twin recap: blow us all away

Duel before the sun is in the sky.
Pick a place to die where it’s high and dry.
Leave a note for your next of kin,
tell ’em where you been, pray that
hell or heaven lets you in.

– Ten Duel Commandments; Hamilton

i love how Murray treats the landing of fences as if they’re way bigger than they are

Saturday dawned and I was determined to be ready to go with¬†much more time than the day before. ¬†Since I knew what saddle and girth I would be using, and all my fancy butler clothes were carefully packed up in my garment bag already, I knew I was in pretty good shape on that front. ¬†Murray had dug several huge holes in his stall, which is new for him, and when I took him on our hand walk he was shockingly brave — like, walking up to traffic cones and nosing them, and sticking his face¬†inside trash cans to rifle around in the papers and used SmartPak strips thrown in there. ¬†Super weird, brave shit.

The stadium course was really interesting! ¬†It was really just a big¬†serpentine. ¬†Walking the course I was a little surprised by the height and spread of the oxers, but later realized they looked much bigger on foot because my height perspective was skewed (they look smaller from Murray’s back!). ¬†And also because when I see pictures of other humans near BN- and N-sized fences, I assume those humans are the same height as I am. ¬†But I’m a solid 6″ shorter than a lot of people, so suddenly the fences leap up when compared to relative points on my body.

Stadium warmup was less crazy than dressage or XC warmup since it was pretty much just limited to the 12 riders in our division, and a handful of riders from the division after us.  Sitting in 8th/11 (or maybe 12 remaining riders) I knew I was going pretty close to the beginning, so jumped around and then watched a few rounds.  As the rider before me, my teammate, went in I popped back over the vertical one more time for a quick refresher, and Murray was game and good to go!

I tried to give Murray a look at some flowers and spooky standards by walking him past the combination at 7, and he definitely gave them a bit of the side eye.  The buzzer rang as we approached the back fenceline, and I asked Murray if he wanted to pick up the canter.  It was a bit of a sluggish canter, but I kicked him forward to fence 1 and kept my leg on all the way up to the fence.  Murray backed off a touch but I was right there for him with my lower leg, and while he got deep he went over just fine.  I kicked for the 7 stride to the oxer and we got 8, of course, but it was still a pretty good fence.

As we came around to jump 3 I felt Murray hesitate and sputter. ¬†Fence 3 had these big stripey horse-head standards, and while we have horse-shaped standards at home there was clearly something spooky about these ones because horses had trouble with them all day! ¬†Murray actually came all the way to a stop and sidled to the right, but I didn’t let him turn away and I put my leg on. ¬†He walked and then trotted the fence, shockingly leaving it up. ¬†I didn’t know if it would be considered a refusal (it was), but I wasn’t willing to turn him away from the fence just in case. ¬†(I later found out that this is pretty borderline in the eyes of the judges. ¬†Had I been closer I would have been much better off turning and re-presenting, since they would count jumping from a stand still as a refusal anyway, and is also considered a¬†huge no-no in the eyes of officials. The more you know.)

The bending line to 4 rode really nicely, and I felt Murray peer again at fence 5, since it had a big wavy panel underneath. ¬†But I legged on again and Murray didn’t question me. ¬†I rode the bending line to 6 as a right-angled turn so we would get a really straight approach and be able to make the inside-track left turn to 7A. ¬†I really kicked to the two stride but we got deep (of course), and crammed 3 in there anyway (of course).

The last line was pretty straight forward, Murray had finally (really) gotten into a rhythm by that point.  We still managed to do 9 in the 7 strides between fences 8 and 9, but then it was a pretty straightforward gallop down to the closing oxer.  As I tried to pull Murray up I took a moment to look over at the clock and saw our time was in the 99-second mark, just under our allowed time of 100 seconds.

I had looked at the standings before I went in to stadium and knew that, going in, fewer than 4 points separated me and the three riders ahead of me. So with no rails and just 4 jump penalties, now just 2 rails separated me from the magnificent purple ribbon.  Two rails!  Horses knock down two rails ALL THE TIME.

I jumped off Murray and couldn’t stop grinning like a shit-eating monkey because i was just so happy with his performance. ¬†Even if we had ended up sitting in 8th I would have been so happy with him for how he stepped up for me all weekend. ¬†Even with that silly stop at fence 3, Murray didn’t back up or run out — as he did at Camelot in 2016, or even in cross country warmup — and when I kicked him forward he responded by moving forward and not with a tantrum. ¬†It was super.

Then the rider after me fell off at 7A.

I saw the fall just out of the corner of my eye, and said to my teammates “did she just fall?” followed by a really inappropriate expletive of joy. ¬†Not everyone heard me but… a lot of people heard me. ¬†(I’m not proud of it, I’m just telling it like it is.)

he is so happy and relaxed in all of these!! i love that!

Then the rider after her fell off and took her bridle with her at 7B.

I had just gone from 8th to 6th in less than 2 minutes.

The rider sitting pretty high in the rankings — in second or third, I think — had some serious and unfortunate disobedience from her gelding which eliminated her, raising me to 5th.

I was so stupidly, deliriously happy. ¬†Part of me felt that my final placing was a little cheap, since I relied on 4 people getting eliminated on XC and 3 people getting eliminated in stadium to reach 5th. ¬†But at the same time, I¬†didn’t get eliminated on stadium or XC so there is that.

when jumping from real deep, be sure to leap like deer

The only downside to the morning was that after the awards ceremony I chose to take part in the victory round, which broke poor Murray’s already highly-taxed and well-worked brain. ¬†We left the stadium arena and he promptly tried to back into or sit on every human and horse in sight. ¬†I know that the people waiting there were thinking of other things (their own impending stadium rounds, for example), but I was a little surprised by how slow they were to move or even look around them as I frantically yelped “sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry!” and tried to do anything to get Murray out of the fray. ¬†At one point he slammed my leg into another horse’s butt crack, and I was really worried that we were about to get kicked, but a kindly coach nearby yelled at me to trot him forward and it actually worked. ¬†At least, it worked to get us out of the mess of horses, and into the middle of the warmup where I finally got Murray settled enough to get off and try to calm him down.

Lesson learned: no more victory gallops for us.

twin recap: go, man, go!

I’m past patiently waitin’
I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation.
Every action’s an act of creation!

– My Shot; Hamilton

I had a luscious four hours between dressage and cross country, so settled down for a celebratory post-dressage beer and sangwich. ¬†I chatted with the people across from me, bought the big pink hat, and¬†walked the cross country course one more time. ¬†I had already memorized it, but took our barn manager’s kid out with me to¬†talk strategy.

Much of the course was what I had jumped while schooling, but there were a few odd questions scattered in there. ¬†One jump had us turning right to scoot between a prelim fence and the edge of a water complex we didn’t actually have to enter, up to a quarter round with brush under a tree. ¬†(I later heard someone complaining bitterly about that fence, but really found it rode fairly well.) ¬†We had a faux trakehner (aka a vertical with a really fat ground line), a house down bank (about 5 strides), and a half coffin with ditch to log fence. ¬†No truly related distances, but some fun stuff to ride. ¬†There were two fences on course that I was a little worried about. ¬†One was the ditch, which I know Murray is a little looky at when he hasn’t been schooling much, and the other was a very simple log a few strides out of the water. ¬†The complexity with the log was that you had to make a hard left out of the water to get there, and it was flanked by an enormous advanced table with fluffy ferns and all kinds of terrors on it. ¬†So I was worried that Murray would spend all his time peeking at the corner and not listening to me (little did I know).

jump one was quite cute

I also took a moment to check in with the office about the rules of schooling the ditches. ¬†The office girls kindly directed me to the president of the FEI officials )Wayne Quarles), since the president of my ground jury wasn’t in the office at the time. ¬†So Wayne asked me what the rulebook (which I was conveniently carrying with me) said about schooling and I plaintively exclaimed that I couldn’t find a rule in there about it! ¬†Wayne took over the rulebook for me and had a look through and Francis O’Reilly, the president of the ground jury for the HT, showed up. ¬†Francis said I would be able to school any fence a level lower than mine, but if I had no lower level ditch available to me for schooling then I was out of luck.

Wayne pointed out that there is actually no specific wording in the rule book about it and that some officials interpret this to mean that if the obstacle is not flagged on the course at the competitor’s level, it “does not exist”. ¬†And you can’t get eliminated/penalized for doing something that “does not exist”. ¬†The caveat to this, of course, is dangerous riding, for which a rider could be eliminated at any time. ¬†Francis agreed, and told me that I could school the novice ditch if I needed but cautioned me to “be safe”.

extra credit moves after fence 1

The drama of the unfortunate wardrobe malfunction is pretty straightforward: I didn’t unpack the trailer properly, and didn’t pack my pinny holder at all, so I found myself just 36 minutes out from my ride time with no girth, no saddle, and no pinny holder¬†in which to ride. ¬†My barn manager loaned me her daughter’s saddle and I used my short black fuzzy girth (a wardrobe malfunction if I’ve ever seen one!), and ran up to get Murray ready and find me a pinny holder. ¬†There was only a short step stool available to me, and when I tried to jump up into the foreign saddle I didn’t quite make it and landed behind the saddle on Murray’s back instead. ¬†You can imagine just how thrilled that made Murray, but I refused to fall off and dumped my whip and somehow scrambled into the saddle.

We walked down to XC warmup and the steward told me that I had 15 minutes until my ride time, which sounded absolutely awful considering that I was an absolute mess after the last 30 minutes of panic and drama. ¬†I was nearly crying, and nothing felt right — the saddle was different, obviously, and my stirrups were too long but maybe not, and my reins were too slippery and definitely, definitely too long for us — they were practically getting looped around my foot. ¬†I cantered off so I wouldn’t be able to cry, and while B got the other BN rider on my team off to the start box I popped Murray over a couple of fences. ¬†Murray was pretty game at first, cantered the X and vertical well, but when I pointed him back at the vertical he shook his head and ran sideways.

I got back over the vertical and over the log jump once, but at that point more and more horses were joining the warm up and Murray was not having it. ¬†He ran sideways when I pointed him at the fences, and B suggested I just head out to the start box. ¬†And it was a good thing too, because I got to the start box with only 51 seconds to go. ¬†Walking over there, B told me to head out of the start box really relaxed and like we were schooling — no pressure on either of us.

I knew, after all the mayhem leading up to cross country, that I wasn’t going to be going double clear, so it was just a matter of sticking to my goals and managing my expectations. ¬†The goal was to get Murray over all of the fences, and not let him work himself up into a state where he would start running out or stopping at fences. ¬†I’d school the ditch if I needed, and there was nothing on course that we couldn’t trot if it came to it, so that’s what we would do.

scary corner at left, BN log at right

Apparently, I needn’t have worried. ¬†We trotted out of the start box and I let Murray fall into a canter as we approached the first fence, a coop. ¬†Murray didn’t think twice about the flowers or the course or the other horses galloping around him, and he jumped over with some gusto, kicking and playing after the fence. ¬†But then we were on to the turkey feeder for fence 2, and Murray leapt happily over that one too. ¬†I still wasn’t feeling quite myself, so started singing to myself on the long gallop to fence 3 — though it was pretty strangled and un-melodic, just me chanting the words to the only song I could think of at the time: Counting Stars by One Republic.

We schooled the first water, and it was a good thing too since Murray came to a stop and stared at his reflection for a moment before trotting through. ¬†The funny brush jump I mentioned above rode really well — Murray looked at the big fences on the left and trotted into the water, then spooked a little at the water, and right over the fence. ¬†I was the tiniest bit worried about that fence since I heard someone talking loudly about the track I’d taken.

There was a long gallop stretch between fences 8 and 9 and Murray really wanted to stretch out. ¬†I, on the other hand, really needed him to lift his head up and listen to me because 9 was a little house headed down hill to a down bank. ¬†Once again, Murray was ready for the down bank even if I wanted him to slow down and think about it, and he popped right down the bank. ¬†12 was the half coffin and Murray was galloping so well I didn’t really have time to think about schooling the other ditch, we just went for it. ¬†I gave him a big half halt Murray told me to suck it, and cantered over the ditch in stride and out over the logs.

The last potential trick on course was that log by the corner, and I did get Murray to slow to a trot through the water so we could get a good track.  Then it was just up over a little mound, over a table, and down through the flags.

I couldn’t believe it when we got through the flags without a single jump penalty, and only needing to school¬†the water. ¬†I knew I’d made the right choices for Murray and me, but what I didn’t expect was for Murray to take such a big step up to make up for my inadequacies. ¬†I went on to cross country insecure and anxious because I’d been stupid and was ill prepared, but Murray knew his job and took over the rest for us.¬†I didn’t feel a moment of hesitation from him on course, and any time I asked him to take a moment to think about a question he was more than happy to tell me that he’d already thought about it!

It was the best cross country run that I’ve ever had, and even if we did come in 35 seconds over time, now I know that we are more than prepared for¬†this challenge.¬†Next time, we’ll go for time too!

the happiest

twin recap: a powderkeg about to explode

I’m being honest,
I’m working with a third of what our Congress has promised.
We are a powder keg about to explode,
I need someone like you to lighten the load.

– Right Hand Man; Hamilton

This entire weekend’s recap is being brought to you by Hamilton, thanks to ¬†Emma and Austen, since a) Hamilton is great pump up music, and b) appropriate for all times. ¬†No, really. ¬†Also, there is sadly no media of our dressage day just yet – but I ordered a Ride On Video so there will be!!

We arrived at Twin in the early evening on Thursday and quickly unloaded the horses and tack room (which would lead to my later wardrobe malfunction).  After checking in I snagged a little bit of food and wine at the Adult Team Challenge mixer and then jumped on my horse to school before we left them for the night.  Since the whole goal of the weekend was just to be zen and not a freakshow, I opted to go with our standard dressage protocol: lunge, lunge with side reins, then ride.

Murray wasn’t as bananas during the lunge pre-side reins as I thought he would be, mostly just looking around and periscoping a lot, but fairly obedient. ¬†He was super for our actual ride, and we got down to the warm up late enough that there were very few people left and we mostly had the space to ourselves. ¬†After some good walk, trot, and canter work in each direction trainer B left us with the advice to go wander around the courts and judges’ booths a bit before coming back in. ¬†Murray was shockingly¬†incredibly brave (a theme that would, weirdly, last the whole weekend) to walk around the booths, and after a brief pause to take them in he wandered right up to them on a loose rein with only a little tension. ¬†That little tension did lead to him nearly tripping and impaling himself on C, but nobody was looking.

i made myself this silver on cream stock, and i love it.
unicorn pin thanks to a friend at a flea market. ‚̧

Friday morning we woke up very early and I walked Murray for a bit after giving him breakfast.  My ride time was 11:07 so I backed it out to figure out what time everything needed to be done.

20 minute warmup –¬†start at 10:45
20 minute lunge – start at 10:25
20 minutes to get the saddle on – start at 10:05
15 minutes to get dressed – start at 9:50
~1 hour to groom – start at 9:00
~2 hours to braid Рstart at 7:00

It seems really ridiculous to have that much time allotted for things, but I wanted to keep things really, really mellow while I was working on Murray so we could both stay mellow. ¬†While I was braiding I just kept reminding myself “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” — my past experiences with even slightly rushed braiding have led to shitty, messy braids. ¬†Murray was so, so, so good for braiding — like really ridiculously good. I think because I didn’t use any spray, he was just like “well, keep on playing with my hair you ridiculous, tiny human.”

Unfortunately, Murray was also FILTHY because he rolled in the mud right before he got on the trailer, so I spent longer grooming than I intended (and yes, honestly, I got started grooming a bit late).  I decided to forgo the lunging in favor of an extra long walk to warm up, and headed down to the warm up ring around 10:40.

The warm up at Twin was honestly my worst nightmare, but it really wasn’t that bad. ¬†There were horses and riders everywhere in all kinds of undefined and unconfined space. ¬†Murray kept it together with a fair bit of aplomb, and only bucked repeatedly the first time we cantered right. ¬†I kept my leg on and changed direction when he swapped leads and didn’t let him get away with any of that silliness.

i count 19 horses in this warmup, and it was relatively quiet compared to the morning

At one point I trotted past B and said “look how damn short my reins are!!!” ¬†I was holding them between the first and second stops. ¬†(In the past I’ve struggled to keep my hands between the third and fourth stops, which I now realize is a rather absurdly long rein!) ¬†Murray didn’t feel as good as he has at home, but a far sight better than he has ever felt at a show — not perfectly through, but forward and even in the reins and¬†keeping his head down. ¬†Like really, that’s all I can ask for.

When it was time to get going, we walked and trotted around the arena to a cheerful “have a good ride!” from Ann Howard at C.¬†¬†As we trotted down centerline I¬†remembered that Murray and I hadn’t practiced a single centerline prior to the show, and it was definitely evident — we fishtailed and noodled a fair bit to the left turn at C. ¬†The¬†left trot circle was quite reasonable, and the left canter transition was quiet if a little fumbly. ¬†I expected this — we’ve had trouble with trot-canter transitions when Murray doesn’t know exactly when they are coming, and I realized that I don’t have a fully reliable way (aka half halt) of warning him that they a re coming.

The left canter circle was honestly pretty dreamy, but Murray broke to the trot at A, a relic of my constantly schooling of one circle at a time. ¬†He corrected quickly when I put my leg on, and cantered again before the corner, and even came back to the trot between B and M as I instructed — which earned us a “well recovered”.

Tracking right (the walk work was unremarkable) Murray trotted promptly at A without resisting my hand which was¬†wonderful. ¬† In the right trot circle I added a little leg to get some more oomph and forward and Murray took it upon himself to canter instead, which¬†obviously wasn’t what we wanted. ¬†I slowed him back to the trot — prompt once again — and finished up the circle, after which I could feel the annoyance emanating up from Murray’s body and into my seat, so I knew we were in for something in the canter transition.

I was correct.  Murray bucked in the right canter transition.  Of course.

But it was okay. ¬†We kept on cantering right and really did a pretty reasonable canter circle, all things considered! ¬†Murray got a bit strong and heavy on the fore toward the end of the circle and I had to haul him into the trot again, but at least it wasn’t against the hand (a frequent comment on our tests). ¬†I hardly thought about the halt, but peeked out at B from the corner of my eye as I came up to it and somehow we came to a stop. ¬†The judge laughed and told me “well recovered!” after I saluted and walked toward her, and we laughed together about how much Murray was anticipating that canter movement. ¬†“Yes,” she said, “he was looking forward to it for five movements!”

The test was wonderful, really. ¬†We ended up scoring a 42.9 which was right where I expected¬†for a test where we broke to the trot in a canter circle, to the canter in a trot circle, and bucked through a canter transition. ¬†We were dinged for obedience and submission — shocker! — as well as impulsion, none of which are awful or surprising. ¬†We¬†do struggle with obedience, submission, and impulsion!

But Murray went into that arena, kept his head down, and did almost everything I asked. ¬†Even better, I didn’t stop riding just because we went in for a dressage test. ¬†That is truly the biggest accomplishment — I kept my leg on, kept my reins short, and Murray listened and did all the right things. ¬†It was wonderful! ¬†I have rarely felt¬†so proud of the two of us after a dressage test. ¬†There were bobbles and I couldn’t get him as soft and through as he can be at home, but I never expected that! ¬†Next time, I’ll try to squeeze a little more tension out through the each movement of the¬†test, instead of letting it wait until the last canter transition. ¬† Bucking and all, it was a great test, and a huge accomplishment for the two of us.

twin recap: rise up

I am just like my country,
young, scrappy, and hungry.
I am not throwing away my shot.

– Right Hand Man; Hamilton

This weekend at Twin was incredible.  Quite literally unbelievable, had I not been there myself.

murray turned fence 1 into an A-B situation

I forgot my long girth in the trailer (I found it tonight when we got home), so had to borrow a kid’s saddle that I had literally never sat in. ¬† Murray decided he didn’t want to play in the warm up and was running out all over the place — I didn’t even jump all the warm up fences.

Then we got out on cross country proper and he turned into a MACHINE, didn’t¬†look at a single fence twice, and we¬†went clear (with 13 time since we did school the first water).

i bought myself an amazing hat!

Nearly half of the senior BN division was eliminated, quite a few of them in stadium, and we somehow moved up from 12th to 5th.

And then, because so many people had been eliminated, my adult team challenge ended up the last team standing and we got a NECK RIBBON!  A NECK RIBBON!!!!!!!

and if you look closely at the collective comments: bucking not allowed!

We went into this weekend with simple aspirations. ¬†I just wanted to be¬†zen. ¬†There was to be no freaking out about pushing for perfection in dressage or worrying about scores or placings. ¬†We just wanted to get around XC clean and show Murray a good, non-stressful time — not freak out about minute markers or speed or circling or schooling.¬†All we had to do for stadium was jump all the fences, and end on a number not a letter.

And we did all that and SO MUCH MORE.

he is actually not even really sweating after running
his first 6-minute xc course in a year…

There is still so much to work on, but for once I feel like Murray and I have an actual trajectory! ¬†Instead of just muddling around at beginner novice forever, hoping that one day we’ll solve the pesky “scared of everything he’s never seen before” thing, or that with enough outings putting leg on and reminding Murray to dressage in¬†some version of on-the-bit during a test will not necessarily result in a tantrum.

murray worked hard on stall rennovations all of friday night
but, on the upside, actually managed to flatten it all back out by laying down saturday afternoon

Full recap to come over the next few days — depending on how badly my computer actually needs to be replaced¬†(the best kind of surprise when one arrives home). ¬†Can I drag this show out over a whole week of blogging? ¬†You betcha. ¬†There is so much to say about every part, and I am trying not to forget ANY of it.

and we got to update our bingo cards!

hawley clinic: rhythm and pace

The Hawley clinic was, as in past years, super fantastique. ¬†I was a little apprehensive getting started because of Murray’s Friday antics, but I shouldn’t have worried too much. ¬†Even if Murray didn’t settle (he did), Hawley had a sunny attitude about¬†his silliness and laughed both with us and at us. ¬†While I appreciate the seriousness and advice of people like Yves and Chris Scarlett, I¬†also really valued Hawley’s advice on how to get¬†the best out of Murray in a show environment and keep riding¬†through the antics to keep making it about learning.


We started, of course, with a circle of death. ¬†Actually, we started by telling Hawley about our ponies. ¬†I was in a group with two friends, one riding her young gelding, and the other catch riding. ¬†I told Hawley that Murray and I have been fighting about basics lately since I’m bad at being strict about them, and therefore we slip easily. ¬†Great! she said. Today will be all about the basics!


The circle of death was a tough one. ¬†Much more of an ovoid-of-death,¬†we were literally limited in our space by a fence that Hawley was sitting on. ¬†No worries, girls, just don’t smash into the Olympian. No problem. ¬†Murray couldn’t get it together to start with, flipping his tail and cross cantering and counter cantering and doing anything but cantering right, really. ¬†Hawley was insistent that we stick to the track — horses learn by repetition, so you must keep repeating the correct exercises so they understand. ¬†But I had to get off the track one time to get Murray moving forward and cantering properly. ¬†Left was much better.

Next was an exercise of three step poles (9 ft apart) to a small vertical, three strides away, then straight down to the end of the arena before a left or right turn (alternating). ¬†Hawley asked us what 9 ft step poles meant. ¬†I said that it would mean pushing Murray forward, but the other girls were pretty confident they could just canter through. ¬†Hawley reminded us:¬†“And what is a horse’s stride length? So this will be a little bouncy for them.” ¬†This was where Murray’s sassitude really came out. ¬†He hadn’t quite worked out all the kinks in his back, evidently, and bucked all over the straight aways and tried to use any distracted to bubble out to the right.

hawley01working out the kinks

I kicked him pretty hard in the side to push him off of my right leg at one point. ¬†Instead, Hawley suggested that I get off his back and focus on pushing him forward, and not pull on his face. ¬†“So he’s feeling good,” she said. “You can still do the exercise. And then we keep doing it until that tail settles down and he can get through it steady and with rhythm.” ¬†Steady + rhythm were very much the theme of the day.

On our third go through the poles-jump-jump exercise Murray just couldn’t contain himself and tried to buck¬†right in front of the oxer. ¬†The jump snuck up on him and he had to pop his feet down for a second to get us over, but he did it. ¬†I’m so glad he knows how to get out of his own way. ¬†I just wish he would use those powers for good a little bit more?

We built up the course to include a couple of sharply angled lines, between the center fence and the two fences of the circle of death (see above).  The angle was made challenging by the arena wall right there on the outside of the fences, and the fact that it was a mere two strides (four for extra special ponies named Murray) between the two fences.

Hawley reminded us to sit tall but not too deep on the approach to the angle, fix our sights on a point on the wall, and leg up to the fences. ¬†She demonstrated how even a few inches of differences in shoulder position could affect the ride (though also claimed that you could fake it through Intermediate, so YAY for us leaners?), and told us to keep sitting really, really tall. ¬†To a rider in an earlier group I heard her describe it as keeping more air between your chest and the horse’s neck, which is a great image.

Murray rode through the angle well the first time, but in the other direction saw the ground poles on the other side of the fence and objected mightily. ¬†Hawley had me hold the line and then kick forward over the fence. ¬†That is one amazing thing about little fences — you can walk right over them! ¬†Murray didn’t love it, but he’s pretty familiar with the “go over this from a stand still” routine so he went.

 hawley04 hawley05
woooahhhh! oh fine then

As we moved through the courses Hawley started pushing us to get the correct striding between fences. She wanted five from vertical to oxer and down to the next vertical, and seven on the opposite line.  After a gentle tap with the crop to remind him that it was there, Murray was very responsive to my leg and moved up to the fences.  Murray got a little wiggly to one oxer and the barrels the first time around, but I kept my leg on and he went.  Hawley encouraged me to push him forward to them more.  The first time I tried this I still instinctively held for the shorter stride, but the second time I really pushed Murray into a forward but not rushed canter and the lines worked out perfectly.

All in all, another great day, and I’m very glad the lessons weren’t cancelled for rain. ¬†Murray stepped up and worked hard after a bit of a doofy start, and I felt like I rode better and better through each course. ¬†Though the fences were small, I think I would have felt confident moving them up, even a foot, with how well Murray was listening.

I’m realizing now that all the media I’m posting is us being at least a little dweeby,¬†but it’s all about transparency, right? ¬†I swear some of our efforts were solid.

Hawley Bennet clinic 2-25 from Nicole Sharpe on Vimeo.

shut it down

Almost a year ago in a lesson with Yves, I got a little talking-to about how I needed to put a lid on Murray’s celebratory naughty behavior when we are jumping. ¬†I was playing around in the lesson and it was all fun and games, but Yves told me seriously and in that horrible way that makes you know you’re really, really not doing the right thing, that I did¬†not want Murray thinking that this was okay. ¬†Not now, and especially not as we moved up the levels.

And of course my response was oh it’s fine / it’s no big deal / it’s not that bad / it’s all in good fun / I like him like this / it’s cute / I’m an idiot.

Now I’ve finally realized while it’s not that big of a deal, and it’s not that bad, and it may be all in good fun (MAYBE), I do not like him like this, it’s not cute, and I’m totally, totally an idiot.

I got on tonight for a flat ride in my jump saddle to prep for Hawley. ¬†Murray decided that every single noise another horse made in the arena was a fantastic excuse to drop his hind end and fling his face in the air and run forward, which was super awesome. ¬†The best part was that Murray’s screaming and spooking would set off a chain reaction with the other horses, so they’d all spook at one another and make more noise and spook at the noise and make more noise etc.

After we jigged our way into the trot and had several ridiculous mishaps and near misses with the other horses I set some clear boundaries.  Bucking, kicking out, and screaming were not going to get Murray out of work, and the best way to convince my lazy, recalcitrant horse that antics = more work is to kick him forward.  So kick him forward I did.

Our warm up, which I usually try to keep stretchy and relaxed, became a monster 20 minute session of moving forward forward forward, direction changes, canter transitions, and transitions within gaits. ¬†I was willing to soften whenever Murray complied with a reasonable request for some kind of change without fighting me on it first,¬†but he wasn’t really willing to offer up reasonable responses at first.

The best part was when I tried to push Murray forward into the bridle and a slightly bigger trot and I felt my upper body pitching forward in anticipation… of nothing. ¬†I tried again for a bigger trot and again: nothing. ¬†Little kick? ¬†Nothing — maybe a reluctant duck behind the bit. ¬†I pony-school kicked Murray and got a cranky canter transition.

You know what you can’t do if your horse responds to your leg by doing¬†nothing? ¬†JUST ABOUT ANYTHING. ¬†You can’t push him into the bridle, you can’t ask him to carry himself, you can’t transition within gaits, you can barely transition between gaits.

Image result for shutting it down gif

So ¬†it was back to the drawing board. ¬†The entire ride became a discussion of “leg means go, and it means go now”. ¬†I used a strategy Tina taught me and if Murray chose to move up to a canter when I asked for more trot I made sure he moved up into a BIGGER CANTER, so he didn’t just use a shitty tiny canter as an excuse not to push in the trot. ¬†Then when I asked for more trot (a little more quietly), I could reward for the right choice — more trot — fairly easily.

I tried,¬†tried, not to get too out of hand with kicking Murray forward. ¬†I only put my crop on him once, and it was a love tap to control a wildly swinging haunch (and I was rewarded with a kick out anyway) when we were walking. ¬†I guess I could have wailed on him for antics at some point, but realistically I didn’t want to get into that fight while riding in jeans and not at my strongest. ¬†But I’m going to pretend that it was also a strategic decision to avoid fighting, because picking a fight isn’t really productive either.

This obviously isn’t going to be solved in a day or even before this weekend. ¬†I do hope ¬†I have some kind of go-button before the weekend.¬† I suspect it’s going to be an uphill battle for the rest of the winter, and I’ll have to be very diligent and stay on top of it. ¬†Of course, I probably won’t, and come April we’ll ¬†be having some kind of similar discussion once more.

major malfunction; meltdown inevitable

I made a miscalculation this (Monday)¬†morning that led to a major meltdown and malfunction from Murray the likes of which I haven’t seen in at least a year. ¬†It was… something else.

I was tacking up and, per my new goal, trying very hard not to let Murray get away with wandering, wiggling, or generally being poorly behaved during the exercise. ¬†I thought we actually had a pretty good thing going: I had put the square pad on very crookedly at first and didn’t catch it until after I got the saddle on. ¬†So we were on our second try and Murray was being pretty responsive to my requests to stand and was not constantly turning back and demanding treats from me.

I often hold the dressage girth against his belly for a moment before I try doing up any buckles so Murray isn’t confronted with the cold girth + tightening buckles sensations all at the same time. ¬†He had a funny response when I did this, standing still for a few seconds and then suddenly scrunching up his abdomen and¬†then trying to scoot away from me. ¬†I didn’t really understand what was going on, but since that’s how Murray typically responds to girthing pressure in general, I thought he needed a little longer to get used to the sensation of the cold leather. ¬†He was still for¬†just long enough before tensing and scooting that I thought he might have exceeded his limit for patience and was trying another strategy to get treats (wiggles = distraction treats = reinforcement for wiggles).

The first time I held the girth against his belly he actually managed to writhe away from me, which I wasn’t going to accept, so I tried again. ¬†I held the girth against his side even as he tensed and then bulged his side in to me, and after he settled I gave him a piece of carrot. ¬†I then quickly moved to buckle the girth up on the 4th hole which, when Murray’s abdomen is at its fattest, tensest, and most absurd just touches the skin, and once he lets the air out there’s a good half inch of space between the girth and his skin. ¬†I managed to get both billets buckled and was just patting Murray when he sidestepped forward-ish. ¬†I told him no — I’m trying not to be baited into rewarding him for bad behavior¬†— and he stepped sideways, more directly towards me. ¬†I warned him with a “hey!”, but he blew sideways into me with his hindquarters, actually knocking me to the side. ¬†(The first time I’ve actually been knocked aside by him, as I usually get out of the way quickly but I’m also trying not to teach him that he can move me around with bad behavior.) ¬†I marched toward the tie ring to unhook him and really give him a piece of my mind; alas, the meltdown was already engaged.

Murray skittered sideways and back at the end of his lead rope, never giving me enough slack to unhook him from the blocker tie. ¬†(I always put him on a blocker tie ring but I’ve recently taking to knotting the lead rope about 30″ down so he can’t pull himself loose and end up with¬†ten feet of rope to wander around with while I’m grooming or not paying attention.) ¬†He pulled back and got his front feet off the ground a few times, though he never really reached the point of sitting, and his halter held. ¬†At one point I could see the bottom of the halter sliding over his lower lip and up in to his nostrils and I wondered whether he’d be able to get out of it entirely. It was all legs and slipping feet and burning hoof smell and sparks in a ten foot radius around the post we were tied to, and the whole time I was trying to get just a few inches of slack so I could unhook him and get him under control myself.

He reared and couldn’t get all the way up and just… came down. ¬†At one point his knees started to buckle and his pasterns folded and he started to lay down and half of my brain¬†actually thought “why am I not filming this?” and I put my hand in my pocket to get my phone out, then decided I’d better have two hands on me. ¬†The other half of my brain was thinking “please, YES, please just lay down,” because if he gave up and lay down it would indicate that¬†he chose to yield to the pressure, and would have been a major step forward in his problem solving process. ¬†I’ve seen Murray get to a really similar point where he’s about to crumple to the ground before, with my barn manager when she was very understandably¬†disciplining him for something, and that was the moment in the discussion where he turned reasonable.

Instead, Murray leapt out of the half-crouch-thing and hit the end of the rope again and the meltdown continued. ¬†(I mean, you should see all the skid marks on the barn floor after this morning…) Since the “hoooo, hoooo, easy, settle”, deep, soothing voice wasn’t working I tried yelling and growling at him in turns to absolutely no effect. ¬†He wasn’t even registering me. ¬†We finally got to the point where he was part-ways in a downward dog stretch — front legs splayed out toward me, leaning back on the rope as far as he could, just staring at me. ¬†I kept talking to him while I tried to pull myself out a few inches of slack so I could unhook the lead rope, and then had the bright idea to offer him some of the remaining carrot bits I had in my pocket. ¬†I was¬†well beyond trying to avoid rewarding bad behavior at that point. ¬†But instead of responding to “cookie” he jerked his head to the side, snapped the lead rope, and skittered off down the barn aisle.

I managed to get my hands on him before he left the barn and he was truly beside himself. ¬†I walked him back up to the tie ring and he wanted¬†nothing to do with it. ¬†Obviously with only two and a half feet of lead rope left attached to him I wasn’t about to tie him, but I made the decision then to just continue to insist on good behavior. ¬†Ignore the meltdown (so to speak) and insist that he continue to behave like a rational horse beast. ¬†Since Murray was still in panic mode and unable to even think about what I was asking him to do I had a bit of time to catch my breath and think.

I slowed myself down and managed to avoid crying, though if anyone had tried to talk to me just then I probably would have.  Murray would stand for a minute or so and then start to skitter sideways/into me and I reminded him that the exercise we were working on was just standing still where I told him to stand the fuck still.  Nothing too aggressive, but not rewarding the bad behavior by walking off with him, and not acknowledging his distaste for the area by letting him stand somewhere else.  I thought about how much I hate this horse sometimes and why I ever think that I can improve or change these absurd, deep-seeded, irrational instincts.

Murray kept trying to yank me to the side or pull his head around to get a look at what was going on elsewhere in the barn or… wherever. ¬†I was more than a little sick of him at this point and yanked him back to look at me and¬†just stand. ¬†I thought about what, exactly, I had done wrong to induce¬†this particular meltdown, and how I could have avoided it, or snapped Murray out of it while it was happening.

While we were standing there thinking, Murray threw his head in to mine and instead of ducking (which I usually do), I threw my hand into his head and yelled “REALLY?” ¬†He chose to fly away from me backwards at that, so I took him up on the offer and marched him backward, at which he promptly slammed into and tried to sit on a trash can, scared the shit out of himself, flew backward out the barn door, and then tried to sit on my trainer’s truck’s front bumper.

Since we were already outside I decided that we would try to walk it off (the stupidity of this is just now dawning on me since I only had about 3 feet of lead rope to hold on to), and after he settled a little we stepped into the barn. ¬†A friend held him while I found a replacement rope, and then we walked back to the tie ring to start over. ¬†My barn manager came out and commiserated with me a little and Murray proved that he couldn’t even he just¬†couldn’t even while she was standing there, trying to run in to me (because he knew he isn’t allowed to run in to her).

I ultimately tacked him up two more times (not tied, but still insisting that he stand relatively still), he was relatively good, I lunged him and he was great, and we called it a day.  Because when it takes 75 minutes to get your horse groomed and tacked up you quickly run out of time to ride.

In some ways this meltdown indicated major progress for Murray. ¬†In the past he would have hit the end of his lead rope one time, felt the pressure, ripped right through it, and disappeared. ¬†So the fact that he was feeling the resistance and not¬†automatically increasing the pressure by an order of magnitude (just continuing at the current level of freak out) just to get free is progress. ¬†And he did come back to me and, though it was a struggle, did eventually figure out that he was expected to just stand still in front of me (and only somewhat invaded my personal space). ¬†He was so reasonable during his freak out that I think he might be ready for a rope halter — IMAGINE THAT! Graduating TO a rope halter. Hah.

But¬†the meltdown itself was over¬†nothing. ¬†I mean, yes, it was about being scared and tied, but the trigger to being scared was… what, being asked to stand for one second longer than he thought he could tolerate? Not getting a treat or being ale to walk off the instant he wanted to? ¬†Sure, I could have avoided the whole thing if I’d just not asked him to stand for that one second, but was the ask really that unreasonable?

I managed to keep myself calm too, and handle it, and not beat the living snot out of him after the fact. ¬†So that’s progress for me.

We will see how Tuesday goes I guess.

I do so desperately wish I’d gotten video. ¬†Dangerous, unpleasant, and indicative of poor training and upbringing as the meltdowns are, they are also ridiculous and absurd and, in their own way, funny.

no more dr. nice guy

Per my goals post, a big one for me and Murray is to¬†stop taking short cuts. ¬†I don’t really know where to start with this, there’s no clever preamble to this stuff, I just need to dive right in.

I have¬†skipped a lot of steps in training Murray in favor of funner/better/other things that I wanted or felt like I needed to do. ¬†After three years we still can’t reliably tack up while tied, let alone stands still for grooming and tacking up like most other non-feral eight year olds. ¬†We can’t use the cross ties, don’t stand for the vet, still freak out when people move things nearby (especially blankets), have knocked down at least two people on the way to turnout, break away from the trailer half the times we go out, and still can’t use cross ties. ¬†And that’s just things on¬†the ground that Murray can’t do. ¬†I would list¬†the things we can’t do/suck at while lunging, doing ground work, or under saddle except I just started¬†that and it was super embarrassing so I deleted them.


When I first started working with Murray I skipped things like really, properly working with him to tack up while standing still because I thought that with repeated exposure he would just… figure it out. ¬†Other horses do that, right? ¬†Later, I just wanted to get to¬†riding. ¬†I know how to work around his wiggling and get him tacked up so I can just¬†go and ride. ¬†I am very talented at¬†doing up all the buckles on his bridle while he’s wandering off, and tightening the girth while he circles me suspiciously. ¬†I know just how to lunge so he doesn’t stop and turn in on the circle.

After three years together, Murray and I know each other well enough that we can get some things done. ¬†But just because I can do it with him doesn’t mean that Murray “can do” that stuff. ¬†I can just trick, needle, or bribe him in to it, and it’s unreliable when most other people try.

But honestly, these are just the¬†glaring holes that I’ve left in Murray’s skill set/training. ¬†Even under saddle, and especially in dressage, I skipped a looooot of steps. ¬†Not always because I just wanted to get on to funner things, but I’m not going to pretend that wasn’t some of the reason. ¬†Trotting in circles working on connection, gaits, and relaxation is boring when the progress you make from day to day is miniscule, backward, and/or generally non-linear. ¬†It’s a lot more fun to have a stab at putting on leg yields and do it with varying levels of success and correctness and then move on to walk to canter because those are pony dancing moves, right!?! Right?


So I just… skipped to the fun stuff. ¬†A lot.

I think everyone does it. ¬†There are always times when you just want to get past the babyness or silliness or garbage or whatever and do something else. ¬†A lot of the time I suspect there is no lasting effect — someone is having an off or funky day and can’t figure out how to ground pole so you just skip it for a ride — and you get on with your lives. ¬†But in my case, I’ve ended up with a horse who dances around and¬†still panics while I’m tacking up, walks away while I’m ¬†bridling, can only be ridden and handled by a literal handful of people, and has a pretty reasonable number of days where we can hardly get anything done.

Murray has also learned a lot of things. ¬†I’m not trying to have a (full blown) pity party blame game¬†here. ¬†I¬†can actually get him tacked up, ride in all kinds of different arenas, jump all kinds of different things, and do some pretty solidly 5-6 scoring pony dancing moves. ¬†We can walk from the barn to the turnouts in the pitch black¬†or with a scaryscaryscary patch of light from a flash light wobbling in front of us. ¬†I can put his blanket on over his head or over his back. ¬†We¬†can really do leg yields and even some counter canter loops — sure, they need polish, but we can do some shit!

It’s time to really get the rest of that stuff done. ¬†Even if it means I don’t get to ride that day because I spend all my free time working on basic ground manners or getting Murray to stand properly for tacking up. ¬†No more short cuts. ¬†It’s time to train this pony right, from the bottom to the top.

I don’t have a fully conceived plan for everything I want to get done. ¬†A lot of it just involves making a point of doing stuff that Murray purposely doesn’t want to do – like walking with impulsion and connection. ¬†Even if it means we never trot that day. ¬†Even if it means Murray kicks out and flings his head around. ¬†We¬†must be able to do these things.

So no more short cuts. Even if it means I don’t get to ride that day. Even if it means I spend weeks on the ground. ¬†Even if it means having my feet trodden on and tears of desperation and frustration.

Making Murray a well rounded and well-broke horse is worth it.

he also tried to commit suicide in the crossties once
the last time Murray set foot in the x-ties was more than a year ago

nag less, expect more

I had a dressage lesson with our fantastatrainer Tina on Wednesday, and it was aaaaaah-mazing!  I mentioned last week that we are right in the place where I need a lesson to start to get the next set of tools, and I can always count on Tina to help us problem solve.  (Alas, no relevant media exist.  Maybe next week I will get some new video.)

Murray started out feeling pretty honest,¬†though I promptly forgot everything I’ve learned in the last year about keeping my reins an appropriate length, which was unfortunate. ¬†I told Tina that I had been working on being straight and forward and encouraging Murray to take on bigger and more expressive (and correct) gaits, but also keeping him balanced. ¬†Tina honed in on one of my bad habits immediately, nagging Murray with my seat and legs at the walk. ¬†I recently decided to stop babying Murray about walking — he will never get better at walking with contact if we never do it, right?¬†This was a fight several days in a row until the Tina lesson, and Murray had just started to accept going forward+connection. ¬†So of course I was nagging him every single step to get more forward. ¬†Tina had me give him a kick and then sit quietly when he responded correctly.

img_20161129_191637chubby dressage pony

The problem with this (for me) is that I feel like the response to a kick is an inverted spazzy revolt. ¬†But after a few yucky, sticky, gross responses, Murray figured out that kick = forward. ¬†This was the first lesson in the lesson — reward for the right response. Even if it isn’t the exact response I want at this moment, we want to keep Murray thinking in the right direction. ¬†We can finess later (I hope!!).

We moved on to the trot work and Tina encouraged me to get Murray working a little more over his back by getting his neck a little lower.  I have been trying to avoid letting Murray get his neck tooooo low lately, because he can get really on the forehand and downhill.  But his balance actually felt pretty good during the lesson, and it unlocked a bigger and freer trot.  Tina had me encourage the bigger trot on the diagonals, so that Murray can learn the cue for more/forward/bigger where there is more space (than a circle) and then bring it to other work.  She encouraged me to really get him to fly on the diagonals.

Tracking left we got a couple of good extensions on the diagonal (for him Рobviously not real extended work), but tracking right I got almost nothing.  Tina told me to really boot him on that right-ways diagonal, and Murray responded by breaking into the canter Рbut not, as I later found out, an acceptable canter.  The next time around he did the same thing, so Tina had me kick him into a more forward canter.  Murray bucked twice and suddenly on the next right diagonal, he could move forward!

dress-4moar! bigger!

Tina’s assessment was thus: Murray doesn’t want to trot the big trot. The big trot is¬†hard. The small canter is easier – and it’s more forward! But it isn’t really¬†thinking forward ¬†– it’s thinking just forward enough to not actually have to do real work.

All of the following diagonals got bigger and better trots, and Murray was really willing and compliant.  Tina continued to encourage me to get Murray lower, and every time we did his trot got better and involved more of his body.  We were both breathing quite hard after this.

Next, Tina had me add a little engagement in the trot by starting in a shoulder-in and then shooting across the diagonal from that. ¬†I actually didn’t expect this to work, because Murray loves to use lateral work as a way to waste energy. ¬†Maybe the diagonals earlier in the lesson helped us, because once I got him straightened out he shot right across the diagonal with more hind end engagement. ¬†We only did this twice each way, Murray got it and it worked so well.

In the canter we did similar work. ¬†We started with some shoulder in down the long side – making sure not to drift off the rail tracking right – and an extension down the next long side. ¬†Tina helped me with another thing I have struggled with lately, which is Murray getting tense and inverted when I push him to be straight down the long side. ¬†He’s not¬†quiiiite ready to be really straight cantering just yet, but if I got him to lower his head more he could take MUCH bigger and loftier steps. ¬†Tracking right I got a few more steps of the floating canter, which was awesome. ¬†Left was a bit harder, since we were both so tired. ¬†We ended both of our extended canter stints with a little circle — almost 10 meters — where Tina told me to think about pausing in the upswing of the canter (like Megan did!) to get Murray to sit and hold himself up a little more. ¬†It felt great, almost like the canter-in-place that my MIL had me doing the other day (a coming post).

dress-8moar and better canter than this one!

As I expected, it was an excellent lesson. ¬†Tina gave us a few more exercises to practice and Murray stood up to the pressure¬†really well. ¬†Tina agreed with my assessment that Murray is mentally ready to take a little more pressure now, so I need to take advantage of this time to impress some important lessons upon his moldable mind. ¬†And I got a solid plan to move forward with – keep encouraging Murray to move forward, but don’t let him get away with not using his body properly.

I was a little worried that my lack of strength and balance was holding us back in the bigger gaits, but Tina said I shouldn’t fret too much. ¬†I wasn’t unbalanced in the extensions we did in the lesson, and only got unseated when Murray went from cross cantering into a really fast, tense trot. ¬†There is, apparently, time for us to grow in strength in the bigger gaits together.

nap 01hey, remember when it was sunny?! yeah me neither.

winter has come

Sub-50 temperatures have descended upon Northern California, and even if those are just the lows for a week, it means that winter has come.

IMG_20150223_134233cooler season is here!!

My first ride back from Thanksgiving break (Murray got something like 8 days off) didn’t happen until it was good and dark, and Murray is not accustomed to being ridden in the dark.¬† He likes to be snuggied into bed (or better, his pasture) at nighttime, and ridden in the warmer afternoons or (if he must) the mornings.¬† But nighttime it was.¬† It was also 44 degrees.

When I got on, Murray’s back was so tense and up that I felt like I was right about to slide off his withers.¬† We were certainly in for a little rodeo, but we’ve done such a good job of working through things lately that I was sure we could sort ourselves out in a few minutes.¬† Murray power walked around the arena, and chose to pick up the trot for no reason in several places, and then canter because why not.¬† The only thing that put the kibosh on his plans to just runrunrunfastfastfast and get through the ride as quickly as possible were the dreaded sounds.¬† Every time a piece of sand hit the wall, someone spoke outside of the arena, a tree branch moved, or I coughed, Murray spooked.

Some of his spooks were mighty spooks — scooting, running, head in the air spooks. Some of them were bucky spooks.¬† All of them were flaily spooks.

looking into the future of our thursday jump lesson

In the past when Murray has been super spooky and scooty and cold backed, trying to get him to work into contact is not terribly productive. He feels “trapped” easily and then starts to bend in the middle to make space for his body — and that bend usually comes in the form of his withers rising up towards my face.¬† But I wasn’t planning to let him get away with wasting the ride with bad behavior either.¬† So I just focused on bringing him towards a more balanced, proper dressage trot or canter from wherever he was “stuck”.¬† When he wanted to get too forward and rushy, I rebalanced and slowed down and thought about suspension.¬† When he wanted to go to slowly and get sticky and inverted, I focused on keeping his hind end active.

I didn’t totally abandon the connection, but I didn’t try to force the issue either. I just tried to keep my hands steady and a little wide (helps me keep them steady at a longer rein length), and let Murray fuss and flip his way to accepting work again.

And it worked!¬† After about thirty minutes and only nearly-falling-off twice, Murray settled into a rhythm and loosened his back.¬† Sure, he was too tired to be terribly naughty at that point anyway (yay unfit horse), but that is not the important part.¬† The important part is that we got there and he actually listened to me!¬† This is the part that’s really awesome, because pretty much every other winter (or spring/summer/fall) when I’ve had rides like this I’ve basically had to write them off as “just get through it” rides.¬† I didn’t have enough tools in the kit to get myself and Murray sorted and put together, and he didn’t have enough brain cells to listen even if I had.

But now we can have ridiculous spooking and a conversation about actually moving into the contact in the same ride!  This is huge for us!

This winter is going to be awesome.