revelations all over the place

This has been a good week for revelations.  On Tuesday I had a little pre-jump lesson jump school.  These days I like to pop Murray over anything new and weird in the arena before our actual jump lesson so that during my trainer’s valuable time I can focus on jumping exercises, not teaching my horse how to get over a flower box that OH GOD IT MOVED FROM LAST WEEK’S LOCATION.

spankAhem. Yeah.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to bring a little more dressage lyfe into my rides in the jump saddle so that rules and expectations are more clear.  Things like yielding to the outside rein, proper transitions from the hind end, etc. etc.  I hear it will also help our jumping!

Thanks to a conversation with a friend on Monday, I realised yet another thing that Murray has incidentally trick-trained me into doing, which is riding back to front, especially through the transitions.  When I sit up and put my leg on for a transition more often than not Murray sucks back and/or hollows his back and pops his head up.  My natural instinct after that is to wiggle him back down into the connection (because inevitably my reins are too short), and then there’s no transition.  So my choices are between a shitty, hollow transition, or no transition at all — but a proper transition coming from the hind end simply isn’t one of the options.

Instead of focusing on Murray’s face, which is what he “wants” (who know what that horse really wants), I should instead focus on his hind end and getting that transition to happen in a forward fashion.  I tried it a few times, and it was ugly, but it got better as I rode.  So that was neat.

Another revelation came during my canter-trot transitions, when Murray would lean heavily into my hands and almost curl under.  In the past, Murray has occasionally done this to avoid holding himself up and get on the forehand, but more recently he’s just been really heavy in my hands after down transitions.  Since I want him to be more comfortable in that “heavy contact” place, I figured I should let him stay there — in balance, of course — and not bump him up off my hands as has been my wont in the past.

trotthis is probably as curled as he actually is, it just feels insanely curled/heavy to me

Additionally, as we were trotting a circle in this new, heavy contact I notice myself crossing my right hand over Murray’s withers to stop him from falling in so much.  I know that is verboten, but I didn’t realise it was something I did (or maybe it’s not really, except when Murray is really heavy and falling?).  I tried to consciously release my inside rein and push Murray over with my inside leg instead.  It wasn’t terribly successful as he’s quite over that right shoulder and very good at ignoring my right leg, but at least it was more correct.  I hope that with more improved human position (which I forgot to work on during my last few rides, whoops) I can get a higher quality bend out of Murray, and start to chip away at that laterality.

So that’s three new things I learned in one ride!  Four, actually, but the fourth one I will talk about tomorrow.

yves sauvignon clinic

On Saturday, before I rode with Megan, I got to ride with Yves Sauvignon, who is a local trainer (based in Sebastopol/Santa Rosa area), 3* rider and trainer, and all around awesome guy.  In addition to being French, Yves is a great coach.  His standard coaching technique both encourages you and pushes you to keep doing better, and his ride philosophy includes a lot of technical elements and precision.  At the same time he’s really understanding of different horses’ strengths, weaknesses, and uniqueness, and helps you play to their strengths.

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We started out with a trot placement pole, which Yves usually places 9ft out from the base and often serves as a canter pole as well.  Murray was on point.  At first Murray needed to get a bit more forward in the trot, so Yves suggested that I loosen up/relax my knees a little.  I learned a few months ago to distribute my weight into my thighs to help balance and regulate one of the speedier ponies I rode, and have apparently incorporated that into my riding of Murray pretty thoroughly!  Yves explained that this squeeze through the knees* is part of the half halt, so while I was trying to push Murray forward I was also rebalancing him, and needed to relax my knees a bit to allow him forward a bit more.  It took me a minute to figure out how to ride with loose knees again (uhhh apparently I’ve been weighting my thighs a lot more than I ever realised), but after that it was smooth sailing.

yves1* I don’t (think) I pinch my knees — I feel like I would have been cured of that really quickly by being absolutely launched over Murray’s shoulder — but will be investigating this more.

yves3Murray, in addition to being on point, was also on one and expressed many and varied opinions.  Through both vocal and body language.  Fortunately his opinions did not detract from Murray’s desire to jump the jumps.  So jump we did.

Yves has a strong philosophy of show-and-tell for horses that are a little less confident, and doesn’t think that surprising horses a lot does them much good in the long run.  He wants his horses, especially young ones, to be brave with all different types of fences.  Fortunately for us, Murray didn’t require any show-and-telling, and while he was a little backed off to some flowers the first time we saw them,  he jumped them beautifully and in stride.

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One of Yves’ big suggestions was to put a bit of a lid on Murray’s antics.  While it’s nice to know your horse is feeling good and has a sense of humor, it is (apparently) not so much fun to ride a goofy possibly bucking horse through the lines and not know if there’s some extra goofy behavior coming.

yves7Y u not want to ride dis on XC?

Yves also really appreciated Murray’s ability to balance himself up to the fences and add strides where needed.  Even better — during the lesson, Murray was also taking the long spots when I asked him to, and even changed leads a few times (though only when I tricked him).  Overall Murray was super responsive to my leg, both laterally and in terms of speed and power — he would step up the pace the moment I put my leg on, and it resulted in a ton of adjustability.

yves5Can’t complain about jumping with this backdrop!

It was a short lesson but a very good one. Murray was feeling awesome, and Yves said I had done a great job with him so far.  I so love riding this forward, game horse!  Yves also validated my slow-it-down strategy with Murray, and said that he likes to slow it down even more with horses like this, and keep cross country to a controlled canter and trot the fences where necessary.  I worried to Yves about making the time, and he said he’s made it at Novice while still trotting quite a few fences, and assured me that Murray’s canter was more than adequate to make time without any freaking out or galloping needed.  I’m not sure I tooootally believed him (based on experience and the fact that it feels so slow!), but it was a good, powerful, rhythmic pace so I couldn’t complain.

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Maybe not the biggest fences in the world, but some solid coursing that was totally confidence building for both of us!  Yves also said that I have done a great job with Murray, which made me feel awesome.  It’s incredibly rewarding to hear that I am taking this little quirk ball in the right direction!

A Enter Spooking Clinic

If you’re like me, if you’ve read some of Megan’s really interesting, fun, and educational posts on dressage theory and mechanics, you’ve thought “damn*, it would be cool to take a lesson with her!”  Well friends, you are correct.  IT IS COOL TO TAKE A LESSON WITH HER.

IMG_8822-2um HELLO DRESSAGE HORSE

* I actually intended to write “man” and somehow my fingers just typed out “damn” instead.  Take that as part of my review of her teaching, not of my potty mouth.

The day itself was an adventure, but that part of the story I will save for another blog.  For now, I’ll talk about the nitty gritty of my lesson, which was all about getting Murray’s body parts lined up in a reasonable way, and not in the way he wants them to be.  You see, Murray has too much lateral movement — far too much — and instead of carrying his body so that his hind legs are in line with his front legs (or even so that they are really carrying weight),  he wants to fishtail his hind end around and carry all his weight on his front feet.  Almost as if he is pivoting around his inside front a tiny bit in each step was how Megan put it.  Instead of this pivoting, Megan wanted him to take some more weight on the outside hind and pick up his inside front a little faster.  Those pesky diagonal pairs.

IMG_8795(Little warm up trot pic for comparison to our more put together pics later!)

Even on a 20-ish meter circle Murray is  busily working to evade using his body properly.  So instead of me holding him together with “even” pressure on both reins, Megan had me lighten up on the inside rein and really push Murray over into the outside rein.  But since he’s so wiggly I had to catch his haunches with my outside leg, and even encourage them to be a tad to the inside.  She said (not just to me, but also to other riders) to think of having the ribcage more on the outside than any of his feet.  I was to bring his outside hind towards the middle and his inside hind toward the middle.

IMG_8849This involved a lot of “haunches inside a little more, push him into the outside rein, open the inside rein and move your hand forward, inside leg at the girth, catch him with the outside leg, that’s too much haunches in but it was beautiful…” etc.  Megan gives A LOT of instruction — she said she only expects you to take in a third of it — and it’s true that it’s a lot to hear and process.  But it really helps you ride every step more correctly and keep you on the right “feel”.  A huge part of the problem for me is that Murray’s crookedness is what I’m used to, so I really have to reprogram myself to feeling Murray’s body when it is going the correct way.  Lots of reminders helped me keep putting Murray into the right shape, and reminded me not to rely on my old squeeze — the inside rein.

IMG_8830-2After I got the feel of this straighter body shape in the trot, we moved on to some transitions.  Murray likes to bounce around in the walk even more than he does at the trot, so I had to really pick my moment to ask him to trot.  Most importantly, I wasn’t allowed to hang on the inside rein, and even if we lost our straightness a bit in the transition I had to work immediately to regain it and not tug on that inside rein.  Unfortunately, this new way of going pretty much trashed the smoothness of the transitions.  Murray felt that I was no longer there fore him with the inside rein and bounced up into the trot instead of stepping smoothly into it.  But as I continued to push his body into the right shape with my legs (“You can go to the inside rein,” Megan said, “But only after you’ve done everything else right with his body to make him get round.”), moving his ribcage out and keeping those haunches from falling too far out, and helping him bring his outside shoulder over with the outside rein, he got more and more used to the idea of the up transition without the oh-so-desireable inside rein.

IMG_8845The same thing happened for the trot-canter transitions,  but since Murray is less wiggly in the canter it was easier to put him together.  Megan called me on one of my oldest weaknesses immediately, and reminded me not to lean in to the canter transition.  Murray was even less on board with filling the outside rein in the canter, so I had to work a lot harder to get him moved over with my legs and seat without going to the inside hand. And then suddenly his gait got really big.  He had been forward all lesson without too much urging from my legs, but we went from a little canter to an “oh crap I don’t know if we’re going to be able to turn” canter.  And I grabbed the inside rein.  Megan and I were both laughing about that in the next walk break, because I quite literally said “It was scary!” and she said “You jump cross country, it’s not that scary!”

IMG_8883Murray does not appreciate this new way of going

But it was!  His gait got HUGE and I didn’t have control of it in the way that I was used to (inside rein), and all I could do to control it was push him out with my inside thigh and catch him with that outside rein and it wasn’t doing anything except making him canter BIGGER AND BIGGER AND BIGGER.  Fortunately, Megan also had me sit back more on my right seat bone to help get Murray’s right hind under him, and with that alignment in place all I really had to do was think “trot” and boom — down to the trot.  Only it was a giant trot that I was not used to and I got scared and pulled back on that too.

IMG_8886 IMG_8887Murray was really very honest and straightforward in our lesson, which was somewhat miraculous given the start we had to the day.  He didn’t like that I was pushing him into the outside rein and not letting his haunches swing around willy nilly, but he took it fairly well and only tried each evasion once (or twice).  And I have lots and lots of homework!  I haven’t even gotten down to everything I learned from watching Megan teach Peony and another rider, or even everything from my ride!  There were a few subtle adjustments to my position as well, which Megan explained really well using Murray’s crookedness and position to help me understand why I was pointing that way or sitting that way.

(How funnily identical are the two above pictures?  Extra special thanks to Andy for taking pictures of both me and Peony!)

IMG_8875Body almost lined up the way we want!

I’m excited to get Murray straighter and stronger and more through without relying on the inside rein so I can start employing it for more of the fun stuff!

it’s a kind of magic

I borrowed a friend’s Stubben Roxanne for Murray’s first ride back after Showpocalypse 2016 on Wednesday, and was pleasantly surprised by the ride in all ways.  First, and most entertaining, I put my friend’s stirrups down 8 holes (and nearly ran out of leather!) to get them to the right length.  That gave me a good cackle while we were warming up, and to my even greater surprise Murray was really forward at the walk.  I didn’t have to nag him at all, he just marched all over the place while I twiddled the stirrups, and before I got around to picking up any contact.

tiny horseMurray was a little bit fussy and stiff as we started working, but he was happy to stretch out over his topline and maintained his forward pace and through the transitions and the stretchy work.  I, however, was another story.  I was huffing and puffing after our warm up, which is exactly what not riding for two weeks.  But I persevered — even when we almost stepped on a precocial fledgling who was squatting in a really inconvenient place of the arena.

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Since Murray was being pretty responsive I thought I would run through all of our “movements” to make sure they were all there in prep for a clinic this weekend, and call it good.  Better than drilling and pissing him off, right?  Tired Nicole thought so.  We did some shoulder-in,  haunches in, leg yield, and tiiiiny circles (15 meter) each way, a couple of canter transitions, a canter lengthening, and even a simple change.  Murray was astonishing the entire time — forward, relaxed, listening.  Sometimes listening a little too well — I tried a trot lengthening and got a perfect canter transition instead.  Possibly too far on the anticipatory side, but I wasn’t complaining: as I crossed the diagonal at the canter and down-transitioned to trot Murray immediately picked up the opposite canter lead TWICE.  WITHIN ONE STRIDE.  HE TAUGHT HIMSELF SIMPLE CHANGES THROUGH THE TROT WUT.

So after all that glory I was like “maybe we try for the flying change?” and decided that tired Nicole was not in the best place to try that.

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This weekend Murray has a very exciting schedule planned — jump clinic Saturday, dressage clinic Sunday, and possibly an XC school Monday.  He will be a tired boy next Tuesday (which is lucky for him, because that’s my long teaching day so he will get to sleep).

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mountains and molehills

I busted my ass on my thesis last week, which was why the distinct lack of writing here.  I was barely riding, and basically just programmed R all day for three days so didn’t have much left in me to write at the end of the day.

I just got “When Two Spines Align“, and the first few chapters are — SHOCKER — all about position.  Since this is something I really need to work on, I’ve been starting all of my rides with some stretching and flexing exercises that will hopefully help me even out my body a bit.  One of my biggest problems is dropping/falling through my right hip/shoulder.  It’s not just my shoulder that scrunches down, but my body is just… scrunched on that side.  Unfortunately, I can’t fix it by just stretching down through the right, because my shoulder is already dropped right.  It’s just my hip that is held up somehow!  Ugh things to work on.

Thursday I got on Murray with the intention of having a nice, basic warm-up-for-the-week dressage ride after a few days off, and Murray let me know that he was feeling both cold backed and annoyed at my stupid position exercises and I felt him get scrunchy and accordion-like in the bad way as soon as I asked him wp-1449989989647.jpgto trot.  I’m getting a lot better at anticipating when Murray needs to just get some yayas out, and sometimes we can just canter it out, but at that point I’d backed myself into a corner and couldn’t get out of it.  So I got the trot transition I “wanted” — but ugly and impolite — and Murray immediately transitioned to a wild, uncontrolled, buckanter, careening through the middle of a dressage lesson while I shrilled apologies at my trainer and her student.  B was laughing and laughing at us, not only because I couldn’t steer, but also because Murray decided he would use the full extent of whatever height he had and looked about 17 hands tall.

(17 hands of precious!)

But after that, we got some relatively good work done.  In addition to working on my position I’ve been trying to add some new elements to our riding and crisping up some movements that I’ve been letting both of us get away with.  One of them is trot-canter transitions.  I tend to crunch and fold forward when I sit through canter transitions, and Murray couldn’t handle me sitting through them in the past, so I trained both of us to make the transition while I posted.  It actually worked out really nicely, as his back comes up it meets my seat and I can then transition nicely into the canter.  But that’s not what we’ll need to do in the future — with sitting trot in our future someday, I hope! — so I focused on sitting through the trot-canter transition.

At first Murray was confused and interpreted the outside leg as an aid to move his haunches over — an effort I really appreciated!  So I tried to half halt him first and then “windshield wiper” that outside eg and Murray was like “oh right, I know what you want, spastic trot!”  Uhhh nope, sorry.  I tried again and booted him with my outside leg when he didn’t get it, and more spastic trot ensued, so the next transition involved a little whip smack and that got his attention.  We’ve since practiced a bit more and Murray is okay with the transition in both directions.

wp-1449989989656.jpgI so love driving into a giant wall of fog to get to work… that definitely doesn’t feel like driving into a horror movie or anything.

During our next ride I tried to tackle the Devil’s Transition with really really really really no success.  Murray does not seem to understand at all that you can transition from cantering to walking without trotting or stopping in between.  And when I think about it, it makes senseI’ve definitely seen Murray canter to trot or GALLOP HIS FUCKING ASS OFF to a dead stop four foot skid at liberty, but I have never seen him canter to walk.  And I’ve definitely felt Murray canter to NOPE in front of a jump, but no canter to walk.  Canter to sideways, yes.  Canter to stop, yes. Canter to walk? Not a thing.  BUT… he has four legs and can canter to halt, so canter to walk is in there.  Just gotta put a jump in front of him, apparently.  So I gave up on the canter-walk and just crispi-fied the walk-canter, as in the process of trying to activate some canter-walk I had allowed walk-canter to turn into walk-spastic trot.

There are lots of pieces in the bag right now.  I can feel them there, like scrabble tiles, actually.  I know that I have all the pieces to put together something like canter-walk or more counter-canter work but sometimes I just can’t always pull them all out in the right order.

what’s on first?

I’m hoping to hit up at least one or two rated dressage shows next year, and in thinking about those shows, I’ve been reviewing the first level dressage tests to see if it’s anywhere in the realm of possibility.  I’d like to minimize the amount of time I spend showing at training level, simply because it doesn’t necessarily help me accomplish any of my goals (bronze) but does require that you spend money.  Much of my time will, of course, be spent at schooling shows getting both Murray and myself accustomed to the show environment and relaxed and blah blah blah things that have to come first, but once we can go to rated shows…

So, what’s on those first level tests anyway, and do we have it?  (This is based on first-1, which would obviously be the first level I show at.  I’ve not started obsessing over first-2 yet.)

IMG_2018
almost square, almost as good as we can do.

Trot-halt, halt-trot. Regularity and quality of trot, willing calm transitions, good halt.
Murray has a solid trot-halt about 87% of the time — solid, square, balanced, and he does it like BOOM off my seat.  We can maintain immobile as long as we want. Trot to halt?  We started working on this literally this week — because I read the test and was like “oh shit” — and it turns out that Murray can trot off a halt, especially with a voice command.  While it’s willing, it’s not necessarily balanced or soft.
Can we do it? ~ 50%

10 meter circle at the trot. Bend and balance, regularity and quality, shape.
This is actually two 10 meter half-circles, but if you can do half a circle, you can do a whole circle.  I do these fairly regularly when schooling to set up the bend for other movements — shoulder or haunches in, for example — so I think we’ve got a pretty solid foundation on these.
Can we do it? 80%

IMG_1983aaaaaalmost stretchy, he can get quite a bit lower than this now

20 meter stretchy trot circle. Forward and downward stretch over back into light contact.
Murray loves him some stretchy trot.  I school it daily.  Into light contact is a bit tough, because he prefers no contact, but it’s still quite good.  I need to work on this happening within the one 20 meter circle.
Can we do it? 90%

octdressage
such lengthen?

Lengthen stride in trot.  Moderate lengthening of frame and stride.
This will definitely be the hardest movement we attempt other than the halt-trot transition.  Murray struggles a lot with extending his trot because it’s sooooooooooo hard to push with booty and it’s much easier to just canter instead.  We have started working on this, but it needs much more work to  be considered a true lengthening.
Can we do it? 35%

19290854190_c2b91845e3_k

Medium walk, free walk. Regularity and quality of walks, reach and ground cover (free walk).
Murray treats walking with impulsion or actual movement like I’m asking him to give birth to a cow, but because of this I also force him to do it all the time.  We sometimes get some head flipping and tantrum throwing, but if I don’t push it too much it’s usually okay.
Can we do it? 80%

Lengthen stride in canter. Willing, clear transition, moderate lengthening of frame and stride.
Can Murray lengthen his canter?  You bet his sweet bucking booty he can!  Kid loves to take off in the canter in the black tack.  On the bit is another question… but we can do this.
Can we do it? 90%

octdressage4

15 meter canter circle. Size and shape of circle.
Since we’ve been practicing 10 meter circles at the canter, I imagine we can do a 15.  However, I need to be able to geometry at 15 meter circle before we can attempt it.
Can we do it? 70%

The rest of the movements are symmetrical or redundant.  At a glance, it looks like I can definitely complete about… 65% of the movements.  If I get an average of 6 points on those movements, and a 3 or 4 on the rest (let’s say average 3.5)… that means I will get a delightful 51.25% on my test.  Almost the magic score (the one that reads the same whether you’re an eventer or DQ).  But not quite.

IMG_1963we are so good at dressagez

Obviously today, November 4th, showing first level would be a big fat waste of my money (and time and emotions).  But would it be a waste to do it at a schooling show in a few weeks to see feedback I get on?  My test riding and regular riding of Murray have converged a lot more in the last month, so I don’t need to do a whole heck of a lot to “convert” to test riding, just get back in the court and figure out my geometry.  I don’t think it would waste my money or time (test practice, show practice, etc.), but would it be super disrespectful to the judge to head into the class that “unprepared”?

tricksy hobbitses

My glorious return to riding after Murray’s week off post event (and Nicole’s week off due to moving) was not in any way glorious.  I had this obviously ridiculous expectation that we would leap right back into our dressage work like we had never had any time off, but I didn’t quite expect that we would have so many issues with, uh, everything…

Fall is fast arriving in Northern California, as evidenced by the BLASTING North wind coming through my barn Saturday.  This is a hallmark of the valley fall, and makes biking to campus SUPER unpleasant.  And with all the El Nino talk this year, it sounds like we’ll be getting a lot of it…

Anyway!  I got on Murray and we started to stretchy trot around and he was like “steering what?”  He was leaning in to my left leg and cutting corners and when I tried to turn we would wildly overshoot or undershoot.  There was no good steering.  None.  He was also extremely dissatisfied with the contact and couldn’t come to terms with the idea of stretching down or working properly.  It kinda seemed like he really just wanted to trot around with a lesson-pony head set and call it a day.  I didn’t really want to fight about it, and I was riding with two other people in the arena, so I decided to visit the pastures for a bit of a gallop to work it out.

wpid-wp-1441599638966.jpgThe goats are cooler than I am.

The gallop turned out to be an excellent choice.  I got into the pasture and Murray immediately picked up the contact and cantered around beautifully.  We did an accidental conditioning set where I would gallop him out the long side, collect along the short side, and then try to really work on collecting in a circle, and gallop out the long side again.  Murray was obedient and consistent and we saw LOTS of variation in his canter stride.  It was fabulous!  We managed to work on so many things in the canter that I’ve not been able to achieve in the arena, and Murray was connected and bending appropriately even at the gallop.

I’m house sitting for trainer right now, so I came “home” and worked my new project horse.  Yep.  Mine.  It turns out Murray was a total gateway horse, so when the opportunity popped up to go in on a project mare I was like “OH OKAY GREAT IDEA.”  Great idea or not, I’m in it now.  “Peanut” is a former polo mare, so she’s fairly well trained already, and we think she might love jumping too!

wpid-wp-1441599751059.jpgPeanut has no forelock!! I actually kinda think it’s adorable.

Sunday I rode Murray again with every intention of playing some hobbit trickses on him and using a pasture gallop if he was resistant or unsteerable again.  Fortunately, Murray came out ready to work and was super rideable!  We did a little spiral in-spiral out, shoulder-in on a circle, leg yields, and haunches in.  I need to work on his connection going right to left, he tends to get a little more tense and resistant.  But our left leg yield is like woah.

My next riding goal for Sunday was to start collecting the canter up.  One of the things Tina suggested to me was to drive and “pause” at the apex of the canter.  However, the driving motion of my seat really made Murray hollow his back, so instead I tried lightening up my seat and pausing in that motion.  It worked quite well at first, but then Murray was like “obviously you just mean trot when you do that” and I had to really kick on to get him to stay in the canter.  Going left we struggled a little bit with bending left and staying through and shortening up our stride, but we got a few good moments so I praised him profusely and we switched directions.  Right we actually struggled a lot more to slow down the canter, I suspect because Murray was already quite tired and that shit is hard work.  But I convinced him to do it a few times for me and we called it a day.

wpid-wp-1441599724861.jpgHello handsome new foundation horse! Yomybato is such a lovely guy!

This week we’re starting a new lesson regime!  I finagled my way into 2x a week lessons for a little while, so I will be schooling a lot soon.  I can’t wait, seriously.  There are so many things that Murray and I will improve upon with super regular dressage lessons!!  And he will be sooooo saddddd and I will laugh muchly.

balance

Murray and I have now proven ourselves to be such delicate flowers that Alana offered to take me on my very own XC schooling adventure last week, to prep for the upcoming show at Woodland Stallion Station.  You see, our last adventure didn’t go so well, and beyond my general lack of understanding how I needed to ride, part of that was the group atmosphere.

If I didn’t tell you before, I hate schooling in big groups.  It’s generally nothing about the people themselves, but just the emergent property of groups that somehow it takes 2^n (where n is the number of people in the group) amount of time to get anything done.  People are gabbing, facing the wrong direction, not paying attention, having a jolly good time and all that… and I’m over here like “let’s jump this shit and move on. Jump it and move on.”  It’s part an adaptive strategy from Murray (who until quite recently couldn’t school in groups), and part just my general desire not to sit around in the sun, wait, or force the horses to do those things.  Now, of course I’m very understanding when someone needs additional schooling — that’s something else entirely, and I get that everyone (especially me) has those days/weeks/months/moments — but it’s all the other sitting around that gets to me.

So we went schooling all by ourselves.  And it was awesome!

coop

The theme of the outing was accountability (much like my life, right now).  Within the first couple of jumps, Murray proved that as long as I’m riding right, he’s willing to go.  As I’ve written about, at Camelot I mistook Murray’s forward gallop for confidence and bravery.  Since then I’ve been slowing everything down so that Murray can remember that fences don’t eat you, and I can re-learn how to ride.  But in the course of slowing everything down I over-corrected too far in the other direction.  On our first approach to a quarter-round-bench-thingy, I mistook Murray’s slow-and-steady canter for quiet confidence and didn’t check in with him to remind him that we were really going.  So we didn’t.

Alana reminded me to actually be present for the ride, and when I re-approached with some leg (possibly more than necessary!), Murray went right over.  For the rest of our time out on course, I worked on finding the pace that was calm and steady enough to be safe, while also containing enough energy and enthusiasm for Murray to feel like this was no big thing.  A very valuable lesson, since clearly balls-out galloping is not a solution.

We worked backwards through the course and came to our old nemesis… the curious case of the extremely steeply downhill log.  Alana had me trot up it first so that Murray would know exactly what the question looked like backwards and forwards.

plwds

I was a little apprehensive but just maintained that forward canter and soft contact and Murray took care of the rest.  Thank goodness for awesome ponies.  Also, powerful canter uphill feeling!

And then we trotted down it the other way.  Alana checked out all the footing in front of it first, as part of our problem last time was that Murray skidded in the loose footing.  Clearly we were not the only horses that had slipped because there were two distinct divets/holes right in front of the log.  Alana had me steer to the left of those and approach at a trot but not let Murray die out and lose power.  Our first go over was a bit lurchy, so we repeated it a few times for good measure.

plwg6

IMG_3673

Improvement, right?

We worked our way back towards the beginning of the old course and strung together a few fences at a time.  Murray felt better and better as we went, and finding the right pace became less challenging.  At least part of that was Murray listening to me more — he had to spend less energy just figuring out how to keep the two of us alive (technically my job, but apparently I couldn’t be trusted).  The super awesome upside of this is that it left Murray free to do all those awesome things he used to — like regulate his own striding as we approached the fences, settle back on his haunches, and not rub every single fence we jumped.  Now I just need to get my position back under control.

I have a few new rider-goals for the event at the end of the month.  First, to balance Murray’s energy to prevent him from getting rushed and frantic but keep enough power and speed.  Second, be present for every fence.  Even though you can’t always ride just one fence at a time, I can’t let my thoughts about the next fence prevent me from riding the one in front of me.

I find myself slightly annoyed that I didn’t take the time to learn these lessons before — or at least, did not learn them well enough to implement them when they were critical!  But it is a learning process, and we’re working on it together.  Probably it’s a good thing that Murray let me know I couldn’t ride him absentmindedly at such a low level; much safer than if he’d suddenly put up a fuss at Novice or above.  Yet another thing I ought to thank my horse for.

camelotfallOne more time for good measure.

and haunches in, and haunches out

I’m probably being completely irrational because we’re coming upon the show, but I seriously feel like I have lost all ability to ride and Murray has lost all ability to horse and everything next week is going to be an unmitigated disaster.  This is probably not true but… the nerves man.  They are getting to me.

Of course my feelings are the purple feeling.

Tonight I hopped on in my jump tack with the intention to trot a little, condition a little, jump a little, and flat a little.  Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but I somehow don’t think that Murray should have to do a 20 minute trot set and 7 minute canter sets on the same day.  Plus, pony is much more receptive to cantering around in circles lengthening and coming back and lengthening and coming back and lengthening and coming back when I throw a few small jump in here and there.  So that is what we did.

I started out with some dressage in my jump tack.  I didn’t even put my stirrups down from jumping length, just… made do.  Oh and you should all know that a couple of dressage rides are just what the doctor ordered for calf muscles screaming from three hours of drunken wedding dancing.  I’m feeling top notch today.  I asked Murray to shoulder in and haunches in at the walk, and actually made a point of doing it with both bends in both directions.  He’s happy to keep quite a nice, deep neck bending left, but bending right I can really feel his hesitation when he has to step under with that right hind.  He gets better and better the more I ask, but I’m not sure if the solution to this is more shoulder in/haunches in or more stretching. Equine Fitness said that too much repetition can just lead to soreness and guarding, but homie is never going to strengthen that leg if we don’t do reps of SOME kind.  Equine biomechanics gods, GIVE ME AN ANSWER.

5-21 dressage 8Huh… this is going left. Interesting. Good thing I have media to reflect upon!

At the trot I did more lateral work as well as trying to get Murray really straight between my legs.  These things might be counter-productive as exercises together, I’m not sure, but I’d do a bit of shoulder in, a bit of straight, a bit of haunches in, etc.  The straightness and listening were also because we’ve started to drift in and cut corners a lot in the arena, and I am not actually a fan of that.

Murray was more forward and happy to canter than I’ve ever seen him be in a conditioning set, but it was probably greatly helped by the presence of another horse cantering around the arena that made Murray think he was racing.  I actually got a hand-gallop out of him in the arena, which I’ve never done before.  I just worked on keeping my position really solid, with a good two-point or half seat and a straight, flat back (instead of the arched one I seemed to prefer a few weeks ago), and bringing Murray back to me without leaning on my hands.  I realised, when reviewing XC footage from our last outing, that I rely really heavily on my hands on XC and I am pretty much always grabbing mane.  So for one, I have a grab strap to help with that.  And for two… maybe less hands and more seat, Nicole?  We’ll see how that works out for us.

trakLooking fantastic over the trakehner, as always. Perfect spot. Much form. Quiet seat. Sending this one in to George’s column.

At the end of my ride I had a friend get on Murray for fun, as she’s never ridden him.  I was surprised by how good he looked, and how good he was.  In fact, I was very impressed.  It also helped me reflect upon my own riding a bit.  The first thing I tell people when they get on Murray is to be really soft with their hands and let him get used to their presence, and with said friend on his back Murray was suuuuper steady.  If I can get that steadiness at a show I will be thrilled.  So there will definitely be some over-riding questions and evaluation coming in the next few days!  We will see.

pinball wizard

Saturday’s little dressage outing with Murray went very well.  Not perfectly, mind you, but lots to be proud of, especially considering everything Murray’s been feeling/thinking/seeing/dreaming lately.  Murray walked right on and right off of the trailer, because duh, he trailers like a dream.  I think with a little practice I could teach him to self load, so that would be an awesome thing to do.  When we got to WSS he stood by the trailer like such a good little boy I felt compelled to take my first ever “see how proud I am of my baby horse on an outing!!!!!!!!!!!!” picture.

We had the horses on either side of the trailer, and I was surprised at Murray’s good behavior without a buddy for him to take comfort in.  He may honestly have been worse on the shady side of the trailer, since there was a pasture full of horses on that side that our trailer buddy keep staring at.  He didn’t escape, didn’t break his halter, and didn’t run away screaming “DOBBY IS A FREE ELF!” so that was awesome.  Tacking up wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t have to beat him in public or anything, and my saddle didn’t hit the dirt, so I’ll call that a win.

I hopped up and enacted my planned warm up strategy for shows: wander around all over the show grounds for 10 minutes on the buckle and let him get looky and then bored.  And we did both.  We looked, we spooked (one horse in a paddock tried to play with us and that was TERRIFYING), we followed other riders around, we engaged in Random Acts of Bravery (passing some FLAPPING FLAGS OH CHRIST!!!), and then when Murray was good and bored we popped into the warm up.  I walked around and asked Murray to be soft and round and he was! I was shocked.  So then I asked for some trot and boom — soft, round trot.  I was like who are you and what have you done with my horse?

5-21 dressage 9You know, this horse?!

Anyway, after a short warm up — like, sub ten minutes, he was that good — during which we shockingly got all our transitions in, I headed down to the actual dressage arena.  Now, I had to get off and on and off and on Murray because all the gates needed opening and closing, so I expected Murray to be really foul because he would be convinced that we were actually supposed to be done.

In the dressage arena Murray was completely convinced the judges booth was demonic (from both directions), but I maintained my short reins and insisted that he listen to me, bending both ways on a circle around the booth.  I’m not sure if that’s allowed in real shows (errr, dressage queens want to help me out here?), but it worked pretty well.  I was really capitalizing on something Tina told me once, which was that when you can get physical submission out of your horse, it also indicates emotional submission.  In this case, I wasn’t looking for him to grovel on the floor, but merely accept that this thing I was telling him to relax around really wasn’t scary, and was worth relaxing around.  And it pretty much worked.

The test wasn’t perfect. It was weak in all the places it is always weak: walk-trot transition after the free walk (there’s only one walk-trot transition in the BN and Novice tests so I don’t know why I clarified this), the first canter transition, and during the right lead canter when he always wants to swap to the left lead, for some reason.  Like, stupid gorgeous clean changes for no good reason we are CANTERING THE EASY WAY DOPE.  I also struggled a lot with straightness, Murray popped his haunches in on every straight away.  He was also SUPER sensitive to my legs — he felt like a pinball bouncing around between them!  Any time I would feel him drifting out from the wall I’d push him back in and he’d practically be leg yielding over the side of the court, and then I’d try to catch him with my outside leg and he’d go binging back towards the inside.  I tried Amanda’s technique of the super-subtle shoulder-fore to both straighten him out and get a little more roundness from him, and it worked much better than trying to control his haunches with my legs.

IMG_20150530_130630Murray later chowed down on some dirt.  And lay down under a tree which was soooo precious but I didn’t get a photo because … I’m slow.

There was lots to like, though.  Murray did manage to stay relatively relaxed and soft.  Keeping a more stable, though elastic, contact really did help a lot (errr, surprise?), both with me being able to correct and half halt quickly, but I think also with our communication in general and him being steadier in general.  He was pretty quick off my aids, and overall obedient.  But we are still struggling with transitions — not turning or circles, so much, but transitions between gaits when Murray doesn’t know they are coming.  I know that simply means I need to prepare him for them more adequately, but it seems that the things I do to prepare him for a transition at home do not translate to the dressage court.

Our first practice test was in the long court, which really gives you so much more time to prepare than in the short court, and Murray was fairly sweaty afterwards so I just did our troublesome bits again for practice.  I changed where I did the transitions though, so Murray couldn’t anticipate them.  The walk-trot was the only one that gave us a real problem, Murray did his newly-patented little “bulge my belly away from your outside leg when you ask me to trot” move, so I popped him a little with the whip to remind him that yes, in fact, whips are a thing in dressage land.  Exactly the lesson he needed.

IMG_20150530_170340Ellie is so cute it’s hard to handle.

I’m pretty pleased that this dressage warm-up routine is showing promise.  Murray definitely did not act completely at home at WSS so I got to see how the long walk let him acclimate (and it seems like it did?) and that I could warm him up and then ride a test in a way that would keep us both relaxed.  I’m going to work on this some more at home, and hopefully I will be in good shape for future dressage shows!

On a related note, my coat and new white breeches should be arriving tomorrow, so that will be exciting.  But more importantly, I want to make myself my own stock tie.  Either of the tie-yourself version — I’m very into tying my own tie, I went to an all-girls’ school growing up and did it every day in the winter — or a pre-tied one.  So what, dear friends, is your favourite stock tie knot type?

Folded over in the center?

Super ruffled on top?

A straightfoward knot?

This variety that also seems to act as a sports bra?