what i wish i’d known

Let me tell you what I wish I’d known,
When I was young and dreamed of glory.

Olivia started me thinking about this all the way back in April. April! And it’s taken me until now to put it together. A lot of the things I were thinking of were aspects of riding that I thought I understood, but which turned out to be nothing like I expected.

I was pretty green when I started with Murray. Greener than I would recommend. Greener than I would be if I had a do-over. But ego is a thing, and at least Murray is a funny and good-natured guy who, antics though he has, doesn’t really want to kill anyone. That greenness meant that I’ve realized and learned a lot of things over the years.

happy babies! but omg my elbows

There will be no short-cuts with this creature

There are some horses where you can teach them something once and it quickly generalizes across a variety of situations. Or horses where you can just try something out and it goes well the first time. Hell, I’ve done it! I clipped Sookie in November without the slightest idea what she’d do in response, and with little concern that it would go anything other than well. That’s just the type of horse she is.

That horse? That horse is not my horse. Murray needs every single lesson — sometimes he needs each one 4 or 6 or ten times. Murray needs every step explained to him. Murray needs every good behavior rewarded and every bad one ignored. Murray needs consistency. Murray needs refreshers and primers when you come back to a lesson after a while off (ahem, clipping).

I thought we’d just do a few things right and skip along and blip bloop beep! There we’d be, jumping around training level courses and killing the spectators with our incredible good looks and shockingly low price point.

Spoiler alert: we’re not.

This is obviously not on Murray. But now I know: there will be no skipped steps. No short-cuts. We will do everything.

You never stop riding your butt off

I had this idea that once we go more trained and less green, I’d just be able to sit up there and look good (maybe wave at my adoring fans as we galloped by?) while Murray did all the work. Sure, I’d read the course maps and do the general directing, and pick a distance here or there. But my horse would be so well trained, I wouldn’t need to ride as hard as I did when training my horse to jump!

Wrong, wrong, wrong. So much wrong.

The first time I rode around the Novice XC at Camelot, I did almost nothing. Because I had a sprained knee. The next time I rode around the XC at Camelot? I had to ride my ass off. I rode my ass off up to every fence that Murray was like “err, there’s something near that I’m not sure about.” I rode my ass off to fences where Murray was like “oh, that’s where we’re going?” I rode my ass off to fences that Murray ate for breakfast.

It’s not the same riding or effort. Taking Murray around his first real XC course was a battle of wills to just keep him moving forward and underneath me. Now I have to do that a lot less — like, 10% of the time probably. The rest of the time I don’t get to just sit there and look pretty. I work hard to keep him put together, set him up well for each fence, and make the ride as good as it can be.

I’m not trying to say I thought that XC would be easy as I moved up the levels. I just thought I wouldn’t have to focus on the riding part so much. Or maybe that my horse would be so trained and consistent that I’d half halt him with one iota of energy ten strides out from a fence for a perfect spot every time. I don’t know. But we ride every fence, and we ride every movement, and we’re better for it.

this magnificent nearly-tracking-up-stride not brought to you  by “sitting there looking pretty”

Consistency is key

I don’t know when I realized this. I think it really came on over the last couple of years, as I’ve worked with younger (human) students. I always knew that in training animals, being consistent is essential to clear communication. But one day I just realized that so many of the problems we have are due to a lack of consistency. And I’m not just talking about me and Murray.

How far would we be now if only I’d been consistent from the very beginning? If I hadn’t done hundreds, maybe even thousands, of transitions where I kicked Murray into a trot, then pulled on his face to get him to walk and try again because I thought the transition didn’t meet the standard? If I hadn’t made refusing a fence a crime that earned sympathy sometimes and a wildly out-of-control response at others? If I hadn’t just kicked bigger and moar and harder for a little bit of forward?

This one bites both ways. When I’m not consistent, I muddle over Murray’s incorrect responses more than I probably need to. Did I put that aid on clearly? Was that response within the acceptable range? Did I wobble through the transition and unintentionally cause that? All of that questioning of myself makes the training less clear and precise too.

I’m not a robot, so I don’t expect I’m going to come out the same every day. But if there is any skill I’m working hardest on honing right now, it’s greater consistency.

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2017 eventing bingo: final call

I was pretty amped when Emma suggested Eventing Bingo this year.  I knew when I saw my cards that I wasn’t likely to get a full row, but thought I’d take a stab at it anyway.  In a perfect world, my bingo cards would have been a little more Murray-centric. But I guess I’ll take what fate gives me.

Anyway, I figured with all of the 2017 updates, I’d update my bingo cards as well. And lookie here — with just a teeeensy bit of creative credit-giving, I knocked out quite a few more cells!

So sure, we didn’t compete in heavy rain by anyone’s standards… but in June, we had a crazy, aseasonal DELUGE and got nearly 1/4 of an inch overnight before dressage.  I feel like doing dressage in the slop is really in the spirit of “heavy rain”, since rain in June in Camelot is basically an apocalypse-level event.

this court was the better of the two and it was still sloppy! okay, sloppy FOR CALIFORNIA

I also had no brakes at this event as we approached the trakehner. I knew we needed to slow down and get a look at the fence, but could we slow? Noooope.

I somehow managed to finish second to last at two events, and third to last in the third I competed in this year. So I just modified my cards a little to make them more applicable to my status in the bottom 3.

At Camelot in August we had a pretty baller square halt. I don’t remember if the judge commented on it (too lazy to go get the test), but here’s the photographic evidence (thanks Kate!).

mmmm lookin’ so good with all that burned-off skin missing from your cannons

And in August I also fell off of my horse during a warm up day for XC.  Camelot schooling shows let you school and warm up on the XC course on the Friday before the event begins, which is where I fell off and sprained my MCL.  So I went ahead and gave myself “fell off in warmup” as well.

A rousing success it was not.  There were a couple of rows there with four items selected, but not the fifth… which is a bummer but OH WELL.  I can’t say that I’m sad I didn’t miss the finish flags or fall off in stadium!

In the end, I made a few modifications to my bingo card so that it more accurately reflects my season. Murray ain’t leaving any strides out any time soon, so I changed all of those to more accurately reflect his tendencies (deep spots and screaming). And how lucky is it to ride in a division where more than half the riders were eliminated?! Or get toted around stadium and XC on a sprained MCL, coming in a full minute under optimum to boot?  Notorious OTTB, that’s who.

and look, we got Bingo twice!!

 

GoT Bloghop: Murray is Craig Middlebrooks

Over a year ago, Austen started this clever little blog hop talking about our horses as characters from movies (or TV).  And at the time I was like “I don’t know what character my horse is! He’s just Murray! All the good characters are taken! I HATE THIS BLOG HOP!!!”

Never let it be said that we are not well matched in melodrama.

But I finally figured it out!  I now know who Murray’s television personality is.

Murray is Craig Middlebrooks from Parks and Rec.

We all know that Murray just feels way too many feels.  He, quite literally, cannot keep the feels inside his body.

And he is always happy to tell you about them.

Murray freaks out easily.

 

And when that happens, he very desperately needs your help.

His responses to normal stimuli generally fall somewhere between “wildly inappropriate” and “way over the top”.

Especially when he doesn’t want you to know that he likes something.

Lying down is his happy place.

Despite the fact that he just can’t control himself, we love Murray anyway.  He’s just so cute when he’s upset!

Eventing Bingo

Emma is winning at getting me to post twice in one day, but MAN is this Eventing Bingo challenge one and a freaking half.  I mean, damn!  My cards are not smiling upon me for likelihood.  But since my bingo entry is allowed to be a work of fiction…

It was a bad day — awful day, really.  Just the worst day that anyone has ever had happen to them!  And nobody knows more about bad days than me.  First of all we were competing in heavy rain — an absolute deluge of rain.  I haven’t seen rain like this in my entire life.  There was so much rain everywhere, it probably broke the drought in California.

We went in to dressage and the judge — good guy, really. A great friend, just a real quality human being — gave me straight 6s across the board.  Of course, this was enough to land us a score of 0%!  Not that it was to anyone’s surprise, of course.  Nobody knows more about dressage than me.

This amazing score was enough to land us in first place after dressage.  In a huge class!  There were hundreds of people there!  Our show was going so well, right up until cross country.  We got lost in the woods on course, and it took a whole search and rescue team to find us again.  No joke!  They were looking for us for weeks in there.  Murray and I survived by foraging for nuts and berries, and eating a lot of grass and shrubbery.  I never knew that humans could survive on shrubbery, but we can, and we did.

When we finally got back out of the woods, another show had conveniently started and we were just in time for the stadium rounds! The show officials decided that they would let me run stadium in this division since I never got to complete at the previous show, due to being lost in the woods for several weeks. I was feeling great, as good as you can after being lost in the woods for a few weeks.  Murray, likewise, was full of sass.  He was the sassiest he’s ever been!  He was so sassy that I fell off in warm up.

Despite that, we went on to win our class.  Because that’s what winners do.  And we’re winners.

 

Viva Carlos Blog Hop: Naivete

When L first posted this blog hop about funny things we believed when we were less educated riders, I was like “ha! good thing I’ve had such a thorough and correct riding education in my adulthood.”

I know.  I make even myself laugh.

Despite many attempts to teach her otherwise, past Nicole straight up did not understand pushing a horse into the bridle.  She definitely thought pulling was a thing there.  And even after she knew it was about pushing the horse forward, her ability to execute such a thin was really astonishingly limited.

A big mistake of past Nicole’s was believing that just because you could do a movement on a horse you should do it to school it.  Thus, poor past Nicole’s past horses have schooled a lot of really atrocious leg yield, shoulder in, and haunches in.  Past Nicole also may have believed that if you could do something smoothly it was obviously good (like, the transition between going straight + leg yield was smooth and we slid over to the wall no prob? awesome, first level movement), and show ready.  Past Nicole was broken of that one REAL fast.

Past Nicole also legitimately believed that you could get any horse fat on just hay.  Like, not just that hay should be the staple of the diet, but that the first thing you should do to a horse who wasn’t gaining weight appropriately was shove more/better/different/other hay in front of them until they decided to stop being borderline anorexic and cave to your ridiculous human behavior.  Present Nicole understands that horses are mysterious and complex individuals who may not like eating hay and may just need grain to keep their dumb asses alive.

A lot of past Nicole’s naiivete was around riding myths/herself.  Things like

  • if I could ride a difficult horse, I would be a good rider
  • if I could sit a buck, I would be a good rider
  • if I could ride this particular difficult horse, I would be a good rider

Of course, now I know that none of the above are indicators of anything other than being able to ride one or a few difficult horses.  And it turns out that just riding the difficult horse isn’t all that difficult.  It’s coaxing an excellent performance out of them, or even just the relaxation and suppleness needed for a good performance that’s the challenge.  But none of those instantly make you, or indicate that you are, a good rider.


correlation =/= causation or even really an actual effect (apha errors are real yo)

Past Nicole also believed that since Murray was athletic and could jump real big, if she could just get him strong and fit he would be totally confident and competent over big fences.  While confidence is certainly intrinsically tied up in ability, it’s hardly the be-all-and-end-all.  I now know that there is soooo much more that goes in to confidence than strength and ability — including rider confidence.

Additionally, past Nicole also used to believe that if Murray were confident over big fences, she would magically be confident over big fences.  Sorry, kiddo!  It doesn’t work that way.  Especially not with a horse who is really, really, really tuned in to finding anything potentially scary about a situation and RUNNING THE FUCK AWAY from it.  Confidence has to go Nicole first, then Murray, then positive reinforcement loop & trust bank that leads to more confidence.

murray is so good for carting me over stuff like this even when
i promise to ride terribly over it!

I learn so much about horses and riding every day that I look back on myself just a few months ago and think “WTF was I doing/thinking/saying” and then immediately “omg what must people think of me?!?!”  Past Nicole is always screwing over Present and Future Nicole(s) in that way. She’s such a bitch.

 

alternative pony facts

It’s time, friends. I’m going there.

Alternative pony facts.

Perhaps we should blog hop this?

murrayisadork1

Fact: Murray is jumping like a deranged moose.

Alternative fact: This horse has incredible jumping form. It’s just the best.  It’s the best jumping form I’ve ever seen. The best jumping form in the world. Nobody has jumping form better than Murray.

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Fact: Spot might kill you for a chicken nugget.

Alternative fact: Spot hates alfalfa and treats. In fact she’s the least food motivated horse ever. Nobody hates treats more than Spot.

hawley05

Fact: Murray is going to bumblingly his way over an 18″ pole.

Alternative fact: This horse is so good.  Look at him leaping over that pole!  He doesn’t want it to touch his feet. He would never touch a pole with his feet.  That pole is probably three feet, no, four feet in the air!  Nobody is more careful than this horse.

nap-02nap 01

Fact: Murray is one lazy sucker.

Alternative fact: Murray is the most active horse with the best work ethic ever! This horse never sleeps! He’s always up and about, doing things, always working, always trying, always thinking.  Nobody sleeps less than Murray.

tiny horse

Fact: Horses are money pits that make their owners crazy in many ways

Alternative fact: Horse are a reasonable and budget-friendly hobby.  Everyone can afford horses!  And everyone who rides horses is totally reasonable and sane.  They would never do anything crazy for their giant pets. Nobody is more reasonable than people who ride horses.

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Fact: … and they are constantly trying to kill themselves, requiring alarmingly specialized care for a giant pet

Alternative fact: Horses are so easy to keep, never do anything strange, and can be left unattended for long periods of time.  An idiot could keep one!  Nothing is easier to keep than a horse!

december 10 questions

I really enjoy learning about everyone’s opinions, ponies, and lives through the monthly ten questions.

Does your horse need shoes?  Questionable.  Murray was 100% sound when he was barefoot and lived on hills and rocky soils in Oregon.  For the work we do now he needs front shoes at least — his upright RF has rotation of the coffin bone that diverges from a foot with a normal angle (nothing more than to be expected of a foot with that shape), which places it close to the sole.  I have had several veterinarians (including a lameness specialist) recommend that I not take his front shoes off as long as we are in work.

2014-02-12 08.49.18
these need a little extra help

What do you think of the barefoot vs. shoes debate? So many things. I have so many thoughts on this.  I think that we don’t have a good enough understanding or what it means for a horse to be barefoot, or any rigorously performed scientific studies on how being barefoot influences movement, long term soundness, and performance.  I think we don’t have a good understanding of what adding a shoe to the foot really does in terms of traction and pressure distribution*.  I think that in over a year of living and traveling in Africa I saw zebras (barefoot, in case you didn’t know already) hauling ass away from me/lions/cheetahs/hyenas/scary wind across wet grass, rocky outcrops, gravel, slick mud, and hills without slipping, falling, tripping, or collapsing.  I know I saw a couple of zebras get caught, and many more than one lame zebra.  I think that we don’t really understand how selective forces on horses have affected the strength, shape, and quality of their feet in regard to the jobs we expect them to perform, or truly how the way we keep them diverges from what may be “best” or “healthiest”.  I think that there are people keeping and competing barefoot horses very successfully. I think that if you have something that works for you, there’s no need to mess with it.

* I could very well be wrong – please tell me if I am because I want to know MORE!.

Favourite season for riding? Any season when it isn’t actively raining on me.

img_5067zebras are, incidentally, hilarious

How many shows do you think know you’ve gone to? I can count them! It’s not many. 2011 – SAHJA at HNR. 2012 – Camelot in April and June. 2013 – busy living in Africa. 2014 – SAHJA at WSS (didn’t compete, Murray was lame) in Jan, Camelot in May and July. 2015 – SAHJA at WSS in Jan, Camelot in June, WSS in August, SAHJA at WSS in October. 2016 – Camelot in April.  That comes to ten!  Such a nice, round number. Perhaps I’ll keep it that way and never show again.

Do you consider yourself a good rider? For the amount of time I have been riding, the amount of training I have been able to afford, and the quality of horse I have? Good enough.  I could be much better with more money/time/horse power/access/talent.

How experienced do you think someone should be to own a horse? Experienced enough to know when to ask for help and listen to people who know more.  It’s different for everyone.

play06

Have you ever gotten into a fight with your trainer? I don’t really get in fights. I have discussions.  It seems like a pedantic distinction (and it is, to some degree), but a fight implies irrationality and a discussion is an exercise in trading rational arguments.  If you aren’t interested in listening to logic or trying to convince me with logic, I’m not interested in talking to you.

Describe your dream horse. Tall, dark, and handsome. Hard enough to ride that he makes me look good, but easy enough to ride that he makes me look great.  Goes fast, comes back easily.  Jumps big and always goes but doesn’t let me get away with bad habits.  Dressages like Valegro and jumps like Bioesthetique Sam.  You said dream horse, right?

Does anyone in your family ride? I have ranching family that used to use horses for work, but don’t really any longer.

If you could ride any horse in the world, which one would it be? Why? Hawley’s Livingstone when he was still running fast and jumping big.  He was beautiful, fun, talented, and continues to be an amazing teacher at 26 — imagine what he was at 10 or 15?!  Plus he has the name of an incredible African explorer.