are we having fun yet?

California is casually on fire right now.¬† Everywhere.¬† But mostly in wine country, which is especially hard because it’s hilly, winding, rural, and full of livestock.¬† And also because it means wine will be at least a little harder to come by in the not-too-distant future.

Riding non-Murray horses has been interesting.¬† I’ll give any horse a couple of rides before making any sweeping judgments, but sometimes you get an idea of what a pony is all about in as little as one ride.¬† Sometimes as soon as you sit on them…

i had a ton of fun on this bay nugget during our very first ride together. a good omen.

But what is it about riding one horse or another that is fun?¬† Obviously riding my horse is fun because I know all the buttons and how to press them.¬† We’ve also gotten to a point where I understand exactly how much to push and how much to give, so we can start to work on a few steps of really quality work that just seems to get better with every ride.¬†¬†Obviously that is fun.

So what about with other horses?

Take the mama-mare I’ve been riding the last week or so as an example.¬† Our first ride together was… lackluster.¬† She fought me walking away from the arena gate (on foot and under saddle), and was magnetized to the barn-end of the arena like crazy.¬† The only place I could work in any semblance of a steady pace or shape was smack dab in the center of the arena.¬† I rode for like ten minutes.

the mom bod is strong with this one

A couple of weeks off and good fistful of rides later and this girl is my main squeeze at the barn.¬† She’s smart, sensitive in all the right ways, and learns really fast.¬† She also has a mean right drift, gets locked over one shoulder or the other really easily, and hasn’t quite figured out how to give to pressure instead of leaning in to it.¬† (Yeah, homegirl, you do have to move over when I put one leg and one rein on simultaneously.)

But it’s always fun riding her.¬† Even in the tough moments, when we can’t seem to walk in a straight line consistently, or my requests to get off my leg are met with weirdly strong mare abs.¬† Maybe it’s because it’s easy to see and feel her thinking and processing what we’re working on.¬† She also feels really honest and like she’s¬†trying, in the moment when she’s not being openly defiant.¬† She slows down to think when I ask her to, responds to my seat… really, just my kind of ride.

In contrast, a certain Barbie Dream Pony I’ve also been riding lately has not been quite as much fun.

Image result for haflingerbreed hint: it rhymes with pfefferlinger.

Interestingly, the BDP has the same mean right-shoulder drift and locking mechanism that the mama mare seems to have.¬† He is smart and food motivated, and he learns… well, not super fast, but he’s not a moron.¬† And I’ve ridden him fewer times than the mama mare, so maybe that is contributing to our lack of jelly.¬† He’s not mean spirited or dangerous in any way, but I kinda get the feeling that he’s not listening to me.¬† That he’s just phoning it in.

So maybe that’s the reason I don’t have as much fun with the BDP.¬† A big part of our rides consist of me trying to convince him to pay some attention to what I’m trying to tell him so that we can actually get something done.¬† I think we all know that it’s frustrating to be ignored.

Now that I write it out, I think there really is something to this.¬† That I have more fun on a horse who seems like they are listening.¬† Because the mama mare basically doesn’t canter for more than one big circle at a time right now, and she’s almost as much fun to ride as my own horse.¬† But the haffie, who is capable of executing all three gaits, is just… not that fun.¬† Riding my friends’ horses also can go either way in this regard — sometimes they just don’t know how to listen to me because they’re so in tune with their person and I’m NOT that person.¬† And sometimes you get really good instructions and they listen to you perfectly and it’s AMAZINGLY fun.

What about you?  What makes a fun ride for you guys?  Is it as intellectual and annoyance based as me?!

new baby horses, new lessons

Murray has been on post-injection stall rest for a few days, so I’ve been riding some of trainer B’s sales/training/baby horses for fun. ¬†I mean, it was also one of my summer “plans“. ¬†So ya know.

Ponyboy was actually real cute this weekend when I took him out for a handwalk. We walked all over the arena and back and forth over the scary, terrifying, horse-eating tarp. I unhooked the leadrope to let him roll, but Murray continued to just follow me around, including back and forth over the tarp!  Totally at liberty.  Like, please, horse: tug on my heart strings some more.

And man. ¬†It’s been a while since I’ve had really prolonged contact with really green/baby horses. ¬†I forgot about all the baby horse things. ¬†Like, walking literally on top of me when I ask them to step up toward the tacking up area. ¬†Or walking at a snail’s pace and literally making me¬†drag them in from the pasture. ¬†(WHY baby horse, WHY? I give you carrots in the barn?!)

But they are good teachers — almost always. ¬†You just have to listen.¬† Here are some of my recent lessons.

awwwwh look at da baby murray!

you catch more flies with honey

Baby horses don’t know things. Like, sometimes they don’t know¬†any of the things. And there’s only so much beating¬†dragging one can do of a horse who just doesn’t know what the hell is expected of him. ¬†I have some pretty strict expectations when it comes to ground manners in the horses I’m working with. ¬†I realized that this is SUPER LAUGHABLE, since my horse has something like the second worst ground manners on Earth. ¬†But in all honesty, when he’s in a non-stressful situation he knows how to behave around a human — even if he doesn’t¬†want to do it. ¬†The really green horses I’ve worked with have conveniently forgotten all of their racetrack manners — and I know they had them. ¬†I try my hardest not to let them get away with bad behavior (easy, because I seem to use up all of my patience and tolerance on my own horse), and frequently praise the good behavior verbally, as well as with pats and carrots.

auto-narration of my exploits

Because I’m nearly constantly praising or scolding the young horses, I find that I’m nearly constantly talking to them. I kinda like this auto-narration of my rides and ground work. ¬†Not only does it make me feel super important (hah), but it also keeps me thinking about what we’re doing, instead of letting me mindlessly slip into bad habits.

this track pic is so murray
photog: murray/ricothefreako, look at the camera, these are your sale pics!
murray/recothefreako: there’s a thing over there!!

my expecations are way higher now

I used to get on baby horses or other peoples’ horses and let them flop around on a loose rein and be like “wow, they are so cute!” ¬†And I still do that now… kinda. ¬†But then I pick up the reins and ask them for a little bit more. ¬†I don’t need¬†alot,¬†I just need them to put themselves together a little bit. ¬†This seems to be the part where most of the baby horses are like WOAH WHAT.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a horse to learn to start stretching laterally and longitudinally, using their back, and not falling through their shoulders. ¬†I mean, obviously not all at once. ¬†And not for long periods of time. ¬†But these are things that sport horses need to learn. ¬†And we can chip away at them one step at a time.

These days it drives me nuts when a horse responds to what I consider a relatively simple aid by doing the exact opposite (yield to the inside rein =/= stick out your jaw and lean on my hand). ¬†Or even not doing it at all. ¬†DON’T YOU KNOW I’M TRYING TO HELP YOU, BABY HORSES?!

It’s no longer acceptable to me to take no for an answer to these requests. ¬†I do my level best not to be mean about it, and to praise mightily (see above) when I get what I want. ¬†I even back off if the question I’m asking is too hard or incomprehensible. ¬†Every ride I’m putting on these horses is training them one way or the other, and I don’t want to train them that “no” is an okay response to a reasonable request.

the training scale

This thing is golden and was has lasted forever for a reason. ¬†If we’ve got nothing, I know where I need to start: rhythm. ¬†On the flip side, it makes me wonder how some of the older horses I’ve ridden have gotten away so long without this crucial skill…

baby horse goes jump jump

distance makes the heart grow fonder

Riding babies makes me think of nothing so much as how badly I just want my own horse back.  Murray know how to do all the things I want, just the way I want them, pretty much when I want them.  I love you and miss you Murray.  Feel 100% REAL QUICK plz.


more meltdown musings

I just cannot get over the alliterative potential.

To round out the week and make it absolutely all about Murray’s Monday Meltdown (MMM was a radio station in Adelaide when I was a child, but if I recall correctly it was nowhere near as cool as its competitor station, JJJ), I have some additional thoughts on the event brought on by discussions with some very thoughtful and kind friends/observers.

we get by with a little help from our friends

SB pointed out the C-rage has impeccable ground manners but just can’t tolerate one wash stall at their barn because of slippery footing. ¬†Our barn does not have the grippiest floors around, and Monday was cold and damp which always exacerbates the floor being slippery. ¬†Murray skittering around like a spider on ice supports this idea. ¬†But even more evidence lines up when I think about how tentatively he steps inside the barn, almost like he’s on tippy-toes, and how much more reasonable he can be when we are on grass, gravel, or sand. ¬†So maybe I need to separate the standing on unpleasant surfaces from the tacking up while I’m trying to get one or the other handled. ¬†I can tack up in his stall, or at a different spot in the barn, or even — imagine this! — in the arena where the footing his nice and grippy. ¬†There are things I can do to make this better for him.

Or maybe there are other factors about our barn (or being inside or barn) that are making Murray struggle with behavior there. ¬†I do not think Murray hates his living situation by any means — he loves going out for turnout and he loves coming back in, he naps inside his stall and out in his paddock, and loves playing with his friends. ¬†But there are things he does not love. ¬†Is this something I’m willing to change for him right now? ¬†Nope. ¬†I like where I’m at for many reasons, and there is no guarantee Mr. Sensitive will like anything else more than this. ¬†But we’ll circle back to this theory if/when I inevitably have to move (for work).


My barn manager asked me if I thought his magnesium was working. ¬†Murray has been on Animed Remission for more than six months at this point, and I have so far been very satisfied with it. ¬†But we did just open a new box. ¬†And if magnesium helps treat anxiety,¬†and Murray is particularly anxious at the moment for whatever reason — it’s cold, he isn’t getting turnout at this moment, I went on vacation and abandoned him for a month and he missed me¬†soooooooooooo much — it also stands to reason that he should be getting more magnesium. ¬†That’s an easy fix: doubled that.

And then there’s the thing that I actually don’t think anyone has suggested to me yet — or have you all? — saddle fit. ¬†I always assumed that Murray’s issues with tacking up didn’t have anything to do with saddle fit as they have been bad across a variety of saddles and for years and years and years and go waaaaaaaaay beyond just having a girth put on. ¬†For real. ¬†But I had a saddle fitter out and these words actually, literally,¬†left her mouth: “I see this type of behavior all the time with horses who have poor saddle fit.” ¬†Murray’s behavior has been better and worse in a variety of saddles, and I’ve never taken enough data on it to see real patterns. ¬†I’m looking for two new saddles (yes two, if you can believe it), and we’ll see if there are any changes/differences.

I hate your stupid ebay tack!

Proactive/reactive coping style — I went to a really interesting talk on Friday about coping styles in pigs and behavioral and physiological correlates of two different major coping styles. ¬†Sows that are proactive (run away from you, resist handling, approach novel objects) gain more weight and (in a few studies) have more surviving offspring than sows that are reactive (freeze during handling, reluctant to approach novel objects). ¬†Are there behavior/temperament/coping style differences between horses? ¬†You betcha. ¬†Do I know anything about them? ¬†Nope.

So that’s where I’m at. ¬†If I get it together to do so, maybe I’ll put something together about horse personality types for you all.

right hind, right hind, where art thou?

I have, it turns out, been pretty extremely bad about following my MIL’s generously given lesson and training advice for my horse since getting back from dressage camp.¬† Though in my defense, January was a wash of weird jumping shit, February I rode less and less as we approached March: Month of No Fun, and since April started I’ve been cramming for Camelot.¬† With no shows on the horizon for a few months, it’s time to get back to the everyday grind of improving myself and my horse in the long run, and that means it’s back to the MIL lunging system and some old riding goals (hello, sitting trot!).


The MIL lunging system is a lot like the Tina lunging system, demonstrated above as my horse fails over trot poles.¬† MIL added loose side reins on either side to encourage Murray to flex his poll and lower his neck, which he does beautifully.¬† The side reins never even have any tension on them, he’s just like “okay”.¬† I start with lunging both directions asking Murray to push from behind and letting him loosen his sacroiliac region with trot-canter-trot-canter transitions, as many as he can reasonably stand without giving me the evil eye.

Another MIL directive was to start strengthening both myself and Murray by sitting more trot, which I have dutifully been doing.¬† It turns out that your back is waaaay more connected with you sit the trot (who knew? definitely not all the greats or anything) and you can feel your horse’s body waaaay better.¬† It’s not perfect, but I can sit for just about a whole 20 meter circle, and Murray is giving me a place to sit, so that’s rather nice.¬† I’d like to think I’m approaching position four on the handy dandy Evolution of the Rider scale, but in reality I’m probably closer to a 3 still.


And then there’s that right hind.¬† I read through Megan’s pushing vs. carrying post a few times and I’m pretty sure Murray wants to neither push nor carry with that right hind. Quite frankly we could probably cut it off and get as good of results as we have now.¬† (Oh fine, we couldn’t, but only because Megan hasn’t invented leg transplants yet.)¬† But in reality, what I feel when I ask Murray to put his right hind under and bend through his ribcage is this slow whine of noooooooo

Thanks to sitting the trot, not only can I feel Murray get glued to the wall when we are trying to circle, but I can feel him trail his haunches to the inside, then fishtail them wide when I finally kick him around so that he’s never truly bent on a circle, just traveling in some level of straight-ish leg yield-y thing.¬† I got pretty cheesed about it in our last right, as not only was this no-right-bend bullshit happening, but it was accompanied by Murray trying to evade the left rein totally by flexing his neck to the left as I tried to keep a steady contact and push him around the circle with his shoulder.¬† So down to the walk we went, and I focused on getting Murray to walk in a 15 meter circle with bend the whole way through, haunches tracking up in the line of his shoulders, without any fishtailing or booty tooching, all while I had a soft and steady contact on the left rein.¬† I had to add in some gentle and not-so-gentle reminders to bend to the right, both with some steady leg pressure and a couple of big old thumps (leg is sacred, after all!).¬† But in the end we really did get the whole inside rein-outside leg = bend thing, and then I could start pushing him to fill the outside rein.

febdressage13Hmm ok maybe the right leg wants to carry.

I directly asked Tina how she approaches the weaker side of a horse the last time I saw her, and she said more reps with more breaks.¬† So I took the time to give Murray a walk break after some good 15 meter circles right, and then switched to some first position and shoulder in, with big circles in the middle of the long side, and let me get the bend back (usually with another smaller circle).¬† I’ve been ultra-sensitive to Murray’s neck position in our shoulder-in and lateral work, as I tend to have too much neck bend and not enough body bend.¬† Unfortunately, it’s making me kinda fussy on the lateral work so it’s getting less steady.¬† But I think we’ve almost figured out how to have just a leeeeetle bend in the body without a looooot of bend in the neck, so hopefully we will be able to renew the steadiness soon.

Murray’s unwillingness to “push” with his right hind is also very evident when we do both trot poles and canter poles — if we hit a funny stride to them Murray will jam or stretch a stride so that his LH is the one that has to work hard.¬† If we hit a funny stride at the canter when tracking right Murray will always break to trot, I really have to boot him through to get him to push from behind and actually make the strides.¬† And we drift more. ¬† And it’s even¬†more evident in the right counter canter, where he is more inclined to switch in front but not behind (okay thank sa lot, weirdo). I would really, really like him to even out and strengthen up a bit more, so that he feels more confident on both leads.

feb dressage canter 2So the plan is moar strength.¬† I’m down with that.¬† For me, this means more poles (ALL THE POLES, but actually not too many because they can be more tiring than you think, per Hawley), and a little bit more lateral work on both straight lines and circles.¬† I am trying not to enforce the haunches-in too much at the moment, as Murray has been using this particular power against me recently.¬† Somehow, I’m not such a fan of that.¬† But that doesn’t mean we can’t do plenty of shoulders in and leg yields, and I’m going to bring the diagonal leg yield (head into the wall) back into rotation so that we can enforce the aids for the half pass again.

What are your favourite exercises for strengthening a hind leg’s ability to carry and push?¬† If you say “hills” I will slap you.¬† There are no hills, I live in a valley that is 300 miles wide and flat and hills are not an easy possibility.¬† But I’m willing to put my legs and hands all over the baby horse to get him fitter and stronger! So have at it — give me your exercises!!!

IMG_20150125_122711Shut up these hills are far away and I can’t drive that behemoth trailer.

why I hate speed as an evasion

All horses have ways of evading work they aren’t feeling up to / aren’t comfortable with / don’t want to do / don’t think they can do.¬† Murray’s evasions can be pretty dramatic, but when he’s not being a dingbat he’s firmly in the camp of “I can’t do this, let me slow down, this is hard, can’t trot, no not possible, not forward, too hard, slower.”¬† And this type of evasion I know how to deal with.¬† The other really common evasion is SPEED.

how about no, Scott

I hate when horses use speed as an evasion.¬† It makes me absolutely crazy.¬† It fills me with irrational rage.¬† I’m sure there are other people who like it a lot less when horses use slow-ness as an evasion, but in my opinion speed as an evasion is way worse.

First of all, rushing means not using your body.¬† You can see this from and ground, and you can feel it in the saddle.¬† It’s like when you’re carrying a really heavy bucket or piece of furniture, and you know you’re struggling, so you shuffle your feet really fast and juuuuuuuuust make it to your destination in time.¬† But you’re not really working your muscles, you’re just relying on your joints and tendons, or something like that.¬† It’s the same when a horse just BULLS through on the lunge line or when you ask them to do a leg yield.¬† Oh, you want me to stretch down and trot? No, that’s impossible, I’m just going to trot really fast to convince you I shouldn’t have to do this.¬† Then you have to expend effort slowing your horse down before you can then teach them to do the thing you were trying to teach them in the first place.

zenn(Look at this unrelated gif of a cute gray horse being adorable.  You may have heard of him.  More on him later.)

Which brings me to my next point.¬† You don’t learn things better by doing them really fast.¬† You just don’t.¬† Let’s say you’re trying to teach your horse to stretch down.¬† Instead, Mr. Horse says “no thanks, I’d rather JUST RUN AROUND REALLY FAST”.¬† That’s great, except that the point of the exercise is to access your back and supple those muscles.¬† Slow repetition relaxes muscles.¬† Rushing and tension do not supple muscles.¬† In fact, rushing and tension are the opposite of the tenets of dressage so that is another reason rushing annoys me (but since horses can’t read, I give them a tiny pass on this one).

I’ve never heard a riding trainer suggest that I rush my horse through an exercise they aren’t getting it.¬† In fact, they usually say something along the lines of “why don’t you take it back to the walk, and then try it at the trot.” So when Mr. Speed Demon horse is like “no thanks, instead of trying to move my shoulders over a little and engaging my inside hind, I WILL INSTEAD RUN THROUGH AND DO A WEIRD UNBALANCED CIRCLE INSTEAD” it irritates me so much because they are so busy telling you what they can’t do that they aren’t listening to you trying to teach them an easier way.

Which is another point in and of itself — it’s a really loud way of not listening. When Murray isn’t listening or is convinced that he can’t do something, I can slow him down to an easier gait (hell, he’s usually slowed himself down already), show him he can do that thing, and then we can work on it at a more productive pace.¬† When my horse is loudly blasting through my aids and busily telling me that they can’t do any such thing, you have double the work on your hands to get them back to a) a productive gait and b) doing that thing.

Then the evasion builds on itself.¬† I don’t have to do this hard thing if I just bull through the aids?¬† Great, I’ll never have to do this hard thing ever again.¬† Obviously more talented riders can deal with this, but as we see rushing to fences, plowing through the hands, and general pushiness as one of the major problems in amateur horses, I think it’s safe to say that lots of horses use this tactic.¬† Oh, icorgiderpf I just rush through your half halts, I never have to half halt, great!¬† If I rush through the shoulder in, I never have to do a proper shoulder in!¬† If I rush through my entire dressage test, it gets over and done with sooner! (Okay, that is a human one.)

(This picture seems maybe appropriate here — if I rush all the XC fences, they can’t hurt me, right?)

From a totally rider-centric standpoint, I find speed as an evasion literally painful to deal with and manage.¬† I don’t know about you, but having my arms ripped off on the lunge line is somehow not my favourite way to lunge a horse.¬† Same when I’m riding — yeah, yeah, slow them with your seat and all that, but even that is challenging when you’re an adult ammy working a perpetual speed demon.

It feels like it’s aggressive.¬† This is totally anthropomorphic, but speed as an evasion feels wildly aggressive compared to slowing down or stopping as an evasion.¬† To me, horses that bully with speed always seem to be the one who are happy to throw their body into mine, invade personal space, yank my arms off, ignore polite requests… I realise it’s all (generally) coming from a place of confusion, and it’s not necessarily trying to be aggressive, but it feels aggressive.¬† And that makes me feel angry and aggressive.¬† Which is not such a great way to ride, in general.

All of this to say, I don’t really enjoy a horse who uses speed as an evasion.¬† And also, I really, really, really, like my horse, who is trained just right for me, and is totally attuned to me, and I know how to ride him*.


* Insofar as I actually know how to ride.