2017 year in review

I’m late to the game this year, but I love year in review posts so I’m not about to skip this one! One of the best parts about it is reading through all my old posts and re-remembering all the fun (and sometimes not-so-fun things) I did over the course of the year, pushing past the biases of silly primate brains.


I started the year off with a some new resolutions to set Murray and myself up for success in all our rides and stop taking shortcuts.¬† Little did I know how much this would foreshadow the coming year. California was in the middle of its wettest winter in a¬†long time,¬†which made just getting to the barn a challenge.¬† Murray also had a Major Meltdown —¬† his first in quite a while, if I’m remembering correctly. His halter held together, but a few days later a friend of mine put Murray’s sheet on for me and Murray panicked again. He pulled back from her in hand and the halter snapped into a thousand pieces and she was left holding an empty lead rope while Murray looked suspiciously at her.¬† It was hilarious. Okay, I think it’s hilarious, Friend was mildly traumatized. Importantly, toward the end of January we had our first appointment with a saddle fitter who I will absolutely credit with a big part in changing the way Murray goes for both dressage and jumping.

imitating his friend-from-afar, the CreepStar 3000


After getting scared into not-really-riding for a week or so, I decided that Murray and I could just deal til we found a new saddle. Murray did his best Peter Cottontail impression over poles (gif below). We had puppies at our barn (as we so often do! thank you wonderful barn manager!), and Murray and I had a second appointment with the fitter and actually found a dressage saddle we liked! My boyfriend also started his own Dressage Show called “Nicole Rides a Horse“, and my horse actually looked… really good?! That is, when he wasn’t being a total punk. And we rode with Hawley again!


We started March out with some Alternative Facts. We might need to bring those back this year! I pondered who can/should ride my horse, as¬†many others were considering the question. AND I MADE THIS AMAZING PLANNING CALENDAR¬†when I realized that my first event was probably coming up in just about six weeks. I also talked about my work-life balance aka the hustle¬†(which I will be engaged in again this year!) to keep me and pone-pone clothed and fed. And in reviewing that post, it really warms my heart to feel the camaraderie of blogland around me — thanks guys <3.¬† Murray and I went to Twin Rivers for the first time (and he got a snazzy new RAINBOW rope halter) and had just the BEST time schooling the course.¬† And I cleverly took a ten day vacation right before my first event of the year.

oh and Murray rolled on the leadline with me for the first (but not last) time ever


The beginning of April was a lot of furious prepping for the rated event at Twin, including buying too much stuff¬†and anxiety dreams.¬† I also wrote about the ground work we’d been doing in the rope halter (though I started the groundwork itself back in March). This was another thing that I did not realize would become a¬†massive part of this year.¬† And then we went to Twin. And it was So. Good. I bought a pink hat and listened to Hamilton basically Non-Stop¬†(this is a Hamilton pun).¬† Dressage was awesome! Cross country was a hot fucking mess to get started with but the Murr Man SHOWED UP. Stadium was a grab bag of amazing surprises that led to a NECK RIBBON!!!!¬† Murray could not have done a single thing that weekend to make me happier or prouder. And that was basically all I thought or talked about in April. Hah.


In May I finally got back on the dressage lesson train, and got my trainer/DVMs advice about how to handle Murray’s tension and stiffness. But we also went on some fun Spring adventures!¬† I managed to survive through our second May One Day event at WSS, and can’t thank all the volunteers and riders enough for coming out! I also realized that Murray was finally¬†starting to become a reliable communicator.¬† Or perhaps, I just got better at listening. Oh also, I did the Game of Thrones Guinness on Tap bloghop that revealed to you all the secret human living inside Murray’s body: Craig Middlebrooks.¬† We made some slow, steady uphill progress in both dressage and our ground work.


I dyed my saddle black in June in anticipation of the coming Camelot event. Then there was the most epicest of all blogger meetups, and a dressage show that didn’t suck!¬† And then a few weeks late was epic blogger meetup number two at the happiest place on earth: CAMELOT! I learned how to suck in all new ways, my horse showed off all his best moves, and jumped a fun, clean stadium. I did some research about pentosan,¬†as I considered adding it to Murray’s life. And Murray had an appointment with an “animal communicator“.


I opened July with some math about brainz. Murray and I did some more dressage, and I re-formulated my thoughts on rewarding effort vs. try. My RBF got a new pony and we got to go XC schooling together and take jump lessons together and it was MAJIKAL. I also did a little NSAID test with my pony that led to a pretty spectacular dressage ride, a hilarious jump ride, and the decision to inject his hocks. It was also in July that I burned all of Murray’s cannon hair and skin off with Equiderma, which would lead to a wound that is STILL NOT FUCKING HEALED IN JANUARY OF 2018.

omg I miss this


Oh yep look, here’s our first post about weird cannon keratosis and the odd little skin problem that it induced. I found a magical sit spot in my dressage saddle. In preparation for my move up to Novice at Camelot later in August, I had a jump lesson with a teenager which was not what I expected. In a good way. Then I went to Camelot, sprained my MCL, rode anyway, and somehow had another incredible, black-letter weekend. Oh gourd, just looking at that show recap gives me a visceral reaction to the memory of how hot, sweaty, and unpleasant the first night with my sprained MCL was.¬† And guess who showed up to save his human¬†once again?¬†Not just Murray, also Levi!

i love just about every picture from this weekend

Oh, also. There was Kathy.


Birthday moooonth!! We ran a one-day in insane heat. I started reading When Two Spines Align (again) and had some big a-hah moments about shaping energy.¬† The leg saga continued. I also wrote about behavior and cortisol in horses. I’d like to do more of these sciency pull-together pieces in the future! The leg saga dragged on, and finally resulted in proud flesh, getting my vet out to debride, aaaaaaaaaand stall rest. So that was a wrap on Murray’s season. Pun intended.

Luckily for me, Mom-Bod-Mare aka Sookie aka Suzy aka Suzuki was getting ready to sneak on to the scene.

what can you do with a drunken sailor, what can you do with a drunken sailor…


Thanks goodness for my wonderful trainer, who lets me ride her horses in training, and for the wonderful horses she’s been sent for training.¬† Suzy was a wonderful replacement for Murray and we had a lot of fun together. Although, that was after I spent the first ten days of October so land-sick from a cruise that I could barely function. Murray wasn’t totally out of work — we worked on walking in hand and I started clicker training him to chase away the stall-rest blues.¬† And I did something I’ve always wanted to do: pulled all of Murray’s shoes!


November brought on the clicker training and barefoot rehab¬†en force.¬† It’s hard to do barefoot rehab when the prescription to fix the feet is lots of walking and motion and your horse is confined to stall rest.¬† But it’s cool. We hand-walked and got kicked in the quad and hand walked some more. And I started training my horse to get tacked up. Again. But this time, you know, the polite version of “get tacked up”. The version where “no halters are injured in the making of this production”. Oh and the leg hole made some significant progress!! Mu’s feet made significant progress, so I gave my first barefoot update. Spoiler alert: THERE ARE GONNA BE SO MANY MOOOREEE!

oh, and we set the kiddo free again!!


December was both a quiet and hectic month. I went to the USEA Convention in Long Beach, and still have things to write about that! I rode the little Suzuki in an Yves clinic, and got some great tools to help improve her canter and jumping.¬† Murray and I got back to work under saddle, and we’ve walked, trotted, and cantered in our nice, soft indoor footing.¬† I’ve also integrated clicker training under saddle — it’s an adventure that I’ve not yet figured out well enough to write about.¬† Oh, and I learned how to sharpen my own clipper blades!!

This year was not the year I thought it would be — what, with my horse getting sidelined 3/4 of the way through.¬† It was better.¬† Murray and I are happier than we have ever been, both together and on our own.¬† Writing this post, I was struck by how many times I was so proud of Murray this year.¬† Of how many times his good nature and trust in me showed up despite the odds. Of the times he saved my butt. Of the lessons that he has taught me, about teaching, and learning, and riding, and being open-minded.

Murray and I have some things to sort out before we can get to any real work this year.  Primarily, we need to get those feet in shape (pun intended again, obviously) and heal up that goddamned leg hole.  But once we get our ish sorted, we are lining up to have a hell of a year in 2018.

Happy new year, friends! Bring on the adventure!

setting up for success

One of my goals for 2017 (though you don’t know it yet as I haven’t pushed the goals post) is to write more ride recaps. ¬†They are really helpful, and since I don’t jot things down in my ride journal consistently any more, it’s good to have information preserved here.

When I got back from Thanksgiving last year I launched right into riding and Murray was Not Into It. ¬†I stuck it out because I didn’t want to get off and lunge him simply for the sake of lunging and letting him “win”, but… better choices have been made. ¬†Another¬†of my general goals (for this year and forever) is to set both Murray and I up for more successes (success = confidence = more success = more confidence = NOTHING BUT A CIRCLE OF AWESOME). ¬†So after 17 days off and very limited turnout, I threw Murray on the lunge line to start off our ride.

lunge02pony looks strangely huge in this image

Murray is typically less¬†reactive to the long girth (setting up for success!), so I put on his jump saddle and brought the lunging equipment out to the arena. ¬†I haven’t lunged Murray without some kind of dressagery-contraption on him (side reins, chambon, etc.) and boy does he look funny with his head all poking up in the air. ¬†After his mini vacation Murray had the steering and go button of a lesson pony — it was adorable. ¬†He got a couple of wiggles out, shook his head a few times, tried to pretend that he didn’t know what to do when poles SUDDENLY APPEARED in front of him, and then we got to work. ¬†He struggled a little to hold the canter going right, which was odd, but I figured that he’s allowed to be a little stiff after so much time in his stall.

After getting on I tried to stick to my principles of making things go right from the beginning, asked Murray to soften into the bridle and keep marching forward (weirdly, he was capable of this), and then move into the trot with minimal fuss. ¬†Since I was in the jump saddle I practiced a little two point, but felt weirdly slippery and insecure in the tack. ¬†I guess that’s what I get for not riding for two weeks? ¬†I let him stretch out at the canter and blessedly (thank you, pony gods) he did not buck or kick me out of the tack.

lunge01I’m feeling sooooooo reasonable tonight!

Murray got a little tense in the corners of the arena that had stuff in them, but he did pretty well when I pushed him off my inside leg to ask for more bend and more give. ¬†He was falling over his right shoulder also, but that’s nothing new. ¬†I focused on twisting my body along with his bend to help control his right shoulder, and while it wasn’t perfect, it helped. ¬†Cantering right he kept breaking into the trot when I asked him to sit ¬†a little more on his hocks, so I didn’t ask too much.

We were sharing the arena with one baby horse, who was being pretty good but had one minor meltdown when she kicked a clod of dirt against the wall. ¬†Murray scooted and shuffled after the baby’s freakout, but got his ish back together really well. ¬†I did one spiral in-out in each direction trying really, really hard and failing to keep Murray straight while we did it. ¬†I just want the neck bend, let me have the neck bend! PLEASE. ¬†I am an inside rein addict. ¬†Ah well – just another thing to work on!

Since it was already 37 when I got back to the barn, I put Murray’s medium weight purple blanket on. ¬†Okay, that’s a lie. ¬†I put it on to admire the purpleness. ¬†It looks kinda weird but I think it was the right choice (also, hopefully it will not rub his shoulders, but looking at the picture I think it will rub his hips goddamnit).


silver linings

On Thursday, after all of my epic dressagery earlier in the week, I had kindof a waste-of-time ride on Murray that put me in a fairly foul mood.  I had to stop in the middle of my ride to get something, and Murray ended up sitting around a little longer than I wanted while I sorted it all out.  That was only 15 minutes into my ride though, and I really wanted to practice some of the walk-canter transitions from my lesson, or at least get something other than a warm-up done, so despite my better instincts I got back on and kept riding.

To nobody’s surprise, it was unpleasant.

Getting back on was not the better choice, riding-wise, and I go back and forth on whether or not I should have done it at all. ¬†There will be times in the little horse’s life when he has to perform after sitting around (you know those pesky things called¬†shows), so there’s something to be said for practicing that. ¬†But at the same time, part of me feels like¬†it’s¬†more important to keep Murray feeling good about dressage, and not worth the fights.

Anyway, a friend and I had committed to taking some video of one another during our dressage rides, as we’d both had wonderful lessons on Wednesday, and take video we did. ¬†And I’m super, super glad I got back on and took the video. ¬†I wasn’t asking Murray for anything challenging — just to stay steady in the contact and give me some¬†sold trot-canter transitions. ¬†Nothing surprising there; I ask Murray to give me quality trot-canter transitions during every ride, so his assholery was definitely in protest to something — either five straight days of dressage or the thought that he was done for the day already.

So mostly, this is what I felt like I was riding.  Inverted giraffealope is not an urban legend.

5-21 dressage 9

But the video evidence suggests that I was actually managed to get a fair bit of this.

5-21 dressage 8Whaaaaaat a dreamy pony right there!!

We weren’t totally steady in the contact or through, but we definitely had moments. ¬†Much better moments than in the past. ¬†Compared to our December humble-keeping ride.


5-21 dressage 3Bigger stride and lengthened topline for the win!!

To say I’m pleased with the improvement is underestimating it! ¬†The photo from December shows pretty much our level best (at the time), and Thursday’s was a¬†bad¬†ride for us, and we still got better moments!

Murray’s deeper in the contact (a huge goal of mine), and his back is more lifted. ¬†Even when he’s not totally through, at least he’s tracking up and using his whole body to trot. ¬†We used to get this shitty little typewriter trot when Murray would lift his head, with steps about 6″ long and the jerkiness and absurdity that went along with that. ¬†A year ago that was basically what I got in errrrey dressage ride.

5-21 dressage 5DSCF9901March 2014 at a show.

Our canter work has also improved a ton! ¬†Murray’s left canter used to be full inverted¬†giraffealope, even while his right lead was coming along nicely. ¬†While he’s not quite as soft and low as I’d like, he is at least using himself here! ¬†I recently learned how to trick him into softening¬†by overflexing¬†him through the inside rein, and gently balancing with the outside rein. ¬†When I added a more open hip angle and soft dressage legs to the equation, Murray realised that he could, in fact, canter left¬†and accept the contact.

5-21 dressage 7

So despite my general disappointment about our ride Thursday, I found a¬†huge silver lining. ¬†I’m so glad I have the footage to watch over and over (and ignore the crappy canter departs). ¬†Silver linings areeee the best.