the red queen’s race

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” – Lewis Carroll

Do you ever feel like you’re working flat out, as hard as you possibly can, and just barely keeping up with the bare minimum of what needs to get done? The last two months — three months? — have been an absolute blur. Shit, it’s not even two full months. I got to ride a grand total of three times in May. THREE. And so far in June I’m also up to a whopping three.

At the end of April, I packed up the truck and headed down to California to prep for the May Horse Trials at WSS. Our show was on May 11th, but I committed two full weeks of work down there to get things ready. And it was a good thing I had the time — because of the late rains in California this year, the entire team worked around the clock to get the footing and arenas ready for the coming show and we just  made it. Like by the skin of our teeth.

actual depiction of me when forced to paint cross country fences

And then because I was distracted by a billion things during the show, I somehow managed to lose a signed-but-not-yet-scored dressage test. FOR FIVE HOURS. AT A ONE DAY. Right as the riders were about to riot for their scores one of my team members found the dressage test, on the legal size clipboard with all the orders of go attached, in the horse ambulance out on cross country. How fucking embarrassing. (And talk about where bad dressage tests go to die.)

But we pulled it off. And I finally got to sleep after that.


tiny horse found in san diego

I got to come home for a lovely two weeks, and then back to Cali it was for beach time in San Diego! Because my friends are the best, they encouraged me to crash Kate’s barn for a few days, where I watched lessons, took lessons, and ate tacos and salad pizza. (Yes, salad pizza. It’s a thing they sell at Mod Pizza. It’s shockingly amazing.)

We also went on the world’s most gorgeous trail ride. I want to go back RIGHT NOW.

I thought that the June show would be a breeze to prep for compared to May. After working from 7 am to 10 pm (or longer) for 15 straight days, how many more hours could I put in? Especially in a much hotter month when the hours from 3-7 pm are pretty much unbearable on a tractor or in the sun.

A lot more, it turns out. I tried to enact a bimodal sleeping plan where I would get to work at 5:30 am, work until 1 pm or so, nap from 2-5, then get back to work from 6-midnight. But instead of napping from 2-5 I just ended up working in a building with air conditioning. So I just cut down on my sleep to an ABSURDLY small amount (for me — I am a 9 hours a night kinda girl) and became sliiiightly manic in response.

BUT it absolutely paid off. EVERY possibly aspect of our June HT was better than the May HT. Even with me majorly fucking up a portion of the footing on cross country at the 11th hour (literally the Thursday before), we ran a MUCH better show, with way better footing, and a way better competitor experience.

All the while, I was remotely managing the team at home to get 8000 hazelnut trees planted and the irrigation put in for them. I mean, my partner helped a lot obviously, since he was there. But let me tell you, a kinda hinky irrigation system for 8000 trees does NOT present you with a small number or problems to solve. And we have 4000 more plants to get in the ground this month, ifyoucanfuckingbelieveit.

I’m honestly a little scared of what’s in store for me before the August show. Our team has been mashing so hard on improvements to the facility, courses, fences, amenities, rider experience…. basically everything. I know there’s still a long way to go before we measure up to one of the big venues like Woodside or Twin, but as a new and growing venue, we are turning into a really cool place. We are ambitious, and it seems like we keep conquering these semi-insurmountable goals by working together. I just know there’s going to be some kinda crazy big project that we take on before this next show to improve things even more.

But I get an eight week reprieve before I have to think about any of that for a while.

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get with the program, human

It seems like every time I scheduled my first lesson with Trainer J, Murray found some way to sabotage it. First, by being sore as hell after standing in a stall for 3 weeks. Next, by being insanely rude to the vet and requiring cowboy lessons first. Most recently, by freaking out when the new farrier tried to burn his feet during hot shoeing, and becoming pretty sore up front.


So clvr. So smrt.

The farrier and I made a plan to get Murray more on board with the idea of hot shoeing (slow, measured exposure) and TrJ and figured we’d just move forward with the lesson as best we could. It was short, but very informative.

I expected my first lesson with TrJ to start like a clinic. Tell me about your riding, tell me about your horse, tell me about your goals.  It did not start like this.

TrJ came in with a plan for me. I was trotting Murray around on a long rein to loosen him up a bit, and TrJ had me come back to a walk. She wanted to give Murray a bit more of a chance to stretch out, and make some position modifications to me that would help us. She said she has noticed that I tend to let my heels get out behind me — absolutely true, and something I haven’t actively thought about fixing in a while. She also pointed out my atrocious habit of shoving Murray in the walk with my seat. These were the first two things TrJ wanted me to fix.

So I dropped my stirrups, and thought specifically about NOT shoving. Unfortunately, this kinda ends up making me stiffen my seat, it doesn’t give me a following seat. TrJ also told me to sit back on my pockets more, and had me lift my knees up over the flaps and sit on one of my hands to feel my seat bones. She told me to bring my legs back down and really relax them around the saddle, letting gravity pull my heels down and not ramming my toes up. This struck me as a little bit counter to the “sucking yourself into the saddle” idea of biomechanics, which made me a titch uncomfortable, but I went with it.


because biomechanics are my lord and savior, clearly

We worked at the walk for a long time. When my seat got too shove-y, TrJ had me drop my chin to my chest, which had the side effect of stilling my shoving muscles and really letting my seat follow. Whenever I started shoving again, I could drop my chin down and rediscover the feeling of following, and then lift my head up to, you know, look where I was going again.

I was definitely a little skeptical about this approach to my riding. Like, I know that shoving with my seat is a really bad habit and I shouldn’t do it. But I was not sure that starting there was really the best approach to creating a dressage horse who is more confident in the connection.

But lo, when I stopped shoving with my seat, Murray started taking bigger (albeit slower) steps and stretching down over his topline. At one point, he even jostled the bit lightly in my hands with his tongue — not in a grabby, rooting kind of way. But with his head on the vertical, just playing with the bit in my hands. That was a cool new feeling.


I love magical connection feelings

As part of not shoving with my seat, TrJ told me to relax my lower back, and feel like someone was pulling my torso back by the belt and the bra strap. I should have clarified during the lesson, but it didn’t seem like she wanted me leaning back. She wanted me resisting that feeling, I think. Regardless, when I stacked my torso up vertically (I have a habit of letting my cereal box fall forward from my hip) and became shorter and wider, TrJ was happy with the attempt.

Doing all of these things — relaxing my legs, following instead of shoving with my seat, “relaxing” aka squashing down my lower back, and keeping my torso vertical really made my seat bones connect with the saddle more. It felt like each seat bone had more surface area on the saddle, maybe double or more than what they had at the start of the lesson.

And all of this was accomplished just at the WALK.


fave gait. we soooooo good at it.

I had some strange-not-amazing feelings about this lesson afterward. It was quite different from what I have worked on with a biomechanics-focused instructor (Alexis) and from the path I’d been taking to improve Murray’s connection and throughness this last summer. And, I will admit it, I’ve spent lots of time on the ground at this barn watching TrJ’s riders, and they aren’t necessarily bear-down riders. I’m very comfortable with the biomechanics stuff, and I liked the progress Murray and I made this year. All of these things, plus the fact that TrJ didn’t ask me about what I wanted felt weird.

After more thought, I realized that it just feels weird because it’s different. TrJ has a program, and lots of successful riders in that program. She watches people — she really watches them — even when they aren’t in lessons. TrJ also has a very specific way she wants people to ride, and she has a method of building those riders to get to that way.

Murray’s feet seem to feel better, and he’s back to his usual level of out-of-shape-not-using-himself-not-terribly-cute-mover-ness. I’m looking forward to making more lessons happen, and refusing to accept Murray’s attempts at sabotage.

xc schooling: this is not a negotiation

The thing that sucks about being an integral part of event organization/management is that you spend all this time making courses fun and rideable, and then you decorate them and make them all gorgeous and even more fun, and then you clean them all up before you get a chance to ride them. I mean, talk about unfair. So obviously I’m all over any opportunity to school the course when one comes up — especially right after the event, when the footing is still awesome!

Murray was hard to read for much of the time we were on course. He was super calm and mellow walking around, not jigging or spooking or pulling ahead of the group. Just walking around and enjoying the scenery. And that is awesome! I totally want ponito to be calm and mellow out there.

When we started warming up over the easy, mellow fences, Murray got a bit of pep in his step. He pulled me toward the little logs on the ground, and even some of the bigger ones.

Then we came to a fence that was a bit bigger, and a bit more like a cross country jump — a pretty standard log box, nothing too exciting. Just a bit different. And Murray was like “okay, okay, okay” right up to the base and then “WOAH NO WAY”. Which is really not that easy to ride, especially when you’re not in the best riding shape yourself.

So I got a little defensive and kicked Murray toward the smaller fences for more of  warm up. And in response he got pissed.

The problem with riding defensively (for me, at least) is that it means I get left waaay behind over the fences, and I can’t stick with the motion of the jump. I unfold the landing gear way too early, and end up slamming down on Murray’s back and/or face with every fence. Which is understandably unpleasant.


not how i want to be landing

But when your horse is being pulling you forward one moment and slamming on the brakes the next, it’s hard not to get defensive. And when he bucks and leaps and throws his head up so high he’s looking back at you between his ears well… you don’t really want to let go of those reins.

That is, of course, why I have a neck strap. I was just too stupid to think of it at first.

hello, mother!

We jumped back and forth over the log for a bit, with an unnecessary amount of accompanying antics. So I decided to leave the log box for later, when Murray was in a bit better mental space, and we headed up the hill to watch the prelim and training team tackle the down banks.

I had wanted to practice over one of the medium (probably 3′ drop?) banks, since Camelot often has one. But we just settled for watching and laying down in the grass instead.

When we got to the little BN/Novice banks, Murray was like “YES UP BANKS YES” and he was awesome! Then I turned him around to go down them and he was like “NO HELL NO”.

Long story short we tried easing him into it by going off the edges and just representing and representing and representing and following another horse and Murray just doubled down with Nope. I could feel him pushing his sides out against my leg further and further back from the lip of the bank, and could just tell that the conversation was getting less and less productive. It would have been different if there had been an even smaller bank to step down, but as it was I called it off. I knew it wasn’t going to get better, only worse.

So we moved on to the water. After which came Murray’s piece de resistance of NOPE.

look it’s just a little rainbow chevron! it’s awesome, okay Murray?!!

So there’s this new rainbow coop coming out of the water. And I’ll admit, it’s painted a little scarily for a pony. It’s probably a bit weird looking in their not-quite-full-color vision. And Murray was having NONE of it.

I walked him up to it, had him touch it, let him look over both sides of it. Then we trotted up to it and he was like “naw” pretty far out. So I cantered up to it and he was still like “nope.” We switched to the other side so he was going back to the group and he SCREECHED to a halt basically right on top of the fence. And then he did it AGAIN. And then I smacked him with my reins, gave him a good long runway, and got a quality, rhythmic canter going. And he stopped again.

Each time he stopped he was basically on top of it. Front feet touching the base board, nose right on top of it. He just didn’t want to jump it.

I’m not going to pretend I was giving him the perfect ride every time. But it was a good enough ride and a small enough fence that stopping on top of it was truly unnecessary.

a much more reasonable landing position! yay

This might be too much anthropomorphism, but it really felt like Murray was thinking “I don’t know if you recall, but I don’t have to do this anymore if I don’t want to.” Which is, unfortunately for him, not the case. I’m not going to ask him to do anything too crazy. And in response, he’s going to have to do what I ask.

We had this discussion once more about a bright orange table (think Home Depot if it were a highlighter), and then a small green and blue bunker. After the green and blue bunker there was a long gallop stretch, and Murray really took off and flattened out. And I think something clicked then — that cross country is the place where we do the jumping and the galloping and it’s not soooooooooooo bad out here after all.

We schooled the ditches with a good bit of success (it really was my fault for letting Murray point himself at a ditch I knew had just been filled with white gravel — I should have given him more of an opportunity to look at it first), and Murray started pulling me toward the fences again. I felt like we were finally in a good enough rhythm that I could get into a proper jumping position and stay out of his way, and in return he could use his body the way he wanted to.

We ended with the last few fences on the Novice course — a large hanging palm log on a gentle downhill, short gallop, then a pretty sharp left turn to a little coop. Murray cantered down to the palm log and felt so good that I just let him gallop on to the final fence. He slowed to a trot for a hot minute when he thought that I was going to ask him to jump the training or prelim fences backwards, but then I turned him onto that sharp left and he saw the coop and was like “oh super!” and trotted right up and over it.

Getting into that groove felt awesome! I just wish it hadn’t taken us 90 minutes to get there! Fingers crossed that with a few more jump lessons and another XC outing under our belt we get back to that place of rideability more quickly and can actually, you know, run a whole course.

shadows of the future

When I lived in Congo, I watched this group of 5-10 year old chimplets, living together in a peer group.  As you might imagine, watching a bunch of pre-pubescent chimps do their chimpy thing all day was a riot to observe, but not necessarily indicative of adult chimpanzee behavior.  They played hard and, sometimes, fought harder, as kids are wont to do.  More often than not they fought over nothing, perceived slights or a toy that couldn’t be shared, a dead frog that everyone wanted.

not kid chimps, but really cute regardless

The “alpha” of this little group, we’ll call him Lousingou, was a delightful young man, not the biggest around, nor the strongest, but magnificent in his own mellow way. I adored him, but as far as alphas went, he didn’t do much. It took me weeks to even figure out that he was the alpha. He was lovely, but he never threw his rank around, for better or worse (and throwing your rank around is literally what male chimpanzees live to do).  One day a screaming, shrieking fight broke out between two other kids in the group group, and it went on a moment longer than usual. Lousingou was sitting by me at the time; his hair suddenly stood on end, he grew five inches (in just the way that horses do when you get to a show), and he barreled over to the fight.  More accurately, he barreled through the fight, breaking the two of them up with the swift efficacy that can only come with great power and great respect.

I was just a flash.  Just a moment.  But it was a moment so clear it was impossible to believe that this wasn’t the alpha male that Lousingou would grow into. If you told me that Lousingou was anything other than a magnificent, big male now, I’d cut off my own hand.

and I don’t just mean a big male by virtue of size, but one of those really important big males who shape the group they live in. a david greybeard, if you will.

I felt moments of this schooling the Zookini XC for the first time on Monday.  It was the girl’s second field trip, and first time on a cross country course.  Of course there were bobbles. The brake line failed multiple times and the power steering went out for sure.  But there were moments — these wonderful moments — where I could just see the incredible horse that this mare will become.

in addition to being an excellent sofa, which she is

At first Suzy was confused by all those gigantic things out there.  Like, what sick creature would put giant, stonehenge-like structures out in the middle of a field of food?  They could not be real.

Once she realized that they were real, and weren’t going to eat any of us, things got better. Suzy led the group, walked in the middle, trotted with the other horses, even cantered in the group a little and didn’t lose her head. The water was easy — easy!

Then we walked up to the little baby logs on the ground and she was like “I couldn’t possibly comprehend what you want me to do with this.”  Trainer kindly walked Suzy over the littlest one on the ground and a lightbulb went off in the mare’s head.  We turned around and she absolutely pulled us to the log and leapt over it happily.

I’ve never really done mares, but everyone who loves them says that once you get them on your side, they’ll give you 150%.  And suddenly, I believe it.  Sookie believed it was her job, she wanted to do it, so she did it.  I’m not sure I could have stopped her if I wanted to.

We jumped some more logs and even the ditches.  We cruised around and ate a lot of grass while our friends jumped much more of the course.  But it was all cool — that was the goal.  Get out, have a great time, jump the things.  The only fence we had a problem with was this little palisade wall.  Sookie didn’t think it was for jumping.  I respectfully disagreed.  We compromised and jumped the wall.

isn’t this mare cute?!

When this mare has an education, she is going to be unstoppable.

[The peer-groups lived that way because they were orphaned (by hunting of their families, each orphaned baby at the sanctuary really represented 5-10 dead chimpanzees headed for the bushmeat market), and because so many orphans had been arriving at the sanctuary between 2000 and 2008 that the sanctuary couldn’t keep up with integrating young chimps into more natural, age-distributed groups.  It obviously would have been better for the babies to grow up with adult chimpanzees who could have shepherded them into chimphood more adroitly than their human caregivers, but sanctuaries do what they can with what they have.]

john-michael durr clinic w the suzukini

Winter is for clinics, right? That’s what I’ve learned in the last five years as an Equestrienne. And fortunately for me, I got to ride in one pretty early!  Suzy’s lovely owner rode with John-Michael Durr (heretofore JM) on Friday at our barn, and I got to have the ride on Saturday at another barn about an hour from us.

Suzukini was a freaking champion on Friday, while simultaneously giving a really accurate reflection of her current training issues.  She wants to get tense and rushy and solve problems by putting her head down and going for it.  The problem with that method is that it gives her the perfect position to just… not go.   She pulled this trick twice, and JM tactfully guided Suzy’s owner through riding the mare better to the fences and presto — the mare jumped like magic.  Suzy jumped everything huge, and had no second thoughts about 2’3″ verticals and her first oxer!  I was very proud.

On Saturday, we loaded up Suzy and a friend’s horse (who was actually bred by Suzy’s breeder and used to live with her!) and headed over to Clay Station Ranch for our second jump lesson. Suzy hauled like a champ and stood at the trailer like a seasoned professional when we got there. The only problem I encountered was that her bossy broodmare-ing of me started to come back out again as we walked around — subtly shoulder checking me to get me to go where she wanted to go. I not-so-subtly shoulder checked back.  I kept our warmup really simple — walk and a tiny bit of trot in the outdoor arena, hoping to keep her calm and avoid working her up before we got in to our lesson.

Unfortunately, my warm up strategy didn’t really walk.  We got into the indoor for our lesson and Suzy was suddenly on fire.  She veered around the indoor choosing where to turn and when to turn and what to look at.  I tried to keep her slow and relaxed instead of rushing and charging with minimal input.  JM immediately told me to create the horse I wanted instead of restricting the horse I had.  Did that make sense? Nope.  He backed it up: instead of constantly telling Suzy “don’t look there, don’t trot so fast, don’t veer in here” he wanted me to tell her “go like this, turn right here, look over there” and then reward her for doing those things when I asked her to.  That I could do.


girl likes to jump everything big right now

JM’s theme for the weekend was creating a supple relaxation in the horse that you could add power to if needed — but taking the speed out of the equation.  We started by cantering a small X, which Suzy got right up to and then promptly said “nah, no thanks” and tried to run out to the right.  We approached again at a trot and she politely declined once more. JM had me walk her up to the fence and go over it from a walk, at which point I was really glad I brought my grab strap.

Our approach to the first fence foreshadowed the rest of the day.  Suzy wasn’t totally on board, and wanted to do things her way or not at all. JM had me slow everything down.  If we cantered, it had to be a relaxed and steady canter.  If we trotted, it still had to be a relaxed and organized trot.  He wanted me to show how being relaxed and steady would make life easier for everyone.

I got left behind a lot all day

This worked really well for most of the fences, though we never managed to nail the relaxed and steady canter approach.  All of our fences ended up with a long trot approach, and maybe a stride or two of canter at the end. A couple of times Suzy burst through the relaxation and charged the fence, but it got better as we went along.  Each time we would approach a fence with new filler (new concept for her also — we haven’t put much fill in for her at home), Suzy tried to charge out over one shoulder or the other.  I wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping my leg on to the fences at this point either.  JM pointed out that I would feel Suzy start to pull me down to the fence and then take my leg off.  What he wanted was for me to keep my leg on, but compress her stride and sit her up.  This would make it easier for her to jump the fence instead of choppily stopping in front of it.

she is awfully cute though…

This strategy worked really well when I remembered it, so to remind me JM yelled at me to kick about three strides out from a fence.  This resulted in a bit of fence rushing after some pretty good, relaxed approaches, but at least she was jumping and listening!  Kicking a few strides out from the fence actually helped me stick with Suzy’s jump a bit better, because it made it easier to predict where she was going to jump, instead of riding hyper-defensively in case she decided to pull me out of the tack with her big, heavy head.

Though I tried to be both firm (you have to jump) and supportive (but it’s okay if it’s not pretty), I’m afraid I didn’t give her the best ride for the way she was feeling. I’m very, very, very glad that I had JM there to coach me through it.  It was seriously one of the toughest rides, both mentally and physically, that I’ve ever had. I was using every muscle in my body to keep leg on, lift her up, steady my post, steady her strides… definitely am not in shape for this kind of riding!! (But I hope to be soon.)

errr sorry kiddo

It wasn’t my prettiest ride (except that one picture above), but it was productive for Suzy and myself.  I learned a ton of new concepts that I can put to use on her, and I got confirmation that the instincts I’ve had about her training (can’t let her rush around, have to teach her to relax and balance upward, etc.) were correct, which is so nice to hear! Even better, I got some great ideas for adjusting my ride on Murray.  The idea of relaxing my horse through a turn and adding leg to balance upward to a fence is definitely different from how I typically approach a fence — i.e. kick my ass off down to it and hope that we don’t add until we’re underneath it. So all in all, an excellent clinic.

Plus, JM is fun and supportive to ride with. Highly recommend him as a clinician!

That night, I went to Peony’s house for a Horse Girl Party and we watched FEI TV. I chose my new sport — I think that vaulting to the Dr. Strange theme is going to be much less physically demanding!

 

yves clinic with mom-bod-mare!

Big news for the MBM: she has a new owner, and a new name! Little Miss Perfect is now Suzy, and she has a lovely new human who is going to learn to event along with Suzy! She also gained a couple of little girls who adore her and feed her heaps of carrots, and who Suzy will get to tote around and care for like the broodmare she is. And the best part for me? I still get to ride her a bit!  Suzy’s human was kind enough to let me ride the little mare in a clinic with Yves Sauvignon on December 3rd.


just the cutest little trot

Funnily enough, it’s been a couple of weeks since I last rode Ms. Suzy.  Her owner was riding of course, and just hadn’t needed me to jump in since before Thanksgiving! I wasn’t entirely sure where Suzy stood, but I shouldn’t have worried — she was the super star I’ve always known her to be.  Our warmup was quick and simple, just a bit of WTC in each direction, before Yves had us head through a set of four trot poles.  Suzy rushed the poles the first go through and cantered right out of them, so I settled a little deeper in the saddle and worked on achieving a more balanced and quiet trot. Our next few trips through the trot poles were quite nice, and Suzy got a really nice pace the last go through.

 

Our jump warmup was unremarkable, if a little disorganized. It took Suzy a minute to get into the rhythm of jumping, and we knocked a few down before we got fully organized. My position was a bit better during warmup, which I could probably attribute to focusing on quite a few more things once we got going a bit (keeping the canter, good turns, straightness, pace, etc.).  But I would like to be a little softer on her mouth throughout the ride!

not a traditional picture, but v. exciting because Suzy didn’t really have a moment of suspension in her canter for quite a while. now look at all that air she’s catching!

Yves asked us if we had cantered fences, and I had to respond that we hadn’t reaaaalllyy…. I know Suzy has done it with her owner (I’ve watched), but her canter is still fairly weak and she isn’t confident in it. She is inclined to break to the trot before any kind of footsy challenge — canter poles or fences, for example.  So we kept it to a trot right up until the end.


yeah, she really is that dang cute

Yves set up a series of fences that would help us start thinking about getting the correct lead after a fence, changing directions, steering, and straightness.  The first was a single trot fence with a big sweeping rollback at the canter to another trot fence.  Suzy and I got the correct lead the first time but biffed the first fence, so we tried again.  This time we got the wrong lead, so Yves had us change leads through the trot, make a circle, then come back to the trot before the second fence.

The exercise was three fences set more-or-less along the centerline of the arena. You jumped one fence and made a big sweeping turn to the next one, in the pattern of a three-loop serpentine.  We approached tracking left, which is Suzy’s weaker lead, and if we landed on the left lead we could continue on. If we landed on the wrong lead for the pattern we were to trot, change, circle, and trot again before coming to the next fence.

such cute!!

After one go through at the trot, where we had to change leads both turns, Yves had us approach at the canter. I asked what he wanted me to do if Suzy broke to a trot before the fence.  Yves responded that he wanted us to canter, but if the trot was the right decision for that fence, then let her trot.  Seems mystical, but I knew what he meant: make it a good experience for the horse, whether at the trot or canter.  I know that she’ll only get better at cantering fences if we actually canter the fences, but it’s hard when Suzy really lacks confidence at the canter.  Yves reminded me to wrap my lower legs around her and really support her at the canter to help her along.

it’s a lovely canter when we get it!

Our first attempt at cantering the second fence was a tiny mess. Not a real mess, but definitely not our best work (it got better, though!).  Suzy wanted to trot so badly, and I squeezed and squeezed. She trantered a little, but it still had a bit of rhythm to it, and we made it to the fence at a pretty good spot.

not the trantr fence, but what am i doing with my hands?!

Our next few attempts went even better! Suzy was more confident, so she didn’t try so hard to trot on the way in to the fence. Her canter has such a great cadence — every step is very similar, so it was easy to know where we could take off each time!  Yet another thing to love about this mare.

so sporty!

We made a couple of good attempts at picking the right lead over the fence. Well, really, I’m not sure what I did — I just really thought about the direction I was traveling after each fence and rewarded Suzy heartily for getting the correct lead when I did that. I watched the video over and over to see if I did anything to help her but… I can’t see that I did anything, really.  So we’ll give the credit for that to Suzy.

My one glaring error was that I kept turning Suzy rather poorly, overshooting the center of the fence and ending up off to the far side of the fence. I tried (somewhat erroneously) to correct and head back toward the middle of the fence after doing this, which resulted in lots of crooked fences.  Yves encouraged me to just ride straight to the fence, even if we were a little off-center.  I’m not entirely sure what I need to do to sort the turns out… I tried turning earlier, but somehow still ended up overshooting the center. So perhaps I need to commit to the centerline a little earlier?  Not sure.


a tiny attempt at sass in the lead change

The best part was Yves complimenting me several times on making the right choices.  I just followed my instincts with what Suzy needed — usually just less speed and a steadier cadence, but also a few well-placed circles that let us get that steadier cadence.  It’s so wonderful to hear that your instincts are correct!  Such a big pat on the back for me. And extra big pats for Suzy for being such a good sport, and trying so hard. We got lots of good exercises during the lesson to help her progress and get stronger. The hard part will restraining myself so I don’t tire her out with my enthusiasm.

fat bottomed girl / footloose

The fat-bottomed-girl has been trimming down and shaping up lately.  MBM is such a smart and funny girl, and so different from Murray.  So different. Our time together is coming to an end, as MBM is currently on trial with her new home.  But lucky for me, her prospective owner is very lovely and has asked me to keep riding a few days a week when she can’t get out.


getting trimmer, right?

One of the biggest surprises to me with MBM is how little confidence she has in her canter.  She actually has a lovely canter when she relaxes and slows down, but her instinct is to brace and race.  Even in her more controlled canter, she will break to a trot before we get to a canter pole.  I’m  used to horses who would rather canter poles than trot them, not those who would rather trot.  But her canter will never get stronger without practice, so I’ve devised a few ways to trick MBM into cantering over poles or very small fences.  A pole or small X just three strides out from a fence works nicely — it’s far enough that it’s not stressful, but close enough that the momentum from the fence carries us forward in a canter.  In one little jump session I could feel MBM become much more confident in her canter over the poles, which was really cool.

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Queen of Cantering Verticals inspects her handiwork.

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Oh and jumping. She does that. Without a second thought.  She needs a look at things before we go over them still, but she will go right over if you keep her straight to them. It’s all itty bitty baby stuff right now, but her attitude about it is super cool.


sporty, sleek mare vs. fluffy, feral gelding

Murray, on the other hand, is as fluffy and feral as ever.  Our clicker training is going so well, but unfortunately I had to back off the hand-walking because he’s gotten a couple of bandage rubs.  Those are closing up really quickly, but walking is unlikely to help them.

Thanks to being stuck in his stall more and the quick change in the weather (it was 80 on Saturday and 35 on Monday night, Murray is getting pretty uppity.  Our hand walk on Sunday was a little wild.  My attempts to  keep him at arm’s length from me were not totally successful, and I got shoulder checked a couple of times.  Murray didn’t seem to understand that shoulder checking me led to no treats, but did care about being pushed away and rewarded me with plenty of head shaking and body wiggles.

Poor pony boy got so confused when he saw another horse walking by the arena in a halter.  He thought he was going to get some turnout time and started leaping and playing around on the end of the lead rope. I got his head back on his shoulders, and we continued our walk.

And then a stiff breeze blew up his butt.  More shenanigans ensued, but as always, he didn’t pull me and directed all flailing feet far away from me.  I stood there and thought “why am I not taking pictures of this?”  He bucks big and leaps in the air to boot, it’s completely ridiculous, yet weirdly in control, which is why I seem to find it funny.

Of course, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurts.

When we walked past one of the turnouts on our way back to the barn, Murray wiggled and flailed and his left hind came to the side (classic Murray move) and grazed the back of my right leg and glanced off my right quad above the knee.  I’ve never been kicked before so have no frame of reference, but this was pretty mild I suspect.  I doubled over and took some deep breaths to get myself sorted and re-oriented.  And by the time I thought “oh, Murray should probably know that this is an unacceptable behavior” he was standing quietly at the end of his lead rope looking at me, like “what, did something happen?”

So yeah. Do not recommend.

BUT the mighty leg hole has reached a new stage of healing (there’s a SCAB!!!!!!!!!) which means that we are probably only a couple of weeks out from some real turnout. And then  Murray will be back to his normal, lazy, dopey self. Hallelujah.

weirdly delighted at the hoof detail you can see in this