hindsight is 20/16

I was going to skip writing this post all together since I feel like we didn’t really get a ton done this year. ¬†I barely rode from March through July and have had to skip plenty of days since then, showed only once (okay, maybe twice), and barely went to any clinics. I couldn’t even seem to pull together good ride recaps. ¬†But then I started reviewing my posts from throughout the year and it turns out we¬†have done some things!

January dawned with jumping¬†and dressage problems, which was not terribly inspiring after an amazing dressage camp at my MIL’s place in late 2014. ¬†I took it easy on the riding front and decided to skip jumping for a few weeks, and instead calculated exactly how much it would cost me to event essentially all over California (TL;DR too much). ¬†Murray was a little NQR for a few more days, Tina suggested it might be his hocks fusing, and so we took it even easier. ¬†I decided I was getting a new dressage saddle, and Murray’s sleazy somehow magically made his girthiness basically disappear. ¬†And I pondered the fact that, while we still had problems, at least they were better quality ones!

Also, puppies.


Murray started to feel better in February, and I worked on some of our deep-rooted positional issues that influence our ability to work correctly. ¬†I also thought a fair bit about my responsibilities as a rider — to both myself and my horse. ¬†I got lucky and took a dressage lesson away from home with a local trainer and Murray was great! ¬†Magical, super high quality footing did not magically turn him into a GP horse, for which I am grateful. ¬†And I realised that the problem with Murray’s jumping wasn’t Murray, but me (obvi): I was asking him to jump in a way that was far too uncomfortable for him, either mentally or physically (or both). ¬†[Later in the ¬†year we would conquer this particular problem.] ¬† I also discovered that if I did it right, I could start asking Murray for the¬†moar!! that we want and need.

I also wrote about running walking away from lions.

febdressage07keep this in mind for reference

I took an unannounced hiatus in March. I needed to work on my thesis and riding and writing were too distracting.  I got a lot of good work done (but probably could have posted and ridden all month long and still gotten done this month! hah.)

April was full of so many awesome things. ¬†I rode with Hawley Bennett which proved to be both everything I hoped and dreamed¬†and very challenging. ¬†We went to camp and jumped all the jumps and finally showed some progress in dressage. ¬†I also competed in the Camelot Horse Trials at BN, and while it wasn’t a perfect run it was a great learning experience. ¬†Murray listened to me instead of just doing his own thing, and I made decisions, stuck to them, and enacted them. ¬†It is probably the first time I have really pro-actively ridden a full test, course, and round. ¬†It felt great.

helicopter tail


May started out with the crazy stressful but also fairly successful Woodland Stallion Station One Day event. ¬†It also turned into a clinic-ful month! ¬†I tried out another saddle that I thought was magic (spoiler alert: this ¬†happened a lot), and I rode with Megan and with Yves! ¬†Despite being the¬†worst on the ground that he has been in a long time, breaking a lead rope, his halter, a trailer tie, and just generally being a raging douchebag, Murray was in great form for the actual riding portion of the clinic and took Megan’s instruction well. ¬†Looking back on the pictures of Murray at the Yves clinic, I can see that he was finally back to feeling really good about jumping, and was forward and confident the whole time.


Then I went to Australia for two weeks and consequently missed more riding.

The second half of June I juggled my new life schedule (no teaching, more zoo-ing) and trying to ride with moving and couch surfing and everything else that was going on. ¬†It was… delightful. ¬†Karen inspired me with her list of Eli’s behavioral changes and I discovered that, for every bad thing I could think of that Murray could do, we were mostly in the green in terms of behavior change. I struggled to incorporate the lessons I had learned with Megan and Yves into my inconsistent riding schedule. ¬†Murray took a lot of naps, and neither of us minded the relaxed schedule.

wp-1464679577850.jpgMurray taking a nap

I still wasn’t doing a ton of riding in July, and I finally figured out why: after you’ve not ridden for a while, it suddenly becomes easier to just¬†not ride. ¬†I thought about back seat riding and training bravery. ¬†Murray and I got back to some jump lessons and I had a great learning experience on the different uses of my seat. ¬†We also schooled cross country at Hiskens where Murray was fantastic, especially for the small amount of jumping we had done to that point, and then my phone killed itself on the drive home.¬†I wrote a personal story about the death of a good friend.

july jump 04

August was a month of hectic activity on the personal front, and the consequence was even more limited riding for Murray! ¬†Are we sensing a theme for this year? ¬†Nicole gets busy; Murray gets a vacay. ¬†I traveled for a wedding and a conference, defended my thesis, and moved — again! ¬†I started using yet another different dressage saddle to see if I could fix my leaning/pitching issues.


September finally settled down and Murray and I got back to real work.  I rode for the first time with John Michael Durr, and he gave us a fantastic new tool to develop strength and straightness.  He also called Murray on his laziness and encouraged me to really insist on a proper step when jumping.  After all our time off and mini-vacations and legitimate vacations and inconsistency, I saw that Murray really was making some great progress.  That was a bright point in my year, because I had definitely been feeling a little down in the dumps about my progress until I looked back like this.

dress-4biiiig difference from January, huh?!

Being funemployed in October meant that I finally got to ride as much as I wanted and had been doing in the past! ¬†I clipped him early and got it done – again! ¬†I then promptly pretended that clipping so early was a strategic training decision so that I would¬†have to clip him twice this year, therefore reinforcing the “stand for clipping” lessons that I started installing. I tried to stick to the lessons I had learned from JM and Megan and really get Murray to move into the contact and engage his whole body. ¬†More consistent riding helped immensely with Murray’s understanding of the concepts that I had been working on, but also brought back the lazy reluctance that often characterizes him. ¬†Fortunately for me, I also started to figure out how to push him¬†for more without pushing his buttons. ¬†We also managed to get to a schooling show and snag a pretty sixth place ribbon!


November was another quiet month on the riding and writing front. ¬†We had a tack room re-org that has made our tack room so much more functional even with a couple of new boarders in the room. ¬†It’s magnificent. ¬†I wrote about being a good student¬†and the principle of punctuated equilibrium and learning. ¬†I incorporated a bit of work in the field into my repertoire, and then fell off the back of my horse.

Africa Friday featured baboons!

img_4931so much overstep and a beautifully engaged back

I boarded two trains in December: the blog hop train and the what if train. ¬†The horses started to lose turnout privileges since the pastures were swamped, and so Murray expressed his feelings on that the only way he knows how: bucking. ¬†As the year wound down (and the wind and cold picked up, brrrrr) I started to opt for playtime instead of riding. ¬†Murray continued to be a super star for our rides, and I realised how desperately I needed a lesson. Tina was my lesson savior and nailed me for nagging, and helped me unlock Murray’s body so that we could get¬†more out of our straightness exercises.

And last but not least РI became a doctor!!!! It still feels damn good, by the way.



(F)transformation Friday

New media means that I get to make some Murray comparisons.  And oh boy, is it worth it.

Camelot – June 2015
Subtext: let me see you bounce left and right and see ya shoulda lean…



November(ish) 2015
Subtext: I learned how to keep my reins the same length!


February 2016
Subtext: I like these, and I love how round the top of Murray’s haunches look, but these were the best moments in a lot of fussing…



May 2016
Subtext: Megan started getting us on the right path….

IMG_8822-2 IMG_8849

September 2016
Subtext: I conveniently wore the same outfit for comparison purposes

I like almost everything about this one better… dress-2
But I adore the bulging quads on this one

Surprise pop quiz: how many different saddles am I using in these images?!  And when oh WHEN will I ever get my lower leg under control?!?!

throwback thursday: the tire incident

There are many reasons I wish I’d started my blog earlier, and sharing these old Murray stories are definitely some of them.¬† My first, oh, nine?, months with Murray were peppered with incidents so absurd that there was nothing to do but laugh about them.¬† And he had a heavy hand with the pepper.¬† On the other hand, it’s¬† good I didn’t write about this when it happened, because now I can flex my storytelling muscles and explain in gory detail the absolute ridiculousness that was the tire incident.

Back in February of 2014 Murray and I were in regular lessons with a friend, but for some reason found ourselves lessoning alone that morning.¬† After successfully coursing we approached a standard tire jump for one of our last fences.¬† Murray and I had jumped the tires successfully a few weeks earlier, but for some reason had not jumped them for a little while.¬† And for the first time, Murray stopped dead in front of the tires.¬† I was used to his noodly run outs and rider-error-glance-offs, but this was the first time Murray had ever really sat down and said “no way!” to a fence.¬† I let Murray get up close and personal with the tires, we re-approached, and he stopped hard again.

murraydonwannaPony’s got stops.

At this point B* was like “time for an extra defensive ride!” and so that’s what I did.¬† I jammed my seat down, kept my leg on, and ran Murray at the tires.¬† It wasn’t pretty, but we got over it.¬† Two refusals and one jump later and the tires were just not coming naturally to us.¬† Our last approach ended with Murray half jumping, then deciding not to at the last minute, and me crashing into the tires over his shoulder with his legs all around me, miraculously not crushing my body.¬† On the plus side, landing in a bunch of old tires is really not unpleasant.

After crashing spectacularly and only getting Murray over the tires twice in seven attempts, we decided it was time to resort to something that lacked the tired-and-out-of-shape-weakling-amateur element.¬† We slapped Murray on the lunge line, and F shooed him towards the fence which (we should have known) he said “no, thank you!” to quite handily.¬† And by said “no, thank you!” I mean that within about ten seconds he had ripped the lunge line out of B’s hands and galloped off to the opposite end of the arena.

I caught Murray (does it surprise any of you to know that he won’t let B catch him?) and brought him back over, and we pointed him at the tires again.¬† This time he had a much more civilized “no, thank you!” and just ran around the tires.¬† I mean, he’s an 1100 pound noodle with a great fondness for going sideways.¬† Of course he just ran around the tires.

14627101506_4b0c8518f2_oMurray’s “no, thank you” face

We propped a pole up on the outside edge of the tires so Murray would be channeled over the jump instead of around it, and he ran out towards the inside instead.¬† A placement pole on the inside simply encourage him to jump sideways over the outside pole.¬† At some point in this whole endeavour our barn manager showed up and offered to relieve B of her lunging duty (B had a weak collarbone from a recent break at the time), but B was like nope, gotta do this.¬† She lunged him away from the tires so he would remember what the whole “circling” deal was, and we got back to it.

The theatrics started.  Murray was doing absolutely everything in his power to avoid going near those tires at any speed greater than a walk.  We would lead him up to them, he would touch them, and then when he reapproached at the trot it was like we were asking him to jump the grand canyon.  Hi-ho Silver! antics were to follow.  And let me tell you, I have never seen a horse rear that high outside of the movies.  Murray went straight up and was striking the air, pawing like he was posing for the cover of a Walter Farley novel.  When he got back on the ground he would throw his head down and try to scrape the lunge line off his face.

We pulled tires out of the jump so it was more inviting for him.  We pulled out so many tires, in fact, that he could walk right through.  I walked back and forth through the gap and tried to lead Murray through and he was not having it.

And then Barn Manager said “do you have a cookie?”

And I was like “why yes, I always keep spare cookies in my jacket pocket.”¬† I ran over to the mounting block to get my cookies.

I stood in front of the gap between the tires and F led Murray right up to it.  And then I held out my hand and offered him a cookie.  I looked at Murray.  Murray looked at me.


And he went, “OHH COOKIES!!!!!!” and walked right through the gap between the tires.

And then he trotted through the gap between the tires.  And then he jumped over the gap between the tires.  We put the tires back in the gap one by one, and thirty seconds and four jumps later Murray had jumped the tires without any sign of stress or hesitation.

Forty minutes of lunging with absolutely no success, and all Murray needed to agree to what we were trying to get him to do was a cookie. A SINGLE COOKIE.


* After going back and forth I’ve decided to replace my trainer’s name with a single letter on here.¬† I want to preserve her privacy a little, even though probably nobody cares.