lessons from children

This week has been a hectic one, for both pony and non-pony business.  I have to negotiate the process of getting a new passport (more complicated than it should be, but I’ll cover that when it’s all said and done) and we leave for Camelot on Friday, so there’s lots of packing and laundry and tack cleaning to be done.  And I’m moving at the end of the month.  And the WSS Horse Trials are on September 2nd. And I expanded one of my positions at work.

You know. Just a few things going on.

Anyway, my fearless leader had to travel for the first half of this week, leaving me without a trainer for a jump lesson pre-Camelot.  This isn’t a big deal, since our jump lesson last week was super fab, and we also get to school the XC course on Friday prior to showing.  But one of the young riders, and resident kid of our barn manager, set a new stadium course on Tuesday so I asked her to give me a little lesson before Camelot.  This kid, we’ll call her Pie, has been running prelim for the last year and riding naughty ponies as long as I’ve known her.  She also has plenty of experience riding Murray, though mostly early in his career. And she’s fifteen.

screengrabs courtesy of my teenage tutor

During warm up, Pie told me to slow my trot on approach to a crossrail.  I was like “um, do you even Murray, bro?” because a slow trot always leads us to disastrous warm up fences.  I much prefer to over-do it and kick him to them instead.  She insisted at the canter as well, and I didn’t comply and pushed Murray for a long spot instead, which resulted in a really ugly chip + me getting ahead.  So it was going so well so far.

I didn’t want to jump too much, so Pie built up the course in pieces.  We started with a short approach to a white gate, rollback to oxer, shallow bending line to vertical.  I kept my philosophy of squeezing Murray into the contact in my mind, and tried to remember my revelations from earlier in the week (post also coming later) about shaping Murray using both my inside and outside aids before a transition.  The transitions weren’t beautiful, and the canter still wasn’t in my hand, but stadium rounds start whether you’re ready or not, so I tackled the first fence.

Murray, shockingly, did not stop at the gate, which hasn’t been on a course in six months or more.  He did pull a little through the rollback, got a funny spot to the oxer, and somehow what should have been an easy seven turned into an ugly eight for us.  We tried again, and got the same funny spot to the oxer, then I pushed for six strides yet drifted even further out on the bending line for another ugly eight (or seven, I don’t even know).

Murray: oh Nicole, could you stop biffing the turn to this oxer please?

Pie lectured me about the bending line.  I needed to pick a track and ride for that track, instead of not picking a track and riding for nothing.  “And half halt,” she added.  Which, to her credit, she had been saying to me for the entire lesson already.  I just wasn’t really listening.

Half halting my horse is hard. Half halting while jumping results in slowing down and stopping.  Much safer to push.

Anyway, we finally committed to a good distance, then added in a triple bar (!!! for triple the fun) with five strides to another vertical.  I felt Murray hesitate ever so slightly as we first approached the triple bar, so I tapped him lightly on the shoulder (and immediately regretted it because I worried that he would use it as an excuse to lose forward momentum), and we went right over.  I did absolutely climb his neck at the vertical though, because we had too much speed coming in.  Pie told me to half halt, I did nothing, and so we got yet another atrocious spot.

In case you haven’t caught on (I hadn’t), that was the theme of this lesson: Pie told me to half halt, I didn’t (or maybe did, but only a little), chased my horse to the fences, and got shitty spots.  It was the. whole. lesson.

Murray, on the other hand, was a freaking star.  Long spot, short spot, Nicole climbing his neck, Nicole getting behind — he jumped it all.  He is clearly ready for this.  At one point we lost momentum after a sharp turn to the barrels, and when Murray had nearly ever excuse to stop over it, he went anyway.  He was jumping really well, and being so, so, so rideable.  He was a good boy.

I, on the other hand, was riding like a juggalo.

please, Nicole, please learn how to land from a fence

After a full course at Novice+ height (we measured later and Pie had set it kinda big, which is good because that’s how I like to prep for a show), we discussed my half halting problem.  I had realized throughout the lesson that my problem was that when I heard “half halt” I was hearing “slow down”, and the two aren’t really equivalent.  I also didn’t want to half halt because I have a tendency to be grabby with my hands, and that really does slow us down.  If I instead half halted with my leg on (you know, a real half halt), I could balance Murray’s energy instead of letting it get long and flat.

Pie also said that I needed to stop chasing my horse to fences, and trust more than he was going to do his job.  The phrases “you don’t need to gallop to every fence” and “this is not cross country” may have come up.

But, I whined, I’ve had to kick Murray to fences for so long that I don’t know how to do anything else.

Half halt, Pie told me.

I settled on one more course of a few fences to get the pace and balance right.  I picked up a canter and approached the first set of jumps — the ones that had given me so much trouble throughout the day.  “Is this the canter I want?”

Pie told me to half halt. (She does actually know how to give directions other than this one.)

Magically, we hit the gate perfectly.  Through the rollback, Pie told me to half halt again.  So I did.  I crossed the line we had (literally) drawn in the sand to mark where I should be able to tell how many strides it was to the oxer (yet another problem I was having), so I told Pie that it was three strides from there.  Which it was, perfectly.  I had to half halt again in the bending line to the vertical, but that also worked out perfectly.

The first three fences had gone so well that I decided to just finish out the course.  Coming down to the triple bar I heard Pie tell me to half halt again, so I did, and that one was a perfect spot also.  Every single fence came perfectly, except one that I couldn’t resist chasing Murray to the base of.

this is particularly impressive as it’s the out of a one-stride

So yeah.  I spent my morning getting schooled by a fifteen-year-old, which I am not used to.  I’m sure I would have struggled with the directive to half halt even if it came from B, though I probably would have just done it because it’s ingrained in me to do what I’m told by authority.

I learned a lot from this lesson.  Namely, my horse is being a fantastic boy right now, and I should trust him a little more.  I can’t chase him to the fences, because it messes up his ability to find an appropriate takeoff.  I seem to have no clue what an appropriate canter is for stadium, but I’m sure I’ll learn.  And for god’s sake I need to remember to half halt (when Pie tells me to).

Next step: fix those atrocious hands and awful landings!

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dressage lesson: all the feels

Murray and I had a fantastically productive dressage lesson with Tina last week.  It wasn’t so much that we worked on new or exciting exercises or revolutionized how the horse went, but it confirmed that we are doing correct work, how to take that work to the next level, and that my feel for what is right is developing and becoming more accurate.  The lesson also gave me some good data on a little experiment I was running last week, but more on that later.


no relevant media from the actual lesson,
but I did the same exercises the next day with only slightly less success

We started out by addressing my (wildest) hope that I am finally able to actually feel when Murray is bending through his ribcage, and not just falling all over himself laterally.  Tina had me put the beast on a large circle, then shrink the circle in and increase the bend in his body as appropriate.  I evidently can feel true bend now (HOORAY!) because I managed to keep Murray bent on a 15m circle, even though we were tracking right (harder direction) and it was our first circle post warm-up.  Tina encouraged me to bring the circle in a little more and push for even more bend.  She wanted me to ride the edge of Murray’s ability to bend without falling apart, in order to enter that zone of maximum learning and skill building (my words! totally my weirdo words).  We got to about a 12m circle before Murray’s haunches started to lose it around the circle, and so I slowly let him back out to the 15m-ish circle before carefully and slowly leg yielding back out.

Before we switched directions I told Tina that one thing I was struggling with in this part of our education is understanding, and obviously helping Murray understand, the difference between an inside leg that asks for bend and an inside leg that asks him to move over.  She told me to think of the inside leg that asks for bend as more of a toned or firmed leg, and the leg that asks for lateral movement to actually push.  This exercise, she pointed out, would help Murray to develop that understanding of submission to the inside leg for bend vs. movement.

i only tracked left in this ride, but just pretend my work to the right was equally neato

When we changed directions to the left Murray was much more competent at the exercise, and we managed to get down to about a 10m circle with a fair bit of effort on both of our parts.  Because Murray struggles more to the right, we went back that direction once more.  Tina reminded me to keep Murray’s haunches in with my outside leg — though I probably did not need to swing it quite so far back, as the first time I tried that he promptly cantered.  But after one attempt left, he was also more capable to the right.

We moved on to the next big challenge I see: developing sit/collection at the canter.  I really struggle with this because it’s something we need for both jumping and dressage.  I also feel like Murray used to be able to sit and shrink his stride at the canter really easily when jumping, usually while  maintaining an uphill  balance.  But lately it seems that his smaller strides have been very downhill and inverted — maybe they have always been that way, but I’ve only just developed a good enough feel to tell the difference.  I also don’t know how much collection I should be aiming for — Murray obviously wants me to think that I’m being too mean/it’s too hard. But progress is hard, kiddo.


i read something about thinking of your elbows as “weighted” and tried to envision it in these rides to stop them from floating off into outer space. instead i way overcorrected and put my hands in my lap. moderation is needed. Murray looks cute though!

We cantered on the big circle, then slowed it down and brought Murray into as small and collected of a canter circle as I could navigate — probably around 10 meters.  The first time we did it was incredible, because Murray was listening really well, but wasn’t anticipating the smaller circle.  So he just sat as much as he was able and we managed a pretty good little circle.  Tina said that I should try to make the next circle even smaller and slow Murray down even more, shortening the sweep of my seat to keep the strides quick and small.  It took me a couple of repetitions to get this down, but on our third try I felt some really uphill and controlled strides from Murray on that little circle that made me very happy.

We struggled more tracking right once again, especially because Murray lost all the bend on our first small/slow circle and dropped his back.  Even though I’m trying not to hang on the right/inside rein, I can’t let Murray lose the bend through these exercises.  For the lesson Tina had me go back to our old way of overbending the neck using more inside rein, but I imagine that as we practice I will be able to transition to a lighter inside rein again.


heading in to the tiny circle. i made my transitions from 20m to tiny circle too abrupt when i repeated this exercise, and the quality suffered for it. so i know for future practice to give murray a little more spiral-down time to get into the small circle.

We ended with a couple of counter canter loops which were seriously our best to date.  They were shallow-ish as there is a big pile of poles and standards stacked in a teepee right at X, and I didn’t want to tackle going past/around X for the first time when Murray was tired and had a bunch of stuff to potentially spook at.  But for the first time our shallow loops in both directions were controlled and balanced, and we kept the tempo.  HUGE progress for us, since I’ve been struggling with downhill running through the counter canter for basically two years (also known as, I suck at counter canter and probably started it too early).

Another huge win for us: not once during this lesson did Tina have to remind me not to nag with my seat. FOR ONCE!

in love with how good Murray  looks in this pic

It was such a great lesson in terms of confirming my feel (for bend and collection) and to do exercises where I can replicate the feeling later on.  Obviously, because the pics came from there, I did these exercises again the next day with not too much degradation of quality — though of course I did make some all new mistakes to learn from.

A few other notes from the lesson and subsequent ride:

  • keep riding seat to hands/don’t get pulled forward and down in canter (especially when trying to collect)
  • ride the extended transition in the canter in the exercise also to develop more elasticity
  • hands and elbows more forward (not so bad in the lesson, but they were a bit too far back the next day)
  • likewise, shorten the reins a little for steadier contact
  • a touch of haunches in is ok for now, while developing better bend
  • still need crispness/clarity/lack of static in the canter transitions – but they are better
  • I need to work on quieting the forward-backward movement of my leg when giving different cues
  • try to develop a more uphill half halt in the canter collection
  • eventually, the goal is to get the canter collection from seat alone — but that is for a year from now! for now, develop strength and suppleness in this work with lots of support from me.
  • work the weak side more, but with lots of breaks — both walk breaks, and breaks where you work the stronger side
  • who cares about sugar-induced navicular if lifesavers keep Murray happy and compliant?!

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!