monday media (dump): showtime!

I didn’t intend to just dump a bunch of media again today, but after the show ended on Sunday I got caught up making poke and playing Catan with my roommates (pirates and spice aisles expansion pack!) and looking and pictures and writing just didn’t happen.  So enjoy some highlights of my show this weekend!  Many more (extremely, extremely) entertaining details to come.

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We put in a solid dressage test.  Among our best, actually.  Our scores did not reflect this.

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Some of which was due to a photographer moving her monopod right in front of Murray’s face at this particularly opportune moment.  UP PERISCOPE!

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Murray expresses dressage feels and my show coat makes me look wildly portly.  Those braids are pretty legit, considering I rather desperately needed to pull the top of his mane more.

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We also did some derpssage!  Murray is faking it here, and probably not really listening to me or using himself, but look at that neck!  Sometime in the last year it seems that princess horse discovered he has one of those!  Also, I look like David Schwimmer.

Since we camped I had the clever idea to take some long exposure shots of the dressage court illuminated by the moon with Orion and Taurus hangin’ out above us.  It was worth it.

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I took this on ISO 400 with something like a 13 second exposure at 9 or 10 at night.  I am pretty impressed with my little camera’s abilities.  (It’s actually not very little, it’s quite large.)

Speaking of dressage — look at baby G’s first big-kid dressage test at a real show venue!

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They went on to win their class, by the way!  He is a cute baby.

Murray rocked the stadium warm up but we biffed the actual stadium a bit.  We started out by refusing to look at the first fence…

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And then I forgot to sit up WHILE I put my leg on, and ended up curled a little foetally around his withers…

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Much to my dismay, Murray was afraid of the unicorns.  Not the knights, though!

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Super weekend with super learning experiences!  There is much to tell (tomorrow).

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2015 year in review

2015 was a year full of lots of ups and downs.  I made lots of progress, but came to the big and not-my-favourite realisation that I hadn’t quite been doing right by Murray.  We managed to make some good adjustments and finish the year on a high note though!  For a quick recap of my year, I made a video.  All the nitty gritty details are below.

January

I started January off with a few schooling adventures away from home and thinking about how Murray and I had slowly been making progress.  Evidently I thought highly enough of him to say that nothing bothered him, ha!  I participated in almost every one of Beka’s Blog Hop questions,   I also wrote about how to be a good competitor, and the six stages of the OTTB connect cycle, oh and I mocked people who try to defend not wearing a helmet for stupid reasons.

IMG_9334angry, one-stirruped, weirdly nice jumping

February

In February I went to a show, did hills at my trainer’s and audited a Hawley Bennett clinic, which made me think really hard about riding with some BNTs in the future.  I pondered the bad behavior a certain pony tends to show away from home, and asked for your help training my horse to be a show horse.  I wrote about my scariest story from Africa, polled you on show names, and decided that riding with BNTs cane be awesome and worth it.

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March

In March I went to Italy, lost my phone, and got turned down for a job I wanted, but also came to the realisation that I’d be sticking around in grad school for a little longer than I initially thought.  So not all bad things.  I took some pictures of the moon at sunset (I will be trying that again this year and even have a better location lined up for it), and got my knickers in a twist about integrity and showing. I put together a progression post a la SprinklerBandit and the end of the month brought with it PONY CAMP!!!!!!

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April

April was a big month for me.  I took Murray to the vet clinic for a pre-purchase exam and he passed with flying colors — phew.  Unfortunately, I then still had to negotiate his price and write the check — NOT the order I would recommend doing those things in.  The whole PPE-purchase-waiting-game experience with Murray was a ten on the pain scale for me, but I also discussed how one person’s ten is not another person’s ten.  I wrote about why I hate loris tickling videos and other forms of wild-animal exploitation, the ever-important trust bank, and ten things I hate about dressage.

May

Before I started writing this I could have sworn I bought my horse in May, but I suspect that is because May is when the “you just bought me, welcome to the REAL WORLD” shit started to go down.  Murray and I started to have refusals all over the place, which I imagine was Murray’s way of putting his foot down and telling me I was not riding right and to get my shit together.  I wrote a Throwback Thursday post about May 2014 which was also terrible, and concluded that May is just cursed.  I identified some non-trainer approved moves I was busting out that Murray probably didn’t appreciate, got trashed and wrote about my RBF.

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June

June was all about show prep, as I got ready for my first rated event at my favourite venue ever.  I also got to play with  new baby horses!  I rode gridz and we bossmareupped.

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July

The month of the fateful Camelot Equestrian Park Horse Trials.  I fell off my horse twice, cried (repeatedly, for different reasons), threw an adult tantrum, and it took me a little while to get over it, but my real life and blogland friends were crazy supportive.  I hosted my first ever blog hop — Everyday Fail — and started to struggle back to a positive mental state for jumping.  A huge fire not 15 miles from our barn forced evacuations and we had a not-so-great cross country outing that made it really clear to me how important my sense of humor is when riding Murray, but I worekd on

jumpfailAugust

I signed up for another rated horse trials at the end of August, at a venue much closer to home, and to prepare went XC schooling — this time all by myself.  Schooling on my own took a ton of pressure off me compared to schooling in a group, and really let me nail down some problems that Murray and I had been having.  I also got ready to move, and wrote about one of my favourite chimp friends in Africa, JaneNorCal OTTB launched our new website and blog, and realised that signing up for a horse trials over the weekend I was supposed to be moving was the worst idea ever.  My friends came to the rescue, and despite a minor technical bobble my weekend ended very well.

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September

It took me until September to realise exactly what I had done to Murray at Camelot and how much work I had ahead of me to get Murray to the mental and physical strong point that I wanted for him.  The August show was a big part of this realisation, and I adjusted my expectations for the next year based on that experience and worked hard to re-learn how to ride my horse and give him the ride he needed.  I picked up a project horse, the Peanut, and thought about integrity, how horses and riders mirror one anothers’ personalities, and the inexorable maze of stairs that are progress in riding as an adult amateur.  Oh, and I turned twenty seven!

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October

October quieted down, and I made the tough decision not to attend another show in 2015 based on my finances.  Instead, I schooled dressage a lot and started to work on my First Level dressage goals.  I started prepping Murray for his eventual body clip by shaving random patches of his body, and then I immediately regretted it.  We continued to progress in our jumping and I managed to encourage Murray to start taking the long spot instead of always shrinking his stride and getting suuuper deep to the fences.  I also took some cute dressage pictures for once!

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November

I clipped Murray in the first week of November using nothing but carrots, show sheen, patience, and pure fucking determination.  Murray ripped open his face (clever boy!) and destroyed my First Level debut dreams, which was okay I guess.  I went to a jumper show and still had refusals at 2’6″, which I had hoped to be totally conquered and over with by now, and I continued to struggle a bit with my jumping and figuring out the best way to communicate with Murray.

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December

December dawned frosty and cold, and I promptly trained my horse to buck when he didn’t feel like moving forward going left *clap clap clap*.  I got PUPPIEZZZZ and attended a clinic that really hammered home the principle that PRECISION IS KEY.  I got to take Murray to dressage camp and my MIL hammered home the same message over four rides.

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Well, 2016, you have arrived.  Let’s bring it on and continue to kick ass!

adding jumping skyllz

I was going to title this post “heavy duty booty jumping” because a band that I heard live once played a HYSTERICAL song about big butts including that line, but it turns out when you search heavy duty booty without safe search on you end up with … nothing I actually ever wanted to see.

Murray and I have recently unlocked a couple of new jumping achievements — namely, for real, serious, booty-workin’ jumping.  It all started in a jump lesson I was having with our assistant trainer a few weeks ago.

I have written before about my struggles with speed, power, stride length, and generally keeping my shit together with jumping.  There’s always something, right?  If I’m not letting Murray suck back before fences, I seem to be chasing him to them.  If I’ve managed to get enough power, I’ve not packaged it appropriately and Murray blasts all over the place.  Strides too long, strides too short, strides progressively getting shorter, strides changing shape every few… we have had all of these things.

badhandsmaintaining a consistent stride can be hard

AT tackled two of our big problems — jumping flat and sucking back before fences — one at a time.  (Often if I don’t PUSH Murray to a fence and jump it flat, I let him suck back, as sometimes that beans he’s balancing onto his haunches, but sometimes not.)  First, AT had me approach the fences with a really collected dressage canter.  I didn’t have to come at them fast, in fact she wanted me to approach them slower than I’m usually comfortable with.  Our first couple of approaches were less than ideal — Murray smashed into a 2’9″ oxer face first at one point because he was pooping.  But after AT lowered the fences so we wouldn’t have the height to worry about, Murray jumped like his ass was a ROCKET LAUNCHER.

I saw Murray’s knees come up in front of his face multiple times that lesson, and he pushed off so strongly from behind that I found myself laughing out loud.  It was outrageous how scope-ily and strongly Murray was jumping.  Alas, I didn’t get any media, but it’s okay, I’m sure it will happen again.  I hope it will happen again.

So, for more powerful jumping, just ask for a more powerful, sitting canter.  Easy, right?

Well, not all the time.  But hopefully we can get to a place where it’s easy.

novjump1actually kinda more powerful — but nice and even on those hind feet!

The second thing AT tackled was Murray’s inclination to suck back and shrink his strides as he approaches the fences.  That was an easier(ish) fix, though somewhat harder in execution.  I basically had to remind Murray that I was really serious that we were going to the fences, but not beat him (because that gives him the wiggins), just remind him that the bat is there and we are going to the fence.  That is especially hard for me because I don’t want to let go of the reins in the four strides leading up to a jump.

WHAT.  THAT IS HARD.  How am I supposed to let go of my reins? I’m not a teenager trick riding my pony around!  I’m an adult with a firm grasp upon them at all times lest I fall off and my horse run away and I never get him back again.

novjump2same fence just a little later — so proud of little nugget

So these are two things I fixed, and now there are more things to fix!  Like my equitation that kinda flies out the window when we jump bigger fences!  And my inability to follow the motion properly with my hands and body.
Oh equitation.
Why are you so goddamn hard?
(That’s what she said. Yep.)

ride right, get results

This week’s lesson brought to you by the letter “DUH”

To say I’ve been a little dissatisfied with Murray’s and my jumping lately would put it lightly.  We’ve just felt… off.  But not off with a clear reason, i.e. being terrified of fences, but off like not on.  The jumping mojo has almost been there, just not quite.

Austin Powers James Bond animated GIF(Oh man, you guys, probably my favourite scene in all Austin Powers is when he’s waking up from the cryo-freeze the first time and he gets covered in the goo and then just can’t really do anything.)

During my jump lesson this week I took my new rule of responsiveness firmly in hand and made sure that Murray was ahead of my leg from the very beginning of the ride.  After my lackluster attempts to build power next week, I approached power from a slightly different angle: first I created energy, and then I could contain the energy.  Right off the bat I gave Murray the chance to add energy to his canter and open up when I asked with my legs, and if I didn’t, well, in the words of Alli, Hello Mr. Sticky.  (It is coming to my attention how much I talk about hitting my horse.  I uh… well… yep.  You go out with a bat for a reason, right?)

I also raised my stirrups, and committed to a light seated canter.  Last week I was trying to get back to my half-half seat and just ended up pumping with my body a ton and looking like I was flopping around in the saddle.  I wanted to still my body but get the energy that I was working for — and that energy doesn’t come from one’s upper body, it comes from legssssssss.

Lesson The First: When you get your horse ahead of your leg, finding your takeoff is way easier than when your horse is behind your leg.

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When Murray is behind my leg, he tends to back off progressively with every stride approaching a fence.  Shocker: this makes it incredibly difficult to find a consistent takeoff point.  When Murray is behind my leg, he doesn’t react when I put leg on to get a better distance to a fence.  So having him ahead of my leg meant that if I needed to put leg on for a better distance — which I did, repeatedly, and without much subtlety (pony kicks ftw), we actually got that distance.  And, ahead of my leg, deep spots and long spots all ride better.  Yep.  Ride right. Get results.

Aside: What’s your definition of “ahead of the leg”?  For me it’s always meant having my horse in that balanced, forward-thinking gait (super hard for me at the walk, barely achievable at trot, possible at the canter) where he responds immediately to any addition of leg or hand.  It isn’t about speed, it’s about reaction time, though in my case being ahead of the leg generally means moving with a little more speed than Murray generally wants to move.

Lesson the Second: Getting Murray listening from the very beginning of the ride will has positive effects for the entire rest of the ride.

When you start with your horse ahead of your leg, he will be more ahead of the leg for the entire ride.   I really don’t have anything else to say about this.

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Lesson the Third: Even when you are sitting up in the saddle, you can still fold over the fences, even if it’s not super dramatically.

There are many tweaks I still want to make to my position, but one thing I have felt in the past is that when I am sitting in the saddle instead of hovering barely above the saddle, I can’t really follow the movement of the jumps as well.  This, it turns out, is false.  If I’m sitting and in balance, I can follow the movement just fine.  It also puts me in a way better position to approach combinations, because I’m more upright through them automatically.  This was super helpful when Murray got a less than perfect spot to the first fence, because then I wasn’t rocked out of the saddle or thrown onto his neck approaching the second fence.  I stayed upright, and even if a weird spot was coming up, we were just fine.

These observations made me think back to how much better my riding, and jumping, was this past winter.  And it makes a lot of sense.  In the smaller indoor we always had a lot of grid work, and I rode more carefully and technically to the grid work.  I got used to this better riding, and it carried over to the single fences.  In the indoor we also used the corners and turns to our benefit, building power around them, instead of letting things get loose and floppy on the long, sweeping approaches.

IMG_3844This was actually “winter” in California.

So, for the future: CONTINUE TO TIGHTEN THAT SHIT UP.  More leg on, more power, more connection.  Set the tone for the ride, and keep it.  Work on fitness, because Murray likes to be a lazy sack and checks out after about 40 minutes because he feels like it.  More riding right.

Oh and…

Lesson the Fourth: I have garbage hands.  WTF ARE THESE GARBAGE HANDS.  Gotta figure out this weird little hand lift/wiggle I do in the stride before some of the fences.

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body language

In case you didn’t know already, I love Queen.

I’m having a crush work week and have a little dressage schooling outing at my MIL’s planned for this weekend and didn’t appropriately plan my rides, so Tuesday’s ride turned out to be a lunging session.  I’ve always wanted to know what Murray’s trot would look like with a little suspension added to it, pole work is important and a goal for this quarter, so I thought I’d lunge the kid over some poles.  I put down one to start because, you know, starting slow and giving him a chance to get used to things and all that, and Murray was like “uhh wut is dis obstakle…?”

octdressage3Almost every approach to the pole he threw in a tiny step or launched himself over it or did that weird young-horse-freeze-frame gait where he kinda paused over the fence with his feet in the air — but NOT in a cute way.  I’m not talented enough to lunge and video so we see no evidence of this.  He did settle down into the exercise, and so I started cantering him over it which actually went much better.  But first I had to convince Murray that I actually meant canter, not just keep trotting at the same pace like nobody every asked you to do anything.  I gave him a whole circle (far too generous) to get his shit together, asked him to canter one more time, and when he didn’t respond within three trot steps I reminded him why lunge whips have poppers.  (Aside: the canter is progressing magnificently, but you can see from this picture and the ones tracking left at the bottom that his right hind really is still weak.)

Murray’s response on the lunge line pretty much any time you scare him is to go straight sideways.  It’s actually a thing to behold, he just increases the diameter of the circle by like 3-6 meters and if he needs to bust outta there, he’s usually ripped the lunge line out of your hands in the process so he’s free to do what he wants.  Murray did two of these little double takes in a row — the second one just for good measure I guess? — and was prompt off my vocal aids for the rest of the session.  After cantering both directions over the pole (which he actually didn’t suck at), I paused, added a second trot pole, and asked him to re-negotiate the “question”

The additional trot pole was actually really helpful in encouraging Murray to keep a consistent pace and actually lift up all his legs.  Shocker.  Although, we definitely are not trot pole experts just yet.  Or even very good at it.

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#whatgaitisthateven (different day, similar exercise)

One of Murray’s body work people (the masseuse, actually) suggested lots of poles to encourage him to lift up the forehand and loosen his shoulders.  Unfortunately, they don’t really seem to do that.  He certainly articulates his joints more, but has a strong tendency to just drag himself through the poles on the forehand.  I’ve tried putting them closer together, but then Murray gets bamboozled and just smashes through them.  It seems like the standard 4.5 foot distance is the best one for Murray, but it’s not the best way to achieve our goal.  At least if I’m up there I can rebalance firmly beforehand and then push Murray through the poles for a little bit more balanced attempt.

trotpoleforehandPretty sure this is the definition of on the forehand

However, trotting Murray through the poles is getting him to lift through the withers, even if he is a little on the forehand (I don’t think these two things are mutually exclusive?).  Murray is really reluctant to lift through the withers when I ask (aka half halt), he just is like “that’s not a thing, nitwit”, but if I can trick him into doing it himself first, then I suspect I can tap into that during our rides.  Also, poles mean more back lift and good use of body, and that is always helpful.

I took my new rule (aid = response) and goal for more correct use of his body to my dressage ride with Murray on Thursday.  First, I dressed him in my brand new white polos and a clean white dressage pad because polos are only ever white once.

After I lunged Murray over trot poles again (pics are from this ride), I worked on unlocking Murray’s right shoulder a bit.  At some point in the last three weeks Murray decided that left bend is not a thing, and even going left he is sooooooo stiff and jerky and sad.  So I counter-bend him on the circle and push him forward, and let him “fall” back to the left bend.  I probably spent about ten minutes just circling left encouraging Murray to trot at a reasonable pace, use his whole back, and not shrink the circle down to nothing.  This reluctance to the left is very apparent during transitions, and some combination of stiffness to the left + general crankiness meant that when I put my leg on at the walk I got nothing out of Murray.  More leg just pushed him sideways, which is a well-known evasion of his (go anywhere but forward).  So at the walk I gave Murray one more chance to pick up the pace based on my leg, and then gave him one solid thwap on the rump with my dressage whip.  Murray responded with his patented “buck and scream” but moved off my leg very promptly after that.

Ah yes, of course.  Demand responsiveness, get responses.

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Awww look at this cute little dressage pony!

octdressage4I worked on a simple pattern of haunches in to shoulder in at the trot down the long side, small canter circle on the short side, and a shallow counter-canter loop down the next long side.  The idea here was that I would access Murray’s weak right hind with the trot work, encourage him to set some weight back with the small canter circle, and then work the counter canter.  Down the short side before I would transition to trot, I tried to really collect and relax Murray’s canter so that I could prep for the canter-walk.  Honestly, I can feel that transition in there.  I know exactly how it should feel, I octdressage5almost even know how I should be able to ask for it.  I know we have it in there.  But when I ask Murray to down transition from the counter he’s like “OH SHIT DISORGANIZATION COMING” and just cannot really sit down for it.  I get it.  It’s hard.  It’s hard for me too, knowing that the transition is in there, and I just can’t bring it out.

(The gangsta lean is strong in this one.)

Murray was shockingly mature for the entire ride.  Even though I asked him to work hard beyond what he wanted to do, he did keep working.  I had to keep working too — when I slacked off for a minute during some left canter at the end of our ride, he immediately broke to the trot.  I growled at him, rebalanced, and kicked him back into a canter, and I got a good transition and only minor reluctance to pick up where we left off.  Who is this reasonable and mature horse that can buckle down and get work done?!

octdressageUmm is he like almost maybe a dressage horse?!

stairs

I’m going to have to conduct a sub-study on whether or not radio-silence on blogs correlates with great leaps of progress in thesis.  I redid an analysis last week, experimented with a few different ways of looking at my data, ultimately settled on thresholding at a different level, got a better result, and then wrote sixteen pages on Monday.  I guess I really “re-wrote” sixteen pages, as it was revisions to a chapter I already had a draft of but… whatevs.

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Anyway, to do that I kinda had to reserve my writing juju for my thesis and not use it up here.  While writing here every day has definitely made writing easier, it seems that I have a finite amount of writing resources and I can’t fritter them away on blogging.  Or more realistically, I probably do better when I’m not distracted by all the cool and wonderful things happening in the horsey blog world.  My absence made my heart quite fond, though.

Murray and I have been riding our own little rollercoaster lately. We had an absolutely fantastic jump lessons where, despite being a little bit concerned about some new fences out there, Murray was jumping everything in stride and really listening to me.  I could ask for the add, I could ask for the long spot, I could get him to go over something even when he was like “err that might eat me?”  It felt AMAZING.  We jumped a wide hogsback and turned it into a triple bar and it felt effortless — if not perfect, the power was there.  And then a week later we had a lesson where I could not get that horse back.  I tried so hard, and I asked him for the long spots, and he was like “Uhhh, fuck that.”  He nearly ditched me into a one-stride combo twice (once at the first jump once at the second one), and came not to a screeching halt — that would have been preferable — but to a disorganized, spastic, ugly-trotting halt in front of it once.

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It’s been much the same in our dressage rides.  One day Murray spent the entire day busting through my left leg, regardless of which direction we were going, and his once-quite-lovely canter was suddenly this five-beat monstrosity that actually made me want to cry.  Quite literally I was like “where did my horse go? what is wrong with him?”  I wasn’t even asking him to do anything challenging, and his canter was like garbage.  I thought it felt like a bag of trash (reference to The Lonely Island).

With a dressage lesson coming up I wanted Murray to feel good and loose and happy, so I just backed off and went back to doing the things that we used to do all the time.  I’ve noticed a growing weakness in Murray’s right hind, or perhaps a growing disparity in the strength of his left and right sides, so I just focused on getting that right hind under him again.  Shoulder in, leg yield, and a little haunches in (it still makes him booboo faced so I try not to do it too much).  And not only did I get some really quiet, solid work from him, but his gaits were clean and we avoided fights.  Big sigh.  So much better.

Why did I abandon these exercises in my rides?  What did I replace them with?  I don’t not do shoulder-in and leg yields in my rides, but they stopped being the majority of my work and being little transitory bits of my work.  What did I replace them with?  I don’t even know!  Gah, so frustrating.  For now we’ll be back to incorporating lots of shoulder in (shoulder fore at the canter), leg yield, and working on getting the haunches in on all three gaits to make sure that Murray is limbered and strengthened and all those magnificent dressage things.

People say progress/success looks like this.  You’ve seen it around.

I suggest a more accurate version.

escher-staircase

I mean, I feel like we are just going around and around and around this staircase.  Same shit, different day.  Good shit, bad shit, boring shit, it’s all the same.  Logically I know we are making progress.  But the steps are tiny.  And there’s a lot of wiggling.  Some days are good.  Some days are mediocre.  Some days are bad.

So this progress is slower than… I thought?  Than I expected?  Did I expect anything other than slow progress on this horse?  No, not really.  When I find myself frustrated I have to wonder at why.  Inevitably, it is the crashing let down from progress the day before.  Somewhere in my brain I assume that because we made some level of progress the day before, not that we should be able to make that same amount of progress the next day, but we should at least be able to maintain the things we did the day before.  But often we can’t.  Those days are the flukes.  They are indicators of a shifting mean, but the mean is shifting waaaay more slowly than those days of progress (or regress) might suggest.

Murray’s progress is like global temperature change models.

Like the Great Wall of China, the stairs are all different sizes.  Sometimes you trip on them.  There’s not really a watch tower or anything at the end, it’s just more stairs going in a different direction.

Tomorrow: dressage lesson with the wonderful Tina.  And hopefully another tiny stair.

xc schooling at camelot

It has been getting hot fast here in the central valley.  Temps this week were up in the hundreds (although we had one super weird summer storm Tuesday/Wednesday) and my weather app said something absurd like “Actual Temperature: 93. Feels like: 98” which I super do not understand.  But it was correct.  That meant, of course, that in order to beat the heat we left to school Camelot at 5:15.

No time like the present, right?

Anyway, we of course left a little late (horse people problems) but still got to Camelot in good time.  I was fortunately riding in the first group and tacked up Murray supah fast (new ground manners work is going excellently!) and we were all on and ready to go in about fifteen minutes.

IMG_0690Murray is extremely excited for the day.  However, I’m fairly pleased at his shininess because I barely groomed him before tacking up.

Murray marched right towards the cross country course as soon as I got on him, which I thought was pretty funny because a) he totally remembers Camelot and why we even go there and b) he walked into a blocked off section between the concessions trailer and a giant wood pile because he thought he knew the way.  Silly pony.  He was super fab when we got out there — quiet for warming up (no theatrics), into the water, cantering around, all of it.  Very good.

I’m a bit more of an aggressive XC schooler than some of my friends, which really means that I just really don’t appreciate sitting around.  I like a good walk break as much as the next girl, but I don’t think there’s any reason to be sitting around in our horses shooting the shit when we could be JUMPING ALL THE THINGS.  I know who I inherited this from (Mr. Impatience himself!) but I also feel that it’s fairly functional — don’t use up your horse any more than you need to be sitting around shooting the shit.  So I was a bit frustrated because it was a little windy so people were having a hard time hearing Alana about which fences to go to, and there was some confusion on course about which fences we should be schooling and what direction some of the symmetrical ones rode.  No matter.  We jumped all the shit anyway.

IMG_0707Novice warm up log

I also managed to achieve all of my goals for this XC school too.  I hit up every possible scary BN element on course, as well as several novice elements, and it was very confidence-building.

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Murray looked hard at the guillotine above — it was a training & prelim fence with lots of scary decorations sandwiched between the BN and Novice benches — but he just skittered sideways and I managed to get his attention back on me in time to re-direct him to the bench and ride it at an angle.  I don’t think that move would, technically, count as a refusal, as we never pointed away from the fence and I was pleased that Murray was willing to take on the bench (that I think he’s never jumped?) from essentially a standstill just a few strides away.

Murray is so game out on XC it’s almost ridiculous.  In fact, it does get him into a bit of trouble on occasion.  He’s barreling down at a fence — with a completely huge, open stride that I never ever see in stadium — and will listen to my half halts to balance up a little when he realises there’s a fence coming.  But he’s still strong and forward until, on occasion, he realises the fence has a huge shadow or is neon blue or something, and then I really feel him suck back.  When I’m riding in a more forward, open-hipped XC stance this can get in me in trouble as the combination of momentum change and hesitation often leads me to jumping ahead.  So I really tried to work on keeping my weight back and up, and doing what Denny Emerson describes as the “light sitting canter” before the fence to get my heels down and keep my leg on Murray.  I found that really worked well to keep him bold to some fences where he might otherwise have been a little looky.

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However, I also need to commit to a distance and ride it, because letting Murray choose to add or takeoff early is not always the solution.

We jumped our first trakehner — first for each of us!! — and it was as awesome as I hoped.  I’ve been waiting to jump trakehners for like four years.  I’ve always thought they looked awesome.

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After a few perfect runs at the BN trakehner we moved up to the Novice one, which evidently presented us with a little more difficulty.

IMG_0813Murray wanted to add, I said no but stayed in a defensive seat, and fortunately he didn’t add.  But then he did deer-leap.  No matter.  I’m not sure anyone was harmed by the experience.

Our last three fences were a galloping line of three that went up and over a hill.  We couldn’t see the fences on the other side, but Alana assured us that there were options for everyone (BN for me, Novice for three others, Training/Prelim for one) and so we jumped them without looking.  After the first horse galloped off I pushed Murray forward and over a little bit so our line to the first fence would be a bit more reasonable.  Evidently, Murray thought he’d been completely and utterly abandoned on cross country and started pitching a fit.  In all his leaping and kicking around he managed to unseat me over his shoulder, and I thought, well, I could save this, buuuut that will be hard so I just popped off and landed on my feet holding the reins.  This also upset Mr. Horse and he was like “what? NO NO NO NO NO” and started to back away from me as I stood there and tried to soothingly (will admit it probably was more like exasperated yelling) say “Murray, I’m not hurting you. Murray, I’m not doing anything to you.”  Eventually he realised nothing was actually attacking him, I wasn’t going to hit him, and settled down.  I patted him and walked him over to a training corner to get back on, which he was quite polite for, and we headed back towards our “starting” point for the last few fences.  Alas, there is no media of this as everyone on foot was headed over to the other side of the hill to see the ending line.

Sweneyway.  I jumped a little roll top with some brush on it — which is actually where I would have incurred a jump penalty earlier as Murray was like “WTF BRUSH NOOO WAYYYYYY” and I had to let him investigate it before he would jump it (but then he was very game).  We then galloped down the hill to a cutout-table that we have jumped many times before, and then over to a very friendly BN house by what I can only assume is the finish line.

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I’m not going to lie: the fact that Murray handily clears the BN fences with plenty of room to spare is extremely comforting to me.  He really doesn’t feel like he’s expending much effort on these fences, so hopefully moving up in the future will not be an epic challenge.  At home though, some days it feels like he’s got springs in his feet and some days he’s like “meh, minimum effort” so I can never tell.  Photographic evidence is good that way.

We finished off the ride by going to investigate some of the KRAZY stadium standards that Camelot has built.  In addition to a castle with dragons on it they have a shark, a pool table (complete with a panel with all kinds of pool balls on it), and these MAJIKAL SPARKLY UNICORN STANDARDS.  Obviously I had to take a picture with them.  I stupidly didn’t think to open my vest and reveal that I was wearing a unicorn tee at the time.  Ah well — in the future.

 

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Ah yes, and this is the head of the aforementioned dragon wall.  Her wings aren’t quite as scary as I had thought, and her name is Camille.  Which is really not that comforting at all.

 

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