camelot: dressage day

Friday morning dawned drizzly and awful at Camelot.  I’d opted to stable Murray in the pipe panels (12×24) there instead of a stall (12×12), because a) we’ve done that a lot and he’s always fine and b) he literally tried to dig his way out of his stall at Twin.  I was regretting that decision while sitting in my car and simultaneously listening to the rain hammering on my roof and looking at my weather app telling me there was a 0% chance of rain in Oroville.

a 0% chance of rain, huh?

The yellow cell passed us fairly quickly though, and other than being wet, Murray was fine.  The rain also provided me with an excellent excuse not to put terribly much effort into cleaning him.  It also made braiding easier, since his mane was pre-soaked!  While braiding Murray’s forelock I discovered a huge scab at his poll, which did make forelock braiding a little challenging, but I didn’t let Murray get away with being an ass (hanging off of his forelock with one hand) and he eventually snuggled in to my chest and let me gently finish the braid.

After braiding I watched Alyssa and Bacon and a few other of the training riders.  Alyssa put in a lovely test.  Everyone was conservative on the lengthenings because the arena was sloppy from the rain.  Watching a few more tests, I realised that people were riding Training B.  And then I was like “oh shit.”  I texted a friend, and she confirmed for me that yes, we were in fact riding BN-B.  I scurried off to learn my test.

Murray tacked up quietly, and I had given myself enough time to change, do ground work, and lunge before heading in to warm up.  This was a good call, since Murray had plenty of opinions on the lunge line, but settled down fairly quickly.  From the lunging arena to the warm up the footing had a pretty drastic change, and Murray let me know his displeasure.  He settled in to warm up nicely though, and even after a few walk  breaks went back to work without a problem.

feat Alyssa!

We were running early, so I headed in to the ring early.  The footing changed again from warm up to the ring, and Murray immediately tensed up as we walked around the ring.  Extra warm up time wouldn’t have helped us, but a bit more space to circle at the bottom of the arena and a few minutes to do it in would have been nice.  Alas, it was not to be.  We trotted down centerline, and Murray decided that he wasn’t really down with the situation, so broke into a canter.  I asked him to trot again, and he was like “maybe just canter tinier? Tiny, tiny canter?”  We did eventually trot, but then I added insult to injury by having him turn right at C instead of left, and his annoyance with me mounted.

that neck, tho!

Despite having never practiced this test all the way through, Murray was great!  He got annoyed a few times and hopped or spazzed out when something unexpected came up, but for the most part he was incredibly rideable and listened to me.  We had plenty of Murray moments sprinkled throughout, like whenever I put my leg on or changed gait.  But his protests were brief and he got back to work very quickly after each one.  The best protest was after the stupid short free walk — which I thought would be easier because there is less time to get distracted, but it is harder because there’s less time to develop stretch and march!!!! — when I asked Murray to pick up the trot.  He squealed, leaped in the air, and then we trotted down centerline minus my left stirrup.

murray: flying change between A and K!
nicole: that is not a movement!!!!

The judge had been generous all morning, and I (kinda for the first time!!) felt like she was equally generous to me.  For movements where we pulled it together quickly, she scored us for the better work we had done.  The score sheet ended up with a mix of 7s/6s and 3s/4s, so we were either solidly above average or super inadequate.  I ended up with a 42, and honestly probably deserved more like a 46 — easier to acknowledge when given the more generous of the two scores, though.  This was about on par with how generous the judge was being to other riders in my division.  It also put me solidly in last place.

new favourite test comment: “not today!”

Megan and Kate had come up on their way to Horse Expo to watch me and Alyssa, and we all got a good laugh out of Murray’s display of great talent.  (I think one of them may even have gotten some good pics of Murray’s objections!) He clearly knew he had a blogging audience and had to put on his best behavior for them!! But honestly, how could I be annoyed at him for this?  He did everything I asked, he just did it with flair.  And while I’d love to have the type of horse who trots over all different footing without batting an eye, he isn’t that horse.  There’s no point wishing for something that doesn’t exist.  In the end, I’m very happy that we stayed in the ring (there’s a canter transition after a diagonal where I was legitimately worried we’d bolt out over the arena PVC) and that I kept riding.


We have been on such a roll lately — every outing we take, he becomes more rideable and relaxed, and I get better at thinking and riding to ask for better performance.  We still have a lot of work to do — Murray is still tense through the base of his neck and not totally through — but all of that work feels achievable and within reach.  This pony has come a long way from the one who couldn’t even canter in the arena because he was so tense.  And I’ve come a long way from the rider who melted down because she couldn’t get her pony to canter in the arena because she was so tense.  Seriously, it made me so happy.  So, so happy.

i loaf my pony!!!!!

ucd schooling dressage show

Because Peony is an enabler, a few weeks ago she encouraged me to sign up for a schooling show at Davis with the tantalizing offer of being my ride.  Why not? I thought.  Murray and I need the practice, and it will be fun to see how we stand up to pure dressage judging!  I’m pretty sure I still remember T3 and 1-1 from that November that I had to scratch this same show, right?

Wrong, Nicole, wrong. You do not remember T3 and 1-1 except for the first few moves, minus the halt at X.  You do not have time to practice, and seeing how you stand up to pure dressage judging is really not necessary for an eventer!

we r so magnificentz

The night before the show, Murray got some kind of weird scratch on his back that went just under the saddle region.  Perfect!  I thought.  This is a great excuse to scratch!!  But my barn manager ruined all my plans by inspecting the scrape, poking Murray rather violently, and telling me to ride.  So ride I did.

On Saturday morning, Peony’s husband kindly picked me up bright and early (second theme of the weekend: horse husbands being awesome), and Murray politely loaded directly into the trailer.  We picked up Peony, Spot loaded like a champ, and we were on our way.  I will admit, it’s very nice to have a show venue just 20 minutes down the road with the trailer, albeit a show that is frequently a little poorly organized (this year was no exception, but they were very flexible and accommodating, which more than made up for it).

When we got to UCD, we checked in and unloaded the ponies.  Murray and I went for a little graze and groundwork stroll while Peony got Spot ready for her T1 and T2 tests.  I didn’t ask Murray to do too many of our groundwork exercises, but did ask him to stop and go and back a few times, with plenty of cookies as a reward.  I set him up at the trailer with our new blocker tie ring and a hay bag full of alfalfa.  Yep.  Alfalfa.  I gave my pony a forbidden food to shut him up at the trailer.  I regret nothing (because I haven’t ridden since that day).

“5.5 – stretch never achieved” (that is accurate)

It was around this time that one of the organizers came up to me and pointed out a grievous (her word! but accurate) error she had made.  In scheduling the times, she had scheduled one ride at 10:24 and the following ride at 11:30. So really, I could go an hour earlier than my ride time — as early as 10:39 — if I wanted!  I looked at my watch. 10:10.  There was no universe in which Murray and I were ready to go at 10:39.  Fortunately, the organizers were very flexible and worked hard to make the ride times run smoothly for everyone.

After Peony’s rides, I headed over to Murray and quickly threw on a saddle.  He had pulled all the way to the end of the leadrope at the trailer, but thanks to the blocker ring was just wandering around on an extremely long leash.  Mostly it seemed like he was trying to reach the water bucket that Peony and I had put down for Spot.  Tacking up went really well.  Andy and Peony both commented on how mellow and relaxed Murray looked compared to previous outings at UCD (and elsewhere).  He really was just chilling.

“6.0, some lengthening shown”

We popped into one of the small turnouts and lunged both ways with no dramatics.  Murray just… walked, trotted, and cantered with no dramatics or theatrics.  So I walked him over to the warm up by the ring, and chatted with the organizers about my rides.  I was ahead of time, so I rode ahead of time and they said I could go in for my T3 test and immediately follow it up with the 1-1 test.  Super!  That was the best possible outcome!

As we warmed up I tried to keep a few things that I’ve been working on in mind.  I didn’t give up on my position or the reins — no giving it away just because someone doesn’t want contact.  Same thing for trot and canter cues: I know how to ask Murray for them correctly, and he knows what they mean, so there’s no reason to back off just because I don’t get what I want immediately.  And Murray respected that.  There was a moment when I felt his back back get a little tight in the canter, so I just stood up in my stirrups and let him canter around on a loose rein.

he’s looking thin here which really annoys me. our barn had to switch hay types, so Murray’s on a self-imposed starvation diet again. such a freaking diva.

Our T3 test went smoothly.  Really, both tests went smoothly.  The extra time you have to ask for canter departs between A and F (instead of at A, for example) really let me prepare and ask correctly and not give up the cue just because Murray didn’t step into the canter immediately.  But we went in, he put his head down, and did the thing! It was so cool!

After the test, the judge commented that Murray was tense in the canter and he needed more suppleness there.  Our cadence and steadiness was evident, but the suppleness was not.  She suggested a bit more hip and seat to get him bending.  That was fine by  me!  The 1-1 test has more bending than the T3 one does, so I made that my goal to improve upon for the next test.

case in point: tense and somewhat horrifyingly upside-down canter.
this got a “6,5 – bold effort” for the lengthening though

Doing the two tests back to back was HUGELY beneficial to us.  Because Murray never thought we were done working, he just stayed on task.  And because I got the feedback on my riding without a big gap, I could incorporate it immediately.  I was especially please that Murray didn’t break to canter in either of the trot lengthenings, and that he was so good at coming back after the canter lengthenings.

I was incredibly happy with both of the tests even before I saw the scores.  I’d gone in expecting to score in the 50s (I like to set my sights low to avoid disappointment) an work through some weird dramatics.  That was the whole point of going to a schooling show, to get the drama llama out of the way and into work mode.  And instead, Murray turned up worked with me!

he fucking dropped the mic on 3 of our 4 halts too — this one got an 8

I got a sweet flow chart drawn on the comments section of my test (it makes a lot of sense, actually) and came home with 2nd and 3rd in 1-1 and T3 respectively!  This has obviously got me pretty jazzed for Camelot this weekend.  If Murray and I can keep it together half as well at Camelot as we did at UCD, we will be in GREAT shape!

click (individually) to embiggen

click to embiggen

diy: paint it black

Last year — nay, nearly 18 months ago! — Amanda posted about re-dying her Childeric black, and I became strangely obsessed with the idea.  I even offered to pull it off on my trainer’s lesson dressage saddle, which is looking rather greeny-browner than black after many, many, many sweaty lesson butts have graced it.  I never got around to the project for my trainer, but once I got my Anky I knew that I would be embarking upon this particular DIY.  I followed Amanda’s excellent instructions pretty closely, but encountered enough little issues that I thought it worth another write up.

Image result for rolling rock

First, gather your adult beverage.

I have been informed that no DIY project that starts without an adult beverage is worth embarking upon.  I chose a beverage with a horse on the logo.




Second, gather your non-drinkable supplies.

You will need:

A couple of notes on supplies. You can’t ship deglazer to California, so I had to look around for an alternate stripping agent.  A quick search on some leather work forums and a look at the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Fiebing’s deglazer, and it’s mostly ethyl acetate with some ethyl alcohol.  However, the good peoples of the internet seemed to think that denatured alcohol would do just fine, and to move up to ethyl acetate only if the finish was particularly resistant.

Amanda also used foam brushes for a few parts of the application, and I used them for a few steps also, but found that they weren’t really the best tool for the job.  Microfiber cloths worked much better, but the ones I ordered from Amazon had to be cut down to a more manageable size.

Step three, deglaze.

My saddle was not in the worst, greenest state, but it was fairly faded and had one noticeably funny spot on the seat.  Based on the location, I can only assume that the previous owner of my saddle leaned back rather far in the tack and the center belt loop on her breeches made this spot.  More importantly, however, I’m sure that any and all finish that had ever graced its leather was also gone.  I rubbed and rubbed with the denatured alcohol on a rag, but didn’t see very much change.  But I went for it on all parts of the saddle to make sure that the dye would soak in well.

When using deglazer or ethyl acetate DO use gloves and work in a well ventilated area. This stuff is not good for you and can make its way into your liver through your skin or lungs.

After this step and slopping ethyl alcohol all over my saddle, I let it sit out overnight to evaporate all the spare alcohol and go finish off that case of horse-themed beverage.

Step the fourth: paint it black.

The next day, you should start your saddle dying playlist.

after two coats of dye

The leather dye came with a little brush applicator which worked really nicely to get dye into all the nooks and crannies. It also worked pretty well to get dye on the bigger areas, but in this step I also used a foam brush to get the dye on.  Amanda recommended three thin coats, which she evened out by rubbing the dye in with a rag after putting dye on to one section.  I was not that competent at making only “thin coats” with the dye, but fortunately, I found that unless you had majorly uneven sections with huge differences in the amount of dye applied, it pretty much evened out as it dried.

This part was a little challenging since I had to do the underside of the panels, which required a little creative wrangling while I painted and rubbed it down.  I left the saddle upside down to dry for a little while and imbibed some more.

For the rest of the saddle, I moved back and forth between different sections to let one area dry before applying the next coat.  My saddle soaked up a fair bit of dye, and after two coats everywhere looked good to me except for panels and knee rolls.  I ended up ordering two more bottles of dye, because I offered to do my MIL’s old Kieffer at the same time.  Since both panels are dual flap, there is like 2x the surface area of a monoflap to get covered so… this makes sense.  The bottles are so cheap that it wasn’t exactly a hardship to crack open a second bottle.

panels and knee rolls after the second coat

You should also know that the dye is super, super thin — thinner than water — and will flick all over your face if you sweep a brush toward yourself.  You may need to take off a layer of skin to get the dye off your face before the pizza party.

You can also see in the pictures that I painted over the logo buttons. I didn’t intend to, but I accidentally did it on one side and just didn’t care about the other. I do plan to pull this extra dye off, probably using a q-tip and some nail polish remover.  The D-rings and stainless buttons on the saddle wiped completely clean without problem.

Step five: Tan-kote.

I let the dye dry for a full 24 hours, then gently buffed the saddle with a microfiber cloth before applying the tan-kote.  This step was stupidly easy: pour a little tan-kote (the consistency of Elmer’s glue) onto a microfiber rag, and apply to saddle all over.  You can see the leather soaking up the tan-kote and getting a healthy-looking luster to it as you go.  I’m definitely not known for my less-is-more philosophy, and used a fair bit of tan-kote in this step.

When I buffed the saddle dry almost no dye was coming off of it, but as I applied the tan-kote there was plenty of dye coming out on the rag.  I let the tan-kote dry overnight before moving on to the resolene.

Sixth: Seal and finish.

Resolene is a sealant and finisher, and Amanda recommended that you apply it in full sunlight.  Warning: do not apply this in full sunlight on an 80+ degree day.  The resolene was drying so fast on the saddle that I couldn’t rub out any of the uneven spots.  This was also a step where the foam brushes were useless: they left streaky marks of finish and weird bubbles on the panels and seat especially.

Six-point-five-th: redo steps 1-5 where you borked it the first time

I actually did such a poor job with the resolene that I ended up stripping the seat and starting over.  I suspect that because the seat is so smooth and flat you can see any imperfections in the finish much more clearly (though ultimately, they’ll spend most of their time under my ass soooo maybe it was unnecessary).  But really… it looked absolutely awful.

I had to work a fair bit harder with the ethyl alcohol to strip the resolene off of the seat, and really scrub it on there, but it did come out eventually.  I let it dry, slapped on some more dye and then tan-kote, and went back to sealing the rest of the saddle.

The best way I found to apply the resolene was to pour a small amount onto a small rag (I cut my Amazon microfiber cloths into quarters).  I had folded the rag into a sponge-like shape so the application surface was smooth.  Then I rubbed that resolene across the saddle in one direction.  After moving indoors, I just did this in really good lighting, and for the knee rolls and flaps it was fine.  For the seat, I worked carefully outdoors in the shade one morning.

It is also really essential to let the layers of resolene dry properly between applications.  When the resolene was partially dried, I ended up smudging it around with the next layer (leading to the above snafu).  I’d give it at least an hour between layers, and if you’re doing this as a summer project, avoid doing it in the heat of the day.  I’m not really sure, but it seemed like the resolene dried out enough to get tacky really fast, but didn’t really “set” in the heat.   I ended up doing 3 layers on the seat, knee rolls, and tops of the flaps, 2 layers on the inside of the flaps, and 3 on the panels and underside of the flaps.

At left, my freshly dyed and sealed seat done much more carefully. The funny belt loop smudge is almost gone, and you can’t see it out of really good light.

Once again, you could probably go easier on the resolene than I did.  It gives the leather a great, shiny finish — the back of my saddle almost looks patent now — but it also makes the leather a little stiff and squeaky.

Seventh: finishing touches.

I didn’t even buff the saddle again or apply lederbalsam before riding, because I have a dressage show on Saturday that I really, really needed to practice my test at least once for.  The seat now has a little smudge in it from the buffing action of my butt, and the resolene around the leathers and where my leg goes has worn off already.  Honestly, this didn’t surprise me.  I wouldn’t (and won’t) re-seal those parts of the flaps in the future.  There was also a fair bit of color transfer from the underside of the saddle on to my saddle pad, just around the bottom and edges of the flaps — I chose an old pad for this ride for that exact purpose.

Overall, I definitely did not do as good of a job as Amanda.  The project required some time, planning, and thought, and wasn’t just a straight up weekend project for me (but it might be for you if you drink fewer horse beers).  My saddle was out of commission for five days, including fixing my resolene mess up.  However, considering that my saddle looks AMAZING now that it’s done, it was completely worth it.

10/10, will definitely do this again. If only I can find something else to dye…



creeping uphill

Another big life event, another week off of work for Murray.  It’s our pattern, but he doesn’t seem to hate it. That week was actually punctuated with a few days of riding as I evaluate the trial saddle, but none of them were particularly strenuous.  We come back from each mini break pretty quickly, and I’ve been very pleased with the progress made in between mini breaks.  Maybe this really is just a schedule that works for certain princess ponies?  Or maybe our new routine of ground work + lunging –> riding is really working for us.

being cute at Twin

We spent most of last week trying to rebalance Murray from totally on the forehand and dragging himself around, to some semblance of moving uphill.  On Monday I felt like we were cantering downhill during our warmup, and that I could slide off of Murray’s neck at any moment.  It was supremely unpleasant, not only because I know that’s not how we’re supposed to go, but because it’s really just rather uncomfortable.  Murray wasn’t terribly responsive to my half halts, so I took a moment to re-assess and figure out how to attack the problem without picking a fight.

our video from Twin is mostly sass punctuated by cute moments
presently pictured: sass, in case you couldn’t tell

I tried to sit up and use my core, instead of tipping forward into Murray’s downhill-ness, and started to incorporate the lateral work back in to our routine.  I’ve generally avoided lateral work since December, since Murray and I both use it as such an out: he is more than happy to go sideways if he doesn’t want to work, and when I get bored/stupid I start to think “porque no los leg yields?” instead of “let’s really shore up your shitty connection, Nicole”.

murray goes hrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

And slowly but surely, throughout the week, Murray’s balance started to come up.  He still wanted to lean on my hand and PLOW down any straight line we did, especially when they were off the wall (uh… will have to fix that before we show FOR SURE).  But I found that if I moderated his pace a little more with my seat and core — which I am finally figuring out how to use — that we could maintain a little bit more uphill balance.  There is still a lot of work to be done there, but straight lines are hard.  (Though, I’ve just realised that is exactly what JM was focusing on with me, so I could probably bring some of the straightness/slight counter flexion exercises to those off-the-wall-straight-lines and potentially achieve the same results. Food for thought.)

smile for the camera!

We also had a jump lesson where Murray was a super freaking rockstar mashing around a grid and some bigger (for our recent exploits) fences on a much bigger and more forward step.  It felt amazing.  It wasn’t the same as the pookums usually feels — there was less of that launch off the ground that sometimes accompanies bigger fences —  but great nonetheless.  And there were only two hiccups, both attributed to me riding an awful, very angled line to an airy oxer that Murray just couldn’t seem to see as a jump.  I discovered two new things in that lesson: one, my new phone’s camera is bullshit at taking videos indoors (I mean, thanks a lot you freaking potato), and two, Murray goes around pretty upside-down on that more forward step.

RBF made a very important point, which is that the big, forward step and jump is new to both Murray and I, and we’re still figuring it out.  Obviously we weren’t going to figure it out in perfect balance or make it look pretty the first time around.  She encouraged me to be patient while we get strong on this new step.  Man, RBFs.  They are so good to have around.

we’ve seen this before, but it’s soooo worth posting in HD

A big piece of the puzzle is helping Murray to understand how to use his neck while it is in a different position on his body.  Right now, he feels like/seems/is convinced that he only has access to his neck muscles (and back muscles) when his neck is pretty low — head below withers.  Actually, that’s not true.  He is convinced that he can only use his neck the way I want him to use it when his neck is very low.  He is happy to use his neck when it’s lifted a little higher — as long as he gets to use his underneck.  Which is, of course, the great secret of all dressage: MOAR UNDERNECK.

murray rejects this corner. this message brought to you by the letter H.

So my big goal has been taking that underneck access away from Murray in both sets of tack — yup, even on conditioning rides.  Add in to that the continued insistence on some kind of communication-connection through the reins (even in the stretchy trot), sitting up and using my core, keeping my aids simple and consistent, and turning my god forsaken toes in (he really has abandoned my lower leg), and it feels like I’m juggling a lot of balls to put together some okay-ish work right now.  But we really are making steps in the right direction (I think), and it’s not nearly as hard as it would have been for me to work on even 2 of those things simultaneously two months ago.

We’re getting there.  Slowly but surely.  Creeping uphill.  The only way we know how.

Anyone else feeling their progress creeping along in the good way lately?

bringing bending back

Our dressage trainer/chiro/all around miracle worker Tina came to the barn last week, which was perfect timing for us.  Coming out of Twin I knew I wanted her insight to improve our relaxation and steadiness, but I also wanted to pick her DVM brain about Murray’s physical health and what I might want to focus on to keep him physically healthy too.  I’m not trying to look for trouble, but if there are medical interventions that will keep the horse happy and healthy and extend his competitive life (and thereby his ability to cart me around XC while I’m still in panic mode), I can probably stand to shell out for it.

We started with a quick body check — nothing stood out to Tina as needing adjustment, so away we went for our lesson.  Tina and I briefly discussed Twin and the hangups we had in dressage there — building tension to canter transitions, lack of steadiness and relaxation in general, very stiff behind — and we got to work.  Murray has been way better in our walk work lately, but we walked for just a touch too long before picking up a trot and he started to get slower and stickier and slower and stickier.  Tina immediately caught me nagging with my seat (again. she catches me EVERY LESSON even though I swear I practice not nagging between our lessons), and when Murray offered up fussiness in the bridle instead of a steady connection she had me put him into a shoulder-in right away.

Murray has always been happy to escape from work laterally, mostly by swinging his haunches away from whatever ails him.  So I have been trying to ride him really straight, so that escaping sideways is less of an option, and energy transfer from his hind end becomes a thing.  And it’s definitely been working, but there are times when it doesn’t work, and I’m not quick enough to catch Murray out before he can pull the reins out of my hands and pop up through his neck.  It’s been a while since I asked Murray for a shoulder in on purpose, and he was definitely a bit reluctant to bend and step under his own body, but it did get him to stop fussing and get to work.

It was a similar story in the trot.  We were steadier, for sure, but we didn’t have a great connection and Murray was avoiding the contact by setting his neck in one position.  Tina had us slide into a shoulder in down the long side as we came around the circle, and then straighten out along the next long side.  The long sides definitely got Murray movin forward with more energy, but he was also fairly downhill, so the key here was to slow down the tempo (but try to keep some of the ground cover) to increase the activity behind.  Which, it turns out, is really, really hard for us on a straight line.  Too easy to just plow downhill and into the ground.

When Murray tried to use our renewed lateral work against me by sliding laterally around the circle instead of bending and tracking forward, Tina had me catch him with the outside rein.  If a little more connection to that outside rein didn’t work, I was to counter bend him until he couldn’t spin his haunches out from my inside leg, and then resume the inside bend when we were straight again.  I really only needed this move in its entirety twice (but then again, we did move on to other activities fairly quickly).

Our canter transitions were a little inverted, though fairly reasonable.  Tina noted that Murray was using his neck to get himself through the transition, which he doesn’t really do on the lunge line in side reins, so had me plant my inside fist on the saddle so that Murray couldn’t pop his neck up to use it through the transition.  It’s an old move of ours, but I’d mostly phased it out in an attempt to avoid being so reliant on the inside rein and increase Murray’s evenness through both reins.  Fortunately, I only needed it for a moment through the transition, and then could get Murray back fairly evenly between both reins.  All of the canter transitions were pretty good, Tina was like “I don’t see what the problem is!” and really, neither did I.

But honestly, I can’t blame Murray for being tense at Twin.  The warmup was a madhouse, I didn’t get to our full pre-flight routine (tack up, ground work, lunge in side reins, get on and ride) because of time.  Tina agreed that with exposure and increased relaxation at home, one would expect that to go away.

The next step in the canter was to get Murray to take some bigger steps and use his body some more, so back came the shallow counter-canter loops and shoulder-in at the canter.  Murray really surprised me here: as soon as I asked for a little bend down the long side in the canter, all this energy came out of nowhere and his canter got huge and marginally uncontrollable.  Suddenly he was right there in my hands and really listening to what I had to ask him. His back was somewhat tense, but he wasn’t disobedient and the quality of his canter got better as we went.  The key was to really slow him down through the short sides, then keep half halting and asking for a slower step through the shoulder in and counter canter.  And even though we haven’t done it in ages, he didn’t try breaking once in the right counter canter.

yes we are sooooooooo good at trot poles

The best work, though, came after our next walk break.  We talked more about the best way to tackle Murray’s stiffness behind, and some ideas of what to do next (more on that later).  Tina said she wanted to see how he did over poles, so she set up five poles at about 4′ apart.  Murray and I do trot poles all the time, so we trotted in and he bumbled his way through them without much help from me — as we often do the first time.  So Tina brought the poles in a little more, to about 3’3″, and had us slow down to tackle them.  The next go through was still a bit messy, but the spacing was right and Murray didn’t hit any or scare himself.  She had us go even slower, and Murray really picked his feet up and even pushed a little from behind.  She pushed for an even slower tempo, and after several more repetitions Murray came around the corner quite slowly and as soon as he saw the poles started picking up his feet, bending his hocks, and pushing more from behind.

It was a lot to think about, and a great lesson in that it addressed a lot of questions and issues without overloading us.  Even though I have been given homework of things I already “know” how to do, the application of them is getting different results — and one would hope I can apply the techniques with a little more subtlety now.

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!)

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)

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