relax (don’t do it)

Murray got a whole week off after Twin, due in equal parts to the fact that he had been the best pony ever, and also because that whole 40 hour a week job can be a real bitch.  Predictably, I stalked the Ride On website until my videos were uploaded and have watched them all many times (okay, at least several).  There are many interesting parts of the videos, but one of the most interesting is how stiff and tight Murray’s hind end looks in our dressage test. The footing at Twin is nice, and on Friday Murray had lunged really well, and was moving better than he does at home. Even when I lunge him at home, he moves better than he did in that test.

My MIL also commented that the test was lovely, and with more relaxation we’d be able to get rid of the bucking through the transitions.  I agree.  I could feel Murray getting tense and tenser and tenser through the test, so by the time we got to that right canter transition I knew that no matter how subtle my cue, I’d be getting some kind of kick out.  What I really want to be able to do is take the tension that builds in Murray’s back and squeeze it out through the bridle throughout the test, instead of letting it build and build and build until it escapes through his butt.

look at all those blogs in my tabs!

Murray’s stiff-legged movement at Twin also suggests tension to me.  And something that I’ve been working on for some time to get resolved.  There seem to be two ways to get him to really unlock his hind end.  I can do it with lateral work, or I can try to get him moving really straight and forward and sitting on his hocks.  The first method is easier, but tends to end up with a bit of a noodle-horse for the rest of my ride.  The second method is harder — a lot harder — and sometimes means days of fighting before we get to compliance.

tiny steps + head down >> tiny steps + head in the air

Both are essential to our continued development in dressage, so I’ll be playing around with the two techniques over the next few weeks as we gear up for and think about Camelot.  What I would really like is to be able to add a little more pressure at Camelot than I did at Twin and go for a bit more of a forward-thinking test.  I’d also like to see more steadiness in the bridle.  For this, it seems like we just need more practice and consistency.  I have to make sure that I’m sticking to my guns and not letting Murray draw me into tugging or giving too much rein.  I suspect that more forwardness will help with the steadiness too.

I’m also considering a bit change.  Right now, Murray uses a loose ring French link with a flat bit in the middle.  It’s pretty thin and light, but the link is jiggly and I bet there’s some play in his mouth.  My trainer suggested the Stubben EZ Control again — I tried previously and didn’t see enough magical, mystical improvement to shell out $70 for a new bit.  But now that we’re a bit more developed and capable, perhaps something gets really stable when Murray moves into the contact will encourage a bit more steadiness on both of our parts.

moving properly a la JM (can I please have this horse at the show PLEASE)

That’s what I’m thinking about for the next few weeks.  Unfortunately, they’ll be somewhat inconsistent weeks as we have the WSS one day coming up, which is sure to take up at least a week of my time.  And Murray started the prep for Camelot well by encouraging his new pasture mates to bite him like crazy in turnout this weekend, and was muscle sore again on Monday.  So we’re back on the “if at first 1g of bute does not succeed” program.

I’m not totally sure how I can diminish tension in Murray by adding something he typically hates (leg), but that’s what dressage trainers are for.  Good thing Tina is coming on Wednesday!  But I’d love any thoughts you have about transforming tension into transcendentalism* in the show ring (Austen? Megan? Jenn? ANY HELP LADIES?) — even the baby steps of just starting to get there, which I know is where we’re at right now.

* Word chosen for alliteration and not meaning or accuracy.

video from twin

I splurged and bought RideOn Videos at Twin, and it was not a waste!  I can’t embed them, but you can find them on the RideOn website.

Dressage (watch out for Murray’s buck right at C!)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=6d924f210

Cross Country (I look like a drunk monkey in this video, but since it represents a significant portion of the first 30 minutes I ever spent in that saddle, I’ll take it — plus, Murray was such a star)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=c6a797d86

Stadium (sometimes, you’ve just got to double check every fence on course to ensure there are no crocodiles or spare mongooses beneath them)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=11a7ef591

 

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 – start 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.

reality check?

Murray and I have had two really lovely rides after the bullshittery of last week.  Because I was foiled by the wind repeatedly on Thursday and Friday and then spent the weekend out of town, I asked our barn manager’s kid to put in a ride on Murray for me just to get him out and exercising.  She’s ridden him a few times recently, and he’s been fairly reasonable as long as she doesn’t ask for anything too challenging or exciting.  So of course I was rewarded with video of Murray cantering sideways (like a hideous half pass with no bend) and literally crashing into a horse standing at the mounting block.

Um, great.

For a moment I regretted ever asking for help.  I thought I’d made a huge mistake.  And then I was like “you know what, homeboy has got to be able to w/t/c with a stranger on him — especially when they are asking him to do nothing more complicated than go along the rail and turn  before the end of the damn arena.”  I resolved to have a take-no-shit approach on Tuesday, fully expecting some truly atrocious behavior.

I made Murray try on some tubigrip as a strategy for
compression/ice. He tolerated it really well, actually!

Instead, Murray was well behaved on the lunge line, pretty responsive, and absolutely perfect under saddle.  I kept with the recent theme (don’t override with my seat/crotch/ass, don’t nag, just try to be really correct and have Murray meet me there) and Murray rose to the challenge.  We had a couple of sticky w/t transitions but nothing awful.  His canter was a tad less forward than I want, but very round and adjustable.

Having a saddle that fits is absolutely magical. It is SOOO much easier to feel and fix when I am starting to tip forward or perch, and any time I start to anticipate or get too noisy with my seat I can feel it.  I ignored the idea of getting my saddle fit for a long time, but if a well-fitting jump saddle does for us what this dressage saddle has, I will be running 4* in no fucking time flat.  So yeah, it turns out that Robyn did fix all my problems, hooray!

Murray was equally fantastic on Wednesday, and I worked through some of our test movements to get ready for them.  Our biggest challenge is transitions.  Murray does best with them when he knows they are coming — especially when they are part of a pattern.  Conversely, he does poorly with them when he doesn’t know they are coming.  It’s a complaint I’ve had about him a lot, that it’s almost like he’s not “listening” to me when I ask for things, he’s busy doing his own thing (whatever that thing is).  So I’m trying to figure out the balance between doing too much with my body and giving him adequate half halts/notice that we are approaching a transition.

I also specifically practiced letting him walk around on a loose rein and then picking him back up to do some work, which has often been a source of angst for us.  He did much better than on Tuesday or in the past in general, so that was good news.  If only this Dressage Murray can show up to Twin, we will be in good shape!

Apparently Murray just needs another rider to reality check him every once in a while and remind him how good he has it with his well-trained human.  (If this is a legitimate training strategy I am 100% going to continue to employ it in the future.)

crazy ex-racehorse

Murray has been a pendulum under saddle this week — swinging between successfully executing some quality flat work and successfully pissing me the fuck off.  There are a few extenuating circumstances that have prevented me from throttling him:

  1. It’s windy AF in Davis right now, and everybody knows that wind makes horses the most happy and reasonable creatures ever
  2. I did just take a ten day vacation and he was locked in the entire time
  3. His timing is great. Every time he starts to be so horrendous I am about to stab him, he turns on the normal

i’m the santa ana winds, i make things weird
from crazy ex girlfriend, which is hilarious and you should watch it

On Tuesday my saddle fitter happened to be at the barn, and she reflocked my new dressage saddle for me and tried to help me find the source of the squeaking I’ve been hearing when I post.  Murray was his usual sticky self, but when the saddle went back on after the reflock he went into full on “can’t even” mode.  He couldn’t he couldn’t walk forward, he couldn’t trot, he couldn’t turn to the right, and he most CERTAINLY couldn’t do any of those things without a raging ewe-neck.

Robyn was actually worried that she’d messed up the flocking, since Murray hadn’t shown any behaviors near this awful during our initial appointments. “Oh no,” I told her, “This is very normal for us.”  Eventually Murray got it together and dressaged a little, after which Robyn commented that he actually looked quite good and much happier than in the other saddles I had tried.  She suggested I sit the trot a little to see if the squeaking got better or worse when I did that, and it got a bit better.  But more importantly, I COULD SIT THE TROT.  Even more importantly, Murray didn’t immediately tense and resist the motion! MY SADDLE FITTER IS A MIRACLE WORKER.

On Wednesday I wanted to do a little conditioning and get both Murray and I used to the impending pain that I am sure XC and stadium at Twin will bring.  But as per the new rules, I wasn’t willing to accept any shitty inverted walk work or walk-trot transitions.  So we walked for a long time.  I am trying really, really hard not to be offensive while I insist on something more approaching, but it’s hard when Murray wants to do anything other than let his head drop down into the contact and relax.  Finally we were ready to trot, and then Murray just tuned out my leg.

I tried a couple of the thins that have worked for us recently — a little more leg, softer hands — and eventually got a really ugly, inverted, neck-dependent transition.  We trotted forward a little, and then I asked him to come back to the walk so we could try again.  But every time I added leg to get him to move forward, Murray sucked back a little more until we were practically at a stand still.  I even abandoned all contact in favor of just getting a forward response to the leg and still nothing.  Out came the pony club kick, and in response Murray leaped up in front, bucked behind, and screamed at me.

Crazy Ex-GIFs car i dont care crazy ex-girlfriend crazy ex girlfriend GIFstill crazy ex girlfriend

There was a fair bit more ridiculous screaming and kicking as I asked for a trot and then canter transition, but I did not accept no for an answer, and forward he went.  We had a few canter circles of stupidity, then came back to a walk.  Murray was actually reasonably forward and moving into the contact, if not totally relaxed, and this time instead of asking him for anything with my leg, I firmly told him “TROT” as I do when lunging.

And what would you know.  Totally normal, very reasonable, drama-free, and correct-ish trot transition.

For the rest of the ride I tried to stay really still through my body, add just a whisper of leg, think “trot” with my seat, and then say “TROT” firmly for the transition.  It worked nearly every time, with just a little bobble when we changed direction.  Even better, the trot work after the transitions was forward, and when Murray got too heavy on the forehand he actually balanced himself up a little.  The same went for the canter transitions, and while the trot after the canter was totally a hot, rushy mess, I got a really reasonable response to the half halt when I applied it.

Crazy Ex-GIFs season 1 discussion theme argument GIFmurray’s feels

Every time Murray heard another rider cantering behind us though he had a mini-meltdown, so I left the arena after I was satisfied with the trot work since we were clearly working through more than just a bad attitude.

On Thursday, I walked into Murray’s stall and he promptly departed into his paddock and stayed there looking away from me.  Even when I rattled his bucket.  So I took the hint and turned him out instead of trying to ride.  It was the right choice, kid needed a mental health day.  Murray played and played on his own and only nearly kicked my head off once, and then played and played some more when we brought his buddy Logan in.

Twin approaches, and we’re not where I’d hoped in terms of schooling and fitness.  I actually feel awful about the fitness part of it, but I hope I can baby Murray through the weekend and he’ll come out on the other side somewhat unscathed.  In terms of preparedness, well, I have a new strategy I’m trying in terms of that, which you will hear about later.

hot mess

In the last six months I feel like there have been an absurd number of “and then I rode Murray for the first time in ten days” moments.  Good news for me is that he’s actually getting better despite all of these breaks, and we continue our slow climb up the mountain of dressage, training, and more generally: life.

So here we are again.  Another first ride after ten days away, although at least this time Murray managed to get out for a few rides with our barn manager’s kid.  Unfortunately, Davis also got buckets of weird and aseasonal weather with thunderstorms and a hurricane warning (an actual hurricane warning!), and aforementioned kid made the same decision as I have many times this season and chose not to ride any time the rain and wind got louder than her phone.  Murray appreciated it, and I totally understand.

remember when I did this in january and thought it was a good idea?
NEVER AGAIN

Murray was a ball of filth when I got to him.  Earlier my barn manager had sent me a video of him poking his tail through the bars of his stall and scratching his dock and butt crack on there, so the boy must have had an absolutely wild itch.  In fact, the whole of his body was probably one big itch because he has bug bites seemingly all over, and several scrapes from where he’s clearly tried to scratch too vigorously.  This amounted to a nice, fist-sized edema/bite on his belly, and a raw and slightly bloody patch on his sheath.  Yes, his sheath.  Pony somehow scratched himself so hard he bloodied his own dongle.

I curried him ferociously, channeling a bit of L and my former self in terms of grooming habits, and was very happy to see his hair coming out in brush-fuls.  Even the hair I clipped is also coming out, and with a fair bit of skin gunk and dust I also managed to dislodge a lot of that short hair.  There is a summer coat coming in underneath, it’s just not terribly long or strong just yet.  While currying I found all kinds of lumps and bumps on him associated with bug bites, nicking himself in turnout, or just general stupidity I think?  He had a big scrape across the point of his hip where the hair is now gone, and through his front legs and in his armpits he’s got dandruff like woah.  For a moment I even thought that the kid had given him spur rubs because the hair at Murray’s girth area is falling out in tufts, but I think it’s just a yucky humidity-associated skin bug.  I’m going to try to bathe him in tea-tree oil shampoo this week to see if that will help, but if nothing else the drop in humidity should dry out the skin gunk.

I miss shiny summer ponies

Murray’s feet were also a touch thrushy, for the second time I’ve ever seen in four years. I scraped them out and put some Sore No More “The Sauce” in them after my ride, and expect it won’t go any further than that.  And in doing so I found a whole host of little nicks and cuts on his lower legs from … whatever it is he’s been doing.

Then we lunged. And Murray was like “did you not hear? I don’t canter any more.”  He’d shake his head around and flail and tranter a bit and then fall back into the trot.  He cantered once when he spooked but not for more than half a circle.

The horse was the definition of a hot mess.  I could do nothing but roll my eyes at him.

He was surprisingly reasonable under saddle.  There were a few pony club kicks when he didn’t feel like trotting at first.  And I had to get a little rude when he thought that sticking his neck to the right and twisting his head left was a good way to trick me into thinking he was moving into the contact.  I felt really centered and quiet through my lower body, and Murray eventually gave up his charade, so I kept it short and sweet.

can we have summer again PLEASE?!

previously on “nicole rides a horse”

It’s wet in Northern California right now. Like really, really wet.  And it’s not so much a problem that we’re getting rain, it’s that we’re completely ill equipped to handle all the rain we are getting.  And even when you have a covered arena, if the roof starts leaking and the rain is coming in the one open side, and the whole structure creaks and groans in the gale-force winds, riding is not terribly appealing.

2-20-dressage-02murray doesn’t like the idea either

With nothing important in the forseeable future and having already missed all the potential prep time for the Hawley clinic (that may yet be cancelled), skipping another ride seems like it will hardly speed the slow slide of our skills into oblivion.  But I decided last week that I needed to get off my butt and ride some more, and probably to set some proper show or clinic goals for the coming months to help me get there.  So I dragged boyfriend out to the barn with me to keep me company, call 911 if needed, and act as a vital videography service for my first ride in my new saddle.  (Ah yes, the saddle is now mine. My check book pleads for mercy.)

Murray was a total spaz to start out with, and kicked off his lunge rather literally with a side-kick that was got far too close to my face to be acceptable.  Murray repeatedly spooked at boyfriend sitting on a chair in the corner, despite the fact the two of them spent five minutes walking around together (“he has dumdum teenage brain, and he can’t poop and walk” was the report) while I looked for my side reins.  When I finally got on we had some major stickiness issues to the right, though interestingly not in our usual spot — the side entrance gate — but on the opposite side of the arena.  So we circled and circled until Murray remembered that he can, in fact, walk forward AND bend on a 15 meter circle, and that his only options aren’t actually sideways or bust.

2-20-dressage-03

The trot work got better and better as we went on.  Murray was pretty uninspired by the idea of moving forward at first, but since all I wanted was for him to move forward and into the contact it was easy for me to focus.  I nagged too much with my leg to start with because I was babying him about the whip (especially obvious in the video).  I should have employed a few more tactics to get him really moving into the contact instead of faking it, but didn’t really think of them at the time.  I was mostly thinking about forward, which isn’t the worst thing for us to practice.  We did struggle a bit with straightness and drifting out through Murray’s shoulders.  It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but I will definitely need to get back to regularly incorporating JM’s straightness exercises into our rides.

Murray’s best trot work always comes right after we canter.  I’ll get a few strides of big, uphill, trot that is frequently pretty balanced.  I need to work on capturing and replicating that feeling when we’re not coming down from the canter, and probably extending the number of strides of that quality trot we can get after a down transition.  How to do this is an interesting question, though.

2-20-dressage-04

The canter work was good.  Like, a little surprisingly good.  There were plenty of icky moments, but enough good ones that it wasn’t hard to cherry-pick a quality screen shot from them.  Murray was balanced in both directions, relatively uphill, and fairly willing to get round.  Not perfect, by any means, but I didn’t feel stuck between “head in the air” or “head down and totally on the forehand croup in the air”.  To the right I just schooled canter transitions, trying to get Murray to respond crisply from a forward trot.  I felt like I had it under saddle, but reviewing the video the transitions are a mess — Murray was clearly anticipating what I wanted and fell apart in the trot before popping up into the canter right as I asked a few times.  Definitely not what I wanted.  So it’s back to the drawing board on that one.  To the left I tried to work on a quality-of-gaits exercise Megan introduced me to, but video (and reflection upon the actual ride) showed absolutely no effect.  I assume I left out the essential step of “add leg” before trying to lift the up-swing of the canter more.

It was good work for our first day back after a week of rain-and-shoe-induced delays.  Boyfriend absolutely fucking won the day though, because when I recapped my video it was filled with all manner of incredible little narrative comments.  Probably his best came before and after pauses in filming, where he offered me some In A World style recaps on what was to come/had just occurred.  I will be laughing about these for DAYS.

In a world…. where boyfriends narrate dressage rides. #inaworld #horsehubby #previouslyonnicoleridesahorse

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