new baby horses, new lessons

Murray has been on post-injection stall rest for a few days, so I’ve been riding some of trainer B’s sales/training/baby horses for fun.  I mean, it was also one of my summer “plans“.  So ya know.

Ponyboy was actually real cute this weekend when I took him out for a handwalk. We walked all over the arena and back and forth over the scary, terrifying, horse-eating tarp. I unhooked the leadrope to let him roll, but Murray continued to just follow me around, including back and forth over the tarp!  Totally at liberty.  Like, please, horse: tug on my heart strings some more.

And man.  It’s been a while since I’ve had really prolonged contact with really green/baby horses.  I forgot about all the baby horse things.  Like, walking literally on top of me when I ask them to step up toward the tacking up area.  Or walking at a snail’s pace and literally making me drag them in from the pasture.  (WHY baby horse, WHY? I give you carrots in the barn?!)

But they are good teachers — almost always.  You just have to listen.  Here are some of my recent lessons.

awwwwh look at da baby murray!

you catch more flies with honey

Baby horses don’t know things. Like, sometimes they don’t know any of the things. And there’s only so much beating dragging one can do of a horse who just doesn’t know what the hell is expected of him.  I have some pretty strict expectations when it comes to ground manners in the horses I’m working with.  I realized that this is SUPER LAUGHABLE, since my horse has something like the second worst ground manners on Earth.  But in all honesty, when he’s in a non-stressful situation he knows how to behave around a human — even if he doesn’t want to do it.  The really green horses I’ve worked with have conveniently forgotten all of their racetrack manners — and I know they had them.  I try my hardest not to let them get away with bad behavior (easy, because I seem to use up all of my patience and tolerance on my own horse), and frequently praise the good behavior verbally, as well as with pats and carrots.

auto-narration of my exploits

Because I’m nearly constantly praising or scolding the young horses, I find that I’m nearly constantly talking to them. I kinda like this auto-narration of my rides and ground work.  Not only does it make me feel super important (hah), but it also keeps me thinking about what we’re doing, instead of letting me mindlessly slip into bad habits.

this track pic is so murray
photog: murray/ricothefreako, look at the camera, these are your sale pics!
murray/recothefreako: there’s a thing over there!!

my expecations are way higher now

I used to get on baby horses or other peoples’ horses and let them flop around on a loose rein and be like “wow, they are so cute!”  And I still do that now… kinda.  But then I pick up the reins and ask them for a little bit more.  I don’t need alot, I just need them to put themselves together a little bit.  This seems to be the part where most of the baby horses are like WOAH WHAT.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a horse to learn to start stretching laterally and longitudinally, using their back, and not falling through their shoulders.  I mean, obviously not all at once.  And not for long periods of time.  But these are things that sport horses need to learn.  And we can chip away at them one step at a time.

These days it drives me nuts when a horse responds to what I consider a relatively simple aid by doing the exact opposite (yield to the inside rein =/= stick out your jaw and lean on my hand).  Or even not doing it at all.  DON’T YOU KNOW I’M TRYING TO HELP YOU, BABY HORSES?!

It’s no longer acceptable to me to take no for an answer to these requests.  I do my level best not to be mean about it, and to praise mightily (see above) when I get what I want.  I even back off if the question I’m asking is too hard or incomprehensible.  Every ride I’m putting on these horses is training them one way or the other, and I don’t want to train them that “no” is an okay response to a reasonable request.

the training scale

This thing is golden and was has lasted forever for a reason.  If we’ve got nothing, I know where I need to start: rhythm.  On the flip side, it makes me wonder how some of the older horses I’ve ridden have gotten away so long without this crucial skill…


baby horse goes jump jump

distance makes the heart grow fonder

Riding babies makes me think of nothing so much as how badly I just want my own horse back.  Murray know how to do all the things I want, just the way I want them, pretty much when I want them.  I love you and miss you Murray.  Feel 100% REAL QUICK plz.

 

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crunchy hippy granola groundwork

My background in clicker training and positive reinforcement training of all kinds of animals (dogs, cats, macaques, giraffes, eland, elephants, horses, chimpanzees, zebras, tigers, gorillas… that’s basically the list) may make my dismissive attitude towards Natural Horsemanship (the type with the capital N and H) a little surprising.  Honestly, I don’t know a ton about Natural Horsemanship, and I would probably learn a lot from the philosophy if I gave it the old College Try.  But I’ve seen a few choices videos that don’t quite make sense, and my general inclination to avoid any one “doctrine” in training my horse (or doing anything) makes me shy away from the plan.

a curiously difficult species to clicker train

What I do like is the antecedent-behavior-consequence sequence that I can usually find in many other animal behavior modification programs.  Since I’ve recently been taking a more serious approach to ground work, this now plays an even larger portion in my interactions with Murray.  (Which is stupid, really, since behavior modification happens constantly, including under saddle. But it’s much easier to see, and evaluate, from the ground than the saddle.)

As with all things in horses/my life, I jumped in way too deep to start with and became frustrated that Murray couldn’t shoulder-in with me on the ground and wanted to run away from me or run in circle.  So (for once!) I stepped back, looked in to some really basic exercises, and committed to doing those until I could call them done.  Mostly I used Emma’s fabulous write-ups to give me a baseline for what I wanted to do.  There were a few behaviors I already knew that we needed to work on — standing while I touch all over his body and walk behind him, letting me approach the girth without running off, go forward, go back.  And then there was the whole “I want you to be able to step backwards over a pole” thing.  I somewhat-irrationally decided I needed my horse to be able to do this.  But it turns out it was a good thing anyway.

belly rubs and the subsequent rhino lip are an important part of groundwork games

Fortunately, Murray has gotten past the extinction burst of awful begging behaviors (including trying to and successfully biting me) that showed up when we first started playing this game, which makes it much more fun for me.  He’s also gotten “worse” at some of the behaviors we’ve been working on, specifically backing up.  Which is interesting.  But the important thing here is how you define “worse”.  Murray doesn’t respond as quickly to the back up cue, go as far, or move as fast as he used to when we first started playing this game.  But, he is much more relaxed when we do it, and processes a response to the cue to back up instead of just flying backwards whenever I stop.  So maybe this one is actually a win?

Troubleshooting Murray’s reluctance to back up over a pole was also fun, and I’m pretty pleased with how it’s panned out so far.  Once Murray knew that I had some intention of asking him to back over a pole, i.e. after the first time I asked him to perform this behavior, he had absolutely no interest in doing anything remotely akin to backing up over a pole.  He would walk really quickly over the pole, then immediately re-position his body so that there was no possible way I could reasonably get him to go backwards over that pole.

First, we worked on stopping and standing quietly with front and back legs on either side of the pole, and then positioned just in front of and behind the pole.  We progressed to stepping front feet only over a pole, and then finally getting hind feet, and then all four feet backwards over a pole.  Murray scared himself at one point, when he stepped on the pole, rolled it on to his own feet, then kicked it backwards with his front feet on to his hinds.  While funny at the time, it did make Murray’s confidence take a dive.

Hopefully, after a few more weeks, we’ll be able to back up over a couple of sequential poles.  Though that will require a little more careful footwork than Murray has so far demonstrated.  We’ll see.

The better part of all of this, is that Murray is taking me more seriously on the ground in general.  Obviously nobody would ever have been able to predict that developing better communication for essential and important groundwork behaviors would lead to better communication overall — NO, NOBODY EVER.

I don’t think Murray’s and my relationship has suffered tooooooo negatively from missing out on this relationship building through groundwork.  I’m not entirely sure I would have been able to take such a logical and reasonable approach to it when we first got together, though.  I was too impatient, even all wrapped up in my ideas of going slowly.  But now we both have a little more perspective, and Murray’s really learned now to learn, and we’re making progress.

This paid dividends when I took a little outing this week for another fitness hack (over an hour of walking, and two short gallops, 900m and 1300m respectively).  Murray didn’t want to get in the trailer again, which is par for the course post Twin.  I had put a flat leather halter on over the rope halter to tie him with inside the trailer, but the lead rope was still hooked up to the lead rope.  When Murray stopped at the open door of the trailer and said, thanks but no thanks and tried to run off backwards, I had a much better idea of how to handle it.  First, I didn’t let him get away with running off backwards (I actually grabbed on to the trailer with my hand not holding the lead rope so I’d have an anchor), which at least made him stop and reconsider the situation.  Then I pulled him over to the side and we had a little discussion of “yes, this means forward, and it means forward now!”.  On the second go it took him a moment to accept, but jumped right in after a little think.  On the way home, he jumped in first go.

I’ve stopped being amazed at the aspects of horsemanship that I still have to learn about.  The answer is simply: everything.

creeping uphill

Another big life event, another week off of work for Murray.  It’s our pattern, but he doesn’t seem to hate it. That week was actually punctuated with a few days of riding as I evaluate the trial saddle, but none of them were particularly strenuous.  We come back from each mini break pretty quickly, and I’ve been very pleased with the progress made in between mini breaks.  Maybe this really is just a schedule that works for certain princess ponies?  Or maybe our new routine of ground work + lunging –> riding is really working for us.


being cute at Twin

We spent most of last week trying to rebalance Murray from totally on the forehand and dragging himself around, to some semblance of moving uphill.  On Monday I felt like we were cantering downhill during our warmup, and that I could slide off of Murray’s neck at any moment.  It was supremely unpleasant, not only because I know that’s not how we’re supposed to go, but because it’s really just rather uncomfortable.  Murray wasn’t terribly responsive to my half halts, so I took a moment to re-assess and figure out how to attack the problem without picking a fight.

our video from Twin is mostly sass punctuated by cute moments
presently pictured: sass, in case you couldn’t tell

I tried to sit up and use my core, instead of tipping forward into Murray’s downhill-ness, and started to incorporate the lateral work back in to our routine.  I’ve generally avoided lateral work since December, since Murray and I both use it as such an out: he is more than happy to go sideways if he doesn’t want to work, and when I get bored/stupid I start to think “porque no los leg yields?” instead of “let’s really shore up your shitty connection, Nicole”.


murray goes hrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

And slowly but surely, throughout the week, Murray’s balance started to come up.  He still wanted to lean on my hand and PLOW down any straight line we did, especially when they were off the wall (uh… will have to fix that before we show FOR SURE).  But I found that if I moderated his pace a little more with my seat and core — which I am finally figuring out how to use — that we could maintain a little bit more uphill balance.  There is still a lot of work to be done there, but straight lines are hard.  (Though, I’ve just realised that is exactly what JM was focusing on with me, so I could probably bring some of the straightness/slight counter flexion exercises to those off-the-wall-straight-lines and potentially achieve the same results. Food for thought.)


smile for the camera!

We also had a jump lesson where Murray was a super freaking rockstar mashing around a grid and some bigger (for our recent exploits) fences on a much bigger and more forward step.  It felt amazing.  It wasn’t the same as the pookums usually feels — there was less of that launch off the ground that sometimes accompanies bigger fences —  but great nonetheless.  And there were only two hiccups, both attributed to me riding an awful, very angled line to an airy oxer that Murray just couldn’t seem to see as a jump.  I discovered two new things in that lesson: one, my new phone’s camera is bullshit at taking videos indoors (I mean, thanks a lot you freaking potato), and two, Murray goes around pretty upside-down on that more forward step.

RBF made a very important point, which is that the big, forward step and jump is new to both Murray and I, and we’re still figuring it out.  Obviously we weren’t going to figure it out in perfect balance or make it look pretty the first time around.  She encouraged me to be patient while we get strong on this new step.  Man, RBFs.  They are so good to have around.

we’ve seen this before, but it’s soooo worth posting in HD

A big piece of the puzzle is helping Murray to understand how to use his neck while it is in a different position on his body.  Right now, he feels like/seems/is convinced that he only has access to his neck muscles (and back muscles) when his neck is pretty low — head below withers.  Actually, that’s not true.  He is convinced that he can only use his neck the way I want him to use it when his neck is very low.  He is happy to use his neck when it’s lifted a little higher — as long as he gets to use his underneck.  Which is, of course, the great secret of all dressage: MOAR UNDERNECK.


murray rejects this corner. this message brought to you by the letter H.

So my big goal has been taking that underneck access away from Murray in both sets of tack — yup, even on conditioning rides.  Add in to that the continued insistence on some kind of communication-connection through the reins (even in the stretchy trot), sitting up and using my core, keeping my aids simple and consistent, and turning my god forsaken toes in (he really has abandoned my lower leg), and it feels like I’m juggling a lot of balls to put together some okay-ish work right now.  But we really are making steps in the right direction (I think), and it’s not nearly as hard as it would have been for me to work on even 2 of those things simultaneously two months ago.

We’re getting there.  Slowly but surely.  Creeping uphill.  The only way we know how.

Anyone else feeling their progress creeping along in the good way lately?

relax (don’t do it)

Murray got a whole week off after Twin, due in equal parts to the fact that he had been the best pony ever, and also because that whole 40 hour a week job can be a real bitch.  Predictably, I stalked the Ride On website until my videos were uploaded and have watched them all many times (okay, at least several).  There are many interesting parts of the videos, but one of the most interesting is how stiff and tight Murray’s hind end looks in our dressage test. The footing at Twin is nice, and on Friday Murray had lunged really well, and was moving better than he does at home. Even when I lunge him at home, he moves better than he did in that test.

My MIL also commented that the test was lovely, and with more relaxation we’d be able to get rid of the bucking through the transitions.  I agree.  I could feel Murray getting tense and tenser and tenser through the test, so by the time we got to that right canter transition I knew that no matter how subtle my cue, I’d be getting some kind of kick out.  What I really want to be able to do is take the tension that builds in Murray’s back and squeeze it out through the bridle throughout the test, instead of letting it build and build and build until it escapes through his butt.

look at all those blogs in my tabs!

Murray’s stiff-legged movement at Twin also suggests tension to me.  And something that I’ve been working on for some time to get resolved.  There seem to be two ways to get him to really unlock his hind end.  I can do it with lateral work, or I can try to get him moving really straight and forward and sitting on his hocks.  The first method is easier, but tends to end up with a bit of a noodle-horse for the rest of my ride.  The second method is harder — a lot harder — and sometimes means days of fighting before we get to compliance.

tiny steps + head down >> tiny steps + head in the air

Both are essential to our continued development in dressage, so I’ll be playing around with the two techniques over the next few weeks as we gear up for and think about Camelot.  What I would really like is to be able to add a little more pressure at Camelot than I did at Twin and go for a bit more of a forward-thinking test.  I’d also like to see more steadiness in the bridle.  For this, it seems like we just need more practice and consistency.  I have to make sure that I’m sticking to my guns and not letting Murray draw me into tugging or giving too much rein.  I suspect that more forwardness will help with the steadiness too.

I’m also considering a bit change.  Right now, Murray uses a loose ring French link with a flat bit in the middle.  It’s pretty thin and light, but the link is jiggly and I bet there’s some play in his mouth.  My trainer suggested the Stubben EZ Control again — I tried previously and didn’t see enough magical, mystical improvement to shell out $70 for a new bit.  But now that we’re a bit more developed and capable, perhaps something gets really stable when Murray moves into the contact will encourage a bit more steadiness on both of our parts.

moving properly a la JM (can I please have this horse at the show PLEASE)

That’s what I’m thinking about for the next few weeks.  Unfortunately, they’ll be somewhat inconsistent weeks as we have the WSS one day coming up, which is sure to take up at least a week of my time.  And Murray started the prep for Camelot well by encouraging his new pasture mates to bite him like crazy in turnout this weekend, and was muscle sore again on Monday.  So we’re back on the “if at first 1g of bute does not succeed” program.

I’m not totally sure how I can diminish tension in Murray by adding something he typically hates (leg), but that’s what dressage trainers are for.  Good thing Tina is coming on Wednesday!  But I’d love any thoughts you have about transforming tension into transcendentalism* in the show ring (Austen? Megan? Jenn? ANY HELP LADIES?) — even the baby steps of just starting to get there, which I know is where we’re at right now.

* Word chosen for alliteration and not meaning or accuracy.

train ’em up

There has been a consistent theme through all the Hawley clinic’s I’ve attended — and not just themes I’ve written about explicitly, like precision, rhythm, or strong basics.  Something a little more hard to put my finger on.

For example, one of my lesson mates biffed the approach to an oxer and hit it on an odd stride, but her horse went and even if he didn’t do it perfectly, he did it. Hawley was like good!, you did it.  When another rider said she didn’t think she could do the angle because her horse was so green, Hawley didn’t accept it (and with the right ride, the horse did the angle just fine).  When I couldn’t seem to get a rhythm or the correct lead on the circle of death, Hawley didn’t want me to break out of the exercise to fix things, but to fix them from within the circle.

WHYYY did i not train him to do this on purpose?

And to all of these small mistakes she said “there’s no other way, but to train them up”.

I didn’t hear Hawley give a long explanation for this, though I think I’ve heard her do so in the past (and stupidly didn’t write about it! wtf past Nicole?!?!).  This statement seems to be a bit of the riff on the old “if you’re not making mistakes, you are not doing anything / trying hard enough / learning / pushing yourself.”  Sure, we want to train our horses to be better, smarter, quicker, stronger, cleverer.  But if we only ever put them in situations where they will never have to  be better, smarter, quicker, stronger, or cleverer, they will never learn to how to become those things.

By extension, it means that if we aren’t giving ourselves opportunities to fail, we will never become better, smarter, quicker, stronger, or cleverer.  An interesting corollary to screwing up with confidence.

Along with this, I noticed that Hawley  has a different attitude towards horses than many of her students (clinic students?) seem to.  When we did screw up, she applauded us for committing, and frequently told us to pat our horses and make a big deal over them when they made the correct choices.  That wasn’t really new.  But when someone apologized to her and said she felt so terrible making her horse put up with her (admittedly very honest and reasonable) mistakes, HB was like “So? Give him an extra handful of grain tonight. That’s what you have him for.”

murray: WUT ONLY ONE EXTRA HANDFUL
FOR PUTTING UP WITH ALL OF YOUR GARBAGE?!

I’ve not attended a lot of clinics with big name trainers, olympians, or fancy riders, so I’m not sure if this is pervasive in the professional levels, though I imagine to some extent it must be.  And this is also not to say, in the least way, that she is not a kind, respectable, incredibly savvy horsewoman and rider.  Just that, perhaps, being all of those things on a professional level means that you cannot necessarily afford all the soft squishiness that tends to accompany amateur riders.  It’s a little less “this hairy beast is my whole heart” and a little more “we have a working relationship”.

But it’s true!  We have this giant, expensive, oversized pets to have fun and learn on.  If I’m doing those two things, what am I doing this for?  I feel far more awful when I’ve been making mistakes of hubris with Murray, like pushing him for something I thought we should be ready to achieve “just because”, than when I make an honest mistake, like riding him in a saddle that didn’t really fit for a year.  And as much as I appreciate his quirkiness and silliness and the feeling of connection we have both in the tack and out, he’s not the shoulder-to-cry-on-best-friend-through-thick-and-thin that some people profess their horses to be.

broseph just isn’t that into cuddling

I’m not trying to be more like Hawley or distance myself from my horse thinking that it makes me a better or more accomplished rider. (OKAY YOU CAUGHT ME I’M ALWAYS TRYING TO BE MORE LIKE HAWLEY!) But it is interesting to think about where, on the relationship spectrum, Murray falls in my life.  He’s no Ellie, that’s for sure, but I value him more than I do my chickens.  (A lot more, and not just because of price/size/weight.)  I will never, ever be able to sell him, but that’s not really because of our relationship… But I don’t want to, either, because I value our partnership and everything he has to teach me.

I do want to know where you fall on the spectrum — from “pony would sleep in my bed every night if I could” to “this is nothing more than a business arrangement” — and how you think it influences your riding.

in which I finally get to ride my horse again

After Murray’s Monday morning melting moment (gosh there are just so many fun alliterations I can make with this!), I knew that Tuesday would take a little more care and tact.  I got out to the barn in the evening, when the arena was already busy.  I tied Murray up in the same place as on Monday, and took it really, really easy with him while I was grooming and as I started tacking up.  I unhooked him when we got to the girth, gave him plenty of carrots, and walked him around the barn twice to both settle him and enforce manners (walk, stop, stand, good boy, walk more, etc.).  Murray walked around a bit more than usual, but didn’t seem like he was particularly scarred by Monday’s misadventure.

I started with lunging, as I almost always do for dressage lessons these days, and Murray wiggled and spooked around a few times.  He was a little short behind but he always has to work into a proper trot.  And then he was dramatically, absurdly, cartoonishly lame for five steps.  Like he had three normal legs and his left hind was wearing a rollerskate.  I stopped, checked his feet, walked him for a minute, and trotted him out again.  Back to normal Murray short-steppin’.  I called it a night to be on the safe side and gave Murray a big scoop of bute with a nice warm mash.

img_20170113_131724puddle drinking with friends

I wasn’t terribly surprised he was a little lame.  It could have been a rock/abscess/twisted ankle easily, since it came on very suddenly after passing through a deep-ish spot and disappeared just as quickly.  But Murray had also spent five minutes freaking THE FUCK OUT the day before, then a grand total of ten minutes on the lunge, and promptly stood in his stall for more than 24 hours while it plummeted from 50 degrees to 35 degrees.  I wiped his feet down when we got back to the barn to check more carefully for potential abscesses (nothing).  But when I put my hand on his glutes he tensed his quads and lower back so tight that the muscles were bulging like crazy.

So no riding on Tuesday.

Wednesday was just as cold and horrible, and it was pouring to boot.  Luckily when I got to the barn there was only one other person there, and she had just gotten done riding, so I quickly walked Murray out to the arena to check how sound he was.  I left his blanket on thinking that I could take it off if I needed to for further diagnostics.  When we got to the arena Murray was so excited for turnout, just so so so excited, and he kept letting me walk a few feet out in front of him and then leaping and flailing and high fiving the air with joy.  But manners, we must remember them.  So I insisted on a little sobriety for a moment, lunged, identified very quickly that Murray was not lame, and turned him out, to his great joy.  Then I brought in Murray’s best friend, confidante, and emotional support animal, Logan, and the two of them had a fantastic time.  Logan started out with a little scared side-eye, but once the two of them had run the wiggles out he was much happier and softer.

turnout01his happiness was a golden poem

Tacking up was much better.  I tried tying to a different spot and gave Murray lots of reinforcement for standing and being polite (which he is starting to get, as he will sometimes pointedly look away from me when I’m working with him).  We walked up and down inside the barn since it was pouring outside, and Murray was very reasonable.  Very reasonable.

I lunged quickly both ways and got on.  Murray was pretty forward but I could see that his back remained tense and wasn’t really working.  The wind picked up, and the lights in the arena danced the wild dance of poorly secured lights.  I forgot my tall boots, so had to ride in my Dublins, which was not my first choice.  But I was actually able to ride, so I took it.  This did not help, of course, with feeling secure and comfortable in the saddle with crazy winds + potentially crazy pony.

turnout03nope, not lame

Murray was wiggly, tense, and very forward, so I rode a bit front to back.  But I did not feel secure enough in the tack to really push him forward into my hands properly.  My whole goal was just to get him working and listening, instead of looking around the arena for things to spook at.  I started to feel more comfortable in the Dublins after we cantered, and Murray actually managed to put his head down and get some work done.  Every time the lights shook over us or the arena creaked and groaned he wanted to run in the opposite direction, of course, but he settled pretty well afterward and would get back to work after just a short spook.  Right up until a huge gust of wind shook the arena right on top of us, and Murray scooted off in the canter, and then right as I got him settled again a huge gust of wind made the whole arena shake, groan, and rattle above us and blew open the enormous double doors at the end.  I called it then and there and walked Murray back to the barn, where it sounded like we were inside a hurricane and the other girls in the arena joined me a few minutes later.

I checked the weather station on campus and the wind averaged 37 mph with gusts up to 47 mph at 10 meters height – i.e. arena roof height.  Definitely more than the 15 mph predicted by the weather app.  And there’s more of this to come!  HOORAY!

turnout02let me freak!

no more dr. nice guy

Per my goals post, a big one for me and Murray is to stop taking short cuts.  I don’t really know where to start with this, there’s no clever preamble to this stuff, I just need to dive right in.

I have skipped a lot of steps in training Murray in favor of funner/better/other things that I wanted or felt like I needed to do.  After three years we still can’t reliably tack up while tied, let alone stands still for grooming and tacking up like most other non-feral eight year olds.  We can’t use the cross ties, don’t stand for the vet, still freak out when people move things nearby (especially blankets), have knocked down at least two people on the way to turnout, break away from the trailer half the times we go out, and still can’t use cross ties.  And that’s just things on the ground that Murray can’t do.  I would list the things we can’t do/suck at while lunging, doing ground work, or under saddle except I just started that and it was super embarrassing so I deleted them.

shows

When I first started working with Murray I skipped things like really, properly working with him to tack up while standing still because I thought that with repeated exposure he would just… figure it out.  Other horses do that, right?  Later, I just wanted to get to riding.  I know how to work around his wiggling and get him tacked up so I can just go and ride.  I am very talented at doing up all the buckles on his bridle while he’s wandering off, and tightening the girth while he circles me suspiciously.  I know just how to lunge so he doesn’t stop and turn in on the circle.

After three years together, Murray and I know each other well enough that we can get some things done.  But just because I can do it with him doesn’t mean that Murray “can do” that stuff.  I can just trick, needle, or bribe him in to it, and it’s unreliable when most other people try.

But honestly, these are just the glaring holes that I’ve left in Murray’s skill set/training.  Even under saddle, and especially in dressage, I skipped a looooot of steps.  Not always because I just wanted to get on to funner things, but I’m not going to pretend that wasn’t some of the reason.  Trotting in circles working on connection, gaits, and relaxation is boring when the progress you make from day to day is miniscule, backward, and/or generally non-linear.  It’s a lot more fun to have a stab at putting on leg yields and do it with varying levels of success and correctness and then move on to walk to canter because those are pony dancing moves, right!?! Right?

xties

So I just… skipped to the fun stuff.  A lot.

I think everyone does it.  There are always times when you just want to get past the babyness or silliness or garbage or whatever and do something else.  A lot of the time I suspect there is no lasting effect — someone is having an off or funky day and can’t figure out how to ground pole so you just skip it for a ride — and you get on with your lives.  But in my case, I’ve ended up with a horse who dances around and still panics while I’m tacking up, walks away while I’m  bridling, can only be ridden and handled by a literal handful of people, and has a pretty reasonable number of days where we can hardly get anything done.

Murray has also learned a lot of things.  I’m not trying to have a (full blown) pity party blame game here.  I can actually get him tacked up, ride in all kinds of different arenas, jump all kinds of different things, and do some pretty solidly 5-6 scoring pony dancing moves.  We can walk from the barn to the turnouts in the pitch black or with a scaryscaryscary patch of light from a flash light wobbling in front of us.  I can put his blanket on over his head or over his back.  We can really do leg yields and even some counter canter loops — sure, they need polish, but we can do some shit!

It’s time to really get the rest of that stuff done.  Even if it means I don’t get to ride that day because I spend all my free time working on basic ground manners or getting Murray to stand properly for tacking up.  No more short cuts.  It’s time to train this pony right, from the bottom to the top.

I don’t have a fully conceived plan for everything I want to get done.  A lot of it just involves making a point of doing stuff that Murray purposely doesn’t want to do – like walking with impulsion and connection.  Even if it means we never trot that day.  Even if it means Murray kicks out and flings his head around.  We must be able to do these things.

So no more short cuts. Even if it means I don’t get to ride that day. Even if it means I spend weeks on the ground.  Even if it means having my feet trodden on and tears of desperation and frustration.

Making Murray a well rounded and well-broke horse is worth it.

he also tried to commit suicide in the crossties once
the last time Murray set foot in the x-ties was more than a year ago