redirection

Murray and I have been doing some ground work in the rope halter before each dressage ride since we got our rope halter, so for about a month now.  It’s all been very easy stuff, an attempt to remind him of the rules of polite society.  You know, walk next to me here, stop when I stop, go when I go, back up a little.  Stand — and do just that, just stand — is a hard one for Murray.  He doesn’t relax easily and wants to anticipate whatever is coming next, especially if he thinks what is coming next is an attempt to tighten the girth a little.  He thinks that dancing away or small circles around me are exactly what he should be doing.

The ground work, other than helping with our warm up, has been very educational for both of us.  I tried to play with shoulder in when we first started, and Murray would get tense and scoot past me.  At first I got frustrated that he essentially ran me down, but it was easy to see that Murray wasn’t comfortable with what I was asking and couldn’t figure out how to slow himself down.  Figuring out exactly how to get Murray to slow down took a bit of trial and error.  The best solution for us was to drastically slow down my own pace, taking slow and precise steps, and letting Murray go back to a more comfortable speed after a few of these slow shoulder-fore steps.  It is hard for him — the hardest thing ever.  So no more shoulder in for now.

On the ground, and under saddle, Murray’s backing up has been getting so much better.  He was pretty reluctant to back up  unless you really got angry with him, and then he’d march back practically sitting down.  But if you asked him to just back up a little,  even if you pushed him, he’d kindof shuffle backwards with one foot at a time, making a four beat gait out of something supposed to be two beats.  And it would include lots of sideways motion as he tried to pivot around me instead of actually stepping backwards.  Now it’s very reliably a two beat gait, even if it does sometimes rather resemble an egg-shaped circle.  He doesn’t quite get it if I’m facing him, but if I step backwards myself he gamely travels back with me.

So one day, a few weeks ago, when there were some poles laid out on the ground I led Murray forward over them, and then asked him to back up over them as well, after reading that it’s a useful exercise for stifles.  Murray gamely took one step backwards, then one more tentative step wherein his hoof landed on the pole.  That was obviously not okay, and he skittered forward  and around me with a very, very suspicious eye.  I patted him and settled him down, then gave it another go.  Murray was very much not okay with this idea and danced his way forward, shook his head and nipped at me, and struck at the air.  The reaction wasn’t quite what I expected, and really not very polite, but it did give me a lot of information.

I tried one more time, and Murray wouldn’t even stop after walking through the poles this time.  He flung himself forward and away from the poles, trotted around me a little, then stopped and looked at me like “what are you going to do about it?”

If Murray were a monkey, I’d call his behavior redirecting.  The idea of going backward over the poles made him uncomfortable, so he tried to change the context of what we were doing. This is easy to identify with aggression: one monkey gets threatened by another, and turns around and threatens someone nearby (often an innocent human observer).


maybe this new knowledge will help me decipher… this?

I wish I’d written about this sooner, because there was something in particular about the whole incident that showed me this was more than just naughtiness.  But it was quite clear that he was actually very uncomfortable with what I was asking, so responded with silliness. Importantly, it’s changed how I react to Murray being silly with me, on the ground and under saddle.  Sometimes he is silly because he literally can’t control his body, and evidently he is sometimes silly because he’s actually very uncomfortable with what I’m asking him to do.

If he’s actually confused, and not just objecting for the sake of getting out of work, then I should probably reel in my annoyance and reconsider what I’m asking and how I’m asking. I have been consciously trying to be less of an asshole to Murray, but sometimes it’s hard when seemingly very basic things are curiously impossible to him.  But all new information is good information, so we’ll keep chugging forward, and I’ll try to keep this in mind the next time Murray responds with “silly” instead of “trying”.

jumping:dressage with obstacles as showing: ??

Remember when the SAT had that amazing analogies section that confused the fuck out of 96% of people, and the last 4% were major over achievers or just faking their understanding?  Yeah, those were awesome.  I finally understand how to do them, now.  Thirteen years too late.

this is my horse scratching his own sheath with his teeth because he’s just that flexible.
on the other hand, the mystery of how he bloodied his sheath is now solved.

We hear a lot of analogies in training; jumping is just dressage with obstacles, right? (Or, as I like to call it “dressage with shit in the way”).  And I’m going to try to push my own analogy for the forseeable future.  And please, chime in with your opinions on this because I am pretty sure I just made this up and it could be completely, completely invalid.

Showing: just schooling with field trips.

Part of this is a coping mechanism.  Murray and I aren’t anywhere near as “ready” for Twin as I hoped to be (though every ride we have as the show gets closer promises to prove me wrong), and if there’s anything I hate it’s being underprepared.  But my goal is to get him out and showing this year, and so even if we aren’t going out there totally prepared to finish on our dressage score or ready to take home all the prize moneyz, this will still be a valuable experience for us.  Every show that we get through without Murray being a) eaten by a pony-eating jump, b) murdered by his owner, or c) disqualified is another check mark in the “see, shows aren’t that bad Murray!” column.  And that’s what I want.

And really, should an impending show change the way I’m schooling and riding?  I’m trying to create a well-rounded and correct horse, not learn tricks to pick up points on a dressage test.  Sponging my hands or wiggling my ring finger or whatever other nonsense I could come up with to get Murray to look like he’s in a frame for a dressage test aren’t going to be long term solutions that teach him how to come on the bit and use his body better.  Sure, there are movements that need a little more practice and transitions that can be polished, but ideally, I’d be working those transitions in at home as well.  But those aren’t big things that I need be “preparing” for.


things i do need to prepare for: making my fabulous new stock ties!!

So for the rest of the year, I’m going to treat all of my upcoming shows as schooling field trips.  Or try to, at least.  Schooling field trips that I’ll get feedback from strangers on!  And where my tack is really clean and my breeches really white.

The goal is not to change my riding or training or stress out about the fact that shows mean things to people who like to win (I am also one of these people, so I’m trying to be less of one of these people).  Shows are just schooling away from home or schooling after a trailer ride.  We’ll see if this mentality works on Murray!

reality check?

Murray and I have had two really lovely rides after the bullshittery of last week.  Because I was foiled by the wind repeatedly on Thursday and Friday and then spent the weekend out of town, I asked our barn manager’s kid to put in a ride on Murray for me just to get him out and exercising.  She’s ridden him a few times recently, and he’s been fairly reasonable as long as she doesn’t ask for anything too challenging or exciting.  So of course I was rewarded with video of Murray cantering sideways (like a hideous half pass with no bend) and literally crashing into a horse standing at the mounting block.

Um, great.

For a moment I regretted ever asking for help.  I thought I’d made a huge mistake.  And then I was like “you know what, homeboy has got to be able to w/t/c with a stranger on him — especially when they are asking him to do nothing more complicated than go along the rail and turn  before the end of the damn arena.”  I resolved to have a take-no-shit approach on Tuesday, fully expecting some truly atrocious behavior.

I made Murray try on some tubigrip as a strategy for
compression/ice. He tolerated it really well, actually!

Instead, Murray was well behaved on the lunge line, pretty responsive, and absolutely perfect under saddle.  I kept with the recent theme (don’t override with my seat/crotch/ass, don’t nag, just try to be really correct and have Murray meet me there) and Murray rose to the challenge.  We had a couple of sticky w/t transitions but nothing awful.  His canter was a tad less forward than I want, but very round and adjustable.

Having a saddle that fits is absolutely magical. It is SOOO much easier to feel and fix when I am starting to tip forward or perch, and any time I start to anticipate or get too noisy with my seat I can feel it.  I ignored the idea of getting my saddle fit for a long time, but if a well-fitting jump saddle does for us what this dressage saddle has, I will be running 4* in no fucking time flat.  So yeah, it turns out that Robyn did fix all my problems, hooray!

Murray was equally fantastic on Wednesday, and I worked through some of our test movements to get ready for them.  Our biggest challenge is transitions.  Murray does best with them when he knows they are coming — especially when they are part of a pattern.  Conversely, he does poorly with them when he doesn’t know they are coming.  It’s a complaint I’ve had about him a lot, that it’s almost like he’s not “listening” to me when I ask for things, he’s busy doing his own thing (whatever that thing is).  So I’m trying to figure out the balance between doing too much with my body and giving him adequate half halts/notice that we are approaching a transition.

I also specifically practiced letting him walk around on a loose rein and then picking him back up to do some work, which has often been a source of angst for us.  He did much better than on Tuesday or in the past in general, so that was good news.  If only this Dressage Murray can show up to Twin, we will be in good shape!

Apparently Murray just needs another rider to reality check him every once in a while and remind him how good he has it with his well-trained human.  (If this is a legitimate training strategy I am 100% going to continue to employ it in the future.)

anxiety dreams

I often have anxiety dreams, though it wasn’t until quite late in life that I realized that’s what these were.  Dreams where my teeth are loose or fall out, or more commonly where I’m driving and my car has NO BRAKES.  When that starts happening I know that there’s something going on in my life that I’m stressing about — but I never have those stress dreams about the actual event.  I’m never naked at my thesis defense, or at school without my homework, though I do often find myself in perplexing situations without necessary items, like on the savannah without a car.  None of my anxiety dreams seem to represent actual, real-life problems — except the teeth falling out one. I have terrible teeth.

The one exception is horse show anxiety dreams.  I have horse show anxiety dreams that are about actual horse shows, and while the scenarios in them aren’t exactly realistic, they aren’t far off.  More than once I have dreamed that I’m trotting down the centerline or cantering out of the start-box and Murray disappears from beneath me, and there’s nothing for it but to do the test or course on foot.  Weirdly, this has never dream-happened to me regarding stadium.

A few nights ago I dreamed that I couldn’t find my white stock tie, and the only tie I could ride in was a black, straight, men’s tie*.  It was mortifying!  To top it off, I spent a good three hours getting ready, and with about two minutes to my ride time I looked into Murray’s paddock to see that he was filthy, unbraided, and totally un-tacked.  I promptly woke myself up from that one.

* A straight, brown men’s tie was part of my winter school uniform from ages 6-13. I got quite proficient at tying a half windsor in my youth.

Before the July Camelot even in 2015 I had a ton of anxiety dreams, but the best one was also about a stock tie!  This time I needed to pick up a stock tie about 3 hours before my ride time — reasonable, right?  So we went to the local JoAnn’s fabrics — because that’s totally where one gets stock ties — and I hemmed and hawed over fabrics and finally picked a fabric and was ready to make my stock tie.  But I wasn’t allowed to use the sewing machines at the back of the store! (For those of you unfamiliar with JoAnn’s fabric, communal sewing machines are not something they typically feature.)  I somehow got my stock tie made/finished/purchased (it was some kind of glittery silver fabric, I know that much), but by that point my ride time was LOOMING upon us and the show venue was 45 minutes away.

So apparently I have serious anxiety surrounding stock ties?  I’d better make sure mine is finished (crafting it this weekend!) and packed well before we leave for Twin!

show prep: buy too many damn things

There’s nothing like reaffirming your commitment to a sport than blowing half a paycheck* on stuff you need for your first show of the year, amirite?

 season 3 hbo money unicorn startup GIF

Turns out there were a lot of things I needed.

My XC vest was a very, very old trade from when my barn manager’s daughter was literally a kid. I had originally bought myself one of the old Tipperary vests (used, of course) but because of my freakishly short torso my hips were constantly pushing the vest up around my ears.  At some point when your armpits are literally the only thing holding your vest in place and you have no peripheral vision because the shoulders of the vest are flanking your head, you just have to admit that the oh-so-fashionable Tipperary may not be for you.

Image result for inflated child's life vestnot actually what your XC vest is supposed to look like

So when the shoulder of this kids’ Charles Owen started ripping in a non-repairable location, I knew I’d need something a little different than the norm.  Luckily for me, Amanda reviewed the Airowear a long time ago and Riding Warehouse is my go-to.  Amanda said it before, and I’ll say it again: the Airowear is a BEAST.  That thing is hard core, I jumped all around, flung myself into a few walls, and did everything short of throwing my body on the ground Murray-style to test it, and I could hardly feel a thing.  It still rides up a little over my shoulders, but it’s not uncomfortable and when the space between your bottom rib and the top of your hips is literally 2″ you are just going to have to make some compromises in life (damage: $300+).

I also lost my Majyk Equipe XC fronts on an outing to Eventful Acres last Summer, and since they haven’t shown back up yet, another set of those had to go in the cart (damage: $80).  I originally bought my XC boots as a full set from a kid who had used them only a few times for $90, so paying nearly that full price for just the fronts was a little galling.


but I really like doing this so I’ll get over it

Sadly for us, we’ve ripped through our rainbow reins right where I hold them in my right hand.  And somehow I lost not one but two sets of spare brown rubber reins I used to own.  I grabbed two sets of reins to see which ones I would like more, one by Tory ($50) and one by Nunn Finer ($80).  Of course I like the $80 pair much, much more.  Sigh.

To top off that order I dropped in two sets of bell boots (and somehow the “normal” sized bell boots look like GIGANTIC warmblood ones? we’ll see if they even fit my horse’s one normal foot) for the show, and a bucket of magnesium because Murray.

this is a good “because Murray” reminder

From Amazon I bought a roll of Tubigrip ($45 with shipping), which I’ve read about in the World Class Grooming book.  It’s my current plan for icing Murray’s legs since I’m not going to be able to keep square packs frozen, and there’s no reasonable and safe way for me to wrap ice in ziplocks on to his leg (been there, tried it, and just NOPE).  But Emma Ford and Cat Hill suggest you can double down some Tubigrip and stuff ice in the pocket you’ve made, then wrap that in a polo for insulation.  Since there’s an approximately 100% chance that Murray will knock over or break a bucket full of ice, and I really should start icing him after XC (if for no other reason than to stop irritating that extensor tendon edema).  I’ll let you all know how it goes.

I was actually hoping I could use the Tubigrip as a compression sock to keep some pressure on that lump when Murray isn’t wrapped, but after wearing the bandage for a few hours tonight I’m not sure it will help the way I want it to. I will need to consult one of my vet student friends — maybe I can size down for better edema prevention.  But I think it will be a useful additional layer for poultice, so that could be cool.

Equiderma: Neem & Aloe Natural Outdoor Spray For Horses - Equiderma | Natural Horse Care | Pet Care Products I caved to Facebook advertising and bought some Equiderma Neem Oil fly spray ($45 for two bottles, plus shipping).  Apparently this is what you do when you have a real person paycheck?  It was spendy, but not that much more expensive than I will probably spend on fly spray this year anyway, and I like Neem Oil in my garden.  Why not on the horse?  I honestly probably should have just thrown in the Neem Shampoo and tried to get the free shipping, but I figured I should start small.

Finally, I bought myself a new phone ($250) because my beloved Nexus 5x fell into the Android update boot loop on the way home from Hawaii.  I tried to keep spending on this one to a minimum since I’d like another Google Phone when I get the opportunity, but did shell out for the extended warranty because my ability to mysteriously break phones is nothing short of a superpower.  I’ve gone through five smartphones (albeit, 4/5 were used or refurbished) in less than 4 years.  I must emit some kind of low-dose electromagnetic radiation or sweat uranium or something.

Honestly, there are a few more things I want and/or need, but I’m not sure if they’ll make the list before Twin.  Loading your credit card up with $1000 in stuff in a week will really push you to a “only buy the things I NEED” mentality real quick. I need a new helmet as well, my current one is going on four years old and I was its second owner (from a trusted first-owner source, though).  That will not be happening any time soon, but maybe this year I’ll get to take advantage of helmet day sales for once?!  I also need a clean square or shaped pad for stadium, gloves for dressage, and a legal-size and acceptably-colored dressage whip.  I want to bathe Murray in a tea tree oil shampoo before we get there too, to help get rid of any lingering yuck on his skin.

SERIOUSLY, THE LIST IS NEVER ENDING.

crazy ex-racehorse

Murray has been a pendulum under saddle this week — swinging between successfully executing some quality flat work and successfully pissing me the fuck off.  There are a few extenuating circumstances that have prevented me from throttling him:

  1. It’s windy AF in Davis right now, and everybody knows that wind makes horses the most happy and reasonable creatures ever
  2. I did just take a ten day vacation and he was locked in the entire time
  3. His timing is great. Every time he starts to be so horrendous I am about to stab him, he turns on the normal

i’m the santa ana winds, i make things weird
from crazy ex girlfriend, which is hilarious and you should watch it

On Tuesday my saddle fitter happened to be at the barn, and she reflocked my new dressage saddle for me and tried to help me find the source of the squeaking I’ve been hearing when I post.  Murray was his usual sticky self, but when the saddle went back on after the reflock he went into full on “can’t even” mode.  He couldn’t he couldn’t walk forward, he couldn’t trot, he couldn’t turn to the right, and he most CERTAINLY couldn’t do any of those things without a raging ewe-neck.

Robyn was actually worried that she’d messed up the flocking, since Murray hadn’t shown any behaviors near this awful during our initial appointments. “Oh no,” I told her, “This is very normal for us.”  Eventually Murray got it together and dressaged a little, after which Robyn commented that he actually looked quite good and much happier than in the other saddles I had tried.  She suggested I sit the trot a little to see if the squeaking got better or worse when I did that, and it got a bit better.  But more importantly, I COULD SIT THE TROT.  Even more importantly, Murray didn’t immediately tense and resist the motion! MY SADDLE FITTER IS A MIRACLE WORKER.

On Wednesday I wanted to do a little conditioning and get both Murray and I used to the impending pain that I am sure XC and stadium at Twin will bring.  But as per the new rules, I wasn’t willing to accept any shitty inverted walk work or walk-trot transitions.  So we walked for a long time.  I am trying really, really hard not to be offensive while I insist on something more approaching, but it’s hard when Murray wants to do anything other than let his head drop down into the contact and relax.  Finally we were ready to trot, and then Murray just tuned out my leg.

I tried a couple of the thins that have worked for us recently — a little more leg, softer hands — and eventually got a really ugly, inverted, neck-dependent transition.  We trotted forward a little, and then I asked him to come back to the walk so we could try again.  But every time I added leg to get him to move forward, Murray sucked back a little more until we were practically at a stand still.  I even abandoned all contact in favor of just getting a forward response to the leg and still nothing.  Out came the pony club kick, and in response Murray leaped up in front, bucked behind, and screamed at me.

Crazy Ex-GIFs car i dont care crazy ex-girlfriend crazy ex girlfriend GIFstill crazy ex girlfriend

There was a fair bit more ridiculous screaming and kicking as I asked for a trot and then canter transition, but I did not accept no for an answer, and forward he went.  We had a few canter circles of stupidity, then came back to a walk.  Murray was actually reasonably forward and moving into the contact, if not totally relaxed, and this time instead of asking him for anything with my leg, I firmly told him “TROT” as I do when lunging.

And what would you know.  Totally normal, very reasonable, drama-free, and correct-ish trot transition.

For the rest of the ride I tried to stay really still through my body, add just a whisper of leg, think “trot” with my seat, and then say “TROT” firmly for the transition.  It worked nearly every time, with just a little bobble when we changed direction.  Even better, the trot work after the transitions was forward, and when Murray got too heavy on the forehand he actually balanced himself up a little.  The same went for the canter transitions, and while the trot after the canter was totally a hot, rushy mess, I got a really reasonable response to the half halt when I applied it.

Crazy Ex-GIFs season 1 discussion theme argument GIFmurray’s feels

Every time Murray heard another rider cantering behind us though he had a mini-meltdown, so I left the arena after I was satisfied with the trot work since we were clearly working through more than just a bad attitude.

On Thursday, I walked into Murray’s stall and he promptly departed into his paddock and stayed there looking away from me.  Even when I rattled his bucket.  So I took the hint and turned him out instead of trying to ride.  It was the right choice, kid needed a mental health day.  Murray played and played on his own and only nearly kicked my head off once, and then played and played some more when we brought his buddy Logan in.

Twin approaches, and we’re not where I’d hoped in terms of schooling and fitness.  I actually feel awful about the fitness part of it, but I hope I can baby Murray through the weekend and he’ll come out on the other side somewhat unscathed.  In terms of preparedness, well, I have a new strategy I’m trying in terms of that, which you will hear about later.

hot mess

In the last six months I feel like there have been an absurd number of “and then I rode Murray for the first time in ten days” moments.  Good news for me is that he’s actually getting better despite all of these breaks, and we continue our slow climb up the mountain of dressage, training, and more generally: life.

So here we are again.  Another first ride after ten days away, although at least this time Murray managed to get out for a few rides with our barn manager’s kid.  Unfortunately, Davis also got buckets of weird and aseasonal weather with thunderstorms and a hurricane warning (an actual hurricane warning!), and aforementioned kid made the same decision as I have many times this season and chose not to ride any time the rain and wind got louder than her phone.  Murray appreciated it, and I totally understand.

remember when I did this in january and thought it was a good idea?
NEVER AGAIN

Murray was a ball of filth when I got to him.  Earlier my barn manager had sent me a video of him poking his tail through the bars of his stall and scratching his dock and butt crack on there, so the boy must have had an absolutely wild itch.  In fact, the whole of his body was probably one big itch because he has bug bites seemingly all over, and several scrapes from where he’s clearly tried to scratch too vigorously.  This amounted to a nice, fist-sized edema/bite on his belly, and a raw and slightly bloody patch on his sheath.  Yes, his sheath.  Pony somehow scratched himself so hard he bloodied his own dongle.

I curried him ferociously, channeling a bit of L and my former self in terms of grooming habits, and was very happy to see his hair coming out in brush-fuls.  Even the hair I clipped is also coming out, and with a fair bit of skin gunk and dust I also managed to dislodge a lot of that short hair.  There is a summer coat coming in underneath, it’s just not terribly long or strong just yet.  While currying I found all kinds of lumps and bumps on him associated with bug bites, nicking himself in turnout, or just general stupidity I think?  He had a big scrape across the point of his hip where the hair is now gone, and through his front legs and in his armpits he’s got dandruff like woah.  For a moment I even thought that the kid had given him spur rubs because the hair at Murray’s girth area is falling out in tufts, but I think it’s just a yucky humidity-associated skin bug.  I’m going to try to bathe him in tea-tree oil shampoo this week to see if that will help, but if nothing else the drop in humidity should dry out the skin gunk.

I miss shiny summer ponies

Murray’s feet were also a touch thrushy, for the second time I’ve ever seen in four years. I scraped them out and put some Sore No More “The Sauce” in them after my ride, and expect it won’t go any further than that.  And in doing so I found a whole host of little nicks and cuts on his lower legs from … whatever it is he’s been doing.

Then we lunged. And Murray was like “did you not hear? I don’t canter any more.”  He’d shake his head around and flail and tranter a bit and then fall back into the trot.  He cantered once when he spooked but not for more than half a circle.

The horse was the definition of a hot mess.  I could do nothing but roll my eyes at him.

He was surprisingly reasonable under saddle.  There were a few pony club kicks when he didn’t feel like trotting at first.  And I had to get a little rude when he thought that sticking his neck to the right and twisting his head left was a good way to trick me into thinking he was moving into the contact.  I felt really centered and quiet through my lower body, and Murray eventually gave up his charade, so I kept it short and sweet.

can we have summer again PLEASE?!