shawna karrasch, part two

Sunday morning dawned clear and warm in comparison to Saturday (up to 47F from a thrilling 42F, which is lovely when you’re watching a clinic), and I took Speedy for a little walk and round pen run in the morning before our session. I clicked a bit for Speedy trotting and cantering when I asked, but I also let him stare out of the round pen and do his own thing a fair bit too.

Speedy came into the arena ready to play again, and Shawna walked me through the steps we would take to do A-to-Bs. First, we made sure Speedy was catching on to the target with Shawna. Once he realized that Shawna would give him treats AND let him play with the toy, he was right there. Then Shawna would say “ready? okay!” so that I knew she was about to send Speedy, and point toward me. After that, it was my responsibility to be as exciting as possible to get Speedy to join me.

targeting right before sending Speedy back to Shawna

After realizing that the person who had just sent him (and subsequently gone unresponsive) wasn’t going to be very interesting, Speedy was happy to head over to the other person and play with them instead. I love how much he loves people, and the more I’ve been clicker training with him the more he seems to want to engage with me, not just nibble on/mouth me.

I immediately saw application for this game at shows. Managing Speedy’s energy in a productive way away from home is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Lunging can be a great tool, but not all horses calm down and relax during lunging, especially in chaotic show environments. I also need something that helps me keep calm and engaged (a big realization I made during this clinic), so playing a game with Speedy in a lunging area rather than just sending him in circles and worrying about his responses to the outside world is going to be super helpful for me.

Speedy did not believe Shawna could possibly ignore his cuteness. She has a steel will.

Lots of clinic participants had questions about clicker training under saddle, and I really wanted to tack up and get on Speedy and do some clicking under saddle. Less so we could learn or demonstrate anything specific, but because I wanted Speedy to collect some clicks under saddle in a new place. So it worked out perfectly for me to tack up after lunch and come back ready to ride in my second session.

Luckily for me, when we got into the arena, Meika was turning out the resident horses at Polestar. Speedy was fascinated… and a little aroused. I let him stare out of the arena as the horse before us finished up, clicking when he would check back in with me or respond to me asking him to bring his head around with a direct rein aid. But he definitely wasn’t really with me, which he made clear by trotting off a few times and spinning to orient himself back toward the horses outside of the arena. I felt a little of that rising adrenaline that comes as fear just starts to softly grip me, and focused myself on what I could do. Could I ask Speedy to woah and click for that? No, not really. Could I click for him putting his head down? Surprisingly, yes. Could I let him look out of the arena to explore his environment and then redirect the energy back inward? Sometimes.

this gif slowed down in processing somehow, but this was a really adorable and enthusiastic walk responses from Speedy

Shawna asked us what we had been working on lately, and I responded with our process on the woah aid and asking Speedy to lower his head in response to rein pressure. So she set up a couple of targets so we could work on woah, clicking Speedy for slowing his motion as he approached the target rather than for actually touching the target.

Once we got into the game and Speedy realized Shawna was playing target with him, he completely forgot about the outside horses and focused inward on the game. It was awesome. I have never been able to successfully redirect any of my horses’ attention that quickly, from the ground or under saddle. And even though Shawna told me to just be a passenger and let her click and feed Speedy for the beginning of the game, I calmed down immediately. I’ve been thinking about this a ton since the clinic, since clearly my ability to manage my horse’s attention and energy in an environment is going to be affected by my own energy there.

I love how curious he looks here

Speedy was a great demo horse for clicker training under saddle. I had just charged up the actual clicker for him the night before (as mentioned previously, I usually use a tongue cluck a la Elisa Wallace) and under saddle the clicker itself was meaningless to him. So I paired the click with the cluck for him to start connecting them under saddle. Speedy also lost all the context for what the target meant when Shawna wasn’t with it, and instead tried to follow Shawna around. This required a little creativity on Shawna’s part to set him up for success. Once he did get that what he was playing with was the target, he immediately started to swing his head back to me after a cluck to get his reward…. after he took a moment to enjoy himself mauling the target a bit first.

The session wasn’t terribly productive in terms of solidifying or making progress on Speedy’s woah aid. However, it was very productive to help him start to play with targets under saddle, which will definitely be a piece I use to help us with other movements. And even more, it showed me just how much I can draw Speedy’s focus back into the arena with targets and games.

This is something I’ve struggled with at home, especially when things change outside the indoor arena doors Speedy is desperate to look at them and doesn’t always want to come back and refocus his attention on work. And who can blame him? But if I can make work more like games, I think Speedy will rejoin me much more readily.

It’s funny; I’ve been into clicker training for a long time now, but it took until this clinic for me to realize how much clicker training would benefit me in addition to my horse. Not just in having a better behaved horse, but by giving me a way to exert control over my environment and create predictability in strange settings. I’m training myself while I’m training my horse. It’s fricking genius. And it’s also exactly what I need.

it’s the brain for me

I’m almost caught up on late-October Speedy adventures, just in time for another visit! Later this week I will head down for a groundwork/horsemanship clinic that was supposed to happen last month, but got rained out. I’m very excited we managed to reschedule while Speedy would be with my MIL though, as her groundwork person is fabulous, and I’ve had trouble scheduling up here as all our good cowboys are retiring which has left the other horsemanship trainers extra busy.

On Wednesday of my first week with Speedy (October 27th), we planned to haul out to a local HJ trainer/friend’s place for a jump lesson. By the time Wednesday morning rolled around I was not so sure a jump lesson was a good idea. I’d trotted and cantered Speedy over a pole to test out a new jump saddle, and upon seeing the pole he promptly inverted and stopped moving over his topline. Which was, honestly, very understandable. We had done nothing but focus very specifically on changing the shape of his body and the muscles he uses to get around in a very controlled and specific way — that is, large circles and short straight lines — and then just four days into that new paradigm we threw a pole at him and he said “the only way I know how to address this problem is the way I’ve always addressed this problem”.

so cute to the fences

I know that better movement patterns over fences will come with time and practice. And I figured that at the very least, the jump lesson would give me a chance to focus on my jump position a bit and there would be little harm done to Speedy’s progress in the long run if we let him run around inverted for one day.

He was a dream to haul. Got right in the trailer and rode backwards in the slant (MIL got a wild hair to see if that would be a viable option in her trailer), then got out quietly when we arrived. Which is exactly what Speedy did when I saw him at the gel√ęndeplatz at Luhm√ľhlen — got off the trailer, looked around quietly, and then looked for a snack. His trainer specifically said to me “this is what he is like everywhere”, but I kinda didn’t believe him. I was wrong.

Right next to the arena, a cell network had staff servicing their cell tower with a crane lift and dues in harnesses. Speedy looked at them for about two seconds, decided they were not food and therefore were not worth attention, and ignored them for the rest of the ride.

The lesson itself was not great. HJ trainer — and I really feel like she did this in the best-intentioned way — recognized immediately that Speedy’s weakness is not moving over his topline and into the contact, and set about trying to help me fix that. Unfortunately, she took a completely different tack than MIL has been taking, but which also happened to be different from the way Speedy’s old trainer coached me to ride him. Since Speedy’s natural inclination is not just to come over his topline and drop into the connection, I didn’t get many opportunities to “follow and reward” him like she wanted me to. And since I’m not used to using my body the way HJ trainer was instructing, I couldn’t take as many of those opportunities as Speedy was offering me. It was…. not the best.

Speedy never stopped trying once, though. He did suggest maybe we could walk more (we could have, it was a pretty intense lesson) and he did break from the canter to the trot as I flailed around in the borrowed saddle trying to corral different parts of him. I hit him unnecessarily hard with the end of the reins at one point (a combo accident-frustration flail), I pony club kicked him when he didn’t move forward off my leg, I stuck my spur into him when instructed. And at no point did he offer to bolt, buck, or take the completely valid excuse of those construction guys and spook.

so cute over the fences!

The next day I made a point of taking extra time to fuss over Speedy while grooming him and made our ride very short and very rewarding (there were cookies). I could tell he was a titch unhappy to be getting tacked up again (chewing on the cross ties more than usual) and he didn’t offer me any prosocial grooming behaviors, but he was perfectly polite in the cross ties and quiet and responsive under saddle. Murray would have been running away from me during saddling or bridling for sure after that lesson (I used a bit he didn’t like for one ride and he refused to be bridled for two days afterward). I know my standards for pony behavior are kinda low, but this horse just has the best brain and attitude and gatdamn I am so glad I bought him.

The other thing this lesson reminded me of is that I really, really need to trust my gut and stick up for my horse when I think he needs it. I protected Murray by being very careful of the training/lesson/clinic situations I put him in, because he had a very special pair of very special kid gloves he needed to be very specially handled with, and I always made sure that new trainers or clinicians knew that he was one of those. I didn’t say anything during this lesson because of some slightly complicated social elements, but there were times in the lesson when I thought I should, and upon more reflection, I know I should have. I’m a fairly good communicator; I should be able to explain pretty clearly why I think something isn’t working for me and my horse. If a trainer can’t explain why this particular lesson is important enough to keep chipping away at or pivot and offer me something that I think is better for the horse, then I have to remember that I’m just fine walking away from that lesson.

Luckily, I don’t think there’s any permanent damage done. I think there’s a pretty solid path back to Speedy’s heart with treats, at least right now. It was worth my time to know how good Speedy will be off property and with shenanigans going on around him, and to remember that I do know a thing or two about horses that is worth piping up about.

camelot: final thoughts

Years ago, when I first started care leasing Murray, an adult rider whom I really respect told me that 8 is the magic age for horses. ¬†For Murray and I, 8 is pretty fucking magic. ¬†This is the year that everything is coming together, that all of our hard work is being reflected in out performance away from home as well as at home. ¬†I can feel myself riding better and thinking more, and Murray is doing the same! ¬†It is just the coolest feeling. ¬†I am so in love with eventing and showing now — I’m already desperately trying to figure out how I can squeeze the budget to get to more shows this year.

I have a collection of disorganized thoughts that didn’t totally fit in the other posts — or I didn’t think about them in time to write about them — from last weekend.

horse themed beverages for horse themed weekends

We’ll start with the big one first — we are so ready to move up. ¬†I told myself, and several friends, that if Murray and I went clear and within the time at this show, we’d move up to Novice at our next show. ¬†Even though we didn’t go clear, we’re totally ready to move up. ¬†Murray and I have been jumping Novice height at home for a while now, and while we haven’t done very many schooling outings or full-ish size courses at that height, I know all of the fences at Novice at the facilities I’m familiar with are well within our capabilities. ¬†A big part of my decision to keep us down at BN for so long (just three short years, nothing really!) was my own ability to ride and make decisions under pressure. ¬†I don’t have the ability to wing it at shows, I really need to know what I’m doing, and I don’t (yet) have the kind of horse where I could bumble around at anything above intro. ¬†I wanted to set the two of us up for success before this move, and I finally feel like we’re ready to be successful at Novice — and set our sights on training!

horse show shit sprawl
(I cleaned this all up to the trunk and blue box by the end of the day)

We had¬†so much fun!!¬†In the past, horse shows have been fun but fairly stressful. ¬†But this entire weekend we had fun, and the level of stress was low — and not just because we kept expectations low the whole time. ¬†It was just fun in general! ¬†I’m sure this will change as we move up, but I think I’ve finally managed to reach a place of zen about showing. ¬†Ultimately, I can only control how I ride and respond to my own performance. ¬†I can’t control whether or not Murray has a bug up his butt that day, how he feels about the footing, or whether or not the footing is any good. ¬†I can’t control what the judge thinks of us, how other people ride, or where we place in the pack. I can only prepare him as best I can before hand, set him up for a good ride, and ride my heart out. ¬†If I did all of that, what else is there to feel but happiness*?

*of course, you should remind me about that the next time I don’t perform as well as I should

Showing happy is SO MUCH BETTER than showing stressed. I have more to say about that but… basically, gonna try to hold on to this mentality for as long as I can in the future.

Showing has also become so much more routine for us. ¬†I didn’t forget to pack anything this time (okay, I forgot my Mango Bay belt, but I got a loaner), and I gave myself plenty of time before my rounds to tack up and get shit done. ¬†I didn’t need people holding my horse for me, or helping with my vest, I planned it all out, and got it done in advance. ¬†Murray was¬†great for tacking up too! ¬†Which always makes me happy. ¬†It’s a great feeling not to be stressed out because you’re missing stuff or running late for your ride time.

You know what else feels AMAZING at shows? ¬†Actually being able RIDE during your rides. ¬†For me, being able to respond to what’s happening during a dressage test and adjust for better movement is huge! ¬†I have been a passenger for so long, but now I can add bend or inside leg, or actually ask Murray to come through his back more without having to use an entire movement to reset. ¬†I’m pretty happy that I’ve developed that skill as a rider.

My horse is also plenty fit right now. ¬†We ran fast(ish), and not over a short course (1900 m), and Murray came off course barely sweating or breathing hard. ¬†And on Sunday he was fresh and ready to go over the fences, there was no fatigue there. ¬†I know that this is hardly a feat at beginner novice, but it made me feel good that my pony was more than adequately prepared for the event. ¬†I had tons of fun “getting fit” for the event, doing gallops at WSS, and hopefully I can keep those up this summer!

gallop position still needs work though.

My partnership with Murray and our¬†trust bank are so strong right now. ¬†I first felt the weight of all the deposits I’ve been making in the last few years at Twin, when he totally took care of me. ¬†And, as I predicted, when we were¬†both there for the ride, things went even better! ¬†Even better, we continue to grow as a team at an amazing rate! ¬†It’s super cool to feel the progress we are making right now. ¬†We are both in such a good place to learn, from one another and our trainers, and grow our partnership. ¬†And it really feels like that — a partnership.


planning ahead

Last year I forwent having any specific show goals because I knew that time and money would be in short supply pretty much all year. ¬†And they were, so I was very happy when we managed to sneak out¬†to just two¬†schooling shows. ¬†This helped me be nice and relaxed and, I hope, put Murray’s happiness and welfare first throughout the season, because I wasn’t constantly pushing to show, or thinking that I should be trying to move up (and therefore letting my crazy ideas of what I should be doing/training get in the way of what I should actually have been doing/training).

jumping with our eyes closed = best choice

This year, a lack of specific show goals has made me lazy. ¬†Any time the weather is in the least bit unpleasant, I’m inclined to turn Murray out or just feed him a bucket, pat him, and play with puppies in favor of riding. ¬†Sometimes this is eminently justifiable: often Murray benefits more from some supervised indoor turnout with friends than spazzing around with me in dressage tack. ¬†When the wind and hail are coming in sideways and the entire arena is creaking and groaning, no productive ride is going to happen, because I become as much of a hot, spooky mess as my horse. ¬†But in the grand scheme of my goals for Murray, to continue educating and turning him into a good horsey citizen, this doesn’t get us very far. ¬†And I¬†do want to show this year. ¬†So I had to commit to a show.

I decided a few weeks ago that I would shoot for the HT at Fresno County Horse Park at the end of April, giving me plenty of time (part of Feb, all of March, and all of April) to prep. ¬†But just this week, trainer told me that we would be schooling Twin Rivers first, and that despite being a little farther away, Twin was probably a better choice for us. ¬†There’s a conspicuous lack of train + buzzing power lines + piles of construction supplies roped off with caution tape that she thought would make both Murray and me happier. ¬†After hearing this, I tended to agree. ¬†I’ve never visited either facility, but construction and trains and power lines are a few things¬†I could show without. ¬†At least until we suck a bit less.

murray and surprises¬†don’t really mix

So Twin it is – probably. ¬†We’ll school this weekend in an amazing stroke of luck (thanks kids for leaving an extra spot in the trailer for me!), and then I’ll send in my entry if all goes well.

Of course, that got me to thinking about prepping for the show, and with a couple of pre-scheduled vacations and important trips coming up, there are some how only four riding weeks between now and the show!  AND ONLY TWENTY THREE RIDING DAYS.

Cue the panic.

triumphant (adjacent) return

I accidentally took off blogging for Lent.¬† (Actually, I reduced almost all the fun things in my life by a lot for Lent — riding, blogging, reading blogs, having fun, etc.)¬† I say accidentally because I am not nor have I ever been religious, but somehow I went into thesis lockdown mode around the beginning of Lent and came out of it around Easter.

And now I return. Trimphant.¬† Or triumphant adjacent, as I didn’t finish my thesis but I did get two chapters really nailed down and the third is underway.


We did get to do some XXXXXLLLL fun things towards the end of March and last weekend, starting with a Hawley Bennett clinic and ending with the best weekend all year — ADULT CAMP!

This year, one of B’s friends who is a dressage judge heard about our camp and thought it sounded SO FUN that she offered to come up and do a fix-a-test clinic with us for our dressage rides.¬† So an absolutely huge shoutout to Kalli Bowles for coming out and providing such excellent feedback.¬† I got on Murray and he was super quiet and responsive for warm up — a pleasant change from our previous attempts at dressage away from home — and he remained so quiet and reasonable for both our tests.¬† Plus our outfit was on point, so you know.


I went in for our first test and rode Murray exactly as I would at a show.¬† I focused on the things I knew I could fix without pushing him to be as good as he can be at home, as I know that can encourage Murray moments.¬† I rode the geometry hard, because I know that’s the only place I have left to be able to pick up points, and tried to keep my leg long and my hands up, and an even pressure between my hands, and Murray was so reasonable.¬† He just bopped along like the little dressage professional I’ve been trying to coax out for the last three years!¬† Kalli said that we put in a great test — good geometry minus some pilot error, and a very steady ride.¬† Steady is our number one goal, as almost all of my point deductions in the past have come from our inconsistent nature — in both contact and overall picture.¬† Her biggest suggestion was to increase Murray’s loin suppleness, as he braced in down transitions and wasn’t really swinging through his lower back.¬† I could tell this (as well as how crooked he was) from the ride, but after a month of 1.5 rides/week and then a quick jump week before the Hawley clinic, I was going to take it!

Our second test was even better.¬† Knowing that Murray was feeling good I went in and really pushed for the connection.¬† I still biffed some transitions due to not knowing the test, but Murray responded to every one of my requests for more with “okay”.¬† Kalli scored this test, and among lots of 6s and 7s we even got two 8s and only one 5 (the fetid down transition).¬† I have never been so proud of Murray — every time I asked for more he responded instead of reacting, and we put in two really solid tests in a scenario that has historically made him lose it.¬† I am really¬† hoping we can repeat this at the show in a few weeks.

Friday afternoon was stadium, and I applied some of the lessons from the previous week’s Hawley clinic and my subsequent jumping lesson with B. Murray’s and my issue of sometimes refusing fences for no apparent reason hasn’t completely gone away, but I’ve developed a much more reasonable strategy for dealing with it, and we only got better as the weekend wore on.¬† I only had one stop at a slightly scary fence, and our rides through a one-stride grid were pretty fantastic, so I’m not complaining there.

Saturday morning we schooled cross country and I could not have been happier.¬† Murray was so fun and cheerful and pleasant out on cross country — the happy, lovely boy that I know is (almost always?) in there.¬† The same principles applied as in stadium — keep your leg on and commit to the fence, and you will go.¬† Even if it wasn’t super pretty the first time, we got over it, and things got smoother as we schooled.¬† We got to school much of the Novice course as well as the BN course we will be jumping in a few weeks, including our first little jump-drop combo:

I have to give some big credit to my friend Anna for making me jump that.¬† After she schooled the training and prelim questions she told me I had no excuse not to… so I did it.¬† And it was fun!¬† I suck at drops still, but once again, if good horse will go, let’s go!¬† We ended up schooling the fence that ended the training course last year again, which is always a nice little confidence booster.¬† I’m not sure what I’m more proud of — that Murray was willing to go over the arrow even after nearly coming to a dead stop in front of it, or that we did it nicely a second time.¬† Both are really reasonable responses to that question!

Training arrow at Camelot from Nicole Sharpe on Vimeo.

The only discussion Murray and I really had to have at camp was on pace.¬† Murray decided that a certain tractor and gravel pile was just an unacceptable addition to the XC course, and he would not — under any circumstances — canter or gallop past it.¬† The first time I got him to trot by, but the second time he was so wrapped up in his own sense of self-and-Nicole preservation that we basically backed past the scary objects.¬† The frustrating part about this wasn’t that Murray was scared of that stuff, but that he didn’t listen to me asking him to slow down so we could pass them at a more reasonable and less terrifying pace.¬† Instead, he wanted to balls to the walls gallop down to them and then screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeech to a halt when he realised what terror awaited him.¬† This, of course, will not be acceptable when we actually try to run cross country.¬† So I schooled all around the terrifying hell tractor and its accompanying murderous gravel pile at a slow canter with Murray firmly bent away from said objects.¬† As long as we kept the gait I was asking for Murray got lots of pats and encouragement, and after all was said and done we walked up to those things and showed Murray that, really, they weren’t so bad after all.


Sunday morning saw us putting in yet another really solid dressage test and a fantastic stadium school over some big, scary, FULL GROWN beginner novice sized fences.  But there was terrifying new fill and Murray JUMPED IT ALL. Stuttery it may have been, but we WENT.  And if I can just stay out of his way enough, we will not have rails either.  With the best weekend all  year in the books, I return to thesis land and Murray gets a few days off to recuperate before we work on some suppleness and straightness before our show on the 16th!

PS — We did it all on only three shoes.¬† In fact, I need to text my farrier!¬† Friday morning before we left I discovered that Murray had wrenched his left hind shoe 4/5 of the way off and rotated it about 90 degrees on his foot.¬† Magical barn manager pulled the shoe off with her bare hands, did not compromise any of Murray’s hoof wall (she is magic, after all), pulled out one errant nail that was hanging down, and we went on our merry way.

PPS –¬† did you know the flying potato got to come too?!¬† But I will leave that story to Peony….


taming the tiny Napoleon

I’m not sure if I should blame it on my Asian upbringing or my big brothers or what, but I am, deep inside, a fiercely competitive person. ¬†Throughout my swimming “career” I loved racking up the ribbons, and even more appreciated moving up time divisions (that was a cleverly devised scheme to get people competing in more appropriate speed brackets as well as encouraging progress). ¬†Once, at a fifth grade swim carnival (that’s what swim meets are¬†called in Australia, swimming “carnivals”, it’s so much more festive)¬†I came up from behind in a race to shockingly beat the older, bigger girls in my group, and that night my mother heard me sleep talking to myself repeating over and over, “yeah, I won.”

So it’s been interesting to see how my naturally competitive nature meshes with riding, where not only am I an amateur even among amateurs, but a creature with its own mind and set of opinions comes into play. ¬†Luckily for me, I have happily embraced the collaborative and cooperative aspects of riding — helping one another out, good sportsmanship, etc. — as well as the mentality that the only person I’m competing against is¬†myself. ¬†I truly believe that, too. ¬†Every show I go to I aim to do better than I did last time; to have cleaner, more balanced turns or crisper, quieter transitions. ¬†To not get eliminated for horse abuse.

There’s just this one tiny problem with that.

Camelot Horse Trials -- but mostly tribulations!

I’ve been rewarded a few too many times — emotionally and literally — for doing better than the people around me for placings to¬†truly¬†mean nothing to me.

Additionally, and even more importantly, the kid and I have been working¬†hard on our dressage. ¬†And through a lifetime of doing it off and on, I’ve kinda learned that hard work pays. ¬†It pays in cleaner, more balanced turns and it pays off in crisper, quieter transitions. ¬†But it also pays off in better rides, better scores, higher placings, and the emotional cache¬†happiness that comes with knowing you finished on your dressage score at your first rated show succeeding in knocking several goals off the list at once and proving to the haterz that Murray is a badass. (He has no haters, I’m his only hater.)

I deeply respect the slow work lifestyle. ¬†I respect it in¬†SB (recent BAMF at a dressage show near you), Jenn (working hard to be the best partner possible for her horse), and Lauren (kicking ass and taking names in the 2’9″) among many others. ¬†I respect it in the friends I have in the real world and in myself. ¬†But accepting and embracing slow progress does not mean I do not have expectations. ¬†And it does not mean those expectations don’t get a little, uh, out of hand sometimes.

You see, like another tiny person much more famous than I, I seem to have these rather grandiose hopes.

LOL new fave pic of this guy.

You know, I hope that we can look a little bit more like this.

5-21 dressage 3


Aaaand less like this.

5-21 dressage 9


More this.

5-21 dressage 8


Less this.


Not to put too fine a point on it, but I basically hope that we can perform at least 75% as well as we typically do at home.  And honestly, is that really too much to ask?

I think not. But I let my expectations run away with me. ¬†One¬†advantage of photographing shows it that I get to watch a lot of dressage tests, and thanks to things like StartBox Scoring I know what¬†low scoring tests¬†look like. ¬†I know that if we could ride in a test like we ride at home (on a good day) we could¬†easily blow our current scores out of the water, as well as much of the competition I’ve seen at our level. ¬†Yes, I’m bragging, because I am absurdly proud of the work we have done. ¬†When he wants to, Murray¬†can dressage like a mofo. ¬†At home, my horse can be an absolute dressage¬†beast.

Unfortunately, he can be an absolute actual beast as well. ¬†The kind that doesn’t like it when you try to touch the rose in his secret attic and gets all hulked out when the villagers come to burn down his mansion that’s probably super flammable due to all the wood lacquer. ¬†The kind that says “bitch can’t tell me what to do” in the second half of the left canter circle, bucks and switches to the right lead, then gets super upset and confused that¬†someone made him switch to the right lead and is now forcing him to counter canter and discombobulatedly falls into a trot only to scream in horror when asked to finish his left canter circle. ¬†The kind that convinces dressage judges he’s mightily abused and that someone ought to be more sympathetic with her aids.

I was sympathetic the first five times I asked.

This dichotomy means that I have to be pretty careful in managing my expectations. ¬†Sure, we could perform just as well as we do at home. ¬†And that would be¬†amazing!!! ¬†But more likely, we will put in a conservative, workman-like test that is nothing spectacular but doesn’t result in elimination. ¬†Shit, who am I kidding. ¬†A workman-like test where we can maintain some semblance of steadiness without any tantrums in it would be a¬†spectacular showing for us. ¬†Much more likely we will put in a strategically under-ridden, mediocre test where Murray insists on noodling his way up all the long sides. ¬†Quite possibly we will perform a test where Murray’s Beast Mode emerges and I could very well get eliminated in the first phase, or be happy about my fave score — the one that reads the same whether you do eventing dressage or dressage dressage — again.

Some of these options do not live up to my short-man syndrome expectations.  And for three out of four of these options I will cry over my test, either due to extreme happiness or the let down of not being able to perform as well as I know we can.

IMG_1632At least after the competitive pony prancing we get to do this!!!!

It’s extremely helpful to remember that this is just a step in the careful, long-term plan I have for this pony (thanks RBF for this reminder!). ¬†On my budget, I can’t¬†quite afford to get him oot and aboot enough to really make showing feel like schooling at home, so I must play the hand that is dealt when I get to the show grounds. ¬†Regardless of whether¬†Murray shows up willing or unwilling to play the game, the show must go on. ¬†It will be a learning experience for both of us: I will learn how far I can push Murray, and Murray will learn, once more, that pushing my buttons in the dressage court means he gets away with anything he can throw at me¬†we are doing this, regardless of what he throws down. ¬†Unless the thing he throws down is literally his body, in which case we may be fucked.

And it’s just a show, right? ¬†There will be many more in our future, and every time we have a chance to fix what we didn’t do right last time. ¬†Maybe one day we won’t change leads or kick out at some point in the left canter circle. ¬†One day soon we’ll get through the walk-trot transition without some kind of passive-aggressive bulging abdominal muscles and snake-eyed avoidance. ¬†In my dreams I ride a horse that piaffes on command not because he is spooking at a piece of grass.

But I can’t help but hope.

I mean, I’ll essentially be dressed like this anyway….

So I will continue to prepare for my¬†great expectations. ¬†There’s literally no point in preparing for a bad test, except mentally. ¬†I will warm up as I have planned to and hope to get Murray to the sweet spot of settled but not overworked and pissed. ¬†I will trot down the centerline with a smile on my face, leave all my expectations at A, and ride like I have nothing to lose. ¬†Because I don’t.


how do you show prep?

If it seems like Camelot Equestrian Park Horse Trials are the only think I can talk, write, think, or dream about at the moment, it’s because they are. ¬†Seriously. ¬†Coming up on my first rated horse trials has my brain whirring and I am all about it. ¬†I’m super, super, super, super, super, super excited. ¬†It doesn’t help that my brain is in¬†total summer mode which means I’m thinking about all poniez all the timezzzzzzz and that’s really all I want to do all day errey day.

As I’ve spoken about a bit before, I do have a plan for show prep. ¬†And to be honest, I feel a little bit silly that I’ve gone into “show prep” mode and that it’s so different from my every-day riding. ¬†But it¬†is different. ¬†I don’t ride every day to do dressage tests — lots of the exercises I do in my every day are for strengthening and suppling and not really for perfect circles and crisp corners. ¬†Maybe I should be riding perfect circles and crisp corners all the time? ¬†I dunno. ¬†But the things I like to do every day in my dressage rides (a little more counter canter each week, working on the haunches in, etc.) are not the things that need to be polished for a good dressage test. ¬†Likewise with jumping — no placement poles in the stadium arena! ¬†Those things are super useful, but they are not going to be present in competition.

These don’t show up at BN. They just don’t.

So here it is.  My show prep.  And I want to know what YOU guys do for show prep so I can see if I should do those things too!

Dressage Prep

Dressage requires by far the most prep for me. ¬†This year, I’ve been prepping by riding a lot of tests on Murray, and reminding him (and myself) that just because we’re inside the white plastic thingies does not mean that either of us can get away with slacking. ¬†I want transitions when I ask for them, and that means requiring that I prepare for them well in advance and let Murray know they are coming. ¬†It also means that he must listen to me when I ask for those well-prepared-for transitions. ¬†(They are our biggest struggle — for real.)

I also do a full dress rehearsal. ¬†Yeah. ¬†Like in theatre. ¬†I get up in the morning (or the afternoon or whatever — I try to approximate my ride time) and I groom and braid Murray like I would at a show, and tack up. ¬†I also time myself, so I will know how much time I need. ¬†Then I change into my show shirt and coat (I always groom in my breeches with coverup pants on. ¬†More on that later. ¬†If I’m even a little sweaty I really struggle to get into pants.), ¬†warm up, and do a test ride. ¬†I’ll sometimes do a second test ride if I feel like we both need it.

The dress rehearsal is important to me because it let’s me ballpark how long I will need to get braided and ready. ¬†I really can’t trust Murray not to rub out a braid, and I’d rather occupy him with treats or hand-grazing after he’s braided than put him back in his stall. ¬†I guess I could get a sleazy on him but… nah. ¬†It’s also important for me to feel how I move in my dressage breeches and coat and how that influences my riding.

2014-07-10 12.17.26Why did she do this to me?!


I think preparing for stadium is the least different from my regular rides than any other phase. ¬†In stadium away from home I want Murray the same as I want him at home — brave and forward. ¬†I am a little more nitpicky about my position and the way Murray responds to me. ¬†I demand balance in the corners and¬†listening. ¬†But for the most part, I do those things on any day. ¬†The real prep for me is that I like to have one, bigger-than-I’m-going-to-show jump lesson¬†about a week out from the show. ¬†I warm up like I would at a show — jump an X, a vertical, and an oxer a little below or at height — and then do a course cold. ¬†I used to have this weird issue where I would ride in warm up and then stop riding on course, and obviously that led to issues. ¬†So I practice like I would at a show to get myself in the right mindset. ¬†In the fall I coursed 3′-3’3″ for the first time right before a show and it put me in SUCH a confident place. ¬†In the next week and a half or so I’ll probably try to do that again in a lesson (building up to it): warm up like at a show, jump a 2’7-3′ course cold, then move the fences up if we’re feeling good.

crop1I hope we’ve got this.

Cross Country

I will admit to being a little nervous about cross country this time. ¬†When Murray and I were showing at intro, it didn’t matter if we approached something badly because I knew I could get him turned back towards it and step over it if we needed to. ¬†Camelot is known for having gnarly courses, and it has been no different in the past. ¬†And in prep for their rated event, they’ve been turning all their fences into magnificent works of art.


This joyous moment came about because of that stone wall in the background. ¬†I didn’t realise it at the time, but Murray was terrified of it. ¬†And this was our first time to Camelot, so we didn’t school it, so he never got a good look at it. ¬†And as I’ve since discovered, when my pony is scared he goes to his happy place. ¬†And his happy place is rolling in the dirt.

That wall in the background? ¬†Camelot calls it “the dragon wall” for a good reason. ¬†Now it’s bright green and covered in sparkly scales. ¬†It has a head. ¬†IT HAS GIANT ASS WELDED WINGS.

We are completely possibly a little fucked.  I really hope their footing is soft because I cannot afford a new saddle right now.

Anyway, so I’m not sure how I’m going to prep this. ¬†We’re schooling Camelot this weekend, the last weekend before they close the course, and will hopefully get a good read of what beginner novice fences are out there. ¬†We have schooled almost all the BN fences and a handful of the novice fences, so I know that physically, we can do it. ¬†Whether or not I ride like we can do it… well, that’s another story.

My goal is to not come off.

IMG_1627Is glitter goo too gaudy for events? I really wanna glitter him. ¬†And this fence is almost guaranteed to be on our course and it is¬†way bigger in person. Part of it is hidden by the rise in the ground here. ¬†It’s a completely maxed out fence and a few years ago (at my first event) it was at the bottom of a hill and it was terrifying.


Okay, finally something I can COMPLETELY control!

I like to pack early and pack often pack once.

I start by making checklists.  I find the act of checking things off extremely gratifying.  I list out every possible thing Murray and I could need for the show.  And then about a week out, I start packing them.

I start with silly little things — making sure all our show pads are clean, washed, and put in a plastic tub of some kind. ¬†I like to pack in tubs instead of bags because I feel like they stack neatly in trailers and trucks. ¬†Nobody else seems to do this though, so my stackable desires are mostly left un-met. ¬†I pack grain, I pack extra electrolytes and barley, and I pack extra magnesium. ¬†You can never pack too much magnesium. ¬†I get my garment bag packed early too, and put my optimum time watch, arm band, extra hair nets, etc. in there. ¬†All my show clothes for the weekend — and spares — are in one place. ¬†I pack all my braiding supplies in — you got it — a tiny tub. ¬†I put my first aid supplies in a tiny tub.

I pack snacks.  I pack a lot of snacks.  I fear being hungry and cranky and in a place where the only food available is a hot dog or hamburger or chips and a grease bomb in my stomach is liable to make my poo my pants on my saddle because of nerves.  Yeah.  I said it.  But admit it.  Nobody wants to shit on their saddle.  I clean my tack early and pack extra things that might break.  Mostly reins.  I pack a lot of reins and halters.

And then I make lists of what’s in the tubs and tape them to the outside and fret about whether I put enough stuff in my tubs. ¬†Everything in the tubs is in smaller tubs. ¬†It’s tubception.

2013-05-19When it doubt, make your dog pack too.

So, how do you prep for a show?  What do you pack?  What is your routine?  How do you get comfortable for the questions you will be asked?  Share your secrets with me!!

It’s show time: pump up playlist

Lots of my friends, blogland and otherwise, are going to their first show of the year (or not their first, but still a show!) this weekend. ¬†While I’m super jealous, I know it’s important for me to keep my eye on the prize (graduation) right now, and I will be showing in the ball-sweltering heat of July so that will be JUST FINE OKAY.

Anyway, a show playlist is pretty important to me. ¬†One thing I want to invest in this year is a set of portable, battery-operated speakers so I can bump my pump up play list¬†in public AT ALL TIMES. ¬†Daniel Stewart was a big fan of incorporating motivational songs into your showing routine (they help you keep rhythm and put you in the right mindset!) and I have a bunch that I love to listen to on the way to schooling or showing or what have you. ¬†So, for your listening or purchasing pleasure, here’s a portion of my pump up play list.

One Republic, Counting Stars

Yes, I know this song is¬†super played. But it has¬†so many eventing references!!!! ¬†Counting stars, as in CIC 1/2*, CIC*, CIC**, etc? YEP. ¬†I also misheard a lot of lyrics when I first heard this song on the radio, like “I’ve been playing hard” — what else is riding but playing hard? — and “sing in the rhythm the lessons I’ve learned” — and what else is riding all about but¬†RHYTHM?! ¬†I also personally identify with “dreaming about the things that we could be”. ¬†Do that a lot too.

Biggie Smalls / ratatat remix, Party & Bullshit

This is Murray’s theme song, but also works well if you replace “party and bullshit” with “gallop and jump shit”

Monty Python, The Galaxy Song

I find this song super adorable and relaxing to listen to. ¬†And I’m a HUGE Monty Python fan!!

Walk The Moon, Shut Up And Dance

Okay, if the adorable video of every movie dance scene ever set to this song didn’t get to you, you are soulless and I don’t know if we can be friends!! ¬†This song is fucking adorable, and I LOVE IT. ¬†“Shut up and dance with me” I replace with “shut up and jump with me,” also, don’t you dare look back!¬† Murray and me, we were born to be together. ¬†Also, this is the first time I’ve watched the video, and I find this lead singer curiously sexy in his weird 80’s way.

One Republic, Love Runs Out

This song has a BANGIN’ beat and is just on pace for galloping 600 meters per minute. ¬†I know ’cause that’s what I sang on the gallop track!! ¬†I also see a lot of metaphor in here for me and Murray, but specifically “there’s a maniac out in front of me” and “there’s an angel on my shoulder”. ¬†Oh and of course, we’ll be “doing this, if you ever doubt, til the love runs out!” ¬†We WILL be doing this, Murray!!

Sheppard, Geronimo

Just jump out of that starting box, say geronimo!

Modest Mouse, Float On

If I¬†need something a little more chill before getting out there, Modest Mouse is where I go. ¬†I backed my car into a cop car the other day? ¬†Well he just drove off sometimes life’s okay. ¬†We’ll all float on, okay?

Taylor Swift, Shake It Off

My anthem of last summer, this got me through a LOT of dressage rides!

Meghan Trainor, All About That Bass

Another dressage song, this song somehow lets me keep my cool during dressage.

Electric Light Orchestra, Mr. Blue Sky

What we always hope for, right? A little blue sky on XC day?

So, tell me, blogosphereoland, what are your favourite show pump up songs? What do I need to add to my playlist?

Good luck to all my friends competing this weekend!! I hope you have amazing rides.

Is it worth it for amateurs to take clinics with big name riders?

[I’m in Italy this week, likely stuffing myself with pasta and gelato, and probably with questionable internet access, so please forgive me for not responding to comments. ¬†Your regularly scheduled Murray programming will return next week. ¬†In the mean time, there’s an EGUS post coming and re-features of some of my past content that I hope you will enjoy.]

When I was first offered a spot in the Hawley Bennett clinic at my barn, I was ready to say yes. ¬†Then I looked at my bank account and frowned a little — there wasn’t going to be much room for clinic money. ¬†There wasn’t¬†any room for clinic money. ¬†So I thought about it a lot, and ultimately decided that Murray and I needed to get out and about and used to showing in new places more than we needed to ride with Hawley this weekend, and I regretfully gave up my spot.

This led me to wondering if it would even have been worth it for me to ride with Hawley. ¬†I’ve ridden in a few different clinics, and while I’ve always gotten something out of them, I’ve also always wondered if I was getting¬†enough out of them to validate the expensive. ¬†Two days with a big name clinician is basically a full month of lessons, or a couple of field trips, for me, and so the quality over quantity question is a big one. ¬†Would the lessons Hawley had to give be useful on my baby horse? ¬†I don’t always want to pay to just be told how¬†awesome we are (cuz that happens all the time!!!), I want to problem solve. ¬†Would I be problem solving at such a low level? ¬†Would I provide fodder for Hawley to correct? ¬†Was it worth it?

I’m sure many other amateur riders have had this question, and after auditing with Hawley for two days, I’m pretty sure I know the answer: YES it is definitely worth it for you to ride with them!! ¬†For lots of reasons. ¬†Read the full article on Horse Junkies United!

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‚Äôs actually a huge hole in my brain regarding working on and in teams, because I only ever did individual sports (swimming, gymnastics, math competitions ‚Äď 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‚Äôm constantly doing what I shouldn‚Äôt be doing, namely comparing myself to other riders around me.¬† However, being super competitive isn‚Äôt 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 ‚Äď 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‚Äôt believe it or feel it at the time because you‚Äôre 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‚Äôre going to start to be that thing.¬† And if that thing is kinder and more sportsmanlike, I‚Äôm not sure there‚Äôs a problem with that.¬† Whether you compliment your human or equine competition, there‚Äôs something to congratulate after every round, even if it‚Äôs just making it out alive. ¬†‚ÄúGood ride!‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúGreat round!‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúCongratulations!‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äď 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¬†‚ÄúOh that was such an ugly ride,‚ÄĚ or even worse, ‚ÄúMy horse was TERRIBLE.‚Ä̬† You do not want to be the person who blames their horse for a bad round, especially when he doesn‚Äôt deserve it.¬† (This is not to say horses don‚Äôt have off days, but it‚Äôs not their choice to be at a show, it‚Äôs yours.)¬† So when someone congratulates you on your ride, open your mouth, and say ‚ÄúThank you.‚Ä̬† You can add more if you would like, some excellent suggestions include ‚ÄúI had a great time,‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúShe tried so hard for me!‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúWe just moved up and I‚Äôm really proud of us.‚Ä̬† 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 ‚ÄúDICKHEAD‚ÄĚ 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‚Ķ)¬† 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď nothing you can do about it.¬† Maybe other people have been riding for longer than you ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď 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‚Äôs really all about.

10169175_10203710065984964_5712793615560172615_nHe knows what his job is!

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

Let‚Äôs 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‚Äôt worry about it.¬† I didn‚Äôt get the most entertaining score in eventing or dressage because the dressage judge had a wicked hate-on for 5‚Äô1‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs 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‚Äô 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‚Äô scores were inappropriate.¬† And yes, that means you‚Äôre diminishing the good scores as well as the bad.¬† So look for the good in any judges‚Äô decision and keep any negativity you might have to yourself ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď it‚Äôs kindof my life mantra.¬† It‚Äôs hard, I know.¬† It‚Äôs 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‚Äôre going to find yourself¬†having a much better time, and a lot less stressed out.