on his tender nuts.  We were there during the Belmont, so J quickly pulled HRTV up on her phone (thank you HRTV!!!) and we watched the Belmont in Tractor Supply.  The three of us were crowded around the little phone screen watching American Pharoah win by miles with two ottbs in the trailer.  It was insane.

I cried.

I don’t know that I could accurately describe all my feelings watching the Belmont, but AP was impressive.  And it was amazing to watch history in the making — for a title I have read so much fact and fiction about.  I know there are so many mixed feelings and fucked up things that happen in racing.  I know there are bad trainers and bad breeders and people who don’t care about the horses.  But I spent my day in the company of people and a trainer who really, really, really care about the horses.

So that was pretty sweet.

IMG_20150606_100040Gray Baby

the trust bank

This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for some time, and it seems especially pointed after today’s unmitigated disaster* of a lesson.  The Trust Bank is a concept I was first introduced to by, I believe, Yves Sauvignon, and a crucially important aspect of every relationship between human and equine.  It is the reason I can trust Murray to save me, and he trusts me to save him, it is how we have come so far.

* Ok so this is an Asian-mother-reared unmitigated disaster, which really just means that I was a bit off and Murray saved my butt repeatedly, but also spooked ridiculously and unnecessarily.

horze1This image brought to you by: The Trust Bank

The trust bank is not a physical bank, but it is a very real thing.  It’s the balance of trust between you and your horse, and you draw on it every time you ride, but especially when you get into a sticky spot and need your horse to help you out and – you know – trust you a little bit.  Every time you save your horse or make the right choice or ride with forgiveness, you make a little deposit in the trust bank. When the balance is good, when you and your horse trust each other well, you both work better.

IMG_3844Quick baby horse, do your first Novice fence!! Don’t worry, it will be okay.

When my trust bank is strong, I can count on Murray to go over any jump, from any angle, from any spot, without question.  Ignoring the most epic of rider screw-ups, when our trust bank is strong, Murray will get me out of absolutely any sticky spot I can put him into.  When the trust bank is strong, I know that pointing Murray at a fence means he’s going, no matter what.  I imagine the trust bank exists for dressage also, but I don’t really think about it there (dressage is more of a negotiation in my mind).  More importantly when our trust bank is flush, Murray knows that I’m not going to let him down, dump my aids before a fence, or set him up for failure.  When the trust bank is strong, we easily forgive the little mistakes one another might make, and together we are better than we would either be alone.

IMG_0671Making a withdrawl, and ultimately failing (or: how to make my good horse stop).  A scary fence, a crappy position, a bad approach.

When my trust bank is low, Murray might stop if I get ahead of him or don’t support him enough with my legs to a fence, or if I ask him to take something from a funny angle.  When the trust bank is low, there’s a little hesitation before the fences – are we going?  When the trust bank is low, Murray is spookier and less inclined to work.  When the trust bank is low, I have rides like I did today.  When the trust bank is low, I know I need to make a deposit.

 

There are lots of ways you can make a deposit in the bank, but generally, it involves making the right choices with your horse to the fences (once again, in my jumping-centric example).  Every time you support your horse to a fence when he’s a little confused, and prove to him he can get over it, you make a deposit.  And every time you ask your horse to save you, to make up for your mistakes, to get you out of a tough spot you put the two of you in, you make a little withdrawal.  Bank accounts of different sizes can stand different sizes and numbers of withdrawals – but like any bank account, you can’t withdraw forever without making a deposit or five.  Or ten.

IMG_3768Building trust with tiny fences. Many, many, many tiny, successful, fences.

 

The beauty of this analogy is that it doesn’t make trust some immutable, euphoric state that some riders and horses can achieve and others can’t.  You don’t have to worry about lost trust as something that will never come back, or something that can never be achieved.  Trust isn’t like zen or nirvana.  It’s a rising and falling commodity that is completely in your control.  If you want your horse to trust you, prove to him you’re trustworthy.  Given time, he will prove it back to you.

16019201964_b78d562d0c_k

weekend recap: PONY CAMP!!

Last week and this weekend were a total blur. I didn’t get enough posts queued up, though I have a ton on my mind.  Last week I visited my boyfriend for three days, did a juicer photo shoot, and then came home for one night for a meeting with my advisor and (drumroll please) PONY CAMPING!!!!!!!!!

For the last three years, my trainer has arranged a 3-day 3-day camp — three days and three nights of ALL EVENTING ALL THE TIME!!!  We trailer up to our favourite NorCal XC facility (Camelot Equestrian Park, duh) and camp for two nights with our ponies.  We do dressage and stadium lessons, school the XC course, and a pace exercise on their 3/4 mile gallop track, and then a mini one-day event.  It is an absolute blast!!

This year, we had more horses coming than trailers, so trainer took two trips with the six horse and dropped some of us off on Thursday afternoon.  The five of us settled our horses in, set up camp, and then promptly headed out for a little conditioning/trail ride, as Camelot has not only a fantastic XC course but miles and miles and miles of trails! We actually didn’t go far, since none of us really know the trails, and we didn’t want to tire our ponies out too much before the rest of our adventures.

Murray sure knows how to power walk out on trails.  He blasted out ahead of our group and made things a little difficult for the slower horses who wanted to keep up.  I’ve never felt such a big, swingy walk on him.  Wish I could get that in the sandbox!

Friday morning the rest of our party — ten more horses and riders — arrived, and we commenced with dressage lessons.  Murray warmed up fine, and then decided that it was impossible to do any canter departs without bucking.

But we did have some beautiful, real dressage horse moments.

So I just smiled through our Murray Moments and mentally composed a thoughtful and strongly worded letter to the USDF requesting a “Entertainment” score on all dressage tests. With a multiplier of 2!

The benefit of going first is that you get to watch all your friends’ rides too!  I watched lots of great dressage lessons, and lots of tests, and got to hear all of Alana’s comments regarding geometry and corners and transitions.  It was extremely helpful.  And after dressage?  STADIUM LESSONS!  Well, lunch, a break, then stadium lessons.

We worked the baby horzes first, and I got to watch the adorable, adorable redhead in his third ever jump lesson!  So cute.

IMG_9015

Our lesson was pretty freaking fantastic.  We had some of our best equitation/jumping ever.

IMG_9513Our most perfectest jump ever, possibly? Over his shoulder but I don’t even care.

Murray also showed off his mad hops.  I realised how much lube my elbows must need because they appear to be basically stuck in a 90 degree angle.

IMG_9770Flying over 3′.

Murray also demonstrated MANY opinions and his best canter side pass and half pass.  Fourth level, here we come! Mostly it was about my right leg, and there was great shrieking and carrying on, but he also let me know, in no uncertain terms, whenever I wasn’t riding him absolutely right.

IMG_9670Lady, figure your shit out.

It was exactly what I wanted, lots of good work at BN and then some badassery over a novice course.  Such a great confidence builder.  And how can I not love this pony whose ears are pricked and locks onto every fence (well, except when I randomly hit him in the face)?!  Kid knows how to put his game face on.

IMG_9505Game faces on.

Friday night we all went out and had our hopes and dreams dashed when the Marie Callendar’s that we usually frequent was closed down for good.  Deep sadness.  Instead we went to Chilli’s where I ate too much and promptly fell asleep as soon as I got back to camp.  Oh, and Pigwink came camping with us so that was pretty much pure joy right there.  She makes a phenomenal hot water bottle.

11070178_10103460723449293_7907006224029865815_nI was clever enough to bring cold pressed coffee and the barn owner built us a fire!!

Saturday morning I snacked on my homemade granola bars for breakfast (really good choice to bring those) and headed out to cross country!  We did reverse order for heat reasons, so started with the most advanced group and moved down to the babies.  Murray surprised me by struggling with the drop into the water, though we’ve never struggled with down banks before.  So we schooled that both up and down until it was pretty smooth.

IMG_0587You want me to do WHAT?!

IMG_0541Much easier this way.

Since during our last schooling I had so much trouble jumping off a galloping stride and following Murray, I tried extra hard to stay with him this time.  He was a fair bit more relaxed so was also more willing to add, which helped.  Camelot had dragged out some of their newer jumps too, so we got to try our hand at some of the slightly-scary Novice fences.  One fence did give us a spot of trouble, a ramped table that had dragons on the front panel.  It wasn’t quite full novice height, but something about it really gave Murray pause (perhaps the training and prelim fences to either side? perhaps the dragons?) and we had a couple of stops there.  We got over it more times than we stopped, though, and didn’t have a problem with it when we threw it into a course on the last day.

IMG_0667The terror!

Alana did have to remind me at the beginning not to get too over-eager with my stride counting to the fences, as I am inclined to throw my body at the fence when I start yelling strides (three, TWO, ONE!!) so I tried to keep my upper body and my voice quiet.  This time around, Eric Idle’s The Galaxy was my inspirational song.

It was a short-ish XC school because we did pace in the afternoon.  Pace gets its whole own blog post — it was so cool.  However, another overall really confidence building and fun ride.

IMG_0456

 

There was also some super adorable baby horse action on XC!

IMG_1031Dancer is six, but he just recovered from white line in 4/4 feet last year. I’d say he’s coming back pretty well!

There is something so satisfying to me about doing your own horse care and camping with the horses.  I love feeding and night check, and catching ponies all flat out and snoring.  I don’t even mind the noise they make in the night (though persistent screamers aren’t my fave), but I am a really good sleeper.  Sunday we did a mini-one-day event, keeping it light and easy for the horses who were all, as you can imagine, pretty exhausted at that point.  I would have racked up 20 xc penalties and 4 stadium penalties (both totally rider error — Murray was super game and honest otherwise), as well as some rather interesting comments on my dressage tests, since Murray bucked through the entire left canter circle.  No matter, we weren’t actually competing! One of my friends did, however, up the ante dramatically by bringing HORSE GLITTER!!! So even though it’s a bit blurry, I leave you with this masterpiece of a quarter mark. I am one hundred percent buying myself glitter for my first event!

IMG_1627