video from twin

I splurged and bought RideOn Videos at Twin, and it was not a waste!  I can’t embed them, but you can find them on the RideOn website.

Dressage (watch out for Murray’s buck right at C!)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=6d924f210

Cross Country (I look like a drunk monkey in this video, but since it represents a significant portion of the first 30 minutes I ever spent in that saddle, I’ll take it — plus, Murray was such a star)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=c6a797d86

Stadium (sometimes, you’ve just got to double check every fence on course to ensure there are no crocodiles or spare mongooses beneath them)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=11a7ef591

 

twin recap: go, man, go!

I’m past patiently waitin’
I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation.
Every action’s an act of creation!

– My Shot; Hamilton

I had a luscious four hours between dressage and cross country, so settled down for a celebratory post-dressage beer and sangwich.  I chatted with the people across from me, bought the big pink hat, and walked the cross country course one more time.  I had already memorized it, but took our barn manager’s kid out with me to talk strategy.

Much of the course was what I had jumped while schooling, but there were a few odd questions scattered in there.  One jump had us turning right to scoot between a prelim fence and the edge of a water complex we didn’t actually have to enter, up to a quarter round with brush under a tree.  (I later heard someone complaining bitterly about that fence, but really found it rode fairly well.)  We had a faux trakehner (aka a vertical with a really fat ground line), a house down bank (about 5 strides), and a half coffin with ditch to log fence.  No truly related distances, but some fun stuff to ride.  There were two fences on course that I was a little worried about.  One was the ditch, which I know Murray is a little looky at when he hasn’t been schooling much, and the other was a very simple log a few strides out of the water.  The complexity with the log was that you had to make a hard left out of the water to get there, and it was flanked by an enormous advanced table with fluffy ferns and all kinds of terrors on it.  So I was worried that Murray would spend all his time peeking at the corner and not listening to me (little did I know).


jump one was quite cute

I also took a moment to check in with the office about the rules of schooling the ditches.  The office girls kindly directed me to the president of the FEI officials )Wayne Quarles), since the president of my ground jury wasn’t in the office at the time.  So Wayne asked me what the rulebook (which I was conveniently carrying with me) said about schooling and I plaintively exclaimed that I couldn’t find a rule in there about it!  Wayne took over the rulebook for me and had a look through and Francis O’Reilly, the president of the ground jury for the HT, showed up.  Francis said I would be able to school any fence a level lower than mine, but if I had no lower level ditch available to me for schooling then I was out of luck.

Wayne pointed out that there is actually no specific wording in the rule book about it and that some officials interpret this to mean that if the obstacle is not flagged on the course at the competitor’s level, it “does not exist”.  And you can’t get eliminated/penalized for doing something that “does not exist”.  The caveat to this, of course, is dangerous riding, for which a rider could be eliminated at any time.  Francis agreed, and told me that I could school the novice ditch if I needed but cautioned me to “be safe”.


extra credit moves after fence 1

The drama of the unfortunate wardrobe malfunction is pretty straightforward: I didn’t unpack the trailer properly, and didn’t pack my pinny holder at all, so I found myself just 36 minutes out from my ride time with no girth, no saddle, and no pinny holder in which to ride.  My barn manager loaned me her daughter’s saddle and I used my short black fuzzy girth (a wardrobe malfunction if I’ve ever seen one!), and ran up to get Murray ready and find me a pinny holder.  There was only a short step stool available to me, and when I tried to jump up into the foreign saddle I didn’t quite make it and landed behind the saddle on Murray’s back instead.  You can imagine just how thrilled that made Murray, but I refused to fall off and dumped my whip and somehow scrambled into the saddle.

We walked down to XC warmup and the steward told me that I had 15 minutes until my ride time, which sounded absolutely awful considering that I was an absolute mess after the last 30 minutes of panic and drama.  I was nearly crying, and nothing felt right — the saddle was different, obviously, and my stirrups were too long but maybe not, and my reins were too slippery and definitely, definitely too long for us — they were practically getting looped around my foot.  I cantered off so I wouldn’t be able to cry, and while B got the other BN rider on my team off to the start box I popped Murray over a couple of fences.  Murray was pretty game at first, cantered the X and vertical well, but when I pointed him back at the vertical he shook his head and ran sideways.

I got back over the vertical and over the log jump once, but at that point more and more horses were joining the warm up and Murray was not having it.  He ran sideways when I pointed him at the fences, and B suggested I just head out to the start box.  And it was a good thing too, because I got to the start box with only 51 seconds to go.  Walking over there, B told me to head out of the start box really relaxed and like we were schooling — no pressure on either of us.

I knew, after all the mayhem leading up to cross country, that I wasn’t going to be going double clear, so it was just a matter of sticking to my goals and managing my expectations.  The goal was to get Murray over all of the fences, and not let him work himself up into a state where he would start running out or stopping at fences.  I’d school the ditch if I needed, and there was nothing on course that we couldn’t trot if it came to it, so that’s what we would do.

scary corner at left, BN log at right

Apparently, I needn’t have worried.  We trotted out of the start box and I let Murray fall into a canter as we approached the first fence, a coop.  Murray didn’t think twice about the flowers or the course or the other horses galloping around him, and he jumped over with some gusto, kicking and playing after the fence.  But then we were on to the turkey feeder for fence 2, and Murray leapt happily over that one too.  I still wasn’t feeling quite myself, so started singing to myself on the long gallop to fence 3 — though it was pretty strangled and un-melodic, just me chanting the words to the only song I could think of at the time: Counting Stars by One Republic.

We schooled the first water, and it was a good thing too since Murray came to a stop and stared at his reflection for a moment before trotting through.  The funny brush jump I mentioned above rode really well — Murray looked at the big fences on the left and trotted into the water, then spooked a little at the water, and right over the fence.  I was the tiniest bit worried about that fence since I heard someone talking loudly about the track I’d taken.

There was a long gallop stretch between fences 8 and 9 and Murray really wanted to stretch out.  I, on the other hand, really needed him to lift his head up and listen to me because 9 was a little house headed down hill to a down bank.  Once again, Murray was ready for the down bank even if I wanted him to slow down and think about it, and he popped right down the bank.  12 was the half coffin and Murray was galloping so well I didn’t really have time to think about schooling the other ditch, we just went for it.  I gave him a big half halt Murray told me to suck it, and cantered over the ditch in stride and out over the logs.

The last potential trick on course was that log by the corner, and I did get Murray to slow to a trot through the water so we could get a good track.  Then it was just up over a little mound, over a table, and down through the flags.

I couldn’t believe it when we got through the flags without a single jump penalty, and only needing to school the water.  I knew I’d made the right choices for Murray and me, but what I didn’t expect was for Murray to take such a big step up to make up for my inadequacies.  I went on to cross country insecure and anxious because I’d been stupid and was ill prepared, but Murray knew his job and took over the rest for us. I didn’t feel a moment of hesitation from him on course, and any time I asked him to take a moment to think about a question he was more than happy to tell me that he’d already thought about it!

It was the best cross country run that I’ve ever had, and even if we did come in 35 seconds over time, now I know that we are more than prepared for this challenge. Next time, we’ll go for time too!

the happiest

twin schooling part 2

Among the challenges of schooling cross country for the first time in a year is remembering how to ride cross country.  On Sunday we waited until the kids were pretty much done with their XC rides before getting Murray tacked up and ready to go.  Since he did so well on Saturday, I wanted to just school him over everything once and Aftermake it a bit more “run” like — stringing together six or seven fences in a go — so that we could get the feel for running and jumping in sequence back.


down banks are really not my strong suit

Murray was definitely feeling the work from Saturday, and wasn’t quite as peppy or forward as he had been earlier in the weekend.  But that was an important aspect of the ride to me.  I need to be able to ride Murray when he is tired and punky and not his fresh XC schooling self as much as I need to be able to ride the supercharger forward pony.  Fortunately, despite being a little tired he was still right there with me.  When he got a little sticky to the base of a few warm up fences I just kept my leg on and he went right over them – no problem.

We cruised over the first few fences in the course, a coop and a turkey feeder, then I took a wrong turn and headed over to the intro course for a little house and hanging log.  I backtracked when I saw the real hanging log we were supposed to jump, and went back for that one and another go at the half-coffin.  This was where I made my first real mistake.  I assumed that since Murray had seen and jumped everything the day before with such professionalism that he would be okay right off the bat with them on Sunday.  Not so — he still needed a hard second look at the ditches, so he stopped at the jump element of the half-coffin as he peered down into the ditches below.

Half coffin with the silly 🏇. My fave part of all the videos is @_ac_eventing_ cheering us on! #notoriousottb

A post shared by Nicole Sharpe (@nicolegizelle) on

After we schooled back and forth over the ditch we headed back up to the top of the half coffin and it wasn’t a problem.  Then it was up the hill to the upper plateau and some of the benches that Murray literally flew over on Saturday.  I skipped the water since there were a bunch of people schooling there and headed over to the down banks.  After our stop at the coffin I decided that I was going to give Murray a good chance to look at everything technical if he showed any hesitation — I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after so many months without seeing this stuff!  So we trotted over to the down bank and let him look at it.  He walked a couple of strides then went down without a problem, so we schooled up and down the bank again just to solidify it in his mind.

This video is from his first look at the bank on Saturday.  What I love so much about it is how he’s thinking.  There’s a little bit of “can I get away with not doing this?” but once he understands the question and it’s clear what I want, he’s just like “oh okay, down we go!”

thinking pony from Nicole Sharpe on Vimeo.

After the down banks we came around to the wine barrel table again, which I pulled Murray to a stop in front of so he could look at it again.  I didn’t want to fuss with him getting spooked by it again, and wanted him to really have the opportunity to stare the fence down.  It might be just me, but it seemed like most of the questions we had problems with were painted black — not something we see a lot of at our barn.

The last few fences were little roll tops before and after the water, a jump on a small mound (giving you just a little something to gallop up and down), and some straightforward tables toward the finish.  Murray finished strong even though he was soooo tired, and lifted his head up to look at the next fence when I made it clear there was still work to be done.

murray: I am not touching that weird black wood

I can tell that we have some fitness work to do before we will be ready for the event, but we have a few weeks for that!  (More running for me, more trot sets for pony.)  And it feels absolutely awesome to know that Murray is ready to go out and jump our BN fences and then some.  I just need to get my show nerves under control and learn how to give him a supportive and forward ride, especially if he is tired. (Hahaha, “just”!)

back in the game

We left to school Twin Rivers on Friday at noon, though not without significant disorganization on my part. I packed everything that seemed to be absolutely essential — the horse, a saddle, girth, bridle, tall boots, and helmet — and then kinda threw anything that seemed like I might need it in my car and stopped at Target on the way.  It worked (ish): I ended up with three hind boots and only one front boot, and only three standing wraps, but me, my horse, and all of the other essentials got there just fine!

The ponies had about ten minutes to settle in after we arrived before we got on for a dusk hack.  My goal for the weekend was to see how feasible it would be for Murray and I to show at Twin in April (a mere four weeks away!!!), i.e. show him the fences, see if he remembers anything about cross country, etc.  But I also wanted to use my newfound skills of expecting professionalism and telling him firmly exactly what I expected of him (with frequent rewards).  (Murray is also modeling his fabulous new rainbow rope halter from Sundance halters, which I am IN LOVE WITH, and I love my rainbow neck strap EVEN MORE.)

At a new venue Murray is often, predictably, looky, spooky, and bucky under saddle.  He was all three of these things during our ride, but the amount of looking, spooking, and general silliness I got was SO much less than I have experienced in the past.  He was awful to tack up because I was in a rush, but once I got on I just asked him to keep walking forward.  In the schooling arena I brought him back to a walk from a jig, or a trot, and when we did pick up the trot I immediately asked him to pick up some semblance of contact as well.  And what do you know – it worked.  He stopped looking for things to look at, and got down to business.  There was a little bit of bucking and swapping in the canter, but I got up off his back and let him have a little canter around, and then asked him to get back to business, and there he was again – right there with me.

It was super.

 I find hanging logs really weirdly intimidating, despite my attempts
to adore trakehners. Murray don’t care.

On Saturday morning I watched the kids at a couple of their young rider lessons, then got tacked up for my cross country schooling with B.  We decided that we would try for a longer, more educational school on Saturday with a short, review + XC-run-simulation on Sunday, provided that Murray’s brain could handle it.  Murray came out ready to JUMP.  It was like we haven’t taken a year off from XC and competition, and he was attacking the warm up fences.  The course is in the middle of some fairly big changes right now, so I jumped a few sizes of each element. I wanted to school mostly beginner novice fences, with an eye to a possible move up in the Fall.  But we will be showing BN until I can get my show nerves under control and give Murray the supportive ride that he needs to be successful.  Schooling bigger definitely helps me feel more confident, but I wanted to make sure that I gave Murray (and myself) the chance to look at everything we might see on a course.

Murray was SUPER forward to the fences, literally pulling me to most of them.  All I had to do was keep my leg on and get out of his way.  Of course, that meant I kept getting left behind because I’ve been riding somewhat defensively for the last year, and I’m pretty weak and rusty.  I’m not used to riding this forward jumping horse, and I also didn’t want to let myself get sucked back into the old mistake of assuming fast = confident.  I checked Murray a little too much to a fair number of fences, but he persisted despite my bumbling in those cases, and every re-approach got better!

We did have a handful of stops at technical questions that we haven’t seen since our last XC outing.  The ditches and down banks all posed a big problem for us at first, and I had to walk Murray up to them and back and forth in front of them before he was willing to go.  Once he remembered what ditches and down banks were, he was fine, but it took a few tries.  At a second set of ditches on course he slowed and I let him come down to a halt, but after a second of looking he pulled us right over them!

We schooled a brush roll thing that I thought was Novice, and Murray stopped at it when we came up to it the first time.  I think we both realized that it wasn’t a Novice fence at that point, but it wasn’t terribly oversized.  The thing that had me worried was the terrain — immediately after the landing to the fence was a steep but short downhill, and jumping into a downhill landing is something that we can always do to practice more.  I think Murray wasn’t sure of the fence itself — he’s never seen a brush roll before.  We came back to it with a little more determination and he cleared it easily, landing off the edge of the landing pad and partway down the hill with no problem.

I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t super pleased we so easily schooled a Training level fence.  Even though it wasn’t our goal when we came out, it’s a nice little feather in our cap to know we can do it.

Of course, there is a whole list of new mistakes I’m making that I need to work on now!  The classic problem is strength and my position — I still need to sit up a little straighter and get used to these long, two-point canters.  I will need to study a little more video of riders with a similar body shape to mine to see how they hold their bodies on cross country.  I also need to practice following and staying with Murray more over fences.  The defensive position works for us in stadium because he so often gets behind my leg and super deep to the jumps.  But out on XC he was leaving strides out (read: using an appropriate take off point for any other horse), and jumping me right out of the tack.  And for the first time ever, I kept pulling my reins too short, and noticed that my elbows were locking.  So I will have to get a new set of reins (mine have an inconvenient tear in the rubber grip), and work on those elastic elbows.

We schooled Sunday too and he was just as faboo!

seasoned professional

I’m not sure if there’s anything more first-world-problem than this: after a lovely schooling outing on Saturday at a new venue, my phone died in the heat and proved to be irresurrectable (like the word I made up there?) so the only evidence I have of the schooling outing ever happening are my OWN MEMORIES.

deadphoneIt is pretty upsetting though.

But such is life when you are technology cursed.  My phone will be replaced under warranty and I will never see the videos again, and my juju for phone killing will live on.

Schooling was a nice outing though, even if it was a bajillion degrees.  We went to Eventful Acres, which is up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.  Murray stepped off the trailer with a little trepidation, but quickly settled in after I let him munch on some delicious irrigated grass.  He even tacked up with minimal complaint, stood at the trailer while I dicked around with my hair net, and stood to be girthed like a professional.  That was when I first suspected something was wrong.

IMG_3333Murray was behaving like an adult.

We walked out and schooled a portion of the course that was buried in the woods, and despite taking the uneven footing and smattering of pine cones as an opportunity to spook, he didn’t try to dump me and run.  While we waited for other people to school the elements, Murray calmly ate grass and then perked up when I pointed him to the jumps.  He jumped things and landed happily and cantered on or turned to eat grass as I directed.

He was…. scarily grown up.

Multiple people commented on Murray being the Steady Eddy of the group, and I was pretty impressed with him myself.  While the greenies in our group were tucking their heads between their knees or wiggling around and unable to focus or broncing for the first time in living memory, Murray was like “… can we eat some more of those clovers please?”

It was weird.

We schooled much of the BN course and a little of the Novice course, including a nice big turkey feeder and a really steep creek-to-log-out that utterly terrified me.  I was like “are you serious that you are supposed to be galloping along then cross this path and go down this creek at a walk then trot out and jump this log ARE YOU FOR REAL?!?!”  In truth, I felt that a few of the jumps were a little bit… odd for the terrain/level, but I understand that you have to use your terrain as you can!

Murray was jumping fantastically.  I used my newly re-found skills of not driving into the saddle the entire time and stayed up in a teeny half seat and only sat (but lightly) a few strides prior to the fence.  I could really feel this working as I pushed Murray toward the fence and prevented him from just shrinking his stride up beneath me*.  And repeatedly, in response, Murray jumped the fence from a good spot, not his preferred spot deep to the base of the fence.  We jumped in stride and it felt awesome!

* Interestingly there was a pony in our group who really exemplified Chris Scarlett’s statement that a shorter stride is faster/a longer stride is slower.  I could quite literally watch and hear her squeezing those extra strides in.  It was very interesting.

murraydeep

We had one truly disasterous set of refusals at a up bank to four stride to log with a downhill landing.  Murray was first made quite uncomfortable by the turn to the up bank, as we had to pass by a small dam and a big willow tree with a scary shadow, and then he was busy staring at a tall hedge of Italian Cypress on our right.  Once we got up the bank, after a couple of tries, Murray was like “yeah, no” to the big log.  So I listened to him.  He was so adult and reasonable for the entire schooling up until that moment, and I wasn’t riding particularly well.  So I figured it was a good idea to trust the fact that Murray wasn’t willing to go out on the limb for me, and not jump that log.  If I’d been in better riding shape and had a stronger trust bank, perhaps I would have been willing to push the issue.  But after hardly jumping in two months and riding only a little bit more than that in the time, I was happy to take whatever Murray would give me.

IMG_8458

We await to see if my phone will be able to give me the videos back if it ever connects to wiffy.  My guess is no.  So Murray’s most adultest** expedition will just have to live on in our memories!

**Not like that, get your mind out of the gutter.

bestieland goes cross country schooling

To cap off my mighty nice weekend, I went XC schooling on Monday with my trainer and my RBFs.  It was so awesome that the trip turned out to just be the four of us, as it really suited each horse and rider’s needs perfectly.  Trainer B took one of her OTTB projects, RBF-Q took her baby OTTB she got in January, and original RBF took her moving-toward-BN-baby OTTB.  It was an OTTB-tastic adventure!

yves11I don’t have XC schooling media so enjoy some excess pics from this weekend

Ever since I got to watch all that cross country running at the event I was desperate to have a go at the WSS course, and even more desperate to have a go at the Novice course there.  WSS is a great move up venue because the course is on the soft side for the level — there are full size fences, of course, and some good questions for every level, but overall the entire course is not full of level-sized questions.  Which means that it was PERFECT for me and Murray to get some Novice schooling chops at!

We started out warming up over low logs, as usual.  RBF-Q has never taken her baby (Logan) schooling, and he’s been struggling a little with understanding jumping at home.  He’s very smart but not the most confident boy in the world, so if he struggles to understand a question it really knocks his confidence down.  Logan was quite convinced that logs are not for jumping, so B took RBF-Q and the baby over to some even tinier logs on the ground and they practiced just walking back and forth over them.  RBF and I watched from afar as Q and Logan walked, then trotted, then cantered over some teeny logs and then had a nice little gallop back to us.

yves8

Both Murray and G, RBF’s dark handsome supermodel horse, were full of the sass out on XC — kicking out and jumping around and shaking their heads.  Murray even tried to pull some G-man moves, throwing his head down between his legs and shaking it and wiggling his body.  It was absolutely hysterical, as this is NOT a typical Murray move, but a very common Gryphon move.  Gryphon was just as celebratory.

The fourth fence on the Novice course is probably the biggest question on the Novice course, a full height-and-width table on a very slight uphill slope.  B told me to push him forward to the fence and ride it in an open stride.  Murray had been super active and forward so far so I thought that would be easily done, and when I sent him toward the table he was in attack mode.  The last three strides to the fence I could feel him shrinking his stride, so I rebalanced a bit, and then we got SUPER deep and he launched over it and climbed it.  I think he hit the table in front and behind, and I could do nothing but pat him and commend him for pushing through my fuckup.  B told me to try again, but this time push forward to the spot — even if it was a deeper spot, ride forward to it instead of picking back to it.

IMG_8878Why can’t we have uphill XC canter in dressage?!

I opted to jump the smaller BN option next to the big table for my do-over, to avoid the stop I thought Murray might throw in if he had bad feelings about the big table.  It was the right call, because I felt him shrink back away from the BN table about five strides out, so I really pushed him forward and even though he took it deep, we got there on a good stride with a good pace.

We also hit up our old nemesis the downhill log, and I had absolutely zero qualms about trotting it after seeing plenty of pros doing so at the event and hearing Yves advice.  When we were course building I had also laid out a VERY generous ground line with bark (which was pretty bright red), and it was absolutely not a problem.

jumpfail

In the meantime, RBF and G were happily schooling lots of BN options!  G was like “what is the big deal, guys?” and cheerfully attacking all the fences.  G had a bit of a dork moment at the up bank where he took it super long and then landed a bit funny behind and used it as an excuse to party down a little bit.  When she went back to the fence G got the perfect spot and was like “wait, I want to party but I don’t seem to have a reason to….”  I had so much fun watching RBF and G take on the bigger fences, they both were so joyful when they succeeded — which was every time.

yves9

RBF-Q and Logan got the chance to school a few more little logs as we moved back to the water, and after a few more fences Logan was like “OH FUCK YEAH I GET THIS NOW!!”  It was awesome to watch the cogs turning and see him grow in confidence and understanding.  I love seeing how baby horses learn!

Murray and I did have one stop, when I saw a really open-strided spot to a ramp coming out of the water and didn’t keep my leg on.  But I turned him around and we went right back to it without issue.  The brand new coffin complex also posed us a bit of issue, but since the ditch is reaaaallly wide I just kept pushing him toward it until he decided that it was, in fact, jumpable.  I guess black-painted ditches are a bit scarier than the others we have encountered so far!

yves12Sassafrass

Basically, Bestieland schooling was a huge success.  All the baby horses got their learn on, and Murray and I schooled the entire Novice course!!

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.

IMG_20160402_081414

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.

dressage

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:

Sometimes you just need to take a good look before deciding to save Nicole's butt. #goodboymurray #notoriousottb

A post shared by Nicole Sharpe (@nicolegizelle) on

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.

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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….

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