consistency is key

Last week’s jump lesson with Murray was filled with exuberance and joy for we jumped in the outside arena for the first time since December! Huzzah! Huzzah!  Murray was very happy to be outside and we jumped all around a relatively simple course, albeit with some new, scary filler, with ease.  Kept it lower, except for a hanging log that was a solid 3′ of terror — I was seriously concerned it would come down.  We jumped everything in stride, which was very comforting after our XC adventure left me a little bit shocked at how reliant I’ve become on the deep spots.  However, it turns out that deep spots are a function of the tight turns in the indoor and I can, indeed, still jump things in a gallop stride.  So fun!

The downside to the lesson was that it is clear that Murray is not nearly as fit as I had hoped he would be by, oh, March 16th.  Remember when I was obsessed with equine fitness?  Yeah, let’s recap that.  I got totally scrooged on my schedule for Murray by (2/9) him getting that puffy knee, and me being afraid to work him on it,  (2/23) stone bruise/whatever after XC schooling, (2/25) going to Italy for a week, and (3/6) him falling on his side and being both sore and then requiring a chiro (3/12), after which one is supposed to only do light work (w/t only) for at least four days.  Soooo that’s every week since I last did a timed gallop set.  Yep.  So we’re approximately up to, oh I don’t know, three and a half minute canter sets?  Fortunately, the kid is quite able to do long trot sets (we frequently work for 10 minutes at a go), but I usually only do 2-3 of these per ride, and trotting is not what one does on XC.

I’m growing cucumbers!

Our dressage rides since my lesson have also revealed the holes that I’ve let re-form in Murray’s body this winter by not sticking to my tried-and-true exercises.  Last year I was obsessed (quite literally) with spiral in and out, especially to the right, and Murray got a lot more used to bringing his right hind under and pushing off of it through that exercise.  I’ve not done it in approximately five months (bad, bad Nicole), and Murray has been travelling haunches-in to the right for at least two.  I’m so annoyed at myself for letting such an important exercise slip — because what was I doing if I wasn’t doing spiral in and out?!  I hardly worked on anything new in the last five months (started the haunches in & my new lunging regime) sooooo there’s really no excuse.

So it’s back to my old favourite exercises, and reminding Murray that getting off my right leg is not a favor, it’s necessary.  Upside: Murray has put on a TON of muscle this winter (I should take some comparison pictures…) and his neck is getting huge.  Most impressive is the muscle he’s laying down in his lower back, which is obviously critical to dressage.

On the other hand, the little horse has been progressing in leaps and bounds since our first ride last week.  Every day he got quieter and more relaxed on the lunge line, and picked up on my voice commands excellently.  I even have him stopping out on the circle without turning in, which is something I’m literally still struggling with Murray to accomplish.  I’ve been keeping things light and breezy for our actual under-saddle work, and he’s much more relaxed and I actually asked for a little trot last week.

On Friday, as we did our post-lunge walk around the arena, little horse saw something terrifying (which I assumed was a flowery gate jump) and sat, spun, and tried to escape but was kinda confused about what direction he wanted to actually go.  I grabbed onto his safety belt mane, which is fortunately plentiful, and held on, and once he settled we walked quietly past the terrifying gate.  I realized then that it wasn’t the gate that was so horrible, but the aforementioned hanging log!  The way he was acting it was clear that there was something sick and wrong about that log.  I got off in the center of the arena once little horse had settled and walked him over to the log.  This precipitated much snorting, but the little one is quite brave and shortly reached out to touch the offending log.  Once he realised he could try to eat strips of the bark, little horse was over it and happily continued trying to explore the log for foodstuffs.

hunchback of notre dame

Murray can never, never live in a snowy place, I think.  It’s been downright hot in California the last few days, and he’s been so well behaved that I can hardly handle it.  If his extreme quirkiness is seriously just the rhythms of the seasons and the world and the phases of the moon, and he’s as unpleasant, girthy, and dorky as he is during California winters, can anyone imagine what he would be like in the snow? On the East Coast?  During some kind of polar vortex?

Just no. Let’s not never ever do that. Please never.  To celebrate Spring, I made Murray a garland of flowers and adorned him with it.  Guys, I suddenly get why putting shit on your horse’s heads is so fun.  I get it now and IT IS AWESOME!!


I did have a lovely ride with Murray on Monday, and started working on some of the things Sprinkler Bandit talked about from her dressage clinic.  I just asked Murray to be engaged, stretching through his neck, and moving forward at the walk and trot (with some canter breaks to help keep him limber; it moves the pelvis in a different way from the trot does).  Shockingly, I got Murray’s best ever stretchy walk/free walk, and some great, connect trot where I think we were really starting to track up and push from behind.  At least a little more than before.  The downside is that he was super Trippi Hedrin, hopefully just out of laziness, but possibly from his sliding stop the other day.  He has a chiro appointment Thursday regardless (bye, bye, skrilla….).

I also discovered how serious one of my own foibles is.  I’ve been struggling seriously with Murray being pretty crooked, with his shoulders out and haunches in a little tracking right (especially right, sometimes also left).  I was practicing some 20 meter circles, and as I tracked right realised that I could see my right shoulder out of the corner of my vision.  I seriously did a double take — that shoulder should have been nowhere near there.  I adjusted myself and pulled my right shoulder up and back, and made sure to twist from the waist in the direction I was moving.  It wasn’t immediate, but I definitely felt Murray improve his straightness to the right over the course of our ride, requiring less insistence from me to keep it.  He still wants to fall right a little, but that’s a separate issue.  After just ten minutes of moving like this, my right shoulder was seriously starting to feel it, and when I relaxed I felt it pop forward and down and had to remind myself to sit up straight and hold it back again.  Seriously.  Quasimodo status right here.

I also got the little horse out again for some playtime.  Eclipse’s biggest struggles right now are accepting that he has to leave his friends and relaxing during work, so I tried to keep things short and sweet and end with some grain and lots of praise.  He objected not once, but simply cried out for his friends (truly pitifully at times).  We worked on relaxing a little on the lunge line, and voice commands (woah being the most important, he’s quite happy to go forward).  I’m not in any rush to get him under saddle, so we’re just thinking fitness relaxation right now.

image (1)

I have a job interview this morning (Tuesday).  First time with a real job interview.  Wish me luck!


Sometimes I get the feeling Murray needs a hug machine.  What with the girthiness and the generalized anxiety when we get to a new place, and the exceptionally good memory and the random spooking, I honestly think he’d appreciate a nice, dark, space that squeezes him tight.  If any of you caught this article by UC Davis regarding dummy foals and their symptoms, I also thought perhaps I should try doing a little ropey re-birth ceremony with Murray to cure him of his dummyness.  Or perhaps he just needs a thundershirt.

2013-05-19Not a thundershirt, but Ellie was miserable in her backpack. I found it hilarious.

Because he loves things being squeezed around his belly.  More, he insists. Tighter.  He loves it.

This particularly deep eye roll was brought on by my Friday-night barn fun activities free jumping with friends.  Free jumping the ponies with friends, that is.  I did very little jumping, but did drink lots of blackberry elderflower hard lemonade.  Everyone’s ponies were extremely impressive.  Except mine.

IMG_4936Pippa imitates a 17hh Arabian.

Murray remembered free jumping — oh yes, he remembered — and FLEW into the chute (set up with a 2’3″ X to start with) and then ran immediately into the corner and assumed his favorite position — rolling.  Then he proceeded to gallop around the arena for 15 minutes at top speed.  Racing speed.  When I finally caught him, he tried to pull away at the entrance to the chute, went through once more, and as he banked left to turn around the arena fell on his side and skidded into the wall.  He immediately jumped back up and galloped around for ten more minutes.

Of course.

Obviously we called it quits at that point. Fortunately, the creature is unhurt and raring to go this week, so I call myself lucky, and am glad I already know he has scope for jumping under saddle.

IMG_4965Pippa clears 4 feet in all her hunter glory.

So what was supposed to be a fun night of watching our ponies show off their spectacular talents with drinks and friends has turned into a $120 chiro appointment and nooooooooooooooo spare money this month.  I completely, utterly, totally understand the compulsion to keep one’s horse wrapped in bubbles in a padded stall and never, ever, ever let them out.  Ever.

IMG_5117Dancer is the same as as Murray ad has been under saddle for less time and got the game anyway….

Of course, straightjacketed bubble wrapped in his padded cell stall is no way for a horse to live, and Murray could easily have had such an accident tearing around outside.  C’est la vie equestrienne.

That gorgeous redheaded baby from a few weeks ago?  Yeah, he can jump too.



So I embrace my Special (not a compliment) creature and am just glad he nickered when he heard me coming today.


Since XC on Sunday, Murray’s been a bit pooped.


As have his friends.


So we had no work yesterday, just liniment, and a light ride today.  Unfortunately, he also seems a bit sore and a touch lame (could be anything — stone bruise, abscess, whatever, don’t panic Nicole), so I called off the ride in favor of a bit of a massage instead.  Murray did lots of licking and chewing and yawning while I was gently massaging his back and hind quarters, which makes me hopeful that it did, in fact, help.

Tomorrow I leave for Italy for a few days, so he’ll get some light rides with one of the teenagers he adores.

This week I rode another baby noodle, this time a big six year old who was a stallion as of January 27th!  Ronin is my friend M’s project horse and he’s a big hunk of gorgeous.



7 26 12 new babies


This particular big hunk of gorgeous is also quite wide around, and appears to be just a tad downhill.  I don’t have a conformation shot of him, but trust me when I say his withers are below his croup.  However, he doesn’t ride like it at all.  He is stealth uphill, much like Murray is stealth downhill (he has big ol’ withers but his neck has a very downhill attachment).  Because Ronin is so wide, I can’t manhandle him around with my legs like I could with Murray as a baby, or more recently baby Eclipse, so steering him was an adventure.  However, he’s really game, really smart (already started to learn about half halts and regulating his own pace), and Alana has trained big horses like him before, so she will know what to do.

I also had another ride on Eclipse this week, though it was mostly a desensitization/lunging session.  I pulled him out right before feeding, and he absolutely lost it when he realized that everyone was being fed without him.  I persevered through his cries, let him lunge himself a bit, then tacked him up and walked around the arena once, got off, and stuffed him with carrots and turned him back out.  Such a hard lesson for baby horses, but an important one.  When I return, I’ll play with him some more.


Leaving you with my new absolute most favourite picture of Murray and me ever.  Taken by the amazing Sheila Stenger (THANK YOU), of us jumping out of the water at Camelot this weekend.  HE IS REALLY TURNING INTO AN EVENTER!

16019201964_b78d562d0c_kWater splashes. Good knees. Not ugly form. Bright background! SO MUCH LOVE. Many thanks Sheila!!

Edited to add: I know most of you are Ogilvys but I am an EcoGold!! Enjoy 25% off EcoGold until March first for their 25 year anniversary. I love (LOVE) their pads and will definitely be taking advantage of this!!


2/17 lesson recap & new baby horse

I haven’t been writing much about my riding lately, because I haven’t actually done a ton of riding.  At least, it certainly feels that way.  Last week Monday Murray’s knee was all swollen when he got off the trailer, and though he wasn’t lame I was worried about infection so I just lunged.  Tuesday his knee looked worse, I nearly cried, but he still wasn’t lame, hot, or painful, so I lunged once more.  Wednesday I had a light dressage ride, Thursday I … probably gave him the day off.  I don’t even know.  Anyway, the big swelling has gone down and it’s just localized to a kick mark at this point, so assistant trainer was right and it really was just stocking up.

Before last week, Murray and I had been working pretty seriously on getting some real engagement behind and lift through the withers with lunging and riding.  I think it’s working.  Murray’s been much more willing to stretch down into the contact at the walk and trot, and his canter work is really improving to the left (previously one of our biggest hurdles — crappy throughness in the left canter).  I took photos of Murray’s neck to compare them to August pics, but I honestly can’t see much of a difference.  There does appear to be muscle filling in between his neck and withers, which makes me happy.  Perhaps I’ll just blame the lack of neck on the back lighting.

2014-09-04 14.42.30IMG_20150210_170720August 2014 and February 2015 — still pretty twiggy, huh?


Anyway, Murray and I also had to have a bit of a come-to-jesus discussion two weeks ago, as he was extremely behind my leg and generally responding very poorly to my leg aids.  In an attempt to avoid dressage fights with him, Alana has me avoid using my whip as much as possible (though I still always carry it as insurance) right now, and for the most part Murray has been soft and compliant.  Only, recently he’s been really sticky on my legs, in particular against the wall, refusing to make a proper circle because once he gets next to a wall he’s definitely not leaving it again.  During this particular ride he also kept trying to rip the reins from my hands.  Eventually I got so sick of this that I just drove him forward with the whip and my leg, and a bucking fit the likes of which I’ve not ridden in quite a while ensued.  I actually felt myself levitate several inches out of my saddle at one point, and came down on Murray’s back rather gracelessly.  After that he was much more compliant, but somehow the willingness to stretch down was gone.  I’m not sure if I literally beat him into last year(‘s mentality) or what, but he seems to have gotten over it now.


Anyway!  Murray came with me to my trainer’s place for housesitting this weekend, so of the four days Murray and I did hill work three days in a row (err, on the first day I lost my trainer’s dog while I was tacking Murray up so nixed the ride, fortunately the dog reappeared 30 minutes later clearly very pleased with his visit to the creek).  I did one faux-dressage test in the mini-arena, which Murray performed fantastically through, even with cyclists buzzing past us on the road, one serious conditioning day, and another day of slow and steady walking up and down hills with just a little trotting and cantering.  The property isn’t giant, but it has a couple of different slopes that get the job done.

2-17Tuesday we had a little jump lesson, and I was very saddened that the Hawley course was gone.  I had really been looking forward to jumping the faux-coffin.  However, assistant trainer did not disappoint this week with a couple of interesting questions in the course!

Everything was fairly straight forward at first, green to blue-brown oxer in four, navy to skinny brown oxer (which I got a refusal to the first time, more on that in a second), and the one stride.  Then suddenly it was all “take the skinny brown oxer to the blue and brown oxer, get the angle” and “rollback right off the rail to the pink flowers and then turn right again” and I was like whaaaat.  Murray performed admirably however, and really rocked back onto his haunches for the rollbacks — especially that nutty circle around the flowers.  We had one rail which was kindof messy riding on my part, but also (apparently) Murray forgetting to lift up his own feet.

The two skinnies plagued us in the beginning.  The brown skinny oxer had dressage letters below it, and Murray gave them a hard look when I rode past it the first time, so as we approached it to jump it the first time he stopped — though quite far out.  I could almost tell he was going to do this and I got a little eager and ahead of him, so the stop was really my fault.  If I had just remembered to sit tall and stay quiet, I’m sure he would have gone right off.  The same thing happened to the blue sharks tooth, though to a lesser degree.  I didn’t get too far ahead of him, but I also didn’t stay upright and support him to the base, so he refused early again.  I just let him look at it, and once I turned around he took three immediate canter strides to the fence.

I’ve been working on getting my position back properly, as it took a vacation over Christmas and hasn’t come back since.  Previously, when I two-pointed around the arena, I could feel my heels deep at the girth and I was performing some kind of miraculous feat of strength as I hovered above the saddle.  Then when jumps came up, Murray just lifted me up and my body folded like beautiful origami and it was all amazing and rainbows and glitterfarts.  Not quite back to sparkling flatus, but I’m working on getting back there.  It was better there.

download_20150217_210727New baby horse! I’m asking for nothing here, this is just him being himself!

I also got to have some fun with a new baby horse today!  Not entirely new, as he’s been at the barn for several months, but little Eclipse was retired from the track last year and put out to pasture to grow.  Riding him feels like riding a jumper pony I know, only slightly taller (seriously he is SO narrow), but he has a lot of try and was very earnest.  His tinyness was to my advantage, of course, since Alana wanted to put someone little on him because of it.  One of my friends lunged him first and he got out an absolutely ENORMOUS buck, so I’m glad that happened before I got on!

Eclipse is going to be in training for a few more months while his owner figures out what the plan is for him.  So I’m sure there will be more pony rides to report about later!  I seriously forgot what riding baby babies is like.  Noodly, poor steering, not so great with the turning — it’s so cute!  And it makes me love Murray even more.




Sunday we go XC schooling for the first time this year.  Super excited!!