hard walk week

Poor Murray has had a hell of a week.

First, I made him lose all of the skin on his cannons with my over-liberal application of Equiderma lotion.  Then I forced him to do so much walking it’s absurd.  Walking is the worst.

On Monday, when I went to wrap up Murray’s cruddy/scabby right hind, he said “no thank you”.  He kept picking the leg up and scampering away from me when I went to wrap it, so I asked my barn manager to give me a hand.  She has a special relationship with Murray — i.e. he behaves for her, because he knows he has to.  He wouldn’t even let her touch his leg, so she had a conversation with him, and then wrapped his leg while he was standing ground tied in the barn aisle.

https://giphy.com/embed/11BAxHG7paxJcI

via GIPHY

On Tuesday, I figured I’d skip the wrapping drama and twitch Murray before I attempted to clean out the goop on his leg.  I asked barn manager for help with a handy-twitch.  When barn manager went to put on the twitch, Murray said “no thank you”.  Then they had a discussion about accepting a twitch and not being a butt when someone touches your face.  She got him twitched, and I wrapped his leg in the parking lot (where he had ended  up over the course of the discussion).

On Wednesday, I wrapped his leg in his stall and it was relatively drama free. I think I had to use some stern words to remind him to keep his manners about him, but other than that, no big.

On Thursday, as I was booting up to ride (I’m riding in diagonal-opposite boots on the good legs right now), Murray LEAPT away from me and right into our barn manager.  And not just a little bit, he leapt into her and kept on going through her as if she didn’t even exist.  Then they had a discussion about respecting peoples’ space.

On Friday, Murray  let me do his girth up to the third hole on each side (one higher than usual), while he was tied, and he didn’t move a muscle, except to remind me to please put one more carrot in the machine.  [I was actually floored by this, and NOBODY who knows us was around to appreciate it. DEVASTATING. He got a huge pile of carrots as a reward though.]

He’s got the weekend off, and we’ll get back to torture next week!

the ghost of Murrays past

After our excellent dressage lesson, and in line with experimental protocols (which I promise to tell you about soon), Murray and I had a jump lesson.  This was a multi-purpose jump lesson, as it gave me the opportunity to try out my new jump saddle!  I found an Albion monoflap for super cheap on international eBay, and after hearing so many success stories with international saddle purchases I went for it.  I also knew that the Albion monoflap tree fit Murray reasonably well, because I had the same saddle on trial in too large of a seat size back in May.

wow it looks teeny on him

When I got to the barn at 8, I couldn’t find my horse, which was a touch disconcerting.  I shortly found Murray in a friend’s stall, which was a side effect of another horse being in his stall overnight.  Murray had plowed down 5 lbs of alfalfa in the 30 minutes he’d been in his friend’s stall, however, and since the damage was already done (nothing but crumbs remained of that flake), and I had to ride another horse first, I figured I’d just leave him there. The feed problem was compounded when my barn manager came through and delivered buckets, and didn’t realized Murray wasn’t the horse that belonged in that stall.  In the four seconds it took for her to step out of the stall, grab the next bucket, and turn back to Murray in shock realizing what she’d done, he’d discovered his luck and was absolutely HOOVERING down his friend’s LMF gold.


i couldn’t choose

The lesson itself was like a Freaky Friday/Christmas Carol mashup, because Murray was hardcore channeling the ghosts of his jumping past.  I didn’t blog then, and there’s not much relevant media, but there was a period when every jump lesson with Murray was just a bucking mess.  He balked before fences, bolted after them, and bucked throughout.  I would be so deliriously happy to get through a course of 2’3″ verticals smoothly that I’d call the assistant trainer over to come watch me do it again (which never happened because it was never repeatable).

lol this is a gem i hadn’t looked at in a while

(And yeah, we can play the “he was probably in pain” game, and maybe he was. I had a different saddle then, he definitely had chiro issues that we were addressing from month to month, and — oh yes, pertinent to this story — I still fed him alfalfa.)

We started out unable to get a spot to a pretty small vertical at the trot.  I tried a few different approaches on the way in, adding leg, asking for more balance, but it all ended up messy.  After we changed directions I focused just on the rhythm of the trot and tried not to think too much about the spot, and it rode much more smoothly.

Our next challenge was a little corner built out of a barrel and two standards.  I made the same mistake I’ve made every week for the last month and assumed that a forward canter = a confident horse.  NOT SO.  Murray slammed on the sideways brakes a few strides out from the barrel.  “NO,” I told him. “NO BULLSHIT TODAY.”  (I had already fallen of one horse that morning, and he was a super honest but green sales horse, so I wasn’t about to let my much more trained pony get away with bad behavior.)  I circled, as we’d already passed the point where I could reasonably make the correction and slow up to a manageable pace.  We trotted in, thinking again just about the rhythm, and popped over, and Murray gave a few disgruntled bucks after.

i should get this made into a necklace charm or something

There was a one stride one stride grid set up also, and B lengthened the distances out a touch for our lesson mate, RBF.  It’s what Murray and I are working on right now anyway, so I was cool with it.  Right up until we headed in to the grid.  Murray actually responded really well when we turned to the grid and pulled me toward it, which was fantastic — there was once a time when he’d have backed off hard.  He jumped long and flat through it, and then took off playing immediately afterward.  This was actually exactly how I’d fallen off the sale horse earlier in the morning.  Fortunately for me, Murray is more responsive to my yelling and pulling and slowed down before the arena wall rushed up on us, and I was saved from the disgrace of falling off of two horses, in the exact same fashion, in less than 3 hours.

The rest of the lesson was much of the same. B kept the fences small because we were clearly struggling a little (RBF’s Lucy was also feeling pretty sore from some heavy duty booty dressage rides), and I focused on riding my horse.  Murray was up to his old tricks, balking in front of fences and then bolting after them, and bucking on all the long canter strethces.  At one point I pulled a little to regulate his speed and direction after a fence and instead of adjusting a little Murray slammed on the front brakes and threw his withers and neck in to my pelvis.  I lost my patience at that point and was like “No! No! You can canter like a NORMAL HORSE!!”

all aboard the nope train

I put my leg on, but kept a firm contact with my hands, and didn’t give Murray anywhere to go but between my leg and the bridle.  To his credit, he responded really well (shockingly well, actually).  He put his head down, lifted his back, and cantered like a normal horse.  I didn’t let up for the rest of the lesson — the only time he felt any slack in the reins was when I pushed my hands up his crest a little over the fences.

It will surprise no-one that the fences came much more easily when Murray was keeping a consistent rhythm and actually using his hind end to power his gaits, instead of to fishtail around or kick at imaginary birds.  But it surprised me!  At least a little.  I haven’t really been able to put Murray together this well in the past, so contact to fences usually* == slowing to fences.  Since I don’t want that, I err too far on the other side and flap the reins at him like that will solve some kind of problem.

(* Sometimes short reins/contact to fences == me leaning too far forward, or making other amazing mistakes.)

we’ll end on a happy jumping picture. but wait! where did my form from last august go?!

It was by no means a bust of a lesson, though I do want to start jumping a big bigger coming up to Camelot in August.  First, Murray helped me figure out that I can probably stick his shit in the new saddle.  That’s for sure a win.  Second, it gave me valuable data on exactly how to ride Murray when he gets in one of these moods.  And while they aren’t common any more, they do show up in some unfortunately critical places — stadium jumping rounds at shows, for example.  If I can get Murray as put together during stadium as I did in the lesson, that will be awesome for us.

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.