lies, damn lies, and statistics

Murray and I recently had a development in our communication that makes me seem like a huge asshole.  Which I will readily admit that I am, sometimes.  But I’m not sure this is really one of those times.

Horse professionals have long been telling me things like “horses don’t lie”, or “listen to your horse, they’re trying to tell you something”, or “horses are inherently truthful creatures”, or even “horses don’t have the ability to be deceptive”.  And I don’t necessarily disagree with these things.  I don’t think that the vast majority of horses (going to go ahead an say 99% here) have the ability for premeditated deception.  Sure, some horses will learn that when they come out a little stiff and janky they get put right back, so it might behoove them to be stiff and janky because they keep getting rewarded for such behavior.  But no horse sits in his stall and thinks, “now, if I just make sure not to put any weight on that right front hoof today, my owner will definitely think something is wrong and give me the well deserved spa day that I actually deserve.”

Image result for malingering

But I have never totally bought it that a horse is always telling me the truth.  There are little lies, like “I’ve never seen a trot pole before in my life! How does one horse this contraption?!” which are some variation of “I can’t”/”I don’t wanna”.  And I even understand how “I can’t” and “I don’t wanna” can be really valuable and truthful indicators of something hinkey going on physically or mentally, and should be paid attention to.  And there are occasionally big misunderstandings, like “holy shit that patch of weird ground is the most horrifying thing I have EVER SEEN oh actually it’s fine, nevermind.”

And then there are the Chicken Littles of the world.

Image result for chicken little sky is falling

For a long time, trying to understand what Murray was telling me behaviorally was ridiculously difficult.  He could be so sensitive and reactive that absolutely anything that upset him turned into a huge deal.  Sometimes he seemed to respond really reasonably to the various stimuli of life — a leaf blowing across the barn aisle, a funny sound, a wheelbarrow going by — and sometimes the sky was absolutely falling for weeks on end, and anything more exciting than another horse casually walking past him was cause for IMMEDIATE ALARM.  Responses were scaled proportionately to the level of excitement elicited, just starting around a 7 on a 1-10 scale and going up from there.

This is not exactly what I would call reliable or honest communication.  At some point, when someone tells you that there’s a wolf in the pasture every single day and there is never a wolf there, you stop listening.  There is no wolf out there, the sky isn’t falling, yes that is a saddle, and there is an extension cord that wasn’t there yesterday, and this is just real life, and you have to get used to it.  (Part of me feels like this is something baby animals are supposed to learn.  It’s what I teach puppies — the world is a large and dynamic place, and we don’t get to live in a box that never changes.  Am I wrong in thinking that foals/yearlings/young horses with good handling probably get taught those things too?)


dummy foal?

This type of communication isn’t what I would call honest, but it isn’t distinctly dishonest either.  Sure, Murray was (probably) trying to tell me about one of the fifty six butterfly-sized things that might be bothering him at any one time — there’s a cat over there, that trash can is new, someone is putting a blanket on another horse!!!!  But those aren’t things that bother 95% of the equine population, and they certainly aren’t things that ought to bother him.  And they aren’t the kind of communication that is actually telling me something — it doesn’t necessarily mean he is sore, or has an abscess, or needs his hocks injected.  It just means a gnat farted somewhere in a mile radius and Murray took offense.

So maybe I’m an asshole for not listening.  But unless the horse was really, physically trying to kill himself (or at risk of doing so), it was so much easier to just tune it out.

A few weeks ago, Murray didn’t want to pick up his left hind foot for me to pick out.  It was strange and annoying, because I thought I’d solved the whole foot picking out situation years ago with a lot of treats and praise.  He would dance away from me all around the tying post (yeah, we still don’t cross tie), and finally for a few days I gave up on picking the foot out and settled with picking it up to look in it briefly and put it down again.  It was ridiculous but it resolved itself in four or five days.

Twin Peaks on Showtime season 1 episode 1 twin peaks showtime GIF

Then last week, I found two blown out abscess holes on his right hind.  One from the coronet band, an one in the heel bulb.  Probably from about the time of the not foot pick upsies issue.

Last week I also had a saddle on trial.  It was a great saddle, at a steal of a price, and everything about it said it would probably fit Murray (I ultimately returned it because it was a hair too long and didn’t fit me).  And when I tried it on Murray he had a pretty horrified, violent reaction.  But, I thought, that was because I stupidly put a bare leather saddle on his naked back.  Everybody knows you put the saddle pad down before the saddle, you silly human.

So we did the whole routine, I put a pad under it because it looked a little wide, we did a very loose girth, and then because Murray was especially touchy that morning I went outside to do the girth up the rest of the way.  And he just about ran me down when I finally did get it all the way done up.  Normally he runs away from you when he’s freaking out, but this time he ran to the end of the lead rope, turned around, and ran right at me.  I checked under the saddle and it was awfully tight under there, so I pulled the half pad out, and homeboy seemed a bit better.

murray: who’s the asshole now?!

The next day, though, saw the exact same reaction.  And Murray really, really does not usually try to run humans down.  He’s very respectful in his panicking and freaking out — he’d much rather stay far, far away from all bipeds, thanks all the same.  So I shoved my hands in under the saddle, and back just past his shoulders were two firm spots of flocking that were really quite tight.  And when I took the saddle off of him, you could tell that those spots were extra tight even without a girth done up.

So. What do you know.  The child has learned to communicate actual problems to me!  Or maybe…. I just learned how to listen.

So once again, my horse is proving to me that he’s not the asshole who isn’t listening, I’m the asshole who isn’t listening.  And it would be great if he could do it in a more succinct way, but the lessons probably wouldn’t stick quite as hard then.

this bodes well

It would be, of course, the week right before I have a jump clinic with one of my favourite ever clinicians that I suddenly regain all motivation to ride, realize that I have a lot of ass-kicking to do with Murray, and then have to avoid doing too much of it to preserve him physically and mentally for the clinic.  Murray’s attitude has become progressively better through the week and I imagine it will only continue to get better with consistent work and structure.  He has also gotten sore, though, so I knew that my tune-up jump ride was likely to be at least a little interesting.

And it was.

murrayisadork1

 

I just wanted to make sure that we could go forward, jump everything, and not be scared out of our skin at random objects.  Which we totally accomplished.  But Murray took objection to the extended groundline to the vertical on the out of this one-stride, and could not get through it without playing over the jump or upon landing nearly every time.  I mean, really horse.  Why did you jump 4′ over a 2’3″ fence?  Why are your legs hanging straight down?  What is the game plan here?

murrayisadork2oh, i see what the plan is now

B coached me through putting Murray together again quickly on the back side of the fence and not letting him think that this behavior is desirable.  Once we started to string together a few more fences he settled in, and while we never came out of this combination totally straight and forward, we didn’t miss any fences because of it.

The benefit to working extra hard to get Murray put together before and after fences was really nice flat work.  So clearly, we can do it.  We just need to be appropriately motivated.

feb-jump-03

Murray got two grams of bute and I will hand-walk him today (and hopefully a little turnout if the arena is free) to help ease those sore muscles.  We will see what kind of pony shows up for Hawley on Sunday!

nobody falls off the back of a horse

Picture, if you will, Nicole and Murray cruising around a 4 acre pasture after their ride.  It has rained recently, but not in the last day or so.  The grass is green and growing, the ground is soft, and the world smells fresh and clean.

There is an American kestrel sitting on the fenceline, staring intently into a small willow bush.  This fascinates Nicole, our avid young naturalist.  She steers Murray toward the hawk with her knees — riders in fantasy stories always steer their horses with their knees.  Also, she steers with her knees because she is holding her phone in one hand.  Inside the willow bush, starlings are chirping noisily.  The Cooper’s hawk is absorbed in the commotion.

Murray is not interested in the kestrel. He is thinking about grass. Or perhaps water.  Maybe his friend Logan. But definitely not birds.

The pair turn away from the kestrel before getting too close.  They do not want to disturb it.  The kestrel chooses this moment to jump into the willow bush, pouncing upon its prey.  The bush shakes as the birds scuffle within it.

Murray hears the shaking bush – rather, he hears a nineteen foot tall monster shaking ten foot willow trees at him in hot pursuit.  The monster is right behind him.  He does the only thing a sensible creature would do in such a situation.  He runs.  Murray feels that he runs with the speed of the wind.  He runs with the force of a thousand hurricanes. In reality, Murray runs like a small, not-terribly-fast ex racehorse who is a little chubby and not really in shape right now.

Nicole is surprised by the sudden acceleration.  Surprised enough that she loses her seat and is laid out flat behind her saddle for a moment.  She still has a hold of the reins, but has lost both of her stirrups and all semblance of control.  She slides off Murray’s right haunch, holding on to the reins longer than she probably should in a desperate hope to stop the bolt.  She lands on the soft earth and skids through the wet grass, glad she put on her windproof breeches.

Murray reaches the end of the pasture and stops. Nicole is not with him. He turns. Nicole is on the ground. And behind Nicole… there is no monster. There is just a small, insignificant willow bush that isn’t even moving.

He walks back to Nicole. He does not step through his reins. He does not stop to eat grass. He is a good boy.

Nicole makes Murray an extra big bucket.

The American kestrel smiles over its breakfast of starling.

kestrel

exploding pony brainz

Like most problems in my life, Murray’s issues jumping this year weren’t exactly sudden-onset. There was (some) warning, and I probably should have known what was going on sooner than I did, but alas – such is the life of a (sometimes deluded in her horse training abilities) amateur. It started in December with the Chris Scarlett clinic, where I was pushed to encourage Murray to open up his stride and take the good longer spot when it was available, as opposed to the shitty shorter spot he prefers, and will sometimes go out of his way to get to. Then a bigger stride was a focus of dressage camp, at both the trot and canter.

febdressage02
moar! biggar!

The open stride got stuck in my brain. I really pushed Murray for it in warm up and over our warm up fences. And it was going ok. And then I started pushing Murray for a bigger stride and longer spots over slightly bigger (2’6”) fences, and that’s where things really started to go downhill. Murray was stopping basically any time I asked him to take a long spot to a fence bigger than 2’3”, and then when I’d re-present to the fence he was wild-eyed and irrational. During our last jump lesson before the break B lowered all the fences to cross rails and Murray was alternately bolting around the arena and balking any time it was clear we were headed to a fence.

One thing was pretty clear: Murray’s confidence was shot and our trust bank was running dangerously low. But why was our relationship regarding jumping so shitty?

All the evidence suggests it had a lot to do with the number of challenges I was putting in front of Murray. Not new fences or scary filler, but a combination of mental and physical challenges. Murray is not the bravest kid around, but he has usually been pretty willing to try something that’s a little mentally challenging (bounce-one stride-bounce-bounce-one stride grids, for example) or even something that’s a big physically challenging (3’3” fences, tripe bars, etc). But it is rare that I’ve ever asked Murray to do something really mentally challenging that is even a little bit physically challenging.

murraydeep

So let’s go back to this new jumping style. Murray has always, always been the type of horse that wants to take fences a little deeper. From the very beginning he would get right up against the base of little cross rails before popping over them. So to ask him to take a fence a little long is, at the very least, a small physical challenge. To ask him to change the way he addresses every fence? Definitely a mental challenge. I should be clear here that none of these spots were LONG. They were just longer and in pace with the canter we had leading up to the fence. Those extra little stutter-steps that Murray throws in before fences not only puts him in a place he’s more comfortable jumping from, but also gives him the chance to take another peek at whatever we’re coming up on. When I turned Murray toward a fence that, on its own, represented a bit of a challenge and then asked him to do something that he was mentally really uncomfortable with? Yeah, I should have known.

murray brainsplode2

Mental challenge + physical challenge = exploding pony brainz

Because this really isn’t the first time this has happened.

murray brainsplode

Jumping from an open, steady canter stride is obviously a good goal. It is something I want Murray to be comfortable doing. But at the moment he is pretty clearly not comfortable with it, even when I do my absolute best to give him a really good ride to the fence. And that’s ok. Comfort will come with time. For now we will practice the open stride and not making choppy, shitty adjustments immediately before fences over poles and things that are in no way challenging.  I will stop trying to make my horse’s brain explode, and maybe one day we will be able to jump a galloping fence!

regretsy

I don’t know if any of you guys remember Regretsy, back from when the internet was new Etsy was still young.  One amazing person on the internet called it “DIY” meats “WTF” and that’s exactly what it was: all the crazy shit you never expected people would actually make.  My favorite thing I ever saw on Regretsy was a unicorn statue on a bed of grass — realistically, a newborn lamb skin stuffed and shaped into a horrific horse-adjacent shape with a horn attached to its forehead, curled up like a little white demon on a bed of astroturf.

And this holiday season as I was looking up horse gifts, once again I encountered DIY (or sometimes machines-IY) meets WTF.  Have they ever SEEN a horse?!

Dear jewelry makers: have you ever actually seen a horse move in real life?! Does this gait even exist?!

A post shared by Nicole Sharpe (@nicolegizelle) on

What gait is this? What is going on with its face? Its hind legs? Can it even stand up straight?!

Also in the: wtf is this gait category

regretsy1 regretsy2

Although that second one also fulfills the “this might not actually be a horse” category.

I can only assume that this next charm was made by the same people who painted on caves approximately 14,000 years ago in France.

regretsy4

regretsy5Then there is, of course, the down-right terrifying…

 

Why anyone would want to iron this onto their shirt is utterly beyond me.

 

 

 

regretsy7

 

This pony was taught how to booty tooch by Tyra.

 

 

 

 

And this one is actually pretty solid, until you get to the ears…

regretsy6

Those widdle eaws….

Normally I would feel a little bad making fun of handcrafted items in public, but I’m pretty sure all of these are made by machines, so I have no regret.  Plus, there’s still plenty of really awesome stuff on Etsy that isn’t weirdly unrealistic/distorted/scary.

SALE - Hand Carved Dragon Horse Skull Real Mule/ Animal Skull Bone with Teeth/ Vintage TaxidermyLike this.  Which is actually kinda badass.

 

 

hot fuzz

I may have done something rash.

You guys weren’t really with me the last two years when I body clipped Murray, but it was basically… not ideal for anyone involved.  Both years I hired friends to do it for me (to avoid buying clippers and get a quality job done without poisoning my horse’s mind against me, and because no real professional would touch my horse with a ten foot stick at that time).  I had to drug him AND twitch him, after doing varying levels of desensitizing, and both times we still had to take breaks and call it at some reasonable-but-not-perfect amount of clip because otherwise Murray ran the risk of going full nuclear.

So this year decided I’d eat the cost of the clippers and do it myself.  I’ve been hitting the desensitization hard.  I busted out peppermints (rolls of life savers are a cheap and easily stored way to do this!) and have been rubbing a set of clippers all over Murray’s body nearly every day.  I’ve managed to get all the important parts — neck, shoulders, back, belly, butt, tickly loin/flank area — and for more than a few seconds, so I’d say he’s doing pretty well.  Despite the occasional step back, Murray has been quite tolerant.

But of course, barn manager was like “well, it feels different with just the vibration and having the clippers actually cutting hair you know. So you should find some surreptitious places on his body and clip away some hair so that he gets used to that feeling too.”

And I thought: I’m not showing between now and when I plan to clip him…

Why do they have to be surreptitious spots…

Yep.

shave

I shaved random patches of hair off my horse.

He looks like he had about nine catheters placed on random parts of his body.

He looks like he has old man alopecia.

On the bright side, Murray was fine with that too.

Now I just have to get him used to the extension cord and spray lube and maybe, maybe we will be able to clip sans incident this year.

Friday Five…. worst things about my life right now

Inspired by Stephanie at Hand Gallop here is a blog-post-with-a-twist.  My Friday Five… worst things about my life right now.

1. Signing up for a horse show that’s two days before I need to move houses was a terrible, terrible, terrible choice.


If you replaced papers with random pieces of tack, clothes, boxes, and perched my cat in the middle, you would have my life right now.

I am not organized for this show.  I packed a trunk and I put some tack in a trailer and I took some home to clean it and I think I have everything I need?  I figure as long as I have clothes to wear each day, a show coat, saddle, girth, and bridle that’s… all I need.  Thank goodness it’s local and less than 15 minutes away from my barn (by zippy little Nissan as opposed to big truck and trailer).

2. The last person who had my office manager clearly sucked at her job and managed to screw some things up so well that I have to go back nearly two entire years to fix them.  Oh and those things are absolutely essential to a deadline I have.  On Monday.

3. My thesis has gone untouched for weeks. I can’t even. I am so busy. I don’t even know how I am this busy. I’m not even teaching right now.

4. This is basically 1B of this list, but I am a shit show.  I took home half my tack but NO TACK CLEANING SUPPLIES.  Thank goodness I didn’t put all my wash cloths in the washing machine because at least things can get a really good wipe down.  My half pads are both still filthy.  I don’t own acceptable XC boots yet.  My roommates dog hates me and is a giant disaster.

5. There is no oxyclean in my house. HOW I AM SUPPOSED TO CLEAN MY SADDLE PADS WITHOUT OXYCLEAN?!


RIP Billy

Friday Five… really good things despite all the mess in my life.

1. Murray stood perfectly still for his beauty treatments today and was shiny as fuck after his bath.  Baby shampoo man.  I’m into it.

I'm bringing #sexyback #notoriousottb #punintended #ottb #dressagebitches #itreallyworks

A photo posted by Nicole Sharpe (@nicolegizelle) on Aug 27, 2015 at 10:20pm PDT

2. Even though I had to beat him on Wednesday during the beginning of my dressage lesson, Murray brushed that dirt off his shoulder and put in two solid practice tests.  Not sure why he insists on LOSING all canter departs the week before a show but yeah it’s probs my fault.

3. This show is local.  Only a few people from my barn are competing.  Very few things can go so terribly wrong that my obsessive overpacking of extra tack or a rapid trip back to my barn or a loan from a friend can’t fix.

4. I have beer.

5. One of my friends is bringing me oxyclean tomorrow. ❤