Canter & Candor

Canter and Candor; an honest account of an amateur equestrian and her life with an OTTB


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Jumping Green Beans (Derby Post 2/2)

Approximately 30 minutes stood between calm dressage pony and what I hoped would be a little more of a spicy ride.

This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate C’s level head, because I totally do! It’s just that, at least for jumping, I like to have the energy and shape it rather than having to create it. Luckily, C tends to get pretty stoked about jumping.

A little background: we had a small practice lesson in jumping with T the day before the event, mainly because I’ve only jumped him once since I bought him (and not at all for 3 weeks prior). He was a little sore, a little poky, and oh good lord. We knocked nearly every rail on every jump we went over that morning. I was drowning in nightmare visions of the same thing happening at the show (a product of show nerves and disappointment).

Turns out, mister C really enjoys being away from home on nice grassy fields to jump.

Miserable horse, clearly

Miserable horse, clearly

Honestly, the whole thing is a bit of a blur. We had some steering trouble coming in to the first fence, as he popped through my right leg with his shoulder, and I sort of less-than-gracefully pony kicked him straight. After that, though? Smooth sailing. He was so excited, and kept locking on to any jump in the vicinity. That 2’3″ vertical for BN? Yes! That 3′ rolltop for Novice? Let’s do it!

Methinks this bodes well for the future.

It wasn’t gorgeous; I let him have fun with it and supported when I needed to, but mostly I wanted it to be a learning experience. So even if we were a little strung out and flat, we

A. went clear.

B. didn’t jump things we weren’t supposed to.

C. had fun!

And that’s all I wanted. But even better, after jumping for Intro had finished, BBS and I went to fetch our final scores and see if we placed…

Displaying his winnings

Displaying his winnings

THIRD!

Third.

We honestly, forreal, got 3rd at our first show. It was a lot of firsts– my first dressage test, his first official show, our first show together– so I was truly surprised (pleasantly!) that we placed at all! BBS got 4th with only .4 difference in our dressage so I think we both earned third.

That wrapped up the show! I gave C two days off to recover from the mental overload and hopped on tonight for a little flatwork. Guess who was a total booger.

Who, me?

Who, me? ft. my very average braiding skills

I’ll tame the beast tomorrow. For today, I just did a little walk/trot/canter, popped one crossrail in the hopes a little jumping would garner some cooperation and/or excitement about work, and immediately gave up. Midterms week is just too stressful without the additional stress of frisky ponies!

More to come on this week, I’m sure, if his high energy continues… Tomorrow I plan to integrate a crop into my riding toolkit. We’ll see how the princess reacts to a gentle reminder that his shoulder should not be rocketing into another galaxy!

— M

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Hardcore Dressaging (Derby Ride Post 1/2)

Most days that kick off at 5 AM tend to be… rather rough days.

This one, however, turned out to be pretty damn awesome. After stumbling bleary-eyed out of bed, conveniently forgetting to shower, and belatedly rummaging through a pile of laundry I’d dumped on my floor instead of folding for something resembling show clothes, I zipped out to the barn in the pitch dark morning. It took half an hour to assemble the group competing, tack, and miscellaneous supplies, and then I went to fetch baby C from his stall and found this.

the precious child sleeps in his manger

The precious child sleeps in his manger

He was blinking sleepily in the lights in the barn and stayed lying down (in denial, just like his mom) until I actually stepped inside the stall and asked him to get up. Sleepy C got shavings brushed off, shipping boots strapped on, and loaded into the trailer, all before the sun came up.

As expected, I was a bundle of nerves. Even with the reassurance of my barn big sister (BBS?) that our babies were just there to check out places away from home and ultimately it didn’t matter what happened, I couldn’t help but feel all twisty in the stomach. Probably a combination of coffee, lack of proper breakfast, and nerves. When we arrived at the derby location, it was 7:30 AM and I had my dressage test at 8:48, so I was able to watch BBS do her test at 8:06. She and her 4-year-old OTTB had a great test, which was seriously encouraging even though she was technically my competition!

I was also encouraged by the bling.

Explanation: I love pink. And sparkles. And bling. So when it came to little C’s dressage browband, I knew I’d want something to literally blind the judges with the rhinestone-y glory. We would dazzle them, if not with our super awesome baby movement, then with a gemstone browband. One of my closest friends, who also rides at the barn, got me a beautiful browband I’d been eyeing on Etsy for my birthday.

And oh. My. God. It is perfection.

Twilight Sparkle.

Twilight Sparkle.

Does that browband look white? It’s not. Those are rhinestones. And he looks like the dazzling princess he is.

Anyway, armed with Swarovski, we warmed up. C was a rockstar. He looked around for a few circles, took it all in, and processed it. All the new things didn’t get stuck and jumbled between his big cute ears, and he eventually settled enough to actually give me a little bend. He was only a little sticky to the left, and after a brief warmup we were called into the main arena.

It was a little spooky; the arena is huge and covered with lights, the walls just high enough to encourage horses to giraffe to look outside. Thankfully, C only did this extensively in the warmup and a couple of laps around the outside of the dressage court. He spooked once at the judges but seemed marginally less concerned after we passed them a second and third time.

Whistle, deep breath, and into the court. We noodled up the center line at the trot and walk, but after tracking right at C was much better. He gave a little bend, stretched into my hands, and responded well to cues. It was better than I had imagined for both of us. I mostly avoided ZAS and overall, it looked pretty darn good.

DQs in training

Dat medium walk doe

This was reflected in our final score, which was a 33.4%! I was only hoping to break 50% so it was above and beyond my expectations. This set a pretty great groundline for our jumping round, which was a combination of solid and stadium obstacles on a grass field. He was also a star for jumping, but I’ll publish a post on that later since this one ended up being massive!

What I learned today… my horse looks great in sparkles. He can be a great dressager if I ask correctly. And I need to have a little more faith in that level head of his, because as soon as we got in that arena and I felt that he was actively listening, all that nervous energy dissipated and I was able to focus on the test and my riding instead of how worried I was about not succeeding.

Comments from the judge included my failure to ride proper 20m circles, and C’s quiet head. Yes, my 3-year-old OTTB was said to be lacking energy/impulsion.

Tune in later for jump round recap and whether or not we placed! Cliffhanger– am I a mean blogger or what?

–M


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Dressage: Training Wheels and Zombie-Arm Syndrome

Yesterday was supposed to be a jump lesson.

Be still, my heart, because due to some lesson conflicts and overcrowded arenas, it turned into a dressage lesson, and a good one at that.

As mentioned in my former post on dressage, something I’ve been struggling with is keeping C on an inside bend. He drops in at the shoulder and disregards inside leg, which is a real problem when he’s meant to be bending around it. It’s either this or the polar opposite, in which his body resembles a wobbly serpentine with his head one way, shoulders the other, and God only knows where his haunches are because at that point I’ll be too focused on the head and shoulders.

T has also been working on this in training rides with no doubt more success than me, and yesterday gave me some tools to fix it. After noodling (I think noodle will be one of the most commonly used words on this blog) in circles around jumps with no bend, casually trying to avoid the riders jumping in the arena (with limited success) while focusing on baby horse, T just said, “Get off, I’m going to fix this.”

C, unrepentant.

C, unrepentant and slightly sweaty.

Off I came and C trudged back to the mounting block, blissfully unaware of what was to come. T got on in tennis shoes and, without stirrups, quickly got his attention. His attitude changed immediately because it wasn’t his softie mom up there any more, it was T and she was going to make him work for his grain. After a few complaints, head-tossing, shoulder-popping, and general moodiness, C complied. And walked around in what appeared to be a pretty nice frame by baby horse standards. And stopped dropping his shoulder (I say stopped, but it was more like every time he started to do it, T corrected him immediately).

T did this in tennis shoes with no stirrups. I was reasonably impressed.

After this, she explained what she was doing. Keeping contact on the inside rein, and half halting with the outside rein when he started dropping the shoulder, and pushing him along with inside leg when needed (and outside, depending on the direction in which he was noodling). We swapped places again and I tried her methods.

T called it “training wheels”, to hold the reins further out from my sides to artificially shorten them, and adjust as needed. Immediately C understood a little better where I wanted him, and we were walking circles with relative success. As predicted, near the gates he tried dropping the shoulder and every time, T had to remind me to keep contact with that inside rein and half-halt with the outside. The reminders worked wonders; he still wanted to pop his shoulder, but (somewhat grudgingly, I feel) listened when told no. It was essentially the same at the trot, only made slightly more difficult by a super duper interesting trailer pulling into the barn.

The hardest part for me was holding the reins outside my comfort zone (read: over the withers) was keeping my elbows bent. More than once I zombied and locked my elbows which is neither pretty nor effective. It was like something straight out of the Walking Dead.

It may be blurry, but you recognize it.

It may be blurry, but you recognize it.

I have decided to call this Zombie-Arm Syndrome (ZAS) and will be working on correcting it. It may help to have someone in the arena with me at all time, shouting ‘elbows’ every thirty seconds. I’ll look into hiring someone.

After some work in the busy outdoor to get the basics down, we headed inside to practice my dressage test again. Already it was easier to get a better turn down the center line, although we did have a case of drunken pony as we approached C (the letter, not the horse). The rest felt better, although I forgot a trot-walk transition. I think I’ll just need to practice every day until the show, otherwise I’ll draw a blank when we get in the court and have some kind of mental breakdown.

Overall, with the addition of new tools, C was much better, especially on the circles, though I am slightly worried about the number of distractions at the show because I have no doubt he’ll still pop that shoulder so he can look at something, anything. I just need to be vigilant about contact and reminding him to pay attention to what I’m asking, even if the stuff happening out there is way more interesting. C also has been throwing a fit at the end of the free walk when I re-collect the reins, so I’ll have to work on my consistency and collecting them slowly with plenty of warning. Regardless, I think we’ll finish the test (provided I remember it!) and that’s all I can really ask for.

Well, that and a cure for ZAS.

— M


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Dressage and Dujardin: Expectations in Baby Horsedom

Something you may not know about me is that I have a secret, deeply buried passion for dressage.

Okay, in the long run, stadium jumping is my favorite of the phases of eventing. It’s like cross country and dressage had a really awesome baby that inherited all the best qualities of each– adrenaline, finesse, communication, speed. But there is something absolutely mesmerizing about dressage (specifically the upper levels, but also lower levels, when done well).

So, on occasion, I’ll give myself the guilty pleasure of closing my eyes and imagining, just for a moment, that I am Charlotte Dujardin doing one-tempis on Valegro.

Alas.... One day!

Not Dujardin, but of equally unattainable quality

Needless to say, dressage test practice on noodly baby horse went… averagely by Dujardin standards. After approximating the dimensions of your typical dressage court, me and two other barn ladies prepared to practice our dressage tests for the show this Sunday.

As per my usual pre-show demeanor, I’m minorly panicky about the whole impending ordeal and I’m convinced that nervousness is playing over into my riding. Where’s the Ace? Can humans take it?

Me, in the days leading up to the show

 We kicked things off with a little warmup outside before moving to our little makeshift dressage court. After revising the test once or twice, we gave it a shot.

And the second C and I trotted into the court, I drew a blank. One hundred percent mind wipe, gone, zip, nada, zilch. Oops. So we restarted: trot in, working walk between X and M, trot at M, 20m circle at A, trot across the diagonal K to M, 20m circle at C, walk at C, free walk across the diagonal H to F, then medium walk up the center line and halt at X. Even repeating this over and over in my head, I still missed the circle to the left at C. Ooooops.

When I finally got the test right, C was looky and forward and completely different from the horse I had in warmup– which I should’ve expected. Between peeking at the numbers and shoving his shoulders wherever he pleased, I was focusing most of my energy on containing his, and not on my own position. In reviewing the video of the test, I didn’t look all too bad, except that I somehow managed to post the wrong diagonal for an entire circle. If I do that during the show, please, sedate me so the embarrassment doesn’t kill me.

After a few practice tests, I was getting a little frustrated. C was good for some portions of the test, but down the long side between M and F, would stick his inside shoulder in and fight against the outside rein. This resulted in an awkward inside wiggle that, when I tried to correct it with inside leg pressure, only sent him even more forward. Right now C interprets left leg correctly, but right leg as a ‘go’ button regardless of how I ask.

Essentially, we were wiggly-jetting down one side in a very, very non-Dujardin fashion.

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Guess who did not channel his inner Valegro

It took one of the other riders’ mentioning to remind me of the low expectations I should be having. Honestly, if a little noodly-ness and forwardness is the only outstanding problem that C presented me with, I should be ecstatic. I should not be expecting potential-Valegro from my 3-year-old OTTB. This is common sense.

I need to adjust my expectations and realize that while C is not perfection, he’s pretty damn good for a baby greenie. He listened when I asked for transitions and sought contact on the circle at A. He was looky but he didn’t spook; he was noodly but he didn’t leap out of our makeshift dressage ring.

By Valegro standards, C was mediocre. But by baby horse standards, he was Valegro to me.

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Plus he’s awfully cute

–M


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Blog Overhaul

Hey readers,

Just letting everyone know I’m going to be revamping the site over the next couple days, trying to make it a little more streamlined and fit a picture of C in the header somewhere. I’ll be testing out themes and fiddling with color schemes and everything– so don’t be surprised if it’s a whole new blog every time you visit!

In terms of posts, I was away from town this weekend but have plans to dressage intensely (or not-so-intensely) tomorrow afternoon, so I’ll do a little write-up after. Report from a lovely friend who I asked to ride C this weekend said he was super good, so hopefully the trend continues tomorrow!

— M


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Sense & Sensibility

Guess whose princess pony was an excellent baby horse for jumping?

If you didn’t guess mine, you were wrong.

C was really, really, really good yesterday! I think my opinion that he loves jumping was confirmed, too—T said when she lunged him in the AM he dragged her on the lead line to jump a crossrail to the edge of the circle. Naughty pony, but also a good thing he likes it so much, because jumping is what I like best, too!

He behaved so nicely in warmup, and I really took the time to set him up correctly every time I asked for canter. We nailed pretty much every lead, which makes me happier than I can possibly express because that’s what we’ve been working on so hard in our flatwork. I would give us an 85% overall score on leads because we did miss a few, but I’m also going to curve it to 95% because baby horse! And success!

The jumping itself was awesome. C is so freakin’ honest that it blows my mind. We had a little crossrail to white gate line (T: This should be 3 strides! C: *gets 2 every time*) that, on the first attempt, I totally botched. This was due in part to the Magnetic-Gate theorem; we came in at an awkward angle to the crossrail, and of course, my natural reaction was to stare directly, straight down, at the white gate.

C was an angel and hauled my ass over it despite the fact I completely lost my eyes and my left leg (this is the one he presses out through, so is extra important to keep on).

He really likes to veer left, so something I need to work on is keeping him straight not just before the jump, but right after it, too. If I let him, he’ll swerve at a 90 degree angle left after the jumps. It may be great to know he’s got the balance for sharp turns in case of future fancy jumper rounds, but it’s not a great habit if I’m not asking for it.

Other things I need to be aware of: lift the eyes, bend at the hips. No pelvic thrusting. I don’t think I’m flinging myself at the jumps but I’ve been caught off balance once or twice, so I want to be particularly careful to avoid developing the habit. Eyes have always been my nemesis so I just need to pick a point in the distance and focus on it.

Things I was good about: my elbows were more relaxed than usual, my heels stayed down, and I mostly counted out the strides, which helped us find the distances. Obviously they weren’t all perfect, but I noticed the ones I counted to felt a lot smoother than those I forgot.

Also, we have a new log nemesis. The stacked logs jump at our barn is fine with a pole over it, but as soon as the pole is removed and only the logs are left, my brain says “That is a not-jump that we are trying to jump. How to equestrian…?” Which is obviously not the best course of action when jumping a baby horse. T said to pick a point in the distance and let C do the jumping part, since I’m apparently incapable of finding distances to weird log stacks. She didn’t use those particular words but the sentiment remains the same.

Thankfully, C is a very sensible baby horse and can pick up the slack a little when I drop it.

cori

Majestic AND sensible

In other news, the C-man and I are officially signed up for our first show! Cue relentless, pointless nervousness disguising itself as high-pitched excitement. Mmhm.

In short, I have the best baby horse, and today we jumped things with relative success.

Huzzah!

— M


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Left, Left, Left Right Left

I imagine that must be what C chants to himself when I ask him for his right lead.

All in good humor, of course, because baby horse is learning slowly but surely. He’s been better about his leads over the last couple of rides, when I push his outside shoulder in and use a little outside bend. Once we build his butt muscles a little more, I think he’ll find it easier to keep the canter too, whereas right now he wants to fall to a trot in the corners.

Canter is hard, we should eat grass instead

Canter is hard. We should eat grass instead

I can tell that he’s trying to get it right, and the more I think about it, the more alike I’m convinced C and I are. He gets frustrated at the same time I do; he’s subtly stubborn (is that even possible?) but willing to try. In fact, the only thing I’ve found substantially irritating is how gate-sour he is right now. Every time we go near the gate to the arena, it’s as though a magnet is dragging his outside shoulder towards it. He’ll jut it out past leg aids and drag on the reins. A friend at the barn suggested adding outside rein and outside leg, which worked in one corner, but in the other he’ll still ignore the cues. It may be that I need to bring a crop and give him a tap– “Hey, feel this shoulder? It should not be that far out.”

We have a jump lesson tonight that I plan on recapping, so I’ll probably cut this post a little short. It’s been a good week so far, and I just purchased an $80 hunk of metal, but since that metal is going into Princess C’s mouth I consider it a worthwhile investment.

Mm, expensive metal

Mm, expensive metal

Keep your fingers crossed for an awesome jumping princess pony for me tonight!

— M