stargazing

In grad school, my Bayesian stats professor frowned upon what he called the practice of “stargazing” — that is, staring at the p-values of your model results to determine what predictors were informative or not. He called it stargazing because many academic journals use asterisks next to results to indicate their significance level (* = p < 0.05, ** = p < 0.01, *** = p < 0.001; TLDR you want more stars/a smaller p-value). This professor was more interested in effect sizes and model error, which makes a lot of sense. You can have a very statistically significant predictor with a biologically irrelevant effect size. Which doesn’t make that predictor very good, in reality. Or you can have a predictor with a massive effect size and large error bars that mean it ultimately isn’t statistically significant, but might be worth further investigation. He made a whole R package called “stargazing” that reinterpreted the results of models with little asterisks just to make people happy.

Most of my stargazing now revolves around trying to find shapes in stars. For a long time I thought Murray’s looked a little bit like a horse jumping a fence with his rider climbing waaaay up his neck. A horse with no tail, I guess.

with the purple as the deformed-ish horse and the blue as the rider!

But now I think it looks more like a fetus or newborn kangaroo, which delights me.

I love a good star. There are some classic shapes — the diamond (Wonder from the Thoroughbred series, right?!), the heart. A friend’s horse had the most adorable balloon on a string.

Eugene has one of the greatest stars I’ve ever seen — like a little sunburst.

or a hairy little seed!
Eugene also meets my “makes me look good in selfies” standards

And I’ve seen a couple of horses online lately whose long star-stripe combos look like germinating seeds which I LOVE. I couldn’t find any to post here, but they are particularly delightful.

Jag has a perfect #1.

This guy’s looks like a rose! ❤

Image may contain: sky, horse and outdoor

I told my husband that if we ever find a horse or a puppy with an Airbender star, I’m automatically allowed to have it. He agreed because it’s so improbable.

I also personally swore to myself that if I found a horse with a star shaped like the continents of Africa or Australia that I’d definitely at least give them a second and third look. Or if it looks like a gang symbol. Or something obscene.

Image result for airbender appastars just really don’t normally make arrows that point down

I saw a horse at the track with just the best star once! It was a classic diamond, but had been interrupted horizontally in the middle by a line of brown hair. It was fascinating! I also loved him because he was being very Murray-ish about standing around in the paddock. I have no idea what his name was, sadly.

What does your horse’s star (or face marking) look like? What are the best stars you’ve seen? Show them to me! I love stargazing now.

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more camelot media!

I’ve been going to Camelot since 2011 — I’ve been so many times that I thought it would be fun to compare some media from my many shows there.

Dressage centerlines


june 2012 — check out that velvet helmet cover and horrifying braids! with the lovely Quincy

july 2015 — first rated show!


2017 – the final centerline since we cantered the first one!

2018 – I swear I was smiling just seconds before this!

Dressage tests


2012 – the definition of cherry picked! I only kept 3 pictures from this dressage test.
none of them were cantering!

2015 – the lean was fierce!!! this test scored a 39 — I was over the moon

2015 – canter leaning on point

june 2017 — aww look how cute he’s getting! still doing some weird shit with my torso though.


2017 – canter work was full of strugz


2018 – outfit on point, sideways lean almost eliminated!
no canter pics from 2018 again! oh well.

Cross Country

I pulled together a collection of schooling and showing pics for XC comparison. I thought there’d be more cross over between the various fences, but there wasn’t.

2012. holy long spot, quincy! murray could fit at least three more strides in there before taking off!

2012. camille, before she got a face lift!

 
2015. So good at jumping.


2015. this is Murray’s patented “slither” move.

2015 schooling like rather a juggalo here


2017 – we actually jumped the purple roll top this time!

2017 – I had originally thought this blue bike rack was the same as in the massive long spot above, but it isn’t!


2018. turns out i still climb my horse’s neck on occasion!

2018 – camille again! the previous section pictured is just to my left in here — by her tail.

2018 — this year, a bigger roll top!

Stadium Jumping

 2012 – this is the fence where I screamed “dickhead” because I made Quincy runout. sorry Q, I was definitely the dickhead there.


2012 – these BN fences look soooo tiny!

There were no 2015 stadium pictures, of course, as I was eliminated. But look! There are some bonus pics from Murray going intro in 2014 instead!

2014 – little baby murray!!

2014 – this is when i started to get serious about my outfit. is till own and wear this shirt!


2014. what even is happening here, murray?

2017 – enter the rainbow grab strap!


2017 – and the hanging knees. some things never change.

2017.  what a curiously familiar takeoff point that is, Murray…


2018. LOL those knees.

2018 – this seemed rather an unnecessarily big effort.

2018 – same knights as above!

 

shake it off

When Kate came up and rode Murray, she described him as trying to “shake off” the aids. When she put her leg into him, he wiggled or squirmed or maybe even kicked out, but didn’t necessarily go forward. Which is the whole point of putting the leg on in the first place. Megan pointed out that sometimes in response to leg Murray just pushes his ribs back into the leg — which is something I have felt before, but never had anyone identify it to me so I didn’t know if I was being crazy. These are such perfect descriptions of my horse’s behavior, though. He’s totally not being malicious. He’s just problem solving in a (for me) unproductive way.


no Kate, NO, you may NOT put your leg on me, nooooooooooo

In the last two months or so I’ve worked hard on pushing through those instinctive responses of Murray to just flick me off when I go to apply aids. It means pushing through my own instincts too. Because when Murray starts to get a little wiggly or sideways or offer up the wrong response, my go-to is to let up and try again. Which inadvertently tells Murray that he should repeat that behavior, because it resulted in a release of the pressure. So instead of letting up I have to keep my leg on and wait for the right response, or something resembling the right response, before I let go of the aid.

Even though he’s  learning rapidly and incredibly well lately, it’s still in Murray’s nature to shake off an aid he’s not totally in favor of.


“problem solving”

For example, sitting through the canter aid, which Kate suggested would help Murray understand the distinction between leg = bigger trot and leg = canter. Though I only use one leg for the latter and both for the former, sometimes it’s easier to canter rather than trot big. So this should help clarify that. Murray’s thoughts on sit-sit-canter range from THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE to ugh fine. We’ve been getting less offended flailing and more acceptance though. The other thing I noticed is that my first attempts at this lost all of the bear down, and I inverted in the middle and arched my back through the aid and transition. If I’m inverted through the transition, I can’t imagine that it’s easy for Murray to be round through it. So I focused on bearing down and shortening my front line through the transition, and it did seem to improve things.

not like this. this is not bearing down.

Then there’s connecting to the left rein. He’s always lacked connection to the left rein, as we both tend to just rely on the right rein for… most things. Megan directed me to really keep that left rein connection when it’s on the outside and push Murray over into it with my right leg. And in response, a couple of times Murray has flicked his head to the outside, turned left, or just stopped and gone backward. Which is, sorry kiddo, not what we’re looking for.

And then I caught myself doing something SO MURRAYish it was embarrassing. Though it’s somewhat torturous to do it, I’ve been forcing myself to improve the connection and march at the walk  before I move on to the trot. It doesn’t have to get perfect during the warm up, but it does have to move toward being more marching and through than when we started. A lot of this means finding out where Murray wants to start in the connection, and adding a bit of leg for more march and connection, and asking for a bit more roundness, having him bend properly instead of rotating around his inside front leg, then adding a bit more march and connection, etc. And after I added leg and felt Murray push into the bridle a bit more, I did something with my hands to shake him off the contact. I don’t recall exactly what it was, but that’s hardly important. No wonder this horse doesn’t want to take or trust the contact — if I’m not thinking about it, I might actually tell him to not do the right thing. Oops.

oh hey, apparently a year ago i briefly learned that short reins make my horse look way better. i clearly promptly forgot it.

Yet another example of how I am, truly, just like this horse.

So lots of things to focus on, and lots of dedicated practice needed for our rides. But it’s getting a little better, bit by bit. And once I stop accidentally shaking my horse off the aids, it will probably get better a bit faster!

vacation + house sitting

If you’re wondering, a fantastic way to get comfortable hauling your horse is to haul him approximately 250 miles over the course of 4 days. This is not necessarily a way to make your horse happy with you. But damn, I feel much better about trailering now!

Murray had just one night to languish at home in his pasture after Camelot, and then we got right back in the trailer and headed to my in laws’ house for ten days of house sitting and dressage schools and vacation and trail rides. He wasn’t happy about getting back on the trailer, and he was even less happy when he unloaded (may have sat down a wee bit). But he’s settled in and is doing all right.

The property is dreamy, with miles of trails nearby (mostly ag roads, but with some gentle terrain), and a full dressage court with mirrors (we had a dressage camp here a few years ago!). I’m getting some work done, and I’ve only messed up the irrigation every day so far. So that’s good work.

Unfortunately, being away from all my trainers has me feeling rather panicky. Murray is learning so quickly lately — he’s in a massive upswing of understanding. At the same time, I’m changing a lot about how I ride and how I communicate with him. Which leaves me in this terrible position of feeling like I shouldn’t ride unsupervised at all right now! What if I do something wrong? What do I do when he gets confused? How am I supposed to fix it when he throws new weird shit at me? Am I posting slowly enough?!

We will survive, obviously. And it’s all right — if there’s anything this horse has taught me, it’s that almost anything I mess up now I can probably fix later! (With the right help, of course.)

night check / bedtime snax

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smashing & crashing

I’ve been watching a lot of Great British Bake Off so I mean smashing in all of its possible positive connotations, and not just the ones that look a bit like this.

I was a little worried about the XC course at Camelot. It was challenging — which is pretty much what Camelot excels at. And instead of a nice, friendly, welcoming, come-jump-me first fence, the Novice course had a big, barky, ramp-y hanging log.  I knew I’d have to ride it hard.  The second fence was the arrow, but after that pretty much everything on course was something we’d seen or jumped before.  They were still challenging and a good size, but they were at least challenges I was familiar with. Including that knee-busting down bank from last year.

yep, this arrow!

Murray warmed up really well. He didn’t feel tired, but he was listening and wasn’t sassing me too much. Kate, on the other hand, was full of sass. She kept telling me things like keep my ankle bone on my horse, and that I needed to steady my lower leg and stop jumping for my horse. And I was like “don’t you KNOW how this horse feels about having legs wrapped around him?” and she was like “stop sassing me and be a better rider”*. So I tried to do just that.

Given our problems with down banks lately, I made a plan with Kate for the down bank. She wanted me to ride the house before it on an opening stride, and then push Murray forward from that house for a stride or two with that same BIGGER feeling. Then I would keep my leg on and sit a little back to the down bank (Kate said I wanted to keep that feeling of having 3/4 of the horse in front of me). Murray could take all the time he needed to look at it, but I wasn’t to take my leg off or lose that forward motion. (I think. That’s how I remember the conversation, at least.)

The part I didn’t tell Kate was that if he refused it once and didn’t give me a good feeling about a second go at it, I was planning to retire. I wasn’t prepared to fight about it, especially not with a TD looking on.

Fortunately for us, the down bank wasn’t a problem!

Right down the bank, hooray!

We did, unfortunately, have a problem with the first fence. I tapped Murray three times coming up to it, but he was having none of it and needed a good, hard look at that fence as we got on top of it. I circled him and we got over it the second time, but at that point I knew we were absolutely just in it to finish and not to make time.

And it’s a good thing that I got that into my head early on, because our course was riddled with ridiculous moments of barely slithering over fences (maybe Murray learned something from that snake?), trantering, and stopping to STARE at fences that were absolutely not on our course.

Despite the stopping and staring, the fences I actually had a plan for rode really well. We got right over the trakehner without circling (my foolproof technique to get Murray’s attention back before fences on a downhill), and the down bank rode perfectly. I thought we’d get such an utterly shitty spot to the roll top out of the water because we’d lose all of the energy through the water, but lo and behold it rode just fine. We got in tight but not because we chipped in! It was the fences where I was just like “this is normal and easy, just go like you go at home!” that we flubbed majorly.

I told Kate that I pushed and leaned to this fence and took the flyer and it was awesome! I did push, and I did lean, and it was awesome. A flyer it was not.

Which is a pretty telling lesson.

We ended up with two 20s and a fair bit of time. C’est la vie when you stop for a peek every five fences on course and throw in an untimely circle before the last fence because someone is afraid of the finisher’s booth. It absolutely wasn’t perfect, but it’s also something that has gotten much better with practice in the past.

On Sunday morning Murray was definitely tired. He wasn’t quite as peppy in our stadium warm up as he had been for cross country. He was a good boy though, and jumped all the things, even with a HUGE break in the middle because of show scheduling probs.

I’m not exactly sure what went wrong in stadium. The timing wasn’t perfect. And we were tired. And the fence we crashed into was right next to that dreaded announcer’s/finisher’s booth that Murray hates so much.

What I know happened is that Murray jumped big over fence 4 and even bigger over 5. We didn’t manage to get pictures of number 5, but I really felt him crack his back over it. We landed in a bit of a pile, and I didn’t manage to get him back as we came around the corner to 6. Kate describes Murray’s scrambly gaits as “chicken gaits” and that’s exactly where we still were. We didn’t have a good rhythm and we didn’t have a good tempo. Whether it’s because he was scared of the judge’s booth or the fence or just didn’t feel like it, Murray tried to cram another stride in before the oxer and there simply wasn’t space. And down it came.

 

 

Fence four. Just a wee bit higher than we needed to be.

It was a disappointing end to the weekend to be sure. It would be nice to finish an event on my first go at the level some time. (And maybe to stop failing so hard at Camelot!) But it was an educational one, and it was fascinating to see Murray’s and my problems through a new trainer’s eyes.

We have a lot to work on — as always. But it’s work I know we can do, and work I’m excited to start on.

Plus — as many of you have mentioned — my outfit was on point. Now I just need some navy gloves….

*Not an actual Kate quote. Just the way I interpreted her kind sentiment.

better every ride

After hauling all the way to Camelot on my own, and getting there when it was rather warm, I was pretty delighted to find myself stabled next to Eugene and Levi. They are two of my favourite ponies, and I knew they wouldn’t spend the entire weekend kicking at the panels when my horse tried to befriend them. Murray ended up being much more friendly with Levi than Eugene (shhhh don’t tell David but Eugene is a bit of a snob!!).


I spent three days trying to catch these two making out

I knew from the get go that there would be a lot of different stuff about this show. Murray is a different Murray than he was six or nine months ago, and part of the new training paradigm/protocol is not letting him get away with unnecessary shit. Not to say that I get wild or whippy on him when he throws out some Murray moves — just that we get on with our lives and it doesn’t get him out of responding correctly to what I was asking for. (And yes, if this sounds a lot like “good training” you’d be right. Isn’t it wonderful that I’m learning about it now?!!)

So we got out into warm up, and after stepping on the danger noodle, we got to work. Kate said she’d refrain from trying to change the horse too much, but would throw biomechanics fixes at me to help put us together. And boy did she ever throw biomechanics at me.

First, Kate told me to stop shoving and over-riding the walk. Um, I thought I was just following the motion the way I was supposed to? No, apparently not. So I just stopped trying to do that all together, and focused on simply not resisting the walk. When we moved on to the trot Kate kept telling me to slow down my posting — no, slow it down more. She did not want me letting Murray bounce me around into the trot he wanted. Which is also what I thought I’d been doing for the last two weeks. Or not. You know.

I might even be smiling a bit here?
this must have been in the serpentine — which got a 7!

Kate wanted me to pull my seat bones further toward the front of the saddle — sitting them in the deep part of the saddle, instead of sliding them toward the back and perching forward slightly. It turns out I have this tendency of stacking my ribcage slightly ahead of my pelvis, so even though my spine is relatively neutral, I’m not actually sitting up straight. To remedy that, I needed to keep thinking about kneeling and sliding those seat bones forward in the saddle.

By far the biggest change in our schooling came in the canter work. Kate kept reminding me to lift the saddle on the upswing, and then allow the canter with my hands. I’d do one, and promptly stop doing the other. When I could do both at once and keep Murray moving forward, the canter totally transformed! I must practice this canter more to solidify the feeling and the mechanic, because that is the canter we’re actually going to be able to do stuff with.

On test morning I got up early and fed and braided, and only ended up about three minutes off my projected mounting time, with a clean ponito. I paid a kid to braid his tail and she did an incredible job — her best, she said! along with the comment that Murray has a really, really long dock — and we were looking spiffy and ready to go.

“free walk” (lol) — judge’s comments “needs more stretch, breaks to trot”, scored a 5
(we broke to the trot in the next movement also, garnering a 4)

I was not prepared for this dressage test. I’ve been riding “circles” and “diagonals” for months but haven’t actually paid attention to any movements or geometry. And the walk work? HA! I knew the walk would be what it was, so spent the weeks before focusing on the connection and the trot work. So I went in hoping to nail the geometry of the circles and serpentine (oh yeah, made Kate school me on those before — and was she ever a fucking task master about their size) and with fingers crossed for the walk work.

Before I went in to the test I asked Kate for a mantra to get me through the test and keep reminding me of what I needed to be doing to ride well. She gave me one for the trot and one for the canter — sit to the front of the saddle, and allow with the hands respectively.

And all in all? The test was great. I kept my reins shorter than I’ve ever (test) ridden with them. I had my leg on and Murray was prompt and pretty much on the aids. Our two big blunders were breaking to the trot in the free walk, and breaking to the trot again in the next movement (medium walk). Given that we’d schooled walk-trot transitions a fair bit in the last few days, you can hardly blame the guy. Plus, new mistakes! I love new mistakes. Hate old mistakes.

bad habits still exist, though!

Even with the two mistakes, we earned a respectable 35 even. (If we’d not blundered, I would have been in the 33.5 range, putting me ahead of at least one pro but WHO IS COUNTING NOT ME.) I thought the judge (Jane McEnespy) was very fair. I watched the test of a horse a few rides after me, and the horse was super obedient and steady and very quiet. That horse also had his head down but had zero connection through the reins and was totally behind the leg. They scored a 37.9. I feel like that’s pretty fair for a quiet, obedient, respectable test that isn’t totally correct. At least for Novice.

I am so proud of how Murray showed up for this dressage test. He came out of there like it was the most normal thing in the world. Oh — and I forgot to mention that because the ring stewards were being a little conservative about sending people to the rings, we had to legitimately trot over to our ring to get there in time. I’m also pretty proud of myself. I went into a dressage test and rode the hell out of it.  I didn’t just try to coast through and avoid, I put my leg on and actually did the thing. That’s pretty cool.

final halt and salute got us a 7.5, even though it wasn’t totally square. perhaps a little generous.

I’m still working on my salute. I definitely don’t practice in front of a mirror to see how it looks. I like the alignment of my arm with my body here, but think I would look a bit better if my hand were a little closer to my leg — less winged out to the side. What do you think?

many firsts (just not the satiny kind)

This weekend at Camelot was… a lot. A lot of fun, a lot of firsts, a lot of hard riding, a lot of hard work. I didn’t go in expecting it to be easy, and it wasn’t. But it was harder than I thought it would be.

This was my first solo hauling trip, and my first time traveling to a show without my main trainer. Which is not to say I was without training — Kate stepped in and did an incredible job. If I’m clever I’ll dedicate a whole post to it. The short version: you gotta get yourself a Kate.

I borrowed my MIL’s rig to get Murray to Camelot and despite a minor anxiety-inducing moment leaving her driveway (there is a VERY NARROW BRIDGE with a VERY TIGHT TURN) it was smooth sailing. A trainer friend helped me find someone to back the trailer up in a pretty primo parking space (I just had to drive through a dressage warm up to get to it), and we were set!

Right before we schooled in the dressage courts, I stepped on a snake for the first time! I was lining Murray up with a big wooden mounting block and checking his girth and the stirrups when I stood on something a little squishy. I looked down and thought “that’s funny, someone left a lead rope! Usually I’m the one who leaves lead ropes around.” And when I lifted my foot up, the lead rope SLITHERED AWAY.

Clearly my Australianness has worn off, because it’s genetically ingrained in us to NOT step on snakes. And there was a danger noodle, right under my foot!

helmet + bonnet + coat on point!

This was Murray’s first show wearing a bonnet, and my first show in my sparkly new helmet! (I’m pretty sure Leah found it for me last International Helmet Day, thanks Leah!!!) I think Murray liked his bonnets. Every time I went to put them on he’d duck his head down and let me pull the fabric over his ears. Normally he is not a fan of me messing around with his ears or the top of his head.

Oh and — duh — this was our first rated Novice.


and our first tail braid!

We had a personal best dressage score — our first 35! — even with two, two mistakes! Murray broke to the trot in the free walk and medium walk — another set of firsts, because usually he’s like “uggghhh do we really have to trot again, I thought we were done?”.

There were some less awesome firsts, though.

We had our first good crash into a fence, bringing down most of an oxer.

And for the first time, I retired on course.

It’s the only thing you can do after crashing like that, really.

This was also the first show I’ve gone to where I knew that I wasn’t prepared enough. Not that I haven’t been underprepared before — I just didn’t know it in the past.

It was by no means a perfect weekend. But all things considered, it was a pretty damn good one. Tears and all.

I learned a ton. I got to gallop fast and jump big. If there are holes in Murray’s ability to listen to the leg and go forward toward scary things, it’s nothing we can’t fix (I hear it’s all about this thing called “stimulus control”, right Kate?).

A million thanks to Sheila and to David and Olivia for pics. Where would I be without you guys?!