not looking great

We had the vet out yesterday to look at Murray’s front feet. He was still lame, and TrJ had a feeling that something in that clubby RF was not right. Historically, he’s been much more sensitive on the LF than the RF, so I was surprised that the club foot was the one constantly catching her attention.

 

We took rads, and surprise! Neither one looks great good normal. In the vet’s (paraphrased) words “to just look at his feet you’d never guess that it looks so bad on x-ray.”

 

He has rotation in opposite directions in his left and right front feet. It’s changed from the rads we took during his PPE in 2015. There are other things too — The Horse says it well: Usually, a foot lameness results from a little bit of a lot of things all added up together (Dr. Alexia McKnight).

 

So. Here we are. Staring down retirement at 9.

 

It’s not great.

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first date with a cowboy

Murray and I had our first horsemanship lesson on Monday. It was incredible and emotional and horrifying and challenging and amazing. I’m going to do the best I can to cogently put what we worked on and learned down here, but four days later I’m still having magical realizations about what we did, so I’m guessing I’m going to miss large pieces. This is post is long and filled with verbal diarrhea. There’s no way I can sum up our 90 minutes to one, three, or even six main take-aways. I could probably do 10…. maybe.

I’ve never had or sought out horsemanship lessons before for…. reasons. Reasons that range from good to uninformed. To keep it short, I basically didn’t seek out or attend horsemanship lessons for three reasons.

First, there wasn’t a good/quality/reputable horsemanship person who was accessible to me. There was a guy who came to a dressage barn near us in California, but whenever he was in town I seemed to be gone. Plus, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the horses at the barn that he was supposedly working with, which didn’t encourage me to change my plans to be in town for one of his clinics. For what it’s worth, my thoughts on that trainer have since changed.

Second, I’ve seen a lot of people take the lessons they’ve learned at horsemanship clinics and then do really weird shit with them. Everything from unintentionally train their horses to ignore them to beating their horses over the head with flag sticks. I realize it’s not entirely fair to judge the teacher by the many idiot students that exist in this world once they leave the instructor’s supervision. But as someone who knows a little something about teaching humans, it’s hard not to look at people whapping a horse in the face with a knotted lead rope and expecting the horse to magically know that it means “back up” without wondering how good the teacher is.


i am just the best teacher
(this post will be speckled with hardly-relevant media because I didn’t get any of our actual session)

Third, I know how Murray does with pressure/release training and it’s not well. I also know that I suck at pressure/release training because I don’t understand the timing. I watched a lot of Elisa Wallace’s mustang training videos this year, and I was like “wow, she’s great at this, but I have no fucking clue how she’s doing it”. This made me think that pressure/release training with a stranger — a man, no less — would not necessarily be a great training avenue for us.

Despite all my trepidation, I was very interested to see how Murray would do with this cowboy. I know he could be better behaved, and while clicker training was very helpful for a while, we have definitely hit a plateau there (the fault is mine, as I’m terrible at training duration). So if there was another tool that I could use to install better behavior in my horse, I was wiling to go with it.

I got Murray in from the pasture and was just about to pick out his feet when Dave showed up in the barn aisle. It was a perfect storm of things, really: Murray was wearing his blanket for only the second time all year, the tractor and muck cart were right near the grooming area, and a strange man was hanging about. Murray, predictably, was not really interested in standing still. I had ditched the treat pouch to avoid unnecessarily distracting my horse.

Over the course of picking out his feet and taking off his blanket, Dave asked me a few questions about Murray. What was it that Julie was concerned about specifically? How would I describe the horse’s behavior?


ermmmm….. his behavior is hilarious?

Dave wanted to change Murray over to a knotted rope halter, and stepped over to him to do it. Murray threw his head up in the air and his little feet went jigging all over the place. Dave grabbed a hold of the lead rope so Murray couldn’t rip free, and did something — I didn’t really catch it — that resulted in Murray uneasily but quietly standing between Dave and the wall, still tied. A minute later, Dave changed the halter out just fine.

I put Murray’s boots on, and Dave made the rhetorical question, “This horse has problems with confinement, doesn’t he?” I agreed and elaborated — does better outside than inside, doesn’t do well with pressure, etc. We moved outside to do some work. He talked about Murray’s wide eye and upper eyelid, and commented that since Dave first showed up the upper eyelid had disappeared but Murray still wasn’t “relaxed”.

I don’t recall exactly what Dave did first, but he started by explaining to me that he was going to “do a lot of things” to get Murray to move his feet a lot. In my mind I was like “but I want him to move his feet LESS not more”. But Dave continued to explain that it was about teaching Murray to keep his feet and body within a rectangle that we prescribe. For Murray the rectangle is pretty big, but it still needs to be there. When Murray got out of the rectangle, Dave just “got in his way a bit” to put him back in the rectangle. Getting in his way meant waving the lead rope at him or flagging the whip in the area Dave didn’t want Murray in. One time, when Murray insisted on coming forward even though he hadn’t been asked, Dave waved the lead rope hard enough to get the knots moving on the halter on Murray’s face. Murray took a step back, and Dave immediately stopped.


reward: grain on the bobcat floor

We talked while he did everything. A major thing that I don’t get about horsemanship of this style is what the “reward” is. You wave your whip at your horse, and if he does a thing you stop waving it. But what if he doesn’t do the thing? Then you start punishing him for not doing the thing?

The reward, Dave said, is being left alone/ignored. It still doesn’t make sense to me. But there my horse was, standing quietly and still, perfectly happy to be near us but being left alone. Dave said it was just like clicker training, but there’s no click. And you have to pick your criteria and set the learner up for success. Dave went back to the example of when he’d touched Murray earlier. A lot happened when he walked up to Murray — his feet got skittery, he tried to run away, and he put his head up in the air. All of those were contrary to the goal of getting the halter on. What was Dave’s first priority there? I guessed getting Murray’s feet to be still. Dave said no, just touching the horse was his priority. As long as Murray showed some sign of accepting the touching without fighting it (in this case, I think he put his head down just the tiniest bit? or maybe strained less?), then Dave backed off and stopped trying to touch him.

The learning paradigm is the same as it always is (ABCs). You do a thing — wave a whip, kick with your heel, give a cue — that’s the antecedent. That’s followed by a behavior. If it’s the right behavior, you stop doing the thing. There’s the consequence. If it’s not the right behavior, you keep doing the thing until you get an effort close to the right behavior. Dave just put it together in this pressure-release system in such a way that the horse had a lot of success because he rewarded tiny efforts at first, and had a good concept of how those efforts should add up to a behavior. He also emphasized that when this horse doesn’t do the behavior he doesn’t need more pressure, he needs more time.


needs more time is an idea I’m familiar with….

We also talked about general horse behavior. Who’s the boss? The horse leading the group. Great, so what if someone else tries to get in front of the boss? She/he gets in their way. Right, so all you have to do is get in his way a little bit. And sometimes you have to follow through, but if you’re consistent, that isn’t often.

Dave waved his whip at Murray in different ways to get Murray to move away from it. He could move Murray’s hind end and shoulders independently, which was pretty impressive. And then he put the whip against Murray’s body, which Murray was pretty uncomfortable with at first. But it was a great demonstration of the principle.

First, when Dave approached Murray’s body with the tail of the whip, Murray stepped away. Dave kept the whip moving toward Murray’s body in a parallel type of way until Murray stood still and let Dave touch his body with the whip. Dave took the whip off. Next, Dave did it again. This time, Murray immediately let Dave touch him with the whip but also leaned into the whip a little bit. Dave didn’t take the whip off until Murray was standing upright and not leaning on the whip. Dave rubbed the whip around on Murray’s withers a bit. Then Dave did the same thing on the other side.

Murray’s leaning into the whip was so subtle. I didn’t even see it. And Dave was like “The whites of his eyes are gone, but he still hasn’t sighed yet, has he?” At one point, Dave moved each of Murray’s hind feet just by looking at them. That’s the kind of stuff that makes this seem like black magic.


I trained my horse to wait at the mounting block, which is almost like magic

Eventually, it was my turn to lead my horse again. We started with Murray and I standing with about 5 feet of rope between us, and Dave told me to walk him up the path a little ways. I stepped backward and started walking (backward, so I could see Murray). Murray’s head jerked up and his got all upside down as he started walking. Dave paused me and asked me what had happened, and what I did to ask Murray to “go”. He had me hold my end of the rope and demonstrated my version of “let’s go” and his version of “let’s go”. His version was quiet and smooth. He told me to use my whole arm to smooth out the transition, and to lift my hand a little to indicate to Murray “pay attention, something is happening, let’s go.” The same thing with “stop” — lift the hand to let Murray know that he needs to come back to planet Nicole because I’m about to stop.

As we stood and talked about that a bit, Murray came in a little closer to me than Dave wanted. And then he started yawning. Like huge, ridiculous, clown-horse yawns that I have seen this horse do maybe a handful of times ever. Dave was like “he’s much more comfortable with you than me. He can understand me, but he prefers you.” Which was a tiny bit of salve on my wounded horse-owner-ego at that point.


this one time he yawned during a massage….

During this chat, Murray reached down and started eating grass. I popped his head up, and Dave pointed out another mistake I was making. Sometimes you need to punish a horse. But in this case, Murray was doing what he wanted because I hadn’t told him what to do — walk with me, or stand with me. I’d stopped getting his attention. So the next time he put his head down to graze I asked him to walk a few steps with me and stand in his box again.

At the end of our session, Dave ground tied Murray and talked about how Murray should respect the lead rope on the ground as much as he does the cross ties (haha, joke’s on him, he respects them the same!) or a straight tie. Murray stood right there, totally still. Then Dave instructed me to walk parallel to Murray and take his front boots off, and Dave would do the same on the other side. Of course, Murray immediately backed up like “woah what the hell are you people doing to me”. Dave didn’t get angry or big or harsh or annoyed. He just took the lead rope back up in his hand and invited Murray to walk back forward into the rectangle, then dropped the lead rope again. Then we approached to take the boots off, and my horse stood like a ground tied rock.

Dave walked us back to the pasture and helped me “teach” Murray to turn around at the gate for me so I don’t have to go into a muddy pasture. It wasn’t perfect and it took 3 tries. Dave then told me that while Murray was standing there at the gate, I should leave first. It was a good sign that Murray wanted to be with us, but we needed to be the ones to end the game.


byeeee, felicia….

There was so much to digest here. So many things I skipped over — I didn’t even get to the leg yielding and side passing stuff we worked on, or changing sides and speeds while walking. It was all to teach Murray about respect of space, and teach me how to “get in his way” correctly while showing Murray the right thing to do.

Two huge standouts were pressure and punishment. It’s like since Dave talked to me about those things, I can see all the ways that my use of those two tools left Murray confused in the past.

Murray doesn’t know how to handle pressure. I know that, I’ve known that for a long time. Trainer J identified that at our first vet visit. Dave figured it out within a few minutes of watching my horse. I thought that because Murray had never been taught how to handle pressure that this type of pressure-release training wouldn’t work for him. But in a way it’s perfect for him (if done perfectly), because it shows him that there’s an escape from pressure (one that does not involve running the fuck away).

All of those times I was going around and around and around in circles in the barn aisle trying to get my horse to let me do his girth up? He was trying to escape pressure (that part I knew already, I’m not totally incompetent as a behaviorist!). And in response I either added pressure (jam the girth up quickly), added punishment, or both. Until we started clicker training, I never taught him that there was an “out” from that pressure. The “out” was standing still. Because once he stood still, I never took the pressure — the girth — back away from him. I usually just did the girth up. Absolutely, some of the pressure in this system was coming from Murray internally. But that was still pressure he didn’t know how to deal with.


lol who is punishing who here?

Punishment is intrinsically linked with pressure, because punishment is a pressure. I figured out a while back that punishing horses while riding was pointless (and mostly seemed to reflect me having a temper tantrum). But on the ground, I would still punish him for things he did without guiding him to a better behavior. When he walked too close to me, I would smack him back: just “DON’T walk on top of me”, but no guidance as to where he should walk. When he wouldn’t back up when I asked him to with a light halter pressure, I’d go straight to jerking on his halter. Sure, they are both cues for backing up, but one is much bigger and more punishing.

And these are both things that I already knew, but didn’t do consistently, for some reason. Like, sometimes I did them. And sometimes I didn’t.

Dave told me to watch a lot of horses and riders for my homework. Watch people handling horses and see what’s working and what’s not working. Some of what I do works, and he doesn’t want me to throw that stuff away. But he does want all of the stuff I do to become more effective, and more consistent.

plodding right along

Murray recovered excellently from his “pigeon fever”, and though I never got the official culture results back from the vet, it seems pretty unlikely that the one abscess was actually the pidge. But after a week of standing around in his stall, Murray was feeling a little off and abscess-y, maybe a little stiff from not really using muscles for three weeks, and not quite up to real rides.

All just a part of his master plan to avoid real work, I’m sure.

what, me? no never.

I considered giving him some more time off, but we hadn’t yet gotten Murray integrated into the big boys field at the farm. Which meant that without riding, Murray would remain stuck in his stall 24/7. Murray was still sound at the walk, so we walked. And walked. And walked.

I mean, there’s only so long that you can just walk around. So these rides weren’t exactly long, but at least we were getting out.

We took advantage of the gallop track and cruised all around the field solo. Murray was very calm, which was fantastic for me. He only got excited when he saw some new friends coming up the way toward us, and he pranced over to them and asked if they wanted to play. Shockingly, neither their riders nor I were interested in Murray playing with them at just that moment. It’s lovely to have a 1 kilometer track so available — two laps around was an easy 2k walk, and helped get both of us stretched out.

At the same time, we worked on getting Murray integrated with da boyz.


new fren!(emy — apparently Theo is a bit too aggressive of a lover for Murray)

I took him for a few walks around the big pasture (it’s about 20 acres) when it was empty, and let him get used to the perimeter. I did not let him touch the hot wire. I wanted no part of that. And then on Sunday evening after all the horses had come in, we put Murray out with an older pony named Tony, and let them cruise around together for a few hours.

Murray cruised, Tony was like “please let me back inside for my dinner.”

The next morning, Trainer J and her assistant gave Murray a teensy bit of sedation and put him out in the field in the morning. As far as I heard, no other horse in the field thought anything of it.

not even this dino-behemoth

It’s weird having your horse integrated into an already-stable pasture group of 15-ish other horses. I mean, I know how I’d do it if they were chimps. And it’s not the same approach that J took. But this barn has a lot more experience integrating new horses into a field than I do, and a lot more horsemanship overall. So I trusted them, and it went perfectly!

On day two in pasture Murray stuck around with his stall neighbor, Delgado. D is very understanding of Murray poking his head into D’s stall every time we go by. And I think that Murray appreciated that D didn’t want to aggressively groom or play with him, or herd him away from other potential friends.

twue wuv

Murray is already looking more comfortable after getting a few days of turnout, so fingers crossed whatever this is will just resolve itself. Maybe that silly abscess will just pop or go away or whatever. Or if it’s residual stiffness, it will just work itself out with turnout.

We’ll keep plodding along at the walk (and hopefully more soon?) and with the turnout. The vet comes out today to look at another pony, so I’ll have her take a quick look at Murray too because WHY NOT see the vet twice in the month we move.

What a pony wants, what a pony needs

I had intended to write a post when I was barn- and trainer-hunting this summer, to talk about what Murray and I wanted and needed in a trainer and how to narrow down the choices from far away. Only, I called a few barns, chatted with a few trainers, and ended up making a decision REALLY quickly. I found what I wanted, it was in my price range, and boom, we were done. No need for blogosphere help.

Then L posted about her barn-hunt requirements this week, and I thought a bit more about the decision-making process that guided my barn decision.

Going into the search process, I knew I needed (in order):

  1. Turnout. I think horses should get to be turned out as much as possible. I know it’s not possible in all areas of the country, but I’m willing to pay a fair bit more/sacrifice other things to get this.
  2. The distance from my house to the barn to be less than 40 minutes. I don’t hate driving, but I want to be able to pop in on the horse if I need to. 40+ minutes is not “popping in”.
  3. Quality horse care. Good staff, good services, good feed.
  4. A high-quality trainer who does more than say “do it again” or “more leg”, but no required training program.

Any of these were somewhat flexible based on what else I could get on the priority list. I’d take a slightly longer drive for a better trainer, or be willing to self-clean a bit for more turnout. If there was no trainer at the barn, I needed the ability to bring a trainer in.

Turnout was really the priority. Murray likes it, it makes him happy, and it’s good for horses. I’m not really interested in getting into a program where horses are stalled 24/7, even if they do have paddocks. Group turnout is good, in big fields is better, for many hours at a time is best. So I started searching equestrian facilities in my area and winnowed down from there based on the facilities that made it clear on their websites that turnout was a priority.


values his time outdoors

I’m lucky, because within an hour of me there are probably 50 barns that I could have chosen from. Everything from small facilities where every horse gets a half-acre turnout of their own (bananas but actually something I found) to Rich Feller’s former property right across the river from me, with every horse in their training program. And a lot of them featured turnout as a priority for them. Somewhere between a few hours and all day turnout was really easy to find.

Since you can’t interview horse care on a website, I skipped right over 3 and started looking at trainers. This was the big hiccup — there’s one eventing trainer in my area (spoiler alert: I’m at her barn). There were a few other people who advertised themselves as eventing trainers, but didn’t have much of a record on USEA. I was totally willing to ride with a jumper or dressage trainer, as long as I could bring the other one in. I leaned toward riding with a jumper trainer, since it’s a little hard to get jump training at a dressage barn that has no fences or jump arena (and some DQs frown upon you taking over their arena with coloured sticks), and my trailer situation is still nonexistent.

hahah I’d forgotten about pony refusing to get his butt into the trailer

I asked around at home about the one eventing trainer in the area and got incredible references. So I called her, and pretty much reserved my stall right then.

On the pick two, I’ve made a pretty vertical line. Good riding instruction is included, but on the nice facility/affordable balance, we’re half and half.  The property is older, but what we do have is well maintained and safe. It’s more than I was paying in California, but not so much that it breaks the bank. The stalls are bedded practically up to my knees once a week, and are always immaculately clean (unless your horse is on stall rest for the pidge, which makes being clean difficult). While Murray was on stall rest, they fed him an astronomical amount of hay and hung a hay net for him every afternoon — which he fucking loves.

The indoor arena is the size of a full court, which is acceptable and will probably mean lots of grid work this winter. The outdoor track is great for running for humans and horsies alike. And the outdoor jump field looks like it will be a TON of fun…. if we can ever get out there. I watched Trainer J give some lessons, and I like her style — she focuses on the specifics and making little changes to affect big change, but doesn’t get wrapped up in the negative or say nasty things to her students.

All the horses are just the right type of chubby and have good muscling and actual toplines. Which is a great sign. They put the horses first, even if it means going to a little extra effort. While Murray has been stuck inside, they’ve been turning him out in the indoor while Juan is cleaning his stall — so Murray gets some turnout AND doesn’t traumatize poor Juan. It also sounds like they have a ton of fun showing, and have plenty of space in the rigs.

gimme dat carrot and let me get back to my hay net

So far, we’re really happy here. I hit all of my priorities: Murray will (soon) get turnout all day in the big field with many friends, it’s 17 minutes from my house, the horse care is impeccable, and Trainer J seems awesome. Time will tell, of course. And I have plenty of other options if I need them!

well played, you sneaky mofo

This post was going to be all about how well Murray is settling in to his new barn. And it kinda still is.

We had two really nice rides last week. On Thursday after he arrived, I figured I’d get on Murray for a little hack around the indoor so we could blow some steam off. Murray was wiggling and jiggling at the tie (which happens to be right next to the kitchen where his grain is prepared) and my new trainer (J) suggested I take him to the indoor and turn him out for a few minutes.

new indoor views

In the indoor, a lovely teenager happily opted to give us the space so we could have some crazy time and she went outside for a quiet ride. Murray ran all around, rolled, shook off, snorted 3 times, and cantered around some more. J came in and watched us, laughed about Murray being “definitely a thoroughbred” and complimented his cuteness.

I was definitely worried that Murray would be too much, er, Murray for a new barn. But everyone has been super understanding, accommodating, and welcoming. It’s awesome.


isn’t it awesome, Murray?!

After a quick run around, I tacked up and got on. We cruised all over the indoor and did a little bit of w/t/c, but not so much that Murray was like “eff this place that makes me go on the bit all the time.” That evening we even got to have a little turnout so that someone wouldn’t be too bananas.

cute pony i found at my new barn! i will steal her

On Friday morning, a group of riders were headed out to the back field to ride and asked if I wanted to come with. To which I responded an enthusiastic YES. The back field is super cool — probably 20+ acres of pasture with a gallop track (about 1200m) and grass jump field. I took one look at it on my tour and was like “yeah I’m getting bucked off out here.” To add to the openness, you have to walk down the property line past a whole bunch of hoop houses owned by the neighboring nursery, and there are cows and goats in the pastures adjacent to the field.

murray is skeptical about hoop houses

Murray was a dweeb all the way out there, pushing past the other horses then trotting sideways down the lane. When he saw the hoop houses he took a hard look at them, but I just kept pushing him forward. The lane was somewhat narrow so we didn’t really have much other option, and the last thing I wanted him to do was stop and back up into another horse or the hotwire of the mare pasture behind us. Fortunately, once we got to the field Murray was much more interested in something else.

sweet nectar of Oregon

We walked around the dressage court, grazed, looked at some fences, grazed, did a little trotting, grazed, cantered, grazed, chatted with new friends, grazed.

You get the gist.

Murray was much calmer walking back down toward the barn, so I hope that after a couple more trips out there he’ll think it’s old hat!

When I was untacking, I noticed that a bug bite on Murray’s belly from the day before had pitted under the girth and made two boob lumps. Which was weird. But I assumed that it would go down, since Murray has had allergic reactions to bug bites along his belly before.

But then on Friday, the lump was bigger. And on Saturday it was even bigger.

fooooork

On Sunday we called the vet. She came first thing Monday.

Most of the lump is just pitting edema. But there was this one sensitive, firm section that she thought might have some fluid in it. So new vet gave Murray a second dose of sedation and aspirated the lump, which spat out some pus. Yay.

For those of you familiar with California horse disease, this is not looking great. It’s a tentative pigeon fever diagnosis, but the sample got sent off for culture.

We cleaned out the one abscess and couldn’t find any others. And it was pretty clear what was abscess and what wasn’t — Murray was cool with you thumb printing the pitting edema all over, but on the abscess site he was kicking his belly with shocking accuracy. New vet put Murray on antibiotics, and he’s now on stall prison until we get the culture back and the abscess site closes.

He’ll be fine. If it is the pidge, we caught it super early. If it’s not the pidge, we caught it early. It’s just an abscess.

And of course, I can’t ride. Because the abscess is right where the girth goes.

Well played, you monster. Well played.

feels like makin’ progress

The last few months have been heavy hitters in terms of changing the way Murray goes. That’s not a totally fair characterization, as a lot of that work has been about changing how I ride in order to change how the horse goes. But since we’re measuring progress in terms of pony skills here, and I still can’t sit the trot, we’ll focus on the horse. And specifically, we’ll focus on the gaits themselves.

I have had, for some time, a pretty big first toolkit/second toolkit problem. I know what it is my horse is supposed to be doing or doing better, but I don’t have the rider skills to get him to do those things. I know my horse needs to take bigger steps, and that he needs to push into the bridle, and that he needs to bend his hocks and take weight behind. Because I’m also human, and that means that I’m bad at listening to my trainer even when I know I should be, I wasn’t getting out of lessons what I thought I should be. Honestly kinda sounds like I have a thinking problem. But with some good new eyes on the ground and some reinforcement from my main trainer, it feels like pony is moving at light speed through some of these concepts.

cherry-picked trot from April

First, Alexis got me thinking about posting like a piston and actually sitting in to my horse. Kate emphasized the importance of getting my horse to accept the aids instead of trying to shake them off. Of course, it meant that I also had to accept the contact instead of shaking that off too… There was a pretty pivotal ride in there with Kate where she helped me manage my hands and the connection in every step. Literally rewarding Murray for moving in the correct direction with the connection without giving it up, every time he did that. I’m not trying to diminish the importance of those people and those rides, but I’ve already written about them, and a couple of recent rides have built on them even more.

If we back up to quite a few weeks ago, before Camelot, Megan came over to help me prep for the dressage test and balance the canter-trot transitions. At the risk of messing things up, she also played with our trot a bit. The lesson emphasized getting the bend correct on the circles, while keeping the connection to both reins (Murray wants to duck away from the left rein), and lining my horse’s limbs all up with one another correctly while still sending as much energy as possible forward and into the bridle. We also worked a lot on transitions within the trot. Taking Murray’s mincing little trot — the one he comes out with and wants to pop around with all the time, without articulating his joints hardly at all — and stuffing it full of energy so that even while the steps are small he’s still tracking up, and then pushing him out over the ground so that the energy has a place to go.

pretty representative trot from May – not really moving out much at all

Pushing Murray out across the ground has always been hard. It’s easier to move legs faster/canter/fall apart/buck/just not. But when I added energy and articulation (through slooower, smaller posting but still leg and whip) first and then let him out, he actually moved out over the ground. Megan also had me push a little past that, and really keep that post slow+big as I added energy. She wanted me to post slower in the “lengthened” trot than I did in the working trot, to really get even more push across the ground instead of faster leg movement.

Then I rode with Alexis, and had a whole walk-trot lesson all about making my legs quiet and very meaningful. (Kidding — we cantered like three circles.) Doing this for weeks and weeks after the lesson was… painful, to say the least.  But it meant that by the time Megan saw us next, the leg was more meaningful. And then we really got to work.

not-really-trotting with Alexis, but at least I’m not totally giving up on the contact

At the trot, Megan really wanted me to get Murray over-tracking. Which is basically unheard of for us, since he barely tracks up usually. But we worked at it with the same technique as last time — add energy to the little mincey trot, and push it out across the ground. We spent less effort on adding energy to the little trot this time, and more time pushing out across the ground.  Or maybe it just felt that way because our basline has already shifted a bit. I don’t remember exactly what Megan’s words were (not as important since I remember the feeling a bit), but the result was that it felt like the trot was FLYING across the ground and then she’d be like “great, now add a little bit more energy to it” and there was still energy to be added.

It was extremely exhausting to keep that much tone in both Murray’s and my bodies and post slowly and keep the energy and and bear down.


camelot trot. this one’s actually nicer than I expected it would be.

In the canter, she pushed us forward until the canter was taking big steps — probably like normal, 12 foot, horse sized strides! Once I’d achieved the big horse sized stride, I could balance the canter uphill a little without taking it back or upwards. I’ll probably write more about this later, as the feeling still needs to be finessed a little bit. Plus she told me that the bigger canter was my new “half halt” which was pretty much blew my mind.

The best part of all of this is that it’s been extremely replicable in my own rides. I get on my horse and we do some walk-halt-walk-halt transitions (per Alexis). We move into the trot without letting Murray shake off the leg aid (Kate and my trainer), and just let it hang out for a bit (Alexis). And then when I go to add energy to the trot — BAM. It’s right there. It’s not that weird little trot that just moves faster, it’s a bigger trot that pushes Murray into my hands and into the bridle.

It was like between one ride and the next, Murray suddenly learned this trick of pushing into the bridle and trotting out over his back. Not that it just took one ride for it all to come together — this is the cumulative effort of lessons from all of my various people all Spring. But now it’s right there at my fingertips when I ask for it. I don’t even have to ask much. When I rode on Sunday, I barely had to put my leg on in the kinda-pokey warm-up trot and Murray sprung to action into a proper trot.

*almost* as good as it’s felt lately!

I’m not too worried about working on or practicing than the connection and these bigger gaits right now. Which is a first for me. (I’m always like, when can I canter-walk? when can I leg yield? when can I second level? AM I READY NOW?!?!) But within and between each ride I can feel how much progress we are making in the gaits, getting them stronger, smoother, more solidifed, more natural. I’ve not felt this much progress from Murray from day to day to day…. ever, really.

I’d not even describe it as dull. It is routine, but it’s also major progress! And it’s awesome.

the problem with hills

There’s this thing about hills. It happens to me all the time.

You see a hill in the distance and you’re like “That’s not so big! I could totally get to the top of that! That would be so much fun!” So you run off through the grass to mount your new obstacle.

Only, hills are always much bigger than they appear from afar. And you’re always more afar than you first thought.

So you climb and you climb. It’s tiring.

There’s so much more hill to go. Climbing hills sucks. Your legs hurt. Your brain hurts. This was the worst idea ever.

At some point, it seems like it might be worth just giving up on this stupid hill. By then, you’ve usually gone far enough that looking back, the beginning seems very far off and rather small. And you know how long that distance really is, now. You’ve come a ways. Might as well continue.

So you huff and you puff and your quads burn and you make it to the top of the hill. Finally! Joyous day! Hallelujah! Carpe the dayum hill diem!

You turn to survey your surroundings. Everything the light touches is your land!

And there, just behind you, is another damn hill.