saddle fit part two

Murray and I had our second saddle fit appointment this weekend.  After a couple of emails back and forth with Robyn, wherein she asked a bit about my budget and purchase timeline desires (free/asap ideal, but less than $1200/this month will do), she shoved* a bunch of saddles for us into the car and met me first on a day full of appointments in the area.

* Honestly she probably placed them with care and attention. But what do I know.

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happy turned-out ottb besties

Murray got a brief topline exam again while naked, and Robyn said he looked less sore and sensitive than at our last appointment (because I stopped riding! hah! take that, soreness).  She asked what I had been doing (not quite the prescribed lunging over poles, but lots of turnout and only riding and lunging in wider/better fitting saddles), and seemed to think the break had  helped rather than hurt, which was good news.  Then it was on to fitting some of the saddles Robyn was proposing for us.

Murray, of course, had other ideas. ¬†Idea number one was to not let a single saddle touch him, no way, no how. ¬†When I tried to hold him and put the first saddle up he actually ran away fast enough to dump the saddle in the arena sand. ¬†I managed to save it from hitting the ground full force or skidding, but it¬†did¬†hit the ground. ¬†Robyn, shockingly, did not fire me on the spot. ¬†(I ran to get our barn manager and she held Murray for a few minutes, then whispered “DON’T make me come back out here,” in his ear, and he was relatively well behaved for the rest of the appointment).

img_20170209_103157they continue to grow into fat happy sausages, and
Ginny continues to be my fave!

Robyn tried four saddles on Murray without telling me a whole lot about them. ¬†Then she padded up an English saddle stand for me to sit in each saddle. ¬†She asked me how the first saddle felt and if I thought I would hit the pommel sitting in it, and I honestly couldn’t tell. ¬†But when I sat on saddle two, it was clear that I liked this much more than saddle one. ¬†Saddle three felt immediately a bit funny, like I couldn’t get my seat bones firmly on one side or the other of the seams on the seat. ¬†I told Robyn this and she had me get off immediately, as if my seatbones were sitting right on the seams there was no way I would ever feel balanced in the saddle (who knew?!). ¬†Saddle four was okay, but the pommel was high and we thought it might interfere while I was riding.

So on I got. ¬†Fortunately, the saddle I liked most was also the one that seemed to fit Murray best. ¬†We girthed up slowly (Robyn: You just walk around and take all the time to tighten the girth that you need. Me: Oh, I think it’s tight enough now. Robyn: Doesn’t look tight enough to me… Me: Trust me,¬†you can get away with a much looser girth than most people think.), Murray was fairly reasonable. ¬†But who knows what his tacking up behavior means from day to day or saddle to saddle — certainly not I. ¬†I rode in saddles two and four, and Murray was fairly compliant and starting to stretch down and forward a little in both saddles. ¬†Robyn said she could see a little more tension in Murray’s neck while I rode in saddle four, but I couldn’t feel it.

In the end, I decided to take saddle two on trial. ¬†(In fact, Robyn insisted that I take any saddle I was really interested in on a week trial.) ¬†It was a little more comfortable right off the bat for me, and Robyn liked how it fit Murray. ¬†It’s an ANKY brand saddle (perhaps the Salinero model, but I’m not sure), used, and in good shape. ¬†It feels different than any of the saddles I’ve ridden Murray in, but I’m cautiously optimistic about it. ¬†I’m trying not to swing too hard to either side — no OMG I LOVE IT IT CAN NEVER LEAVE but also no OMG MURRAY DIDN’T BECOME A GRAND PRIX HORSE SEND IT BACK.

img_20170210_133159I was so close to taking a cute selfie with my horse. Then
SOMEONE had to go and ruin it.

So that’s that for the dressage saddle. I’ll know by Sunday if I’m keeping it or not!

The jump saddle situation is a little more complicated. ¬†Robyn didn’t have any on consignment that would work for us, but she showed me what to look for. ¬†Briefly: a medium wide saddle with a high-ish pommel, generous gullet (especially at the pommel, hard to describe) and panels (no narrow gullet and thin panels like some saddles, including my current one), plus rear and (if possible) front gussets. ¬†It’s helped me narrow my search a lot, and Robyn has been super helpful looking at pictures to help me decide.

We’ll see how it goes with the Anky this week (spoiler alert: Murray broke his halter in three places and somehow shoved a shoe halfway back on his foot so that was nice), and if it looks good, it will stay. ¬†Altogether a shockingly pleasant saddle shopping experience compared to the past! ¬†I was pleasantly surprised.

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and then Murray tried to bite my cell phone

setting up for success

One of my goals for 2017 (though you don’t know it yet as I haven’t pushed the goals post) is to write more ride recaps. ¬†They are really helpful, and since I don’t jot things down in my ride journal consistently any more, it’s good to have information preserved here.

When I got back from Thanksgiving last year I launched right into riding and Murray was Not Into It. ¬†I stuck it out because I didn’t want to get off and lunge him simply for the sake of lunging and letting him “win”, but… better choices have been made. ¬†Another¬†of my general goals (for this year and forever) is to set both Murray and I up for more successes (success = confidence = more success = more confidence = NOTHING BUT A CIRCLE OF AWESOME). ¬†So after 17 days off and very limited turnout, I threw Murray on the lunge line to start off our ride.

lunge02pony looks strangely huge in this image

Murray is typically less¬†reactive to the long girth (setting up for success!), so I put on his jump saddle and brought the lunging equipment out to the arena. ¬†I haven’t lunged Murray without some kind of dressagery-contraption on him (side reins, chambon, etc.) and boy does he look funny with his head all poking up in the air. ¬†After his mini vacation Murray had the steering and go button of a lesson pony — it was adorable. ¬†He got a couple of wiggles out, shook his head a few times, tried to pretend that he didn’t know what to do when poles SUDDENLY APPEARED in front of him, and then we got to work. ¬†He struggled a little to hold the canter going right, which was odd, but I figured that he’s allowed to be a little stiff after so much time in his stall.

After getting on I tried to stick to my principles of making things go right from the beginning, asked Murray to soften into the bridle and keep marching forward (weirdly, he was capable of this), and then move into the trot with minimal fuss. ¬†Since I was in the jump saddle I practiced a little two point, but felt weirdly slippery and insecure in the tack. ¬†I guess that’s what I get for not riding for two weeks? ¬†I let him stretch out at the canter and blessedly (thank you, pony gods) he did not buck or kick me out of the tack.

lunge01I’m feeling sooooooo reasonable tonight!

Murray got a little tense in the corners of the arena that had stuff in them, but he did pretty well when I pushed him off my inside leg to ask for more bend and more give. ¬†He was falling over his right shoulder also, but that’s nothing new. ¬†I focused on twisting my body along with his bend to help control his right shoulder, and while it wasn’t perfect, it helped. ¬†Cantering right he kept breaking into the trot when I asked him to sit ¬†a little more on his hocks, so I didn’t ask too much.

We were sharing the arena with one baby horse, who was being pretty good but had one minor meltdown when she kicked a clod of dirt against the wall. ¬†Murray scooted and shuffled after the baby’s freakout, but got his ish back together really well. ¬†I did one spiral in-out in each direction trying really, really hard and failing to keep Murray straight while we did it. ¬†I just want the neck bend, let me have the neck bend! PLEASE. ¬†I am an inside rein addict. ¬†Ah well – just another thing to work on!

Since it was already 37 when I got back to the barn, I put Murray’s medium weight purple blanket on. ¬†Okay, that’s a lie. ¬†I put it on to admire the purpleness. ¬†It looks kinda weird but I think it was the right choice (also, hopefully it will not rub his shoulders, but looking at the picture I think it will rub his hips goddamnit).

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hunchback of notre dame

Murray can never, never live in a snowy place, I think. ¬†It’s been downright hot in California the last few days, and he’s been so well behaved that I can hardly handle it. ¬†If his extreme quirkiness is seriously just the rhythms of the seasons and the world and the phases of the moon, and he’s as unpleasant, girthy, and dorky as he is during California winters, can anyone imagine what he would be like in the snow? On the East Coast? ¬†During some kind of polar vortex?

Just no. Let’s not never ever do that. Please never. ¬†To celebrate Spring, I made Murray a garland of flowers and adorned him with it. ¬†Guys, I suddenly get why putting shit on your horse’s heads is so fun. ¬†I get it now and¬†IT IS AWESOME!!

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I did have a lovely ride with Murray on Monday, and started working on some of the things Sprinkler Bandit talked about from her dressage clinic. ¬†I just asked Murray to be engaged, stretching through his neck,¬†and moving forward at the walk and trot (with some canter breaks to help keep him limber; it moves the pelvis in a different way from the trot does). ¬†Shockingly, I got Murray’s best ever stretchy walk/free walk, and some great, connect trot where I think we were really starting to track up and push from behind. ¬†At least a little more than before. ¬†The downside is that he was super Trippi Hedrin, hopefully just out of laziness, but possibly from his sliding stop the other day. ¬†He has a chiro appointment Thursday regardless (bye, bye, skrilla….).

I also discovered how serious one of my own foibles is. ¬†I’ve been struggling seriously with Murray being pretty crooked, with his shoulders out and haunches in a little tracking right (especially right, sometimes also left). ¬†I was practicing some 20 meter circles, and as I tracked right realised that I could¬†see my right shoulder out of the corner of my vision. ¬†I seriously did a double take — that shoulder should have been¬†nowhere near there.¬† I adjusted myself and pulled my right shoulder up and back, and made sure to twist from the waist in the direction I was moving. ¬†It wasn’t immediate, but I definitely felt Murray improve his straightness to the right over the course of our ride, requiring less insistence from me to keep it. ¬†He still wants to fall right a little, but that’s a separate issue. ¬†After just ten minutes of moving like this, my right shoulder was seriously starting to feel it, and when I relaxed I felt it pop forward and down and had to remind myself to sit up straight and hold it back again. ¬†Seriously. ¬†Quasimodo status right here.

I also got the little horse out again for some playtime. ¬†Eclipse’s biggest struggles right now are accepting that he has to leave his friends and relaxing during work, so I tried to keep things short and sweet and end with some grain and lots of praise. ¬†He objected not once, but simply cried out for his friends (truly pitifully at times). ¬†We worked on relaxing a little on the lunge line, and voice commands (woah being the most important, he’s quite happy to go forward). ¬†I’m not in any rush to get him under saddle, so we’re just thinking fitness relaxation right now.

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I have a job interview this morning (Tuesday).  First time with a real job interview.  Wish me luck!

winning a fight by not fighting

I had a really lovely ride on Murray today, the first nice dressage ride I’ve had all year (all year I say! not that the year has only been 14 days or anything), and had a little mini-dressage revelation.

We started out with Murray’s new lunging exercise, Tina Steward recommended and approved. ¬†If you’re interested in really encouraging your horse to stretch down, lift the back, and lift through the withers, this is a great exercise. ¬†You put a loose side rein on the outside, just to stop shoulder popping, and throw the lunge line through the inside bit ring and down to the middle buckle on your girth, between the front legs. (If you don’t have a buckle on your girth you can use a piece of baling twine or a little leather girth-ring attachment thingo). ¬†As you lunge, you ask your horse to be forward without moving fast. ¬†Forward without rushy¬†is key to this. ¬†Then you use your lunge line like you would the rein — a little pressure and then you give when the head comes down. ¬†And I mean down — like, Murray’s nose has been essentially dragging in the dirt and I never thought he’d be capable of that — below their knees. ¬†I’m certain I can’t take pictures while lunging, but I’ll possibly convince a friend to take pictures while I lunge some day.

Anyway, after a few minutes in each direction (we’re working up to 5 minutes of trot each way), I hopped on and picked up my standard warmup — marching walk, long rein trot and canter work. ¬†Ever since our most fantastical dressage lesson back in November, Murray and I have seriously been playing catch up just to try to get back to that place. ¬†It’s seriously frustrating, because we were making a lot of progress and the holidays and some fussypony trickery really caused a backslide.


Seriously we were making alot of progress. (If you haven’t read the alot comic at¬†Hyperbole and a Half, you must.)

So today I practiced all those things we are so good at practicing. Like leg yields and shoulder in. ¬†Murray was fussy, as per his usual this year (not tired of saying that yet), and not his best. ¬†Eventually, we couldn’t avoid it and we had to work on a little walk work, which at the moment is his absolute worst thing. I’ve somehow lost all ability to elicit anything like a forward, medium walk from him, and Murray tosses his head around near-constantly at the walk when asked to engage his back. ¬†My fave. So dreamy.

14627101506_4b0c8518f2_oI will not go forward. I do not believe you.

And so this is what he did. ¬†And I just decided to ignore it. ¬†I had to kick M¬†off my leg once when he completely ignored me and popped his shoulder out for no reason in a turn, but other than that, I didn’t nag with my seat, I just insisted on forward with my leg and kept my hands steady. ¬†Murray kept fussing and looking for a fight, and I mean,¬†looking for a fight. ¬†He was swinging his haunches around, tossing his head, and kept getting glued into this one corner which was driving me¬†insane. ¬†But I persevered. ¬†And eventually, I won. ¬†Murray gave in after he spooked pretty seriously (headlights came into the arena from the road somehow, right into his face), and I said “that’s cool, let’s keep working.” ¬†And weirdly, I somehow think letting the spook go is what convinced him to just go with the flow. ¬†Because after that, everything was copacetic.

So we did our spiral in/out to the right (he’s more supple left right now so I’m focusing on working right and stretching out his left side), a couple of canter departs to the left (working that weak right hind), and then I called it.

I won the fight by not fighting. ¬†Which is a technique I absolutely¬†hate when my boyfriend tries to use it on me! ¬†Because I’m all hey EFF you, I’m RIGHT, so FIGHT ME OVER IT SO I CAN WIN. ¬†Evidently, it’s actually a pretty legit fighting strategy. ¬†And I should probably employ it more.

Pony will be happy tomorrow regardless, because we’re having a jump lesson!

One of those days

I just love starting a day off crying in frustration with my big toe throbbing thanks to a well-placed hoof to the boot. ¬†Don’t we all?

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courtesy of horse nation

No, nobody?

Yeah, me neither. ¬†Though I can probably count the number of days in the last year that I’ve cried in frustration and anger, they were basically non-existent before Murray came into my life.

Today’s incident was over nothing, as it always is. ¬†I just got a new saddle, and the billets are a bit shorter than on my old saddle. ¬†I don’t need to buy a new girth, but Murray thinks that it’s just a bit toooooooo much of a squeeze to get my girth buckled at all on the new saddle, and he ought to be able to run away instead of accepting it. ¬†I thought that I had trained Murray to accept girthing, but clearly not; I’ve just covered up his discomfort with distraction. So great, back to the drawing board on that one.

As I was trying to get the girth buckled, Murray, misbehaving out of both discomfort and rudeness, took a wry step and stood on my big toe. When I pushed him, he didn’t move, and continued to stand on my foot until I screamed at him and threw the lead rope into his face. ¬†Really, standing on someone’s feet is not¬†acceptable. ¬†Murray flew backwards, then skulked back up to me guiltily. ¬†I did get his girth on, after calling him several rude names and reminding him that he doesn’t decide what size girth he wears. ¬†(Especially when one matches my new saddle so perfectly.)

Don’t get me wrong, while I do cry easily I’m not known to cry over just getting stepped on. ¬†But a morning of fighting with my horse about something as simple as tacking up — we’ve only done it 200 times since I met him! — followed by a stomped toe pushed me over the edge. I know that it only upsets me because I care — if any other horse stepped on my foot and stood there, I would have unleashed a holy war upon them and they¬†would have been the ones crying in the middle of the barn aisle. ¬†But Murray…. Murray is the only horse who has regularly reduced me to tears. ¬†I try to be the stone in the stream, the leaf in the wind: I let myself have a cry, then get over it. ¬†The younger girls I ride with have even realised that it’s not a big deal when I cry any more, they check in to see if I’m really hurt (“do you need ice? are these tears of frustration?”) and then let me get on with things.

Zen, my friends. This is why we need so well to find our zen when dealing with baby horses.

And wine. Wine helps later.