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.

 

camelot: stadium

Ending cross country day in last place, while not exactly my goal, definitely takes the pressure off on stadium day.  I felt surprisingly zen and stress-free on Sunday morning, and treated myself to a breakfast burrito with my coffee (which I immediately regretted, because I suck at eating breakfast).


pretty sure this was immediately before he spooked at left shark

Murray was feeling footloose and fancy free on Sunday himself, and he attacked the warm up fences.  Seriously, he felt amazing.

The course was a typical Camelot stadium course — twisty, turny, and full of fucking terrifying jump standards.  The standards and fill were what I worried about on course, since Murray is not exactly known for his bravery in the face of new filler.

The course didn’t feel amazing like cross country had, but we went forward to every fence and had no stops.  After fences 1 and 2 Murray spooked fairly hard left away from the shark standards, so I jammed my feet a little deeper into my stirrups and gave Murray a little smack coming in to fence 3, the knights.  I felt a tiny bit of that hesitation again after the rollback to fence 5 — red white and blue — and got it together for a proper booty smack.  We put six in the five stride line, and when we finally came around to the sharks Murray slowed to a trot… but he trotted forward and over the fence no problem!


blurry victory

I was pretty stoked coming out of the round, even though it didn’t feel all that smooth.  Trainer was like “that was great!!!” and I was like “err really?!” But watching the video, I realised, it really wasn’t that bad!  It was far from Rolex, but I wasn’t fighting for every fence the way I sometimes feel like I am.  For the most part, Murray needed just a little bit of reassurance to move up to the fences, and I was right there for him.

supposed to be a triple bar, loooool

I moved up one spot after stadium due to someone else’s misfortune, but it didn’t matter to me.  Murray went in the ring and did the thing — there was nothing more I could ask from either of us.  I jumped off and we stood around watching the other rides and chatting with Alyssa (Murray didn’t speak too much, mostly just nibbled dead grass).

I have some more thoughts to sum up Camelot, but I think it’s pretty clear that I’m deliriously happy with how everything turned out.

video from twin

I splurged and bought RideOn Videos at Twin, and it was not a waste!  I can’t embed them, but you can find them on the RideOn website.

Dressage (watch out for Murray’s buck right at C!)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=6d924f210

Cross Country (I look like a drunk monkey in this video, but since it represents a significant portion of the first 30 minutes I ever spent in that saddle, I’ll take it — plus, Murray was such a star)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=c6a797d86

Stadium (sometimes, you’ve just got to double check every fence on course to ensure there are no crocodiles or spare mongooses beneath them)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=11a7ef591

 

twin recap: blow us all away

Duel before the sun is in the sky.
Pick a place to die where it’s high and dry.
Leave a note for your next of kin,
tell ’em where you been, pray that
hell or heaven lets you in.

– Ten Duel Commandments; Hamilton


i love how Murray treats the landing of fences as if they’re way bigger than they are

Saturday dawned and I was determined to be ready to go with much more time than the day before.  Since I knew what saddle and girth I would be using, and all my fancy butler clothes were carefully packed up in my garment bag already, I knew I was in pretty good shape on that front.  Murray had dug several huge holes in his stall, which is new for him, and when I took him on our hand walk he was shockingly brave — like, walking up to traffic cones and nosing them, and sticking his face inside trash cans to rifle around in the papers and used SmartPak strips thrown in there.  Super weird, brave shit.

The stadium course was really interesting!  It was really just a big serpentine.  Walking the course I was a little surprised by the height and spread of the oxers, but later realized they looked much bigger on foot because my height perspective was skewed (they look smaller from Murray’s back!).  And also because when I see pictures of other humans near BN- and N-sized fences, I assume those humans are the same height as I am.  But I’m a solid 6″ shorter than a lot of people, so suddenly the fences leap up when compared to relative points on my body.

Stadium warmup was less crazy than dressage or XC warmup since it was pretty much just limited to the 12 riders in our division, and a handful of riders from the division after us.  Sitting in 8th/11 (or maybe 12 remaining riders) I knew I was going pretty close to the beginning, so jumped around and then watched a few rounds.  As the rider before me, my teammate, went in I popped back over the vertical one more time for a quick refresher, and Murray was game and good to go!

I tried to give Murray a look at some flowers and spooky standards by walking him past the combination at 7, and he definitely gave them a bit of the side eye.  The buzzer rang as we approached the back fenceline, and I asked Murray if he wanted to pick up the canter.  It was a bit of a sluggish canter, but I kicked him forward to fence 1 and kept my leg on all the way up to the fence.  Murray backed off a touch but I was right there for him with my lower leg, and while he got deep he went over just fine.  I kicked for the 7 stride to the oxer and we got 8, of course, but it was still a pretty good fence.

As we came around to jump 3 I felt Murray hesitate and sputter.  Fence 3 had these big stripey horse-head standards, and while we have horse-shaped standards at home there was clearly something spooky about these ones because horses had trouble with them all day!  Murray actually came all the way to a stop and sidled to the right, but I didn’t let him turn away and I put my leg on.  He walked and then trotted the fence, shockingly leaving it up.  I didn’t know if it would be considered a refusal (it was), but I wasn’t willing to turn him away from the fence just in case.  (I later found out that this is pretty borderline in the eyes of the judges.  Had I been closer I would have been much better off turning and re-presenting, since they would count jumping from a stand still as a refusal anyway, and is also considered a huge no-no in the eyes of officials. The more you know.)

The bending line to 4 rode really nicely, and I felt Murray peer again at fence 5, since it had a big wavy panel underneath.  But I legged on again and Murray didn’t question me.  I rode the bending line to 6 as a right-angled turn so we would get a really straight approach and be able to make the inside-track left turn to 7A.  I really kicked to the two stride but we got deep (of course), and crammed 3 in there anyway (of course).

The last line was pretty straight forward, Murray had finally (really) gotten into a rhythm by that point.  We still managed to do 9 in the 7 strides between fences 8 and 9, but then it was a pretty straightforward gallop down to the closing oxer.  As I tried to pull Murray up I took a moment to look over at the clock and saw our time was in the 99-second mark, just under our allowed time of 100 seconds.

I had looked at the standings before I went in to stadium and knew that, going in, fewer than 4 points separated me and the three riders ahead of me. So with no rails and just 4 jump penalties, now just 2 rails separated me from the magnificent purple ribbon.  Two rails!  Horses knock down two rails ALL THE TIME.

I jumped off Murray and couldn’t stop grinning like a shit-eating monkey because i was just so happy with his performance.  Even if we had ended up sitting in 8th I would have been so happy with him for how he stepped up for me all weekend.  Even with that silly stop at fence 3, Murray didn’t back up or run out — as he did at Camelot in 2016, or even in cross country warmup — and when I kicked him forward he responded by moving forward and not with a tantrum.  It was super.

Then the rider after me fell off at 7A.

I saw the fall just out of the corner of my eye, and said to my teammates “did she just fall?” followed by a really inappropriate expletive of joy.  Not everyone heard me but… a lot of people heard me.  (I’m not proud of it, I’m just telling it like it is.)


he is so happy and relaxed in all of these!! i love that!

Then the rider after her fell off and took her bridle with her at 7B.

I had just gone from 8th to 6th in less than 2 minutes.

The rider sitting pretty high in the rankings — in second or third, I think — had some serious and unfortunate disobedience from her gelding which eliminated her, raising me to 5th.

I was so stupidly, deliriously happy.  Part of me felt that my final placing was a little cheap, since I relied on 4 people getting eliminated on XC and 3 people getting eliminated in stadium to reach 5th.  But at the same time, I didn’t get eliminated on stadium or XC so there is that.


when jumping from real deep, be sure to leap like deer

The only downside to the morning was that after the awards ceremony I chose to take part in the victory round, which broke poor Murray’s already highly-taxed and well-worked brain.  We left the stadium arena and he promptly tried to back into or sit on every human and horse in sight.  I know that the people waiting there were thinking of other things (their own impending stadium rounds, for example), but I was a little surprised by how slow they were to move or even look around them as I frantically yelped “sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry!” and tried to do anything to get Murray out of the fray.  At one point he slammed my leg into another horse’s butt crack, and I was really worried that we were about to get kicked, but a kindly coach nearby yelled at me to trot him forward and it actually worked.  At least, it worked to get us out of the mess of horses, and into the middle of the warmup where I finally got Murray settled enough to get off and try to calm him down.

Lesson learned: no more victory gallops for us.