the unsung plight of the show photographer

Saturday I did my first stint as a show photographer at a local event, trying to see if this is something I’d be interested in trying to make some money doing.  It was enlightening, let me tell you.  We all know that show photographers are facing all kinds of challenges these days — ammies shooting their friends with nice DSLRs, guilty! — but I feel like the public perception of those challenges has to do with photo sales, not the actual difficulty of the job.  And boy, is that job difficult.

Making cranky horses look good

As a photographer, I want you to look good. I want you to see your pictures and be inspired to pay me for one or more of them because you are your horse look fantastic.  I painstakingly select the best angle for the light, to make sure the background is pleasing and free of clutter, and time my shutter bursts so you and your horse look elegant and athletic.  You know what can ruin this every time?  A cranky horse.  Some horses don’t like dressage.  Some horses have a wicked game face.  Some horses pin their ears when they see the camera.  Some horses put karate kicks into the middle of their canter.  All of these things ruin a picture, and make me want to cry because I can’t control it.  And it’s nobody’s fault, except your horse who wants nothing to do with my photography.  He’s probably trying to save your money for use on him!

IMG_3747Excuse me, but no.

The dark horse/pale skin conundrum

Exposing correctly for dark horses is really hard in almost all lighting.  I love me some black or dark bay, but the details of a dark horse’s body get lost in the shadows very easily.  They also get these super bright shiny spots and highlights that sometimes look lovely and sometimes make them look terrible.  Without specialized editing, to get the details in a dark horse’s body exposed right, I usually have to blow out the background, which really sucks.  You know what sucks more?  Pale peoples’ faces get blown out even more than the background.  I can either see your gorgeous, smiling face or your horse’s — you pick.  I almost always pick the horse.  (Coincidentally, this is the exact same problem that people have shooting Jane Goodall with chimps!)  On the upside, your dark horse will make your whites look strikingly white, so you can get away with dirtier breeches!!

SAS_5323This picture can be edited to fix it, but I’m guessing this rider isn’t actually the colour of a porcelain doll.

High quality cameras are heavy

My DSLR setup weighs close to eight pounds with my heaviest lens on it, but even with my smaller lenses on it it’s close to five pounds.  And you know what humans are not evolved to do?  Stand in the same place all day long holding eight pounds up to their face.  The pain started in my lower back and throughout the day moved down to my upper butt and my feet.  At one point, my back cramped up — like when your calf cramps but in my entire back.  You know what you can do when your back cramps?  NOTHING. THERE IS NO POSITION THE HUMAN BODY CAN TAKE THAT DOESN’T USE THE BACK.  And honestly, no wonder I collapse my right side when I’m riding, I’m always holding the damn camera with that hand and resting my elbow on my hip for postural support!

SAS_7051A nice one because not all went poorly.

Squeezing one eye shut all day makes your vision go blurry

I don’t know if you’ve ever done it before, probably not, but you should try spending eight hours with your left eye squeezed shut.  You can open it intermittently, but you need to keep it shut for at least a minute at a time out of every two minutes.  After a while, your left eye will probably kinda forget how to function.  When you open it, you’ll have that weird, blurry, schmutz caused possibly by tears or dryness — it could go either way.  And then your right eye might start objecting too.  You can trade eyes looking through the viewfinder, of course, but somehow I’m way worse at everything with my left eye.

IMG_8346This is kinda what you see when you open that squinty eye…

Other riders, spectators, the show venue, garbage, dogs, people, horses, the sun, and even plants are all conspiring against you

A well timed photo is a beautiful thing, that is so, so often ruined by a random rider coming out of your horse’s back like some kind of two-bodied centaurian creature.  Fo rillz.  Somehow all the jumps and angles that are best to shoot are always ruined by random piles of poles, a trailer full of jump standards, or a weirdly overflowing garbage can.  Your best pictures of every competitor will be plagued by dogs running through, people picking their noses in the background, some rider falling off in the warm up, or a flashy paint horse taking a pee facing your camera.  Murphy’s law, man.

SAS_7429Get out of my picture random paint horse!!

show recap: the great melodrama of the six year old ottb

I once read an article about the movie Warhorse wherein the animal wrangler claimed that the ottb they used in the movie was a terrific actor, as he had a natural tone, talent, and raw emotionality that was hard to fake.  Clearly Murray has missed his calling on the silver screen, as the first thirty minutes of our trip to the schooling show was a rollercoaster of emotion, adventure, opinions, and mild public humiliation.

Sunday dawned — if one can call it a dawn — extremely foggy.  I missed one of my turns to the barn twice, the fog was so thick you couldn’t even see an intersection until you were through it!  I got to the barn and our barn manager was frantically running around  blanketing horses because the fog had rolled in so thick and unexpectedly, with a bit of a chill in the air, and her weather app hadn’t predicted it the night before, so most everybody was in their birthday suits.  This, amidst the 13 riders and horses (thirteen riders and horses!!!) that were prepping to get out to the schooling show (only 11 actually entered, two just having an adventure) rather made for chaos.  I went to get Murray only to discover that I couldn’t see one side of the pasture from the other, and that without his pink blanket he was nigh-on impossible to find.  Though find him I eventually did, and he fortunately was not shivering.

IMG_0232Where oh where is jump one? Oh, and can I even see the other side of the arena?! Fortunately fog rides just fine.

Murray loaded like a champ (as is his pattern as a good horse now), and I was very glad I had packed almost everything the night before.  I then sat in the truck while the other horses loaded and waited to go, because who wants to stand in the cold fog and possibly be left behind (a trick I learned from Ellie — never one to be left out of an open car).  Once we got to WSS, I started preparing Murray and as I was picking out his first hoof he promptly pulled back from the trailer, snapped the baling twine tie, and ran away.  I have to say, I honestly didn’t feel any tension in his body and I wasn’t yelling at him, but I was also kindof immobilizing him by holding that foot up, so perhaps he was tense and I didn’t notice.  Murray ran off towards the medic, who attempted to stop him with the help of a ring steward, but Murray decided that he would actually rather return directly to me and I caught him easily.

The baling twine was well and truly through, so I used my break-away tie to attach Murray to the trailer this time.  Unfortunately, not twenty minutes later, as I was pinning my number to my saddle pad, Murray designed another escape attempt and pulled away from the trailer again.  This time he managed to convince all three of the other horses tied on that side of the trailer to mutiny with him, though one was stayed before he departed.  Murray galloped away down the driveway with his good friend Indy in tow, though evidently when Murray looked back and saw a giant chestnut following him he panicked a little.  My roommate happened to be coming up the driveway as the two made their break, and stopped and helped me corral them.

IMG_0419This is quickly becoming one of my favourite pictures of us!

With three horses all hot and bothered, it took all our spare hands to hold them for tacking up.  Murray was having none of it, though, and since I’m pretty much the only one who can tack him up anyway, I was juggling and struggling a fair bit.  Roomie made a fantastic saddle stand and was so helpful to me, I was so grateful!  Alas, the deep-rooted hatred of girths reared its ugly head in full force today, and I spent a good 20 minutes trying to convince Murray to let me put his girth on.  I even took him away from all the commotion and tried to tack up in the quiet area closer to the warm up, but alas, here he simply tried to kill our assistant trainer, rearing at her once and nearly leaping into her another time.  Finally we had Words, and I backed Murray (probably not nearly far enough, but good enough for government work) down past the warm-up.

Oh, and did I mention that all of this happened in close proximity to the show ring and in full view of the announcer, show coordinator, and judge?  Ooohhhh yes.

IMG_0364Gratuitously breaking up the text — Murray decided to really step out AFTER the course ended!!

I snuck the girth on, ran to get my gloves and whip, and begged the show office to let me please add the cross-rails class in addition to the 2’3″, 2’6″, and 2’9″ I’d signed up for.  Murray’s horrible melting moments made me think we would need to start at something a little easier and more confidence-building than big scary 2’3″ jumps (so big, so scary).  Easily done, and I jumped onto Murray with scarily uneven stirrups thanks to a fetid little two-step mounting block.

In warm up I immediately started working, as we’d had quite enough walking around to get straight to work.  Shockingly, Murray trotting and cantered around rather calmly, with only a few leery moments and a rather half-hearted, token buck.  I popped over the three Xs without any problem, and declared myself ready for the class as I could hear that it had already started.  Murray had calmed, so I got Alana to put my left stirrup back up to where it should be, and she gave my girth another check too.  Then we headed over to the ring and I, not fully sure of the course (as I’d only walked it once and hadn’t been able to see anyone else ride it), was bumped up in the order of go.

IMG_0238What, just Xs? SO EASY!

It was at this point that Murray busted out his professional moves.  He took every single jump just like we were at home — forward attack machine mode!!  No refusals and no rails, and a soft, rideable, happy horse.  The announcer gave me a little hat tip for managing the wild creature of the morning, and the judge even laughed when as Murray spooked past her I responded with “yes, that’s the judge, so horrible, so horrible.”

I didn’t have a song on my mind during this show, so I just counted to eight in stride and talked Murray through being calm and confident.  Next time, I will try to think of something a little bit up-pace, so we can move a little more.  Our 2’3″ class was a little ugly.  We had sat for a little too long and I didn’t do what I needed to get Murray ahead of my leg, so I ended up having to drive him to the jumps more than I wanted.  I also didn’t totally get my upper body under control, and jumped/ducked a little tooooo much.  However, I didn’t get in Murray’s way and that is a win for me.


For the 2’6″ class I actually took Murray back into the warmup and trotted and cantered around to get him ahead of my leg.  I gave him a tap on the rump after entering the ring to remind him to be ahead of my leg, and the 2’6″ rode so much better than the 2’3″ — much more in stride and flowing.  We rode all three classes clean and clear, and came away with a 2nd in X’s and a 4th in 2’3″.  Since I wasn’t going for the time at all, I was quite happy with that!

IMG_0362IMG_0430These two shots are from the last fence on course in the 2’3″ and 2’6″ classes. Clearly, Murray thought that neither required much effort.

The 2’9″ class was a different course, and as you can probably see in one of the pictures there were some odd wet spots in the arena.  Since Murray had already proven himself and done everything I wanted, I scratched the class.  In my laziness, I didn’t want to learn a new course, and wanted Murray to feel like he was a total winner today, and did not want to risk the footing at all.  Next time we are out we will definitely do 2’9″ though.

So a really fantastic show, with all the good, bad, and ugly of my lovely little creature displayed.

I’ll leave you with this delightful image of my equitational failures.  This was jump 3, from whence you had to bend right to get to jump 4 in about 7 or 8 strides.  I’m shocked at exactly how crooked I am, all from me leaning heavily into my right stirrup!!  To compensate I appear to be leaning my upper body to the left?  No wonder my poor horse can’t ride a straight line to save his life!!!  And there’s a dust spot on Murray’s bum to boot!  My only defense is that I can’t actually see that part of his rump from the ground.


7 tips for being a better competitor among friends

I am a crazy competitive humanoid, probably thanks in large part to my upbringing with a crazy competitive mother.  My boyfriend thinks that there’s actually a huge hole in my brain regarding working on and in teams, because I only ever did individual sports (swimming, gymnastics, math competitions – oops not a sport) growing up, and resultantly kinda suck at team work.  Because of this, I can really make riding hard on myself, as I’m constantly doing what I shouldn’t be doing, namely comparing myself to other riders around me.  However, being super competitive isn’t really a healthy way to interact with your friends and can quickly land you at the bottom of your social pile.  Ask me how I know.

Competing against your friends can be both a blessing and a curse.  It’s great to be surrounded by friendly faces, but both winning and losing are bittersweet.  Regardless of your level of competition or familiarity with your competitors, good sportsmanship is extremely important, and can really make the difference between a good show and a bad show.  With show season right around the corner — my first show of the year is a week and a day from today! — I’m sharing some of the strategies I use to make myself a better competitor and friend.

  1. Congratulate your friends on their rounds and rides – good or bad.

Last summer, at Murray’s and my first horse trials, I was beaten by 0.4 points by my friend R on her mom’s 15 year old Arabian trail horse, who was a last minute show sub when her horse went mysteriously lame before the show.  I had moved up from last place after dressage to second after cross country, and there were 8.4 penalties between us and the blue.  R was a super good sport about it, and we joked all through dinner about how her horse would probably crash through every fence as his jumping career was limited to trails and shits and giggles prior to his entry at this show.  Murray and I put in a double clear stadium round and watched as R rode her round.  She and her horse took down two rails, and knocked the last rail on course, but it miraculously stayed up, keeping her the blue and me the red.  Though I would have loved to come home with a blue ribbon at our first show, R did an incredible job that weekend through every phase, and I congratulated her about it repeatedly and we laughed together about those 0.4 points.

Camelot Horse Trials -- but mostly tribulations!
Pretty in red.

Congratulating your friends on their rides is one of the first steps in sportsmanlike behavior, even if you don’t believe it or feel it at the time because you’re burning up with hatred that a 15 year old Arab just stole your blue ribbon.  If you pretend you are something enough times (in this case, happy for your friend who won!), eventually you’re going to start to be that thing.  And if that thing is kinder and more sportsmanlike, I’m not sure there’s a problem with that.  Whether you compliment your human or equine competition, there’s something to congratulate after every round, even if it’s just making it out alive.  “Good ride!” “Great round!” or “Congratulations!” are all you need say.

On a similar note, wish your competition good luck as they are about to start their round.  I was blown away when I was visiting a rated event and saw competitors wishing one another luck as they were about to enter the start box on cross country.  You would never have seen me wishing someone good luck as we stepped up to the diving blocks at a swim meet, and certainly not as I was about to listen to the opposing team at a debate (not a sport but something I also relished winning in middle school).  This sport is too dangerous for people not to have good luck and good rides when doing it – so build yourself some karma and be a good sport.

IMG_0939Even when teenagers beat you, say congratulations anyway.

  1. Graciously accept comments or compliments after your ride.

There is nothing worse than congratulating a competitor after a round and hearing them respond “Oh that was such an ugly ride,” or even worse, “My horse was TERRIBLE.”  You do not want to be the person who blames their horse for a bad round, especially when he doesn’t deserve it.  (This is not to say horses don’t have off days, but it’s not their choice to be at a show, it’s yours.)  So when someone congratulates you on your ride, open your mouth, and say “Thank you.”  You can add more if you would like, some excellent suggestions include “I had a great time,” or “She tried so hard for me!” or “We just moved up and I’m really proud of us.”  If you can smile and mean it while you do so, all the better.


Did you maybe have some rails or a refusal in your round and accidentally scream “DICKHEAD” when it happened?  Did you get penalized in your dressage test for your horse kicking out as you tried to pick up the canter right in front of the judge?  Did you have a sweet runout at the water in cross country, nearly shooting you over to the novice down-bank into the water and narrowly avoiding crashing through a flag by hauling hard right?  (Definitely none of these things have ever happened to me…)  Despite any of these things, appreciate that someone is congratulating you on the good parts of your ride and accept the compliment on behalf of your horse, if not yourself.

  1. Accept responsibility for your role in your ride – be it good or bad.

Though I’ve definitely blamed Murray for a bad ride immediately after it, I know that in the end, I’m responsible for our performance.  And if we’re getting 45s in dressage (penalties… not dressage scores!!) it’s not because Murray wasn’t doing what I was telling him to do, it was because I didn’t tell him the right things to do.

By the same token, if I have a good ride, I know that it’s not all on Murray.  Sure, he is a super honest angel who will jump anything I point him at, but to get there he still needs someone to do the pointing.  Last time I checked, he can’t read a course map.  So I let myself glow a little bit even though I give Murray the majority of the credit.

DSCF0881It was an ugly fence, that’s for sure, but at least I got us  pointed at it!

  1. Stop comparing yourself to your competition. Seriously, stop it.

Despite what the ribbons say, and the rankings, and the points, and the end of year championships, the person you are competing with most at any given competition is yourself.  You are trying to put in your best ride, bring the best out in your horse, and the only person whose performance you should be concerned with is yours.  Maybe other people have nicer horses than you – nothing you can do about it.  Maybe other people have been riding for longer than you – nothing you can do about it.  Maybe other people have ridden at a higher level than you and are at an advantage at this level – nothing you can do about it.  Are you sensing a theme here?  If you stop comparing yourself to other riders, you can concentrate more on making you and your horse look like absolute BAMFs, which is what it’s really all about.

10169175_10203710065984964_5712793615560172615_nHe knows what his job is!

  1. Respect the judges’ rulings, even when you disagree.

Let’s go back to my most glorious dressage score: that one time I got a 50.  Yeah, it reads the same in eventing and dressage, don’t worry about it.  I didn’t get the most entertaining score in eventing or dressage because the dressage judge had a wicked hate-on for 5’1” Australian girls riding scrawny bay thoroughbreds — I got it because we sucked and even then the judge was generous!  (And on the off chance that the dressage judge does have some kind of weird, discriminatory hatred for me, there is nothing to do about it, so there’s no point dwelling on it.)  I know nothing about the hunter world, but I imagine that hunter judges also make riders upset sometimes.  However, these people are officials for a reason, and regardless of what you think about their ruling, it happened.  And you should respect that it happened, no matter where it puts you in the standings.

Deriding a judges’ decision is not only disrespectful to that judge, but it is also disrespectful to everyone else who was judged by them.  Inevitably, people were judged differently than you were, and to say that your scores were inappropriate also says that others’ scores were inappropriate.  And yes, that means you’re diminishing the good scores as well as the bad.  So look for the good in any judges’ decision and keep any negativity you might have to yourself – or get it out quietly in private and never say it again.

dressage sheetThis judge tried to disqualify me for horse abuse (Murray threw an epic tantrum during the second canter circle, long story), but all of her comments on my test were reasonable, fair, and accurate — even if I didn’t think so while I was bawling at the time. (Also, my kitten kindly obscured the judges’ name for anonymity. Thanks Milo!)

  1. Keep trash talk to a minimum.

This is not only polite behavior, because ears are everywhere and somebody will probably overhear things you don’t want them to hear, but goes back to something I touched on in number one: if you say something enough times, you’ll probably start to believe it.  And the things you might say in disappointment are probably not actually true.  Talking smack about your competition might feel good at the time, but it is really not a sustainable strategy long term.  And think about what you’re really saying: if you deride the person who won as having a mule-like horse that looks lame and can barely jump, what are you actually saying about yourself? Logical rejoinder: it’s that your horse did worse, moves worse, or looks worse than a mule who looks lame and can barely jump.  Don’t talk smack.  Just don’t do it.

murraySeriously — I pay more attention to this than trash talk.

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

I left little hints about this all throughout the blog – it’s kindof my life mantra.  It’s hard, I know.  It’s taken me the last seven years to learn not to sweat the small stuff, with consistent coaching from my boyfriend, and I still fall into that trap.  But if you can let all the little stuff fall away from you, then you’re going to find yourself having a much better time, and a lot less stressed out.


TOABH: Wish We Could

Beka, let me just say that I am loving this blog hop series!

Wish We Could
Let’s pretend that financial restrictions don’t exist and logistics isn’t a nightmare.  If you could do anything with your Ponykins, what would you do?

I would take Murray to as many Area VI and some Area VII events as I could, at whatever level we were, to try to qualify for the American Eventing Championships at the end of the season — probably an event or more a month, honestly.  As it is, the two limitations above are pretty big ones for us; I can neither afford to go to enough events to qualify nor do I have the time to do so.  You need to place 1st-3rd in at least 2 rated events or 1st-3rd at a regional championships (which means that you already placed 1st-3rd at an earlier rated event that year),  with no cross country refusals, in order to qualify (er, could be wrong on that one, but that’s my basic interpretation).  Given that a rated event runs anywhere from $600-1000 once you include hotel, gas, and food, I can afford to do approximately one in any given year, until I get a real person salary.  But Murray and I LOVE eventing, and with any luck I’m going to have a Real Job soon, so hope for this exists on the horizon.

IMG_5527More of this!! Lots more! And bigger. And faster. TWSS.


Why no change of discipline?  Well, honestly, I’m not super into any of the Western competition disciplines, so that kinda rules out one side of riding.  I’ve done a bit of horseback ranch work before, growing up, and I like it but I don’t know that it’s a goal of mine.  And other English disciplines just aren’t as fun to me as eventing!  I’d love to fox hunt sometime, but I know that with his current mental blockage about groups of horses in big spaces Murray could not handle that.

So, what do you wish was possible with your pony?!

last show of the season & beginner novice debut!

Murray and I headed to our last show of the year last weekend; a little fundraiser schooling show just 15 minutes away. After two horse trials at intro, Murray and I were ready to jump a bit bigger away from home, and entered a beginner novice derby and an intro jump round (for a cheater’s warm up).

The morning had a bit of a rocky start, when Murray pulled back while tied to the trailer (not an uncommon occurrence, and I’m always ready with baling twine or a break-away tie) and managed to sting himself on the outside of his right cannon bone. I’m not entirely sure how he did this, but after breaking the baling twine away from the trailer Murray pathetically held that right hind off the ground as blood dripped off it. When I tried to walk him out, he made like his leg was completely broken, and I nearly gave up on riding our dressage test at all that morning. Alana told me to tack up anyway and that he would probably walk out of it, which, fortunately, was correct.

I have to say, starting your morning thinking your horse has just eliminated himself from your dressage ride is a great way to go into a test without worrying needlessly! I was so happy just to be able to ride the test that I couldn’t worry about any of the little things that normally stresses me out about dressage. We had a far from perfect test – the particular indoor we were riding in is pretty spooky, and Murray must have been a bit magnesium deficient because he was serious about avoiding both a patch of sunlight and the judge’s table as we trotted around the arena for the first time. At A when I asked for him to trot again, Murray caught sight of the riders jumping out on the adjacent field, and had a mini tantrum about why he couldn’t be doing that too. He still wasn’t perfectly compliant, I still struggled with him actually listening during the test and not reverting to motions he has memorized, but a big part of that is his nerves. So that’s a big project for us this winter.

Jumping, a mix of stadium and XC jumps on a big grass field, was a bit of a planning disaster. I missed the window to walk my Intro course because people were riding the entire time I was free, and I rode during the designated walk time. The course map wasn’t perfect, and I watched a few riders before me, but went in with just a general idea of the course. Murray was a bit backed off during warm up and so I worked on getting him ahead of my leg and responsive, but still relaxed, which has been the focus of our recent rides at home. When we got on course, I was a little surprised that I didn’t have the jump-seeking-missile that Murray has previously turned into on stadium and cross country. He backed off to a few fences (especially ones with filler we’ve never seen before), but I had his shoulders and stayed calm and confident, so we had no real problems, except that he got stronger and ruder as the course continued. I went off course because I couldn’t see the straight line between jumps five and six (super good job driving, as always) and as we approached the last fence, a pretty inviting , long row of straw bales I could feel Murray pulling right. I closed my right leg and right rein, and Murray responded with a big “EFF OFF” and ran right past the jump. No worries – I’ve known for a little bit that I have to keep my aids to a whisper for the best response, and I certainly didn’t do that, so I take full responsibility for that one.

Our beginner novice ride was interesting. We had many of the same jumps as the intro course, simply set higher, but jump six was changed from an X to a set of barrels. Upon reflection, the last time Murray jumped barrels he was having a major melt down cross country schooling, so probably he has a little PTSD from that. Murray ran out twice at the barrels, and finally took it when I trotted him to it super defensively. Other than that, we had no other problems, except for the same hesitation at jumps that were a bit bigger with new filler. I was exceptionally proud of Murray when, as we were approaching jump three, a strong gust of wind actually blew the filler down and it fell to the ground and Murray listened to me and jumped with just a tiny detour (but no circle) anyway!

All in all, a pretty great outing for the little baby five year old, with lots to be proud of. This was Murray’s first time out at somewhere completely new, jumping things he’d never seen before in that context – and in several cases, things that he’d never seen before period. He jumped all of it, most of it with just a little additional encouragement needed from me, and jumped pretty tidily as well. It was also a great way to reveal the holes in our training and things we really need to work on for next season: bravery, of course, but also relaxation, responsiveness, and listening skills. The same fundraising show runs in May as well, so I can’t wait to go back and see how much we’ve improved by then!

Camelot Horse Trials — but mostly tribulations!

This weekend I attended the first of the Summer Horse Trials series at Camelot Equestrian Park.

If you live in Northern California and haven’t heard about Camelot, you should get on that link!  Camelot is an amazing facility for all riders!  With multiple dressage courts, two stadium arenas, a cross country course catering to riders from intro to intermediate (with more jumps being built every day!!!), miles of trails and hills, there is something there for every rider.  They take meticulous care of their footing and provide plentiful, safe housing for horses staying overnight at a great price.  And they have events for all — two-day horse trials (and their first rated event next Summer!), hunter/jumper shows, dressage shows, hit the trail for life, ride and dine.  Did I mention their super, super, super reasonable pricing?  XC schooling for the day is $15.  FIFTEEN DOLLARS GUYS.  In short: GET THERE AND CHECK IT OUT!

Their footing is so good Murray can’t help but roll in it…

Our cross country school the night before the event went really, really well.  Murray acted up in every way I thought he would: he panicked at a cloud of dust brought up by the wind, couldn’t stand still, and refused the tiniest jumps; only singing “Yellow Submarine” kept me from tears (a coping strategy provided by DStew, more details on this later).  My trainer (Alana) and our assistant trainer (Tatiana) worked me through it though, and we ended on a really strong note after jumping all over the course.  (Another benefit of Camelot as a show location for inexperienced horses and riders: they let you school the course before you do it!)  Murray and I entered at intro. Though we have schooled up to 2’9″ at home (ok, one jump) I wanted our first horse trials to be a relaxed event for both of us, with an all-positive cross-country filled with running, jumping, and no baby horse/Bad Eventer antics.  Recently Murray and I have had some problems that I haven’t been able to get to the root of.  At our most recent XC school at a nearby facility, Murray kinda…. melted down.  He couldn’t figure out how to go forwards, and spent most of the second half of our time out there going sideways and backwards unless directly pointed at a jump from a few feet away.  M has melted down a few times at home too, and has been really strong and opinionated in our jumping lessons (bucking before and after jumps, through the changes, and grabbing the bit and running away, to mention a few of his opinions).  I wanted to enter at a level where I was beyond confident we could do the jumps, so I could just concentrate on getting the job done, instead of that job we had to get done.

Thankfully, ponyface loves the water.

The morning of dressage was a little more eventful than I had wanted.  I was running a little short on time after braiding and Tati offered to bridle Murray while I changed into my show clothes.  As I closed the tack room door, I heard that all-too-familiar cry: LOOSE HORSE*.  My last show at Camelot, one unfortunate soul’s horse got loose four times, and I had just been reflecting on how lucky we had been that there were no loose horses so far.  After a second, I snapped to: that’s probably MY HORSE that’s loose.  Sure enough, as I opened the tack room door, I saw Murray bucking his way across our line of stalls, dressage saddle slipping precariously back and pad nearly completely shed.

Like this, but without the rider.

Thankfully, Murray stopped for a chat with his friends and we managed to get things righted.  It only took four of us!  In warm up, Murray got out a few more of his baby nerves bucking at the canter and giraffing around the arena.  Thankful for shows that run late, we got a bit more time to warm up and relax before entering the ring.  We put in a solid dressage test, an improvement from a schooling combined test back in April, with some really lovely moments.  Murray couldn’t relax enough to really show off his beautiful neck and back, but there were times when he shined.  We even got an 8 on the right canter circle!

Sleepy pony after dressage & antics….

Cross country warm up was an utter disaster.  They were running an hour late as the YEH judge was nowhere to be found, and the warm up arena was packed with galloping ponies.  Murray immediately reverted to panic mode: sideways, backwards, half-pass, turn and spin were the order of the day.  Instead of panicking, I employed some of Alana and Tati’s tactics from the day before and took Murray to a quiet part of the warm up to do some polite canter transitions and quiet canter circles.  This worked beautifully, and when things calmed down a bit in the warm up we did our warm up jumps.  That was a bit challenging, as Murray was still pretty distracted, but after six pretty spastic solid jumps Alana and I thought we were warmed up enough for intro.

When we got to the start box, Murray was still a little confused about what the plan was.  We did get into the start box though, and out of it.  Once we got about six strides out to the first jump, Murray locked on and broke into a canter, which is honestly the best feeling in the world.  We ran a fast intro round (30 seconds under optimum, oops) without any run outs or refusals, and Murray locked onto every single jump.  There were a couple of moments when he wasn’t sure exactly where we were going, but steering isn’t his job, it’s mine!

Stadium on Sunday morning was also fantastic.  Warm up was much of the same: too many ponies + too much action = distracted baby horse.  We leapt over the X and vertical a few times and called it good.  Waiting for stadium was honestly the worst: Murray couldn’t stand with any of the other horses, but he couldn’t stand to be away from them.  He couldn’t watch the stadium rounds because it made him nervous, but he couldn’t look away.  Some cleverly timed and over-bent figure-eights (thanks Tati!) helped him get his brain back together, and I was extremely proud when the gate opened for our round and Murray marched right towards it.  Wait until the other horse gets out maybe?  Nope, Murray is going, and I’m not stopping him.

Don’t tell me what to do!

Once in Stadium, Murray was confused again. Where is jump one? What is this sea of crazy? Where do I go? Oh god, what is that whistle?!  My plan of cantering him around a bit to settle went out the window, and we rather uncoordinatedly trotted towards jump one.  Fortunately for us, Murray’s instincts kicked in: once pointed towards jump one, a little kiss got him moving and he became very rideable for the entire course.  I am super lucky to have a horse that is just spooky enough to be careful over everything and weirdly braver away from home, but who is also willing to listen to me when I say “no for real, we’re jumping this jump.”  We didn’t even have any of the over-tired pulling problems from our recent lessons, and Murray still jumped things that I aimed him to poorly.

Murray flexing his sweet abs during our mini-victory gallop.

Over all, a super, super successful weekend where I accomplished all of my goals and more.  We lived and made it through all three phases without getting eliminated.  Even better, we finished on our dressage score!  I worked out some of the kinks in our riding, and figured out how to warm up without killing my horse or crying in frustration.  Murray proved to me that he does like eventing and is capable of everything I ask and more!  A shiny red ribbon was just icing on the cake.

* My trainer heard this in the warm up as well, as Murray galloped toured the stabling area.  As people around spread the word and half-heartedly attempted to catch my bucking steed with nothing to grab on to, Alana recognized Murray and said “Oh, it’s just Murray.”  Evidently, the other trainers found this quite amusing.