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!


click (individually) to embiggen


click to embiggen

GoT Bloghop: Murray is Craig Middlebrooks

Over a year ago, Austen started this clever little blog hop talking about our horses as characters from movies (or TV).  And at the time I was like “I don’t know what character my horse is! He’s just Murray! All the good characters are taken! I HATE THIS BLOG HOP!!!”

Never let it be said that we are not well matched in melodrama.

But I finally figured it out!  I now know who Murray’s television personality is.

Murray is Craig Middlebrooks from Parks and Rec.

We all know that Murray just feels way too many feels.  He, quite literally, cannot keep the feels inside his body.

And he is always happy to tell you about them.

Murray freaks out easily.

 

And when that happens, he very desperately needs your help.

His responses to normal stimuli generally fall somewhere between “wildly inappropriate” and “way over the top”.

Especially when he doesn’t want you to know that he likes something.

Lying down is his happy place.

Despite the fact that he just can’t control himself, we love Murray anyway.  He’s just so cute when he’s upset!

video from twin

I splurged and bought RideOn Videos at Twin, and it was not a waste!  I can’t embed them, but you can find them on the RideOn website.

Dressage (watch out for Murray’s buck right at C!)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=6d924f210

Cross Country (I look like a drunk monkey in this video, but since it represents a significant portion of the first 30 minutes I ever spent in that saddle, I’ll take it — plus, Murray was such a star)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=c6a797d86

Stadium (sometimes, you’ve just got to double check every fence on course to ensure there are no crocodiles or spare mongooses beneath them)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=11a7ef591

 

twin recap: enough

Look at where you are,
look at where you started.
The fact that you’re alive is a miracle,
Just stay alive, that would be enough.

– Non-Stop, Hamilton

 I told you this entire week would be about Twin.  I needed to get it all down for myself, so I can remember everything.  There are a few more things to wrap up, a little more retrospective, and a little less gloat-worthy.  Though there will still be a bit of gloating — one can’t help oneself after such a weekend.

victory can-NOPE

Between cross country and stadium Murray dug up his entire stall, added a small water complex, and took full advantage of the terrain.  I tried to flatten it out when I checked and walked him on Friday night, but dirt that your horse has dug up and then peed on is HARD to move with a pitch fork.  And he completely dug it up again the next morning so… I gave up.

After stadium Murray was practically throwing himself on the ground, and I knew he’d been struggling with the fact that he’d been essentially unable to roll all “weekend”.  I quickly untacked him and in lieu of a rinse took him down to the lunging arena for a little roll in the soft sand there.  Murray was more than happy to comply, and somehow on his first roll managed to unlatch his halter and stood up happy as a clam… and totally loose.  Fortunately he was also too tired to go running off, and the other girl in the arena thought it was funny rather than annoying.  He had six or seven more good wallows in the sand before I put him back in his stall, which he flattened out over the course of the next day until it was hardly possible to see that he’d completely re-engineered the day before.

The tubigrip solution worked splendidly to ice Murray’s legs.  I cut a length of tubigrip twice that (and a bit) of Murray’s front canons and pulled it on over his shoes, folded over, with the fold at the bottom.  It was very easy to stuff ice cubes in the pocket that created, and then move the ice around with my hands to give coverage where I wanted it.  Since Murray’s extensor tendon swells on front of his left canon, I wanted ice over the front and back of his legs, so this was nice. I wrapped the ice pocket up tightly with a polo wrap, which helped keep the ice up as well as added some cold pressure to the whole shebang.  After that they stayed up nicely for 30 minutes, and I had a cold, wet piece of tubigrip to use over the poultice when I was done to boot!

The most wonderful thing about this entire weekend was feeling all of our hard work and training pay off.  We have both worked hard — Murray to improve me as a rider, me to teach him some fraction of what he ought to know.  And it has been a road full of terrain, water traps, and even a few U-turns and misdirections.  There are so many times when I wished I could have bought a horse who was braver, more reasonable, more compliant, a better mover, smarter — I didn’t want any of those things this weekend.

I bailed on our partnership ways only a human could, and Murray stepped up to fill the gap in the only way his pony self could.  He went forward when he needed to, woahed when I asked, and let me know in no uncertain terms that he had got this.


murray and I feel rather different about the ribbon ceremony

It feels so good to come through every phase of an event filled with pride at what we lay down, even if it wasn’t my vision of a perfect or winning dressage test, even if we didn’t perform as well as we can at home.  There wasn’t a single time this show when I wished I’d made better choices for my horse — though there were obviously several moments when I wished I’d made better choices for me!

Twin showed how far I have come as a rider and horsewoman too.  I didn’t expect Murray to make up for my deficiencies (though he did it anyway), and I didn’t try to bully him through to something that neither of us was entirely sure of.  I knew I’d biffed it getting ready for cross country, so I didn’t try to fight him over the fences, and I was ready to withdraw if he needed it.  But he didn’t, and I’m so, so grateful.

We have truly, finally, built a successful partnership.


this is the cutest we have ever looked