adventureful weekend

I had a weekend filled with the most awesome pony adventures!  Full recaps to come later in the week, but suffice to say that I am planning to eke out a little sleep in on Monday morning (till a luscious 7 am, ha!).

We started with a dressage outing that can be described as nothing less than “epic”.

good pony gets all the sweet nothing whispers

For real, we knocked so many accomplishments off the list on Saturday: got in the trailer, went to a place, kept our heads, did the dancing queen thing with zero (ZERO!!!!) theatrics, got recognized for the fucking superstars we are. Even better, we got good feedback from the judge (verbal and written), and a flow chart in the comments.

we knocked out a 65% at T3 and 67.7% at 1-1

Truly, the best part is that I went into the ring with a game plan, actually rode (instead of just kinda steering and sitting like a passenger), and Murray took my suggestions and responded in a way that I could manage and work with, instead of with interpretive dance.  If we can pull that off this week at Camelot, it will be money in the bank.

On Sunday I took a ridiculously large number of selfies with strangers’ horses.  And by “strangers” I mean Olivia, David, and Kate.  Olivia arranged a really fun wine tasting trail ride for us out of her barn to honor the visit of Jen, and it was so insanely fun!  Literally every horse on the planet Earth is better at selfies than my horse is, so I am obligated to take them with any that I can get my hands on.

Olivia even let me ride THE MULE!!  Literally the first thing I did after I got on was take a between the ears pic, but I later got much better ones on the beautiful, winding, and sometimes terrifying trail that is, evidently, a part of Olivia’s and David’s daily riding routine.  I had played around in my head with the idea of bringing Murray down for a future trail ride, but I honestly have no idea what he would do with a trail that is only 4 feet wide in places with a fairly steep, hilly drop off on one side and the correspondingly steep hill going up on the other.  At least there would be plenty of grass for him to eat while he walked (which Nilla is a professional at)?

The two of us have a fairly light week of riding planned before we go to Camelot on Thursday (with potentially more blogger meetups!!).  I’ll squeeze in a jump lesson and a dressage ride, and hope not to break any of our newfound talent in the process.  And there is potentially RAIN in the forecast for dressage day?  Inconceivable!

diy: paint it black

Last year — nay, nearly 18 months ago! — Amanda posted about re-dying her Childeric black, and I became strangely obsessed with the idea.  I even offered to pull it off on my trainer’s lesson dressage saddle, which is looking rather greeny-browner than black after many, many, many sweaty lesson butts have graced it.  I never got around to the project for my trainer, but once I got my Anky I knew that I would be embarking upon this particular DIY.  I followed Amanda’s excellent instructions pretty closely, but encountered enough little issues that I thought it worth another write up.

Image result for rolling rock

First, gather your adult beverage.

I have been informed that no DIY project that starts without an adult beverage is worth embarking upon.  I chose a beverage with a horse on the logo.




Second, gather your non-drinkable supplies.

You will need:

A couple of notes on supplies. You can’t ship deglazer to California, so I had to look around for an alternate stripping agent.  A quick search on some leather work forums and a look at the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Fiebing’s deglazer, and it’s mostly ethyl acetate with some ethyl alcohol.  However, the good peoples of the internet seemed to think that denatured alcohol would do just fine, and to move up to ethyl acetate only if the finish was particularly resistant.

Amanda also used foam brushes for a few parts of the application, and I used them for a few steps also, but found that they weren’t really the best tool for the job.  Microfiber cloths worked much better, but the ones I ordered from Amazon had to be cut down to a more manageable size.

Step three, deglaze.

My saddle was not in the worst, greenest state, but it was fairly faded and had one noticeably funny spot on the seat.  Based on the location, I can only assume that the previous owner of my saddle leaned back rather far in the tack and the center belt loop on her breeches made this spot.  More importantly, however, I’m sure that any and all finish that had ever graced its leather was also gone.  I rubbed and rubbed with the denatured alcohol on a rag, but didn’t see very much change.  But I went for it on all parts of the saddle to make sure that the dye would soak in well.

When using deglazer or ethyl acetate DO use gloves and work in a well ventilated area. This stuff is not good for you and can make its way into your liver through your skin or lungs.

After this step and slopping ethyl alcohol all over my saddle, I let it sit out overnight to evaporate all the spare alcohol and go finish off that case of horse-themed beverage.

Step the fourth: paint it black.

The next day, you should start your saddle dying playlist.

after two coats of dye

The leather dye came with a little brush applicator which worked really nicely to get dye into all the nooks and crannies. It also worked pretty well to get dye on the bigger areas, but in this step I also used a foam brush to get the dye on.  Amanda recommended three thin coats, which she evened out by rubbing the dye in with a rag after putting dye on to one section.  I was not that competent at making only “thin coats” with the dye, but fortunately, I found that unless you had majorly uneven sections with huge differences in the amount of dye applied, it pretty much evened out as it dried.

This part was a little challenging since I had to do the underside of the panels, which required a little creative wrangling while I painted and rubbed it down.  I left the saddle upside down to dry for a little while and imbibed some more.

For the rest of the saddle, I moved back and forth between different sections to let one area dry before applying the next coat.  My saddle soaked up a fair bit of dye, and after two coats everywhere looked good to me except for panels and knee rolls.  I ended up ordering two more bottles of dye, because I offered to do my MIL’s old Kieffer at the same time.  Since both panels are dual flap, there is like 2x the surface area of a monoflap to get covered so… this makes sense.  The bottles are so cheap that it wasn’t exactly a hardship to crack open a second bottle.

panels and knee rolls after the second coat

You should also know that the dye is super, super thin — thinner than water — and will flick all over your face if you sweep a brush toward yourself.  You may need to take off a layer of skin to get the dye off your face before the pizza party.

You can also see in the pictures that I painted over the logo buttons. I didn’t intend to, but I accidentally did it on one side and just didn’t care about the other. I do plan to pull this extra dye off, probably using a q-tip and some nail polish remover.  The D-rings and stainless buttons on the saddle wiped completely clean without problem.

Step five: Tan-kote.

I let the dye dry for a full 24 hours, then gently buffed the saddle with a microfiber cloth before applying the tan-kote.  This step was stupidly easy: pour a little tan-kote (the consistency of Elmer’s glue) onto a microfiber rag, and apply to saddle all over.  You can see the leather soaking up the tan-kote and getting a healthy-looking luster to it as you go.  I’m definitely not known for my less-is-more philosophy, and used a fair bit of tan-kote in this step.

When I buffed the saddle dry almost no dye was coming off of it, but as I applied the tan-kote there was plenty of dye coming out on the rag.  I let the tan-kote dry overnight before moving on to the resolene.

Sixth: Seal and finish.

Resolene is a sealant and finisher, and Amanda recommended that you apply it in full sunlight.  Warning: do not apply this in full sunlight on an 80+ degree day.  The resolene was drying so fast on the saddle that I couldn’t rub out any of the uneven spots.  This was also a step where the foam brushes were useless: they left streaky marks of finish and weird bubbles on the panels and seat especially.

Six-point-five-th: redo steps 1-5 where you borked it the first time

I actually did such a poor job with the resolene that I ended up stripping the seat and starting over.  I suspect that because the seat is so smooth and flat you can see any imperfections in the finish much more clearly (though ultimately, they’ll spend most of their time under my ass soooo maybe it was unnecessary).  But really… it looked absolutely awful.

I had to work a fair bit harder with the ethyl alcohol to strip the resolene off of the seat, and really scrub it on there, but it did come out eventually.  I let it dry, slapped on some more dye and then tan-kote, and went back to sealing the rest of the saddle.

The best way I found to apply the resolene was to pour a small amount onto a small rag (I cut my Amazon microfiber cloths into quarters).  I had folded the rag into a sponge-like shape so the application surface was smooth.  Then I rubbed that resolene across the saddle in one direction.  After moving indoors, I just did this in really good lighting, and for the knee rolls and flaps it was fine.  For the seat, I worked carefully outdoors in the shade one morning.

It is also really essential to let the layers of resolene dry properly between applications.  When the resolene was partially dried, I ended up smudging it around with the next layer (leading to the above snafu).  I’d give it at least an hour between layers, and if you’re doing this as a summer project, avoid doing it in the heat of the day.  I’m not really sure, but it seemed like the resolene dried out enough to get tacky really fast, but didn’t really “set” in the heat.   I ended up doing 3 layers on the seat, knee rolls, and tops of the flaps, 2 layers on the inside of the flaps, and 3 on the panels and underside of the flaps.

At left, my freshly dyed and sealed seat done much more carefully. The funny belt loop smudge is almost gone, and you can’t see it out of really good light.

Once again, you could probably go easier on the resolene than I did.  It gives the leather a great, shiny finish — the back of my saddle almost looks patent now — but it also makes the leather a little stiff and squeaky.

Seventh: finishing touches.

I didn’t even buff the saddle again or apply lederbalsam before riding, because I have a dressage show on Saturday that I really, really needed to practice my test at least once for.  The seat now has a little smudge in it from the buffing action of my butt, and the resolene around the leathers and where my leg goes has worn off already.  Honestly, this didn’t surprise me.  I wouldn’t (and won’t) re-seal those parts of the flaps in the future.  There was also a fair bit of color transfer from the underside of the saddle on to my saddle pad, just around the bottom and edges of the flaps — I chose an old pad for this ride for that exact purpose.

Overall, I definitely did not do as good of a job as Amanda.  The project required some time, planning, and thought, and wasn’t just a straight up weekend project for me (but it might be for you if you drink fewer horse beers).  My saddle was out of commission for five days, including fixing my resolene mess up.  However, considering that my saddle looks AMAZING now that it’s done, it was completely worth it.

10/10, will definitely do this again. If only I can find something else to dye…



crunchy hippy granola groundwork

My background in clicker training and positive reinforcement training of all kinds of animals (dogs, cats, macaques, giraffes, eland, elephants, horses, chimpanzees, zebras, tigers, gorillas… that’s basically the list) may make my dismissive attitude towards Natural Horsemanship (the type with the capital N and H) a little surprising.  Honestly, I don’t know a ton about Natural Horsemanship, and I would probably learn a lot from the philosophy if I gave it the old College Try.  But I’ve seen a few choices videos that don’t quite make sense, and my general inclination to avoid any one “doctrine” in training my horse (or doing anything) makes me shy away from the plan.

a curiously difficult species to clicker train

What I do like is the antecedent-behavior-consequence sequence that I can usually find in many other animal behavior modification programs.  Since I’ve recently been taking a more serious approach to ground work, this now plays an even larger portion in my interactions with Murray.  (Which is stupid, really, since behavior modification happens constantly, including under saddle. But it’s much easier to see, and evaluate, from the ground than the saddle.)

As with all things in horses/my life, I jumped in way too deep to start with and became frustrated that Murray couldn’t shoulder-in with me on the ground and wanted to run away from me or run in circle.  So (for once!) I stepped back, looked in to some really basic exercises, and committed to doing those until I could call them done.  Mostly I used Emma’s fabulous write-ups to give me a baseline for what I wanted to do.  There were a few behaviors I already knew that we needed to work on — standing while I touch all over his body and walk behind him, letting me approach the girth without running off, go forward, go back.  And then there was the whole “I want you to be able to step backwards over a pole” thing.  I somewhat-irrationally decided I needed my horse to be able to do this.  But it turns out it was a good thing anyway.

belly rubs and the subsequent rhino lip are an important part of groundwork games

Fortunately, Murray has gotten past the extinction burst of awful begging behaviors (including trying to and successfully biting me) that showed up when we first started playing this game, which makes it much more fun for me.  He’s also gotten “worse” at some of the behaviors we’ve been working on, specifically backing up.  Which is interesting.  But the important thing here is how you define “worse”.  Murray doesn’t respond as quickly to the back up cue, go as far, or move as fast as he used to when we first started playing this game.  But, he is much more relaxed when we do it, and processes a response to the cue to back up instead of just flying backwards whenever I stop.  So maybe this one is actually a win?

Troubleshooting Murray’s reluctance to back up over a pole was also fun, and I’m pretty pleased with how it’s panned out so far.  Once Murray knew that I had some intention of asking him to back over a pole, i.e. after the first time I asked him to perform this behavior, he had absolutely no interest in doing anything remotely akin to backing up over a pole.  He would walk really quickly over the pole, then immediately re-position his body so that there was no possible way I could reasonably get him to go backwards over that pole.

First, we worked on stopping and standing quietly with front and back legs on either side of the pole, and then positioned just in front of and behind the pole.  We progressed to stepping front feet only over a pole, and then finally getting hind feet, and then all four feet backwards over a pole.  Murray scared himself at one point, when he stepped on the pole, rolled it on to his own feet, then kicked it backwards with his front feet on to his hinds.  While funny at the time, it did make Murray’s confidence take a dive.

Hopefully, after a few more weeks, we’ll be able to back up over a couple of sequential poles.  Though that will require a little more careful footwork than Murray has so far demonstrated.  We’ll see.

The better part of all of this, is that Murray is taking me more seriously on the ground in general.  Obviously nobody would ever have been able to predict that developing better communication for essential and important groundwork behaviors would lead to better communication overall — NO, NOBODY EVER.

I don’t think Murray’s and my relationship has suffered tooooooo negatively from missing out on this relationship building through groundwork.  I’m not entirely sure I would have been able to take such a logical and reasonable approach to it when we first got together, though.  I was too impatient, even all wrapped up in my ideas of going slowly.  But now we both have a little more perspective, and Murray’s really learned now to learn, and we’re making progress.

This paid dividends when I took a little outing this week for another fitness hack (over an hour of walking, and two short gallops, 900m and 1300m respectively).  Murray didn’t want to get in the trailer again, which is par for the course post Twin.  I had put a flat leather halter on over the rope halter to tie him with inside the trailer, but the lead rope was still hooked up to the lead rope.  When Murray stopped at the open door of the trailer and said, thanks but no thanks and tried to run off backwards, I had a much better idea of how to handle it.  First, I didn’t let him get away with running off backwards (I actually grabbed on to the trailer with my hand not holding the lead rope so I’d have an anchor), which at least made him stop and reconsider the situation.  Then I pulled him over to the side and we had a little discussion of “yes, this means forward, and it means forward now!”.  On the second go it took him a moment to accept, but jumped right in after a little think.  On the way home, he jumped in first go.

I’ve stopped being amazed at the aspects of horsemanship that I still have to learn about.  The answer is simply: everything.

creeping uphill

Another big life event, another week off of work for Murray.  It’s our pattern, but he doesn’t seem to hate it. That week was actually punctuated with a few days of riding as I evaluate the trial saddle, but none of them were particularly strenuous.  We come back from each mini break pretty quickly, and I’ve been very pleased with the progress made in between mini breaks.  Maybe this really is just a schedule that works for certain princess ponies?  Or maybe our new routine of ground work + lunging –> riding is really working for us.

being cute at Twin

We spent most of last week trying to rebalance Murray from totally on the forehand and dragging himself around, to some semblance of moving uphill.  On Monday I felt like we were cantering downhill during our warmup, and that I could slide off of Murray’s neck at any moment.  It was supremely unpleasant, not only because I know that’s not how we’re supposed to go, but because it’s really just rather uncomfortable.  Murray wasn’t terribly responsive to my half halts, so I took a moment to re-assess and figure out how to attack the problem without picking a fight.

our video from Twin is mostly sass punctuated by cute moments
presently pictured: sass, in case you couldn’t tell

I tried to sit up and use my core, instead of tipping forward into Murray’s downhill-ness, and started to incorporate the lateral work back in to our routine.  I’ve generally avoided lateral work since December, since Murray and I both use it as such an out: he is more than happy to go sideways if he doesn’t want to work, and when I get bored/stupid I start to think “porque no los leg yields?” instead of “let’s really shore up your shitty connection, Nicole”.

murray goes hrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

And slowly but surely, throughout the week, Murray’s balance started to come up.  He still wanted to lean on my hand and PLOW down any straight line we did, especially when they were off the wall (uh… will have to fix that before we show FOR SURE).  But I found that if I moderated his pace a little more with my seat and core — which I am finally figuring out how to use — that we could maintain a little bit more uphill balance.  There is still a lot of work to be done there, but straight lines are hard.  (Though, I’ve just realised that is exactly what JM was focusing on with me, so I could probably bring some of the straightness/slight counter flexion exercises to those off-the-wall-straight-lines and potentially achieve the same results. Food for thought.)

smile for the camera!

We also had a jump lesson where Murray was a super freaking rockstar mashing around a grid and some bigger (for our recent exploits) fences on a much bigger and more forward step.  It felt amazing.  It wasn’t the same as the pookums usually feels — there was less of that launch off the ground that sometimes accompanies bigger fences —  but great nonetheless.  And there were only two hiccups, both attributed to me riding an awful, very angled line to an airy oxer that Murray just couldn’t seem to see as a jump.  I discovered two new things in that lesson: one, my new phone’s camera is bullshit at taking videos indoors (I mean, thanks a lot you freaking potato), and two, Murray goes around pretty upside-down on that more forward step.

RBF made a very important point, which is that the big, forward step and jump is new to both Murray and I, and we’re still figuring it out.  Obviously we weren’t going to figure it out in perfect balance or make it look pretty the first time around.  She encouraged me to be patient while we get strong on this new step.  Man, RBFs.  They are so good to have around.

we’ve seen this before, but it’s soooo worth posting in HD

A big piece of the puzzle is helping Murray to understand how to use his neck while it is in a different position on his body.  Right now, he feels like/seems/is convinced that he only has access to his neck muscles (and back muscles) when his neck is pretty low — head below withers.  Actually, that’s not true.  He is convinced that he can only use his neck the way I want him to use it when his neck is very low.  He is happy to use his neck when it’s lifted a little higher — as long as he gets to use his underneck.  Which is, of course, the great secret of all dressage: MOAR UNDERNECK.

murray rejects this corner. this message brought to you by the letter H.

So my big goal has been taking that underneck access away from Murray in both sets of tack — yup, even on conditioning rides.  Add in to that the continued insistence on some kind of communication-connection through the reins (even in the stretchy trot), sitting up and using my core, keeping my aids simple and consistent, and turning my god forsaken toes in (he really has abandoned my lower leg), and it feels like I’m juggling a lot of balls to put together some okay-ish work right now.  But we really are making steps in the right direction (I think), and it’s not nearly as hard as it would have been for me to work on even 2 of those things simultaneously two months ago.

We’re getting there.  Slowly but surely.  Creeping uphill.  The only way we know how.

Anyone else feeling their progress creeping along in the good way lately?

for the cleanest clean: hand wash your breeches

A few weeks ago Olivia posted a hilarious How Not To about her show clothes.  And I was like, dammit, Olivia, you stole my thunder!  But honestly, it’s essentially the same way I clean my show clothes, just minus the bleach and super hot washer cycles.  So here’s the How To on getting all those crazy stains you thought were stuck in there forever out of your show clothes.

I am the messiest human on earth,
yet through the miracle of careful washing,
this shirt is still white

TL;DR Wash them by hand.

Yep, it’s really that simple.  When I lived in Kenya I would pay a local woman to do my laundry*, and of course I had brought all my grungiest, most stained shirts to the field with me because I knew I would only stain and ruin them more.  I was absolutely floored when Catherine returned my first load of laundry to me with almost all of those neck sweat and pit sweat stains totally gone.  The secret ingredient to getting your clothes really, really clean is just liberal dosing with powder detergent, elbow grease, and cracked and skinned knuckles from rubbing so hard (be careful not to get the blood from your now-destroyed hands on your now-clean clothes, though).

* Yes, it felt very weird. I’m totally capable of washing my own clothes, even without a machine.  But Catherine insisted, and I was not about to take away a source of income that I could easily give her.  Totally unrelated to this, there was a rat that liked to climb into my laundry hamper and eat my dirty underwear.  It later made a nest and had babies in a box of bubble wrap.  Such a fucking weird rat.

You will need

  • OxiClean (fragrance free is fine)
  • Detergent of your choice
  • Bucket or large bowl (a vestibule large enough for your show clothes + water + splashing)

Step 1 – Collect your dirty show clothes.


These breeches had actually just come out of the washer. I was shocked at how bad of a job the washer did getting absolutely any stains out. And I simultaneously realized the problem with silicone grip patches on light colored breeches — you can see the clean breech color under the silicon while the dirt surrounds them. Unacceptable.

I tend to sort my clothes by color (ish).  I don’t want any color seeping on my whites, so always wash those alone.  I also don’t want any dirt from other clothes accidentally staining my whites, somehow.  Other than that, I am indiscriminate about what gets washed where.

Step 2 – Dissolve OxiClean in the bucket.

I don’t wash or soak my stained clothes in hot water, as hot water can set stains.  But OxiClean dissolves best in hot water, so I usually dissolve the powder in some hot water, then fill the rest of the way with cool water.  How much water is the rest of the way?  Usually about 1/4 to 1/3 of the bucket.  I need space to splash around in.  I now just splash some OxiClean down in the bucket before getting started, but when I was being careful I followed the concentrations on the back of the OxiClean box for this purpose.  It is something like 1-2 tablespoons OxiClean per gallon of water.

Step 3 – Soak.

This part is easy. Put in soiled clothes.  Make sure soiled clothes are in contact with detergent solution, and jostle them around to get some dirt loose.  Weigh down soiled clothes with a plate or something.  Wait.

I use 5 gallon Home Depot or Lowes buckets that I acquired for approximately $6.  I have like five lying around.  A standard size dinner plate seems to do the job for weighing them down.

Step 4  – Change the water and scrub.

Depending on the soilage of my clothing, I will sometimes drain the water and do a second soak before starting this step.  Regardless, unless your soaking water has very little dirt in it, I tend to get rid of the old soaking water and start fresh for the scrubbing step.  I dissolve another, smaller amount of OxiClean in the bucket this time, and add in a little of my detergent of choice.  (For saddle pads or other items that would benefit from a high-agitation spin, I put them in the machine after scrubbing, so don’t add detergent.)

Then we scrub.  This isn’t rocket science.  You just need to rub the soiled parts of the clothing on other clothes or parts of clothing to lift the stains out.  I’m not sure, but it seems like stretching and pulling the fibers gently also helps to free the stains.  I find that I can usually scrub on my own knuckles and lift out any stains there, but it can be helpful to have a spare rag in the water to really attack the clothing with.  If you feel like there’s not enough soap in there, splash in some more.  Don’t expect the water to actually get really sudsy (if it is, you’ve probably used too much), but there should be some bubbles.

You might want to wear gloves for this part.  Thanks to a lifetime of abuse in the kitchen and garden, my hands aren’t particularly sensitive or beautiful.  But if you’re a hand model or something, this will not do you any favors.  The OxiClean is very drying on your hands, and it will take forever to rinse the soap off of them.

Step 5 – Rinse in cold water/machine wash.

If I am planning to machine wash the clothing in question, I just wring them out gently over the bucket and throw them straight in the washer with more OxiClean and laundry detergent.

If I’m not planning on doing that, they get several rinses with fresh cold water before I wring them out and hang dry them.  When I rinse, I use plenty of water, and take the time to really agitate my clothes in the bucket to get out any remaining suds.  I usually rinse 2-4 times to make sure they are really, really free of soap.  By the time I get to the second rinse, I will start pouring the water on hardy plants or areas of my yard that I know get a lot of additional water runoff — the detergent is pretty dilute at this point.  But the first few rinses and drains should go into the sink or shower to avoid poisoning your lawn/flowers/vegetables etc.

Step 6 – Profit Revel in your clean new breeches.


This method also works for saddle pads, but I tend to soak only one saddle pad at a time, and never with show clothes.  They are a bit more cumbersome, so I will also just spot soak with OxiClean — I’ll make up a batch of OxiClean and pour a little on the stain, then scrub with a little brush.  Those vegetable scrubber brushes are perfect for this — not too harsh, and not too soft.  I’ll splash on more OxiClean and let it sit before throwing the pad in the washer.

Obviously, this is a good way to get neck sweat stains out of a stock tie, rat catcher, or show shirts (especially if you can’t just throw them in the machine for some reason).  And it’s the method I use on Murray’s brushing boots, after I’ve scraped the dirt clods off with a stiff brush.

Yes, it’s more work than just throwing clothes in the washer.  But it also gets them waaaay cleaner.  Which, if you’re like me, is weirdly important at the beginning of a show or clinic.  And after washing two weeks worth of laundry at a time, sitting in the shower on a hot Sunday and wishing I was out in the field with my friends, washing a few pairs of breeches or saddle pads feels like nothing!


GoT Bloghop: Murray is Craig Middlebrooks

Over a year ago, Austen started this clever little blog hop talking about our horses as characters from movies (or TV).  And at the time I was like “I don’t know what character my horse is! He’s just Murray! All the good characters are taken! I HATE THIS BLOG HOP!!!”

Never let it be said that we are not well matched in melodrama.

But I finally figured it out!  I now know who Murray’s television personality is.

Murray is Craig Middlebrooks from Parks and Rec.

We all know that Murray just feels way too many feels.  He, quite literally, cannot keep the feels inside his body.

And he is always happy to tell you about them.

Murray freaks out easily.


And when that happens, he very desperately needs your help.

His responses to normal stimuli generally fall somewhere between “wildly inappropriate” and “way over the top”.

Especially when he doesn’t want you to know that he likes something.

Lying down is his happy place.

Despite the fact that he just can’t control himself, we love Murray anyway.  He’s just so cute when he’s upset!

lies, damn lies, and statistics

Murray and I recently had a development in our communication that makes me seem like a huge asshole.  Which I will readily admit that I am, sometimes.  But I’m not sure this is really one of those times.

Horse professionals have long been telling me things like “horses don’t lie”, or “listen to your horse, they’re trying to tell you something”, or “horses are inherently truthful creatures”, or even “horses don’t have the ability to be deceptive”.  And I don’t necessarily disagree with these things.  I don’t think that the vast majority of horses (going to go ahead an say 99% here) have the ability for premeditated deception.  Sure, some horses will learn that when they come out a little stiff and janky they get put right back, so it might behoove them to be stiff and janky because they keep getting rewarded for such behavior.  But no horse sits in his stall and thinks, “now, if I just make sure not to put any weight on that right front hoof today, my owner will definitely think something is wrong and give me the well deserved spa day that I actually deserve.”

Image result for malingering

But I have never totally bought it that a horse is always telling me the truth.  There are little lies, like “I’ve never seen a trot pole before in my life! How does one horse this contraption?!” which are some variation of “I can’t”/”I don’t wanna”.  And I even understand how “I can’t” and “I don’t wanna” can be really valuable and truthful indicators of something hinkey going on physically or mentally, and should be paid attention to.  And there are occasionally big misunderstandings, like “holy shit that patch of weird ground is the most horrifying thing I have EVER SEEN oh actually it’s fine, nevermind.”

And then there are the Chicken Littles of the world.

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For a long time, trying to understand what Murray was telling me behaviorally was ridiculously difficult.  He could be so sensitive and reactive that absolutely anything that upset him turned into a huge deal.  Sometimes he seemed to respond really reasonably to the various stimuli of life — a leaf blowing across the barn aisle, a funny sound, a wheelbarrow going by — and sometimes the sky was absolutely falling for weeks on end, and anything more exciting than another horse casually walking past him was cause for IMMEDIATE ALARM.  Responses were scaled proportionately to the level of excitement elicited, just starting around a 7 on a 1-10 scale and going up from there.

This is not exactly what I would call reliable or honest communication.  At some point, when someone tells you that there’s a wolf in the pasture every single day and there is never a wolf there, you stop listening.  There is no wolf out there, the sky isn’t falling, yes that is a saddle, and there is an extension cord that wasn’t there yesterday, and this is just real life, and you have to get used to it.  (Part of me feels like this is something baby animals are supposed to learn.  It’s what I teach puppies — the world is a large and dynamic place, and we don’t get to live in a box that never changes.  Am I wrong in thinking that foals/yearlings/young horses with good handling probably get taught those things too?)

dummy foal?

This type of communication isn’t what I would call honest, but it isn’t distinctly dishonest either.  Sure, Murray was (probably) trying to tell me about one of the fifty six butterfly-sized things that might be bothering him at any one time — there’s a cat over there, that trash can is new, someone is putting a blanket on another horse!!!!  But those aren’t things that bother 95% of the equine population, and they certainly aren’t things that ought to bother him.  And they aren’t the kind of communication that is actually telling me something — it doesn’t necessarily mean he is sore, or has an abscess, or needs his hocks injected.  It just means a gnat farted somewhere in a mile radius and Murray took offense.

So maybe I’m an asshole for not listening.  But unless the horse was really, physically trying to kill himself (or at risk of doing so), it was so much easier to just tune it out.

A few weeks ago, Murray didn’t want to pick up his left hind foot for me to pick out.  It was strange and annoying, because I thought I’d solved the whole foot picking out situation years ago with a lot of treats and praise.  He would dance away from me all around the tying post (yeah, we still don’t cross tie), and finally for a few days I gave up on picking the foot out and settled with picking it up to look in it briefly and put it down again.  It was ridiculous but it resolved itself in four or five days.

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Then last week, I found two blown out abscess holes on his right hind.  One from the coronet band, an one in the heel bulb.  Probably from about the time of the not foot pick upsies issue.

Last week I also had a saddle on trial.  It was a great saddle, at a steal of a price, and everything about it said it would probably fit Murray (I ultimately returned it because it was a hair too long and didn’t fit me).  And when I tried it on Murray he had a pretty horrified, violent reaction.  But, I thought, that was because I stupidly put a bare leather saddle on his naked back.  Everybody knows you put the saddle pad down before the saddle, you silly human.

So we did the whole routine, I put a pad under it because it looked a little wide, we did a very loose girth, and then because Murray was especially touchy that morning I went outside to do the girth up the rest of the way.  And he just about ran me down when I finally did get it all the way done up.  Normally he runs away from you when he’s freaking out, but this time he ran to the end of the lead rope, turned around, and ran right at me.  I checked under the saddle and it was awfully tight under there, so I pulled the half pad out, and homeboy seemed a bit better.

murray: who’s the asshole now?!

The next day, though, saw the exact same reaction.  And Murray really, really does not usually try to run humans down.  He’s very respectful in his panicking and freaking out — he’d much rather stay far, far away from all bipeds, thanks all the same.  So I shoved my hands in under the saddle, and back just past his shoulders were two firm spots of flocking that were really quite tight.  And when I took the saddle off of him, you could tell that those spots were extra tight even without a girth done up.

So. What do you know.  The child has learned to communicate actual problems to me!  Or maybe…. I just learned how to listen.

So once again, my horse is proving to me that he’s not the asshole who isn’t listening, I’m the asshole who isn’t listening.  And it would be great if he could do it in a more succinct way, but the lessons probably wouldn’t stick quite as hard then.