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

twin recap: a powderkeg about to explode

I’m being honest,
I’m working with a third of what our Congress has promised.
We are a powder keg about to explode,
I need someone like you to lighten the load.

– Right Hand Man; Hamilton

This entire weekend’s recap is being brought to you by Hamilton, thanks to  Emma and Austen, since a) Hamilton is great pump up music, and b) appropriate for all times.  No, really.  Also, there is sadly no media of our dressage day just yet – but I ordered a Ride On Video so there will be!!

We arrived at Twin in the early evening on Thursday and quickly unloaded the horses and tack room (which would lead to my later wardrobe malfunction).  After checking in I snagged a little bit of food and wine at the Adult Team Challenge mixer and then jumped on my horse to school before we left them for the night.  Since the whole goal of the weekend was just to be zen and not a freakshow, I opted to go with our standard dressage protocol: lunge, lunge with side reins, then ride.

Murray wasn’t as bananas during the lunge pre-side reins as I thought he would be, mostly just looking around and periscoping a lot, but fairly obedient.  He was super for our actual ride, and we got down to the warm up late enough that there were very few people left and we mostly had the space to ourselves.  After some good walk, trot, and canter work in each direction trainer B left us with the advice to go wander around the courts and judges’ booths a bit before coming back in.  Murray was shockingly incredibly brave (a theme that would, weirdly, last the whole weekend) to walk around the booths, and after a brief pause to take them in he wandered right up to them on a loose rein with only a little tension.  That little tension did lead to him nearly tripping and impaling himself on C, but nobody was looking.

i made myself this silver on cream stock, and i love it.
unicorn pin thanks to a friend at a flea market. ❤

Friday morning we woke up very early and I walked Murray for a bit after giving him breakfast.  My ride time was 11:07 so I backed it out to figure out what time everything needed to be done.

20 minute warmup – start at 10:45
20 minute lunge – start at 10:25
20 minutes to get the saddle on – start at 10:05
15 minutes to get dressed – start at 9:50
~1 hour to groom – start at 9:00
~2 hours to braid – start at 7:00

It seems really ridiculous to have that much time allotted for things, but I wanted to keep things really, really mellow while I was working on Murray so we could both stay mellow.  While I was braiding I just kept reminding myself “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” — my past experiences with even slightly rushed braiding have led to shitty, messy braids.  Murray was so, so, so good for braiding — like really ridiculously good. I think because I didn’t use any spray, he was just like “well, keep on playing with my hair you ridiculous, tiny human.”

Unfortunately, Murray was also FILTHY because he rolled in the mud right before he got on the trailer, so I spent longer grooming than I intended (and yes, honestly, I got started grooming a bit late).  I decided to forgo the lunging in favor of an extra long walk to warm up, and headed down to the warm up ring around 10:40.

The warm up at Twin was honestly my worst nightmare, but it really wasn’t that bad.  There were horses and riders everywhere in all kinds of undefined and unconfined space.  Murray kept it together with a fair bit of aplomb, and only bucked repeatedly the first time we cantered right.  I kept my leg on and changed direction when he swapped leads and didn’t let him get away with any of that silliness.


i count 19 horses in this warmup, and it was relatively quiet compared to the morning

At one point I trotted past B and said “look how damn short my reins are!!!”  I was holding them between the first and second stops.  (In the past I’ve struggled to keep my hands between the third and fourth stops, which I now realize is a rather absurdly long rein!)  Murray didn’t feel as good as he has at home, but a far sight better than he has ever felt at a show — not perfectly through, but forward and even in the reins and keeping his head down.  Like really, that’s all I can ask for.

When it was time to get going, we walked and trotted around the arena to a cheerful “have a good ride!” from Ann Howard at C.  As we trotted down centerline I remembered that Murray and I hadn’t practiced a single centerline prior to the show, and it was definitely evident — we fishtailed and noodled a fair bit to the left turn at C.  The left trot circle was quite reasonable, and the left canter transition was quiet if a little fumbly.  I expected this — we’ve had trouble with trot-canter transitions when Murray doesn’t know exactly when they are coming, and I realized that I don’t have a fully reliable way (aka half halt) of warning him that they a re coming.

The left canter circle was honestly pretty dreamy, but Murray broke to the trot at A, a relic of my constantly schooling of one circle at a time.  He corrected quickly when I put my leg on, and cantered again before the corner, and even came back to the trot between B and M as I instructed — which earned us a “well recovered”.

Tracking right (the walk work was unremarkable) Murray trotted promptly at A without resisting my hand which was wonderful.   In the right trot circle I added a little leg to get some more oomph and forward and Murray took it upon himself to canter instead, which obviously wasn’t what we wanted.  I slowed him back to the trot — prompt once again — and finished up the circle, after which I could feel the annoyance emanating up from Murray’s body and into my seat, so I knew we were in for something in the canter transition.

I was correct.  Murray bucked in the right canter transition.  Of course.

But it was okay.  We kept on cantering right and really did a pretty reasonable canter circle, all things considered!  Murray got a bit strong and heavy on the fore toward the end of the circle and I had to haul him into the trot again, but at least it wasn’t against the hand (a frequent comment on our tests).  I hardly thought about the halt, but peeked out at B from the corner of my eye as I came up to it and somehow we came to a stop.  The judge laughed and told me “well recovered!” after I saluted and walked toward her, and we laughed together about how much Murray was anticipating that canter movement.  “Yes,” she said, “he was looking forward to it for five movements!”

The test was wonderful, really.  We ended up scoring a 42.9 which was right where I expected for a test where we broke to the trot in a canter circle, to the canter in a trot circle, and bucked through a canter transition.  We were dinged for obedience and submission — shocker! — as well as impulsion, none of which are awful or surprising.  We do struggle with obedience, submission, and impulsion!

But Murray went into that arena, kept his head down, and did almost everything I asked.  Even better, I didn’t stop riding just because we went in for a dressage test.  That is truly the biggest accomplishment — I kept my leg on, kept my reins short, and Murray listened and did all the right things.  It was wonderful!  I have rarely felt so proud of the two of us after a dressage test.  There were bobbles and I couldn’t get him as soft and through as he can be at home, but I never expected that!  Next time, I’ll try to squeeze a little more tension out through the each movement of the test, instead of letting it wait until the last canter transition.   Bucking and all, it was a great test, and a huge accomplishment for the two of us.

crazy ex-racehorse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

oh honey, that does not fit

Last Friday I had Robyn Dorius, certified saddle fitter at Advanced Equine Saddle Fit, out to check on Murray (along with a few of the other horses at the barn).  I was running late all day so showed up late for my appointment — just what I wanted, to be late and underprepared for an appointment where a stranger would be slapping saddles on Murray’s back.

Fortunately, besties to the rescue and one of my friends had Murray bridled and was lunging him a bit for me.  He was unappreciative and recalcitrant because… Murray.  Robyn started out by examining Murray while he was naked, and palpated both sides of his back and along his topline.  I prepped her by apologizing profusely for his potentially bad behavior and told her to let me know at any time if I needed to just kick his butt a little.  She collected a little information on me — what disciplines I ride in, what level, and whether or not I compete.

camelot (265)-(ZF-8462-66896-1-003)
sometimes, and with varied success

Robyn started me in the dressage saddle and comforted me when Murray made his most ridiculous girthy pony moves.  Interestingly, she commented that she knows a few horses that go “girth lame” during tacking up — Robyn attributed it to the horses getting so tight in their pecs that they can’t walk properly.  She felt underneath the saddle on both sides before I got on then had me walk and trot both directions.  It didn’t take long before she called me in to the center to give me the bad, but not unexpected, news: my dressage saddle doesn’t fit.

Robyn was forthright and blunt without being unkind.  “For what you want to do, if you want his topline muscles to develop properly, you cannot keep riding in these saddles.”  She also took the time to explain to me exactly what was wrong with the saddle.  To start with, the tree was too narrow.  Exacerbating the problem was that the tree is the wrong shape.  And adding insult to injury is the fact that it was really, weirdly tight in the gullet around Murray’s withers.  Robyn showed me where she should be able to slide her hand in under my saddle but couldn’t (at the wither behind the shoulders), and where she shouldn’t be able to slide her hand under the saddle but could (under my seat).

dress-4
probably not a coincidence that my best-ever dressaging was done in not-my-saddle

We switched to my jump saddle.  Murray was being as bad as he ever is about warming up (I’ve been lunging him to warm up lately and that helps a lot), but Robyn insisted that seeing him on a bad day was actually a good thing.  After a couple of circles in each direction Robyn showed me again the problems with the saddle: this time it wasn’t too narrow, but the tree was still the wrong shape.  The bridging problem was exacerbated even more in my jump saddle and Robyn managed to get essentially her whole arm under my butt while I was on Murray’s back.

Murray did not really appreciate, but behaved.

So with that in mind, Robyn suggested that we put a saddle with a more appropriate tree shape on Murray to see if it could change his movement at all.  She started with a dressage saddle that she had taken out for one of the other girls.  I felt underneath the front panels and up in the back and wasn’t really sure what to look for, so Robyn guided me in what she was looking for in the saddle.  Ultimately she decided to go and get a different saddle from her truck to try on Murray.  This second saddle, a Custom, fit him much better than any of the others we had tried on so far, though Robyn said that if it were his saddle she would have changed the flocking a bit over the withers.  (During this portion of the appointment Murray was biting the air above my jacket sleeve and giving Robyn and me the side eye.  It was like he knew he wasn’t allowed to bite me — he’s not — but had to get his dissatisfaction out in some way so the air was what had to suffer. I was amused.)  We tacked up a third time and I got on.

novdress03
murray: is this REAL LIFE?! is this FOREVER?!

Immediately Murray’s walk felt bigger. I complain about his walk a lot.  This was not his walk.  We walked and trotted and at this point Murray was well and truly sick of my shit and threw in some haunches swinging and sass of his own.  Getting tacked up and half ridden at the walk and trot only three times in an hour is not on his list of favourite things to do.  This was no magic bullet, and I didn’t expect it to be, but I did enjoy sitting in the Custom.  Robyn had me feel under this saddle again too, and pointed out where it was a little tight against his withers – she said she would change the flocking there (if it were my saddle, that is).

In the end, Robyn suggested several saddle brand trees that might work for us (Custom – but I don’t like big blocks so it’s probably moo), older Schleese’s, and… some other trees.  I don’t remember.  But she said that if I got a saddle/saddles out on trial she would happily evaluate them for me and could bring along a few of the consignment saddles she has at home to do a full on comparison.  (I always keep an eye on The Horse Of Course consignment saddles, because I lust after a Sommer, and Robyn said she’d happily evaluate those for me too.)

img_20161129_191637
can you believe how good I’ve been, putting up with your
saddle-fit garbage, Nicole?!

So there it is. I need two new saddles.  But honestly, I’m not even upset about it.  Robyn took the time to teach me her saddle fitting philosophy and how to look for signs of good and bad saddle fit on my precious pony.  I’ve played around with a few saddles since then and can see which ones totally suck (like my dressage saddle) and which ones seem to suck less.  This is a major improvement over my previous level of saddle fitting knowledge.

And look at the even brighter side: it turns out that my SUPER sensitive pony has been toughing it out and showing up through a couple of pretty poorly fitting saddles.  Very, very proud of him for that.

Cherry on top: knocked one off the 2017 goal list already!

in which I finally get to ride my horse again

After Murray’s Monday morning melting moment (gosh there are just so many fun alliterations I can make with this!), I knew that Tuesday would take a little more care and tact.  I got out to the barn in the evening, when the arena was already busy.  I tied Murray up in the same place as on Monday, and took it really, really easy with him while I was grooming and as I started tacking up.  I unhooked him when we got to the girth, gave him plenty of carrots, and walked him around the barn twice to both settle him and enforce manners (walk, stop, stand, good boy, walk more, etc.).  Murray walked around a bit more than usual, but didn’t seem like he was particularly scarred by Monday’s misadventure.

I started with lunging, as I almost always do for dressage lessons these days, and Murray wiggled and spooked around a few times.  He was a little short behind but he always has to work into a proper trot.  And then he was dramatically, absurdly, cartoonishly lame for five steps.  Like he had three normal legs and his left hind was wearing a rollerskate.  I stopped, checked his feet, walked him for a minute, and trotted him out again.  Back to normal Murray short-steppin’.  I called it a night to be on the safe side and gave Murray a big scoop of bute with a nice warm mash.

img_20170113_131724puddle drinking with friends

I wasn’t terribly surprised he was a little lame.  It could have been a rock/abscess/twisted ankle easily, since it came on very suddenly after passing through a deep-ish spot and disappeared just as quickly.  But Murray had also spent five minutes freaking THE FUCK OUT the day before, then a grand total of ten minutes on the lunge, and promptly stood in his stall for more than 24 hours while it plummeted from 50 degrees to 35 degrees.  I wiped his feet down when we got back to the barn to check more carefully for potential abscesses (nothing).  But when I put my hand on his glutes he tensed his quads and lower back so tight that the muscles were bulging like crazy.

So no riding on Tuesday.

Wednesday was just as cold and horrible, and it was pouring to boot.  Luckily when I got to the barn there was only one other person there, and she had just gotten done riding, so I quickly walked Murray out to the arena to check how sound he was.  I left his blanket on thinking that I could take it off if I needed to for further diagnostics.  When we got to the arena Murray was so excited for turnout, just so so so excited, and he kept letting me walk a few feet out in front of him and then leaping and flailing and high fiving the air with joy.  But manners, we must remember them.  So I insisted on a little sobriety for a moment, lunged, identified very quickly that Murray was not lame, and turned him out, to his great joy.  Then I brought in Murray’s best friend, confidante, and emotional support animal, Logan, and the two of them had a fantastic time.  Logan started out with a little scared side-eye, but once the two of them had run the wiggles out he was much happier and softer.

turnout01his happiness was a golden poem

Tacking up was much better.  I tried tying to a different spot and gave Murray lots of reinforcement for standing and being polite (which he is starting to get, as he will sometimes pointedly look away from me when I’m working with him).  We walked up and down inside the barn since it was pouring outside, and Murray was very reasonable.  Very reasonable.

I lunged quickly both ways and got on.  Murray was pretty forward but I could see that his back remained tense and wasn’t really working.  The wind picked up, and the lights in the arena danced the wild dance of poorly secured lights.  I forgot my tall boots, so had to ride in my Dublins, which was not my first choice.  But I was actually able to ride, so I took it.  This did not help, of course, with feeling secure and comfortable in the saddle with crazy winds + potentially crazy pony.

turnout03nope, not lame

Murray was wiggly, tense, and very forward, so I rode a bit front to back.  But I did not feel secure enough in the tack to really push him forward into my hands properly.  My whole goal was just to get him working and listening, instead of looking around the arena for things to spook at.  I started to feel more comfortable in the Dublins after we cantered, and Murray actually managed to put his head down and get some work done.  Every time the lights shook over us or the arena creaked and groaned he wanted to run in the opposite direction, of course, but he settled pretty well afterward and would get back to work after just a short spook.  Right up until a huge gust of wind shook the arena right on top of us, and Murray scooted off in the canter, and then right as I got him settled again a huge gust of wind made the whole arena shake, groan, and rattle above us and blew open the enormous double doors at the end.  I called it then and there and walked Murray back to the barn, where it sounded like we were inside a hurricane and the other girls in the arena joined me a few minutes later.

I checked the weather station on campus and the wind averaged 37 mph with gusts up to 47 mph at 10 meters height – i.e. arena roof height.  Definitely more than the 15 mph predicted by the weather app.  And there’s more of this to come!  HOORAY!

turnout02let me freak!

nag less, expect more

I had a dressage lesson with our fantastatrainer Tina on Wednesday, and it was aaaaaah-mazing!  I mentioned last week that we are right in the place where I need a lesson to start to get the next set of tools, and I can always count on Tina to help us problem solve.  (Alas, no relevant media exist.  Maybe next week I will get some new video.)

Murray started out feeling pretty honest, though I promptly forgot everything I’ve learned in the last year about keeping my reins an appropriate length, which was unfortunate.  I told Tina that I had been working on being straight and forward and encouraging Murray to take on bigger and more expressive (and correct) gaits, but also keeping him balanced.  Tina honed in on one of my bad habits immediately, nagging Murray with my seat and legs at the walk.  I recently decided to stop babying Murray about walking — he will never get better at walking with contact if we never do it, right? This was a fight several days in a row until the Tina lesson, and Murray had just started to accept going forward+connection.  So of course I was nagging him every single step to get more forward.  Tina had me give him a kick and then sit quietly when he responded correctly.

img_20161129_191637chubby dressage pony

The problem with this (for me) is that I feel like the response to a kick is an inverted spazzy revolt.  But after a few yucky, sticky, gross responses, Murray figured out that kick = forward.  This was the first lesson in the lesson — reward for the right response. Even if it isn’t the exact response I want at this moment, we want to keep Murray thinking in the right direction.  We can finess later (I hope!!).

We moved on to the trot work and Tina encouraged me to get Murray working a little more over his back by getting his neck a little lower.  I have been trying to avoid letting Murray get his neck tooooo low lately, because he can get really on the forehand and downhill.  But his balance actually felt pretty good during the lesson, and it unlocked a bigger and freer trot.  Tina had me encourage the bigger trot on the diagonals, so that Murray can learn the cue for more/forward/bigger where there is more space (than a circle) and then bring it to other work.  She encouraged me to really get him to fly on the diagonals.

Tracking left we got a couple of good extensions on the diagonal (for him – obviously not real extended work), but tracking right I got almost nothing.  Tina told me to really boot him on that right-ways diagonal, and Murray responded by breaking into the canter – but not, as I later found out, an acceptable canter.  The next time around he did the same thing, so Tina had me kick him into a more forward canter.  Murray bucked twice and suddenly on the next right diagonal, he could move forward!

dress-4moar! bigger!

Tina’s assessment was thus: Murray doesn’t want to trot the big trot. The big trot is hard. The small canter is easier – and it’s more forward! But it isn’t really thinking forward  – it’s thinking just forward enough to not actually have to do real work.

All of the following diagonals got bigger and better trots, and Murray was really willing and compliant.  Tina continued to encourage me to get Murray lower, and every time we did his trot got better and involved more of his body.  We were both breathing quite hard after this.

Next, Tina had me add a little engagement in the trot by starting in a shoulder-in and then shooting across the diagonal from that.  I actually didn’t expect this to work, because Murray loves to use lateral work as a way to waste energy.  Maybe the diagonals earlier in the lesson helped us, because once I got him straightened out he shot right across the diagonal with more hind end engagement.  We only did this twice each way, Murray got it and it worked so well.

In the canter we did similar work.  We started with some shoulder in down the long side – making sure not to drift off the rail tracking right – and an extension down the next long side.  Tina helped me with another thing I have struggled with lately, which is Murray getting tense and inverted when I push him to be straight down the long side.  He’s not quiiiite ready to be really straight cantering just yet, but if I got him to lower his head more he could take MUCH bigger and loftier steps.  Tracking right I got a few more steps of the floating canter, which was awesome.  Left was a bit harder, since we were both so tired.  We ended both of our extended canter stints with a little circle — almost 10 meters — where Tina told me to think about pausing in the upswing of the canter (like Megan did!) to get Murray to sit and hold himself up a little more.  It felt great, almost like the canter-in-place that my MIL had me doing the other day (a coming post).

dress-8moar and better canter than this one!

As I expected, it was an excellent lesson.  Tina gave us a few more exercises to practice and Murray stood up to the pressure really well.  Tina agreed with my assessment that Murray is mentally ready to take a little more pressure now, so I need to take advantage of this time to impress some important lessons upon his moldable mind.  And I got a solid plan to move forward with – keep encouraging Murray to move forward, but don’t let him get away with not using his body properly.

I was a little worried that my lack of strength and balance was holding us back in the bigger gaits, but Tina said I shouldn’t fret too much.  I wasn’t unbalanced in the extensions we did in the lesson, and only got unseated when Murray went from cross cantering into a really fast, tense trot.  There is, apparently, time for us to grow in strength in the bigger gaits together.

nap 01hey, remember when it was sunny?! yeah me neither.