plodding right along

Murray recovered excellently from his “pigeon fever”, and though I never got the official culture results back from the vet, it seems pretty unlikely that the one abscess was actually the pidge. But after a week of standing around in his stall, Murray was feeling a little off and abscess-y, maybe a little stiff from not really using muscles for three weeks, and not quite up to real rides.

All just a part of his master plan to avoid real work, I’m sure.

what, me? no never.

I considered giving him some more time off, but we hadn’t yet gotten Murray integrated into the big boys field at the farm. Which meant that without riding, Murray would remain stuck in his stall 24/7. Murray was still sound at the walk, so we walked. And walked. And walked.

I mean, there’s only so long that you can just walk around. So these rides weren’t exactly long, but at least we were getting out.

We took advantage of the gallop track and cruised all around the field solo. Murray was very calm, which was fantastic for me. He only got excited when he saw some new friends coming up the way toward us, and he pranced over to them and asked if they wanted to play. Shockingly, neither their riders nor I were interested in Murray playing with them at just that moment. It’s lovely to have a 1 kilometer track so available — two laps around was an easy 2k walk, and helped get both of us stretched out.

At the same time, we worked on getting Murray integrated with da boyz.

new fren!(emy — apparently Theo is a bit too aggressive of a lover for Murray)

I took him for a few walks around the big pasture (it’s about 20 acres) when it was empty, and let him get used to the perimeter. I did not let him touch the hot wire. I wanted no part of that. And then on Sunday evening after all the horses had come in, we put Murray out with an older pony named Tony, and let them cruise around together for a few hours.

Murray cruised, Tony was like “please let me back inside for my dinner.”

The next morning, Trainer J and her assistant gave Murray a teensy bit of sedation and put him out in the field in the morning. As far as I heard, no other horse in the field thought anything of it.

not even this dino-behemoth

It’s weird having your horse integrated into an already-stable pasture group of 15-ish other horses. I mean, I know how I’d do it if they were chimps. And it’s not the same approach that J took. But this barn has a lot more experience integrating new horses into a field than I do, and a lot more horsemanship overall. So I trusted them, and it went perfectly!

On day two in pasture Murray stuck around with his stall neighbor, Delgado. D is very understanding of Murray poking his head into D’s stall every time we go by. And I think that Murray appreciated that D didn’t want to aggressively groom or play with him, or herd him away from other potential friends.

twue wuv

Murray is already looking more comfortable after getting a few days of turnout, so fingers crossed whatever this is will just resolve itself. Maybe that silly abscess will just pop or go away or whatever. Or if it’s residual stiffness, it will just work itself out with turnout.

We’ll keep plodding along at the walk (and hopefully more soon?) and with the turnout. The vet comes out today to look at another pony, so I’ll have her take a quick look at Murray too because WHY NOT see the vet twice in the month we move.


What a pony wants, what a pony needs

I had intended to write a post when I was barn- and trainer-hunting this summer, to talk about what Murray and I wanted and needed in a trainer and how to narrow down the choices from far away. Only, I called a few barns, chatted with a few trainers, and ended up making a decision REALLY quickly. I found what I wanted, it was in my price range, and boom, we were done. No need for blogosphere help.

Then L posted about her barn-hunt requirements this week, and I thought a bit more about the decision-making process that guided my barn decision.

Going into the search process, I knew I needed (in order):

  1. Turnout. I think horses should get to be turned out as much as possible. I know it’s not possible in all areas of the country, but I’m willing to pay a fair bit more/sacrifice other things to get this.
  2. The distance from my house to the barn to be less than 40 minutes. I don’t hate driving, but I want to be able to pop in on the horse if I need to. 40+ minutes is not “popping in”.
  3. Quality horse care. Good staff, good services, good feed.
  4. A high-quality trainer who does more than say “do it again” or “more leg”, but no required training program.

Any of these were somewhat flexible based on what else I could get on the priority list. I’d take a slightly longer drive for a better trainer, or be willing to self-clean a bit for more turnout. If there was no trainer at the barn, I needed the ability to bring a trainer in.

Turnout was really the priority. Murray likes it, it makes him happy, and it’s good for horses. I’m not really interested in getting into a program where horses are stalled 24/7, even if they do have paddocks. Group turnout is good, in big fields is better, for many hours at a time is best. So I started searching equestrian facilities in my area and winnowed down from there based on the facilities that made it clear on their websites that turnout was a priority.

values his time outdoors

I’m lucky, because within an hour of me there are probably 50 barns that I could have chosen from. Everything from small facilities where every horse gets a half-acre turnout of their own (bananas but actually something I found) to Rich Feller’s former property right across the river from me, with every horse in their training program. And a lot of them featured turnout as a priority for them. Somewhere between a few hours and all day turnout was really easy to find.

Since you can’t interview horse care on a website, I skipped right over 3 and started looking at trainers. This was the big hiccup — there’s one eventing trainer in my area (spoiler alert: I’m at her barn). There were a few other people who advertised themselves as eventing trainers, but didn’t have much of a record on USEA. I was totally willing to ride with a jumper or dressage trainer, as long as I could bring the other one in. I leaned toward riding with a jumper trainer, since it’s a little hard to get jump training at a dressage barn that has no fences or jump arena (and some DQs frown upon you taking over their arena with coloured sticks), and my trailer situation is still nonexistent.

hahah I’d forgotten about pony refusing to get his butt into the trailer

I asked around at home about the one eventing trainer in the area and got incredible references. So I called her, and pretty much reserved my stall right then.

On the pick two, I’ve made a pretty vertical line. Good riding instruction is included, but on the nice facility/affordable balance, we’re half and half.  The property is older, but what we do have is well maintained and safe. It’s more than I was paying in California, but not so much that it breaks the bank. The stalls are bedded practically up to my knees once a week, and are always immaculately clean (unless your horse is on stall rest for the pidge, which makes being clean difficult). While Murray was on stall rest, they fed him an astronomical amount of hay and hung a hay net for him every afternoon — which he fucking loves.

The indoor arena is the size of a full court, which is acceptable and will probably mean lots of grid work this winter. The outdoor track is great for running for humans and horsies alike. And the outdoor jump field looks like it will be a TON of fun…. if we can ever get out there. I watched Trainer J give some lessons, and I like her style — she focuses on the specifics and making little changes to affect big change, but doesn’t get wrapped up in the negative or say nasty things to her students.

All the horses are just the right type of chubby and have good muscling and actual toplines. Which is a great sign. They put the horses first, even if it means going to a little extra effort. While Murray has been stuck inside, they’ve been turning him out in the indoor while Juan is cleaning his stall — so Murray gets some turnout AND doesn’t traumatize poor Juan. It also sounds like they have a ton of fun showing, and have plenty of space in the rigs.

gimme dat carrot and let me get back to my hay net

So far, we’re really happy here. I hit all of my priorities: Murray will (soon) get turnout all day in the big field with many friends, it’s 17 minutes from my house, the horse care is impeccable, and Trainer J seems awesome. Time will tell, of course. And I have plenty of other options if I need them!

well played, you sneaky mofo

This post was going to be all about how well Murray is settling in to his new barn. And it kinda still is.

We had two really nice rides last week. On Thursday after he arrived, I figured I’d get on Murray for a little hack around the indoor so we could blow some steam off. Murray was wiggling and jiggling at the tie (which happens to be right next to the kitchen where his grain is prepared) and my new trainer (J) suggested I take him to the indoor and turn him out for a few minutes.

new indoor views

In the indoor, a lovely teenager happily opted to give us the space so we could have some crazy time and she went outside for a quiet ride. Murray ran all around, rolled, shook off, snorted 3 times, and cantered around some more. J came in and watched us, laughed about Murray being “definitely a thoroughbred” and complimented his cuteness.

I was definitely worried that Murray would be too much, er, Murray for a new barn. But everyone has been super understanding, accommodating, and welcoming. It’s awesome.

isn’t it awesome, Murray?!

After a quick run around, I tacked up and got on. We cruised all over the indoor and did a little bit of w/t/c, but not so much that Murray was like “eff this place that makes me go on the bit all the time.” That evening we even got to have a little turnout so that someone wouldn’t be too bananas.

cute pony i found at my new barn! i will steal her

On Friday morning, a group of riders were headed out to the back field to ride and asked if I wanted to come with. To which I responded an enthusiastic YES. The back field is super cool — probably 20+ acres of pasture with a gallop track (about 1200m) and grass jump field. I took one look at it on my tour and was like “yeah I’m getting bucked off out here.” To add to the openness, you have to walk down the property line past a whole bunch of hoop houses owned by the neighboring nursery, and there are cows and goats in the pastures adjacent to the field.

murray is skeptical about hoop houses

Murray was a dweeb all the way out there, pushing past the other horses then trotting sideways down the lane. When he saw the hoop houses he took a hard look at them, but I just kept pushing him forward. The lane was somewhat narrow so we didn’t really have much other option, and the last thing I wanted him to do was stop and back up into another horse or the hotwire of the mare pasture behind us. Fortunately, once we got to the field Murray was much more interested in something else.

sweet nectar of Oregon

We walked around the dressage court, grazed, looked at some fences, grazed, did a little trotting, grazed, cantered, grazed, chatted with new friends, grazed.

You get the gist.

Murray was much calmer walking back down toward the barn, so I hope that after a couple more trips out there he’ll think it’s old hat!

When I was untacking, I noticed that a bug bite on Murray’s belly from the day before had pitted under the girth and made two boob lumps. Which was weird. But I assumed that it would go down, since Murray has had allergic reactions to bug bites along his belly before.

But then on Friday, the lump was bigger. And on Saturday it was even bigger.


On Sunday we called the vet. She came first thing Monday.

Most of the lump is just pitting edema. But there was this one sensitive, firm section that she thought might have some fluid in it. So new vet gave Murray a second dose of sedation and aspirated the lump, which spat out some pus. Yay.

For those of you familiar with California horse disease, this is not looking great. It’s a tentative pigeon fever diagnosis, but the sample got sent off for culture.

We cleaned out the one abscess and couldn’t find any others. And it was pretty clear what was abscess and what wasn’t — Murray was cool with you thumb printing the pitting edema all over, but on the abscess site he was kicking his belly with shocking accuracy. New vet put Murray on antibiotics, and he’s now on stall prison until we get the culture back and the abscess site closes.

He’ll be fine. If it is the pidge, we caught it super early. If it’s not the pidge, we caught it early. It’s just an abscess.

And of course, I can’t ride. Because the abscess is right where the girth goes.

Well played, you monster. Well played.

he’s home!

In the middle of the night on Tuesday I bolted upright in bed freaked out that I had forgotten to meet my horse at the barn when the shipper dropped him off.

But I needn’t have worried, since he wasn’t even getting picked up until the next morning.

Early Wednesday morning I got this picture from the hauler.

that’s the exact amount of suspicion that I’d expect Murray to have with this situation

The hauler, Kevin McNabb at Twin Palms Custom Transport, was fantastic. He let me know the shipping schedule and as soon as he picked up the last horse on the leg he updated me with an approximate time window of arrival. A couple of hours before drop off, he let me know a more exact time.

I headed out to the barn intending to arrive 15 minutes before horse, only to get off the freeway RIGHT BEHIND the Twin Palms trailer.

At which point I had massive waves of anxiety wash over me and a little bit of an anxiety cry.

Kevin got Murray off the trailer for me, told me that he’d been a great boy on the trip (which may have been a lie because I could hear kicking/pawing in the trailer when we were figuring out a place to park). Murray walked off the trailer like a fucking professional (thank goodness for side ramps) and quietly walked down the driveway with me to his new digs. Like a perfect horse.

Cue panic that I got the wrong horse.

His tiny lips were super pursed though, so I think he was probably defaulting to ULTRA GOOD behavior since he hadn’t seen anyone he recognized for 11 hours.

And now he’s here. In his new digs. He had a big drink of water, and a super long pee while simultaneously eating hay in his new stall as soon as he walked in. I made him a mashy bucket so he could get plenty of extra fluids in, we took a little walk around the indoor arena, and then I tucked him in for the night.

He’s home.

Murray was the last thing we had to move from California. The realization of which cued another wave of tears because human emotions are hard for me to process. But we’re all here now, and he’s pretty happy with his new setup. No paddock, which is a bummer, but the horses get all day turnout in a huge field in a big group so I thiiiink he’ll survive.

He can still walk, trot, and canter in straight lines and circles. And he hasn’t bucked me off yet.

Oregon pony is off to a good start.

half halts part 25748

I have not thought about half halts in a while. Which is abnormal for me, since I was utterly obsessed with them for ages.  (Okay, there’s apparently almost no blog evidence of this. But I talk about them a lot with my friends.)

I just have bigger problems than half halts these days. Like getting my horse to actually come over his back and push into the bridle.

hay fren pls go to the bridle like this always (or more)

Then in one of our recent lessons, Megan was like “okay so push your horse across the ground! go! bigger canter! bigger!” (we were cantering). I was like geez holy fuck that’s really big and it’s a bit scary.

And then she was like “okay great! really great there! now lift his front end up by accentuating the upswing, without making the canter smaller.”

I struggled with it for quite a few circles, but finally found a balance where I could push my horse OUT and then balance him back UP a few strides later and hold that balance until he was juuust about sick of it, and then we would head back OUT again.

“That’s your new half halt!” said Megan. “Right now, I want you to half halt him and his canter should get BIGGER.”

the widest hind legs he’s ever hind legged!

So that’s my new half halt right now. It’s not subtle. It’s not small. It’s my legs going GO GO GO and then my seat going UP UP UP (actually I say out loud “over the ground, over the ground, over the ground, on the hind leg, on the hind leg, on the hind leg” to make it happen, but you know).

And that’s where I’m at with half halts.

jumping the big canter

Murray and I have not jumped much this year.  Since we got back into real work in March, we’ve probably only jumped twice a month — so 9 or 10 schools? It’s not very many, considering that in previous years we’ve jumped once or twice a week essentially all year long.

When we started jumping again after winter, there was definitely something a little different about how Murray was jumping. He was cantering much bigger and taking off in what felt like massively long spots — so like, normal spots for most horses. There was also a lot of bucking and wall kicking.

K is for kick the wall right here!

But he got back to feeling Murray-normal pretty quickly. Which I’ve now learned means I quickly shut his canter down, turned his hind legs back into chopsticks, and shrunk his stride down to tiny little chips.

All of our dressage work lately has been focused on making the canter bigger and lifting Murray’s withers up. I was interested to see how this would translate to jumping. I’m not very good at riding the big canter yet, and it doesn’t necessarily feel very steerable/controllable. So I was hesitant to point it at jumps. Better to try this in the comfort of my home arena than to wait until after my move to pull out the big canter, though!

Fortunately, it turns out the big canter is pretty jumpable. Better for jumping, in fact (shhhh nobody tell Nicole from 5 years ago that).

cantering big canter doesn’t grant a good release, unfortunately

Murray and I definitely struggled to break out of our little canter/stabby hind legs mold when we first approached each fence. But on the second approach I felt more comfortable pushing Murray out over the ground and encouraging him to really move forward, and we got some great spots!

big canter into the one stride!

Reviewing the video, it was clear to me that the big canter a) needs work for jumping still and b) still requires me to fucking ride properly. Even with a big canter, when I didn’t keep pushing Murray’s stride out to the fence, he still shrank his stride down and ended up chipping in to the fence.  And it wasn’t necessarily a balanced and uphill tiny canter, it was a short, stabby-ish tiny canter. It is going to require more strength and subtlety on my part to hold together the big stride + uphill balance.

big canter into the 4 stride

When I say big stride, I’m not just  looking at how far Murray can stretch out over the ground. I really want his hind legs to come up under his body more, and for his inside hind leg to truly reach forward in the canter.

When I just shrink Murray’s stride down (I’m not sure exactly how I do this, I think by limiting the movement of my hips and preventing them from swinging forward) to the fences, Murray responds by making the stride smaller. But he also puts his hind legs down much closer together, and he shrinks the hind-leg distance down proportionally more than he shrinks the stride down. If that makes sense.

shrinking the stride toward the liverpool — see how close together those hind legs are?

I’m somewhat stuck between a mental rock and a cerebral hard place, though. Because when I let Murray gun it (aka run) down to fences, he’s more likely to stop. So I want to keep his canter slow and under control. But when I make the canter slower by making it smaller and shittier, I force him to jump poorly. And also make it easier for him to stop.


I end up having to fight all of my instincts to slow Murray down toward the fences and keep pushing him over the ground, but also avoid letting him run or get frantic. Basically, to work on balancing the horse uphill while keeping his legs moving under his body.

Which is cool — it’s the focus of all of my canter work all the time right now. I think I’m up to five whole canter strides balanced upward. Five! Five whole strides in my comfort zone.

But what I know for sure is that we are done with that tiny little canter! Cause it results in such ridiculousness as this.


the middle will not hold

L posted this blog title a few weeks ago and I was like “oh, this must be about core strength!” It was not about core strength. But core strength has totally been on my mind lately, because it’s something I’ve only just started to need when riding my horse.

I know, I know! You want to sit the trot, Nicole. Don’t you need a core for that?

false! you do not need a core if you let your horse trot like a floppy donut

Yes, I believe you do. But it turns out that when your horse is rather flaccid and toneless, you can crunch and squeeze and ab all you want, but it’s not going to help. And when your horse uses his hind legs more like chopsticks than hocks, no amount of core strength is going to help you avoid getting bumped around and out of the saddle with every stride.

I’ve learned that before I can stabilize with my core, there needs to be something to stabilize. Which means getting my horse moving forward with positive tension, and getting him to reach under with the hind legs and push all the way back with them. (For me this means slowing my post waaaaaay down but keeping the mechanic big and the energy up. Your mileage may vary.)

This is a quite nice picture of us, but is such a good representation of both of our weaknesses. Murray is not tracking up and is generally toneless, in addition to being a little behind the contact and is shoving energy backwards. For my part I’m nagging and letting my cereal box fall forward, and don’t have my glutes actived basically at all.

So now we’ve gotten my horse moving and on the aids. Per my biomechanics instruction I’ve got my thighs on and I’m not letting go of the connection, and keeping my elbows at my sides. I’m doing my best to keep my seat plugged in. And then Murray will burst into a bigger trot — which mostly I want, and usually have asked for — and suddenly I’ll feel my middle plunge out from under my shoulders and bow out forward toward Murray’s ears.

And that is a very new problem for me. I’ve been hollow-backed as a rider before, but mostly in a misaligned attempt to keep my shoulders back while my butt has simultaneously slid a little too far back in the saddle  (I suspect due to over-activated hip flexors). But I’m not used to being one of those riders who gets drug around by her horse (though it is a lot easier to ride when your horse is the one doing the dragging!! at least when it’s Murray level dragging, anyway.)  That’s a combination of kicking and thumping with my leg and desperately trying to keep myself upright and from not falling back. Now, I can actually feel my middle itself caving in when Murray’s movement gets a fair bit bigger.

somewhat squashier — and a nice effort from Murray! I find that I tend to really shove myself down into the saddle when I do anything moderately complicated (like a change of direction ROFL so complex). so at least I have the right instinct starting? cheating with my hands though!

So now I have to add another thing to the biomechanics equation: post mechanic big, thighs on, post slowly, an squash my torso down so that it is shorter and wider, and my abs make a wall. If I’m trying to make my abs a wall but I’ve not squashed down, I can still feel them wavering a bit — the middle will not hold. But if I really think about pushing down — squashing my ribs towards my pelvis and my shoulders down into my ribs — then my abs automagically become much stronger.

My current goal is to squash my torso down so much that I’m basically a toad — just a great big pair of legs coming out of a little squashy ribcage and almost no neck. That seems like the most stable arrangement, honestly.

How do you stabilize and solidify your core when riding? Is there a method other than squashing myself down into a toad shape that you’ve found works well?

BTW I fully expect to have an eight pack if I keep doing this. Will let you know how that materializes.