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.

hawley clinic: rhythm and pace

The Hawley clinic was, as in past years, super fantastique.  I was a little apprehensive getting started because of Murray’s Friday antics, but I shouldn’t have worried too much.  Even if Murray didn’t settle (he did), Hawley had a sunny attitude about his silliness and laughed both with us and at us.  While I appreciate the seriousness and advice of people like Yves and Chris Scarlett, I also really valued Hawley’s advice on how to get the best out of Murray in a show environment and keep riding through the antics to keep making it about learning.

So.

We started, of course, with a circle of death.  Actually, we started by telling Hawley about our ponies.  I was in a group with two friends, one riding her young gelding, and the other catch riding.  I told Hawley that Murray and I have been fighting about basics lately since I’m bad at being strict about them, and therefore we slip easily.  Great! she said. Today will be all about the basics!

circledeath

The circle of death was a tough one.  Much more of an ovoid-of-death, we were literally limited in our space by a fence that Hawley was sitting on.  No worries, girls, just don’t smash into the Olympian. No problem.  Murray couldn’t get it together to start with, flipping his tail and cross cantering and counter cantering and doing anything but cantering right, really.  Hawley was insistent that we stick to the track — horses learn by repetition, so you must keep repeating the correct exercises so they understand.  But I had to get off the track one time to get Murray moving forward and cantering properly.  Left was much better.

Next was an exercise of three step poles (9 ft apart) to a small vertical, three strides away, then straight down to the end of the arena before a left or right turn (alternating).  Hawley asked us what 9 ft step poles meant.  I said that it would mean pushing Murray forward, but the other girls were pretty confident they could just canter through.  Hawley reminded us: “And what is a horse’s stride length? So this will be a little bouncy for them.”  This was where Murray’s sassitude really came out.  He hadn’t quite worked out all the kinks in his back, evidently, and bucked all over the straight aways and tried to use any distracted to bubble out to the right.

hawley01working out the kinks

I kicked him pretty hard in the side to push him off of my right leg at one point.  Instead, Hawley suggested that I get off his back and focus on pushing him forward, and not pull on his face.  “So he’s feeling good,” she said. “You can still do the exercise. And then we keep doing it until that tail settles down and he can get through it steady and with rhythm.”  Steady + rhythm were very much the theme of the day.

On our third go through the poles-jump-jump exercise Murray just couldn’t contain himself and tried to buck right in front of the oxer.  The jump snuck up on him and he had to pop his feet down for a second to get us over, but he did it.  I’m so glad he knows how to get out of his own way.  I just wish he would use those powers for good a little bit more?

We built up the course to include a couple of sharply angled lines, between the center fence and the two fences of the circle of death (see above).  The angle was made challenging by the arena wall right there on the outside of the fences, and the fact that it was a mere two strides (four for extra special ponies named Murray) between the two fences.

Hawley reminded us to sit tall but not too deep on the approach to the angle, fix our sights on a point on the wall, and leg up to the fences.  She demonstrated how even a few inches of differences in shoulder position could affect the ride (though also claimed that you could fake it through Intermediate, so YAY for us leaners?), and told us to keep sitting really, really tall.  To a rider in an earlier group I heard her describe it as keeping more air between your chest and the horse’s neck, which is a great image.

Murray rode through the angle well the first time, but in the other direction saw the ground poles on the other side of the fence and objected mightily.  Hawley had me hold the line and then kick forward over the fence.  That is one amazing thing about little fences — you can walk right over them!  Murray didn’t love it, but he’s pretty familiar with the “go over this from a stand still” routine so he went.

 hawley04 hawley05
woooahhhh! oh fine then

As we moved through the courses Hawley started pushing us to get the correct striding between fences. She wanted five from vertical to oxer and down to the next vertical, and seven on the opposite line.  After a gentle tap with the crop to remind him that it was there, Murray was very responsive to my leg and moved up to the fences.  Murray got a little wiggly to one oxer and the barrels the first time around, but I kept my leg on and he went.  Hawley encouraged me to push him forward to them more.  The first time I tried this I still instinctively held for the shorter stride, but the second time I really pushed Murray into a forward but not rushed canter and the lines worked out perfectly.

All in all, another great day, and I’m very glad the lessons weren’t cancelled for rain.  Murray stepped up and worked hard after a bit of a doofy start, and I felt like I rode better and better through each course.  Though the fences were small, I think I would have felt confident moving them up, even a foot, with how well Murray was listening.

I’m realizing now that all the media I’m posting is us being at least a little dweeby, but it’s all about transparency, right?  I swear some of our efforts were solid.

Hawley Bennet clinic 2-25 from Nicole Sharpe on Vimeo.

this bodes well

It would be, of course, the week right before I have a jump clinic with one of my favourite ever clinicians that I suddenly regain all motivation to ride, realize that I have a lot of ass-kicking to do with Murray, and then have to avoid doing too much of it to preserve him physically and mentally for the clinic.  Murray’s attitude has become progressively better through the week and I imagine it will only continue to get better with consistent work and structure.  He has also gotten sore, though, so I knew that my tune-up jump ride was likely to be at least a little interesting.

And it was.

murrayisadork1

 

I just wanted to make sure that we could go forward, jump everything, and not be scared out of our skin at random objects.  Which we totally accomplished.  But Murray took objection to the extended groundline to the vertical on the out of this one-stride, and could not get through it without playing over the jump or upon landing nearly every time.  I mean, really horse.  Why did you jump 4′ over a 2’3″ fence?  Why are your legs hanging straight down?  What is the game plan here?

murrayisadork2oh, i see what the plan is now

B coached me through putting Murray together again quickly on the back side of the fence and not letting him think that this behavior is desirable.  Once we started to string together a few more fences he settled in, and while we never came out of this combination totally straight and forward, we didn’t miss any fences because of it.

The benefit to working extra hard to get Murray put together before and after fences was really nice flat work.  So clearly, we can do it.  We just need to be appropriately motivated.

feb-jump-03

Murray got two grams of bute and I will hand-walk him today (and hopefully a little turnout if the arena is free) to help ease those sore muscles.  We will see what kind of pony shows up for Hawley on Sunday!

shut up and take my money

I actually did not look at my videos from the morning dressage lesson with JM until after my jump lesson in the afternoon, which was a funny choice.  I was worried that with all the ground breaking HARD work I was asking Murray to do and the fussy slightly shitty place he had felt like at times in our lesson that our video would be less than flattering and mostly slightly disappointing.  I was clearly wrong, but didn’t know it yet.  So when my jump lesson with JM started I wasn’t quite at “shut up and take my money”, but I certainly was afterward.

JM asked what he needed to know about this horse for jumping, and I simply said “We like to add.”  JM responded that he also likes to add, and is fine with it as long as you ride forward to the add.  Sounded like something I could do.

spankMurray did get in a teeny bit of trouble for refusing this coop, and responded like…. some kind of downhill goat or something

We started with the classic trot-pole-to-crossrail and after a few successful trips over that JM raised the X to a vertical.  As we were trotting into the vertical I heard JM say “steady, steady”.  As I could feel Murray plowing down on the jump I slowed my post a little to encourage Murray’s pace to stay consistent.  Unfortunately this had the opposite effect of slowing him TOO much, and we had an ugly fence.  The next time through Murray was picking up the pace a bit again and so I tried to just half halt through my core.  This resulted in an EVEN UGLIER jump.  JM stopped me, told me that my horse is a lazy SOB so I have to work to keep him forward instead of holding him back — and what do you know, Murray regulated his own pace.  Like he does.

We moved on to jumping additional fences, and Murray refused a green coop we have jumped a billion times. He was looking at a scary piece of filler off to the side of it and I didn’t ride properly — still hesitantly the line between over-doing it with the “YOU MUST GO” and underriding.  So he got one smack, and I rode properly to the fence the next time, and it was a non-issue.

We progressed through the courses relatively quickly.  After watching a few consecutive fences JM told me that I had the winning combination of a horse who was willing to sit himself up on his hind end, so my job was to keep the energy and push him to the good spot instead of letting him add until we are beneath a fence.  This is not particularly revolutionary or different from what other clinicians have told me — but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a great ride!

jump-1

We jumped around BN height with a few slightly bigger fences thrown in there (I told JM I wanted to start out the new year at novice, but obviously would re-assess in the new year) and there was nary a stop or shitty fence to be seen.  Despite being tired and having a hard butt workout that morning Murray was responsive and rateable — I could get him forward when I needed, and he came back equally well.  He took the long (for him) spots when asked, and didn’t fight me too much about getting on top of fences before takeoff.

I did feel a little looser in the tack than I would like, which I chalk up to being out of jumping shape, and I was ducking a little aggressively over the fences.  But I imagine I will get much stronger in the coming weeks as Murray and I get back into it.

The best part of all this is that I felt completely and absolutely prepared for the level — which is a first for me.  I don’t clinic much, but I feel like whenever I do clinic I say “I’m competing at BN” and there are still nineteen things that clinician gives  me to work on before I can be successful at that level.  I mean, yay for getting what I need out of clinicians, but it always leaves me feeling a little bit like “will we EVER get there?!”

jump-2

And you may have noticed that there was nary a mention of Murray theatrics in these recaps.  Because there were none.  Trainer didn’t even have to prep JM with the Notorious OTTB backstory — we just stepped into a clinic and rode successfully like Southern motherfucking democratic republicans reasonable adult horses CAN DO.

WUT.

I mean, we asked Murray to do a hard thing in dressage (use your hind end, fool!) and he neither lost his shit about it nor abandoned everything else he’d ever learned about dressage and turned into a giraffe.  That’s a huge win right there.  Then I took my tired horse and jumped him around at a good clip asking him to take longer spots than he wants to and not shrink his stride to the fences quite so much, and he didn’t get upset about that either!

This kid is growing up.

adaptive riding

I had a stellar jump lesson Tuesday, my first jump lesson in close to two months and Murray’s first serious jump school in a month!  I made the tactical decision to do a quick jump school on Monday to get Murray accustomed to the idea of jumping again and let him get acclimated to the fences in the arena, per his insane spookiness lately.  This was the right choice: it took Murray and I a lot of time to get back in sync with jumping and also to remember that not all jumps are pony eating monsters and that even if they are pony eating monsters the best way to avoid them is to jump REALLY HIGH over them.  One of my kid friends, you know just those normal barn rat better than everyone riders, picked up poles for me and reminded me to do the things I am supposed to when jumping like maintain a rhythm and keep my leg on.

The lesson started out very average.  Murray was torn between being happy that we were jumping and really upset that everything in the arena had changed in the last month.  He was squirrely but forward, and was trotting pretty adorably.

july jump 01such engage. much adorbs.

Unfortunately, once we started cantering fences Murray lost his understanding of what leg means and started to get a little lurchy.  When I put my leg on to help him maintain a steady rhythm and reach for the fences it had the absolute opposite effect, and Murray would drop his back and jam another tiny, hideous stride in before the fence.  After six fences in a row of this I pulled Murray out of the line we were in as I desperately needed a reboot.  This was not working.

While I was lamaz breathing to keep my ish together B told me to change my strategy.  Instead of sitting on Murray and driving him to the fences with my seat, she had me go back to the not-quite-half-seat of yesteryear and half halt and rebalance Murray with my thighs while keeping my seat really light.  (I had moved away from this to avoid jumping ahead and be able to use my seat more effectively.  I just do what I’m told.)

july jump 04

And it worked.  DUH.

I am a huge proponent of doing what I’m told by my trainer.  I like to think that I fight back with her the least of all the adults, and sometimes that’s certainly true.  But I can also be a bit of a pain in the ass sometimes.  Fortunately, this was not one of those times, and trainer managed to drag my back from the brink of an absolute meltdown with this strategy.

Oh trainer. How I love you.

The rest of our lesson went really well, especially for a rusty Murray and Nicole.  We jumped through the two stride, getting three every time but one (no groundlines maybe? this line caused us a LOT of trouble), jumped some new(ish) scary filler, and got through the one stride line with ones many times, including with my helmet cover falling off.

july jump 02assistant trainer turned this broken chevron into an adorable watermelon slice!

The big lesson from this lesson was to be adaptable.  If I had been schooling on my own and Murray pulled this there is no way I would have figured out to change my strategy, and I’m sure I would have kept  jamming my bony little ass into his spine and he would have kept jamming four more inches of stride in before the fences.  I am just not that good of a rider yet.  But it’s something I should remember — Murray is teaching me all these different strategies to ride him well, and I need to remember to use them.  But it’s hard when you’re out of practice.  (Let me reiterate: I love my trainer.)

The funniest part of our lesson was when we did just one more course.  My kid friend videographer had put my helmet cover on top of the pole over the barrels and as I came towards it I yelled “Oh you may have doomed us!!!!”  Embarrassingly, Murray did not give two shits about the helmet cover.  I, however, stared it down so hard that I buried Murray to the fence.

july jump 3

So I guess it’s a good thing that Murray is now more educated than me… that means I did my job, right?

yves sauvignon clinic

On Saturday, before I rode with Megan, I got to ride with Yves Sauvignon, who is a local trainer (based in Sebastopol/Santa Rosa area), 3* rider and trainer, and all around awesome guy.  In addition to being French, Yves is a great coach.  His standard coaching technique both encourages you and pushes you to keep doing better, and his ride philosophy includes a lot of technical elements and precision.  At the same time he’s really understanding of different horses’ strengths, weaknesses, and uniqueness, and helps you play to their strengths.

yves2

We started out with a trot placement pole, which Yves usually places 9ft out from the base and often serves as a canter pole as well.  Murray was on point.  At first Murray needed to get a bit more forward in the trot, so Yves suggested that I loosen up/relax my knees a little.  I learned a few months ago to distribute my weight into my thighs to help balance and regulate one of the speedier ponies I rode, and have apparently incorporated that into my riding of Murray pretty thoroughly!  Yves explained that this squeeze through the knees* is part of the half halt, so while I was trying to push Murray forward I was also rebalancing him, and needed to relax my knees a bit to allow him forward a bit more.  It took me a minute to figure out how to ride with loose knees again (uhhh apparently I’ve been weighting my thighs a lot more than I ever realised), but after that it was smooth sailing.

yves1* I don’t (think) I pinch my knees — I feel like I would have been cured of that really quickly by being absolutely launched over Murray’s shoulder — but will be investigating this more.

yves3Murray, in addition to being on point, was also on one and expressed many and varied opinions.  Through both vocal and body language.  Fortunately his opinions did not detract from Murray’s desire to jump the jumps.  So jump we did.

Yves has a strong philosophy of show-and-tell for horses that are a little less confident, and doesn’t think that surprising horses a lot does them much good in the long run.  He wants his horses, especially young ones, to be brave with all different types of fences.  Fortunately for us, Murray didn’t require any show-and-telling, and while he was a little backed off to some flowers the first time we saw them,  he jumped them beautifully and in stride.

yves4

One of Yves’ big suggestions was to put a bit of a lid on Murray’s antics.  While it’s nice to know your horse is feeling good and has a sense of humor, it is (apparently) not so much fun to ride a goofy possibly bucking horse through the lines and not know if there’s some extra goofy behavior coming.

yves7Y u not want to ride dis on XC?

Yves also really appreciated Murray’s ability to balance himself up to the fences and add strides where needed.  Even better — during the lesson, Murray was also taking the long spots when I asked him to, and even changed leads a few times (though only when I tricked him).  Overall Murray was super responsive to my leg, both laterally and in terms of speed and power — he would step up the pace the moment I put my leg on, and it resulted in a ton of adjustability.

yves5Can’t complain about jumping with this backdrop!

It was a short lesson but a very good one. Murray was feeling awesome, and Yves said I had done a great job with him so far.  I so love riding this forward, game horse!  Yves also validated my slow-it-down strategy with Murray, and said that he likes to slow it down even more with horses like this, and keep cross country to a controlled canter and trot the fences where necessary.  I worried to Yves about making the time, and he said he’s made it at Novice while still trotting quite a few fences, and assured me that Murray’s canter was more than adequate to make time without any freaking out or galloping needed.  I’m not sure I tooootally believed him (based on experience and the fact that it feels so slow!), but it was a good, powerful, rhythmic pace so I couldn’t complain.

yves10

Maybe not the biggest fences in the world, but some solid coursing that was totally confidence building for both of us!  Yves also said that I have done a great job with Murray, which made me feel awesome.  It’s incredibly rewarding to hear that I am taking this little quirk ball in the right direction!