Throwback Thursday: May, 2014

As I alluded to on Tuesday, May 2014 was not a great month for me and Murray.  Specifically, this week last year was a really bad week.

On Monday, after currying Murray out after I ride, I knelt down to take off his bell boots.  I liked to do this every so often to clean underneath them (mud and dirt, you know) and get a look at his krazy foot.  Murray, seemingly never having heard the sound of velcro before (no, never!) panics.  He scrambled backwards, elbowed me in the face, and I threw myself away from him seeing stars.  Murray, much to his credit, calmed down rather quickly, and I sat miserably on the rubber mats in the barn while I regained my breath and vision.  Clearly my nose wasn’t broken, and my skin just felt a little raw, so I went on my merry way.  Little did I know he had scraped the skin off the bridge of my nose and over one eye and I would get a large and delightful burgundy scab there shortly.

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Tuesday I fell off in a lesson.  Murray was stopping all over the place, but most notably in the middle of combinations.  He slammed on the brakes in the middle of a two-stride and left a 5-foot skid mark in the footing.  I’m not sure how I didn’t fall that time, but when he slammed on the brakes in the middle of the one-stride I went flying over his shoulder and into the fence.  It’s the only time I’ve ever taken down a fence due to falling, and it was shockingly not that painful.  It was my most spectacular fall to date.  I limped into lab and explained to my students why I had a huge scrape in the middle of my face.  They were extremely amused, and many were surprised that horses even had elbows.

Wednesday I tried out a new bit.  Murray had been bolting around in the eggbutt French-link I had him in, so at my trainer’s suggestion (she had been suggesting it for ages) I put him in the loop gag.  Murray jumped around just fine, until we got to the new fence that our assistant trainer had just got done painting neon green and blue.  Murray said no thank you to that fence, and I hit the dirt again.

IMG_7448These are the offending poles. They were terrifying when new, apparently.

Thursday I jumped again while Alana was watching me, to check out the new bit.  Alana liked it, right up until we got to the combination.  Murray pitched a fit much farther out this time.  He skittered out from under me at least six strides away from the fence.  I landed on my feet and patted him, then walked back to the mounting block to approach the fence again.  Alana turned this into an impromptu lesson, and schooled me back to the combo.  I talked to Murray the whole way in, but got a little ahead, and at the last minute he threw on the brakes, snapped his head straight up in the air and smashed me in the face as I popped off over his shoulder to and on my feet.  The top of his skull had hit my chin and I immediately felt my mouth fill with blood.  I cried while Alana comforted me, then got back on, got through the combo, and called it a day.

Back in the barn I texted my boss to ask if I could cancel my office hours for that day.  Because every time I spoke my mouth filled with blood.   He said okay.  I sent out this email and got some delightful responses from my students.

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My personal fave is the one at the bottom, but I also enjoyed one student’s sentiment of “Gurl you gotta fight back.”  Trust me, I’m trying.

Friday I did not ride.

And that, my friends, is how I got dumped or injured five times in four rides.  Happy anniversary, baby horse!  I still love you.

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spring is in the air

And so is my ass and Murray’s hind feet, more often than not this last week.

Okay, okay, I kid.  His hind feet are only in the air a few times per ride, but it’s alarmingly similar to the epic dressage battle he waged with BM’s kid last year.

IMG_8525Hella flexible

Letsee now… first there was the Waste of Time dressage ride that I got good footage out of.  That was the last semblance we had of a good ride.  The day after, I was hung over so… no riding.  I regret nothing.  I spent the weekend out of town, and got on Monday night for some conditioning and possibly light jumping, and Murray was out of his mind.  Spooky, cranky, unpleasant, he was simultaneously completely ignoring my legitimate leg aids and overreacting to any time my leg brushed against him.  I stopped one of my friends during her ride to ask if my spurs were accidentally hitting his sides, and after she said that they might be, on the outside leg, I took them off and continued to get brattitude so called an end to things early.

Tuesday Murray re-enacted the ass-whooping dressage ride from a year ago, bucking every two strides down the long side of the arena for multiple laps.  I was truly shocked, since I had just lunged him and he was perfectly compliant and happy, but as soon as we got outside it was rodeo time.  I thought he just had some kinks to work out so sat quietly and kept him moving forward, and the ride ended pretty well, all things considered.  Murray quieted down, no more bucking or screaming was heard from him, and we put in some reasonable dressage work.  But I was seriously wondering if he had learned, from the prior three rides, that bad behavior = Nicole getting off.  Was he really that smart?  Was three rides all it would take?

IMG_3749Say NO to rider requests to move off your leg!

(Incidentally, I then went to my trainer’s house and sat through a rodeo on a horse who is supposed to be rehabbing!! B is allowed to do 10 minutes of trot a day, and has been super fun for my other rides on him.  Instead, all he wanted was to go, go, go!! and insisted that my demand that he trot was worth slow-motion porpoising and bucking.  I was completely convinced that I just couldn’t horse that day and promptly got off and then nearly cried when another horse refused to even back up for me.  Turns out it was me and it was them, but damn, the horses were conspiring against me that day!)

I had put myself down for a semi-private jump lesson on Wednesday afternoon, but due to time constraints I moved into a group lesson with three kids.  That afternoon’s tack up was a perfect shit storm of not-great for Murray: it was super crowded, and right as I was about to start tightening up his girth, another horse appeared, his rider just holding him in the middle of the barn aisle right in my way.  I was like no no, child, this is not okay, don’t you know this horse is about to explode?!

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For a little comedic relief that is kindof niche in humor, this youtube video.

So we get into the ring, and I pop Murray over a couple of things I think will be particularly terrifying, including a faux-brick wall and a jump all decorated like a little woodland glade.  AT wants to get a squirrel toy to put on it.  Murray turns on the nope many strides out from the woodland glade, which is absurd because he’s jumped all the pieces of that fence before, but I eventually get him over it (because it’s tiny, like 2’3″), causing every other horse in our lesson to also refuse and give it hard looks.  Then Murray jumps the silly brick wall he’s never seen like it’s nothing! Weirdo.  The lesson was a master class in nope though, as Murray stopped at basically anything and everything that gave him pause.

This was in large part my fault, as I can tell from the video (which I am not sharing with you).  Basically, Murray was unconfident and anxious, and I wasn’t riding.  I don’t think I got ahead of him for any of the stops, but I certainly wasn’t supporting him with my leg and that quiet seat I know he appreciates.  Much post-hoc analysis of the video revealed to me that I’ve been so busy jamming my heels down that I’ve let my pelvis tilt forward (not sure how).  But I know I have to keep my shoulders up and back, so I’m cranking my back in order to do that.  Somehow that is not such an effective seat.  After our second round, which I don’t think had any stops but where Murray repeatedly put two and three strides in a one-two combo, Alana asked me if anything had changed recently that I might be anxious or upset about.

Errr, well, I bought the damn horse…

She counseled me to just ride really light and breezy and talk to Murray for the next round, and not sweat the possible stops.  Which I did.  And it was the best round yet (attitude-wise), but quite sloppy riding-wise.

I added another lesson Friday to see if I couldn’t fix some of those problems.  We kept everything super low, but Murray was still extremely looky and suspicious.  So much more so than he has been in the past.  We didn’t have any stops, but I definitely felt his noodly hesitation heading into a couple of the fences.  Instead of getting angry about it, I just kept my leg on (quietly, though) and tried to keep my back straight and seat quiet.  I had one stop when I leaned for a long spot and Murray was like “haha, no, that is not possible”, but that was one hundred percent my fault.  Overall an okay ride, but not our best.

By this point, I had realised that part of my problem is how Murray and I approach courses.  Often, by the second or third course of the lesson, Murray is phoning it in: he knows the course, doesn’t want to listen to my leg aids, and cuts corners (literally and figuratively).  Instead of getting him ahead of my leg and listening right in the beginning, I’ll let him scramble over a fence or two, then panic and run him at the bigger fences.  This is, obviously, a super tactic for confidence building, correct fence jumping, clean stadium rounds, and generally a good time had by all.

Saturday I jumped around a little more with slightly bigger jumps than in the Friday lesson, and had boyfriend film me.  This was fortunately (or unfortunately? Boyfriend is an excellent media-taker) free of any antics, so was, I guess, quite a good ride in that regard.  Much more video analysis revealed that not only am I failing to get Murray ahead of my leg, I don’t have him in a bouncy, impulsion-filled canter.  I let my reins get long because I don’t want to hit Murray in the mouth over fences, and he tends to overreact to anything but a light touch.  So I default to “longer is better” instead of “elastic and following”, which is really the coward’s way out.  With this knowledge, I added a new piece of equipment to my Fixing My Shit arsenal.

Yep. Rainbow reins.  I voluntarily bought myself rainbow reins.  I had secretly wanted the hideous blue-green-red-yellow ones pictured, but the tack store only had a slightly more classy red-white-navy version.  Fortunately, they were cheap.  This made assistant trainer very excited as the lesson pair melted in the loft storage and now she can threaten more people with them.

Now we’re up to Monday, for which I had scheduled another jump lesson.  If it sounds like I’m jumping the snot out of my horse… I kinda am.  This is not how I would rather structure a riding week, but I really need to hammer out these issues with Murray before they a) snowball or b) I develop my own bad habits to deal with them.  This is all trainer approved and we’re not jumping big, or sometimes even that much (Saturday I probably went over 15 fences total, including the warm up fences), just enough to diagnose some things.  And Murray has gotten lots of days off in between (Thursday and Sunday, as well as the weekend before last).

Monday’s lesson rolls around, and Murray is as spooktacular as before.  To his defense, the hay trucks were working (weirdly unpredictably, but okay) in the field behind the arena, and both horses were looking at those a bit.  But the weird thing is that Murray was spooking at fences in a way he hasn’t done in almost a year!  Through the first six months or so of us working together, Murray would give the hairy eyeball to any fence was passed laterally, as if I was about to suddenly turn him to it and ask him to jump it.  I worked on this a lot, circling jumps bent both towards and away from them, and weaving in, out, around, and through lots of fences to show him that just because we are near a fence doesn’t mean that fence is going to eat you.  So since last year, he’s been fairly chill working around fences, even when the filler has been a little spooky.

But not today.  Murray was whale-eyeing and refusing to go between fences that we had jumped just last week (course was unchanged).  My goals for today were to keep my position (straight backed, not distorted like on Wednesday), learn how to really build that impulsion every ride, and keep my reins short!  Assistant trainer therefore set us up a grid exercise, with two canter poles, then a one stride to a two stride.  Murray was totally on board until I asked him to trot through the grid, which was set to poles at that point.

All went well until we got to the last “fence”, which was a huge bucket of nope.  AT asked me to pat him, praise him for being a good boy (even though he wasn’t), and just keep pressing him forward over the last set of poles.  We trotted back and forth over the demon poles a few times, then started the grid exercise, which went much better.  The rainbow reins were amazingly helpful for keeping my reins the right length, and I managed to keep my back straight during the lesson.  When I felt a lack of impulsion coming into the grid one time, and Murray didn’t respond to my leg, I went right to the crop.  That is where the dinosaur sounds began again, as Murray responded with a big dolphin leap-buck combination.  Coming around the next time, he bucked three times in a row in the exact same spot, and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to being bucked off!  I hadn’t been expecting it, and without a stride in between to recover my seat a little, even leaning back I was popped sideways out of the tack.  Fortunately, three was all he had in him, and I recovered.

The funny thing is, the jumping part of the lesson was great!  After the initial pole refusal, I didn’t have a single problem with Murray stopping or even questioning the fences.  And with our new found powers of having impulsion in the canter, I could comfortably still my upper body over fences and stop doing the Miley Cyrus!  It was just between the jumps that was a problem.

So basically, it’s been an interesting last eight rides.  Or, an interesting first eight rides as a horse owner.  You decide.  I’ve been asked by everyone if I’ve changed Murray’s feed in any way, and I haven’t!!  He’s been on the same three supplements (magnesium, electrolytes, Omega Horse Shine) and grain mix (Stable Mix and rolled barley) for months now, and unless our feeder is sneaking Murray alfalfa, there is nothing we can think of to explain this.  I am choosing to blame it on the month of May, because last May I had a week where I fell off/was injured by Murray five times in four rides.

Which is a story for another day.

TOABH: Fail (ERMEHGERD!)

I missed the last two TOABH questions.  The one from two weeks ago I didn’t answer specifically to not jinx myself.  Last week I just didn’t make it after getting back from Italy.  I BLAME YOU, ITALY.  I had a perfect record!

This week, Beka asks us about FAILs.

We know what makes Thunderhooves happy, but what does he hate to do?  Let’s not ignore those times that you have whip out all the tricks or pharmaceuticals for grooming.

For the record, just like everyone else, this is what makes Thunderhooves happy.  It makes me deliriously happy too.

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However, there are aspects of this that also make Thunderhooves extremely suspicious.  Most specifically, my insistence that he listen to me, not gallop around like a crazy man, accept some contact, and actually, oh I don’t know, accept that I know what I’m talking about/planning on doing.

IMG_3747 IMG_3749 horze1Ok so this one was more of my fail, but I had to share it again anyway.

Also related to our travels and Murray’s failures is this.

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Oh and even though it’s not technically under saddle, I’m also going to count this (close to 90% hit rate on this one).

xtiesI just realised how unintentionally hilarious this picture is. It’s from before Murray broke the headstall of his leather halter, which he’s done twice (I just punch a new hole when he does), but after he broke the brass snap under the cheek. Oh child, how many places can you break that thing?!

What Do Wednesday: HALP my horse is a monster

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First of all, thank you to everyone for the lovely comments this week regarding Murray’s shenanigans and our fantastic rounds at the schooling show.  Now, I am calling upon you all for advice!  If you read my show recap, you’ll know that Murray really busted out all his best and worst personality traits during the day.  As much as I can laugh about and make fun of both of us for days like this, these antics are also frustrating, challenging, and concerning to me.

To review, we did this, and it was badass:

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But before any of that, there was this:

and this

Peace out, suckers!

Murray broke away from the trailer twice, reared twice (one little, one big), dumped my saddle once, tried to kill our assistant trainer, and generally displayed all of his absolutely worst on-the-ground behaviors from the past year.  And this concerns me, because it suggests to me that I’m leaving rather a gaping hole in his education.  The part of his education where he knows how to behave in foreign places.

SO: What do you do when your horse is acting out away from home?  What do you do to train them to stand, relax, and accept the things they aren’t the biggest fans of away from home?

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When I got Murray, he was so girthy that I had to lunge him before putting the saddle on, and he would habitually dump my saddle and/or break away from me during tacking up.  At home, I have worked diligently on this, and have succeeded in using a combination of positive reinforcement training, reminders of who is boss of whom, and bribery to get him not only to accept being tacked up but to relax while I am doing so.  Literally, at home he now stands like this for tacking up.  Obviously he is not always wearing a scarf.

Four weeks ago, Murray tacked up super well when we visited Dreamland farms.  He was a little girthy, but nowhere near the full-regression of Sunday.  That was four weeks ago… what changed?  My routine certainly didn’t, and I brought a pile of high value treats with me to the show to try to keep Murray’s attention on me.  They were so high value his neighbor on the trailer repeatedly pushed his owner over so he could try to get to them.  It was candy canes and imitation Mrs Pastures!  HE LOVES THOSE THINGS.

Murray was also fairly bad for tacking up at our recent outing to my trainer’s house.  There he also required a talking to, actually, though I kept it brief.  At the time, I chalked it up to the fact that I had neglected to bring him a hay bag (the trailer has soft feeders in it and I figured we’d be so quick it wouldn’t matter), and that there was grass EVERYWHERE that he was desperately trying to eat.  Now I’m not so sure.

I’m really not sure what to think of his behavior on Sunday.  Part of me thinks he was amped up by all the horses (we alone brought 13 and there were at least 6 others in the area) and the strange place.  However, I am fairly certain Murray wasn’t truly fearful — nothing about his behavior said to me that he was afraid.  His head wasn’t straight up in the air, he didn’t tremble, and he didn’t have diarrhea.  He wasn’t trying to trot circle around me, he wasn’t rubbernecking at everything around, and he didn’t refuse hay, only treats.  Obviously he was uncomfortable and anxious, but he was also rude — and I’m sorry, but I can’t not respond to rudeness with firmness and a reminder about who is actually in charge.  I should also note that once he was untacked, he happily polished off his hay bag and fell asleep by the trailer (but continued to refuse candy canes, weirdo).

I am very committed to making this horse into as whole and well-rounded of a creature as possible.  I don’t want him to only be able to be tacked up by me at shows with a twitch and drugs.  I don’t want to have to lunge him for 20 minutes before I can put a saddle on.  I want to teach him that going new places is really fun, and the tacking up part is just a little bit of it.

Do I just give him more time?  Do I get to shows and new places even earlier so he has a chance to really chill out?  I can’t just do these things at home — tacking up has to happen after we get to a venue.

My comments board is your canvas. Please, feed me your wisdom!!

TOABH: I’m a Loser, Baby

Another week, another installment of the TOA blog hop!

I’m A Loser, Baby
Let’s talk about your horse’s biggest fail.  What did Thunderhooves do that embarrassed you, scared you, shocked you or just annoyed the hell out of you?

Murray has done a lot of embarrassing and shocking things in our year together, but they are generally pretty excusable — his first time away from home, baby horse silliness, strange behavior out on XC in groups.  It doesn’t mean, of course, that I’ve not been scared or shocked or annoyed like crazy because of it. The first, and worst, fail of Murray’s, was the very first time we went XC schooling last year, in November.  Murray was reasonable about getting in the trailer, but promptly grew to his full 16.1hh upon departing.  I knew tacking up would take some special care, so I threw him in the round pen for a minute to let him get the crazies out.  Which he did, for about ten minutes.  Then I negotiated with him about tacking up, holding his lead rope in one hand and working with my other hand.  And he promptly broke away from me, though I managed t get him back pretty quickly.  I changed tactics and had a friend hold his lead rope while I bribed him to get the saddle pad on, the breast plate, and the saddle.  He reared, my friend dropped his lead rope, and I pulled my saddle off his back — once again, he didn’t get far.  We threw the bridle on and lunged him tackless for another ten minutes, until Murray had calmed a bit more.  We tried again to get tack on, with one person holding his reins and me tacking up.  Breastplate, check.  Saddle pad, check.  Saddle, check.  And just as I was about to get the first buckle done on the girth, the perfect storm of triggers exploded around us (horses leaving, horses getting in trouble, and the girth), and Murray just rear-leapt away from us, and galloped off around the facility dragging my saddle beneath him.  The breast plate broke, eventually, and the saddle slipped free of it and fortunately didn’t get stepped on upon the ground.  Murray then promptly stepped through his reins, snapped one side, and then found the nearest patch of grass to start grazing.  (To be noted: Murray was not the first horse to break away on this particular XC schooling trip, and this particular patch of grass was very popular.)

By this point, my group had gone down to the course to start schooling.  After we caught Murray, one of the teenagers I ride with (who is far more experienced than I), suggested we try tacking him up in the round pen, and walked us over there, holding Murray’s breastplate, spare reins, and saddle, while I led my horse and cried a bit.  I have to say, I will never, ever forget how well Rachael handled me that day.  I was simultaneously furious that I couldn’t manage my own horse, that Murray was being so, so, so unreasonable, and that I was missing out on schooling.  She calmed me down, joked about how bad her own horse often was, and ultimately provided me with the solution to get Murray tacked up successfully!  (The trick: do it away from all the commotion of the other horses.)  That third, or fourth?, time was the ticket, and we finally got the kid all tacked up and walked him down to the cross country course together for a wonderful and successful first school.  (And that is why I always managed to stick with him — no matter how bad he was on the ground, we always had a good ride.)

1454635_681995361841275_339630194_n 1463746_681994785174666_1547265509_nPhotos courtsey of FB Photography.

Oh, and then when we were done schooling he refused to get back in the trailer and we were left behind. Another friend had to make a second trip with her ramped straight-load to come get us.  That whole day, I would say, was Murray’s biggest fail. Since then, we’ve had some more embarrassing things happen.  There was a time when Murray could not, would not, not in a train, not in a plane, not on a car, not in a bar, he will not canter without bucking.  That was probably a three month period.  They weren’t exactly small bucks either.

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Of course, that was my fail too, since he had basically trained me to stop riding him as much when he was bucking…

The last, and most notable, was a full-blown meltdown when cross country schooling.  We’re long past having problems tacking up, and Murray can now be tacked up away from home with minimal incident (bribery + a quiet environment is key).  I’m not sure what triggered him this time, but in the middle of our schooling session with three other horses, Murray suddenly found himself completely incapable of walking forward.  Backwards and sideways, yes.  Chomping at the bit, yes.  Scrunching his head under and backing away from my leg and the whip, yes.  Hopping up on his hind legs a little, yes.  Forward = no.  We had to be hunter-pace-ponied over jumps by a friend, and the only thing that would calm Murray was literally touching his nose to her horse.  My trainer pretty much knew what was up immediately: there was too much stimulation for him, and Murray was really confused.  So now we XC school alone, and we’ve not had a problem since. So those are our major fails.  What about you?  I know you all LOVE your ponies, but do you sometimes hate them too?! (Post summary: I do.)