2017 year in review

I’m late to the game this year, but I love year in review posts so I’m not about to skip this one! One of the best parts about it is reading through all my old posts and re-remembering all the fun (and sometimes not-so-fun things) I did over the course of the year, pushing past the biases of silly primate brains.


I started the year off with a some new resolutions to set Murray and myself up for success in all our rides and stop taking shortcuts.  Little did I know how much this would foreshadow the coming year. California was in the middle of its wettest winter in a long time, which made just getting to the barn a challenge.  Murray also had a Major Meltdown —  his first in quite a while, if I’m remembering correctly. His halter held together, but a few days later a friend of mine put Murray’s sheet on for me and Murray panicked again. He pulled back from her in hand and the halter snapped into a thousand pieces and she was left holding an empty lead rope while Murray looked suspiciously at her.  It was hilarious. Okay, I think it’s hilarious, Friend was mildly traumatized. Importantly, toward the end of January we had our first appointment with a saddle fitter who I will absolutely credit with a big part in changing the way Murray goes for both dressage and jumping.

imitating his friend-from-afar, the CreepStar 3000


After getting scared into not-really-riding for a week or so, I decided that Murray and I could just deal til we found a new saddle. Murray did his best Peter Cottontail impression over poles (gif below). We had puppies at our barn (as we so often do! thank you wonderful barn manager!), and Murray and I had a second appointment with the fitter and actually found a dressage saddle we liked! My boyfriend also started his own Dressage Show called “Nicole Rides a Horse“, and my horse actually looked… really good?! That is, when he wasn’t being a total punk. And we rode with Hawley again!


We started March out with some Alternative Facts. We might need to bring those back this year! I pondered who can/should ride my horse, as many others were considering the question. AND I MADE THIS AMAZING PLANNING CALENDAR when I realized that my first event was probably coming up in just about six weeks. I also talked about my work-life balance aka the hustle (which I will be engaged in again this year!) to keep me and pone-pone clothed and fed. And in reviewing that post, it really warms my heart to feel the camaraderie of blogland around me — thanks guys <3.  Murray and I went to Twin Rivers for the first time (and he got a snazzy new RAINBOW rope halter) and had just the BEST time schooling the course.  And I cleverly took a ten day vacation right before my first event of the year.

oh and Murray rolled on the leadline with me for the first (but not last) time ever


The beginning of April was a lot of furious prepping for the rated event at Twin, including buying too much stuff and anxiety dreams.  I also wrote about the ground work we’d been doing in the rope halter (though I started the groundwork itself back in March). This was another thing that I did not realize would become a massive part of this year.  And then we went to Twin. And it was So. Good. I bought a pink hat and listened to Hamilton basically Non-Stop (this is a Hamilton pun).  Dressage was awesome! Cross country was a hot fucking mess to get started with but the Murr Man SHOWED UP. Stadium was a grab bag of amazing surprises that led to a NECK RIBBON!!!!  Murray could not have done a single thing that weekend to make me happier or prouder. And that was basically all I thought or talked about in April. Hah.


In May I finally got back on the dressage lesson train, and got my trainer/DVMs advice about how to handle Murray’s tension and stiffness. But we also went on some fun Spring adventures!  I managed to survive through our second May One Day event at WSS, and can’t thank all the volunteers and riders enough for coming out! I also realized that Murray was finally starting to become a reliable communicator.  Or perhaps, I just got better at listening. Oh also, I did the Game of Thrones Guinness on Tap bloghop that revealed to you all the secret human living inside Murray’s body: Craig Middlebrooks.  We made some slow, steady uphill progress in both dressage and our ground work.


I dyed my saddle black in June in anticipation of the coming Camelot event. Then there was the most epicest of all blogger meetups, and a dressage show that didn’t suck!  And then a few weeks late was epic blogger meetup number two at the happiest place on earth: CAMELOT! I learned how to suck in all new ways, my horse showed off all his best moves, and jumped a fun, clean stadium. I did some research about pentosan, as I considered adding it to Murray’s life. And Murray had an appointment with an “animal communicator“.


I opened July with some math about brainz. Murray and I did some more dressage, and I re-formulated my thoughts on rewarding effort vs. try. My RBF got a new pony and we got to go XC schooling together and take jump lessons together and it was MAJIKAL. I also did a little NSAID test with my pony that led to a pretty spectacular dressage ride, a hilarious jump ride, and the decision to inject his hocks. It was also in July that I burned all of Murray’s cannon hair and skin off with Equiderma, which would lead to a wound that is STILL NOT FUCKING HEALED IN JANUARY OF 2018.

omg I miss this


Oh yep look, here’s our first post about weird cannon keratosis and the odd little skin problem that it induced. I found a magical sit spot in my dressage saddle. In preparation for my move up to Novice at Camelot later in August, I had a jump lesson with a teenager which was not what I expected. In a good way. Then I went to Camelot, sprained my MCL, rode anyway, and somehow had another incredible, black-letter weekend. Oh gourd, just looking at that show recap gives me a visceral reaction to the memory of how hot, sweaty, and unpleasant the first night with my sprained MCL was.  And guess who showed up to save his human once again? Not just Murray, also Levi!

i love just about every picture from this weekend

Oh, also. There was Kathy.


Birthday moooonth!! We ran a one-day in insane heat. I started reading When Two Spines Align (again) and had some big a-hah moments about shaping energy.  The leg saga continued. I also wrote about behavior and cortisol in horses. I’d like to do more of these sciency pull-together pieces in the future! The leg saga dragged on, and finally resulted in proud flesh, getting my vet out to debride, aaaaaaaaaand stall rest. So that was a wrap on Murray’s season. Pun intended.

Luckily for me, Mom-Bod-Mare aka Sookie aka Suzy aka Suzuki was getting ready to sneak on to the scene.

what can you do with a drunken sailor, what can you do with a drunken sailor…


Thanks goodness for my wonderful trainer, who lets me ride her horses in training, and for the wonderful horses she’s been sent for training.  Suzy was a wonderful replacement for Murray and we had a lot of fun together. Although, that was after I spent the first ten days of October so land-sick from a cruise that I could barely function. Murray wasn’t totally out of work — we worked on walking in hand and I started clicker training him to chase away the stall-rest blues.  And I did something I’ve always wanted to do: pulled all of Murray’s shoes!


November brought on the clicker training and barefoot rehab en force.  It’s hard to do barefoot rehab when the prescription to fix the feet is lots of walking and motion and your horse is confined to stall rest.  But it’s cool. We hand-walked and got kicked in the quad and hand walked some more. And I started training my horse to get tacked up. Again. But this time, you know, the polite version of “get tacked up”. The version where “no halters are injured in the making of this production”. Oh and the leg hole made some significant progress!! Mu’s feet made significant progress, so I gave my first barefoot update. Spoiler alert: THERE ARE GONNA BE SO MANY MOOOREEE!

oh, and we set the kiddo free again!!


December was both a quiet and hectic month. I went to the USEA Convention in Long Beach, and still have things to write about that! I rode the little Suzuki in an Yves clinic, and got some great tools to help improve her canter and jumping.  Murray and I got back to work under saddle, and we’ve walked, trotted, and cantered in our nice, soft indoor footing.  I’ve also integrated clicker training under saddle — it’s an adventure that I’ve not yet figured out well enough to write about.  Oh, and I learned how to sharpen my own clipper blades!!

This year was not the year I thought it would be — what, with my horse getting sidelined 3/4 of the way through.  It was better.  Murray and I are happier than we have ever been, both together and on our own.  Writing this post, I was struck by how many times I was so proud of Murray this year.  Of how many times his good nature and trust in me showed up despite the odds. Of the times he saved my butt. Of the lessons that he has taught me, about teaching, and learning, and riding, and being open-minded.

Murray and I have some things to sort out before we can get to any real work this year.  Primarily, we need to get those feet in shape (pun intended again, obviously) and heal up that goddamned leg hole.  But once we get our ish sorted, we are lining up to have a hell of a year in 2018.

Happy new year, friends! Bring on the adventure!


diy: sharpen your own clipper blades

I’m interrupting my food-coma-induced silence to bring you the DIY that has lately revolutionized my life: sharpening my own clipper blades! It’s a good break project too, so somewhat timely.

I’m not sure about you guys, but I find getting my clipper blades sharpened surprisingly challenging. I’ve paid to have it done at a two different places, and found myself dissatisfied with the results both times. And you have to drop them off and pick them up and wait, or wait for them to get shipped back out to you.  That’s an extra level of planning I’m just not usually prepared for.  Additionally, the really good sharpening guy who is local to my area doesn’t open on weekends, so you have to find a way to get to him during the week  between 8 and 5, which doesn’t work with  my schedule.

So when I found out that you could sharpen your own blades quickly and easily with just one thing that I already had at home, I was sold.  That one thing?  A whetstone.

I’m no sharpening expert, but I watched a bunch of youtube videos that all had the same basic consensus on the method, which seemed pretty easy.  My father in law also pointed out that he’s never sharpened something and made it worse.  Plus, I clipped my friend’s mare after doing a test-sharpen on my blades and found it pretty easy, even on her tight, thick hair.  So that makes me a bona fide internet expert (clip job shown above).

So here’s how you do it.


  • a whetstone (I use this one)
  • a towel you don’t mind staining forever
  • paper towels
  • a bowl of water
  • clipper blades
  • phillips head screwdriver
  • clipper blade oil

I did not suggest an adult beverage because we are working with sharp objects, but you’re an adult, you can make your own choices

First, soak or otherwise prepare your whetstone. The twinternet says 5-40  minutes. I soaked mine for about ten.

make sure it’s covered in water

Then you have the slightly fiddly task of taking your clipper blades apart. You simply need to loosen the two screws on the bottom of the clipper blades with your screwdriver. Don’t try to use a butter knife, it won’t work. I tried.

Use your rag towel to provide a surface to keep all your pieces together, and to stabilize your whetstone when you start sharpening.

There are only four pieces (plus two screws) that you have to keep track of, so it’s not too horrifying to take apart. Try to keep the top two pieces together so that you don’t have to fiddle around with them later. Step by step take-apart image below.

Brush all of the hair and dirt and grit out of your blades with a small brush (often comes with clippers), or if you lost it like me, a paper towel.

I tried to take some pictures of how dirty/rusty my blades were, but it was not the easiest picture ever. But you can see dirt and rust on the interior of the blades (this is my wide T84 blade, but it comes apart just the same as the other blades).

Next, plop some water on your sharpening stone and get ready to get dirty! I started on the coarse (1000 grit) side of the stone, and moved to the fine side (4000 grit I think, but maybe 6000) to polish/finish it off. For the blades that had only done a trace clip on one horse since they were last sharpened, I only used the fine grit side (which is why my animations are a bit different from the pictures here).

You should be able to tell the grit level of your stone by feeling it — there’s a big difference between 1000 and 4000 grit.

You are going to sharpen to the two flat sides of the toothed blade; the sides that sit facing one another when the clippers are put together. Once the blade is on the stone with water, you just start rubbing it along the stone with firm and even pressure.

You’ll start seeing dirty/gritty water appear on the stone, and that’s good! That grit is what helps clean up your blade.

Keep adding water to your stone and blade as you go, you want it to stay wet (not underwater, but not just damp) the whole time.

I use three motions to sharpen my blade. First, moving the blade straight up and down square to the stone.

I also run just the edge of the blade across the edge of the stone. This one is a bit more challenging as you have to avoid biting into the edge of your stone with the underside of the blade, and have to try to keep things flat.


Finally, I make circles with the blade along the stone.

From what I understand, using these different motions allows you to avoid making waves/divots in your stone, but also helps you sharpen different parts of the blade. But what do I know.

Keep even pressure across the blade to sharpen the whole length as evenly as possible.

Check the blades regularly to see how clean they are getting. Because you can’t test sharpness until they are put back together, I use cleanness to indicate sharpness. So when I can still see bits of dirt and rust I keep going. When the blades look really shiny and reflective, I know I’m close to done.

Here’s one blade in sunlight. It’s hard to see, but the central teeth are still dirty, so I kept going. Shortly after this, I switched to the fine grit so I could get them really polished (and hopefully sharp).

Just keep rubbing in different directions and orientations and you’ll get there.

When the blades were super shiny and reflective, I called it good. You can see in the pictures that the blades are quite shiny across the entiren length, though in person the middle section was a touch less shiny. I also did this process on the white “ceramic” blade that came on one set of clippers, and they seemed to respond much like the metal blades.

After sharpening, you want to dry the blades off really well. I put the pieces in front of the fireplace for 20 minutes or so, but a low oven would do too. Or in the sunlight if it weren’t too humid. 

The last part is the most fiddly – putting the blades back together. It’s just the reverse of taking them apart, but more irritating. Place the small blade on top of the large one with the cutting surfaces touching and line the teeth up. Then place the top pieces down in line with the holes for the screws. The bar on the top pieces fits in a groove on the top blade, which is how the top blade stays in place. Then you need to line the screws up and tighten them down.

I found that by loosely winding one screw in, I could re-adjust the other half of the blade to get the second screw lightly placed. During this step you should make sure your clipper blades are lined up straight, otherwise you’ll end up with a really uneven clip (I imagine, haven’t tested this). Once everything is lined up, really tighten the screws down.

I dried the blades off again on the fireplace after putting them together, then tightened one more time. Now it is time to apply clipper oil. This will prevent your blades from rusting and keep them clean for your next clip job. Attach your blades to your clipper, apply a line of oil across the teeth, then turn the clippers on and let them run for a moment. 

Soak your whetstone to get off any residual metal fillings.  If you have one, use a flattening stone to resurface the whetstone and achieve a really flat surface again (if you think it needs it). I store my stone in the box it came in, after I’ve cleaned and let it air dry.

And voila! Clippers sharpened. Three sets of clippers took me two episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., all the way through clean up. Well worth the time and investment, imo!

usea convention notes: boyd says

Phew. These clinic updates are turning out to be farther between (though hopefully not fewer) than I anticipated. Why does real life have to be so fucking busy?  I don’t even know.


Friday at Convention was one of two main lecture/talk filled days, and included an Adult Amateurs Open Session.  I came into this session a little late, and when I got there Bunnie Sexton was answering questions from people in the room.  For me this amounted to a low-interest discussion of different jumping exercises that she keeps in her arena at all times (I’d much rather get that info through a lesson, it’s always just a little weird to me to just talk about these things without the context of the horse), and a moderately interesting discussion of how to shop for a safe, fun, and trainable Novice-level beer buddy.

But then we had a surprise speaker come in, and it was BOYD!

File:Boyd Martin Otis Barbotiere cross country London 2012.jpg

If you haven’t watched his keynote, it’s live on the USEA website now.  It was a great one — funny, endearing, full of adventure.  The only thing it could have used was more pony pictures!  And yes, he’s just as adorable and dreamy in person.

Boyd made a few comments that were pretty interesting, so in case you missed the live stream (I’m not sure there’s a way to watch it now, after the fact), here’s a few of my notes.

It’s a privilege to feel stressed

Boyd’s first comment about being an adult amateur is that the stress we feel during horse shows or before cross country is a privilege. We do this because we love it, and it’s a hell of a lot better than sitting on the couch watching Nascar drinking Bud light (his words!).

We get to do incredible things because of the strength, speed, and power loaned to us by horses.

The flip side of this, to me, is that if we don’t appreciate or feel privileged to have that stress… maybe we’re doing it wrong.

On blood rules

One rider asked Boyd about warming Crackerjack up in a hackamore at Rolex. Boyd responded with a story about Crackers coming out of dressage at Badminton with a little blood in his mouth because he would get so tense and forcefully brace on the bit in a show environment.  In this case, the official noted that it was a really tiny amount of blood and didn’t eliminate the pair.  But because of that incident and Crackers’ obvious self-injurious tension during shows, Boyd started warming him up in a hackamore. (Evidently this had the positive side effect of unlocking a better way of going for Crackerjack too, so it was a win-win.)

So I asked a follow up question about his opinion on blood rules. What did he think of them as they currently stood?  What about repeat cases?

Boyd responded without any real specifics. It’s eventing, and injuries can happen anywhere (especially on cross country) and in all kinds of interesting ways.  It should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and blanket eliminations might not fit all cases.  Bland and politically correct?  Certainly.  But there were little nuggets in there.

Boyd saw that his horse could incur an injury from a piece of his equipment — however strange and rare the injury might be — and changed his equipment to prevent injury to the horse (and subsequent elimination).  If nothing else, I would expect that to be the standard he holds other riders to.

You can improve him, but you can’t change him

In response to a question (sorry, can’t remember the exact question), Boyd said that an important thing to remember with horses is that you can improve them, but you can’t change them.

He gave an example of an OTTB he rode who jigged in the walk during the trial. He thought, no big deal — we can relax him and get the jig out.  But every time they had to walk in a dressage test at a show, that jig came right back out.

I’m don’t think Boyd meant “you can’t change anything” about a horse.  But in times of stress, we always see those habits coming back.  A horse whose inclination is to pull and gets heavy is going to revert to pulling and getting heavy when things get tough.  A  horse whose inclination is to invert is going to invert when the going gets stressful.

It made me think a lot about what traits I’d want in a future horse, and what habits I’d be willing to live with.

Be better

My favourite piece of advice from Boyd.  He sees a lot of amateurs bombing around the lower levels on a horse who is capable, just getting by, doing okay, but also being a little bit sketchy, maybe even dangerous.

Try harder, he said. Ride better, improve your skills, improve the way your horse goes.  Hold yourself to a higher standard.  Don’t accept winning just because your horse can get around.  Just keep getting better.

usea convention notes: level creep

One of the most interesting discussions (for me) at convention was the Course Builder’s forum.  There were some good updates on new rules (frangible pins, measurement of top spread on angled lines) and then a pretty informative discussion on “level creep”.

I first learned about level creep in 2014-ish when the proposed rule to have 1 or 2 fences on XC and stadium that exceeded the max height for the level by 2″ came up.  In my recollection, people were concerned that this constituted another excuse for level creep and making levels too challenging for the horses and riders competing at them.  My opinion of that was that if  horse is running around a 2’7″ XC but can’t safely clear one simple 2’9″ fence, then they probably can’t really safely run that BN course. 2″ should NOT make that much of  difference on a straightforward question. That opinion is even stronger now that I am more experienced at both riding and have a deeper understanding of  how courses are built and managed.


we’ve come a long way!

So, let’s start with the basics. What is level creep?  For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll define level creep as the steady increase over time of the size of fences and difficulty of questions on rated XC courses across the country.  Just in case it wasn’t self explanatory enough.

Why do we care about level creep?  It depends who you are. If you’re a rider who sees courses becoming larger and larger in front of your eyes, maybe you feel like you’re being sized out of your division.  If you’re an organizer, you are hearing people complain about your courses, and wondering how you can keep people happy and safe.  If you’re a course designer, you’re trying to build courses that help riders be successful but also meet the requirements for the level.

And maybe, no matter who you are, you’re wondering “WTF is this even real?”

this fence measures at the appropriate height for BN (2’7″ with 4″ brush)
but it is technically too challenging for the level, based on the downhill approach and jump toward the spectator area

So is level creep real? In short, yes. But also no.

The overwhelming opinion of the course designers and officials in the forum is that we see true level creep only when courses have been existing at too low of a level in the past.  Certainly, those course are getting bigger and more technical, because they weren’t big or technical enough in the past.  And this, in and of itself, is a problem.

First, it’s not fair to have riders across the country competing at the same level (be it BN or Prelim) on courses that are different sizes.  If someone is jumping around 2’3″ or 2’4″ getting their BN points while other people are only getting Intro points for that height, that is inherently not fair. (And yes, everyone acknowledge that this happens, even if sometimes rarely.)

Second, allowing riders to feel that they have become competent at a level on courses that are under-sized and under-technical is doing them a disservice when they either visit other venues or try to move up a level.  Running 2’4″ cross country does not prepare you for a real 2’11” Novice course.  This was seen as a problem mostly at the Training and Prelim levels,  because the jumps to Training and Prelim are so big.

still a nice-sized fence, but on a much friendlier straight-away and level approach

If a level at a venue is creeping up to the national standard, can that really be considered level creep?

Course designers don’t want people to struggle (or worse, fall) at any level. But that’s not all on the course designers, is it?  And making courses smaller in order to accommodate what people in the area are used to or interested in riding is doing a disservice to the sport.  So they look at their results, evaluate their courses, and adjust within the requirements for the level as necessary.

Across California, I (and other professionals and officials) have noticed courses becoming smaller and more appropriate to the level at Training and below. This is a reflection of course designers and organizers acknowledging the problems in their courses and making changes.  This is the same process that the same course designers are going through at other venues in other areas, but instead, they are increasing fence size or technicality.

beginner novice fence 3 — under 2’7″ as it’s on a downhill approach
(you measure from takeoff, not the base of the fence)

What does this mean for riders?

For me, it confirmed the idea that level creep is mostly a non-issue.  I trust my course designers and officials — who are required by the USEA to change with regularity at each venue — to keep things within the requirements of the level, while giving an appropriate challenge for the level.  But what about you?  Have you experienced level creep? Do you see it clearly at events you attend?

But it also means that our voices are being heard to make changes.  When the courses in California were too technical and too big (four-ish years ago), riders and trainers made comments on the official USEA comment forms and personally to officials.  And course designers stepped up, re-evaluated, and fixed it.

If you’re a rider who is concerned about a question at the level, there are a couple of things you can do.  First, whip out your measuring stick and measure that bitch.  Fences are measured by putting a level on the top of the fence and measuring the height from the ground at the average takeoff point (six feet away and center), or landing point (for drops).  From the base of the fence itself, depending on how it’s set in the ground and how level the approach is, there can be 4″ or oven 6″ of variation.

the same fence as above measures above 2’7″ on a level approach,
and makes a nice, friendly Novice question for the beginning of the course

Second, if you really feel that a fence is not appropriate for the level based on your measurements, approach an official or course designer.  At the very worst, the official will tell you that the fence is appropriate and that will be that.  Possibly, they will talk to you about the elements of the fence that make it appropriate within the level.  Possibly, they’ll make a change — whether that means swapping out the fence, adding sand to raise the takeoff, or removing it from the course entirely.  This goes for fences that are not appropriate for a level because they are too small also.  How many of us would complain a bout a gimme fence on course?  I never have.  But those fences also add to the perception of level creep — because if I’m jumping a 2’3″ coop at Novice and thinking that’s appropriate for the level, obviously a 2’11” table is going to be a big change for me and my horse.

During this session the course designers also discussed making themselves and their contact information more readily available and visible at events.  They want to hear from us if we have concerns, because this is the immediate feedback about their work that they need. It also gives them an opportunity to help educate riders and trainers.

This sport lives on the backs of the lower level riders.  As riders, we want to be here, and as organizers we want you to be here.  This should be fun, but it should also be the good kind of challenge.

I think there will probably always be people who complain about fence size at the lower levels — it’s just the nature of having a lot of amateurs in the sport.  Or perhaps it’s a reflection of something that I’m not seeing.  Are you concerned about level creep?  Are there aspects of this that I’m missing?


first thoughts on convention

I had a ton of fun last week at the USEA Convention.  I’m a learning sponge and love the chance to meet and joke around with famous strangers, so conventions and conferences are always my jam.  Plus I got to have lunch with Jimmy Wofford and dinner with Lynn Symansky, Hannah Sue Burnett, Katherine Coleman, and Jon Holling ALL BY ACCIDENT which was so awesome.

Plus there was a giant Pacific octopus there, and what’s not to love about that?!

Giant Pacific Octopus at the Aquarium of the Pacific! #useaconvention

A post shared by Nicole Sharpe (@nicolegizelle) on

I could tell that the USEA worked hard to make the conference something that both professionals and amateurs were interested in attending.  There were some great educational and information sessions targeted at amateurs, and plenty of pros popped into those.  I’ve enjoyed Daniel Stewart’s work before, and got accidentally roped into working out with him first thing in the morning (and woah, did that hurt for days afterwards because all I did post workout was sit around and listen to talks).  I attended a couple more of his pressure-proof type talks, and they were as great as before.

I also loved the course builders session.  It was a really interesting combination of updates on rules (new frangible pin rules and max spread rules and such), but also a great discussion of the mysterious “level creep” and why it both is and isn’t a problem.  I’ll probably write a whole post on that tonight, because it’s an idea that really fascinates me.  We also talked a fair bit about Prelim  Modified, the new division, and how the fork we were going to get PM into events.  One problem is that it costs about 15k (and then some) to put together the new fences for a PM division, but no new riders will be attracted by PM… it will only be riders who would be riding Training or Prelim anyway.  So… what’s the incentive to offer PM to organizers?  (Right now it seems like the answer is: none.)

Boyd also gave a pretty killer keynote.  But he also said some really interesting things in the adult amateur session about how getting to be stressed out is a privilege, and his thoughts on training and fear.  It also became pretty clear that he’s a total nutjob in the way only professional athletes can be, so I guess that probably helps you get back on after a rotational fall.

what boyd’s childhood was like, i think

To top it all off, I got to drive there and back with a couple of trainers/elders from my area and learned a TON from them, along with talking about some fun ideas for data analysis and future show plans.  SO COOL.

Really, a great trip all in all. Now to organize my notes a bit and tell you what I really learned!

barefoot progress: 6 weeks

I recently got a barefoot rehab book as an early Christmas present to myself (which is part of the reason I’m on a full spending freeze right now; early gifts get me like woah). This, of course, made me think much more on Murray’s foot progression, and where we’re at in this little experiment.

RF landing

Excitingly, we now have a just barely heel-first landing on the RF (upright foot). It’s not consistent, but it’s pretty much there, and definitely there in soft footing.  Unfortunately, the LF is still decidedly toe-first and will take a while to change, I suspect, as the LF heel is particularly weak.

LF landing

I had thought the RF was our problem foot, but data proves me wrong again. Farrier was right — it’s the LF that causes us issues!  (And honesty, wouldn’t that explain why he short steps with the RF? Doesn’t want to put too much pressure on the LF!!)

LF progress since 10/23 (click to embiggen for detail)

Most importantly, Murray returned to overnight turnout on 12/1, and I am very, very, very excited about it.  His leg hole is holding up (still bandaged as you can see — I was not about to risk scraping the scab off and having the proud flesh come back) and healing nicely.  The movement he gets in pasture (at least an hour or so a night, even if he’s out there for a full 12) will be far more than I could ever have given him in an hour or two at the barn, and movement is key to palmar hoof development!

I created a handy little line-guide to show the changes in the frog in particular. The red lines are based on the frog as of 10/23, and I’ve copied that exact image over to the following weeks so you can see how his frog is (literally) bursting the seams.

somehow it’s moved back, gotten longer, and gotten wider!

Interestingly, I haven’t seen much progress in the angle of this foot. It’s a little distressing, but thanks to my new book, I have some ideas on how to improve nutrition and movement to help the dorsal hoof move along better.

The right front appears to be making less progress but might have been a healthier foot overall, so perhaps it isn’t too worriesome.  Things I really like about this hoof’s development are that it’s rounding out a fair bit, which means it will become less upright overall!  I also think that I’m not going to see a much bigger frog until after there’s space for it between the bars (and this weak icky frog has scraped off… whenever that will be).

I’ve applied the same line system above, and while it looks like there’s not as much going on here, you can see a serious widening of the bars and lateral grooves to make way for a new frog (I hope. I’m not a farrier or vet!).

Because we got new sand footing, Murray is now back to light work.  We started with some lunging, and he’s not sound sound, but he’s pretty sound for Murray.  Work is good, and as long as we’re on a supportive surface like sand, I’m going to keep the groundwork going and add in more and more under saddle work.  One of the best parts of this clicker training business is that Murray is actually listening to me when I get in the saddle, so he’s not thinking “oh, how do I not do this thing?” he’s thinking “oh, how do I do this thing and acquire more goodies?”

left hind progress — wider frog, and getting a little more symmetrical I think!

Murray was not only happy to work, but pretty confident in his work.  At one point down the long side I felt him really propel himself down the arena with great, for lack of a better word, purpose.  I’m not sure if it is because he knows I like to ask for forward, or if perhaps he was feeling particularly comfortable and confident on the footing, but he felt fantastic!

RH progress – also more frog, but less symmetrical!

There’s a lot of work to do before we can be sound anywhere other than our lovely and supportive indoor, but I like what I’m seeing here.  I need to make some feed changes if I’m to expect Murray to keep making progress (notably increasing mineral intake and decreasing sugar — bye bye, barley), but the outlook is good!

The book I keep blabbing on about is Nic Barker and Sarah Braithwaite’s Feet First, which feels like a great starting resource. I’m tempted to buy the “sequel”, but not sure if I deserve more Christmas presents just yet…

yves clinic with mom-bod-mare!

Big news for the MBM: she has a new owner, and a new name! Little Miss Perfect is now Suzy, and she has a lovely new human who is going to learn to event along with Suzy! She also gained a couple of little girls who adore her and feed her heaps of carrots, and who Suzy will get to tote around and care for like the broodmare she is. And the best part for me? I still get to ride her a bit!  Suzy’s human was kind enough to let me ride the little mare in a clinic with Yves Sauvignon on December 3rd.

just the cutest little trot

Funnily enough, it’s been a couple of weeks since I last rode Ms. Suzy.  Her owner was riding of course, and just hadn’t needed me to jump in since before Thanksgiving! I wasn’t entirely sure where Suzy stood, but I shouldn’t have worried — she was the super star I’ve always known her to be.  Our warmup was quick and simple, just a bit of WTC in each direction, before Yves had us head through a set of four trot poles.  Suzy rushed the poles the first go through and cantered right out of them, so I settled a little deeper in the saddle and worked on achieving a more balanced and quiet trot. Our next few trips through the trot poles were quite nice, and Suzy got a really nice pace the last go through.


Our jump warmup was unremarkable, if a little disorganized. It took Suzy a minute to get into the rhythm of jumping, and we knocked a few down before we got fully organized. My position was a bit better during warmup, which I could probably attribute to focusing on quite a few more things once we got going a bit (keeping the canter, good turns, straightness, pace, etc.).  But I would like to be a little softer on her mouth throughout the ride!

not a traditional picture, but v. exciting because Suzy didn’t really have a moment of suspension in her canter for quite a while. now look at all that air she’s catching!

Yves asked us if we had cantered fences, and I had to respond that we hadn’t reaaaalllyy…. I know Suzy has done it with her owner (I’ve watched), but her canter is still fairly weak and she isn’t confident in it. She is inclined to break to the trot before any kind of footsy challenge — canter poles or fences, for example.  So we kept it to a trot right up until the end.

yeah, she really is that dang cute

Yves set up a series of fences that would help us start thinking about getting the correct lead after a fence, changing directions, steering, and straightness.  The first was a single trot fence with a big sweeping rollback at the canter to another trot fence.  Suzy and I got the correct lead the first time but biffed the first fence, so we tried again.  This time we got the wrong lead, so Yves had us change leads through the trot, make a circle, then come back to the trot before the second fence.

The exercise was three fences set more-or-less along the centerline of the arena. You jumped one fence and made a big sweeping turn to the next one, in the pattern of a three-loop serpentine.  We approached tracking left, which is Suzy’s weaker lead, and if we landed on the left lead we could continue on. If we landed on the wrong lead for the pattern we were to trot, change, circle, and trot again before coming to the next fence.

such cute!!

After one go through at the trot, where we had to change leads both turns, Yves had us approach at the canter. I asked what he wanted me to do if Suzy broke to a trot before the fence.  Yves responded that he wanted us to canter, but if the trot was the right decision for that fence, then let her trot.  Seems mystical, but I knew what he meant: make it a good experience for the horse, whether at the trot or canter.  I know that she’ll only get better at cantering fences if we actually canter the fences, but it’s hard when Suzy really lacks confidence at the canter.  Yves reminded me to wrap my lower legs around her and really support her at the canter to help her along.

it’s a lovely canter when we get it!

Our first attempt at cantering the second fence was a tiny mess. Not a real mess, but definitely not our best work (it got better, though!).  Suzy wanted to trot so badly, and I squeezed and squeezed. She trantered a little, but it still had a bit of rhythm to it, and we made it to the fence at a pretty good spot.

not the trantr fence, but what am i doing with my hands?!

Our next few attempts went even better! Suzy was more confident, so she didn’t try so hard to trot on the way in to the fence. Her canter has such a great cadence — every step is very similar, so it was easy to know where we could take off each time!  Yet another thing to love about this mare.

so sporty!

We made a couple of good attempts at picking the right lead over the fence. Well, really, I’m not sure what I did — I just really thought about the direction I was traveling after each fence and rewarded Suzy heartily for getting the correct lead when I did that. I watched the video over and over to see if I did anything to help her but… I can’t see that I did anything, really.  So we’ll give the credit for that to Suzy.

My one glaring error was that I kept turning Suzy rather poorly, overshooting the center of the fence and ending up off to the far side of the fence. I tried (somewhat erroneously) to correct and head back toward the middle of the fence after doing this, which resulted in lots of crooked fences.  Yves encouraged me to just ride straight to the fence, even if we were a little off-center.  I’m not entirely sure what I need to do to sort the turns out… I tried turning earlier, but somehow still ended up overshooting the center. So perhaps I need to commit to the centerline a little earlier?  Not sure.

a tiny attempt at sass in the lead change

The best part was Yves complimenting me several times on making the right choices.  I just followed my instincts with what Suzy needed — usually just less speed and a steadier cadence, but also a few well-placed circles that let us get that steadier cadence.  It’s so wonderful to hear that your instincts are correct!  Such a big pat on the back for me. And extra big pats for Suzy for being such a good sport, and trying so hard. We got lots of good exercises during the lesson to help her progress and get stronger. The hard part will restraining myself so I don’t tire her out with my enthusiasm.