getting stacked

Unlike many clever, productive bloggers I know, I wasn’t able to either a) get posts scheduled for the week of the Mary clinic, or b) get my Mary notes into blog-form immediately after the clinic. I have very good reasons for this, though. I was busy RIDING PONIEZ. I didn’t send in a video as a demo rider, since I had hardly ridden in the four months before the clinic. But I had some pretty big riding takeaways from the clinic, and Kate kindly offered up some of her ponies for me to play around on and practice with.

The biggest was about my plungers, specifically my faulty left plunger. Faulty? Maybe not faulty. Perhaps just a little less effective, kinda clogged with coffee grounds.

french GIF
pro tip: do not search “plunger” on giphy

Much as many people describe the horse’s body as made of train cars or blocks that you want to line up with one another (and not have the caboose off in some other universe or traveling  different direction), your torso can be thought of as stacks of boxes or building blocks (there are great images of this in When Two Spines Align). For a strong torso, your building blocks need to be stacked on top of one another squarely. They should be box-like.

But not everyone is box-like. Some of us have an extremely-well-developed gangsta lean.

I’ve been leaning off of the left side of horses since before you were born.


that’s not true at all, I’ve only been riding for nine years (so if you’re nine or younger, then it may be true)

I’ve known for a long time that there’s something wrong with my left side. On occasion, I’ve tried to counter-act the leftways lean by leaning right  or just JAMMING my left leg down. But those are not actually solutions. It turns out, my left side lean is much more complicated than that.

What the Mary clinic and riding with Kate showed me is that the problem with my left side has to do with how my boxes are stacked on that side. Somehow, my boxes are smushed down on the left side, with their center of smooshness somewhere near my hip. My left leg is shorter, my left seat bone isn’t on, and my left obliques are all shortened, and to top it all off I sit on the right side of the saddle. OH AND my left leg is less stuffed and toned than my right. It’s so embarrassing.

Kate picked this up first, when I was riding one of the horses at her barn. She encouraged me to put weight into left leg and sit with my right seatbone almost in the center of the saddle. I was like “no! I’ll fall off if I do that! My left seatbone is like 2″ off the saddle when I do that!”


not as bad, but my left side is still being a dick here

The next big piece came when we did spinal realignments during the clinic. After seeing L get her spine stacked up to neutral, I was like “me! me next! me me me!” and stripped off as much of my clothing as I could bear to shed so I could have my spine aligned properly. Hot hands packets fell out from all over my body as I did so, but I didn’t care. Anne sat me down on the bench, asked me to assume neutral, and then pushed down on my shoulders. I fell backwards at the lightest touch. Like not even a little bit unstable or wiggly, I straight up FELL BACKWARDS because my “neutral” is not straight.

Anne had to get after me a bit to get me to sit up straight, then showed the observers how my spine lacked the appropriate curves in general. I don’t have enough lordosis in my low spine, and not enough roach in my upper spine. (Roach may be the wrong word.) Anne added in a touch of curve to my lower spine, and had me lower my sternum. Then she pressed down on my shoulders again and I was a MUCH sturdier box. My leftways collapse was gone (or at least minimized) when I got my spine stacked up properly.

Image result for human spineit turns out that spines should be curved — just in the right ways

A third big piece of the puzzle came when Mary talked about the plungers and showed us how to assess our internal obliques. Okay, so what is the plunger? In short, the plunger is the feeling of weight down through your body, and you should have equal plungers on the left and right. Adopt a stance of extreme ‘tude. Your ‘tude-iest ‘tude stance. Cross your arms, sass your computer (or your dog or your boss), and lean on one leg. Feel how well the forces transmit down into that leg? That’s the plunger.

This could be wrong, but to me the plunger is strong when your box edges are all perfectly lined up, and the forces are being transmitted as efficiently as possible through your bones to your joints to the ground. Change to your non dominant ‘tude side. If you’re anything like me, you won’t even feel a plunger on that side. It’s like that leg is barely attached to the rest of your body and the ground. Mary had this whole method of moving the plunger from one side to the other but it didn’t work for me, really.

What did change my plunger was lengthening and shortening my internal obliques. There are three layers of obliques (I didn’t know! I should have, I spent enough time with animal carcasses), and they all strap your torso in slightly different directions. The internal obliques point from your hips up toward your sternum (desperately trying and failing to find a way to involve Mary’s memory device of “tits up” here). You shorten the internal obliques on one side (say the right) by bending to the right, crunching forward, and twisting to the left. You lengthen the internal obliques on that same side by bending to the left, leaning back, and twisting to the right.

We did this back and forth slowly about ten times, exaggerating the movements. Then we switched to the left internal oblique. After stretching and shrinking both sets of obliques, my left plunged SLAMMED into the ground. It was as if I could suddenly feel my weight equally through both legs. It truly felt like all of my boxes were actually lined up on my left side.

I haven’t had a chance to try this exercise in the saddle, and I’m not entirely sure it would be safe to do so. But next ride, I’ll give it a go before I hop on and report my findings.

As with all things Mary, your mileage will vary. LB-LB communication is fraught with error. But if you’re having trouble with twisting one direction or another, just know that it could very well be your abs (and plunger) working against you.

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climbing rope + moving forward

Somehow, getting my horse forward has become a central theme of my life again. I had thought that I would try to establish the whole leg = go, no seriously it means go every time thing early on in my next horsey relationship. I guess I didn’t count on leasing a pony.

But, I did have a great conversation with TrJ in one of my lessons that helped me figure out a biomechanical problem I’m having, and helped us reformulate our approach to flatwork with young Samwise.

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Handsome little beastie . . . #reboundpony #weißwurst

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TrJ — and many other people who have trained me — comment constantly on my clinging and creeping leg. TrJ’s particular words are to let my heels drop down, and relax through my leg. But I’ve heard it many other ways. So finally, during a walk break in a flat lesson, I was like “soooo am I using my leg wrong? It feels like I’m climbing a rope, where they creep up a little bit more every time I squeeze until my leg us all crunched up.”

TrJ said she had a VERY similar conversation with the son of her trainer when she was a kid. The son said “it easy to solve, just push your leg down every time before you kick!” TrJ evidently tried that for a while. Seems easy enough, right? — jam leg down, kick, jam leg down again — and it turns out that is not actually the solution. I mean, not long term anyway.

The crux of the problem: the pony is not in front of my leg. I kick a little, and then I kick a bit harder and maybe squeeze a bit too, then I kick from that squeezing position, and next thing I know my feet are all the way up on the saddle flaps and my knees are at my chin like a jockey.

(I’m out of pony media, so please observe Smellinore demanding pats.)

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Place pats here . . . . #jellinoreroosevelt

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I’m at a slight disadvantage because of Sammy’s size. Because he’s short and rotund, my calf is what contacts his sides the most, and it’s a tad more difficult to make a clear kicking motion with the calf. But, TrJ pointed out, there are a lot of really tall riders out there (Boyd, William — she just refers to 4* riders by their first names like we see them all the time, ha!) who have this conformational problem on normal sized horses. However, they have no problems. Why? They get the horse responsive off the leg early.

So we spent the last few minutes of the lesson focusing on getting Sammy crisp off my leg in all gaits. He’s pretty good in the trot, especially after just a couple of kicks. But in the walk, his two-year-break from real work really kicks in. Sammy is like “no, the walk belongs to me.”

And that makes perfect sense. In jump lessons, we pretty much canter, jump a course, praise the snot out of him, and then let him do what he wants in the walk. And I plan to keep doing most of that, minus the part where the walk becomes the “pony rules time” gait.

TrJ had me do the very familiar exercise of giving a small kick and if I got no response in a couple of steps immediately following it up with a kick + tap of the dressage whip. We did several circles where I tried to walk for just four or eight steps before coming back to the trot and it was rough. Sammy was like “super, the walk is mine!” so I immediately reverted to shoving with my seat. Once I got my seat still, it was hard not to get yanked down out of the saddle but his attempts to scratch his face.

I repeated the exercises on my own during a ride and was really surprised how many repetitions it took for Sammy to start listening to my leg without the whip. I started the exercise going between trot and canter, because I know it’s a much easier transition for him to grasp. And grasp it he did! Transitions weren’t perfect, but they were there and they were prompt.

In the walk I got absolutely tuned out. Like, the second we were walking, I basically didn’t exist. I was maintaining the contact (insomuch as we had a connection at that point), so it wasn’t like I was throwing the reins away and saying “break time” with one aid and “work time” with another. But I did probably 20 or 25 transitions from walk to trot where I needed a light tap of the whip to back up the leg aid. To the point where I was like “oh man, I’m going to have to quit doing this in a second because it’s starting to feel an awful lot like a fight.” Finally, somewhere around attempt 26 I guess, I got a transition into trot just from my leg. It wasn’t super prompt, but it came before I got the whip organized and I was just like YES YES PONY YES and threw the reins away and let him have his head. I did one more transition to trot and Sammy was like “fine, I’ll play your stupid game” and then I practically leapt off and stuffed his face full of cookies.

your human games are stupid and you’re stupid and you should feel stupid, human

It did not take Murray 20-25 walk-trot transitions to get the idea of this exercise, so I was a little worried about the amount of time it took Samwell. But it turns out the pony is a clever little cookie, and I haven’t had to have the discussion more than one time per ride since then. So it took longer to stick at first go, but it has stuck much better than with my own horse!

Originally TrJ suggested I work on a bit of getting Sammy forward and a bit of getting Sammy to push into the bridle during each ride, and bring the two together as we made progress on each. But they converged way faster than we expected, and getting pony forward has resulted in much better interest in stretching forward and down. So now I get to work on both at once, which is obviously so easy for a unitasker like myself.

And for those of you who sometimes feel like you’re climbing rope when riding your horse, I have an exercise for you….

weißwürste

Things have been coming along quite nicely with the little white pony, and we’ve had some big breakthroughs in our flat rides. I’ve also started calling him “the little weißwürste (weisswurst)”, because he is white and sausage shaped. And weisswurst are white sausages. He thinks it’s hilarious.

Leasing is definitely a bit odd. I can feel how the pony wants to shoot over his right shoulder an is a little weak on his left hind. I want to fix it, because I know that getting straighter and more symmetrical will be better for us both in the long run. On the other hand — it’s not totally my problem. Not that I won’t work toward making him stronger and better (see: the campsite rule). But it makes it feel less… personal, if that makes sense. Like my future with this horse doesn’t live or die based on my ability to get the little one’s feet moving evenly beneath him. It’s an exaggeration, but kinda gets at the feeling.


i thought he was starting to look a bit trimmer and sportier but nope — still a sausage!

Anyway. I’ve had two flat lessons with TrJ to date, both focused on trying to convince Sammy to move into the contact, stretch out his neck, and lift up his back. To my great relief, TrJ mentioned in the first lesson that while the pony is fancy and does have all the moves, he hasn’t really be asked to use himself properly, consistently, or by a rider who isn’t a child in the last two years. His job, recently, has been teaching (a few) kids the ropes of up-down, and jumping whatever he’s pointed at. So it’s not just that I suck at riding and can’t get him on the bit. It’s that he’s pretty sure he doesn’t have to do that.

And like, he was really sure he doesn’t have to do that. The first lesson TrJ and I tried a variety of things to get Sammy to think about the connection. I could flex him (pretty firmly, too), I could move him in and out on the circle, I could kiiinda bend him — wasn’t too bendy really — I could try to massage one rein or the other or both or intermittently and he would respond by doing…. nothing. Literally nothing different. Like, he wasn’t defiant or rude or reactive at all. Sammy just straight up ignored me.

So. That was…. interesting.

But I get it. This pony has literally spent the last two years being praised and rewarded for safely packing kids around by balancing on his underneck and ignoring their unsophisticated hands or wild flailing.

 vs.  
standard sausage shape vs. desired dressage sausage shape
(these are actually weisswurst)

However, it is still crazy frustrating to be like “hello, I am doing several things right and also everything in my power to get you to even think about yielding to one of these reins” and be met by nothing in response. From a positive-reinforcement perspective, it also means you have nothing to reward. Which makes things hard for the reinforcement-crazed like me.

Between our first and second flat lessons, a week apart, we made some progress on our own. Sammy started thinking more about giving to the bridle. And in that second lesson we got a few moments where he put his head down or stretched into the connection. I mean, I’ll take what I can get.

he’s pretty meh on mud though so water-at-speed could be interesting

It was after that lesson, though, that Sammy finally gave me something to work with. Part of it was definitely getting him more forward and responsive to the leg (probably more in another post). But the other part was, I think, just persistence. I wore him down to the point where he was like “fucking fine I’ll see if I can give this bitch what she wants.”

He’s really motivated by praise and scratches, and especially by walk breaks. So if there’s something to reward, I definitely have things to reward him with. While trying to get him off my left leg a bit better, Sammy started actually protesting the connection a bit. He offered to run me into the wall (politely declined), and then grudgingly moved off my leg. When I started back up on the circle, he was like “ugh FINE” and stretched his nose out and took my hands out in front of his withers.

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Handsome little beastie . . . #reboundpony #weißwurst

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It was so awesome! Finally, I was getting some kind of response to my riding, instead of just rote reactions that he knows are required (turn, stop-ish, go-ish). I managed to get him stretching down a few times in that ride. The next one was even better, because we got to that place much faster. Sammy was annoyed that I insisted on any kind of connection with the left rein, and was almost shaking his head with annoyance. I ignored the head shaking, tried to align his body a bit better by putting his left hind under him (tracking left), and gave him somewhere to go with my hands. It’s tempting to say it worked like a charm or he plunked right on to the bit, but he didn’t. He did, however, test out the connection and the new place that this alignment allowed him to go. I just tried to stay present but non-restrictive with the connection, and praised the crap out of him every time he stretched out and down.

I actually had to cut my ride short, because he was being so good and I didn’t want to ruin anything. Which is kindof a win-lose-win situation. Because obviously I wanted to keep riding and having fun, but didn’t want to reward Sammy’s efforts with more work when he wanted to be done. So I stole some of TrJ’s arena cookies (she keeps a jar by the gate for after lessons, Sammy beelines towards her any time he so much as suspects she’s coming in to the arena) to stuff in his face as a big reaward for a good pony.

who cares about sunsets, give me treatz

We’ll make a little dressage pony out of him yet!

 

 

 

ruthlessly exclude & willingly compromise

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I want in my next horse. Much more time than I’ve spent without a horse… Definitely didn’t spend way too much time thinking about this loooooong before Murray was ever plotting his retirement. (Don’t worry, I don’t actually think that retirement was a nefarious plot by my horse…. most days.)


not really the nefarious plot type

While I’m not in a financial position to be too exclusive in my search, I do have time on my side. I don’t need a new horse now, or in six months, or even in a year (realistically). I’ll likely keep having fun with this pony for a while. If I do truly outgrow him, there are a few other options at the barn. My trainer commented the other day that I’m a better rider than she thought, which was nice to hear. Turns out, when you’re not riding a lame Murray, you can actually, you know, ride. (Also, when you get in shape. That helps too.)

So with a fair bit of thinking, I’ve made a list of a few very important things, a few negotiable things, and no tangible automatic disqualifiers (but, obviously, there will be some).

Here’s what I’m absolutely not negotiable on in my next horse.

Great brains – This is literally the most important thing on my list. I don’t need the next #babygenius or Einstein horse. But I do need something that is easier to work with than Murray was. I don’t mind if they’re a little goofy or have some personality, but I need those things to not come at the expensive of their ability to learn and work with me. This quality is nebulous and hard to define, but I get the feeling it’s a bit like pornography. You know it when you see it.

not these brains

A yes-man (or mare) – I want my next horse to really be a partner. I want to feel like I’m working with them and we’re working together, instead of constantly convincing them that maybe just trying things my way is a better way to do them. Perhaps this is a subheading of “great brains”, but it is really important to me. (I’m also not denying my role in training Murray to think the way he does. But he never came from a place of working with humans to problem solve — he spent half his time on the track trying to escape or lie down on the hot walker — so it was definitely an uphill battle.) My future yes-man is going to get a solid foundation in groundwork to reinforce this.

Good feet – One of two conformation requirements. I’m not starting with fucked up feet again.

A strong back – Particularly their lower back/lumbar/loin area. Dressage is great. Dressage makes horses stronger. But there’s no reason for me to start off in the hole here. I have a pet theory that this is key to long-term soundness for horses.

Going under saddle – I’m not starting anything from the ground up. I guess I’m negotiable on a horse who was previously going, but has sat in a field for some time. Regardless, I need to be able to slap a saddle on that baby, get on him, and walk and trot within a couple of days of getting him home. (Even if I don’t actually intend to do that — I want the option to be there.)


i’ve had some really cool rides with this guy lately

I feel like that’s a pretty reasonable list. It’s enough to knock a lot of individuals out of contention pretty easily (thus narrowing the field that I end up staring at online), but not so narrow that I’m searching for a needle in a haystack.

I also have a list of things that are somewhat negotiable — some more than others.

Breed – I love thoroughbreds, and ottbs are what is going to be most common in my price range, but I’m not too fussy here. It’s more about the individual than the generalized breed stereotype.

Image may contain: 1 person, horse, sky and outdoor
are you my new pony?

Talent – Realistically, I’m not going to be going any higher than Novice any time soon, especially not on a horse fresh off the track. Maybe Training, if I suddenly get a lot better at riding and training horses. If, in five years, I find myself ready to go Prelim and my partner can’t make the jump, then I’m more than willing to start looking again. I plan to be Very Wealthy by then, so owning 2+ horses should be NO PROB.

Oh right. The point of this being: this horse doesn’t have to be wildly talented. We just need average horse talented, and a great brain.

Age: 4-12 – I’m not negotiable on the low end of this list, but I am negotiable on the upper end. I’d like five or more years of happy partnership before I need to start thinking about slowing down. I know that horses can absolutely compete successfully into their twenties, but I feel like once you pass 16 or 17, every year is a bigger gamble. (Maybe it’s just that every year one owns a horse is a big gamble?)

Color – Let’s not judge a book by its color, but let’s also try very hard not to get any grays, palominos, or paints, mkay? I’m not opposed to color philosophically. A dappled gray is stunning. I’m just not into extensive cleaning or melanomas. Is it a deal breaker? No. Am I looking to increase the amount of work I need to do to look presentable at every show? Absolutely not. Is this somewhat petty and ridiculous? Certainly, but it’s my horse shopping list and I get to want what I want. Also, I’m definitely not about the higher price tag that comes with color or “chrome”. Plain bay is just fine with me, thanks. (It was kinda hard not putting this in the dealbreaker column.)


you are SO beautiful but you are not my new pony

Soundness – It seems silly to say that this is negotiable, but there’s some method to this madness. If I’m looking at a prime-aged, going horse, I expect there to be some maintenance involved in keeping him sound. That’s fine with me, I just need to know about it up front. Obviously, this is really dependent on age and the type of maintenance we are talking about. But it’s not going to be an automatic disqualifier, necessarily.

And then there are the things that are really negotiable — like size, jump training, show experience, pedigree, and whether newhorse is a mare or gelding. Some of my criteria tip the scales in one direction or the other (so much more likely that I end up with a gelding), but none of these things are going to rule a horse out in general. I think.

Rereading this list, it doesn’t really sound all that ruthless. But, to ensure I don’t do anything stupid, I’ve employed a hand slapper who gets veto power. Also, TrJ is crazy judgmental so that will definitely help.

What’s on your must have / negotiable / dealbreaker list when you’re horse shopping (either in reality, or mentally)? I know it’s highly individualized and personal, but I’m interested to see what you guys include on your lists, so I can think about putting it on mine.

long weekends are for projects + 2019 goals

I got so much done this weekend! I work from home, so I can (and do) chip away at projects pretty much whenever I want. But there’s something about three unadulterated weekend days (with husband help) to get. shit. done.

First, we spread 10 cubic yards of compost and 40 cubic yards of wood chips on the main spring vegetable bed.


it’s so big i’m so excited that’s what she said

When we were sick and tired of spreading and mulching (or, you know, when it was raining) we hammered away at the chicken coop. Literally. I mean, mostly it was a lot of cutting and measuring and cutting again because lumber is not actually the dimensions it professes to be, nor is it a dimension that actually makes sense. I mean, please. 2 x 4 would be SO MUCH MORE CONVENIENT than 1.875 x 3.625.


the near wall folds down for easy cleaning, so we’ll add it after i paint.
also, chicks coming your way in march 2019, get ready for the #peepshow

But it is what it is. And it’s done. I mean, minus the roof and the paint job and putting the door and the last wall on.

In short, we smanged this long weekend thing.

A good thing too, because 2019 is going to be the year of the horse house.


actually 2019 is the year of the pig, which means it’s the year of the jellinore

This is the first January since I got back from Congo that I’ve been horseless. And it’s odd. I poured a good deal of thought and energy into Murray, even when he was quite green. It’s strange not to have that mental space filled. So it’s good that I’ve got a big project horse house to fill my time with. I mean, I also have the little gray pony. But it’s not the same — and we all know it. Sammy is a campsite: I’m staying temporarily and will leave it in better condition than I found it, but I’m not living there forever. I mean, even if it is the cutest, most adorable, sausage-shaped campsite you ever did see. (Campsite rule stolen from Dan Savage, you may know it from elsewhere though. Also, that particular search query is nsfw.)

bodacious now please LET ME OUTSIDE

So, how to make pony goals this year without a pony of my own? Lots of people are opting for process goals or non-goal-y-goals. I figured I’d just…. set some goals, and see where we get! There are also a few things that are definitely going to happen/are already happening, but I’m going to go ahead and put them in the goals column anyway so I can give myself the joy of checking them off anyway. (That’s how checklists work, duh!) We’re a little heavy on the personal goals this year, but that’s alright.

12 months of position fixes – L did this last year, and I thought it was such a fantastic idea! It’s already in process.

  • January – twist right! specifically, right hand to the right of the neck always
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December

Lease for 4 months (before buying) – It’s time to get my learn on with another horse (or pony). Leasing is going to help me avoid impulsively buying something inappropriate.

Lessons 3x a month (as the schedule allows) – There are group jump lessons on Sundays, and obviously private flat lessons can be scheduled as needed. TrJ is a great trainer, and I’m very happy to put her stamp on me as a rider.

Take the pony to one show – This little beast should be fun to get out! Schooling, rated, it doesn’t matter.

Start looking for a new horse – This will most likely be an OTTB (because I like them, and the price is right). Window shopping doesn’t count.


sammy: stop taking pictures of Blue and gimme more cookiez

Save for a new horse – This is, of course, the big ticket item of 2019. A conservative estimate, even taking into account the generally-lower price tag of OTTBs, is that I’ll need at least 8k for this journey. This includes PPE (in the $1000 range), extensive saddle refitting or purchase (in the $2000 range — potentially laughable), and a bunch of bodywork and additional training needed for baby OTTBs. But I do so love them.

12 months of good habits – I’m not the tidiest person around and, look I’ll fess up, I don’t brush my teeth every morning. It takes 3 months to change habits (or so I’ve been told). So I’m going to tackle a new habit every month and hopefully come January of next year, at least 9 of those will have stuck. The goal here is for these to be little changes to my life that won’t be hard to enact. “Clean the living room every day” is not going to be a habit I actually stick with. (Though now that I think of it, “fold the throw blankets every night” could be.)

  • January – morning teeth brushing!
  • February –
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December

Complete twelve house projects – This goes along with the other “12 months of” type projects. There’s a lot of month-by-month type goal-setting around here. It’s actually a neat way to break the year down. This includes: waxing the floors in the whole house, painting the office, building myself a desk, finishing the coop (ha! one down), setting up the garden, building the incubator, refinishing the bathroom (x2, one is soooo pink), painting the kitchen, empty the tool shed, etc.

Run once a week (on average) – It’s just once a week! Just 52 runs! You can do this! (I’m actually already 4 runs down, so not going too poorly.)

Work on the SO regarding a second dog – I want a second dog like I want to keep breathing. Okay that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But Jelly and I are ready for a second doggo in my life, and SO is the one who will need convincing.


a barn dog, but come on! who doesn’t want more of this in their life?

Do more good – I currently volunteer with a primate nonprofit, but I want to increase the good I do in the world. Right now I have time (see above re: not spending nearly as much time thinking and riding* as in the past), and feel like I can do more. Fostering (dogs) is at the top of my list. But I’ll see if other volunteering-type activities might work well for me too.

Write more science-based blogs – This is something I’ve always enjoyed doing, but the research aspect of it is an incredible amount of effort. I will need to collect some interesting topics to review, that always motivates me.

Meet more bloggers! – I’ve moved to a new place, which means I have a whole new group of bloggers to target with my bad jokes and biomechanics cult!

Murray still gets his own category here! Just ’cause he’s retired doesn’t mean he can’t better himself. But, really, he has only one goal:

Do not get kicked out of his cushy retirement situation. There is no soft landing after this one, boy. You cannot leave, and you cannot wear out your welcome. To help with this, I’ll be doing ground work with him whenever I visit. All he needs to do is stand for a trim every 6 weeks, get his blanket taken on and off as needed, accept vaccination, and not hurt his pasture mate. FOUR TINY THINGS, MURRAY.

window shopping++

Somehow I managed to go on not one but TWO pony shopping outings in December, though only the (aforementioned) one was for me. I’ve never been on the shopping end of the horse shopping equation. I’ve been t see horses with a friend. I’ve visited the track probably a dozen times, both to visit a trainer friend and watch her horses race and to look at or pick up horses. I’ve even shown a couple of horses for my trainer. But never have I actually shopped for myself.

Let’s start with Pete (not his real name), who I got a hot tip on, right before Christmas. Basically, a bodyworker I know from California heard that I was now-horseless. A trainer friend of hers has a sales barn about fifteen minutes from me. This trainer really needed to get Pete sold, as his owner was “done paying bills” (whatever that means). I gave the trainer a call, and it sounded great — he was well schooled, but had intimidated his past owner, and needed a good place to land. With my beer budget, a horse who has a good bit of training and has gone XC and shown in hunters and jumpers is probably not going to cross my search path very often. So we went to try him.

for example: i kinda helped RBF shop for this girl

In the intervening days I stalked the crap out of Pete online. I found his old sale videos, looked up his race record, and thought about getting in touch with his previous owner. If he looked anything like his old videos, and his personality was as good as reported, this was going to be a tough choice for me.

When we met Pete, he was cute, but was not for me — even in my budget. TrJ and I had the quiet, huddled conversation in the middle of the arena that I’ve seen in many buyers and their trainers. Pete’s trainer had described his behavior accurately and been totally honest. But what she didn’t manage to explain (either because she doesn’t quite see it any longer, or because I didn’t ask) was how tense he was through his back. The horse looked uncomfortable, and unfortunately not in a “this should be a quick fix” kind of way. His trainer said that several lameness vets had seen him, and couldn’t block or specifically diagnose anything, but she’d keep trying.

I didn’t expect to be able to make a decision so quickly, or to be able to see the same things that TrJ was concerned about. I felt badly, for sure. But, all things considered, it is probably best for everyone that the decision was a quick and easy one. I didn’t have to be traumatized by the idea that I might be passing over Mr. Right, Pete’s trainer didn’t need to worry about the potential sale, and Pete could move on to finding someone who is actually right for him.

A bit more than a week after passing on Pete, I visited Portland Meadows to look at a horse for a friend! I had seen this guy on a local Facebook group (Retiring Racehorses PNW). I’ve been window shopping there for months; since well before Murray every thought about retiring. Why? Because the PNW has cute thoroughbreds.

So off to Portland Meadows I went, on a very cold and totally PNW-drizzly day.


let’s just imagine Murray in this situation for a second. pretty sure it would involve lying down.

Fortunately, the vet’s office had a pretty efficient space heater, and they kindly let me stand right in front of it while they got organized with all of their appointments for the day. Once they were ready, the assistant vet drove us over to Rick’s shedrow (also not his real name). On the way, he gave me a run down of what he and the other vet would be doing for the PPE, why, and what kinds of things might come up. This was cool, because the last PPE I attended seriously was Murray’s, back in 2015. That was a while ago, and I definitely appreciated the refresher.

Rick was amazing. I’d seen pictures of this guy online, and I’ve seen all advice of making sure to see horses (particularly ottbs) in person because they are so much more than their confo pics. But damn. I did not expect quite such a hunk of horseflesh to step out of the stall when I met him. He was on the smaller side, but well muscled, sleek, and absolutely looked like an athlete. And his brain! OMG. This horse let the vets flex the crap out of him and the most obnoxious thing he did was throw his head up. Maybe I have fucked up expectations because of Murray, but he was easy to handle, inquisitive, and quiet. He had a touch of that aloof attitude you sometimes see in track horses, but he appreciated a scratch on the withers and let me touch him all over without so much as picking up a foot. The brains!!! I really can’t wait to buy myself a set of those. Like, the good ones.


I found this guy sleeping in one of the stalls! soooo cute

Other than seeing a really amazing horse, there were a BUNCH of cool things that I learned about Portland Meadows and the vets there. In California, track vets get a tough rep. Because they work mostly for the trainers, they are viewed as biased and not necessarily trustworthy when it comes to PPEs on the track. As a result, lots of people I know who buy (or bought) from the track do so without a veterinarian examining the horse.

Not so with the Portland Meadows vets. Both the assistant and head veterinarian made a point to disclose to me that they do work for this trainer, but they would be as unbiased as possible in their exam. During the PPE, they explained what they were seeing to me, talked about what might be concerning, and asked the owner/trainer lots of questions. At no point did I feel like they were seeing something that they maybe didn’t want me to see or hear. So +100 for the Portland Meadows vets.

Next, the horses at Portland Meadows. I didn’t see every barn there, obviously. But the horses I saw were a great weight, looked happy, and were very well taken care of. This isn’t actually in contrast to the California tracks I’ve been to — for the most part, horses there looked pretty good too. But I’ve seen my fair share of OTTBs looking a little shitty or thin in their pics. Portland Meadows might not be a rich or a popular track, but they do as much as they can with what they have. (Also, the horses on that FB group seem to be really well put together, for the most part!)

I know horse shopping often becomes a drag after a while, and I’m sure I’ll get to that point too. But for now, window shopping++ has been pretty fun! And very, very interesting.


hello I am very cute and have a super excellent JC name

Let’s talk for a second about what “done paying bills” means. I mean logically, sure. It means the trainer takes a lien out on your horse and gets to keep or sell it as they see fit. But what person picks up a horse, intends to keep it and/or pay board on it, and then is just “done” after six or nine or twenty months? It doesn’t work that way! The bills keep on coming! The horse still needs feed and shoes and supplements! Sure, you can be done, and give your horse away to a good home — but that doesn’t happen instantly. And it’s not like telling your trainer or seller that you’re not going to pay any more board makes the sale happen any faster.

So yeah, I think that’s super weird.

rebound pony

If you spend any amount of time at my barn when the horses are in, it’s utterly impossible to miss the world’s cutest pony poking his nose out at you from his stall.

Sammy believes — rightly so — that he’s entitled to ALL THE TREATS

So when TrJ mentioned that I might do all right on this pony in Murray’s absence I immediately jumped at the offer. I love ponies. I love that I’m the right size to ride ponies. I love all their sassy, awful, hilarious, naughty behaviors (for a little while, at least). I love that it’s weirdly acceptable for ponies to be like that, and I especially love that it’s really not my responsibility to change that!

After a quick tune-up lesson on Sammy before trying out that horse before Christmas (a very interesting experience on its own), TrJ invited me to join a group jump lesson on him before deciding if I wanted to lease him. And after that jump lesson I was hooked — this pony is one cool mofo.

too cool for you

I was a little nervous when we were warming up for the jump lesson. I hadn’t jumped since August, after all, and hadn’t really ridden at all since September. Also, the last time I jumped a horse who isn’t Murray was basically this time last year, or much earlier than that if you don’t count Sookie.

But when we trotted down to that first X, Sammy was like “oh sweet, I got this.”

just let him at those fences

I’ve never ridden a pony with a solid flatwork foundation; most of the time it’s a bit like “okay well do your best at steering and get him pointed to the fences, he’ll take over from there”. But Sammy is cute and fancy and actually knows how to go on the bit, and has a shockingly big, forward stride for a little guy.

In our flat lesson, TrJ coached me through getting Sammy even and pushing into both of the reins. He’s got a tendency to fall over his right shoulder in both directions, and doesn’t want to connect to that right rein. TrJ really had me focus on resisting the urge to pull on one or the other rein and bend him with my leg, which is obviously just super basic dressage stuff but is SO HARD when you’re used to riding your own horse your own way.

apparently not yet a fan of selfies

We’ve jumped twice now, and I can tell he’s going to be excellent at helping me break some bad habits. He sometimes starts drifting off to the left of a fence, and of course when you pull on that right rein he’s like “super duper, I’m going to keep going way from that”. But when you just ride him between your legs and keep him straight to the fence? No problem.

A couple of people have suggested I take him out and show him this Spring, which would be a ton of fun. I’m not yet sure how that fits into the bigger picture of savings + horse buying, but we’ll see. TrJ really wants me to get him out, as his other rider (an actual child) isn’t quite ready to show Sammy, and he’s quite the favourite around the barn. Also, he’s fast and used to win jumper classes I guess, and it would probably be fun to see him getting out and doing that again.

also he makes the cutest begging faces

There’s an absolute bucket of reasons this pony is perfect for me right now. He’s much more trained than I am, so I can really work on myself and apply all of my biomechanics cult lessons. He’s a confident guy on the flat and over fences, but doesn’t give everything away for free, so I’ll still have to work for it. And he’s the cutest thing ever, whose greatest flaw is his hard-held belief that every time we pass the gate he deserves a cookie (there’s a jar “hidden” there for after lessons).

The other huge benefit to leasing Sammy is that I’ll be much, much less likely to impulse buy something stupid. I’m not usually that impulsive of a person, but I’ve got terrible taste in horses. At least, that’s what the record suggests. But if I’m working on myself and having fun with Samuel over here, then the horse-shaped void will be at least partially filled. And maybe I’ll only need like two or five dogs to fill in the rest.

Sammy is my rebound pony, and I’m totally cool with that. He’s cute and fun and we are going to have a great time together.

such a different view!