crazy ex-racehorse

Murray has been a pendulum under saddle this week — swinging between successfully executing some quality flat work and successfully pissing me the fuck off.  There are a few extenuating circumstances that have prevented me from throttling him:

  1. It’s windy AF in Davis right now, and everybody knows that wind makes horses the most happy and reasonable creatures ever
  2. I did just take a ten day vacation and he was locked in the entire time
  3. His timing is great. Every time he starts to be so horrendous I am about to stab him, he turns on the normal

i’m the santa ana winds, i make things weird
from crazy ex girlfriend, which is hilarious and you should watch it

On Tuesday my saddle fitter happened to be at the barn, and she reflocked my new dressage saddle for me and tried to help me find the source of the squeaking I’ve been hearing when I post.  Murray was his usual sticky self, but when the saddle went back on after the reflock he went into full on “can’t even” mode.  He couldn’t he couldn’t walk forward, he couldn’t trot, he couldn’t turn to the right, and he most CERTAINLY couldn’t do any of those things without a raging ewe-neck.

Robyn was actually worried that she’d messed up the flocking, since Murray hadn’t shown any behaviors near this awful during our initial appointments. “Oh no,” I told her, “This is very normal for us.”  Eventually Murray got it together and dressaged a little, after which Robyn commented that he actually looked quite good and much happier than in the other saddles I had tried.  She suggested I sit the trot a little to see if the squeaking got better or worse when I did that, and it got a bit better.  But more importantly, I COULD SIT THE TROT.  Even more importantly, Murray didn’t immediately tense and resist the motion! MY SADDLE FITTER IS A MIRACLE WORKER.

On Wednesday I wanted to do a little conditioning and get both Murray and I used to the impending pain that I am sure XC and stadium at Twin will bring.  But as per the new rules, I wasn’t willing to accept any shitty inverted walk work or walk-trot transitions.  So we walked for a long time.  I am trying really, really hard not to be offensive while I insist on something more approaching, but it’s hard when Murray wants to do anything other than let his head drop down into the contact and relax.  Finally we were ready to trot, and then Murray just tuned out my leg.

I tried a couple of the thins that have worked for us recently — a little more leg, softer hands — and eventually got a really ugly, inverted, neck-dependent transition.  We trotted forward a little, and then I asked him to come back to the walk so we could try again.  But every time I added leg to get him to move forward, Murray sucked back a little more until we were practically at a stand still.  I even abandoned all contact in favor of just getting a forward response to the leg and still nothing.  Out came the pony club kick, and in response Murray leaped up in front, bucked behind, and screamed at me.

Crazy Ex-GIFs car i dont care crazy ex-girlfriend crazy ex girlfriend GIFstill crazy ex girlfriend

There was a fair bit more ridiculous screaming and kicking as I asked for a trot and then canter transition, but I did not accept no for an answer, and forward he went.  We had a few canter circles of stupidity, then came back to a walk.  Murray was actually reasonably forward and moving into the contact, if not totally relaxed, and this time instead of asking him for anything with my leg, I firmly told him “TROT” as I do when lunging.

And what would you know.  Totally normal, very reasonable, drama-free, and correct-ish trot transition.

For the rest of the ride I tried to stay really still through my body, add just a whisper of leg, think “trot” with my seat, and then say “TROT” firmly for the transition.  It worked nearly every time, with just a little bobble when we changed direction.  Even better, the trot work after the transitions was forward, and when Murray got too heavy on the forehand he actually balanced himself up a little.  The same went for the canter transitions, and while the trot after the canter was totally a hot, rushy mess, I got a really reasonable response to the half halt when I applied it.

Crazy Ex-GIFs season 1 discussion theme argument GIFmurray’s feels

Every time Murray heard another rider cantering behind us though he had a mini-meltdown, so I left the arena after I was satisfied with the trot work since we were clearly working through more than just a bad attitude.

On Thursday, I walked into Murray’s stall and he promptly departed into his paddock and stayed there looking away from me.  Even when I rattled his bucket.  So I took the hint and turned him out instead of trying to ride.  It was the right choice, kid needed a mental health day.  Murray played and played on his own and only nearly kicked my head off once, and then played and played some more when we brought his buddy Logan in.

Twin approaches, and we’re not where I’d hoped in terms of schooling and fitness.  I actually feel awful about the fitness part of it, but I hope I can baby Murray through the weekend and he’ll come out on the other side somewhat unscathed.  In terms of preparedness, well, I have a new strategy I’m trying in terms of that, which you will hear about later.

hot mess

In the last six months I feel like there have been an absurd number of “and then I rode Murray for the first time in ten days” moments.  Good news for me is that he’s actually getting better despite all of these breaks, and we continue our slow climb up the mountain of dressage, training, and more generally: life.

So here we are again.  Another first ride after ten days away, although at least this time Murray managed to get out for a few rides with our barn manager’s kid.  Unfortunately, Davis also got buckets of weird and aseasonal weather with thunderstorms and a hurricane warning (an actual hurricane warning!), and aforementioned kid made the same decision as I have many times this season and chose not to ride any time the rain and wind got louder than her phone.  Murray appreciated it, and I totally understand.

remember when I did this in january and thought it was a good idea?
NEVER AGAIN

Murray was a ball of filth when I got to him.  Earlier my barn manager had sent me a video of him poking his tail through the bars of his stall and scratching his dock and butt crack on there, so the boy must have had an absolutely wild itch.  In fact, the whole of his body was probably one big itch because he has bug bites seemingly all over, and several scrapes from where he’s clearly tried to scratch too vigorously.  This amounted to a nice, fist-sized edema/bite on his belly, and a raw and slightly bloody patch on his sheath.  Yes, his sheath.  Pony somehow scratched himself so hard he bloodied his own dongle.

I curried him ferociously, channeling a bit of L and my former self in terms of grooming habits, and was very happy to see his hair coming out in brush-fuls.  Even the hair I clipped is also coming out, and with a fair bit of skin gunk and dust I also managed to dislodge a lot of that short hair.  There is a summer coat coming in underneath, it’s just not terribly long or strong just yet.  While currying I found all kinds of lumps and bumps on him associated with bug bites, nicking himself in turnout, or just general stupidity I think?  He had a big scrape across the point of his hip where the hair is now gone, and through his front legs and in his armpits he’s got dandruff like woah.  For a moment I even thought that the kid had given him spur rubs because the hair at Murray’s girth area is falling out in tufts, but I think it’s just a yucky humidity-associated skin bug.  I’m going to try to bathe him in tea-tree oil shampoo this week to see if that will help, but if nothing else the drop in humidity should dry out the skin gunk.

I miss shiny summer ponies

Murray’s feet were also a touch thrushy, for the second time I’ve ever seen in four years. I scraped them out and put some Sore No More “The Sauce” in them after my ride, and expect it won’t go any further than that.  And in doing so I found a whole host of little nicks and cuts on his lower legs from … whatever it is he’s been doing.

Then we lunged. And Murray was like “did you not hear? I don’t canter any more.”  He’d shake his head around and flail and tranter a bit and then fall back into the trot.  He cantered once when he spooked but not for more than half a circle.

The horse was the definition of a hot mess.  I could do nothing but roll my eyes at him.

He was surprisingly reasonable under saddle.  There were a few pony club kicks when he didn’t feel like trotting at first.  And I had to get a little rude when he thought that sticking his neck to the right and twisting his head left was a good way to trick me into thinking he was moving into the contact.  I felt really centered and quiet through my lower body, and Murray eventually gave up his charade, so I kept it short and sweet.

can we have summer again PLEASE?!

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.

5-21 dressage 8

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.

IMG_0873

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.

corgiderp

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!

octdressage2

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.

nodrugs

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!

playtime

Poor old Murray has been locked inside since the FrankenFace incident, as we didn’t want to give him the opportunity to open up his injury again or irritate it by rubbing it on any fencelines (protected though it was by a fly mask).  After seven days of this he was becoming… unpleasant to tack up.  After ten days he was downright miserable, and one day when I was working with him on the lunge just exploded in a fit of “MUST RUN MUST PLAY”.  And I was like “oh… duh… you would probably appreciate a chance to run around.”  So I turned him out in the outdoor arena and let him buck and kick to his heart’s content, and that’s what I’ve been doing for ten minutes or so before every ride since.  It has vastly improved our tacking up, and Murray’s overall mood.

IMG_8525Not from this week, but a pretty accurate depiction of at least the first 15 minutes of turnout.

Today I decided to go and play around with Murray while he was turned out, because I wanted to charge the clicker up a bit and get him in a learning mood.  Specifically, I wanted him to learn to weight his right hind more.  He’s a bit weak on that right hind, and the endless repetitions of leg yields and shoulder in is starting to get to me.  Plus, I don’t know that Murray really understands what it is I’m asking for when I ask him to yield to the left, so he can shittily just drag that right hind and not really cross it under, and defeat the exercise (because I’m not a major DQ, yo).  So to combat that, I thought I’d star him with some of the basics in-hand work to access that hind leg, and simply click and treat him for the movement/cross over of the inside hind.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First we played around in the arena.  When Murray realised I was out there with carrots and the clicker he happily played along, and when I clucked and ran forward he actually trotted after me!  I was absolutely delighted.  It was like, all my free-work dreams, yo.


Yeah it was basically totally exactly like this.

And, because of course I’ve seen Piper the motherfucking wonder horse I was like “Oh maybe I can trick Murray into jumping!”  Murray has never really been interested in jumps at liberty, except as something to nibble upon or perhaps shit upon.  So after walking back and forth across a pile of poles a few times, I trotted towards them and lo and behold, Murray trotted with me!  Then I put up one side and BOOM.  Jumps.  Unfortunately, at this point Murray realised that our little game was turning into something that looked suspiciously like work and decided he would no longer trot after me when I asked.  But we got somewhere!!  And I figure, it can’t hurt to improve Murray’s relationship with jumping, can it?

Murray was extremely pleasant for tacking up, which was a lovely change from his recent behavior.  However, I kept clicking and treating through tacking up for him standing still.  I tried to go as long as I could without clicking, but Murray’s internal “moar treatz please” dispenser isn’t very long.  This did, however, reveal to me that Murray understands what I want from him during tack up (stand still), but that he also is willing to do whatever it takes to get treats from me during that time.  And he firmly, firmly believes that if I don’t treat him for standing still, I must want him to move around.  So that’s the next behavior he offers.  Unfortunately, he kinda wins either way — if he stands still, he gets treats, but if he wiggles, he doesn’t get the girth done up.  I will need to work out a way to extinguish the wiggling while still reinforcing the standing still.  Winter puzzles.

I did some of my actual goal of in-hand work — some nice turns on the forehand with Murray really stepping under.  Next will be to isolate the movement to his hind legs a little more (he still does small circles, but if I don’t have a little forward movement he will drag his inside hind around instead of stepping it under) and ask for a little more cross over.  Then perhaps we can work on some lateral movement in hand, though I have literally no idea of how to do that.

5-21 dressage 9I got on and our actual ride was borderline terrible.  Murray decided he was done and since all I wanted to do was some basic walk/trot/bend/give me your shoulders, I let him be done after he pitched a fit.  Which is a post for another time.

(No is his favourite word.)

More at liberty work is to come with the monster.  I’m actually crazy jealous of Piper and her person — she has another video of a young horse, Murray gives fewer fucks about  me than this foal does about her human!

clipping your intractable horse 101

This weekend I accomplished something that I’ve been dreaming of for a solid two years.

nodrugsArtistic style inspired by Emma.

Yep, that’s right friends.  Full body clip, NO DRUGS, NO TWITCH.  I know he looks like he’s drugged, but I swear he’s just tired/lazy/grazing.

For those of you that weren’t around last year, and since I didn’t blog in 2013, let’s briefly recap the last two years’ clipping adventures.

2013 — I hired my friend who clips beautifully and knows Murray really well (because our horses are turned out together).  Murray dances away from her, spooks at the extension cord, gets tangled in it, headbutts me, and generally behaves like his intractable, unpleasant self.  We give him 1.5 mL of Ace and it does next to nothing for the ticklish, flinchy dancing.  Clipper puts her humane twitch on him and Murray goes to his happy place and we get it done with minimal additional dancing

2014 — I hired my barn manager’s daughter, because I figured it would get my barn manager as well, which is the Murray Whisperer.  Murray steps out of his stall just having a No Good Very Bad Horrible Day.  He is spooky and horrendous and to even get the lip twitch on him requires several trips backwards down the barn aisle.  Once he’s twitched he’s fairly reasonable, but at some point he rears higher than I’ve ever seen a horse rear in person.  2 mL of Ace and more lip twitch later, we get a passable job done.

My goal this year was to clip Murray as much as I possibly could without drugging him.  To that end, I’ve been practicing.  But there’s only so much of rubbing vibrating clippers over your horse’s body you can do before you are basically done practicing, or you might as well just start clipping.  So on Saturday, I started clipping.

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It wasn’t pretty in the beginning.  Despite all of our practice, Murray was like “This is garbage. There’s no way I’m doing this.  Nope.  No way.  Nothing is worth this torture.  I’m leaving.”  After about thirty minutes of this I was just about ready to resort to drugs.  I clipped all around his jugular vein, so I figured at least the injection site would be nice and clear.  But then I decided that Murray wouldn’t get away with being naughty and completely ignoring his training and what I was asking him to do.  Once I would turn on the clippers, Murray would dance away a little bit, jiggle around, and then turn around to me expecting a cookie.  Um, I don’t think so.  There was something wrong with our communication there, so I unhooked Murray from the blocker ring, and held on to his halter while I ran the clippers over his body.  I persisted beyond his jigging, kept the clippers on his body despite his wandering, and when he stopped wiggling I gave him a treat.  He stood still the next time I asked him to do so.  And the next time.  And then it seemed that we had crested the anxiety hump and Murray was, at least, resigned to his fate and willing to play my game.

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One of my friends showed up and offered to help, and I thought it would be a great way to get some of the trickier spots done — belly, armpits, etc.  I slowly fed Murray carrots while she clipped the tricky bits, and we managed to get all of his belly done with only two real kicks.  I managed to do Murray’s butt pretty much on my own (the art came later), he just stood there, still and tied, while I clipped in his butt cheeks.  IN HIS BUTT CHEEKS.  That is not the horse I used to know.

I have to say, it’s pretty gratifying feeling to see the thick, fluffy hair falling away from your horse’s body!  I somehow managed to not even get that much caught in my clothes, which was awesome.

So there we have it.  A fully clipped horse who, the first time he encountered a pair of scissors, reared, snapped the cross ties, threw his body on the ground, and ended up lying underneath a stair well pretending to be dead.  Pride.  We has it.

IMG_20151108_120010~2Velociraptor by my RBF!

schooling show at WSS

I mentioned last week that Murray and I headed out to a jumper schooling show on Sunday, and we went, we saw, we made mistakes, we saw again, and we eventually conquered.  It was not quite exactly the schooling show experience that I had hoped for, but we accomplished our goals of having a successful, miles-getting outing, and that was good enough for me.

Of course, the first thing I discovered upon arriving at the show was that I forgot my half pad. SIGH.  Fortunately a friend from school was volunteering at a CANTER booth and let me borrow her car to go get it! HOORAY FRIENDS!  I entered only the 2’6″ and 2’9″ classes with the specific goal of getting used to the idea of starting off at 2’6″ (and not working my way up to that height), and getting Murray around the course relatively calmly.  Murray had his own plan for the day.

I actually think his booty was a little sore from our challenging but awesome lesson on Friday, as cantering left he felt a little crooked/hunchy the most of the day but I wasn’t tripping about it.  It was chilly and wet so I let him do what he had to do.

Plenty of Murray opinions later (many of which were expressed as we went by the horses waiting at the in-gate, which I’m sure they really appreciated) trainer had me pop over the warm up fences.  We started at a lower height because Murray was being sticky and weird, and our distances were mostly chippy and gross.  Trainer told me to give Murray a little tap behind my leg the second he felt sticky to the fences (usually about five strides out), so that he wouldn’t suck back the last few strides to the fence and then be tempted to squeeze one more teeeeeny one in.  Trainer put things up to 2’6″ and I pushed Murray forward to the fences for some better distances.  Our jumping wasn’t perfect perfect, but it was an improvement over earlier in our warm up.

So we wandered over to the rail to wait for the 2’6″ class and I realised that somehow they were only 1/3 of the way through the 2’3″ class.  So I sat.  And sat.  And it rained.  And rained harder.  I walked around a bit more, watched a fair number of kids doing their rounds, and finally they started setting the course for 2’6″… and I was one of the last 2’6″ riders to go.  So I sat some more.

wpid-wp-1446526810761.jpgMurray mostly chowed down on this hay bale until I decided that I should stop letting him destroy another facility’s jump filler.  Sorry.  I pretty much grasp at whatever straws are available to keep Murray occupied.

About two riders before me I jumped all three of the fences once more (the oxer twice).  This round of warm up jumps was much smoother than my first go around.  Murray was keeping a consistent pace, and felt adjustable and responsive, and I was really happy.  We sat for two or three more riders, and then went in.

Murray was listening fairly well coming around to fence one, and spared only a minor look for the stuff on the outside of the arena.  He was a little sticky to the first fence, but the second fence was the one that gave us real problems.  Murray looked hard at the red box filler but I pushed him enough that he went, but landed with no momentum.  His scrambly trot was not ideal, and I could have kicked or beaten him over fence three (only four strides from fence two), but decided at the last minute that it was not worth it.  I wasn’t trying to scare his pants off, so I let him have a good look at the fence, circled around, and we took it the second time around.  I actually heard the judge and announcer saying “good ride” as I cantered towards them.  Murray maintained his looky-sticky game for the rest of the round, but we got through it all, and he got pats at the end for at least carrying me through.

Since Murray was so looky at 2’6″ I opted to ride a schooling round at 2’6″ instead of riding in the next class to get him through it.  While I was disappointed, I wasn’t that disappointed.  However, I did talk to trainer about how I was struggling with reaching the balance of getting Murray forward and over the fences without making him anxious and scrambly because I was being mean to him.  If I push too much for him to jump everything without question, Murray can get anxious and unpleasant to ride — not what I was looking for at this show.  If I don’t push enough, I get refusals at things Murray thinks are scary, which can derail the rest of the course.  It’s a hard balance for me to find.

So for the schooling round I rode more confidently to fence one, and growled at Murray much further out about fence two.  I was not letting him get that look in, and it resulted in a better ride for every fence on course.

Overall, a good outing for both of us.  I have always had a problem getting my game face on after warm up (somehow a part of me seems to think “Oh, we already jumped, so I don’t need to work that hard right?”), so that’s clearly something I still need to work on.  What I need now is to have this kind of outing (minus the one refusal) like ten more times!  Can I go to schooling shows and just ride like four schooling rounds at 2’6″-2’9″ and jump all over and around all the filler until we’re totally good with it?  Yep awesome exactly what I need!

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.

badhands