potions class

A few more rides and lunging sessions later, Murray’s NQR is invisible and I’m quite happy about it. ¬†Sure, it could come back, but¬†if it’s intermittent or related to being stiff from being stuck inside, then that worries me a bit less. ¬†I plan to keep an especially close eye on him, and we will play it by ear and continue to evaluate as Winter progresses.

jan-play3Unfortunately, while Murray’s body seems fine, his brain seems to have gone awol. ¬†I had a jump lesson Friday that was just an exercise in Murray antics and opinions — he was generally uninterested in going anywhere near the chairs in the corner of the arena, which have been there for a solid two years, or near the gate which we had just come in through, or over any part of the footing that had been smoothed or looked in any way out of the ordinary. ¬†My insistence that he actually¬†do these things resulted in some mild body flailing, a tiny bit of screaming and, of course, many tail swishes. ¬†He took a really hard look at one of the fences, tried to stop, decided he was going to go, LAUNCHED himself over it, bucked upon landing, and somehow I managed to stay in the saddle. ¬†After convincing him to just go¬†forward¬†over a few more fences¬†I called it quits as clearly¬†something was up.

I have a few theories.

It is vaguely possible that whatever magnesium product I am using right now is not really working or I need to feed more. ¬†But given that I’ve had problems on this batch of magnesium before, I think it’s time to give another brand a try. ¬†I’m going with Performance Equine’s MagRestore and — just for shits and giggles — I’m going throw in some Focus too. ¬†Focus promises to “Promotes a willingness to please and a winning, confident, cooperative mood. Use prior to and during competitions, workouts or rehab. Useful in any stressful situation. Decreases excitability while maintaining energy for work.” (straight from the manufacturer’s website) ¬†It sounds¬†like witchcraft to me, but with a money back guarantee on a 7-day trial… why not! ¬†(If that doesn’t work, I’ll try Quiessence, a fan favourite at our barn. ¬†If¬†that doesn’t work, we’ll move on to SmartCalm, or even SmartCalmUltra. ¬†If¬†that doesn’t work… we go digging for a hidden testicle.)

Murray could also be intensely sore from our dressage work, and letting me know the jan-play1work load is a bit intense in the only way he knows how. ¬†An insane amount of spooking¬†doesn’t seem to be the most straightforward method of presenting this fact to me, but it certainly is one way of expressing feelings.

And then there’s the turnout situation… We’re going on three weeks of no turnout at this point, and with a flooded outdoor arena we can only rotate horse through the indoor for as long as we have before someone wants to use the indoor to ride in. ¬†I had turned Murray out alone in the indoor a couple of times to absolutely no positive effect — ¬†he just wandered around, rolled, and then chatted with his friends stabled near the arena. ¬†But on Friday I turned him out with one of his besties, Connor, and it was a¬†completely different story. ¬†He and Connor have, as Connor’s owner puts it, “a deep understanding of one another” and played pretty constantly for half an hour. ¬†The next day they played for an hour. ¬†And then I had a couple of really nice rides.

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I’ve always know that Murray isn’t exactly a good-on-no-turnout kinda guy…. but for some reason this year he has¬†really managed to keep it together in the barn. ¬†In the past, when he’s been locked inside he has struggled to mind his manners inside the barn, so I would lunge him or turn him out before even attempting to tack up. ¬†But this year I have a strangely reasonable horse inside the barn, and then this super unreasonable horse under saddle. ¬†Maybe Murray just¬†really, really, really needed to get out and get some playtime and excess energy done away with?

We will see. ¬†I’m basically throwing everything I have at him —¬†such a good scientific method — to see if that improves anything. ¬†Then I’ll start to eliminate things and see where it leaves us.

not the good kind of funk

I spent much of today feeling rather… blergh.¬† I have to re-investigate a part of my analysis that I thought I was ready to just put behind me, and the fact that I have to open that whole can back up irritates me.¬† That was but a minor part of my mood, though.¬† I recently found out that a family friend is super irresponsible with animals (one of those who adopts pets just because the kids think they are cute, then return/rehome them when their landlord demands it or the kids grow tired of it) and I can’t seem to get over it.¬† I’m not close with this person and could not have stopped any of this before I found out about it (but you can bet your sweet ass I will be opening my big, fat mouth in the future), yet the feeling of anger and disappointment is hanging over me.¬† This categorically puts this family friend in the “you are a bad person” category, where once they were just, well, a well-intentioned dullard.

handle-yo-shitthat shit being not getting pets you can’t care for

But the bigger piece of the down-home funk is that Murray has been not quite right for much of this week.¬† Now, all of the horses have been stuck in their stalls since before the new year, as the steady rain (thank you, El Nino, I don’t even care that it is unpleasant because we need this) has kept the pastures 8″ deep in mud.¬† Murray’s been working a bit harder, and the footing in our indoor is due for replacement.¬† He’s been a little stiffer on the left hind than usual, and I even saw a bit of a short-step at the walk when I took advantage of the empty arena to turn him out. But there was no head bob, he didn’t seem in pain, and is otherwise frisky and generally Murray-ish so it definitely fell into the most irritating category of possible horse lameness.¬† I’ve never had to deal with it before (I know, I know, I’ve been lucky), so it’s a new adjustment and feeling for me.¬† My dressage trainer, with whom I had a lesson on Wednesday night, thought it was possible the lower joint in his hocks are fusing — apparently very common in sport horses? — but it was total speculation based on watching him go during my warm up.¬† (More on my lesson in a moment.)¬† He’s also felt a little off and hunchy in the canter, but not his usual hunchy-evasive with a hollow back.¬† More super-stiff-backed and sucked behind my leg while making a rolly, porpoise-y back… so weird.

However, when I lunged Murray on Thursday he was pretty even across both hind legs (I did bute him last night), and did his Murray-best to make me feel better. All I wanted was for him to spin around on the lunge line a little and assess his soundness, as well as let him get out any yayas stuck in there.¬† When I moved him out on the circle Murray frolicked in his most foalish fashion — throwing his legs in all directions and tossing his head down — but as soon as we started going on the circle he was all “business”.¬† “Business”¬† being a lazy, shitty trot.¬† We are working on it.¬† A few more episodes of antics — though nothing at all what I expected was hidden in there — and we determined that he was moving evenly behind and I can probably ride tomorrow, but we will continue to assess daily.¬† The ridiculous, nonsensical frolicking improved my mood greatly.

tell-me-again-oqaqpk

I’ve been giving him some bute, and just letting him sit isn’t going to do anything for him if it’s a stiffness/soreness kinda thing.¬† So work goes on.

My dressage lesson was very interesting.  Murray was stiff through his back, as usual, and not quite right.  Tina really called me on my rein length, pointing out that Murray is much fussier when my reins are floppy, and when I actually push him into a steady contact he is quieter.  We worked on using the lateral work to get him round, and Tina suggested I ride him always with a little bit of the shoulder-fore feeling to encourage him to really be round.  This is especially helpful now that Murray has discovered he can intentionally put his haunches to the inside and pretend I asked him for it which, most of the time, I did not.

taken

Since the indoor is (f0r) now our only arena and there are almost always fences in the way there is limited work for us to do the counter-canter.  And, since Murray was stiff and a little fussy already, Tina did not want to introduce the full counter-canter figure eight.  Instead she had me work on flexing Murray to the inside and outside on a big canter circle, getting the feel of the counter-canter without having to actually find the space to do it.

Tina didn’t have me work for long, but Murray was exhausted at the end of it.¬† Not sweating necessarily, but really struggling to keep himself together.¬† This was probably compounded by his soreness/stiffness/offness.¬† I am always really interested in how this happens, though.¬† Murray works, four or five or six days a week, and we work pretty solidly.¬† Then we get into a lesson with Tina and he is like “oh my god I am DYING right now” after a quick 30 minutes!¬† Tina is generous and gives us lots of walk breaks, and somehow Murray is like “I’m dying. I’m simply dying.”¬† So clearly… I need to work more like that on my own, because that is probably more like real work.

This week’s images brought to you by: my honest, irrational, rageful, and sometimes inappropriate feels.

too smart by half

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts and well-wishes last week.  I am happy to report that the Wragg fire is contained and mandatory evacuations have ended, and all our bonus-ponies get to return home!  I am even happier to report that no lives were lost in the fire, and that the emergency crews are unscathed.  Unfortunately, there are yet more fires burning in California, and fire crews will have their work cut out for them for quite a while.  My thoughts are with all of the emergency responders working to contain fires in California.

The Murraycoaster continues its thrilling and wild ride.¬† I didn’t ride too much last week — enough horsey drama was had and I needed sleep! — but I did get in one ride Friday and then Saturday we went schooling at Woodland Stallion Station.

During Friday’s ride I tackled one of those delightful goals from my list: determining if I need a new saddle.¬† One of my concerns about Murray’s fussiness and stopping jumping was that my saddle might not perfectly fit — I’d seen pics where the back of my saddle was lifting as we jumped — and I know that is not ideal.¬† So assistant trainer and I had a look at my saddle as well as some other saddles to determine fit.¬† Murray is not AT’s biggest fan (she usually has to twitch him/drug him/deworm him/etc., but she also gives him lots of love and pats) and he objected MIGHTILY to having a bare leather saddle put on his back by trying to run AT right over.¬† Fortunately, this was not her first time at the Murray rodeo and she was like “get a grip dude” and he settled down.

The even worse part of this bit of news is that my saddle really doesn’t fit.

IMG_3844You can kinda see the lifting here.

Cue epic sadness.

It’s too wide in the front and sits down on Murray’s shoulders, which could definitely cause some discomfort for him while I’m riding.¬† We popped a few different saddles on (“NOTHING EXPENSIVE!” I insisted.¬† Why? “I CAN’T AFFORD ONE.”) and one of the lesson saddles (a Pessoa) fit so AT suggested I go ride around in it.¬† Which I did.

Murray did not seem to have any problem jumping around in the lesson Pessoa.¬† Unfortunately, I hated it.¬† Absolutely hated it.¬† I hated it so much I nearly cried.¬† Murray jumped over everything, only balked once (and it wasn’t even at a fence), and I couldn’t ride in that thing.¬† I just couldn’t.

IMG_20150624_193357Plus that would have completely thrown off my recently-posted everyday tack setup

So I went back in, put my saddle on, and jumped around in that for AT.¬† Murray was fine.¬† No discernible difference from jumping in the Pessoa.¬† But AT could see that it really didn’t quite fit — with me in and out of the saddle, it still pressed down on Murray’s shoulder blades.¬† Off I ran to get a wither riser pad.

Bingo.

A saddle that fits the way it’s supposed to!¬† I was also really pleasantly surprised with the way I felt with the saddle raised in the front.¬† It was much easier to sit up straight and my leg felt good.¬† I popped around and was really happy.¬† And then I realised how abjectly tired and emotionally drained I must have been, because I nearly cried over saddle fit.¬† Saddle fit.¬† That is not something I typically cry over.

I tried to sleep early that night, but did not succeed, and thus when I headed out to schooling on Saturday I was still tired.¬† I probably should have trusted my instincts and no schooled that day, however I didn’t want to force a second trip (joke’s on me, I’m going on another trip to school there in two weeks) just on my behalf, and so I sucked it up and went schooling.¬† I rode terribly, and I cried twice, but I did it.¬† For the most part.

IMG_3731

Murray ditched me within 30 minutes of getting on, of course.¬† We were cantering towards a fence and the rest of the group happened to be walking in the opposite direction and when we passed Murray kinda lost control of his body and I ended up in the dirt.¬† I kinda landed on my feet but as Murray fruck out I lost my footing, and then did that thing you’re not supposed to do (hang on) and got dragged through the dirt because hell if I was going to let him gallop half a mile back to the trailers.¬† I can just see it now — Murray’s ass happily fleeing in a cloud of dust as he gleefully returned to the place from whence he came.¬† (At least he likes the trailer?)

Once again the exhaustion hit me and I started crying, but we cantered back, jumped the fence, and all was well and good for a while.¬† It’s hard to cry while you’re actively riding.¬† I’m pretty sure it’s a strategy of Alana’s to get me out of my head.¬† Oh Nicole, go do that thing over there! Yay you did it, happy now? Good girl.

We had some trouble at the next fence too, a Novice-sized house that I was totally amped to jump.¬† But coming up to it, all I could feel was Murray getting faster and stronger toward the fence, and I felt like I had zero control, and when I half halted to get a little attention back we came to a not-even-that-dramatic stop right in front of the fence.¬† I was like “look Alana, I’m not jumping anything bigger than BN or in any way scary after this fence, but I just have to get over this thing and then it will be fine. WTF.¬† I have no control.¬† He’s fast and strong and I don’t know what I’m feeling and I don’t trust him to go.”¬† And Alana was like “Girl, just sit back and dressage that shit. What you’re feeling is your Notorious OTTB rocking back onto his hindquarters before the fence, but he’s using any bit contact as an excuse to say no because he’s a rat bastard. So just half halt that monster with your seat and core if you need to*.”¬† And damn if it didn’t work.¬† Of course.

* Alana doesn’t actually speak like this. Much creative license was taken.

IMG_3800Beautiful uphill canter

After that I reminded myself to take the small options from now on because I clearly couldn’t life and did not want to overface myself or my horse.¬† Of course, that doesn’t mean I didn’t still somehow fuck it up.

jumpfailThat approach is way steeper than it looks and Murray slipped in the loose footing the first time and was like “NO WAY” (and slipped) the second time.¬† Both were spectacular fails.¬† I’m saving the other picture for my Everyday Fails wrap up post.

So yeah.¬† I’m struggling right now with not trusting my horse, which is shitty.¬† It’s not really a position I ever thought I’d be in.¬† For a long time I could at least trust him and myself to get over it, even if it wasn’t pretty or perfect.¬† I need to get my confidence in Murray back, get my lower leg under control (I’m putting those stirrups back down until he stops spazzing out over random artifacts in the arena), and both of us back to that place where we can trust one another.¬† And also that place where I don’t suck at riding.

IMG_3485

sore pony butt

So it turns out I did get Murray in a little over his head with schooling stadium right after a two week vacay, because the poor little pumpkin has such a sore tush right now that his hind end is tracking all crooked.  Whoops!  I really thought he would let me know that he was tired/struggling while schooling before we go to the point where he would get muscle sore after, but I guess we were both just having too much fun.

So I’ve been massaging his butt, sponging¬†on liniment, and riding him around at a marching walk and loose trot to get the oxygen flowing back to those big muscles. ¬†It’s also January, which last year was when Murray’s hamstrings got so tight he was trying to hold himself up on the wall by pushing his butt into it and gave himself a huge blanket rub on his ass. ¬†So it’s not unexpected, and every day that I ride him he’s felt a bit better and with any luck we’ll be back in business next week. ¬†C’est la vie equestrienne.

barebackI never take these pictures and am alarmingly bad at them.

Just because I’m not riding hard doesn’t mean we’re not working though. ¬†I rode in just a halter the last two days because why not (and also, New Good Horse attitude), and I added my quarter sheet today. ¬†We did leg yields, a little turn on the forehand, and even practiced some shoulder in and haunches in (our newest trick) all at the walk. ¬†Murray loooooves just having the halter on (or perhaps he looooooooves not having to work hard) and is even being a tiny bit of a dressage pony with halter contact which I think is super adorbs.

Alas, Murray’s disdain and hatred for our barn staff member¬†R and his wife (who often helps muck) is getting pretty outrageously extreme, and the silly kid nearly ran away from me in the barn aisle today because the muck cart was coming down the barn aisle with — sacre bleu!!!¬†— a dirty poopy bucket in it. ¬†I’m thinking I’ll have to pin a bag of treats outside Murray’s stall specifically for R to give him, so that Murray can stop ¬†being such a twit.

Since I can’t go XC schooling Sunday now (keeping it low key for the kid so he doesn’t¬†actually injure himself), I’m going to day drink mulled wine and take photos of the people who are riding instead. ¬†Because day drinking.

IMG_8826Bonus picture: my dog makes the most amazing faces when she runs.