on hard decisions

We euthanized Murray on Wednesday.

sorry, it’s gonna be a media-heavy post

After Murray retired in 2018, he went to live at MIL’s house (where Speedy spent his first three months, I made them meet) in an irrigated pasture with an older retired horse buddy to keep him company. He was pretty delighted by the lottery he had won, and it was quite clear he was in heaven. Whenever I was home to visit I would bring him in, give him a good groom, brush all the tangles out of his mane and tail, and cry a little bit before he went back out.

in retirement

After a while, Murray decided that continued human management would not be for him. It started with refusing to stand for the farrier without drugs. Then he said no to the vet. Eventually, nobody at the ranch was allowed to catch him.

I could still get him, without deception or difficulty. More often than not, Murray would come sauntering up to me for a good scratch and let me put a little swat on his midline or pick out his feet without a halter on. But it did get harder and slower over time, and the last time I was home he galloped away from me. He came back later, but it was the first time he had viewed me with that much suspicion.

As you might imagine, a horse who can’t be caught is a horse who can’t be managed. And there is only so long a horse, even a Murray, can go without seeing a veterinarian or farrier. While I wish I could point at his rotating club foot or a clear and growing lameness or colic or a disease process, it was nothing so simple. Watching him become more and more feral — and not in the “fat happy retired horse” way — I knew that Murray’s time would be limited.

This year MIL renewed her efforts to halter Murray, so he could be brought in for a trim. About a month ago he kicked her as he fled. And so she called me and said she thought it might be time. His behavior was clearly deteriorating, and even if we couldn’t see head-bobbing lameness from the outside, we both suspected that was pain related. Rather than let Murray get so painful that he couldn’t run from us — or hurt himself more trying to do so — we decided it was best to euthanize him.

working on our camel act

Why am I writing so many words about the decision to euthanize my retired horse? Because it was hard. And I hope that other people who might be struggling with the decision or who may have to cross this road in the future might see this option and know that it is a decision to be made with love and kindness. There’s a lot of pushback in our culture about euthanizing apparently healthy animals. Apparently being the key word there, because there’s a lot of vectors that make up “healthy,” much more than just “alive and breathing”.

Murray was 13 and physically sound-adjacent. I “could have” found a retirement or rescue situation for him that would have understood his very, very special needs better and been able to manage him and impoverished myself paying for the rest of his life. I could have built $10k in fencing on the 6 acres behind my house, converted a lean-to into a barn, found a pasture-buddy, and turned my life inside out to bring him home to retire in Oregon. (If we could have gotten him onto a trailer. Also a pretty hard Murray-No.) It would have trashed my life. I would probably have needed to sell Speedy. It would probably have caused a divorce. I could have done that. But I wouldn’t.

In the end, the people who knew Murray and me best agreed that this was the right call. Murray was making it clear that he couldn’t be around people any more. It would not be kind to force him to be around new, different people just for the sake of a few thousand more heartbeats. It would not be kind to stuff him on a trailer to live in the mud for the sake of a few thousand more breaths. And if, as we suspect, his behavior change was caused by increasing pain in his body — though we won’t know, as I didn’t get a necropsy — it would not be kind to insist he keep living in that shell.

Murray was, to be direct (and he was always direct), a pain in the ass. He hated almost everyone, and his distrust of humanity ran deep. Pretty much none of those “good horse manners” came easily to him, nor did they stick around the second things got rough. He was uniquely confident in his own judgment, and intensely unpredictable in whether that judgment would line up with reality or not. He was persistent beyond all mortal ken, a riddle wrapped inside a mystery stuffed into an enigmatically-cute horse suit.

He was my first horse, and I loved him fiercely.

What is there to say about this horse who was so formative in my life? That nothing for us came easy at first, that all our lessons were hard-won, that he was never good for a cuddle?

I think more about the sense of humor, the laughter, the ridiculousness. Murray did not let me take myself too seriously. Which was probably desperately needed.

I think about the way we thought out of the box, got creative, and stuck to our guns.

I think about the times he showed up for me, all the adventures we had with our friends, and the memories we made.

I think about his bangin’ forelock, his incredible shiny body, his baby-forever face.

Murray delivered experience in spades. Not carefully or thoughtfully or delicately, but shoveling it onto you so you had no choice but to adapt lest you drown in chaos.

I will always remember what we learned together. Laugh always. Find the itchy spots. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Get creative. Scream as needed. Fight for what you believe in.

Content warning — euthanasia details below.

If you want to know how you euthanize a horse who can’t be touched, it’s with a bullet. MIL found a cowboy confident in and comfortable with the process. Cowboy grained Murray at the gate for a while to habituate him. The morning they pulled the trigger, Murray dropped instantly, mouth full of grain. I know it’s a controversial method. I feel that if it is kind enough for me to use on my food animals, it is kind enough for me to use with my horse. As much as I wish we could have filled Murray with enough sedatives and painkillers to render him insensate, the process of being caught and injected would have been incredibly stressful to him, and he was a heavyweight at the best of times. I felt this would be swiftest, which is kindest.

he’s home!

In the middle of the night on Tuesday I bolted upright in bed freaked out that I had forgotten to meet my horse at the barn when the shipper dropped him off.

But I needn’t have worried, since he wasn’t even getting picked up until the next morning.

Early Wednesday morning I got this picture from the hauler.

that’s the exact amount of suspicion that I’d expect Murray to have with this situation

The hauler, Kevin McNabb at Twin Palms Custom Transport, was fantastic. He let me know the shipping schedule and as soon as he picked up the last horse on the leg he updated me with an approximate time window of arrival. A couple of hours before drop off, he let me know a more exact time.

I headed out to the barn intending to arrive 15 minutes before horse, only to get off the freeway RIGHT BEHIND the Twin Palms trailer.

At which point I had massive waves of anxiety wash over me and a little bit of an anxiety cry.

Kevin got Murray off the trailer for me, told me that he’d been a great boy on the trip (which may have been a lie because I could hear kicking/pawing in the trailer when we were figuring out a place to park). Murray walked off the trailer like a fucking professional (thank goodness for side ramps) and quietly walked down the driveway with me to his new digs. Like a perfect horse.

Cue panic that I got the wrong horse.

His tiny lips were super pursed though, so I think he was probably defaulting to ULTRA GOOD behavior since he hadn’t seen anyone he recognized for 11 hours.

And now he’s here. In his new digs. He had a big drink of water, and a super long pee while simultaneously eating hay in his new stall as soon as he walked in. I made him a mashy bucket so he could get plenty of extra fluids in, we took a little walk around the indoor arena, and then I tucked him in for the night.

He’s home.

Murray was the last thing we had to move from California. The realization of which cued another wave of tears because human emotions are hard for me to process. But we’re all here now, and he’s pretty happy with his new setup. No paddock, which is a bummer, but the horses get all day turnout in a huge field in a big group so I thiiiink he’ll survive.

He can still walk, trot, and canter in straight lines and circles. And he hasn’t bucked me off yet.

Oregon pony is off to a good start.

dressage lesson: all the feels

Murray and I had a fantastically productive dressage lesson with Tina last week. ¬†It wasn’t so much that we worked on new or exciting exercises or revolutionized how the horse went, but it confirmed that we are doing correct work, how to take that work to the next level, and that my feel for what is¬†right is developing and becoming more accurate. ¬†The lesson also gave me some good data on a little experiment I was running last week, but more on that later.

no relevant media from the actual lesson,
but I did the same exercises the next day with only slightly less success

We started out by addressing my (wildest) hope that I am finally able to actually feel when Murray is bending through his ribcage, and not just falling all over himself laterally. ¬†Tina had me put the beast on a large circle, then shrink the circle in and increase the bend in his body as appropriate. ¬†I evidently¬†can feel true bend now (HOORAY!) because I managed to keep Murray bent on a 15m circle, even though we were tracking right (harder direction) and it was our first circle post warm-up. ¬†Tina encouraged me to bring the circle in a little more and push for even more bend. ¬†She wanted me to ride the edge of Murray’s ability to bend without falling apart, in order to enter that zone of maximum learning and skill building (my words! totally my weirdo words). ¬†We got to about a 12m circle before Murray’s haunches started to lose it around the circle, and so I slowly let him back out to the 15m-ish circle before carefully and slowly leg yielding back out.

Before we switched directions I told Tina that one thing I was struggling with in this part of our education is understanding, and obviously helping Murray understand, the difference between an inside leg that asks for bend and an inside leg that asks him to move over.  She told me to think of the inside leg that asks for bend as more of a toned or firmed leg, and the leg that asks for lateral movement to actually push.  This exercise, she pointed out, would help Murray to develop that understanding of submission to the inside leg for bend vs. movement.

i only tracked left in this ride, but just pretend my work to the right was equally neato

When we changed directions to the left Murray was much more competent at the exercise, and we managed to get down to about a 10m circle with a fair bit of effort on both of our parts. ¬†Because Murray struggles more to the right, we went back that direction once more. ¬†Tina reminded me to keep Murray’s haunches in with my outside leg — though I probably did not need to swing it quite so far back, as the first time I tried that he promptly cantered. ¬†But after one attempt left, he was also more capable to the right.

We moved on to the next big challenge I see: developing sit/collection at the canter. ¬†I really struggle with this because it’s something we need for both jumping and dressage. ¬†I also feel like Murray used to be able to sit and shrink his stride at the canter really easily when jumping, usually while ¬†maintaining an uphill ¬†balance. ¬†But lately it seems that his smaller strides have been very downhill and inverted — maybe they have always been that way, but I’ve only just developed a good enough feel to tell the difference. ¬†I also don’t know how much collection I should be aiming for — Murray obviously wants me to think that I’m being too mean/it’s too hard. But progress is hard, kiddo.

i read something about thinking of your elbows as “weighted” and tried to envision it in these rides to stop them from floating off into outer space. instead i way overcorrected and put my hands in my lap. moderation is needed. Murray looks cute though!

We cantered on the big circle, then slowed it down and brought Murray into as small and collected of a canter circle as I could navigate — probably around 10 meters. ¬†The first time we did it was incredible, because Murray was listening really well, but wasn’t anticipating the smaller circle. ¬†So he just sat as much as he was able and we managed a pretty good little circle. ¬†Tina said that I should try to make the next circle even smaller and slow Murray down even more, shortening the sweep of my seat to keep the strides quick and small. ¬†It took me a couple of repetitions to get this down, but on our third try I felt some really uphill and controlled strides from Murray on that little circle that made me¬†very¬†happy.

We struggled more tracking right once again, especially because Murray lost all the bend on our first small/slow circle and dropped his back. ¬†Even though I’m trying not to hang on the right/inside rein, I can’t let Murray lose the bend through these exercises. ¬†For the lesson Tina had me go back to our old way of overbending the neck using more inside rein, but I imagine that as we practice I will be able to transition to a lighter inside rein again.

heading in to the tiny circle. i made my transitions from 20m to tiny circle too abrupt when i repeated this exercise, and the quality suffered for it. so i know for future practice to give murray a little more spiral-down time to get into the small circle.

We ended with a couple of counter canter loops which were seriously our¬†best to date. ¬†They were shallow-ish as there is a big pile of poles and standards stacked in a teepee right at X, and I didn’t want to tackle going past/around X for the first time when Murray was tired¬†and had a bunch of stuff to potentially spook at. ¬†But for the first time our shallow loops in both directions were controlled and balanced, and we kept the tempo. ¬†HUGE progress for us, since I’ve been struggling with downhill running through the counter canter for basically two years (also known as, I suck at counter canter and probably started it too early).

Another huge win for us: not once during this lesson did Tina have to remind me not to nag with my seat. FOR ONCE!

in love with how good Murray  looks in this pic

It was such a great lesson in terms of confirming my feel (for bend and collection) and to do exercises where I can replicate the feeling later on. ¬†Obviously, because the pics came from there, I did these exercises again the next day with not too much degradation of quality — though of course I did make some all new mistakes to learn from.

A few other notes from the lesson and subsequent ride:

  • keep riding seat to hands/don’t get pulled forward and down in canter (especially when trying to collect)
  • ride the extended transition in the canter in the exercise also to develop more elasticity
  • hands and elbows more forward (not so bad in the lesson, but they were a bit too far back the next day)
  • likewise, shorten the reins a little for steadier contact
  • a touch of haunches in is ok for now, while developing better bend
  • still need crispness/clarity/lack of static in the canter transitions – but they are better
  • I need to work on quieting the forward-backward movement of my leg when giving different cues
  • try to develop a more uphill half halt in the canter collection
  • eventually, the goal is to get the canter collection from seat alone — but that is for a year from now! for now, develop strength and suppleness in this work with lots of support from me.
  • work the weak side more, but with lots of breaks — both walk breaks, and breaks where you work the stronger side
  • who cares about sugar-induced navicular if lifesavers keep Murray happy and compliant?!

i do not believe

An animal communicator came to my barn this week, and while they were setting up appointments (well in advance) trainer told me that several people were willing to pitch in to hear my horse’s feels, needs, and communications if I’d be willing to cover the rest of the appointment cost. ¬†I somewhat reluctantly acquiesced — who I am I to keep the people from what they want? ¬†The experience was interesting. ¬†I’ll split it up into a few major sections: the set up, the mildly interesting, the hokum, and the inconsistencies.

Let me preface this by telling you that I’m not religious, or even really spiritual. ¬†I don’t rule out that there is life on other plants, but I certainly don’t buy any cryptozoology here on earth (no Nessie, yeti, etc.). ¬†“Spooky” occurrences never strike me as anything more than the¬†least interesting of coincidences, I¬†understand well-explained engineering explanations for the pyramids and Easter Island Moai, and I don’t believe that people can read minds — animal or human. ¬†Certainly some humans are better at understanding human body language, intonation, verbal language, psychology, and micro-cues better than others that might lead them to a greater insight about that person. ¬†These are all well-described aspects of how psychics “work”. ¬†And I don’t doubt at all that some humans are better at doing that with some animals than others. ¬†But for not one second have I ever believed that a person can read an animal’s mind (in the classic sense that we think of it).

Now? I still do not believe.

Aimee understands me

(Oh, and there’s no media associated with this experience because pictures of my horse standing around tied to a post while someone talks at me are simply not good media.)

The Set Up

I learned very early on in the appointment-making process that people wanted Murray read. ¬†So he was on the list pretty early. ¬†But at Camelot a few weekends ago, some teenagers (and even a few adults) who had recently had their horses “read” by this particular communicator were singing her praises. ¬†The word of mouth from the teenagers was nigh unbelievable. ¬†And, quite frankly, coming from teenagers, it was sure to be unreliable. ¬†If you’re a teenager reading this, please know that I mean you no personal offense. ¬†It’s not your fault, it’s just biology: your forebrain is literally not developed yet. ¬†In fact, it won’t be until you’re around 26. ¬†Teenagers are all, categorically, missing an important part of their brain. ¬†Don’t worry — you’ll grow out of it.

he grew out of it!

I was told that this communicator knew and said things — without prompting — that¬†no living human except the owner could know. ¬†For example, communicator told an owner that her new horse loved his new, monogrammed clothes that she had gotten him — and that girl had¬†literally just received a monogrammed cooler the day before and immediately put them in her tack locker without showing any other humans, but she did stop off at her stall and show her horse his new cooler. ¬†She told another girl that her horse didn’t like his neighbor, and if the neighbor didn’t start behaving soon, he would kick that neighbor in the head to teach him a lesson — just as he had been kicked in the head when he was an annoying youngster. ¬†One horse told his owner that she’d better make sure his insurance was current, as he was feeling a little colicky. ¬†He needed colic surgery two weeks later.

The adults were more circumspect. ¬†One trainer just told me “I’m pretty sure she reads humans, and projects that on to the horse. Because she told me my own goals as if my horse were telling me she wanted to do those things — but I don’t talk to the mare about my goals.”

It’s easy for stories like this to get amplified and exaggerated. ¬†Communicator guesses that a new horse might get a little colicky on new feed and new schedule, horse colics within some “reasonable” time frame, and boom — communicator was right. ¬†Let’s ignore the fact that probably a third of all horses colic to some degree or another every year. ¬†All it takes is one person putting their own experience and knowledge on top of what the communicator says for a) the communicator to take that info and run with it, and b) the stories people tell one another to become full on lies about what did and didn’t happen.

Skepticorn wasn’t buying it.

The Mildly Interesting

I was slightly anxious on my way to the barn for my appointment. ¬†I didn’t know why. ¬†I think it was because I was about to confront someone in a position of “authority”, and that always makes me a little gkrhfk. ¬†Yeah, that’s a feeling. ¬†I resolved not to tell any lies, but not to offer up any more information than I was directly asked for. ¬†I was obviously going to be polite — just because I don’t believe in something doesn’t mean I have the right to be rude — but I didn’t know what kind of ridiculousness I might be up against. ¬†Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any other appointments, as I had to work (and the part of one I did see was incredible uninteresting), so I didn’t know what I was in for.

The communicator walked up to Murray, introduced herself to him, let him sniff a few essential oils she offered him, then mumbled to him and made signs with her hands over his body. ¬†She started talking standing next to him, but he wasn’t the hugest fan of her casual touching, so she moved a safe distance away and sat down.

she said his lower back/lumbar was hurting and he wants rads
it’s not exactly a hard thing to “read” — murray has a not-insignificant lump/roach in his lower back that is very obvious right now

The first interesting thing she said was that Murray has a lot of opinions and likes to complain. ¬†That elicited a laugh from me and the eight (yes, eight) spectators watching. ¬†Later she said he had a really big ego (then complimented me for managing it). ¬†I mean, eight people were watching his appointment, sooo….

The second interesting thing was that Murray stood really,¬†really quietly during the appointment. ¬†Like, his head was down, he was halfway napping, and he even gently rested his face on me a few times. ¬†The communicator said he was trying to hide from her, he didn’t want to talk to her, and he felt like he was being “busted”, because he kept putting his head behind the post he was tied at, and positioning himself away from her. ¬†I think that was just closer to where I and barn manager were standing. ¬†I don’t really ever hang out with him tied without fussing over him to some degree or another, and I was very clearly not in riding clothes (another context in which I don’t normally just “hang out” at the barn with Murray), so perhaps that contributed. I’ll do an experiment to that end soon.

The Hokum

I’m not going to be able to list all of Murray’s complaints and comments, since I don’t remember them all, but there were some notable ones. ¬†There were also plenty of moments where the psychic-playing-off-human-reactions stuff was incredibly evident.

For one, Murray reported that his GI tract was feeling great (stomach, lower intestine, upper intestine, and cecum all good!) and his lungs (left and right) are solid. ¬†Um, great. ¬†But his bladder is apparently bothering him. ¬†When discussing his behavior a bit later in the appointment, she asked if he bucked or played under saddle (or something to that effect). ¬†I responded that yes, he can buck under saddle, and we had a brief discussion about when the last time that was. ¬†Communicator came back to the bladder, saying that she had a horse who was a big bucker who stopped immediately after his bladder health was addressed. ¬†I was also assured that Murray is pretty sure the hind end pain isn’t in his hocks (ok thx dude, still going to get them checked out). ¬†She circled back to the bucking later too, and told me that he doesn’t want to be bad, he’s not trying to be malicious (incredibly obvious if you’ve ever seen him going, but will admit that she hasn’t), he sometimes just can’t help himself.

She kept coming back to his mouth as a source of some concern, but couldn’t seem to get any more details about it. ¬†She asked me what my bit is (loose ring French link) and said that was a fine baby bit. ¬†I didn’t tell her that Murray sometimes gets foxtails under his lips in the Spring and I’ve had to pull them out (I’ve checked a few times this year and no problems). ¬†She did wonder if he gets food under his tongue while the bit is in, and I do give him treats while we’re working under saddle sometimes, so that I guess could go in the “mildly interesting” category.

The communicator also asked me if Murray had ever disappointed me. ¬†“Of course he has!” I responded. ¬†I included that I haven’t really been disappointed in him for two years or so, and that a lot of my disappointment was unrealistic expectations. ¬†She said that he felt bad for breaking my heart, and disappointing me “often”. ¬†Often was his word. ¬†Can you say generic? ¬†What horse and rider haven’t been disappointed by one another and lived to regret it at some point in a multi-year career? ¬†Only robots, that’s who.

Murray also wanted me to know that he likes me. ¬†He was worried that I thought he didn’t like me. ¬†I was like “okay”. ¬†I did not tell her that, while I do sometimes wish my horse were cuddlier by nature, I do not give any shits that he may or may not “like me”. ¬†I’m not here to make friends, dude.

Communicator also asked if we show, at what level, and how often. ¬†I said we would be moving up to Novice in August. ¬†She was like “great, he thinks you’ve been at the lower level long enough!” ¬†She got a fair bit of detail from me about it, and we discussed his showing “anxiety” and how Murray thinks he will soon — by the end of the year — be able to meet my expectations and “mental image” of him.

Lest you think these are all the trappings of a “bad” communicator, let me assure you that some people at my barn (and the aforementioned teenagers) think that this woman is very,¬†very,¬†very good. ¬†I’m just explaining in an absurd amount of detail the way that¬†any¬†psychic or communicator works to draw the information out of you. ¬†I felt so comfortable with this woman, and it would be really easy to tell her anything and everything. ¬†And if she’s good at reading people and horses, I’m sure she could, and did, take absolutely every cue that I was offering her — whether it was my crossed arms, or “secret” eye rolls, or the eagerness in my voice when I asked if Murray liked to jump (see below for more detail) — and run with it to get me more info.

Also, he doesn’t like his show name. ¬†Uncertainty Principle, even though he’s earned it, is too much like a black mark — a little too honest, eh kiddo? ¬†Suck it the fuck up, it’s staying. ¬†Murray wouldn’t tell the communicator his¬†true name though. ¬†To which I say, good fucking call dude. ¬†Telling someone your real name isn’t safe.

about as tight as that front end ever gets

The Inconsistencies

There were several things that came up during the appointment that were downright false, or changed through our discussion.

She said his saddle fit is great. ¬†That can’t be true. ¬†I have two wildly differently fitting saddles — they can’t¬†both fit him great. ¬†And she didn’t mention a single thing about tacking up as a problem or complaint. ¬†I’ve only been trying to teach this horse that tacking up isn’t the equivalent of being skinned alive for¬†four years, and he doesn’t have any complaints or suggestions? ¬†Yeah. Fucking. Right. ¬†(She did say he was thin skinned but fucking DUH, thoroughbred.)

I asked her if Murray likes jumping. ¬†Her immediate response was “Not as much as you do.” ¬†I was pretty eager when I asked this question, trying not to be too ridiculous, so it was easy to tell that I like jumping. ¬†It wasn’t like I gloomily asked “does he like to jump” and hoped she would say no. ¬†As we discussed, the communicator said “he feels like he looks really pretty when he jumps, his front end is like this (indicated tight front end with her hands) but his hind end doesn’t follow yet”. ¬†Well that’s not true. ¬†If you’ve seen my horse jump, you’ll know he’s the king of the loose front end but can have a pretty snappy hind end.

She also suggested that one lead change was harder than the other for him. ¬†Congratulations, you’ve just told me something that is true for 100% of the horses on planet Earth. ¬†She said “the left lead, right to left is harder?” and I responded “no, that’s his better change, he struggles left to right”. ¬†“Oh right,” she responded, “he must mean¬†from the left lead.” ¬†Sure, that’s cool, go right ahead and change your answer.

she did say he feels like he can look really pretty and put his ears forward over fences, so that’s something i guess

As we chatted through the jumping thing, Murray’s opinion of jumping slowly morphed from “I don’t love it as much as Nicole does” to “I think we’ll be doing so great at jumping by the end of the year!!” ¬†The communicator didn’t make a big deal about it, and she worked through it fairly seamlessly. ¬†This was the only corner I really saw her get herself in to, and it wasn’t even that hard really — to say that Murray doesn’t like something¬†as much as I do leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

In the end, the communicator apologized to me for having such an awful reading. ¬†Murray was, apparently, very quiet and not giving her much (despite being the type that could complain all day?), so she was really grasping at straws and struggling to hear him. ¬†I get it. ¬†I was skeptical, and wasn’t giving her much to go on, so she could hardly tell me everything my horse was “saying”.

All in all, it probably wasn’t worth the money spent on it, but was an interesting thing to witness once. ¬†And at least it will keep me in good spirits making fun of all the teenagers at my barn who¬†are eating all this shit up.

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?

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.


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


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.



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!!!!!!



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.


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 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.



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


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, Jane.¬† NorCal 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.



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!



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!



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.



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.


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


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.


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.


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!