Suzukini progress report

Since she played such a prominent part in the last quarter of 2017, I thought I’d give a little update on Suzy’s progress last year. Suzy used to be Sookie, but I can’t seem to stick to one name or the other, so I’ve taken to calling her Suzuki as it’s the best of both names and gives a little hint to the secret, sporty little mare who was hiding beneath all the chub when she arrived. (And Suzukini is just too tempting, since I love to play with words anyway.)

awwww look how short her broodmare tail was!! (october)

Suzy came to our barn as a six year old after weaning her 2017 foal, and had clearly enjoyed the benefits of being in broodmare pasture. Girl was chubby! I started riding her in September, when she’d been at the barn for a few weeks, and lost a few pounds, already.  From the very beginning Suzy was sweet and easy to work with on the ground.  She was definitely on the lazy side about work, really playing up that whole I-grew-a-baby-horse-in-my-body-didn’t-you-hear thing.  When walking to the arena she would habitually try to just veer us back toward her stall instead.

early november: bod getting trimmer, tail getting longer!

Suzy was naturally pretty forward and sensitive.  I mentioned this before, but she was sensitive is all the right ways — she would listen to your seat, naturally understood a half halt, and wanted to do the right thing.  She was so smart and quick on the uptake.  There was a downside to the cleverness: once Suzy figured out what I wanted, she was very quick to offer that as the answer to almost everything.  Which meant that things got a little challenging when there were different right answers to different requests.  Canter leads were (and sometime still are!) quite a good example of this.  Suzy was happy to pick up either lead at the canter — canter was what I wanted, right?  And for quite a long time it seemed that she didn’t even understand that there were two different types of canter, so the leads were pretty interchangeable.

early november again, with mare-friend Lucy looking on

I tackled the canter leads problem by using a verbal cue (kiss) for the right lead, and a seat cue for the left lead (swinging left hip forward).  I kept the two cues and leads separate, and always tried to set Suzy up for the correct lead before asking.  I definitely didn’t solve the problem this way, but I think it did help.  As her canter got stronger, so did her ability to pick up the correct lead.  It probably shouldn’t surprise me — as her legs got less disorganized and her muscles got stronger, it felt more natural to be on the correct lead for a given direction.

early december — trimming down in all the right places!

And that brings us to her development under saddle, which has been pretty incredible!  It’s a bit awful to admit, but it’s so easy to get a bit unreasonably frustrated with Suzy sometimes.  She rides like a pretty educated horse, but she’s really just five months off the track (with an 18 month hiatus in the middle!).

When we first got together, I had to ride the Sookini smack in the middle of the arena, far from any walls she could get glued to, or the arena gate to get seriously distracted by.  And this is not an exaggeration.  If we were by a wall it was like some intense force of gravity was pulling her outside shoulder toward it, and only another intense force of gravity could get that shoulder back in line with her body.  Girl had a mighty flexible neck, but almost no ability to bend through her ribcage.

mid december:  pretty sporty, huh?!

Though to be fair, I imagine it was pretty challenging to step under with that big belly and thunder thighs in the way.  As she’s trimmed down, all the little pieces have fallen into place.  Suzy can do baby-ottb versions of all the important moves now: shoulder in, leg yield, bending, even round-ish circles!  Her canter is absolutely gorgeous now.  Suzy’s canter was a real mess in September — to the point where I wouldn’t canter her under saddle because it was so strange and unbalanced.  And she’d break to the trot any time a challenge — pole, turn, puddle, etc. — presented itself at the canter.  Now you practically can’t-er stop her!  It’s comfy and forward and way more adjustable than Suzy realizes.  Honestly, I think she’d be annoyed at the amount of work we can trick her into doing at the canter if she realized it.  She just loves cantering now, so she’s happy to sit down and do the work!

the rhythm was still a little funky in early december, but sooo much better!

And she is so fun to jump!  Suzy’s still learning, but she’s forward and game and she knows how to go there to the fences.  There’s lots of work to do still in the jumping, but she was quick to figure out how to get over the fences.  And that clever mind?  SO helpful here.  She might clobber through a fence on one go through, but the next time around she’s ready to pick her feet up and try something different.  She’s even starting to learn how to keep an even pace to the fences and not pull or rush to a super deep spot.

I feel so lucky to have spent the last four months of 2017 working with Suzy.  And I’m even luckier that her current owner is happy to let me keep riding her!  I dunno — maybe I’m the only one who’s terribly excited by all of this (well, me and Suzy’s owner!), but she has been such fun to watch and feel progress.  It’s such a different progress trajectory than Murray had — I am such a more balanced rider now, and she’s got such a different attitude (with different challenges of course).  I’m looking forward to seeing where this little girl goes in the next five months (and beyond!).

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barefoot progress: 6 weeks

I recently got a barefoot rehab book as an early Christmas present to myself (which is part of the reason I’m on a full spending freeze right now; early gifts get me like woah). This, of course, made me think much more on Murray’s foot progression, and where we’re at in this little experiment.

RF landing

Excitingly, we now have a just barely heel-first landing on the RF (upright foot). It’s not consistent, but it’s pretty much there, and definitely there in soft footing.  Unfortunately, the LF is still decidedly toe-first and will take a while to change, I suspect, as the LF heel is particularly weak.

LF landing

I had thought the RF was our problem foot, but data proves me wrong again. Farrier was right — it’s the LF that causes us issues!  (And honesty, wouldn’t that explain why he short steps with the RF? Doesn’t want to put too much pressure on the LF!!)

LF progress since 10/23 (click to embiggen for detail)

Most importantly, Murray returned to overnight turnout on 12/1, and I am very, very, very excited about it.  His leg hole is holding up (still bandaged as you can see — I was not about to risk scraping the scab off and having the proud flesh come back) and healing nicely.  The movement he gets in pasture (at least an hour or so a night, even if he’s out there for a full 12) will be far more than I could ever have given him in an hour or two at the barn, and movement is key to palmar hoof development!

I created a handy little line-guide to show the changes in the frog in particular. The red lines are based on the frog as of 10/23, and I’ve copied that exact image over to the following weeks so you can see how his frog is (literally) bursting the seams.

somehow it’s moved back, gotten longer, and gotten wider!

Interestingly, I haven’t seen much progress in the angle of this foot. It’s a little distressing, but thanks to my new book, I have some ideas on how to improve nutrition and movement to help the dorsal hoof move along better.

The right front appears to be making less progress but might have been a healthier foot overall, so perhaps it isn’t too worriesome.  Things I really like about this hoof’s development are that it’s rounding out a fair bit, which means it will become less upright overall!  I also think that I’m not going to see a much bigger frog until after there’s space for it between the bars (and this weak icky frog has scraped off… whenever that will be).

I’ve applied the same line system above, and while it looks like there’s not as much going on here, you can see a serious widening of the bars and lateral grooves to make way for a new frog (I hope. I’m not a farrier or vet!).

Because we got new sand footing, Murray is now back to light work.  We started with some lunging, and he’s not sound sound, but he’s pretty sound for Murray.  Work is good, and as long as we’re on a supportive surface like sand, I’m going to keep the groundwork going and add in more and more under saddle work.  One of the best parts of this clicker training business is that Murray is actually listening to me when I get in the saddle, so he’s not thinking “oh, how do I not do this thing?” he’s thinking “oh, how do I do this thing and acquire more goodies?”


left hind progress — wider frog, and getting a little more symmetrical I think!

Murray was not only happy to work, but pretty confident in his work.  At one point down the long side I felt him really propel himself down the arena with great, for lack of a better word, purpose.  I’m not sure if it is because he knows I like to ask for forward, or if perhaps he was feeling particularly comfortable and confident on the footing, but he felt fantastic!


RH progress – also more frog, but less symmetrical!

There’s a lot of work to do before we can be sound anywhere other than our lovely and supportive indoor, but I like what I’m seeing here.  I need to make some feed changes if I’m to expect Murray to keep making progress (notably increasing mineral intake and decreasing sugar — bye bye, barley), but the outlook is good!

The book I keep blabbing on about is Nic Barker and Sarah Braithwaite’s Feet First, which feels like a great starting resource. I’m tempted to buy the “sequel”, but not sure if I deserve more Christmas presents just yet…

neato barefoot progress

Murray has been barefoot for three weeks now, which I had fervently hoped would be long enough to see some changes in his footsies, but logically expected that no real progress would be evident. But lo!  Progress there is.

When his shoes first came off, Murray was footy (tender, sensitive) on the gravel of our barn’s driveway, which is unsurprising. (I’m footy on that fucking gravel.) He’s now able to walk from his stall to the arena without any noticeable limping or guarding. Murray was also lame at the trot in the round pen during his second turnout, even though the ground was softened by recent rain. But just this week in our indoor he pranced around pretty happily and without a hitch at liberty (though a little gimpy on the lunge line).

So without further ado, here are some feet. Maybe I’ll start scaling these to the same hoof size in the future so it’s easier to see the differences.

 

Murray’s left-front is his most typical TB-ish foot. It wants to be flat and heel-less. It also has a slightly uneven hair line — something I’ve been trained to look at from the Rockley blog! But just three weeks in (see below, going left to right) the frog is a little wider and the bars are moving out to the side. It looks like there might even be more expanding to come. Maybe the heel is moving back a skosh also? Hard to tell since the views aren’t identical.


um apparently my phone also started taking pictures in different aspect ratios in the last three weeks…

The right front is the freaky foot. I’m not sure it’s clubby upright-ness is really clear here. My farrier actually doesn’t worry about this foot because, in her words, she’s figured it out. It’s the LF that causes us problems.


changes in the RF are way more dramatic!

There is some good shit happening to this foot which is SO EXCITING. This is the foot I really wanted to see progress with in this whole barefoot experiment. What I see is the old frog sloughing, and LOTS of expansion of the bars to make room for the new frog. My recent, detailed explorations of the Rockley blog shows that many feet seem to take on this pattern — the spaces around the frog widen quite a bit to make space for the new frog as it comes in.  This could also be the angle of the pics, but it looks like the heel might be moving forward too?! That could be nice.

Oh and that crackola in the middle of the frog is really deep. Actually all of the creases of the foot were threatening thrush. The central crack/crease is longer and deeper than it was before, but I think that’s actually because it’s growing out/forward, not because it’s growing up into the foot. We’ll see though.

right hind

Nothing too exciting about the right hind — although it’s the least lame foot on flexions, per the vet back in August.

It looks like there might be some widening of the frog on the right hind, and definite widening and growth of the bars.

Left hind is also somewhat unremarkable. I like the shape of these feet, though now that I’m looking at them in detail I can see that the heels are a little underrun and could do with more strength. The frog is expanding a bit, and the bars are getting more definition too. So that’s cool!


blurry pic feat. purple clicker!

Murray doesn’t yet have a heel-first landing, but that’s okay. It’s less toe first, an d I’m sure with time we’ll get there. Luckily for us, I think this kid is going to be getting turnout starting next week (dear lord jeepers please let the pastures dry out enough for turnout), and all that movement should (if my understanding is correct) help him develop some palmar hoof strength.

And if you find this all as weirdly compelling and obsessable as I do, you can find lots more at Nic Barker’s super Rockley Farm Blog.

hunt & seek

On Saturday night I walked Murray around bareback in his wraps to stretch him out from cross country, and liberally used some of my homemade liniment on both him and myself.  The upside is that Murray doesn’t seem to hate my homemade liniment.  The downside is that, while it feels nice, I don’t think it does shit.  I mean, it certainly hasn’t helped the healing of my knees.  The formula might need some tweaking.  We’ll work on it.

It’s been a while since I walked my horse around bareback in the dark, and Kate commented likewise.  It was fun.  Murray powerwalked when we had company, and meandered when we were alone.  That night I slept like the dead.

there’s so much good stadium media thanks to the Kathy(s)

My knee was almost pain-free on Sunday morning, but it was also very, very stiff.  I was hobbling around like a peg-legged pirate getting Murray ready.  I don’t think I’ve mentioned this lately (it’s probably worth its own post) but Murray has made huge strides in tacking up lately.  At shows he’s been downright normal — it takes me five minutes to tack him up, and boy is that nice compared to 25 minutes.

Unfortunately for me, my knee was not holding up as well in the saddle as it had on Saturday.  Posting was a little painful (though the pain decreased as I rode), and I had a distinct feeling of unsteadiness in my two point.  Murray was a little sleepy feeling, but perked up when we started jumping.  I was back to riding like a juggalo, and leaned and kicked and crammed Murray to a couple of awful spots.  At one point I leaned and took my legs off to an oxer and Murray came to a gentle stop in front of the fence.  I turned to B and made excuses for myself, namely “my knee is really fucked right now.”

“This is when you have to really ride perfectly then,” she responded. “Dig deep. Don’t think about it.”

ugh I just ❤ him so much

I came back around to the oxer and pointedly did not get ahead and kept my leg on, and Murray was more than happy to comply.  I stopped warming up after that, hoping to save both Murray and myself for the actual stadium round, and did some meditative deep breathing to put the pain out of my mind.  I had walked the course the evening before, and given the state of my knee I wasn’t about to walk it again.  B walked it separately and we had a little pow-wow on the strategy for the fences.  I told her I was planning to try to square out my turn between 2 and 3 to avoid a weird curvy line, but she said it wouldn’t be too bad to bend as long as we didn’t drift.  She told me not to rush the turn to fence 5 and let myself take my time to get there, and to take the outside turn from 8 to 9, not the (tempting if I had been feeling better) inside turn.  Otherwise, it was a sweeping, fun course that felt a little oddly familiar.

It’s no secret that Murray and I have struggled a lot with stadium (also in general).  We have had bouts of mystery stops, major problems with distraction, spookiness, being afraid of standards, not even making it to stadium because we got eliminated… you name a stadium problem, and we’ve probably had it.  And I’ve spent a not-insignificant amount of time watching people cruise around stadium courses with horses that seem like they are going no matter what.  You know the horse — the rider can be flapping and flopping and not riding at all, and yet nothing short of an unseasonal hurricane would stop them from jumping the next fence.  I have longed for that horse.  While I’m flopping and flapping and kicking and pushing and kissing and coaxing, I have wondered many times why I do not have that horse.

uphill-fence-attacking-canter

On Sunday, I had that horse.

Murray was a little looky when we entered the stadium arena, and I struggled to get him into a canter to the first fence because he was staring at everything.  I gave him a little precautionary tap on the shoulder as we approached, and Murray was right there for the fence.  We had a big sweeping rollback to the oxer for two, and once again, Murray was on top of it.  The line to 3 could have been more square, but Murray locked onto the fence and took me there.  There was another big sweeping turn to 4AB, and not only did Murray see the fence and go there, but he took the long spot into the combination and made the two inside the combo.

Murray making the combo happen

The turn to five was good, but after fence five I couldn’t seem to get my body back under control.  I couldn’t get my right knee to bend so I could get my butt back down toward the saddle, so I was left awkwardly hanging on Murray’s mouth as we made the turn to six.  This directly caused Murray to take six down, since I was hovering over his withers, and he got deep deep deep to the fence.

murray: I can’t can’t jump good when you are crooked and perchy!

No matter, he recovered amazingly and powered up to seven in the five strides it measured.

murray: leave the fallen!

We had a very Murray approach to fence 8, the first one with strange/scary fill and the dreaded sharkstooth fence.  I managed to keep my body under control and my leg on, so even though we got deep we got over it, and left it up.

taking the deep one

The rollback to 8 yielded the fantastic jump near the top of this post (american flag fence), and then we gunned it home over the knights oxer.

 

Blurry stadium video below!  I need to clean my phone camera lens.

I’m not going to pretend that the ribbon doesn’t matter to me — I’m glad I got to take home some satin, because I’m a money-grubbing whore and #swag.  But the ribbon really was just icing.  For a move-up show that looked like it could go pretty spectacularly shittily on Friday evening, there wasn’t a single thing I would have changed about the weekend (er, except spraining my knee).

I have been working and waiting four years for this ride.  To feel like this is a partnership we are both committed to, where we can complement and improve one another.  To know that I’m not bullying and forcing my horse into something he actively dislikes and barely tolerates because it’s what I want to do.

I wasn’t all there this weekend, and Murray stepped in to make up the difference (again, actually).  And he did it at a new height, avoiding the problems we’ve had before.  I feel like we could do anything together if we just put our minds to it.

I don’t know where we are going from here.  But wherever it is, I know we can do it.

pony jump big big

I wanted to take my first jump lesson since Murray’s hock injections easy(ish), but also prep for my Novice debut in ten days.  I told B that we should warm up, then start at Novice height and just build up to the course.  My goal for this was manifold.

  1. Avoid jumping every fence 3-6 times at varying heights
  2. Start out at the New Scary Height (2’11” in case you’re wondering)
  3. Ride “easy” lines to prevent stops before they could happen

Importantly, I wanted to focus on my position and see if I could find that magic “spot” again over fences, as well as keep riding correctly and insisting on correctness from Murray.  Pertinent to the second point, Alli said something to me that has totally revolutionized my rides this week: she realized that when she feels Dino get light in the bridle, she pulls to get the feel back, instead of kicking the pony up to it.  I realized that this is exactly what I do, especially when jumping: I feel Murray duck behind the bridle, and I take up more reins to get a feel of his mouth back, instead of pushing him forward to the contact and the fences.

Um. Duh.

we have walked over this tarp ditch every day for the last two weeks.
murray still stopped when we first cantered it today.
sigh

So for my last two rides I’ve been thinking about squeezing Murray forward into the bridle when I feel him duck behind it.  Not kicking or bullying, and definitely not pulling, but just squeeeezing him with my whole leg until I feel him come back into my hands.  It worked and got us a really fabulous trot toward the end of my (short) ride yesterday, and I thought “if I could trot like this up to a vertical, it would be pretty fucking awesome”.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to achieve the beautiful trot up to our warmup fences, but I kept squeezing and pushing and Murray softened to the idea.  It’s not his favourite idea — being told what to do OR being told to move forward into contact — but it’s probably the least offensive way I’ve ever asked him for this, so  he was willing to accept a bit.

We started with a simple, long bending line of vertical to oxer.  When B was setting the oxer I remember thinking “gee that’s big! Murray doesn’t even barely have to put his nose down to touch it.”  That’s what you get when you don’t jump  height for a while.  I felt Murray hesitate as we approached the green oxer, that kind of shrinking-stride check in he sometimes does.  I knew it was an opportunity for him to sit down and stop if he chose, so I squeezed him into the bridle — not too aggressively — and he went right over.  I was very, very proud.

good pony

Next up, we built up the combination. The kids had put together a barrels-two strides-quarter round skinny-one stride-quarter round skinny combo across the long diagonal.  I didn’t want to fight with Murray about it, so B had me come in to the barrels like I was on a big circle and just turn left before we got to the skinny.  Murray actually locked on to the skinnies in the combination and I felt him pull me to the right.  But I was committed to going left, so I made the turn happen.  Our next go through he eagerly jumped through the whole combo, though we did jam three in the two stride.


we got the striding later though!

Our attempts at the barrel line were not without fuckups, however.  After one successful go through, I leaned as we approached the barrels in a backward attempt to push Murray toward the fence and encourage him to get the striding.  Murray was like “girl, you cannot lay on my neck like that” and stopped.  I, of course, lay all over his neck.  Like, straight lesson kid laying on the neck posture.  (I would have a picture, but google photos won’t give me the high resolution version of my video!!!!)

shenanigans

Next we came in to the oxer to liverpool.  Murray and I have walked over the liverpool every. single. day. and yet we still had trouble with it during the lesson.  The first time I was coming off of some shenanigans so Murray was flustered and disorganized and I tried to commit to the oxer anyway.  It was the wrong choice.  The next go through Murray went over the oxer and then spooked hard at the liverpool.  I was like “Nope! Nope! You have to do it, Murray!” and pointed him back at the liverpool.  After a moment’s thought he jumped over.  Subsequent attempts were slightly less awkward.

The last few fences on course included a series of rollbacks that were a little more challenging upon execution than I expected!  We overshot the turn both times we took it, but Murray was game to take the second fence at an angle, which made up for my poor navigation.

In our last course, Murray arrived at the big green oxer on a fantastic open stride and at just a hint of a long spot.  I squeezed him a few strides out as encouragement, and he launched himself over — I mean, really launched himself.  Sadly B was very far from the oxer at the time, but we FLEW!

The last course was really fantastic — we made all the strides, didn’t get any awkward spots because we had such a good quality canter, and Murray was on fire!  Seriously, I could not have asked for a better jump lesson before Camelot.  Murray is clearly feeling… something, since his hock injections.  (Though honestly, if shenanigans is what I’m going to get when my pony feels good, I’m willing to take it.)  None of the stops were unreasonable.  All basic rider error, things that I ought to know better than to do/try/flub.

Oh, AND I didn’t crumble because of the height!  Murray and I jump 2’11” not infrequently, but we usually work up to it.  We don’t usually just start at that height.  And I didn’t let it get to me in the first few fences, so after that it immediately felt fine.

it felt so, so, so cool to have Murray pulling to these skinnies in the combo!

We will probably jump once more before Camelot, to keep the confidence up.  But now, I really, really, really need to figure out how to ride Novice B dressage test.

small steps to bigger strides

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


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

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


look at that pony taking a reasonable takeoff point for once

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

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

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


such magnificent dressage between the fences

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

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

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

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

 

ucd schooling dressage show

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

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


we r so magnificentz

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

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

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

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

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

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


“6.0, some lengthening shown”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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