barefoot update #4

I haven’t written a barefoot update in a while because progress on the barefoot front has slowed down.  With the rainy season beginning in earnest, Murray has been stuck in his stall with minimal turnout.  Less movement == less progress. I’ve actually seen a little regression with his gaits, which is a bummer.  But his feet have still made some nice progress, and next week marks 12 weeks since  started on this whole barefoot adventure.

We’ll start with the left front. It’s so much more straightforward than the right front…. though more problematic, in some ways.

LF in October

The angles aren’t exactly the same, but Murray’s toe is a little shorter and his heel is way less underrun now. As in, he has a heel!! The hairline is also even now — no more dip in the front!

LF in January

Best of all, there’s a pretty significant change in angle in the new growth on this foot!  I traced the new growth (and extended it down) in orange, and traced the old angle in red. We will have a much, much healthier foot if that orange growth continues down to the ground!

Murray’s LF sole has also shown some pretty significant changes. I had my farrier come out for an inspection/trim this week, and she took a little bit off his toe and clipped away some funny, flaky bits coming off his sole. (I have before/after pics for the RF, but the before pic of the LF is really blurry so I didn’t bother uploading it.) She was very happy with his progress so far!

October on the left, January on the right

Let’s talk about all those neat changes!  I created all of the reference measurements on the October image, then superimposed them on the January image without changing the size.  So I could make accurate comparisons, duh.  First, the frog is much wider.  Probably 10-15% wider, which is awesome!  You can’t tell in the picture, but the collateral grooves are also deeper.  These have been steadily getting deeper over the last 12 weeks, as the foot gains concavity and the frog gains depth.  The heels have also widened (purple bracket), and the toe (blue bracket) has shortened!

RF in October

Murrays RF has also made some good changes, but is going through a much scarier ugly phase than the LF right now when viewed dorsally (this picture was before the trim, it’s slightly less scary now).  But he’s not unsound — well, no more unsound than he was before I pulled his shoes! — so I’m going with it.  And here’s the thing — and it’s weird, so bear with me.  This foot is now wider at the top than it is at the bottom.  The top half inch or so of new growth is wider all the way around the coronet band.  Farrier thinks (and I fervently hope so!) that the wider section will probably continue to grow like that all the way down, and we’ll just end up with a bigger hoof overall!

The sole is much less terrifying than the dorsal view — here’s Murray’s foot in January pre- and post-trim.

That excess heel (red arrow) is what my farrier trimmed off during the appointment.  And the blue arrow shows his brand new breakover!!  Murray’s never before had a breakover that wasn’t, you know, his shoe.  Confession: I actually thought that might have been his coffin bone falling out though his sole at first, because I’d never experienced a barefoot horse’s breakover before.  I was quickly informed that he would have been crippled and hobbling were that the case.

October on the left, January on the right

Sole comparison shows a lot of heel expansion (purple bracket), and a longer toe (blue bracket). Lots of people wouldn’t be excited about a longer toe, but I am!  This foot needs a little more shape to it, instead of trying to be a cylinder.  And as before, the frog has expanded and much more of it is in contact with the ground.  He’s a touch footy on the RF after the trim, but I suspect that will go away in a couple of days.

The caudal shots this month all came out crap, so I’ll probably just give them another go next month (with more light maybe?).

At the beginning of this month I started Murray on a ration balancer formulated for our area, which should help his overall vitamin/mineral balance and contribute to overall better foot health.  I’m also considering switching him over to pasture board, but haven’t decided yet.  I’m not sure that Murray would love it, but he isn’t loving being stuck inside right now either.  So… we will see.

The barefoot experiment continues for now!


john-michael durr clinic w the suzukini

Winter is for clinics, right? That’s what I’ve learned in the last five years as an Equestrienne. And fortunately for me, I got to ride in one pretty early!  Suzy’s lovely owner rode with John-Michael Durr (heretofore JM) on Friday at our barn, and I got to have the ride on Saturday at another barn about an hour from us.

Suzukini was a freaking champion on Friday, while simultaneously giving a really accurate reflection of her current training issues.  She wants to get tense and rushy and solve problems by putting her head down and going for it.  The problem with that method is that it gives her the perfect position to just… not go.   She pulled this trick twice, and JM tactfully guided Suzy’s owner through riding the mare better to the fences and presto — the mare jumped like magic.  Suzy jumped everything huge, and had no second thoughts about 2’3″ verticals and her first oxer!  I was very proud.

On Saturday, we loaded up Suzy and a friend’s horse (who was actually bred by Suzy’s breeder and used to live with her!) and headed over to Clay Station Ranch for our second jump lesson. Suzy hauled like a champ and stood at the trailer like a seasoned professional when we got there. The only problem I encountered was that her bossy broodmare-ing of me started to come back out again as we walked around — subtly shoulder checking me to get me to go where she wanted to go. I not-so-subtly shoulder checked back.  I kept our warmup really simple — walk and a tiny bit of trot in the outdoor arena, hoping to keep her calm and avoid working her up before we got in to our lesson.

Unfortunately, my warm up strategy didn’t really walk.  We got into the indoor for our lesson and Suzy was suddenly on fire.  She veered around the indoor choosing where to turn and when to turn and what to look at.  I tried to keep her slow and relaxed instead of rushing and charging with minimal input.  JM immediately told me to create the horse I wanted instead of restricting the horse I had.  Did that make sense? Nope.  He backed it up: instead of constantly telling Suzy “don’t look there, don’t trot so fast, don’t veer in here” he wanted me to tell her “go like this, turn right here, look over there” and then reward her for doing those things when I asked her to.  That I could do.

girl likes to jump everything big right now

JM’s theme for the weekend was creating a supple relaxation in the horse that you could add power to if needed — but taking the speed out of the equation.  We started by cantering a small X, which Suzy got right up to and then promptly said “nah, no thanks” and tried to run out to the right.  We approached again at a trot and she politely declined once more. JM had me walk her up to the fence and go over it from a walk, at which point I was really glad I brought my grab strap.

Our approach to the first fence foreshadowed the rest of the day.  Suzy wasn’t totally on board, and wanted to do things her way or not at all. JM had me slow everything down.  If we cantered, it had to be a relaxed and steady canter.  If we trotted, it still had to be a relaxed and organized trot.  He wanted me to show how being relaxed and steady would make life easier for everyone.

I got left behind a lot all day

This worked really well for most of the fences, though we never managed to nail the relaxed and steady canter approach.  All of our fences ended up with a long trot approach, and maybe a stride or two of canter at the end. A couple of times Suzy burst through the relaxation and charged the fence, but it got better as we went along.  Each time we would approach a fence with new filler (new concept for her also — we haven’t put much fill in for her at home), Suzy tried to charge out over one shoulder or the other.  I wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping my leg on to the fences at this point either.  JM pointed out that I would feel Suzy start to pull me down to the fence and then take my leg off.  What he wanted was for me to keep my leg on, but compress her stride and sit her up.  This would make it easier for her to jump the fence instead of choppily stopping in front of it.

she is awfully cute though…

This strategy worked really well when I remembered it, so to remind me JM yelled at me to kick about three strides out from a fence.  This resulted in a bit of fence rushing after some pretty good, relaxed approaches, but at least she was jumping and listening!  Kicking a few strides out from the fence actually helped me stick with Suzy’s jump a bit better, because it made it easier to predict where she was going to jump, instead of riding hyper-defensively in case she decided to pull me out of the tack with her big, heavy head.

Though I tried to be both firm (you have to jump) and supportive (but it’s okay if it’s not pretty), I’m afraid I didn’t give her the best ride for the way she was feeling. I’m very, very, very glad that I had JM there to coach me through it.  It was seriously one of the toughest rides, both mentally and physically, that I’ve ever had. I was using every muscle in my body to keep leg on, lift her up, steady my post, steady her strides… definitely am not in shape for this kind of riding!! (But I hope to be soon.)

errr sorry kiddo

It wasn’t my prettiest ride (except that one picture above), but it was productive for Suzy and myself.  I learned a ton of new concepts that I can put to use on her, and I got confirmation that the instincts I’ve had about her training (can’t let her rush around, have to teach her to relax and balance upward, etc.) were correct, which is so nice to hear! Even better, I got some great ideas for adjusting my ride on Murray.  The idea of relaxing my horse through a turn and adding leg to balance upward to a fence is definitely different from how I typically approach a fence — i.e. kick my ass off down to it and hope that we don’t add until we’re underneath it. So all in all, an excellent clinic.

Plus, JM is fun and supportive to ride with. Highly recommend him as a clinician!

That night, I went to Peony’s house for a Horse Girl Party and we watched FEI TV. I chose my new sport — I think that vaulting to the Dr. Strange theme is going to be much less physically demanding!


calming supplements & the placebo effect

I had a really tough ride on Suzy this week, which led me into a discussion with my barn manager about possibly giving her another dose of depo.  Barn manager suggested that since I spend a lot of time with Suzy, I’d be able to help Suzy’s owner decide if her behavior warranted another dose.  Now, there’s not a lot (almost none, but perhaps there is something I haven’t dug up yet) of evidence that depo actually does anything in horses, despite many, many, many anecdotes to the contrary.  Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, but I’m not really one to go adding hormones to someone’s lifestyle without a pretty good reason.

seemed appropriate here

This led me to think about the hundreds of calming supplements and treatments available for horses that have little to no evidence of a significant (or even potentially biologically relevant) effect upon behavior.  Hell, I use one of them!  Yet so many of us cling to these supplements and swear up and down that they are doing something.

But the placebo effect is a strong and very legitimate thing. Whether or not the placebo effect is causing actual physiological changes or is being exploited by companies to sell sham products, it is a very easy trap to fall into. Most of us are going to add calming supplements to a horse’s diet after they’ve been particularly wild and crazy for some amount of time — maybe a week’s worth of rides.  But if those particularly wild and crazy days are outliers, or even just somewhere on the edge of “normal” for that horse, then his behavior is going to trend back toward normal whether you add the calming supplement or not.  Those days were abnormal, and unless there’s something else significant going on to change the horse’s behavior (totally plausible — but not necessarily the case), the added calming supplement most likely did nothing.  The horse’s behavior was going to go back toward “normal” anyway.

big spikes of bad behavior like this == abnormal

Let’s say that we rate Murray’s badness on a very scientific scale of 1-10 each day: 1 is totally normal, no bad behaviors performed, 10 is rearing and striking.  (For the record, I’ve never experienced either a 1 or a 10 day.)  If Murray tends to hover around a 3.5 because he likes to get down with his bad self, but suddenly spikes up to an 8 one day, I’m likely to dump a bunch of extra magnesium in his bucket for a few days.  And then, because being a level-8 bad boy is a really unlikely occurrence, we just slide back toward the average. Which is both statistically and realistically much more likely to occur on any given day.

Especially because the way we think of behavior (or anything with a gradient, basically) tends to fall on a bell curve.  If we assume that each behavioral category is roughly on standard deviation away from the next, it means that behaviors in the “average” category occur 68% of the time. Behaviors one more standard deviation away from average occur with 95% frequency.  If being slightly nutty or slightly better than average is occurring with 95% frequency, any time you have a bad day, you have something approaching a 95% chance that your next ride will be better (assuming the two days are independent, which they aren’t).

So when we’re adding calming supplements, or more invasive approaches to calming behavior, how are we to know if we are really doing anything?  There are ways to test it — you could blindly rank your horse’s behavior every single day that you spend with him while another person either gives him that supplement or a sham supplement. Then you’d compare the distributions of behaviors demonstrated.  I just turn to the science.  Of course, there’s really not a whole lot of peer reviewed research in this area, which is frustrating.

All of this is not to say that I don’t believe in calming supplements or that diet can change behavior.  Obviously I do, and there are some behaviors that I have seen decrease rapidly with the right change in diet.  I am completely certain that if we mapped Murray’s behavior when he’s on alfalfa and compared it to his behavior off alfalfa, we’d see a significant difference.

even walking is hard when Murray eats alfalfa

But it does mean that I approach adding supplements like this with a fair bit of caution, and I pretty much don’t believe what I read from testimonials on the internet.  People are notoriously bad at understanding probability and statistics without training in those areas, and we love just-so stories.  We also really, really want to help our horses, and they can’t talk to us and say “I’m feeling a little extra girthy today, how about you take it extra slow while we tack up?” (I mean, sure, he does say that to me. It’s just usually while I’m tacking up and it’s a leeetle bit too late.)  It also means that I don’t pay too much attention to any one ride, or even any one week, when making decisions about this stuff.  One day is an outlier.  A whole week… could easily be a rough week.  Especially when there’s other stuff going on in the world that might influence behavior more than supplements do — changes in turnout, routine, weather… I’m seriously convinced that when the barometer drops, Murray’s brain swells and hurts his little head, because he’s usually much worse before a storm than during!

I may also use this logic to aggressively convince myself out of using supplements that might help. When barn manager originally told me to take Murray off alfalfa I was like “NAW THAT’S NOT A THING”.  Same with adding magnesium.  And both of those things had a huge positive effect on Murray’s general outlook on life.

So, how do you approach adding and subtracting supplements like this?  Just go with the prevailing wisdom? Trust your gut? Appeal to nature?

2018 goals

It’s taken me some time to put my goals together this year, as I’m trying to be all “responsible” and “adult”, make plans for my future, take steps toward something bigger, some kind of end goal.

In that vein of planning, I put a few moments into thinking about where I want to be in five years, and where I want Murray to be in five years.  I didn’t think about it too long — it made me uncomfortable so I quit!! But more realistically, it’s hard to think about where my horse should be in five years when I’m literally at the edge of my expertise where we are right now! Plus, who knows if he’ll have the ability or soundness to hold up to things I might want to do in five years?

Likewise for myself. I could say “In five years, I want to have my bronze medal!”, and that would be a pretty reasonable goal. Only, if this horse can’t do third (for any reason — doesn’t like dressage, lameness of body or mind, etc.) then I’m  SOL. I don’t presently have, and am unlikely to magically acquire in the next 4.95 years, the funds to lease or buy a capable horse to get those scores.

While that’s not the world’s worst excuse, it is an excuse, so I went ahead and made five-year goals that assume the horse and I stay healthy and sound enough to execute them. It was still hard.

nevertheless, I persisted

So, in five years… I would like Murray to be competing successfully at Training level and thinking about Prelim. Really, five years from now we will know very well whether or not Prelim is ever in our future.  If it is, I’d expect that we’d almost be ready to move up in five years.  Time is a-wastin’, after all. And I’d like to be working on third level dressage — maybe not showing, but working on show-quality versions of those skills.  I’d like to be able to take him to any show venue and complete, even if we’ve never seen the place before. I want to be able to take him off property to a clinic and demonstrate a reasonable reflection of our abilities, problems, and skill level.  I want to have enough saved up that I can stop contributing to insurance every year and know that, if he needs it, I’ll be able to cover him for anything insurance would cover him for.  Not all of these are pure Murray goals, of course.  A lot of the stuff in here means changes on my part also!

For myself, I want to be confirmed in good savings habits that will allow me to start putting money away toward mobility (in addition to necessary  savings): a truck and trailer in five years would give me a LOT of flexibility. I want to be working in a career position, not hopping from short-term to short-term gig hoping something will work out.  I’d like to have enough money and security to do what I love (feeding dollar bills to my horse) and take vacations.

Chipping away at the long term goals will be modest this year — at least on the fronts that require spending of money.

Complete 3 Novice level HTs — this is predicated upon that whole “saving money” thing, but this is my big show goal this year.

1+ dressage shows — schooling shows are fine, but getting out and doing the horse dancing thing is also a goal!

Ride in 2 clinics — this was super achievable in 2017, so it would be nice to do again in 2018. (Spoiler alert:  I am already halfway there!!)

4+ lessons with Tina/other dressage trainers — I put this in my savings goals this year also. I love riding with Tina, but I’m open to other dressage trainers too!

Sitting trot — another year of trying this, I guess. I think I might need it for that whole dressage thing.

Go to two new places — I’m going to go ahead and say that “new” will count as anywhere that pony hasn’t been in 2+ years. His memory can’t be that great, right?

Work without stirrups once a week — I’d like to do a whole No-stirrups November makeup month at some point. That would be… uh… ambitious of me.

Cavaletti Sundays — Some friends talked about doing a weekly cavaletti exercise. I often won’t do it on Sunday because I seem not to ride on a lot of Sundays (boyfriend, other life stuff, that whole thing), but cavaletti once a week would be a great exercise!

Boy has got some big goals this year!

Goal number one: Keep up with the Good Citizen Without Shortcuts program from 2017.

Cross ties — we are gonna do this. We have the tools!  Time to work up the motivation. Maybe when we’re over being nude.

Patience while tied — this is apparently some kind of thing that people practice with young horses to make them well  broke. I dunno. I hear it’s a good exercise.

Sort out the feet — the barefoot experiment is going pretty well, and I’m doing extra well resisting the urge to just slap shoes back on and call it good.  Murray’s feet will benefit from this, and it will help us sort out whatever underlying issues there are surrounding his feet.  And I know there are some.

Evaluate Murray’s living situation — at some point this year I’d like to experiment with pasture board. Not sure homeboy will like it, but he might.  Not sure I will like it, but if it’s better for the horse…

Keep soundness and health a priority — it’s worth reminding myself to continuously do this. It’s not that I purposely work my horse when he’s not sound, or that I try to make him unsound. It’s just that his low-level mechanical lameness makes it easy to brush off other little things as just part of the bigger peg-legged picture.

Don’t burn the skin off his legs. Seems simple, right? MAYBE NOT.

Ooh. Not sure I have any big blog goals this year. I’d like to explore getting my own domain. That lends a lot of flexibility and opportunity to a writer.

Write more science-y blogs. I have a few topics in mind that are already somewhat fleshed out (placebo effect of calmers/depo specifically, cribbing/stereotypic behaviors, how riders affect horse comfort) but if there are any you’d like to see, I’m happy to dig into the literature.

And because this has to do with online stuff (ish, but definitely the blogging/online horse community), I’ll throw it in here: develop a horse-specific income stream. I’d like to have an income stream that is just for Murray’s use (well, my use for Murray but you know). That way I’ll feel less guilty when I blow 1k showing for three days in Santa Barbara.  I piloted some tote bags on my friends for Christmas and they seemed to like the idea, so I’m working out how I can do this on a slightly larger scale.



Save a whole pile of money — be responsible, Nicole. Save money. Save enough money that you can go to Kenya in September!

Make time for a personal life — as do many people I know, I have this awful habit of planning to do too many things, making too many promises, and forgetting to make time to just sit back, relax, and what a whole buttload of Netflix with my boyfriend.

Sleep more — did you know that your bedtime is killing you? I fucking love sleeping. I am pledging to sleep more 8-hour nights this year!

Learn a new computer skill — computers are stupidly important in the world these days. It will probably make me more valuable and marketable if I learn a new computer language or skill.  Like SQL or … that’s the only one I’m thinking about right now, really.

Run once per week — that’s just 52 runs this year. Hardly any.

Pull ups — I’d like to be able to do three by the end of the year.

Be ruthless — I’m trying to do a lot of stuff this year. Get a career-track job. Save money. Stop over-extending myself. I need to start being a little more cutthroat in what I pursue. It’s not okay to half-ass a whole bunch of things. I need to start whole-assing fewer things.

the downside to clicker training

alternate title: when you fuck up the clicker training

Don’t clicker train your horse, they said. You will make him mouthy, they said. You will make him beg, they said. You will teach him bad behaviors, they said. You can’t change his nature, they said.

Psh, I said.

look how good at standing still this clicker trained horse is

Then it rained.

Then I clipped.

I’ve made a terrible mistake.

have been getting real familiar with this view

So let’s back up just a skosh.

I knew I had to clip last weekend. Murray is getting back into real work, and he’s not really in shape, so he sweats. But he won’t be rid of all that hair until May-ish (when he is usually done shedding out), and I don’t have the time to deal with a fully-haired horse in full work in hot-AF-California weather. It’s just… not going to work for us.  So I sharpened my blades, girded my loins, and prepared to clip.

As in past years, Murray was not totally down with the clipping thing, but he was relatively good. Because I kept a relatively steady stream of small handfuls of his favourite grain headed straight from my fanny-pack-full-of-treats to his mouth.  For some reason, he never really settled down.  Maybe it’s because I was too absorbed listening to Oathbringer on audiobook to pay full attention to him and click for good behavior instead of not-bad behavior (probably should have learned by now not to multitask my training). Maybe it’s because there was a huge storm system coming in and the barometer was plummeting.  Maybe he felt like being a punk.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I get it. It’s hard having such an incompetent clown for an owner. But we got it done.

It was the day after we clipped that the shit hit the fan.

First, Murray had his first tacking up incident since we started clicker training. I couldn’t really blame him… everything was wet and slick, and I wasn’t being considerate of the fact that he was newly nudified.  On top of it, however, he was a cookie-demanding monster.  Kiddo could not stand still to save his life, he just hit me with an onslaught of various behaviors in an attempt to acquire rewards.

This continued when we headed out to the arena, where Murray started digging at the footing almost immediately. I kept him walking so he wouldn’t roll (in the hopes that his desire to roll would dissipate), but there was absolutely no regard for either my personal space or (what I thought were) the firmly established rules of walking and clicker training. Murray was barging past me, cutting in toward me, pushing me over with his shoulders, and then snaking his head around to grab his reward for this excellent behavior from me.

Um, no. It does not work that way.

opinions, opinions, opinions

I stopped giving him treats at this point, instead focusing on the “do not fucking climb on me you horrendous beast” aspect of groundwork.  In response, Murray upped his desperate attempts to acquire any kind of grain reward from him.  When we walked over a ground pole he stopped after putting two feet over, then immediately walked backward over it without prompting. He never wants to walk backward over poles without prompting.  I tested this out again and approached another single ground pole, and he walked forward and backward over it and then looked expectantly at me.  When no treat revealed itself, he threw his head to the ground and started pawing.

It was around this point that I realized we’d not be riding that day, and I needed to take a different approach. I took off his saddle (for which he was really unreasonable and awful), and Murray immediately threw himself on the ground to roll.  He got up, took two drunken steps, then threw himself down again for another go.

After this, we worked on basic ground manner and basics. You don’t walk on top of me, you don’t shove into me with your shoulders, and you definitely don’t run past me and then walk around me in a circle. In fact, all of our sessions since then have been heavily focused on calming the fuck down and listening, instead of wildly offering any and all behaviors in a desperate attempt to see them rewarded.

murray’s spook level post clipping

And this, my friends, is what you get when you fork up your clicker training. I’m fairly certain that my unconscious clicking while clipping led to Murray being rewarded for a lot of crappy behaviors, and his expectation of a lot of rewards in a short amount of time. So I will need to take a new, more self-conscious approach when tackling training during challenging tasks in the future.

This has also highlighted some holes in my clicker training program. Patience and behavior duration, to name a few.  That’s what we’ll be focusing on for the next few weeks as we get back into serious training.  Hopefully I will suffer a minimal number of days when Murray desperately needs to throw himself on the ground instead of being ridden.

some things I’m saving for

Some clever bloggers are smart enough to keep track of their horsey expenditures in some kind of organized fashion.  Some people who shall remain nameless were not clever enough to do that.


I’ve been sitting down and doing some real #adulting lately, and decided that it would be a good idea to sit down and look at my equine expenditures and see how much I’m likely to spend on horsey stuff this year.  It’ll be interesting to see if reality matches up with expectations at the end of the year.  I ultimately decided not to share this information on the blog because I’m not really comfortable just… letting the entire world know exactly how much money I waste super-value-ably spend on my horse.  But there are some equine expenditures that I’m saving for that I don’t mind sharing.

gotta keep this little prince in the manner to which he has become accustomed

I’d like to bring bodywork into Murray’s life. He’s gotten a few massages over the years, but he doesn’t really like them. Our super wonderful massage therapist (A) has seen him a bunch as she’s at our barn all the time, but never laid hands on him. A and I discussed what to do with a horse like Murray who would benefit from the work, but inherently doesn’t trust humans, doesn’t really like being touched, and likes being touched and made to hurt (which massages sometimes do!) even less.  A actually had a whole program she’d work through with him. And, as I said above, Murray would really benefit from it, I think.  I hope he won’t need monthly appointments, but I’m budgeting for appointments every other month at around $70 each. (~$420)

I never got around to putting Murray on this last year, even though I intended to. He had his hocks done, then shortly after got stalled for the year.  It’s a monthly thing with a loading dose, and costs about $20 per dose. (~$200)

REALLY hoping I don’t have to, but many horses need these done annually. But saving for them regardless. If we don’t need them done, that’s money I get to keep! (~$400 without rads)

lets revisit the reason I spend all this money!

Rated events!
I’d like to go to some shows this year. They are fun! Right? I’d really like to not get eliminated at them also. Stretch goal: not have my horse try to dig his way out of his stall overnight.  The costs in this post are still pretty accurate. So if I aim to go to Fresno (~$800), Camelot (~$800), and Shepherd (not on the list because I used old data, but I suspect about $1100), plus memberships, I’m going to need to save close to $3000 to do that. Gulp.

Other shows?
Other shows maybe on the docket include some schooling dressage shows, maybe a couple of local fundraisers, oh, and clinics!  These are significantly less expensive, more like $200 for the whole weekend. I’d like the opportunity to spend $800 or so on those.

This is the first time I’ve really sat down and thought out my non-necessity spending in advance. Usually I’m just like “Oh, Twin sounds fun! I’ll find money!” and then I find money (or put it on a credit card and find the money later). But I’m turning thirty this year, and am trying to be a little more responsible with this whole thing.  And to make it translate to my hamster brain, this means I’ll need to put around $400/month aside just for these purposes, whether or not I use it that month.

So tell me: how do you do this? What am I missing here? Is there a clever-er way to plan and track this?  If I were really clever, I guess I could have saved last year for this year… or I could start saving this year for next year…. but that seems like a problem for Future Nicole.

Suzukini progress report

Since she played such a prominent part in the last quarter of 2017, I thought I’d give a little update on Suzy’s progress last year. Suzy used to be Sookie, but I can’t seem to stick to one name or the other, so I’ve taken to calling her Suzuki as it’s the best of both names and gives a little hint to the secret, sporty little mare who was hiding beneath all the chub when she arrived. (And Suzukini is just too tempting, since I love to play with words anyway.)

awwww look how short her broodmare tail was!! (october)

Suzy came to our barn as a six year old after weaning her 2017 foal, and had clearly enjoyed the benefits of being in broodmare pasture. Girl was chubby! I started riding her in September, when she’d been at the barn for a few weeks, and lost a few pounds, already.  From the very beginning Suzy was sweet and easy to work with on the ground.  She was definitely on the lazy side about work, really playing up that whole I-grew-a-baby-horse-in-my-body-didn’t-you-hear thing.  When walking to the arena she would habitually try to just veer us back toward her stall instead.

early november: bod getting trimmer, tail getting longer!

Suzy was naturally pretty forward and sensitive.  I mentioned this before, but she was sensitive is all the right ways — she would listen to your seat, naturally understood a half halt, and wanted to do the right thing.  She was so smart and quick on the uptake.  There was a downside to the cleverness: once Suzy figured out what I wanted, she was very quick to offer that as the answer to almost everything.  Which meant that things got a little challenging when there were different right answers to different requests.  Canter leads were (and sometime still are!) quite a good example of this.  Suzy was happy to pick up either lead at the canter — canter was what I wanted, right?  And for quite a long time it seemed that she didn’t even understand that there were two different types of canter, so the leads were pretty interchangeable.

early november again, with mare-friend Lucy looking on

I tackled the canter leads problem by using a verbal cue (kiss) for the right lead, and a seat cue for the left lead (swinging left hip forward).  I kept the two cues and leads separate, and always tried to set Suzy up for the correct lead before asking.  I definitely didn’t solve the problem this way, but I think it did help.  As her canter got stronger, so did her ability to pick up the correct lead.  It probably shouldn’t surprise me — as her legs got less disorganized and her muscles got stronger, it felt more natural to be on the correct lead for a given direction.

early december — trimming down in all the right places!

And that brings us to her development under saddle, which has been pretty incredible!  It’s a bit awful to admit, but it’s so easy to get a bit unreasonably frustrated with Suzy sometimes.  She rides like a pretty educated horse, but she’s really just five months off the track (with an 18 month hiatus in the middle!).

When we first got together, I had to ride the Sookini smack in the middle of the arena, far from any walls she could get glued to, or the arena gate to get seriously distracted by.  And this is not an exaggeration.  If we were by a wall it was like some intense force of gravity was pulling her outside shoulder toward it, and only another intense force of gravity could get that shoulder back in line with her body.  Girl had a mighty flexible neck, but almost no ability to bend through her ribcage.

mid december:  pretty sporty, huh?!

Though to be fair, I imagine it was pretty challenging to step under with that big belly and thunder thighs in the way.  As she’s trimmed down, all the little pieces have fallen into place.  Suzy can do baby-ottb versions of all the important moves now: shoulder in, leg yield, bending, even round-ish circles!  Her canter is absolutely gorgeous now.  Suzy’s canter was a real mess in September — to the point where I wouldn’t canter her under saddle because it was so strange and unbalanced.  And she’d break to the trot any time a challenge — pole, turn, puddle, etc. — presented itself at the canter.  Now you practically can’t-er stop her!  It’s comfy and forward and way more adjustable than Suzy realizes.  Honestly, I think she’d be annoyed at the amount of work we can trick her into doing at the canter if she realized it.  She just loves cantering now, so she’s happy to sit down and do the work!

the rhythm was still a little funky in early december, but sooo much better!

And she is so fun to jump!  Suzy’s still learning, but she’s forward and game and she knows how to go there to the fences.  There’s lots of work to do still in the jumping, but she was quick to figure out how to get over the fences.  And that clever mind?  SO helpful here.  She might clobber through a fence on one go through, but the next time around she’s ready to pick her feet up and try something different.  She’s even starting to learn how to keep an even pace to the fences and not pull or rush to a super deep spot.

I feel so lucky to have spent the last four months of 2017 working with Suzy.  And I’m even luckier that her current owner is happy to let me keep riding her!  I dunno — maybe I’m the only one who’s terribly excited by all of this (well, me and Suzy’s owner!), but she has been such fun to watch and feel progress.  It’s such a different progress trajectory than Murray had — I am such a more balanced rider now, and she’s got such a different attitude (with different challenges of course).  I’m looking forward to seeing where this little girl goes in the next five months (and beyond!).