the ghost of Murrays past

After our excellent dressage lesson, and in line with experimental protocols (which I promise to tell you about soon), Murray and I had a jump lesson.  This was a multi-purpose jump lesson, as it gave me the opportunity to try out my new jump saddle!  I found an Albion monoflap for super cheap on international eBay, and after hearing so many success stories with international saddle purchases I went for it.  I also knew that the Albion monoflap tree fit Murray reasonably well, because I had the same saddle on trial in too large of a seat size back in May.

wow it looks teeny on him

When I got to the barn at 8, I couldn’t find my horse, which was a touch disconcerting.  I shortly found Murray in a friend’s stall, which was a side effect of another horse being in his stall overnight.  Murray had plowed down 5 lbs of alfalfa in the 30 minutes he’d been in his friend’s stall, however, and since the damage was already done (nothing but crumbs remained of that flake), and I had to ride another horse first, I figured I’d just leave him there. The feed problem was compounded when my barn manager came through and delivered buckets, and didn’t realized Murray wasn’t the horse that belonged in that stall.  In the four seconds it took for her to step out of the stall, grab the next bucket, and turn back to Murray in shock realizing what she’d done, he’d discovered his luck and was absolutely HOOVERING down his friend’s LMF gold.


i couldn’t choose

The lesson itself was like a Freaky Friday/Christmas Carol mashup, because Murray was hardcore channeling the ghosts of his jumping past.  I didn’t blog then, and there’s not much relevant media, but there was a period when every jump lesson with Murray was just a bucking mess.  He balked before fences, bolted after them, and bucked throughout.  I would be so deliriously happy to get through a course of 2’3″ verticals smoothly that I’d call the assistant trainer over to come watch me do it again (which never happened because it was never repeatable).

lol this is a gem i hadn’t looked at in a while

(And yeah, we can play the “he was probably in pain” game, and maybe he was. I had a different saddle then, he definitely had chiro issues that we were addressing from month to month, and — oh yes, pertinent to this story — I still fed him alfalfa.)

We started out unable to get a spot to a pretty small vertical at the trot.  I tried a few different approaches on the way in, adding leg, asking for more balance, but it all ended up messy.  After we changed directions I focused just on the rhythm of the trot and tried not to think too much about the spot, and it rode much more smoothly.

Our next challenge was a little corner built out of a barrel and two standards.  I made the same mistake I’ve made every week for the last month and assumed that a forward canter = a confident horse.  NOT SO.  Murray slammed on the sideways brakes a few strides out from the barrel.  “NO,” I told him. “NO BULLSHIT TODAY.”  (I had already fallen of one horse that morning, and he was a super honest but green sales horse, so I wasn’t about to let my much more trained pony get away with bad behavior.)  I circled, as we’d already passed the point where I could reasonably make the correction and slow up to a manageable pace.  We trotted in, thinking again just about the rhythm, and popped over, and Murray gave a few disgruntled bucks after.

i should get this made into a necklace charm or something

There was a one stride one stride grid set up also, and B lengthened the distances out a touch for our lesson mate, RBF.  It’s what Murray and I are working on right now anyway, so I was cool with it.  Right up until we headed in to the grid.  Murray actually responded really well when we turned to the grid and pulled me toward it, which was fantastic — there was once a time when he’d have backed off hard.  He jumped long and flat through it, and then took off playing immediately afterward.  This was actually exactly how I’d fallen off the sale horse earlier in the morning.  Fortunately for me, Murray is more responsive to my yelling and pulling and slowed down before the arena wall rushed up on us, and I was saved from the disgrace of falling off of two horses, in the exact same fashion, in less than 3 hours.

The rest of the lesson was much of the same. B kept the fences small because we were clearly struggling a little (RBF’s Lucy was also feeling pretty sore from some heavy duty booty dressage rides), and I focused on riding my horse.  Murray was up to his old tricks, balking in front of fences and then bolting after them, and bucking on all the long canter strethces.  At one point I pulled a little to regulate his speed and direction after a fence and instead of adjusting a little Murray slammed on the front brakes and threw his withers and neck in to my pelvis.  I lost my patience at that point and was like “No! No! You can canter like a NORMAL HORSE!!”

all aboard the nope train

I put my leg on, but kept a firm contact with my hands, and didn’t give Murray anywhere to go but between my leg and the bridle.  To his credit, he responded really well (shockingly well, actually).  He put his head down, lifted his back, and cantered like a normal horse.  I didn’t let up for the rest of the lesson — the only time he felt any slack in the reins was when I pushed my hands up his crest a little over the fences.

It will surprise no-one that the fences came much more easily when Murray was keeping a consistent rhythm and actually using his hind end to power his gaits, instead of to fishtail around or kick at imaginary birds.  But it surprised me!  At least a little.  I haven’t really been able to put Murray together this well in the past, so contact to fences usually* == slowing to fences.  Since I don’t want that, I err too far on the other side and flap the reins at him like that will solve some kind of problem.

(* Sometimes short reins/contact to fences == me leaning too far forward, or making other amazing mistakes.)

we’ll end on a happy jumping picture. but wait! where did my form from last august go?!

It was by no means a bust of a lesson, though I do want to start jumping a big bigger coming up to Camelot in August.  First, Murray helped me figure out that I can probably stick his shit in the new saddle.  That’s for sure a win.  Second, it gave me valuable data on exactly how to ride Murray when he gets in one of these moods.  And while they aren’t common any more, they do show up in some unfortunately critical places — stadium jumping rounds at shows, for example.  If I can get Murray as put together during stadium as I did in the lesson, that will be awesome for us.

xc schooling: just keep learning

I spent last week in San Diego for a wedding (+ friend & blogger adventures) this week, which is why the long, pensive silences and deep sighs.  But before I left, on Tuesday morning, I managed to squeeze in a quick XC school at WSS with trainer and my RBF (and others).

I wanted to get out and ride the Novice fences to build my confidence before Camelot, and also because the Novice course at WSS is cool.  RBF wanted to school her new, awesome mare.  One of our friends is working on getting to know her mare and settle her on XC, and the other was trying a mare she is interested in buying.   So it was a total girl power party — Murray didn’t feel out of place in the least, because as we know he is really a mare at heart.

big novice fence, a little cruelly set very early in the course

We had some minor struggles, which are interesting and gave me something to think about.  Part of it may have been due to Murray feeling sore or not quite himself — our Monday ride he was hollow through his lower back and I spent a long time just trying to encourage him to lift and become connected.  But it’s also a new height and new challenge for both of us, so likely that was contributing.  I started out the day with the goal of focusing on my position: I wanted to keep my lower leg underneath me a little better (instead of swinging it out ahead of me — went too far on that one), and follow the motion over the fences better.  I rode differently because of this, and maybe that added to Murray’s confusion.

Anyway.  We warmed up over a little log.  Murray wasn’t pulling me to fences the way he did at Camelot, but he was forward and happy.  Then we hit the log and cantered down to a log box.  Murray turned on the gallop in between the two fences, I fell into the trap of assuming speed is bravery, and he stopped.  It was fine, we looked at it, turned around, and went right over.  I know that’s a problem we have, and should have actually put in the effort to get Murray looking to the next fence before we were on top of it.


I love decorating this produce table fence!

We jumped the next few fences (a coop and another log) successfully, then came up to the big red table.  This is a max size novice fence and it looks and feels BIG — part of that is that the ground around it has sunk and been worn away, so it has gained an inch or so since it was first put in.  (I’m guessing we will need to dig it down or replace it for the September events.)  Galloping up to this fence Murray had a great, forward step, and I tried to keep my leg on with gentle pressure to remind him to keep moving forward.  But, as you saw earlier this week, it did not go as planned.  Murray slammed on the brakes pretty far out — we had huge skid marks leading up to the fence as we stopped.  (Riding the stop I had felt like perhaps I should have kicked him over the fence anyway, but after watching the video I’m SUPER glad I didn’t, as we had no power after skidding so far.)

I turned to my trainer and said “I have no idea what’s going on with us right now. I don’t know if it’s him or if it’s me.”  She told me to try again, let him shrink his stride and get deep if we wanted, and she’d watch us.  We jumped it, but we got really close and I felt like Murray had to put in a LOT of effort to get over it.  I wanted to jump the fence from a more open, galloping stride and better spot, so we tried again. We had a good pace, the step was a little short but not too bad, and yet we stopped again.

I chose to back down to a simpler question.  We both needed to be confident that we could tackle this stupid table.  We jumped the green coop (you can see it in the background above), and Murray was fine.  B suggested I turn around and take it immediately the other direction to give Murray something “different” to object to.  It worked — Murray stiffened his front legs on approach, and I smacked him behind my leg where I wanted him to take off to let him know that we really were going.  We went.

So we tackled the red table one more time.  I kept my leg on, but didn’t chase Murray with my leg or seat.  I insisted he keep an open step, and didn’t pull him back at the last minute.  I didn’t look down, I didn’t stare at the fence, I stayed calm.  I say I did all these things, but really what I probably did was ride slightly less like a drunken monkey.  And we did it, and it was awesome!! (Pic evidence at the top of the post.)

The rest of our adventure was really smooth sailing.  Murray and I really enjoy the technical elements presented at Novice — they are close together enough to be fun, but really welcoming easy to navigate.

We killed it at the half coffin, and the up bank combinations. Murray was slightly less forward than I wanted, but after the success at the red table I wasn’t going to be too pushy.  I know that neither of us handles a lot of change at once well, so I tried to keep it simple-ish: forward step, no more stops.  It worked — Murray was super for everything else on course.  I’m super proud of the pony.  Sure, we had hiccups, but he did the things!  And it has me feeling pretty confident for Camelot, since I’ve seen all their Novice fences and ours are bigger (lollll). (Please don’t change your course suddenly, Camelot!)

novice pencil, four strides to a quarter round (but we made it five, natch)

There’s a lot I’d like to change about my jumping position after watching the media of this school — and that was WITH me trying to change some of those things on the day of!  I’ve always ridden defensively and “unfolded the landing gear” faster than I should.  I also tend to be behind the motion of the fences a little.  Murray is pretty trustworthy now, so it would probably be a good call to make his life a little easier by jumping with him a bit more.  I see grids and no stirrups work in our future!  And if you have books or videos or other resources for me to practice on the ground with jumping positional stuff, I will gladly take them!

small steps to bigger strides

It’s a good thing my Friday lesson after last week’s ridiculousness was a jump lesson, because I’m not sure I had it in me for more fighting about dressage.  As it was, Murray and I got to take our first lesson in a long time with my RBF!  She has just gotten a new pony, who is very spry and pretty fantastique, and finally we’re of a level to lesson together consistently again!  The added challenge in our lesson is the RBF’s pony Lucy has a much bigger stride than Murray and likes to take the long ones, whereas Murray has a shorter stride and often wants to cram extra steps in.  So B set the combinations to a 12 foot step and challenged us both to make it.


majestic mare!! I am completely obsessed with her (pic from her previous owner)

We kept the fences small, which was a good choice given the challenge of getting the striding. I was riding in a borrowed saddle as an experiment — the saddle I’ve had for a long time bridges pretty badly, and last week I found a sore spot in Murray’s lower back after my jump lesson.  The borrowed saddle (same one I used at Twin, actually) doesn’t bridge, but is certifiably too big for me (very clear from the footage).  Probably a good choice not to crank the fences up to 3′ given all that.  (I did want to ask for them to go up for my last course, but wanted to solidify the success we had at the lower height once more, and thought it would be better to do that without changing things. Maybe this is why we progress slowly. Oh well!)


look at that pony taking a reasonable takeoff point for once

Once we had warmed up, I insisted that Murray move forward to the fences.  This worked out well for us. Coming in to the (looking incredibly long to me) two stride to one stride combo, I kept my leg on, floated my reins (/ my whole arms, you’ll see) and we made the distance!  It was a little long to the out oxer, but it wasn’t awful.  Once I knew we could make the longer step, I continued to insist that Murray move forward to the fences.  I sacrificed any contact (and apparently a lot of equitation) to do this — we really aren’t yet at the point where we can do both at once.

After the triple combination, we wrapped around wide to a little gate, and then a bending six strides to a one-stride with a panel that Murray has peeked at a few times before.  On the bigger, more forward step even when Murray peeked at the panel we still had a very reasonable stride coming in and easily made the distance.

The second and third times through we wrapped back around to each of the combinations backward — one stride to two stride, and one stride to bending six stride.  We made the strides every time, which was awesome, but my insistence on the forward pace did come with a bit of a price.  For one, I gave up on all contact and just flopped my reins around the whole time.  Murray was moving fairly flat and downhill, which was to be expected since we are not used to this big open step.  My solution to this apparently to try to lift him up using my hands only?  Not totally sure what I was doing, but I caught my hands floating up weirdly high on a number of occasions.


such magnificent dressage between the fences

The saddle was also clearly too big for me, which was much more evident once I watched the videos.  I did feel a touch in the wrong place during the lesson, but nothing like what the video showed.  I have a smaller saddle (16.5″) coming from the UK but it won’t be here toward the end of the month, so I’ll need to figure out a solution for my jump lessons before then.  Murray was much springier and forward than in my jump saddle, however, so a change is definitely in order.

I did have to get firm at one point, near the beginning of the lesson, giving Murray a sharp smack when he got sticky/balky as we walked off to start our course instead of moving promptly off my leg.  He got his attitude in line pretty quickly after that, and didn’t get snotty or act out when I asked him to move off my leg.  I’d like to start getting him more put together and forward for jump courses, which sounds weirdly familiar like I’ve been saying it for absolute ages?  But it’s a good goal for the next few weeks before Camelot.

um yes, nicole, a 17.5″ seat is too big for you. how very useful that knee block looks.

The video shows the most progress, really, so I’ll leave it at that.

 

camelot: stadium

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


pretty sure this was immediately before he spooked at left shark

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

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

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


blurry victory

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

supposed to be a triple bar, loooool

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

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

camelot: cross country rebate

The last time I ran rated cross country at Camelot did not end well.  I had better luck last year with an unrated course, but that course was a bit on the soft side and not terribly long.  This year, I was excited to see many of the old fences on the BN course, lots of nice long gallop tracks, and noticed that I felt like everything looked tiny!  It was awesome.

I didn’t ride until noon on Saturday, so I had plenty of time to jump judge for prelim and training.  The divisions went pretty smoothly, minus a rider fall at the coffin in training that created a little hold on course.  The EMTs were not totally sure how to get out to her, and once they were there how to get back, which was both hilarious and exasperating.  But the EMTs were very kind, and the rider was fine, so all was well.  Unfortunately, there was another hold on course due to a rider fall in warm up that did not end so well — the rider was rushed off with sirens and needed surgery.  Sobering.

Despite knowing about both of these holds, I somehow tacked up way, way, way too early.  Like a full hour before I needed to be trotting around in the warm up too early.  The upside of this is that Murray was extremely well behaved to tack up.  I did it loose in his stall, and he just stood quietly and nibbled on hay while I slowly put on my vest, sipped on some water, and made sure that my pinny was on nice and tight.  Eventually I could stand it no longer, and headed over to the warm up ten minutes before I would have been in there for my original ride time.

Murray and I stood in the shade grazing for a while, and after I couldn’t stand it any longer I climbed aboard.  Murray was not really impressed with this idea, and wanted to run (forward or backward, either would be fine) home to stabling.  I walked him in small circles and figure eights until his back relaxed, and finally, finally, we headed in to warm up.  This did not help the feeling of nervousness, of course, but c’est la vie.  The one thing I wish the show venue/warm up steward had done was announced an approximate delay time for the division so that we could have avoided constantly checking in.  But c’est la vie — I get that they wanted to try to hurry things along as much as they could.

Murray warmed up perfectly, moving up toward the fences without hesitation.  Camelot has a fabulous, huge cross country warm up, and there were lots of fences for us to jump.  I did everything once, repeated my approach to a table so I could have Murray jump it a bit more out of stride, and then headed out on course.  I got to watch my teammate Suzanne ride the first few fences with her 5 year old (or maybe only 4?).  Then it was our turn out of the start box!

I didn’t feel any hesitation from Murray at all as we came up to the first fence, he was all go, go, go!  Between fences 1 and 2 we got up a pretty good canter, and Murray only went off the track for a little while as he gave the prelim/training start box a wide berth.  Fence two was a bright blue bicycle rack off of a tight turn that I rode firmly too, since we’d had a stop there last year.  Fence three was Excalibur, and Murray had some second thoughts about the line of fences and jump judges to the left of the sword.  He ran pretty far to the right, but I pointed him back at the fence, trotted him to it, and over we went.

Fence three to four was where Murray really started to gallop, and since fence four was a little table I let him at it.  There was a huge stretch between four and five as well, and Murray really got moving there.  We were going pretty fast — around 500 mpm — and as we came up the small rise to fence 5 I over-checked Murray a little.  He didn’t care, leaped over the post and rail fence, and continued on to six.  Six A-B were close to five, and my main spot of worry for the course: they were on a downhill, not quite a straight approach from 5, and had a bending line between the two fences.  But I pointed Murray at them and he just went!  It was the exact same thing with fence 7 — he was galloping over to it so fast, I remember thinking that the wind was really, really loud in my ears — and about six strides out I asked him to come back to me a bit and look at the fence.  He looked at it, decided it wasn’t a problem despite being pretty slanted and bright pink, and galloped on.

rainbow neck strap ftw

Fence eight was where I got us in trouble.  We were barreling down to the trakhener, and I knew we were going to have trouble with it at that speed.  Murray wasn’t listening to the brakes though, so I tried to keep my leg on while I aggressively half halted.  This got his attention back, but it was too much hand a little too late, and he came to a jerky stop about a stride from the fence.  I had heard the TD describe earlier that she did not want any horses jumping fences from a stand still, so I knew I wasn’t going to squeak by without the stop anyway, so I walked Murray up to the fence, circled at the canter, and he leaped over no problem.

I should have known this could be a problem spot for us, but I guess I was too worried about the 6AB combo to think about the downhill approach to the trak.  I also didn’t think we’d be going 450+ mpm, I thought we’d be cruising along at a much more rateable 350 mpm.  Had I thought about it in advance, I would have asked my trainer (duh), or thought to circle well back from the fence to get Murray’s attention back on me.  Alas, I didn’t think about it, and I certainly wasn’t able to think about it out on course.  But at least it was a new mistake, and not one that I will make again!

camelot is quite pretty!

I briefly pondered how I should handle the rest of the course now that I had a stop.  Should I slow down?  Should I school the water?  I decided to push on — we’d had such a good run so far, there was no reason to slow Murray down and disrupt the flow of the course.  There was also not very much course left — we were 3/4 of the way home anyway.

Despite the  many training and prelim fences surrounding our water entrance, Murray cantered in no problem.  Our second to last two fences were a half coffin, and I slowed Murray up a fair bit so he would see the ditch and not step in it.  I needn’t have worried, since he went right over it, and happily redirected over the sharkstooth second element.

jumping ahead was quite prevalent on course – ah well

I’m so, so happy with how cross country turned out.  I had wanted to run clear and within the time, but I’m okay that it didn’t happen.  The mistake was mine, not Murray’s, and it was an honest one.  Everything about the course minus that one moment felt fantastic — we were going fast, but were totally in control (well, we had steering, if bad brakes), and the speed wasn’t an evasion.  Instead of using speed to mask his insecurities, Murray was excited to be out there, and whatever I pointed him at he was game to jump.  THAT is a huge accomplishment.  Even if it’s not all that different from Twin, this time I was right there with him, instead of holding on for dear life!

teammates!

camelot: dressage day

Friday morning dawned drizzly and awful at Camelot.  I’d opted to stable Murray in the pipe panels (12×24) there instead of a stall (12×12), because a) we’ve done that a lot and he’s always fine and b) he literally tried to dig his way out of his stall at Twin.  I was regretting that decision while sitting in my car and simultaneously listening to the rain hammering on my roof and looking at my weather app telling me there was a 0% chance of rain in Oroville.

a 0% chance of rain, huh?

The yellow cell passed us fairly quickly though, and other than being wet, Murray was fine.  The rain also provided me with an excellent excuse not to put terribly much effort into cleaning him.  It also made braiding easier, since his mane was pre-soaked!  While braiding Murray’s forelock I discovered a huge scab at his poll, which did make forelock braiding a little challenging, but I didn’t let Murray get away with being an ass (hanging off of his forelock with one hand) and he eventually snuggled in to my chest and let me gently finish the braid.

After braiding I watched Alyssa and Bacon and a few other of the training riders.  Alyssa put in a lovely test.  Everyone was conservative on the lengthenings because the arena was sloppy from the rain.  Watching a few more tests, I realised that people were riding Training B.  And then I was like “oh shit.”  I texted a friend, and she confirmed for me that yes, we were in fact riding BN-B.  I scurried off to learn my test.

Murray tacked up quietly, and I had given myself enough time to change, do ground work, and lunge before heading in to warm up.  This was a good call, since Murray had plenty of opinions on the lunge line, but settled down fairly quickly.  From the lunging arena to the warm up the footing had a pretty drastic change, and Murray let me know his displeasure.  He settled in to warm up nicely though, and even after a few walk  breaks went back to work without a problem.

feat Alyssa!

We were running early, so I headed in to the ring early.  The footing changed again from warm up to the ring, and Murray immediately tensed up as we walked around the ring.  Extra warm up time wouldn’t have helped us, but a bit more space to circle at the bottom of the arena and a few minutes to do it in would have been nice.  Alas, it was not to be.  We trotted down centerline, and Murray decided that he wasn’t really down with the situation, so broke into a canter.  I asked him to trot again, and he was like “maybe just canter tinier? Tiny, tiny canter?”  We did eventually trot, but then I added insult to injury by having him turn right at C instead of left, and his annoyance with me mounted.

that neck, tho!

Despite having never practiced this test all the way through, Murray was great!  He got annoyed a few times and hopped or spazzed out when something unexpected came up, but for the most part he was incredibly rideable and listened to me.  We had plenty of Murray moments sprinkled throughout, like whenever I put my leg on or changed gait.  But his protests were brief and he got back to work very quickly after each one.  The best protest was after the stupid short free walk — which I thought would be easier because there is less time to get distracted, but it is harder because there’s less time to develop stretch and march!!!! — when I asked Murray to pick up the trot.  He squealed, leaped in the air, and then we trotted down centerline minus my left stirrup.

murray: flying change between A and K!
nicole: that is not a movement!!!!

The judge had been generous all morning, and I (kinda for the first time!!) felt like she was equally generous to me.  For movements where we pulled it together quickly, she scored us for the better work we had done.  The score sheet ended up with a mix of 7s/6s and 3s/4s, so we were either solidly above average or super inadequate.  I ended up with a 42, and honestly probably deserved more like a 46 — easier to acknowledge when given the more generous of the two scores, though.  This was about on par with how generous the judge was being to other riders in my division.  It also put me solidly in last place.

new favourite test comment: “not today!”

Megan and Kate had come up on their way to Horse Expo to watch me and Alyssa, and we all got a good laugh out of Murray’s display of great talent.  (I think one of them may even have gotten some good pics of Murray’s objections!) He clearly knew he had a blogging audience and had to put on his best behavior for them!! But honestly, how could I be annoyed at him for this?  He did everything I asked, he just did it with flair.  And while I’d love to have the type of horse who trots over all different footing without batting an eye, he isn’t that horse.  There’s no point wishing for something that doesn’t exist.  In the end, I’m very happy that we stayed in the ring (there’s a canter transition after a diagonal where I was legitimately worried we’d bolt out over the arena PVC) and that I kept riding.


proof!

We have been on such a roll lately — every outing we take, he becomes more rideable and relaxed, and I get better at thinking and riding to ask for better performance.  We still have a lot of work to do — Murray is still tense through the base of his neck and not totally through — but all of that work feels achievable and within reach.  This pony has come a long way from the one who couldn’t even canter in the arena because he was so tense.  And I’ve come a long way from the rider who melted down because she couldn’t get her pony to canter in the arena because she was so tense.  Seriously, it made me so happy.  So, so happy.


i loaf my pony!!!!!

ucd schooling dressage show

Because Peony is an enabler, a few weeks ago she encouraged me to sign up for a schooling show at Davis with the tantalizing offer of being my ride.  Why not? I thought.  Murray and I need the practice, and it will be fun to see how we stand up to pure dressage judging!  I’m pretty sure I still remember T3 and 1-1 from that November that I had to scratch this same show, right?

Wrong, Nicole, wrong. You do not remember T3 and 1-1 except for the first few moves, minus the halt at X.  You do not have time to practice, and seeing how you stand up to pure dressage judging is really not necessary for an eventer!


we r so magnificentz

The night before the show, Murray got some kind of weird scratch on his back that went just under the saddle region.  Perfect!  I thought.  This is a great excuse to scratch!!  But my barn manager ruined all my plans by inspecting the scrape, poking Murray rather violently, and telling me to ride.  So ride I did.

On Saturday morning, Peony’s husband kindly picked me up bright and early (second theme of the weekend: horse husbands being awesome), and Murray politely loaded directly into the trailer.  We picked up Peony, Spot loaded like a champ, and we were on our way.  I will admit, it’s very nice to have a show venue just 20 minutes down the road with the trailer, albeit a show that is frequently a little poorly organized (this year was no exception, but they were very flexible and accommodating, which more than made up for it).

When we got to UCD, we checked in and unloaded the ponies.  Murray and I went for a little graze and groundwork stroll while Peony got Spot ready for her T1 and T2 tests.  I didn’t ask Murray to do too many of our groundwork exercises, but did ask him to stop and go and back a few times, with plenty of cookies as a reward.  I set him up at the trailer with our new blocker tie ring and a hay bag full of alfalfa.  Yep.  Alfalfa.  I gave my pony a forbidden food to shut him up at the trailer.  I regret nothing (because I haven’t ridden since that day).

“5.5 – stretch never achieved” (that is accurate)

It was around this time that one of the organizers came up to me and pointed out a grievous (her word! but accurate) error she had made.  In scheduling the times, she had scheduled one ride at 10:24 and the following ride at 11:30. So really, I could go an hour earlier than my ride time — as early as 10:39 — if I wanted!  I looked at my watch. 10:10.  There was no universe in which Murray and I were ready to go at 10:39.  Fortunately, the organizers were very flexible and worked hard to make the ride times run smoothly for everyone.

After Peony’s rides, I headed over to Murray and quickly threw on a saddle.  He had pulled all the way to the end of the leadrope at the trailer, but thanks to the blocker ring was just wandering around on an extremely long leash.  Mostly it seemed like he was trying to reach the water bucket that Peony and I had put down for Spot.  Tacking up went really well.  Andy and Peony both commented on how mellow and relaxed Murray looked compared to previous outings at UCD (and elsewhere).  He really was just chilling.


“6.0, some lengthening shown”

We popped into one of the small turnouts and lunged both ways with no dramatics.  Murray just… walked, trotted, and cantered with no dramatics or theatrics.  So I walked him over to the warm up by the ring, and chatted with the organizers about my rides.  I was ahead of time, so I rode ahead of time and they said I could go in for my T3 test and immediately follow it up with the 1-1 test.  Super!  That was the best possible outcome!

As we warmed up I tried to keep a few things that I’ve been working on in mind.  I didn’t give up on my position or the reins — no giving it away just because someone doesn’t want contact.  Same thing for trot and canter cues: I know how to ask Murray for them correctly, and he knows what they mean, so there’s no reason to back off just because I don’t get what I want immediately.  And Murray respected that.  There was a moment when I felt his back back get a little tight in the canter, so I just stood up in my stirrups and let him canter around on a loose rein.

he’s looking thin here which really annoys me. our barn had to switch hay types, so Murray’s on a self-imposed starvation diet again. such a freaking diva.

Our T3 test went smoothly.  Really, both tests went smoothly.  The extra time you have to ask for canter departs between A and F (instead of at A, for example) really let me prepare and ask correctly and not give up the cue just because Murray didn’t step into the canter immediately.  But we went in, he put his head down, and did the thing! It was so cool!

After the test, the judge commented that Murray was tense in the canter and he needed more suppleness there.  Our cadence and steadiness was evident, but the suppleness was not.  She suggested a bit more hip and seat to get him bending.  That was fine by  me!  The 1-1 test has more bending than the T3 one does, so I made that my goal to improve upon for the next test.

case in point: tense and somewhat horrifyingly upside-down canter.
this got a “6,5 – bold effort” for the lengthening though

Doing the two tests back to back was HUGELY beneficial to us.  Because Murray never thought we were done working, he just stayed on task.  And because I got the feedback on my riding without a big gap, I could incorporate it immediately.  I was especially please that Murray didn’t break to canter in either of the trot lengthenings, and that he was so good at coming back after the canter lengthenings.

I was incredibly happy with both of the tests even before I saw the scores.  I’d gone in expecting to score in the 50s (I like to set my sights low to avoid disappointment) an work through some weird dramatics.  That was the whole point of going to a schooling show, to get the drama llama out of the way and into work mode.  And instead, Murray turned up worked with me!

he fucking dropped the mic on 3 of our 4 halts too — this one got an 8

I got a sweet flow chart drawn on the comments section of my test (it makes a lot of sense, actually) and came home with 2nd and 3rd in 1-1 and T3 respectively!  This has obviously got me pretty jazzed for Camelot this weekend.  If Murray and I can keep it together half as well at Camelot as we did at UCD, we will be in GREAT shape!


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