john-michael durr clinic w the suzukini

Winter is for clinics, right? That’s what I’ve learned in the last five years as an Equestrienne. And fortunately for me, I got to ride in one pretty early!  Suzy’s lovely owner rode with John-Michael Durr (heretofore JM) on Friday at our barn, and I got to have the ride on Saturday at another barn about an hour from us.

Suzukini was a freaking champion on Friday, while simultaneously giving a really accurate reflection of her current training issues.  She wants to get tense and rushy and solve problems by putting her head down and going for it.  The problem with that method is that it gives her the perfect position to just… not go.   She pulled this trick twice, and JM tactfully guided Suzy’s owner through riding the mare better to the fences and presto — the mare jumped like magic.  Suzy jumped everything huge, and had no second thoughts about 2’3″ verticals and her first oxer!  I was very proud.

On Saturday, we loaded up Suzy and a friend’s horse (who was actually bred by Suzy’s breeder and used to live with her!) and headed over to Clay Station Ranch for our second jump lesson. Suzy hauled like a champ and stood at the trailer like a seasoned professional when we got there. The only problem I encountered was that her bossy broodmare-ing of me started to come back out again as we walked around — subtly shoulder checking me to get me to go where she wanted to go. I not-so-subtly shoulder checked back.  I kept our warmup really simple — walk and a tiny bit of trot in the outdoor arena, hoping to keep her calm and avoid working her up before we got in to our lesson.

Unfortunately, my warm up strategy didn’t really walk.  We got into the indoor for our lesson and Suzy was suddenly on fire.  She veered around the indoor choosing where to turn and when to turn and what to look at.  I tried to keep her slow and relaxed instead of rushing and charging with minimal input.  JM immediately told me to create the horse I wanted instead of restricting the horse I had.  Did that make sense? Nope.  He backed it up: instead of constantly telling Suzy “don’t look there, don’t trot so fast, don’t veer in here” he wanted me to tell her “go like this, turn right here, look over there” and then reward her for doing those things when I asked her to.  That I could do.


girl likes to jump everything big right now

JM’s theme for the weekend was creating a supple relaxation in the horse that you could add power to if needed — but taking the speed out of the equation.  We started by cantering a small X, which Suzy got right up to and then promptly said “nah, no thanks” and tried to run out to the right.  We approached again at a trot and she politely declined once more. JM had me walk her up to the fence and go over it from a walk, at which point I was really glad I brought my grab strap.

Our approach to the first fence foreshadowed the rest of the day.  Suzy wasn’t totally on board, and wanted to do things her way or not at all. JM had me slow everything down.  If we cantered, it had to be a relaxed and steady canter.  If we trotted, it still had to be a relaxed and organized trot.  He wanted me to show how being relaxed and steady would make life easier for everyone.

I got left behind a lot all day

This worked really well for most of the fences, though we never managed to nail the relaxed and steady canter approach.  All of our fences ended up with a long trot approach, and maybe a stride or two of canter at the end. A couple of times Suzy burst through the relaxation and charged the fence, but it got better as we went along.  Each time we would approach a fence with new filler (new concept for her also — we haven’t put much fill in for her at home), Suzy tried to charge out over one shoulder or the other.  I wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping my leg on to the fences at this point either.  JM pointed out that I would feel Suzy start to pull me down to the fence and then take my leg off.  What he wanted was for me to keep my leg on, but compress her stride and sit her up.  This would make it easier for her to jump the fence instead of choppily stopping in front of it.

she is awfully cute though…

This strategy worked really well when I remembered it, so to remind me JM yelled at me to kick about three strides out from a fence.  This resulted in a bit of fence rushing after some pretty good, relaxed approaches, but at least she was jumping and listening!  Kicking a few strides out from the fence actually helped me stick with Suzy’s jump a bit better, because it made it easier to predict where she was going to jump, instead of riding hyper-defensively in case she decided to pull me out of the tack with her big, heavy head.

Though I tried to be both firm (you have to jump) and supportive (but it’s okay if it’s not pretty), I’m afraid I didn’t give her the best ride for the way she was feeling. I’m very, very, very glad that I had JM there to coach me through it.  It was seriously one of the toughest rides, both mentally and physically, that I’ve ever had. I was using every muscle in my body to keep leg on, lift her up, steady my post, steady her strides… definitely am not in shape for this kind of riding!! (But I hope to be soon.)

errr sorry kiddo

It wasn’t my prettiest ride (except that one picture above), but it was productive for Suzy and myself.  I learned a ton of new concepts that I can put to use on her, and I got confirmation that the instincts I’ve had about her training (can’t let her rush around, have to teach her to relax and balance upward, etc.) were correct, which is so nice to hear! Even better, I got some great ideas for adjusting my ride on Murray.  The idea of relaxing my horse through a turn and adding leg to balance upward to a fence is definitely different from how I typically approach a fence — i.e. kick my ass off down to it and hope that we don’t add until we’re underneath it. So all in all, an excellent clinic.

Plus, JM is fun and supportive to ride with. Highly recommend him as a clinician!

That night, I went to Peony’s house for a Horse Girl Party and we watched FEI TV. I chose my new sport — I think that vaulting to the Dr. Strange theme is going to be much less physically demanding!

 

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yves clinic with mom-bod-mare!

Big news for the MBM: she has a new owner, and a new name! Little Miss Perfect is now Suzy, and she has a lovely new human who is going to learn to event along with Suzy! She also gained a couple of little girls who adore her and feed her heaps of carrots, and who Suzy will get to tote around and care for like the broodmare she is. And the best part for me? I still get to ride her a bit!  Suzy’s human was kind enough to let me ride the little mare in a clinic with Yves Sauvignon on December 3rd.


just the cutest little trot

Funnily enough, it’s been a couple of weeks since I last rode Ms. Suzy.  Her owner was riding of course, and just hadn’t needed me to jump in since before Thanksgiving! I wasn’t entirely sure where Suzy stood, but I shouldn’t have worried — she was the super star I’ve always known her to be.  Our warmup was quick and simple, just a bit of WTC in each direction, before Yves had us head through a set of four trot poles.  Suzy rushed the poles the first go through and cantered right out of them, so I settled a little deeper in the saddle and worked on achieving a more balanced and quiet trot. Our next few trips through the trot poles were quite nice, and Suzy got a really nice pace the last go through.

 

Our jump warmup was unremarkable, if a little disorganized. It took Suzy a minute to get into the rhythm of jumping, and we knocked a few down before we got fully organized. My position was a bit better during warmup, which I could probably attribute to focusing on quite a few more things once we got going a bit (keeping the canter, good turns, straightness, pace, etc.).  But I would like to be a little softer on her mouth throughout the ride!

not a traditional picture, but v. exciting because Suzy didn’t really have a moment of suspension in her canter for quite a while. now look at all that air she’s catching!

Yves asked us if we had cantered fences, and I had to respond that we hadn’t reaaaalllyy…. I know Suzy has done it with her owner (I’ve watched), but her canter is still fairly weak and she isn’t confident in it. She is inclined to break to the trot before any kind of footsy challenge — canter poles or fences, for example.  So we kept it to a trot right up until the end.


yeah, she really is that dang cute

Yves set up a series of fences that would help us start thinking about getting the correct lead after a fence, changing directions, steering, and straightness.  The first was a single trot fence with a big sweeping rollback at the canter to another trot fence.  Suzy and I got the correct lead the first time but biffed the first fence, so we tried again.  This time we got the wrong lead, so Yves had us change leads through the trot, make a circle, then come back to the trot before the second fence.

The exercise was three fences set more-or-less along the centerline of the arena. You jumped one fence and made a big sweeping turn to the next one, in the pattern of a three-loop serpentine.  We approached tracking left, which is Suzy’s weaker lead, and if we landed on the left lead we could continue on. If we landed on the wrong lead for the pattern we were to trot, change, circle, and trot again before coming to the next fence.

such cute!!

After one go through at the trot, where we had to change leads both turns, Yves had us approach at the canter. I asked what he wanted me to do if Suzy broke to a trot before the fence.  Yves responded that he wanted us to canter, but if the trot was the right decision for that fence, then let her trot.  Seems mystical, but I knew what he meant: make it a good experience for the horse, whether at the trot or canter.  I know that she’ll only get better at cantering fences if we actually canter the fences, but it’s hard when Suzy really lacks confidence at the canter.  Yves reminded me to wrap my lower legs around her and really support her at the canter to help her along.

it’s a lovely canter when we get it!

Our first attempt at cantering the second fence was a tiny mess. Not a real mess, but definitely not our best work (it got better, though!).  Suzy wanted to trot so badly, and I squeezed and squeezed. She trantered a little, but it still had a bit of rhythm to it, and we made it to the fence at a pretty good spot.

not the trantr fence, but what am i doing with my hands?!

Our next few attempts went even better! Suzy was more confident, so she didn’t try so hard to trot on the way in to the fence. Her canter has such a great cadence — every step is very similar, so it was easy to know where we could take off each time!  Yet another thing to love about this mare.

so sporty!

We made a couple of good attempts at picking the right lead over the fence. Well, really, I’m not sure what I did — I just really thought about the direction I was traveling after each fence and rewarded Suzy heartily for getting the correct lead when I did that. I watched the video over and over to see if I did anything to help her but… I can’t see that I did anything, really.  So we’ll give the credit for that to Suzy.

My one glaring error was that I kept turning Suzy rather poorly, overshooting the center of the fence and ending up off to the far side of the fence. I tried (somewhat erroneously) to correct and head back toward the middle of the fence after doing this, which resulted in lots of crooked fences.  Yves encouraged me to just ride straight to the fence, even if we were a little off-center.  I’m not entirely sure what I need to do to sort the turns out… I tried turning earlier, but somehow still ended up overshooting the center. So perhaps I need to commit to the centerline a little earlier?  Not sure.


a tiny attempt at sass in the lead change

The best part was Yves complimenting me several times on making the right choices.  I just followed my instincts with what Suzy needed — usually just less speed and a steadier cadence, but also a few well-placed circles that let us get that steadier cadence.  It’s so wonderful to hear that your instincts are correct!  Such a big pat on the back for me. And extra big pats for Suzy for being such a good sport, and trying so hard. We got lots of good exercises during the lesson to help her progress and get stronger. The hard part will restraining myself so I don’t tire her out with my enthusiasm.

hunt & seek

On Saturday night I walked Murray around bareback in his wraps to stretch him out from cross country, and liberally used some of my homemade liniment on both him and myself.  The upside is that Murray doesn’t seem to hate my homemade liniment.  The downside is that, while it feels nice, I don’t think it does shit.  I mean, it certainly hasn’t helped the healing of my knees.  The formula might need some tweaking.  We’ll work on it.

It’s been a while since I walked my horse around bareback in the dark, and Kate commented likewise.  It was fun.  Murray powerwalked when we had company, and meandered when we were alone.  That night I slept like the dead.

there’s so much good stadium media thanks to the Kathy(s)

My knee was almost pain-free on Sunday morning, but it was also very, very stiff.  I was hobbling around like a peg-legged pirate getting Murray ready.  I don’t think I’ve mentioned this lately (it’s probably worth its own post) but Murray has made huge strides in tacking up lately.  At shows he’s been downright normal — it takes me five minutes to tack him up, and boy is that nice compared to 25 minutes.

Unfortunately for me, my knee was not holding up as well in the saddle as it had on Saturday.  Posting was a little painful (though the pain decreased as I rode), and I had a distinct feeling of unsteadiness in my two point.  Murray was a little sleepy feeling, but perked up when we started jumping.  I was back to riding like a juggalo, and leaned and kicked and crammed Murray to a couple of awful spots.  At one point I leaned and took my legs off to an oxer and Murray came to a gentle stop in front of the fence.  I turned to B and made excuses for myself, namely “my knee is really fucked right now.”

“This is when you have to really ride perfectly then,” she responded. “Dig deep. Don’t think about it.”

ugh I just ❤ him so much

I came back around to the oxer and pointedly did not get ahead and kept my leg on, and Murray was more than happy to comply.  I stopped warming up after that, hoping to save both Murray and myself for the actual stadium round, and did some meditative deep breathing to put the pain out of my mind.  I had walked the course the evening before, and given the state of my knee I wasn’t about to walk it again.  B walked it separately and we had a little pow-wow on the strategy for the fences.  I told her I was planning to try to square out my turn between 2 and 3 to avoid a weird curvy line, but she said it wouldn’t be too bad to bend as long as we didn’t drift.  She told me not to rush the turn to fence 5 and let myself take my time to get there, and to take the outside turn from 8 to 9, not the (tempting if I had been feeling better) inside turn.  Otherwise, it was a sweeping, fun course that felt a little oddly familiar.

It’s no secret that Murray and I have struggled a lot with stadium (also in general).  We have had bouts of mystery stops, major problems with distraction, spookiness, being afraid of standards, not even making it to stadium because we got eliminated… you name a stadium problem, and we’ve probably had it.  And I’ve spent a not-insignificant amount of time watching people cruise around stadium courses with horses that seem like they are going no matter what.  You know the horse — the rider can be flapping and flopping and not riding at all, and yet nothing short of an unseasonal hurricane would stop them from jumping the next fence.  I have longed for that horse.  While I’m flopping and flapping and kicking and pushing and kissing and coaxing, I have wondered many times why I do not have that horse.

uphill-fence-attacking-canter

On Sunday, I had that horse.

Murray was a little looky when we entered the stadium arena, and I struggled to get him into a canter to the first fence because he was staring at everything.  I gave him a little precautionary tap on the shoulder as we approached, and Murray was right there for the fence.  We had a big sweeping rollback to the oxer for two, and once again, Murray was on top of it.  The line to 3 could have been more square, but Murray locked onto the fence and took me there.  There was another big sweeping turn to 4AB, and not only did Murray see the fence and go there, but he took the long spot into the combination and made the two inside the combo.

Murray making the combo happen

The turn to five was good, but after fence five I couldn’t seem to get my body back under control.  I couldn’t get my right knee to bend so I could get my butt back down toward the saddle, so I was left awkwardly hanging on Murray’s mouth as we made the turn to six.  This directly caused Murray to take six down, since I was hovering over his withers, and he got deep deep deep to the fence.

murray: I can’t can’t jump good when you are crooked and perchy!

No matter, he recovered amazingly and powered up to seven in the five strides it measured.

murray: leave the fallen!

We had a very Murray approach to fence 8, the first one with strange/scary fill and the dreaded sharkstooth fence.  I managed to keep my body under control and my leg on, so even though we got deep we got over it, and left it up.

taking the deep one

The rollback to 8 yielded the fantastic jump near the top of this post (american flag fence), and then we gunned it home over the knights oxer.

 

Blurry stadium video below!  I need to clean my phone camera lens.

I’m not going to pretend that the ribbon doesn’t matter to me — I’m glad I got to take home some satin, because I’m a money-grubbing whore and #swag.  But the ribbon really was just icing.  For a move-up show that looked like it could go pretty spectacularly shittily on Friday evening, there wasn’t a single thing I would have changed about the weekend (er, except spraining my knee).

I have been working and waiting four years for this ride.  To feel like this is a partnership we are both committed to, where we can complement and improve one another.  To know that I’m not bullying and forcing my horse into something he actively dislikes and barely tolerates because it’s what I want to do.

I wasn’t all there this weekend, and Murray stepped in to make up the difference (again, actually).  And he did it at a new height, avoiding the problems we’ve had before.  I feel like we could do anything together if we just put our minds to it.

I don’t know where we are going from here.  But wherever it is, I know we can do it.

lessons from children

This week has been a hectic one, for both pony and non-pony business.  I have to negotiate the process of getting a new passport (more complicated than it should be, but I’ll cover that when it’s all said and done) and we leave for Camelot on Friday, so there’s lots of packing and laundry and tack cleaning to be done.  And I’m moving at the end of the month.  And the WSS Horse Trials are on September 2nd. And I expanded one of my positions at work.

You know. Just a few things going on.

Anyway, my fearless leader had to travel for the first half of this week, leaving me without a trainer for a jump lesson pre-Camelot.  This isn’t a big deal, since our jump lesson last week was super fab, and we also get to school the XC course on Friday prior to showing.  But one of the young riders, and resident kid of our barn manager, set a new stadium course on Tuesday so I asked her to give me a little lesson before Camelot.  This kid, we’ll call her Pie, has been running prelim for the last year and riding naughty ponies as long as I’ve known her.  She also has plenty of experience riding Murray, though mostly early in his career. And she’s fifteen.

screengrabs courtesy of my teenage tutor

During warm up, Pie told me to slow my trot on approach to a crossrail.  I was like “um, do you even Murray, bro?” because a slow trot always leads us to disastrous warm up fences.  I much prefer to over-do it and kick him to them instead.  She insisted at the canter as well, and I didn’t comply and pushed Murray for a long spot instead, which resulted in a really ugly chip + me getting ahead.  So it was going so well so far.

I didn’t want to jump too much, so Pie built up the course in pieces.  We started with a short approach to a white gate, rollback to oxer, shallow bending line to vertical.  I kept my philosophy of squeezing Murray into the contact in my mind, and tried to remember my revelations from earlier in the week (post also coming later) about shaping Murray using both my inside and outside aids before a transition.  The transitions weren’t beautiful, and the canter still wasn’t in my hand, but stadium rounds start whether you’re ready or not, so I tackled the first fence.

Murray, shockingly, did not stop at the gate, which hasn’t been on a course in six months or more.  He did pull a little through the rollback, got a funny spot to the oxer, and somehow what should have been an easy seven turned into an ugly eight for us.  We tried again, and got the same funny spot to the oxer, then I pushed for six strides yet drifted even further out on the bending line for another ugly eight (or seven, I don’t even know).

Murray: oh Nicole, could you stop biffing the turn to this oxer please?

Pie lectured me about the bending line.  I needed to pick a track and ride for that track, instead of not picking a track and riding for nothing.  “And half halt,” she added.  Which, to her credit, she had been saying to me for the entire lesson already.  I just wasn’t really listening.

Half halting my horse is hard. Half halting while jumping results in slowing down and stopping.  Much safer to push.

Anyway, we finally committed to a good distance, then added in a triple bar (!!! for triple the fun) with five strides to another vertical.  I felt Murray hesitate ever so slightly as we first approached the triple bar, so I tapped him lightly on the shoulder (and immediately regretted it because I worried that he would use it as an excuse to lose forward momentum), and we went right over.  I did absolutely climb his neck at the vertical though, because we had too much speed coming in.  Pie told me to half halt, I did nothing, and so we got yet another atrocious spot.

In case you haven’t caught on (I hadn’t), that was the theme of this lesson: Pie told me to half halt, I didn’t (or maybe did, but only a little), chased my horse to the fences, and got shitty spots.  It was the. whole. lesson.

Murray, on the other hand, was a freaking star.  Long spot, short spot, Nicole climbing his neck, Nicole getting behind — he jumped it all.  He is clearly ready for this.  At one point we lost momentum after a sharp turn to the barrels, and when Murray had nearly ever excuse to stop over it, he went anyway.  He was jumping really well, and being so, so, so rideable.  He was a good boy.

I, on the other hand, was riding like a juggalo.

please, Nicole, please learn how to land from a fence

After a full course at Novice+ height (we measured later and Pie had set it kinda big, which is good because that’s how I like to prep for a show), we discussed my half halting problem.  I had realized throughout the lesson that my problem was that when I heard “half halt” I was hearing “slow down”, and the two aren’t really equivalent.  I also didn’t want to half halt because I have a tendency to be grabby with my hands, and that really does slow us down.  If I instead half halted with my leg on (you know, a real half halt), I could balance Murray’s energy instead of letting it get long and flat.

Pie also said that I needed to stop chasing my horse to fences, and trust more than he was going to do his job.  The phrases “you don’t need to gallop to every fence” and “this is not cross country” may have come up.

But, I whined, I’ve had to kick Murray to fences for so long that I don’t know how to do anything else.

Half halt, Pie told me.

I settled on one more course of a few fences to get the pace and balance right.  I picked up a canter and approached the first set of jumps — the ones that had given me so much trouble throughout the day.  “Is this the canter I want?”

Pie told me to half halt. (She does actually know how to give directions other than this one.)

Magically, we hit the gate perfectly.  Through the rollback, Pie told me to half halt again.  So I did.  I crossed the line we had (literally) drawn in the sand to mark where I should be able to tell how many strides it was to the oxer (yet another problem I was having), so I told Pie that it was three strides from there.  Which it was, perfectly.  I had to half halt again in the bending line to the vertical, but that also worked out perfectly.

The first three fences had gone so well that I decided to just finish out the course.  Coming down to the triple bar I heard Pie tell me to half halt again, so I did, and that one was a perfect spot also.  Every single fence came perfectly, except one that I couldn’t resist chasing Murray to the base of.

this is particularly impressive as it’s the out of a one-stride

So yeah.  I spent my morning getting schooled by a fifteen-year-old, which I am not used to.  I’m sure I would have struggled with the directive to half halt even if it came from B, though I probably would have just done it because it’s ingrained in me to do what I’m told by authority.

I learned a lot from this lesson.  Namely, my horse is being a fantastic boy right now, and I should trust him a little more.  I can’t chase him to the fences, because it messes up his ability to find an appropriate takeoff.  I seem to have no clue what an appropriate canter is for stadium, but I’m sure I’ll learn.  And for god’s sake I need to remember to half halt (when Pie tells me to).

Next step: fix those atrocious hands and awful landings!

pony jump big big

I wanted to take my first jump lesson since Murray’s hock injections easy(ish), but also prep for my Novice debut in ten days.  I told B that we should warm up, then start at Novice height and just build up to the course.  My goal for this was manifold.

  1. Avoid jumping every fence 3-6 times at varying heights
  2. Start out at the New Scary Height (2’11” in case you’re wondering)
  3. Ride “easy” lines to prevent stops before they could happen

Importantly, I wanted to focus on my position and see if I could find that magic “spot” again over fences, as well as keep riding correctly and insisting on correctness from Murray.  Pertinent to the second point, Alli said something to me that has totally revolutionized my rides this week: she realized that when she feels Dino get light in the bridle, she pulls to get the feel back, instead of kicking the pony up to it.  I realized that this is exactly what I do, especially when jumping: I feel Murray duck behind the bridle, and I take up more reins to get a feel of his mouth back, instead of pushing him forward to the contact and the fences.

Um. Duh.

we have walked over this tarp ditch every day for the last two weeks.
murray still stopped when we first cantered it today.
sigh

So for my last two rides I’ve been thinking about squeezing Murray forward into the bridle when I feel him duck behind it.  Not kicking or bullying, and definitely not pulling, but just squeeeezing him with my whole leg until I feel him come back into my hands.  It worked and got us a really fabulous trot toward the end of my (short) ride yesterday, and I thought “if I could trot like this up to a vertical, it would be pretty fucking awesome”.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to achieve the beautiful trot up to our warmup fences, but I kept squeezing and pushing and Murray softened to the idea.  It’s not his favourite idea — being told what to do OR being told to move forward into contact — but it’s probably the least offensive way I’ve ever asked him for this, so  he was willing to accept a bit.

We started with a simple, long bending line of vertical to oxer.  When B was setting the oxer I remember thinking “gee that’s big! Murray doesn’t even barely have to put his nose down to touch it.”  That’s what you get when you don’t jump  height for a while.  I felt Murray hesitate as we approached the green oxer, that kind of shrinking-stride check in he sometimes does.  I knew it was an opportunity for him to sit down and stop if he chose, so I squeezed him into the bridle — not too aggressively — and he went right over.  I was very, very proud.

good pony

Next up, we built up the combination. The kids had put together a barrels-two strides-quarter round skinny-one stride-quarter round skinny combo across the long diagonal.  I didn’t want to fight with Murray about it, so B had me come in to the barrels like I was on a big circle and just turn left before we got to the skinny.  Murray actually locked on to the skinnies in the combination and I felt him pull me to the right.  But I was committed to going left, so I made the turn happen.  Our next go through he eagerly jumped through the whole combo, though we did jam three in the two stride.


we got the striding later though!

Our attempts at the barrel line were not without fuckups, however.  After one successful go through, I leaned as we approached the barrels in a backward attempt to push Murray toward the fence and encourage him to get the striding.  Murray was like “girl, you cannot lay on my neck like that” and stopped.  I, of course, lay all over his neck.  Like, straight lesson kid laying on the neck posture.  (I would have a picture, but google photos won’t give me the high resolution version of my video!!!!)

shenanigans

Next we came in to the oxer to liverpool.  Murray and I have walked over the liverpool every. single. day. and yet we still had trouble with it during the lesson.  The first time I was coming off of some shenanigans so Murray was flustered and disorganized and I tried to commit to the oxer anyway.  It was the wrong choice.  The next go through Murray went over the oxer and then spooked hard at the liverpool.  I was like “Nope! Nope! You have to do it, Murray!” and pointed him back at the liverpool.  After a moment’s thought he jumped over.  Subsequent attempts were slightly less awkward.

The last few fences on course included a series of rollbacks that were a little more challenging upon execution than I expected!  We overshot the turn both times we took it, but Murray was game to take the second fence at an angle, which made up for my poor navigation.

In our last course, Murray arrived at the big green oxer on a fantastic open stride and at just a hint of a long spot.  I squeezed him a few strides out as encouragement, and he launched himself over — I mean, really launched himself.  Sadly B was very far from the oxer at the time, but we FLEW!

The last course was really fantastic — we made all the strides, didn’t get any awkward spots because we had such a good quality canter, and Murray was on fire!  Seriously, I could not have asked for a better jump lesson before Camelot.  Murray is clearly feeling… something, since his hock injections.  (Though honestly, if shenanigans is what I’m going to get when my pony feels good, I’m willing to take it.)  None of the stops were unreasonable.  All basic rider error, things that I ought to know better than to do/try/flub.

Oh, AND I didn’t crumble because of the height!  Murray and I jump 2’11” not infrequently, but we usually work up to it.  We don’t usually just start at that height.  And I didn’t let it get to me in the first few fences, so after that it immediately felt fine.

it felt so, so, so cool to have Murray pulling to these skinnies in the combo!

We will probably jump once more before Camelot, to keep the confidence up.  But now, I really, really, really need to figure out how to ride Novice B dressage test.

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.

small steps to bigger strides

It’s a good thing my Friday lesson after last week’s ridiculousness was a jump lesson, because I’m not sure I had it in me for more fighting about dressage.  As it was, Murray and I got to take our first lesson in a long time with my RBF!  She has just gotten a new pony, who is very spry and pretty fantastique, and finally we’re of a level to lesson together consistently again!  The added challenge in our lesson is the RBF’s pony Lucy has a much bigger stride than Murray and likes to take the long ones, whereas Murray has a shorter stride and often wants to cram extra steps in.  So B set the combinations to a 12 foot step and challenged us both to make it.


majestic mare!! I am completely obsessed with her (pic from her previous owner)

We kept the fences small, which was a good choice given the challenge of getting the striding. I was riding in a borrowed saddle as an experiment — the saddle I’ve had for a long time bridges pretty badly, and last week I found a sore spot in Murray’s lower back after my jump lesson.  The borrowed saddle (same one I used at Twin, actually) doesn’t bridge, but is certifiably too big for me (very clear from the footage).  Probably a good choice not to crank the fences up to 3′ given all that.  (I did want to ask for them to go up for my last course, but wanted to solidify the success we had at the lower height once more, and thought it would be better to do that without changing things. Maybe this is why we progress slowly. Oh well!)


look at that pony taking a reasonable takeoff point for once

Once we had warmed up, I insisted that Murray move forward to the fences.  This worked out well for us. Coming in to the (looking incredibly long to me) two stride to one stride combo, I kept my leg on, floated my reins (/ my whole arms, you’ll see) and we made the distance!  It was a little long to the out oxer, but it wasn’t awful.  Once I knew we could make the longer step, I continued to insist that Murray move forward to the fences.  I sacrificed any contact (and apparently a lot of equitation) to do this — we really aren’t yet at the point where we can do both at once.

After the triple combination, we wrapped around wide to a little gate, and then a bending six strides to a one-stride with a panel that Murray has peeked at a few times before.  On the bigger, more forward step even when Murray peeked at the panel we still had a very reasonable stride coming in and easily made the distance.

The second and third times through we wrapped back around to each of the combinations backward — one stride to two stride, and one stride to bending six stride.  We made the strides every time, which was awesome, but my insistence on the forward pace did come with a bit of a price.  For one, I gave up on all contact and just flopped my reins around the whole time.  Murray was moving fairly flat and downhill, which was to be expected since we are not used to this big open step.  My solution to this apparently to try to lift him up using my hands only?  Not totally sure what I was doing, but I caught my hands floating up weirdly high on a number of occasions.


such magnificent dressage between the fences

The saddle was also clearly too big for me, which was much more evident once I watched the videos.  I did feel a touch in the wrong place during the lesson, but nothing like what the video showed.  I have a smaller saddle (16.5″) coming from the UK but it won’t be here toward the end of the month, so I’ll need to figure out a solution for my jump lessons before then.  Murray was much springier and forward than in my jump saddle, however, so a change is definitely in order.

I did have to get firm at one point, near the beginning of the lesson, giving Murray a sharp smack when he got sticky/balky as we walked off to start our course instead of moving promptly off my leg.  He got his attitude in line pretty quickly after that, and didn’t get snotty or act out when I asked him to move off my leg.  I’d like to start getting him more put together and forward for jump courses, which sounds weirdly familiar like I’ve been saying it for absolute ages?  But it’s a good goal for the next few weeks before Camelot.

um yes, nicole, a 17.5″ seat is too big for you. how very useful that knee block looks.

The video shows the most progress, really, so I’ll leave it at that.