trash human: activate

I had a spectacularly bad ride a few Wednesdays ago. I really set myself up for failure by planning a lesson the day I got back from five days out of town (with an extra long and stressful drive the night before because of a snowstorm blowing through), less than 24 hours after Speedy had a dental and his annual vaccines.

I know Speedy gets punky and sore after vaccines, and I am aware that five days off isn’t a great setup for a good lesson, and I could tell in the moment that it wasn’t going well. Yet when Speedy told me “I can’t” over and over in the lesson, I bullied him rather than listen to him. Which is a direct route to feeling like peak trash.

Something alarming happened in the pasture during lunch, so Speedy brought a snack with him to observe the happenings.

I don’t have a lot of straight up Bad Rides these days. Even if we have a hard ride or aren’t on the same page or spend a long time struggling with an exercise, we almost always find some good in it and end on an improved note. This lesson ended with sobbing and lunging on a decidedly not improved note.

Among the things I adore about Speedy is that no matter how rough our ride is, he is always cuddly and sociable in his stall, and doesn’t seem to take it personally. But this go around…. he wasn’t quite as forgiving. The day after my Trash Human performance, Speedy was so sore and miserable that I cancelled my lesson and gave him 250mg of bute. The next day he was fine, but I just turned him out and played liberty games with him in the arena instead of pushing it.

The new barn also has cows, which Speedy love. Until one of them looks like it’s trying to die in the fence. He does not love that.

(Which, side quest, I’ve never personally managed a horse who had such a serious reaction to vaccines before! When I got to the barn Speedy looked dull, and was crankily pawing at his alfalfa and then rapidly snatching bites of whatever he pawed up. At first I thought he might be colicking, because this horse not eating alfalfa is a major red flag. But I quickly realized he was uncomfortable lowering his head all the way to the ground to eat, so put his hay up in a net and gave him bute at the advice of my barn manager, and a mashy-grainy water bucket to ensure good hydration. But I was pretty worried there for a second.)

Finally on Saturday, eight days since any kind of consistent or quality work with one shit ride speckled in the middle, we got back to it. My goal for the ride was just to keep it mellow but see if I could get him moving over his back and stretching into the connection a bit. I swung up on Speedy, gave him his traditional standing-at-the-mounting-block treat and he promptly went full pony on me, taking charge of the situation by trotting away from the mounting block. He was positively buzzing during the ride, bouncing off a tiny pony from the other lesson program, pushing his neck back against me, and only very halfheartedly listening to my efforts to chill or woah.

I built a boot organizer for the barn to go under this window so we could declutter our tack room! I love it, such a nice way to use a weird space and keep my boots and helmet out of my trunk.

For my next few rides, Speedy was distinctly not buying what I was selling. He’s not automatically the most “submissive” guy anyway, but more often than not he’s willing to try for me. But he fully reverted back to “I go with my head in the air, the steering is marginal, and I have exactly two speeds: fast and faster.” It got better through the week during my lessons with TrJ, but even now — two weeks later — I’ve still not clawed my way back into Speedy’s good graces entirely. It’s like we erased months of progress and are back where we were well before Christmas, which is such an insane bummer because after Christmas we had some of our most amazing flat and jump lessons ever.

It’s possibly more than just my trash human riding a few weeks ago. TrJ’s whole program moved facilities at the beginning of February and we’re right in the thick of winter training right now. And, well, he’s a horse. TrJ has been saying that an awful lot lately, to all of us. “He’s a horse, he’s gonna do horse things.”

Teefies v. teefies with Hazel’s new shark toy.

But after basically a straight year of what felt like nothing but a magnificent rocketship to the sky of progress, this setback smarts.

With a bit of distance from the event, it’s fine. It’s…. fine. It’sfineit’sfineit’sFINE. I would obviously rather not have massive setbacks with my horse or be an asshole to him. But I’m a human and I’m going to make stupid mistakes, and I’d rather make these discoveries early and at home, when I have plenty of time, space, and resources to come back from them.

So… onward and hopefully upward from here. I know a few more things now about how not to be a trash human to my horse and how much I need to baby him during vaccine week. Plus, building trust is a process and rebuilding is part of that process too.

Also I’m teaching Speedy to stationary target at this duct-tape cross on the wall and his cue is “let us pray”. I kill myself, really.

(Funny enough, it looks like the last time I was an awful human being to my horse [big caveat there since I’m an awful human being to other humans all the time] was right after he was vaccinated last Fall. A pattern. Hmm.)

honeymoon two

Speedy and I are a little bit different than your typical new-horse-lyweds. We had our pre-honeymoon in California while MIL was working with him regularly and I got to learn how to ride him a bit. Rather than taking a few months of bliss before I unraveled all of his lovely training we got right down to business on that front, and I couldn’t really access any of it without gadgets.

total cheater angle on this screen grab but how cute is this creature seriously (also wtf why are my screenshots SOOO TALL)

We probably accelerated things with TrJ’s plan for getting Speedy really rideable and broke, which takes a fairly different route than MIL’s (much more dressage-focused training) and pushes some buttons that Speedy had convinced me to leave alone. Suffice to say all the beautiful dressage training was gone before day one. The jump training too — we’re doing some rewiring so things have been getting messy.

but also sometimes we miss and fly Air Speedy, oops

Seven weeks later it’s coming back, and I think we’re actually in a stronger position than before. Not only can Speedy get round and hold my hand in the connection a bit, he’s quicker and quicker to go there as a first resort rather than flip his head in the air and insist PONY KNOWS BEST. Maybe even more importantly, he’s letting me get in and change his body and put aids on and rebalance and all those things.

So in that regard, we really skipped the honeymoon (or maybe MIL got it all?) and dove right into getting thoroughly sick of one another and trying to figure out how to make our lives together. (But I am LOVING the TrJ lessons and path and am so so so glad I found her.)

new boots are hony approved

On the personality and getting-to-know-you front though, it’s been as honeymooney as you could imagine. In some ways Speedy is exactly the same as he was in California. He still loves people, still loves to put everything he can reach in his mouth, and love scritches in all the good spots. It did take me a little while for Speedy to relax enough to actually enjoy scritches again, but now that he’s settled in he’s absolutely not shy of telling me where the good spots are (right now mostly behind his shoulders where his new coat is coming in aggressively, and between his butt cheeks/upper inner thigh).

I figured out that he’s not a huge fan of the indoor barn-attached-to-arena life. Speedy was originally stalled on the arena-side of the barn aisle, and he spent a lot of time staring toward the arena semi-tense when there were horses in there. Once we moved him across to the other side of the barn aisle a whole bunch of other slightly-concerning things cleared up as well, like intermittent diarrhea (some totally normal poops and some just…. basically diarrhea) and higher-than-expected spookiness.

more honest representation of where we are on the flat right now — still a good moment picked from a long video, but there are so many more moments like this than before!!

Speedy will dump his water bucket every night if it’s left on the ground, so we clipped his up on the wall. However, if you do leave a bucket of water on the ground he prefers to drink from that one. Sorry, friend. You make poor choices with ground water. Also, won’t eat soaked hay pellets but will eat wheat bran mash poured over his beet pulp and ration balancer. Also also, will tip a full feed pan on occasion for no reason. Oh and homeboy is extremely well hydrated and pees to match it — his stall is always absurdly messy for such a small horse.

slurps with joy

Hony will be absolutely quiet in turnout with his head down grazing as long as there is at least one other horse out there. Doesn’t matter which horse, any horse will do. Buddy horse being stupid? No problem, Speedy got grass. Also, he will graze happily with the leadrope slung over his back without moving anywhere fast if there’s someone in view. Love that But if he realizes he’s alone the panic shenanigans come out in full force and shoes will be pulled. Speedy and the farrier are fast friends right (actually, new farrier is fast friends with all the horses at our barn right now!!).

And I imagine there are so many more discoveries to come, of course.

This weekend we take our second adventure together since Speedy came home. Today I drive North of Seattle to attend a Shawna Karrasch clicker training clinic and I am SO EXCITED. I’ve been signed up for this clinic for three months and signed up literally the moment it opened.

He’s pretty good company so it’s not onerous to get him out to “hand” graze.

I’m so excited that Speedy’s clicker training basics are pretty strong so we can get into some fun stuff with Shawna. I have a whole list of things I want to work on with him and we absolutely will not be able to touch on most of them in one weekend. But it will be so good to work with her and get some homework!

en route

HUGE AMAZING LIFE CHANGES TODAY: Speedy is finally home!!!

Speedy boarded a semi rig yesterday morning around 10 am (a shockingly civilized time for horse haulers) to come and live in Oregon with me. Not with me like at my house. I don’t do horses at my house (I have no fences, no barn, no arena, and no desire to wake up at 6 am to throw hay). But to my trainer’s place.

Which brings up another big change: Speedy is not going to TrJ’s.

This WikSmart cooler is super neat! It has belly and chest panels that smush up against the horse to get those hard-to-dry spots, and it wicks so well that sweat was beading up on the outside of the fabric after a while.

When I had Murray in my trainer’s program in California, a few people left the program here and there saying that they just weren’t getting what they needed out of our trainer. I was always a bit confused by that. B let students haul out to other trainers, bring in other trainers, go to clinics, run clinics, take weekly lessons, take daily lessons…. the sky was the limit on how you wanted to learn, really. And while I could see shortcomings in B’s teaching philosophy, I also strongly felt that a good student could get what they needed out of any reasonably good teacher. No teacher would be perfect, but when you’re obsessed with learning you don’t need fantastic teachers, you just need a teacher.

Over my three years at TrJ’s program, I’ve come to understand what those people meant. I have had great lessons and great rides on great horses in TrJ’s program. But there was just something…. not there for me. Part of it was certainly TrJ’s reluctance to take riders to or bring in clinicians other than one or two approved instructors, once a year. Another was that I never felt like my riding development was a priority for TrJ. Probably this was because I never had my own horse there and never made competitions a priority. It was probably also because I have some training/philosophical differences with TrJ that I discovered early on, and wasn’t ready to let go of them to embrace her ways. Doubtless she could tell I wasn’t 100% in on her program and subconsciously reflected that lack of commitment back to me.

Speedy was a little bit toooo interested in touching Sebastian’s butt on our trail ride. Also L and I kept swapping/messing up their names and it was so embarrassing, like when I don’t know what name to yell at the dog.

All of those things on their own, would have been totally manageable for me. But together they just added up to a program where I wasn’t getting what I needed.

Last year, I was talking with our course designer for WSS and he let me know that a new trainer would be moving to my area, and strongly encouraged me to get in touch with her if I was serious about my riding goals. This, of course, inspired a flurry of internet stalking, trying to figure out said trainer’s timeline without harassing her, and playing out scenarios in my head. I wanted to wait until the right time to get in touch, and make sure that plan EuroPony really was going through before I tried to commit my horseless self into her program.

As we know now, it did go through, Speedy is here, and NewTrJ* said I was welcome to join her as soon as she was moved up here. So Speedy headed directly to her barn in the wee hours of this morning (aka standard operating hours for horse haulers).

(*Also a J-named trainer, so TrJ she will stay.)

I had this arrangement sorted by the time Speedy’s sale went through, and then I just had to sit on my decision and find the right time to talk to TrJ about it. I dawdled longer than I probably should have. I didn’t want her to get frustrated and kick me out, because I was having a great time with Patrick, but I also didn’t want her to be holding a stall for me that I would never use. So I bided my time for an early November chat. Then she had a hip surgery, then a setback in hip surgery recovery, then her dog died, and then for three straight days every time I loitered to try to get a hold of her one-on-one everyone and their mom showed up loudly needing her attention.

despite having an auto-water and bucket immediately to his left, Speedy desired this algae-mosquito water

Finding the gumption to talk to TrJ face to face about my decision was hard. I sweated about it for days, and on the way to the barn I literally recited what I wanted to say to her. I didn’t beat around the bush: I told her that I realized Speedy (and I) needed a program where he could get trainer rides. He’s still green enough that he needs someone educated to help him learn how to do the things. And my schedule is stupid enough that there are times — sometimes weeks — when I’m literally unavailable to ride my horse. If I want to have any hope of competing, I’m going to need someone to be training my horse and training me how to ride that trained horse. TrJ was obviously bummed but understanding, and we left things on a good note with the door always open to me. For which I am grateful.

And that right there is another big change. I was not a “full training” rider in California. I was a ride-or-die-d-i-y when it came to training. I wanted to learn to do the thing but I also wanted to learn how to teach the horse the thing and I wanted to teach the horse the things myself. I have a way better understanding now of the value of a good teacher and an educated butt to help a horse’s learning. And despite my feelings on being a good student and learning, I would never deny that fantastic teachers get concepts across better, faster, and with more salience.

Kate did ground work with Speedy two nights in a row and said she could have kept working with him all week. Here they have a private discussion, indubitably about my shortcomings as a trainer.

I’m pretty excited about all these changes. The only bad thing is that NewTrJ’s place is about 40 minutes from my house (instead of fifteen, sigh). But lots of riders I know have further and less beautiful commutes to get to their horses. I’m excited to have NewTrJ teach me, and teach Speedy. I’m excited to get to see Speedy every day! I’m excited for all the adventures I already have planned for the hony.

I don’t believe in jinxes, so I’m not afraid to say it: We are going to have a great year.

cooling off

When Murray first decided I first realized that Murray needed to be retired, I was interested in getting a new horse right away. Interested doesn’t even cover it, really. I was desperate. It was like I didn’t know what I would do without a horsey project to call my own. When I went to see that horse back in December (who ultimately didn’t work out) I had spent plenty of time stalking him online and was already imagining what my life would be like with his fabulous show name. I found all of his old sale videos, watched his current sale videos relentlessly, and when he didn’t work out, I was back to scouring the internet, looking for a good deal.

a certain extremely cute pony’s begging behavior is so firmly ingrained that he even begs for treats in the field

It’s a good thing that horse didn’t work out, because the reality is that I didn’t have the money for another horse just then — not the cash up front, and not the cash flow to pay for all the horsey expenses. And I’m still not in the financial or work position where I’d feel comfortable taking on a full-time horse — owned or otherwise.

In January when I posted about my thoughts on future horsey-dom, I had come to terms with the fact that I didn’t really have the money for a new horse yet, but I was still medium-key bummed about it. Sure, pony lessons were fun, but I couldn’t help but think about how much progress I could be making with my new horse in that time. And also heavily window shopping for said horse in the mean time. If a great deal had fallen into my lap in March, I don’t think I would have turned it down.

Murray was never into selfies pre-retirement

More than six months down the line, I’ve no longer got my-own-horse FOMO and I’m very glad I didn’t rush into anything with a new horse. Completely ignoring the money issue — I think we can all take that limitation to its logical conclusion — there are so many things about my current life that make horse ownership impractical. Especially green horse ownership! The glaring issue is the time. All that time I spent driving back and forth to California would not be doing my new (inevitably green) horse any favors. Even when I’m home, the farm isn’t exactly a low-key and undemanding job. I’ve spent more than a few days sitting in the truck or on the tractor for eight hours at a time, doing water runs, prepping fields, checking trees. And those are absolutely not things that I can just ditch to go riding (unlike constantly skipping out on writing up my thesis, lollll).

Also, if I’d bought a horse right after retiring Murray, you bet I would have rushed into it somewhat. Like, sure. I had a list and all that, but I’m also a sucker for a cute face and even more of a sucker for a good price. Emotionally/mentally compromised Nicole is not necessarily logical Nicole — and who knows how much TrJ would have been able to hold me back. That would very possibly have led to me being in a Murray-like position again because I think horses with a lot of “personality” are super funny and adorable. But it could also have led to a not-so-great fit between me and the horse, and then I’d be in the position of trying to sell a young, green horse. Which I know would suck. It absolutely would have led to me being back in the position of riding a green horse and trying to teach a green horse the basics of connection and dressage and jumping and not in the position to grow my skills where Murray and I left off. If I had my own horse, I wouldn’t have the lease on Timer right now.

me with every cute horse I see on the internet: I love you so much and you will be mine

Ultimately, this cooling off period was really good for me. I would never have asked for it at first, but I am so glad it happened. Time really was what I needed to chill out, but having great horses to ride in the interim certainly helped. At this point, I’m completely willing to wait on horse buying — for 6 more months, for a year, for two years — I’m no longer in a rush at all. My new dream situation is to pick up my second horse while maintaining my lease on Timer, so I can keep building my skills on T while new horse settles into the routine and gets with the program.

A few months ago, I was worried that not having my own horse would expedite losing my identity as a rider and someone who loves to learn about and improve my riding. But I’m not worried about that any more. Clearly I’m able to fit riding into my weird and wacky schedule given enough horsey enough flexibility. And even if riding isn’t my seven-day-a-week-all-day-at-the-barn-whenever-I-can-make-it-work hobby obsession of 2014/2015, that doesn’t make me any less able to work hard and grow in the time I do get to spend there. I’d love to get back to riding every day or even multiple horses a day in the future, but it’s just not in the cards right now. And that’s way more okay than I realised back in December.

more idyllic trail rides in my future, please!

can I/will you ride my horse?

This is always such an interesting thought exercise for me.  Inspired by Olivia and T recently, I can’t help but think about who is allowed to ride my horse.

The answer is, much like my horse, complicated.

hawley01 who doesn’t want to ride this?

There are times, especially when Murray has been in regular work, that he is going so well and so easily that I feel like anyone could get on him.  I actually did this a few times in Spring 2015, when my friends and I would pony swap and ride each others’ horses around.  Murray was super — he rode just like I said he would and jumped everything they pointed him at and even dressaged kinda cutely.  It was super.  He was a rock star!  I even promised my roommate that after the Camelot event she could jump him around a bit bigger, I just wanted his health/safety/etc. to be solely my concern until after the event.  And then the evidence of his insecurities and poor training reared its ugly head at Camelot and I spent the entire summer and then some working through that.

And basically nobody but me has ridden him since.  One good friend and one teenager have ridden him for me while I’m gone, but never more than a handful of rides.  And usually he’s good, but they both know me and Murray very well, and know how to keep him fit without engaging meltdown mode.

I really, really want Murray to be the type of horse other people can ride.  What I wouldn’t give for a productive trainer ride is not worth having in this universe.  I want Murray to get used to all different sizes and shapes of butts on his back.  I want Murray to learn to perform under all different conditions and pilots.  I want to get other peoples’ opinions on how to ride him better!

I want help getting this!

The only way to get Murray to this place where other people can ride him is to have other people ride him.  After installing really, really, really good manners in him.  But other people riding him is still a totally an integral part of this equation.

Thanks to certain flamboyant behaviors that someone insists on pulling out (with alarming frequency recently), not a lot of people are dying to get on Murray.  And this is not some round-about way of complimenting myself.  I’m not trying to say that it’s impossible or even all that challenging for other people to ride him.  He’s not hard to stay on, he’s just not particularly easy to get a productive ride out of.  In part because he has learned that by being a punkass he can get out of work with me sometimes, and other people most of the time.  I don’t have a ton of data points here, but it there’s a weirdly strong correlation between someone new getting on Murray and asking for work, and a period of screaming and flailing during that ride (don’t worry, I’m not mixing up correlation and causation) before anything productive happens.  So the people that I want to ride my horse aren’t really all that interested in riding him — they know they can ride him, they just aren’t interested. With good reason.

And then there are the handful of people who volunteer things like “I’ll ride him!”

Is it painting in too broad of strokes to say that by saying those words you almost immediately disqualify yourself from the pool of people I consider capable of riding Murray?

Perhaps it is unfair of me to generalize like that, but Dunning-Kruger is a thing! A real legit thing!  And I think that the people who see Murray being a twerp and are like “I’ll ride him!” either think they can majikally fix him with their special asses — in which case, they need to give me an ass transplant RIGHT AWAY — or think that they can do something that I can’t or won’t do to get him past it (spoiler alert: excluding hurting him, this list has zero items in it).  But if someone is so confident that Murray a) won’t act up for them, b) will act up and they can stick it because they are just that good of a rider, and/or c) they can fix him, I suspect they don’t understand enough about riding to realize why I won’t let them on him.

(I should know, because I was that person, and look where it got me: my horse still bucks, can’t go on the bit, and is now habitually jumping exactly -6″ higher than we were almost two years ago.)

In general, I feel like the people who can accomplish b), c), and then a) get paid for their efforts, and are typically pretty done riding horses with attitude problems because they rode so many of them earlier in life.


I have dreams that one day, in his glory years, Murray will be packing kids around, sassing them over fences, but generally being a good guy who teaches kids how to ride.  But our current predicament leaves us in something of a “Who can ride my horse?” paradox.

july 10 questions

1. Do you actually always pick the horse’s feet? Always? Really?

No.  That is the chore that I habitually forget.  Sometimes I realize I forgot when I’m walking out to the arena, or when I’m riding, or when I get back to the barn and I’m like “Oh… I did not… do that.”  I am lucky that I have a horse who does not go to pieces over a little schmutz in his feet.  I am better with other peoples’ horses.


2. What is the biggest obstacle/reason preventing you from becoming a professional or competing full time with ease?

Skill.  Horses.  Money.  Time.  But let’s say that I can solve the the first two with the last two.  I would still struggle to compete full time with ease because I’m not sure I could do so in good conscience.  If I had enough money to be showing as much as I wanted and improving my skills the way I wanted, I would have a metric butt ton of money.  And that money could be put to much better uses than improving my personal hobby that costs an inordinate amount of money.

That money could save a ton of forest and chimpanzees.  It could pay a lot of ranger salaries, help a lot of kids go to school, and let me do a lot of research that I am not otherwise able to do.  And doing that work is something I’m very passionate about, and being able to make valuable change in the face of conservation would be incredible. So, it’s more than just money and time and skill and horses, really.  I don’t think I could lead a fulfilling life just riding and competing.

3. Do you think it will ever not be about the money?

Certainly not.  But when money makes the playing field equal, skill will certainly show through.


4. Was there ever a horse that you loved and really wanted to have a connection with, but it just never panned out?

I don’t think so.

5. What is one weakness in your riding that even your trainer doesn’t pick up on, only you?

Hm, good question.  For the most part, I feel like my trainer picks up on my weaknesses and flaws pretty well.  She knows that I want to keep my reins too long, that I have uneven pressure in my seat bones and stirrups, and when I’m inclined to lean forward or pitch myself oddly in the saddle.  So there’s nothing that I’m better at identifying in myself than my trainer is at this point.

6. What is the biggest doubt/insecurity you ask or tell yourself in your head?

That my horse is mentally incapable of performing the tasks to which I aspire.

7. There is a barn fire. You are the first person to discover it and see that the roof is collapsing in slowly, and you can tell it’s going to come down any time. Do you call people first or head straight in to save the horses?

There’s no way that I can save all the horses on my own, and I will need to get emergency services here anyway, so I go inside and call 911 first.  Even if there is only a land line, that is the most rational choice.  Then I call the barn manager and tell her to call everyone else.  Then I go save my horse, and others.  The glory of cell phones makes this choice much less horrifying.


8. What is one event in your riding career/horse/anything that you’re still not over, even though you might tell others you are?

I’m not sure.  I don’t think I’ve had enough riding experience to be hung up on anything just yet.

9. If you could tell off one person you just don’t like, what would you say?

That she needs to take a step back and look deeply within herself and acknowledge her own flaws and stop turning things around on other people as if they are the cause of all her problems.

10. Have you ever seen questionable riding or training practices, but let it go/ignored it? How do you feel about it in hindsight?

This is interesting.  I have never seen something that I would qualify as abuse without stepping in to talk to the person/rider/trainer in question.  I usually try to frame this as a question of their methods and ask them to explain so I can understand, and then challenge their opinions to see if I cannot convince them of a gentler way.  However, this has happened probably… three times ever?  More often I see something questionable that is not abuse,  but is not the way I would do things and, in my opinion, will not lead the rider to their desired destination.  In that case, I keep quiet — it is every rider’s prerogative to make their own choices and even mistakes, or even to teach me how my own assumptions were incorrect!



For a long time I’ve had this idea stuck in my head that there are some obstacles Murray and I will simple never get to the other side of. For example, our dressage tests are consistently inconsistent: I never know what horse is coming out of the warmup or what is waiting for me in the sandbox. Obviously this is to the detriment of my riding and our overall performance, but that’s not really the focus of this particular blog. I thought I’d always have this horse that could really be beautiful at home but would never show himself fully away from home – and I was becoming resigned to that. I thought I’d probably always have a horse that would get a little sticky in stadium, peering at strange filler, floral arrangements, or you know, whatever he felt like. So I planned on riding a horse that was strong in warm up and backed off in stadium and never being able to appreciate the bold, brave jumper I knew was hiding in there.

20830856128_429a5bce3a_kOnly took 14 fences to get to “brave”!

And then this weekend while I was listening to podcasts and mucking, the Dressage Radio podcast came on (part of Horse Radio Network! Free podcasts! So fun!) and they were talking about the 10 Habits of Highly Effective Dressage Riders. The first one they talked about was

6: An effective Dressage rider knows success happens one ride at a time, day in and day out, remaining consistent and realistic in their daily goals and expectations.

And that really struck me. Day to day, I feel like I have pretty reasonable and consistent expectations. Today: be through, be supple, use your body correctly. Tomorrow, be through, be supple, and use your body correctly. Saturday: be through, be supple, use your body correctly. I’m good with that. I get it, and I understand it – perfect practice makes perfect. But it was certainly something to hear really upper level riders talking about using these tiny, teeny weeny increments to train the movements. And obviously, obviously, right?! You can’t expect a horse to hold their body up in a pirouette day after day and not get sore and pissed off – they don’t do the same movements day in and day out. But they do work slowly, with what their horse can do, and that is the road to success.

Next up was Linda Parelli, talking about using the principles of Parelli to help horses understand dressage. A lot of people think dressage is about control and rigidity and structure (Linda pointed this out, but it is also something I have noticed), but it’s not. It’s about – among other things — cooperation and building understanding. I, myself, can’t treat dressage like a place to control and bring rigid structure and my command and will down upon my horse – even if I previously thought like that, someone would disapprove.

buckingLet your body do the talking

Linda talked about taking time with a horse so they understand the game of dressage – that this is something they have a part in as much as the rider. In the Parelli structure this starts with the game of contact, but Parelli or not, taking the time, the little bitty steps and many repetitive hours, of getting your horse to understand their part of the relationship is essential to success. And it seemed, to me, that a big part of this equation was persistence. If you keep changing up your teaching strategy, how is your horse supposed to learn?

After the Dressage Radio Show, on came the US Eventing podcast and who was a guest on it but — lo and behold – Bobby Covington! Bobby was talking with Chris Stafford about his win at the AECs and Chris, as she tends to, asked a lot of questions about how Bobby and Halo came together and their riding and competition history. Now I’m on Team Amanda all the way, but you have to admit that Bobby and Halo have an impressive competition record. They have finished in the top 3 at their last four events at beginner novice, and finished first at their move-up to Novice this year. I mean, no matter who’s team you’re on, that’s impressive.

Impressive indeed.

The interesting part to me, however, wasn’t just how well these two have done. It was actually the amount of time they have been together (since 2008! If I recall correctly). Hearing a bit about Bobby’s history – that he evented through Prelim with his warmblood mare and after college was finally able to get a second horse, Halo, and started at the beginning again – really made me think about learning and time. Obviously Bobby and Halo have a great relationship, and Bobby knows how to ride his horse for the best performance. But more than that, they have clearly really, really taken the time they need to get it right.  And make sure it stays right.

I know right?! BeyondPod was hammering the message home on Saturday.

There were the pieces. Do things incrementally and a tiny bit at a time. Be persistent. Even spooky thoroughbred can score under 30 in dressage consistently. They percolated while I mucked and fed approximately nine million horses and dropped hay off the wagon and had to go back and pick up the flakes I dropped every time I turned a corner so that everyone would get fed.

And I realized – what kind of crack have I been smoking that I think it’s impossible for Murray to ever be consistent in the dressage court and I’ll just have to accept the wildly shitty and disappointing rides for the frequency that they are likely to come?! That isn’t logic. That isn’t what I understand of animal learning. That isn’t what I want. I don’t want to move up the levels accepting my shitty dressage tests and hoping for clear cross country and stadium runs to get in the ribbons. I want to be strong in all three phases. I know we can be strong in all three phases. I want people to see my name on entries lists and fear competing against me because we can kick such ass.

Weird/fat/drunk/sad tiny shoulder Napoloen is back!

This isn’t something that we can never get past. In fact, I doubt that with time, creativity, and the right learning structure there is anything that Murray will never be able to get past. He is smarter than I am, especially about learning things, but I am stubborn as hell, and now that I’ve got this idea in mind I am not giving up on it. It’s just that somewhere along the way I got wrapped up in all the other distracting things that come along with riding and competing – shiny things, satiny things, bigger things, lower-numbered-things, jealous things… all the things. I’m not sure that I ever completely equated those things with success or reaching my goals, but they seem to be correlated often enough that it’s honestly a bit hard not to. It’s hard not to think that the goal is the move up, or the ribbon, or the score, or the next level. But that’s not the end goal, is it? The goal is total eventing world domination being really kick ass all the fucking time*.

As I seem to pledge to every few months on here, I am anew-committed to taking the time we need to kick ass and take names. I’m sure in a few months I’ll get all ahead of myself again and have to remember to get back to this place.

*Or as much of the time as we reasonably can.

favourite riding feelings

If you’re anything like me, when you’re not riding you’re daydreaming about riding.  ‘Tis the life, amirite?  There are some things I daydream a lot more about than others.  Some of these things are for functionality purposes — I daydream a lot about dressage exercises, for example — and some of them because they are fucking awesome and I want to do them all the time!!!!!!  Here are some of the things in riding I think are fucking awesome and I want to do them all the time!!!  In no particular order.

Cantering uphill

IMG_1059Not cantering uphill, but this is the ever-faithful Quincy

I will never forget the first time I cantered uphill.  It was the first time I schooled Camelot with Quincy, and when we cantered up the hill I was immediately struck by how powerful he felt.  He was so honest and game and just surging up that hill.  To this day it remains one of the coolest feelings I know.

Four beat gallop


It wasn’t until this year that I really felt how fast Murray could move, but even before that I knew that a real gallop was awesome and felt amazing.  Lots of horses I’ve been on can get a pretty big canter when they’re in the Great Outdoors, but there’s just something about that moment a canter transitions to a true four beat gallop that is badass.  With Murray, it usually coincides with a flattening and stretching of his stride and, if he’s trying to catch someone, a distinct lack of steering.

A balanced canter transition

IMG_1991Okay also not quite a canter transition… or balanced…. or happy. They are sometimes rare.

When I first started leasing in addition to weekly lessons, I would always daydream about cantering.  Just cantering around.  Something about the rocking-horse motion of the canter just mesmerized me.  Now I specifically daydream about really lovely, balanced, trot-canter transitions.  I love the way your horse seamlessly pushes off with that outside foot to rock you into the canter.  That I can appreciate.

When pony puts in that extra sproing from a perfect takeoff point


Sometimes when I’m cantering down to a jump I see the perfect spot and then to top it all off, Murray gets a little extra pep in his step and just bounds over the fence.  You get some sweet hang time and it usually doesn’t jump me out of the tack, and never fails to make me feel like “damn, my horse can jump.”

Rocketship canter transitions


I know I said that I love a balanced canter transition, but there’s also something about those rocketship canter transitions that I can’t help but love too.  In this case it’s the attitude about it.  When I turn Murray to face an XC fence he’s feeling confident about, or as we leave the start box, he kinda balances back and LEAPS forward with this “I GOT THIS” attitude.  It’s the best.

Trot to square halt

IMG_2017Almost there….

As is fitting of a fairly lazy boy, Princess Murray can pull out some pretty fantastic down transitions.  On a good day, he will trot trot trot down centerline and BOOM. Square halt. Drop the mic.

Feeling totally centered and rock solid in the middle of pony antics


When Murray is getting silly out on cross country warm up, there’s nothing to do but laugh, right?  I mean, sure, I can get cross about it and pull him up.  Or I can let the guy have his fun and ride it out because I know that when we get down to work, he’ll (probably) be there for me.  But the part about these antics that I actually enjoy (other than the ridiculous photo ops)?  They show me how much my riding has improved and how rock solid my leg and seat can be.  And how much I looooove my poh-neh.

The happiest I’ve ever looked on a horse (because I somehow always look miserable)

What about you guys?  Any other feelings in riding you adore?

not your ten

Important note: THANK YOU, everyone, for your kind words, comments, and support regarding Murray’s very important test this week.  I’m so, so pleased that he passed, and did so with such ease and without smashing any $85,000 machines or killing the vet.  I’ll probably write a whole review of my PPE at the clinic because I was truly impressed with how my veterinarian handled the day — five of our horses, and a dying foal rushed into the middle of everything — and for people in my area, I cannot recommend Willow Oak Equine enough.

I’ve really struggled to balance my work life and blogging life lately.  I’ve been insanely busy, social commitments with friends from out of town have been unmissable, the PPE was eating my nerves, and just LIFE.  Man, life, can you please get yourself under control?!  Anyway, as I sit here watching the Rolex Dressage drinking my coffee, I’m reminded of a concept that my now-roommate taught me when were first getting to know one another: not your ten.

With a horse as personality-full and opinionated as Murray, you can imagine that I’m used to putting up with quite a bit of shit.  Silly shit, real shit, funny shit, bullshit, the kid throws it all at me.  And the one compliment I will give myself here is that I feel like I really handle it well — I can let it all go and just ride in all but the most bullshit situations.  Of course, it’s Murray who taught me how to handle all of that and still get the most out of my horse, so I can’t forget to credit him either, but that is not the point of this paragraph or blog.  Back to the point: so when I hear someone say to me “my horse was so bad today!” or “he threw such a huge tantrum” or “she bucked so big” I used to receive it with a little… skepticism.

If you watched Tuesday’s video, you saw the fights we had (though it wasn’t me riding that day, we put The Problem Solver on to see if it was me or Murray).  That ride was not atypical of any given ride where I asked Murray to canter with any level of contact.  So, like every ride.  Add that to the random, unexplainable, and unreasonable tantrums, weird noises, and the tacking up and, well, it took a fair bit to impress me in terms of bad pony behavior.  Especially at our barn of really reasonable, wonderful horses.

bucking ee721-download_20140428_192928Our arena fencing is five feet

So here’s the thing.  Not everybody has a Murray.  Not everybody wants a Murray.  Not everybody has experienced a Murray.  Just because someone is not used to dramatic dinosaur squeals and five-foot bucks does not mean that their experience is invalid.  Sure, their “ten” isn’t my “ten”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a ten on their richter scale.

When she was explaining it to me, my roommate likened this to children in the emergency room.  Two kids come into the emergency room, and both have a broken arm.  One of them has broken her arm before, and the other one hasn’t.  When the nurses ask them what their pain level is, the girl who has broken her arm before says “About a six”, and the girl who has never broken it before says “IT’S A TEN!!!!”  Those two girls are experiencing two very similar injuries very differently due to their past experiences.  That doesn’t invalidate either of their experiences — the girl who is in 10-level pain should be treated like she’s in 10-level pain, even though she’s never broken her arm before and probably has yet to find a whole other world of pain levels in front of  her.  And the girl with 6-level pain shouldn’t be dismissed either, just because she’s not saying she’s in quite as much pain as the other girl.

I try really hard to stop myself when I’m doing this — dismissing others’ experiences on horseback (or in life) because I’ve had more severe ones — because it is really not a great way to go about life, or even a fair way to treat people.  Sure, your horse may move faster than the quarter horse in your lesson, but that doesn’t mean his bolting to the fences wasn’t as serious as yours.  When I see a green rider getting nervous because she got a few crow-hops out of her horse, I don’t respond with “oh that was NOTHING, come over here and ride MY horse!”  Instead, I try to put those crow hops in the context of her experience, and commend her for riding well through them, or offer constructive criticism for how she can get her horse back on task next time.

horze1Not everyone can look this magnificent jumping a 2′ obstacle, ok?

Ultimately, to dismiss another person’s experience because you have had more/worse/bigger/better/badder/more xxxx-treeme is just another way of putting someone down.  You’re leveraging your experience over theirs to dismiss their feelings, feelings which are completely valid!   Just because someone is puking with nerves at their first unrated horse trial and you’re sitting chilly, it doesn’t mean they’re weak and you’re strong.  It means that their ten is not your ten, but it’s still a ten.  Instead, I strive to respond with compassion and context every time, and remember that my ten is probably Boyd Martin’s four — but he would still treat me like it was a ten.

TOABH: Introspection

What would your horse change about you?

Hmmm, this is a good one.  Considering that Sunday after I told him he’s getting a pre-purchase exam Murray fruck out and pinned me in the wash rack because I deigned to discipline him, I suspect he wants to change my intentions to buy him!

Just kidding.  He doesn’t know what a pre-purchase exam is.

One thing Murray would definitely change is my crookedness.  Not that I’m a thief, but that I carry my body all wonky.  Right hip forward, collapsed through the right ribcage, pinching with that right knee…. everything would be so much easier if I could just let that right side loosen up and behave like my left.  Then he wouldn’t have to be so crooked to compensate for me, probably!

IMG_0404What do you mean, crooked?

Along with this, he would lube up my elbows a good bit so I could follow his mouth more freely and in better balance.

Murray would also change my desires for him to be a clean, well-groomed (well, after the makeover that is) creature.  He is not the world’s biggest fan of a long grooming session, and unless it doubles as massage, currying could probably just go away entirely.  Mane pulling is tolerable, but only to a point, and he seems to rather like his long, luxurious locks.

The biggest thing, though, that Murray would change is my desire to do anything except what he wants to do — much like Carly’s Bobby.  We would do nothing but gallop and jump shit and trail and gallop some more.  There would be lots of cookies and carrots and hand grazing involved, and definitely none of this dressage bullshit, and certainly no pastes to be squirted in the mouth every day.  I would never ask him to go to a jump he wasn’t expecting, unless it was a really cool one that he really wanted to jump, and I would never ask him to not fling his body about like an 80’s rocker for no reason.  Which is, I guess, only fair.  I would be an 80’s rocker too if I had the choice.