xc schooling: just keep learning

I spent last week in San Diego for a wedding (+ friend & blogger adventures) this week, which is why the long, pensive silences and deep sighs.  But before I left, on Tuesday morning, I managed to squeeze in a quick XC school at WSS with trainer and my RBF (and others).

I wanted to get out and ride the Novice fences to build my confidence before Camelot, and also because the Novice course at WSS is cool.  RBF wanted to school her new, awesome mare.  One of our friends is working on getting to know her mare and settle her on XC, and the other was trying a mare she is interested in buying.   So it was a total girl power party — Murray didn’t feel out of place in the least, because as we know he is really a mare at heart.

big novice fence, a little cruelly set very early in the course

We had some minor struggles, which are interesting and gave me something to think about.  Part of it may have been due to Murray feeling sore or not quite himself — our Monday ride he was hollow through his lower back and I spent a long time just trying to encourage him to lift and become connected.  But it’s also a new height and new challenge for both of us, so likely that was contributing.  I started out the day with the goal of focusing on my position: I wanted to keep my lower leg underneath me a little better (instead of swinging it out ahead of me — went too far on that one), and follow the motion over the fences better.  I rode differently because of this, and maybe that added to Murray’s confusion.

Anyway.  We warmed up over a little log.  Murray wasn’t pulling me to fences the way he did at Camelot, but he was forward and happy.  Then we hit the log and cantered down to a log box.  Murray turned on the gallop in between the two fences, I fell into the trap of assuming speed is bravery, and he stopped.  It was fine, we looked at it, turned around, and went right over.  I know that’s a problem we have, and should have actually put in the effort to get Murray looking to the next fence before we were on top of it.


I love decorating this produce table fence!

We jumped the next few fences (a coop and another log) successfully, then came up to the big red table.  This is a max size novice fence and it looks and feels BIG — part of that is that the ground around it has sunk and been worn away, so it has gained an inch or so since it was first put in.  (I’m guessing we will need to dig it down or replace it for the September events.)  Galloping up to this fence Murray had a great, forward step, and I tried to keep my leg on with gentle pressure to remind him to keep moving forward.  But, as you saw earlier this week, it did not go as planned.  Murray slammed on the brakes pretty far out — we had huge skid marks leading up to the fence as we stopped.  (Riding the stop I had felt like perhaps I should have kicked him over the fence anyway, but after watching the video I’m SUPER glad I didn’t, as we had no power after skidding so far.)

I turned to my trainer and said “I have no idea what’s going on with us right now. I don’t know if it’s him or if it’s me.”  She told me to try again, let him shrink his stride and get deep if we wanted, and she’d watch us.  We jumped it, but we got really close and I felt like Murray had to put in a LOT of effort to get over it.  I wanted to jump the fence from a more open, galloping stride and better spot, so we tried again. We had a good pace, the step was a little short but not too bad, and yet we stopped again.

I chose to back down to a simpler question.  We both needed to be confident that we could tackle this stupid table.  We jumped the green coop (you can see it in the background above), and Murray was fine.  B suggested I turn around and take it immediately the other direction to give Murray something “different” to object to.  It worked — Murray stiffened his front legs on approach, and I smacked him behind my leg where I wanted him to take off to let him know that we really were going.  We went.

So we tackled the red table one more time.  I kept my leg on, but didn’t chase Murray with my leg or seat.  I insisted he keep an open step, and didn’t pull him back at the last minute.  I didn’t look down, I didn’t stare at the fence, I stayed calm.  I say I did all these things, but really what I probably did was ride slightly less like a drunken monkey.  And we did it, and it was awesome!! (Pic evidence at the top of the post.)

The rest of our adventure was really smooth sailing.  Murray and I really enjoy the technical elements presented at Novice — they are close together enough to be fun, but really welcoming easy to navigate.

We killed it at the half coffin, and the up bank combinations. Murray was slightly less forward than I wanted, but after the success at the red table I wasn’t going to be too pushy.  I know that neither of us handles a lot of change at once well, so I tried to keep it simple-ish: forward step, no more stops.  It worked — Murray was super for everything else on course.  I’m super proud of the pony.  Sure, we had hiccups, but he did the things!  And it has me feeling pretty confident for Camelot, since I’ve seen all their Novice fences and ours are bigger (lollll). (Please don’t change your course suddenly, Camelot!)

novice pencil, four strides to a quarter round (but we made it five, natch)

There’s a lot I’d like to change about my jumping position after watching the media of this school — and that was WITH me trying to change some of those things on the day of!  I’ve always ridden defensively and “unfolded the landing gear” faster than I should.  I also tend to be behind the motion of the fences a little.  Murray is pretty trustworthy now, so it would probably be a good call to make his life a little easier by jumping with him a bit more.  I see grids and no stirrups work in our future!  And if you have books or videos or other resources for me to practice on the ground with jumping positional stuff, I will gladly take them!

there is no try

The quality of my rides in the last week week have run the gamut from really great, progress-making, funtimes to inexplicable shit show.  I’ve been focused on breaking some bad habits — hanging on the inside rein, letting Murray fall through his right shoulder — while developing the strength and discipline we need to think about the 1-3 and 2-1 tests.  The learning curve in First level is actually really steep.  In 1-1, you’re like “oh great, w/t/c in straight lines and circles and maybe a tiny bit of lengthening” and suddenly in 1-3 you’re doing counter canter and getting ready for canter-walk.


much readiness for canter-walk transitions

Anyway.  Megan got on me a while back about not hanging on my inside rein, so I’ve been trying to very consciously release the inside rein while still maintaining the bend and not letting Murray fall all over himself.  It’s especially hard when you use the right rein almost exclusively to keep your horse upright tracking right and prevent him from falling out tracking left.  It requires a lot more push with my inside leg — the whole leg, not just my heel or calf — than I’m used to.  Associated with falling through his right shoulder, we have three problems with working on a circle (because why not): 1) too much neck bend, 2) the haunches too far to the inside, 3) haunches too far to the outside, almost spinning around the inside front foot (a bigger problem to the right than to the left).  I can finally feel a proper bend, avoid all three of these traps, and somehow not haul on the inside rein while doing it (pro tip: it actually helps if you don’t haul on the inside rein when trying to do this) for like… a circle or so.  (This was the really great part, that was a big hurdle for both of us.)

This was all fine for a few rides.  I focused on making my body do the right things and giving Murray plenty of praise when he responded correctly.  A little bit to the left, and a lot to the right (our worse direction) with lots of walk breaks.  It’s a lot harder for both of us at the canter, but we chipped away at it and worked on big figures and it got better for more than a few strides at a time.

sometimes we can kinda do the things

There were a few minutes of bullshit here and there, but it seemed like it was mostly at the beginning of our rides. One ride took more than a moment, but I let Murray get down with his bad self a little, then went back to asking correctly and expecting him to respond correctly.  It wasn’t instantaneous, but we got there.  There may have been some inside rein hauling and a really open mouth and some really awkward tongue flapping.

Then I got it into my (stupid?) head that we should start to incorporate a little more collection and sit into the canter.  I put four poles on an 18 meter circle, measured out three strides between each one for just a little stride compression, and planned to work the circle once we were good and warmed up.  When we trotted through the poles it was fine — Murray maintained a steady-ish rhythm, and I tried to plan the next quarter of my circle to maintain consistent bend throughout.  Sometimes it worked.  Sometimes the rhythm broke down.  Some circles were prettier than others.

The canter was an unmitigated disaster.  His stride was a touch big when we entered the pole circle, so we came to the first pole a little off of the distance.  It spiraled down from there, and Murray would launch over the pole to a long landing, which made turning more difficult, which resulted in more launching, or he break to a trot, or swap leads.  Just messy messy mess.

Back to the trot it was, but this time it was really ugly.  Murray anticipated the poles and went through all kinds of theatrics — to what end, I’m really not sure.  At one point he jammed a tiny stride in front of the pole, totally inverted, and then managed to stomp on the pole with both hind feet.  Talent.

This is my fault.  When we work on poles in a circle I celebrate the most minor successes — if we get through them with one stride between them, no matter how flat, strungout, or growing the pace, I consider it good.  But it’s not good.  I’m rewarding us both for “trying”, not necessarily for succeeding.  And I say “trying”, because it’s hardly an honest effort on either of our parts to complete the exercise precisely or successfully.  Yoda came to me in this moment.

I slowed us down, way down.  I posted very small, kept my legs on, and pushed Murray around that circle into the outside rein.  I made it a circle.  I made sure the pace remained the same.  Then we cantered.  Before we entered the circle I made sure that our canter was small and collected, and I made the circle a little larger so we could fit four in between the poles. And lo and behold – we could make the distances.  And a round circle.  And keep a steady pace.  And not rely on the inside rein.

Huzzah!

More interestingly, Murray totally stepped up to this exercise when I demanded more of him.  The exercise isn’t hard, but it does require that we both think, and plan, and don’t spaz out or sabotage our own ankles for no reason. Murray didn’t insist that this exercise was too hard for him, we did it successfully, and he didn’t need me to baby him through it.  From now on, we aren’t going to try exercises, we are going to do exercises.

This isn’t a hard ask.  Select appropriate exercises.  Do the exercises correctly.  Reward success.

summer… plans?

I have lived my entire life on an academic schedule, so the beginning of Summer — not always June, since the first half of my life was spent in a Southern Hemisphere school — has always meant a break from the normal routine for me.  This plan typically starts with the firm assertion that I will have no plans, and will do whatever I want, and that what I want includes


ellie’s summer list: wallow, wallow, chase squirrels, wallow

  • sleep for 12 hours per day
  • ride my pony
  • ride all the ponies!
  • craftsy things
  • road trip
  • read all the books!
  • play with my friends
  • go swimming
  • read by the pool
  • read in the pool
  • lay in the sun
  • go to the beach
  • swim with my pony
  • garden
  • go berry picking
  • go to friends weddings (San Diego!!!)
  • visit the East Coast
  • develop an app to make me independently wealthy

Image result for duck rolling on money

Unshockingly, I do about four of the things on the list (and somehow, sleep 12 hours per day is rarely one of them) and then September arrives and it’s back to the grind.

And really, there isn’t much no-plans-Summer to go around, especially if I stick to the current plan of heading to Camelot for an August 19-20 debut at Novice.  That’s basically eight weeks out.  Eight weeks!!  Lucky for Nicole and Murray, there’s not terribly much to prep for Novice.  We already know how to:

  • walk, trot, and canter in a variety of straight line and circle patterns — more or less obediently
  • course 2’11” stadium
  • jump all of the Novice elements on the Camelot XC course

So in terms of technicality, we will be fine.  There are quite a few things I would like to finesse in my riding this Summer though.  You know, less drunk-monkey-ing, more active riding.  Improving myself so that Murray and I can tackle some more big horsey learning goals.

murray: canter down centerline? got it

Sitting trot – This stupid skill has been on my goal list for literal years. Time to make it happen.

Turn my toes in – My toes point out.  And I use the back of my leg instead of the inside of my leg.  These are not, I have heard, the things I am supposed to do.

Following hands – I’m still wavering back and forth between my hands too high and grabby, and loose, floppy reins.

Strengthen my two-point – the position I think is an appropriately forward two-point is not appropriately forward. I need to lower my seat to the saddle and close my hip angle a little more, which should help with the above.

All of these will only get better with deliberate practice (have I talked about deliberate practice before? I’m kinda obsessed with the concept).  I have some plans.  For example, I plan to increase the number of sitting trot circles I do by one each week.  I did two (one each direction) on Tuesday this week, and if I can squeeze in two more before the end of the week that will be good.  Turning my toes in will require constant, conscious adjustment.  As will following hands.  And the crowning jewel of all of it is that I need to keep Murray put together all at the same time.  That is the real challenge.

what, what, what is your left hand doing?!

But I have fun plans too!  For example, swim with my pony!  I think Murray will love swimming.  He will also love the beach.  He may love it so much that I never see him again… will have to be careful with that one.  Go off property more!  I hope to have/plan for lots of XC schooling on my horizon (see goals 3 and 4), and lots more truck and trailer driving practice.

So, you know.  A nice, relaxed summer “plan”.  Any exciting summer plans for you?  Anything I should add to my list — riding my horse backward on the beach, maybe?

Image result for riding a horse backward on the beach

twin schooling part 2

Among the challenges of schooling cross country for the first time in a year is remembering how to ride cross country.  On Sunday we waited until the kids were pretty much done with their XC rides before getting Murray tacked up and ready to go.  Since he did so well on Saturday, I wanted to just school him over everything once and Aftermake it a bit more “run” like — stringing together six or seven fences in a go — so that we could get the feel for running and jumping in sequence back.


down banks are really not my strong suit

Murray was definitely feeling the work from Saturday, and wasn’t quite as peppy or forward as he had been earlier in the weekend.  But that was an important aspect of the ride to me.  I need to be able to ride Murray when he is tired and punky and not his fresh XC schooling self as much as I need to be able to ride the supercharger forward pony.  Fortunately, despite being a little tired he was still right there with me.  When he got a little sticky to the base of a few warm up fences I just kept my leg on and he went right over them – no problem.

We cruised over the first few fences in the course, a coop and a turkey feeder, then I took a wrong turn and headed over to the intro course for a little house and hanging log.  I backtracked when I saw the real hanging log we were supposed to jump, and went back for that one and another go at the half-coffin.  This was where I made my first real mistake.  I assumed that since Murray had seen and jumped everything the day before with such professionalism that he would be okay right off the bat with them on Sunday.  Not so — he still needed a hard second look at the ditches, so he stopped at the jump element of the half-coffin as he peered down into the ditches below.

Half coffin with the silly 🏇. My fave part of all the videos is @_ac_eventing_ cheering us on! #notoriousottb

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After we schooled back and forth over the ditch we headed back up to the top of the half coffin and it wasn’t a problem.  Then it was up the hill to the upper plateau and some of the benches that Murray literally flew over on Saturday.  I skipped the water since there were a bunch of people schooling there and headed over to the down banks.  After our stop at the coffin I decided that I was going to give Murray a good chance to look at everything technical if he showed any hesitation — I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after so many months without seeing this stuff!  So we trotted over to the down bank and let him look at it.  He walked a couple of strides then went down without a problem, so we schooled up and down the bank again just to solidify it in his mind.

This video is from his first look at the bank on Saturday.  What I love so much about it is how he’s thinking.  There’s a little bit of “can I get away with not doing this?” but once he understands the question and it’s clear what I want, he’s just like “oh okay, down we go!”

thinking pony from Nicole Sharpe on Vimeo.

After the down banks we came around to the wine barrel table again, which I pulled Murray to a stop in front of so he could look at it again.  I didn’t want to fuss with him getting spooked by it again, and wanted him to really have the opportunity to stare the fence down.  It might be just me, but it seemed like most of the questions we had problems with were painted black — not something we see a lot of at our barn.

The last few fences were little roll tops before and after the water, a jump on a small mound (giving you just a little something to gallop up and down), and some straightforward tables toward the finish.  Murray finished strong even though he was soooo tired, and lifted his head up to look at the next fence when I made it clear there was still work to be done.

murray: I am not touching that weird black wood

I can tell that we have some fitness work to do before we will be ready for the event, but we have a few weeks for that!  (More running for me, more trot sets for pony.)  And it feels absolutely awesome to know that Murray is ready to go out and jump our BN fences and then some.  I just need to get my show nerves under control and learn how to give him a supportive and forward ride, especially if he is tired. (Hahaha, “just”!)

back in the game

We left to school Twin Rivers on Friday at noon, though not without significant disorganization on my part. I packed everything that seemed to be absolutely essential — the horse, a saddle, girth, bridle, tall boots, and helmet — and then kinda threw anything that seemed like I might need it in my car and stopped at Target on the way.  It worked (ish): I ended up with three hind boots and only one front boot, and only three standing wraps, but me, my horse, and all of the other essentials got there just fine!

The ponies had about ten minutes to settle in after we arrived before we got on for a dusk hack.  My goal for the weekend was to see how feasible it would be for Murray and I to show at Twin in April (a mere four weeks away!!!), i.e. show him the fences, see if he remembers anything about cross country, etc.  But I also wanted to use my newfound skills of expecting professionalism and telling him firmly exactly what I expected of him (with frequent rewards).  (Murray is also modeling his fabulous new rainbow rope halter from Sundance halters, which I am IN LOVE WITH, and I love my rainbow neck strap EVEN MORE.)

At a new venue Murray is often, predictably, looky, spooky, and bucky under saddle.  He was all three of these things during our ride, but the amount of looking, spooking, and general silliness I got was SO much less than I have experienced in the past.  He was awful to tack up because I was in a rush, but once I got on I just asked him to keep walking forward.  In the schooling arena I brought him back to a walk from a jig, or a trot, and when we did pick up the trot I immediately asked him to pick up some semblance of contact as well.  And what do you know – it worked.  He stopped looking for things to look at, and got down to business.  There was a little bit of bucking and swapping in the canter, but I got up off his back and let him have a little canter around, and then asked him to get back to business, and there he was again – right there with me.

It was super.

 I find hanging logs really weirdly intimidating, despite my attempts
to adore trakehners. Murray don’t care.

On Saturday morning I watched the kids at a couple of their young rider lessons, then got tacked up for my cross country schooling with B.  We decided that we would try for a longer, more educational school on Saturday with a short, review + XC-run-simulation on Sunday, provided that Murray’s brain could handle it.  Murray came out ready to JUMP.  It was like we haven’t taken a year off from XC and competition, and he was attacking the warm up fences.  The course is in the middle of some fairly big changes right now, so I jumped a few sizes of each element. I wanted to school mostly beginner novice fences, with an eye to a possible move up in the Fall.  But we will be showing BN until I can get my show nerves under control and give Murray the supportive ride that he needs to be successful.  Schooling bigger definitely helps me feel more confident, but I wanted to make sure that I gave Murray (and myself) the chance to look at everything we might see on a course.

Murray was SUPER forward to the fences, literally pulling me to most of them.  All I had to do was keep my leg on and get out of his way.  Of course, that meant I kept getting left behind because I’ve been riding somewhat defensively for the last year, and I’m pretty weak and rusty.  I’m not used to riding this forward jumping horse, and I also didn’t want to let myself get sucked back into the old mistake of assuming fast = confident.  I checked Murray a little too much to a fair number of fences, but he persisted despite my bumbling in those cases, and every re-approach got better!

We did have a handful of stops at technical questions that we haven’t seen since our last XC outing.  The ditches and down banks all posed a big problem for us at first, and I had to walk Murray up to them and back and forth in front of them before he was willing to go.  Once he remembered what ditches and down banks were, he was fine, but it took a few tries.  At a second set of ditches on course he slowed and I let him come down to a halt, but after a second of looking he pulled us right over them!

We schooled a brush roll thing that I thought was Novice, and Murray stopped at it when we came up to it the first time.  I think we both realized that it wasn’t a Novice fence at that point, but it wasn’t terribly oversized.  The thing that had me worried was the terrain — immediately after the landing to the fence was a steep but short downhill, and jumping into a downhill landing is something that we can always do to practice more.  I think Murray wasn’t sure of the fence itself — he’s never seen a brush roll before.  We came back to it with a little more determination and he cleared it easily, landing off the edge of the landing pad and partway down the hill with no problem.

I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t super pleased we so easily schooled a Training level fence.  Even though it wasn’t our goal when we came out, it’s a nice little feather in our cap to know we can do it.

Of course, there is a whole list of new mistakes I’m making that I need to work on now!  The classic problem is strength and my position — I still need to sit up a little straighter and get used to these long, two-point canters.  I will need to study a little more video of riders with a similar body shape to mine to see how they hold their bodies on cross country.  I also need to practice following and staying with Murray more over fences.  The defensive position works for us in stadium because he so often gets behind my leg and super deep to the jumps.  But out on XC he was leaving strides out (read: using an appropriate take off point for any other horse), and jumping me right out of the tack.  And for the first time ever, I kept pulling my reins too short, and noticed that my elbows were locking.  So I will have to get a new set of reins (mine have an inconvenient tear in the rubber grip), and work on those elastic elbows.

We schooled Sunday too and he was just as faboo!

shut it down

Almost a year ago in a lesson with Yves, I got a little talking-to about how I needed to put a lid on Murray’s celebratory naughty behavior when we are jumping.  I was playing around in the lesson and it was all fun and games, but Yves told me seriously and in that horrible way that makes you know you’re really, really not doing the right thing, that I did not want Murray thinking that this was okay.  Not now, and especially not as we moved up the levels.

And of course my response was oh it’s fine / it’s no big deal / it’s not that bad / it’s all in good fun / I like him like this / it’s cute / I’m an idiot.

Now I’ve finally realized while it’s not that big of a deal, and it’s not that bad, and it may be all in good fun (MAYBE), I do not like him like this, it’s not cute, and I’m totally, totally an idiot.

I got on tonight for a flat ride in my jump saddle to prep for Hawley.  Murray decided that every single noise another horse made in the arena was a fantastic excuse to drop his hind end and fling his face in the air and run forward, which was super awesome.  The best part was that Murray’s screaming and spooking would set off a chain reaction with the other horses, so they’d all spook at one another and make more noise and spook at the noise and make more noise etc.

After we jigged our way into the trot and had several ridiculous mishaps and near misses with the other horses I set some clear boundaries.  Bucking, kicking out, and screaming were not going to get Murray out of work, and the best way to convince my lazy, recalcitrant horse that antics = more work is to kick him forward.  So kick him forward I did.

Our warm up, which I usually try to keep stretchy and relaxed, became a monster 20 minute session of moving forward forward forward, direction changes, canter transitions, and transitions within gaits.  I was willing to soften whenever Murray complied with a reasonable request for some kind of change without fighting me on it first, but he wasn’t really willing to offer up reasonable responses at first.

The best part was when I tried to push Murray forward into the bridle and a slightly bigger trot and I felt my upper body pitching forward in anticipation… of nothing.  I tried again for a bigger trot and again: nothing.  Little kick?  Nothing — maybe a reluctant duck behind the bit.  I pony-school kicked Murray and got a cranky canter transition.

You know what you can’t do if your horse responds to your leg by doing nothing?  JUST ABOUT ANYTHING.  You can’t push him into the bridle, you can’t ask him to carry himself, you can’t transition within gaits, you can barely transition between gaits.

Image result for shutting it down gif

So  it was back to the drawing board.  The entire ride became a discussion of “leg means go, and it means go now”.  I used a strategy Tina taught me and if Murray chose to move up to a canter when I asked for more trot I made sure he moved up into a BIGGER CANTER, so he didn’t just use a shitty tiny canter as an excuse not to push in the trot.  Then when I asked for more trot (a little more quietly), I could reward for the right choice — more trot — fairly easily.

I tried, tried, not to get too out of hand with kicking Murray forward.  I only put my crop on him once, and it was a love tap to control a wildly swinging haunch (and I was rewarded with a kick out anyway) when we were walking.  I guess I could have wailed on him for antics at some point, but realistically I didn’t want to get into that fight while riding in jeans and not at my strongest.  But I’m going to pretend that it was also a strategic decision to avoid fighting, because picking a fight isn’t really productive either.

This obviously isn’t going to be solved in a day or even before this weekend.  I do hope  I have some kind of go-button before the weekend.  I suspect it’s going to be an uphill battle for the rest of the winter, and I’ll have to be very diligent and stay on top of it.  Of course, I probably won’t, and come April we’ll  be having some kind of similar discussion once more.

Episode 2: Electric Horsealoo #horsehubby #previouslyonnicoleridesahorse

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short and sweet

Murray and I are getting really good at taking advantage of time-limited rides.  The work-life-riding balance has been bananas lately.  I’m not going to pretend that I’m the most productive or efficient person around.  Sure, I value efficiency, but I get sucked into the Netflix vortex as much as the next person.  And this has been ESPECIALLY true in grad school/the general past.  But for the last two months, and in particular the last four weeks, I have been doing nothing but Image result for runnin rhinomy paid work (aka job), commuting to said job, working on one of my un-salaried projects, and riding every other day-ish, blogging infrequently, and I STILL don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done.  To say I have been a productivity machine lately is underestimating it!  I was clearly a monstrous slacker in the past.

Of course, this means that I come to the barn and have less than my ideal amount of time to get the horse tacked up and ridden.  My average barn trip calculation is 3 hours from sitting on the couch at home to walking back through my front door.  When someone takes +/- 20 minutes just to get the girth on and you are a big fat blabber mouth… this is not surprising. I’ve been doing it in under two hours lately which is SUPER IMPRESSIVE to me.

img_20161120_084307On Sunday I got both Murray and Logan ridden and fed in under 3.5 hours which is, frankly, even more impressive of a feat since Logan is living in pasture right now.  Thanks to some horses being super incredibly reasonable equines, I was able to let Logan hang out and start to dry while I prepped his and Murray’s grain. I realise that this was a potentially sketchy choice, but I was about 98% sure it would be fine, and it was. So yay.

In our shortened rides I work with Murray on either quality of gaits or straightness, and the two seem to be pretty intertwined.  But if all I want to work on is quality, I can do it on a circle.  I can’t personally seem to wrap my head around straightness + circling yet.  Need more trainer hours.  The crux of this is pushing him into the contact from behind while encouraging him to lift his shoulders and front end with half halts through my thighs and seat.  It’s a workout for everyone involved.

On Sunday I kept us going down the long side instead of circling so I could use the wall to help me get Murray’s hind quarters lined up with his forequarters.  He is such an inside haunches drifter!  It took us a while to warm up, and then there was some EVIL SPOOKY GARBAGE in the indoor arena, but we made it work.  Murray got pretty straight in the trot work, but at times I could see and feel his neck flexing a little to the inside, and I’m worried that I’m over-using the inside rein and shoulder positioning to get the straightness, instead of actually moving his haunches around.  But we can very reliably get a quality working trot immediately after (and often during) warm up these days, which is a huge improvement over eight weeks ago.

At the canter Murray was tiiiiiiiiired.  For work this demanding (and I was being demanding), at our current fitness, I can really only focus on getting really good, straight work on one lead per ride.  I chose the right lead, since I’ve had problems with moving Murray’s haunches around on the right lead in the past.  Murray wiggled a lot and did not want to line his hindquarters up for more than a stride or two at a time.  I tried to focus on quieting my aids for his haunches to move over, asking and releasing with my leg (instead of nagging or just hanging out with my right leg basically touching his hips).  We did get straight, but it wasn’t on the bit or through.  But at least it was straight and powerful?

dress-8cantering is easy. cantering straight + well is hard.

Going left Murray was tired and fell into the “can I just go faster?” trap.  Megan told me a while back to never forget to ask for balance with forward, so I tried to encourage lift in the canter through my seat and half halt back into balance.  This resulted in a couple of changes of behind but not in front (wtf?).  I went back to a 20 meter circle to make it easier on him and Murray was a little more compliant and willing to lift and sit instead of just thundering down the long side on the forehand.

Logan was excellent as always, and kept his head on his neck and his neck on his shoulders and none of that shit in my face in a crowded indoor with a tractor driving just outside of it.  We worked on relaxing his neck (which is hard for him), and keeping a steady contact and pace as we changed bends (hard for both of us!).  He’s a quick study once things make sense, and we were quickly doing happy, relaxed, five-loop serpentines around the arena, avoiding other riders where necessary.  It’s so much fun to work with a baby horse who is so eager to please and easy to teach!

Murray gets a 7 day vacation for Thanksgiving, and then it’s at least three weeks of grinding for him before Christmas.  I’m hoping to get some progress pictures taken as soon as he’s clipped again, as the development in his back muscles has been awesome!  Finally, baby’s got back! (But actual back, like lumbar muscles and sacro-iliac flexibility, not like booty.)