Canter & Candor

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


Wordless Wednesday

A.k.a photos of my hilariously attractive horse (ft. me at the bottom)


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I love my baby horse

— M



Falling In and Falling Short

Today was the dressage show.

I mentioned it in a few blog posts up to this point and the day finally came, and I’m going to be honest (because that’s what this blog is all about!).

It sucked.

Now, read that with a grain of salt, because it didn’t suck by baby horse standards. But it sucked for me and I’ll analyze that a little closer to the end. Recap:

We arrived to the show around 1:15 PM, and found out they were running late. I watched a couple other girls from our barn run first-level USEF tests, and during one of them a DQ from the host barn comes up with C. She says, “Tie your horse better next time,” and hands me the lead rope before walking away. C had yanked the baling twine off the side of the trailer and had been traipsing around the property– so I’m not sure how I could’ve tied him better, but oh well!

C was antsy for most of this time, especially when his trailer neighbor left for warm-up. And when I got on, he felt like a loaded, cocked gun. We’d been to this location before and he legitimately looked as though we’d aced him, but that was a horse of the past. This C was a fast-trotting, bit-grabbing menace. Okay, maybe not that level, but far beyond his usual. Once we got to the inside arena to warm up just beyond the dressage ring, and I asked for a canter, he crow-hopped, tossed a tiny rear, then surged forward.

Lovely, and very encouraging when we were just two tests from entering the ring.

The test did not go as planned. According to those watching, it didn’t look this way, but C made me fight for every movement. Every ounce of bend, or effort to stop him from falling in, all the transitions… it didn’t feel like he was trying at all, or even listening well to me. We bumbled through the whole thing and ended with a halt, which to me felt like the only decent part of the test. I exited the ring and started crying immediately.

We missed both leads. The circle geometry was totally off because C kept falling in on the inside shoulder. I had to pony kick to keep him at a canter.

The second test was worse, in which we got one lead but he kicked out at the end of the circle and popped off the rail on the long side. On the same circle, he almost left the arena at A before I unceremoniously pony-kicked him back in. Thankfully the judges didn’t see that.

I received my tests– a 60 and 58 consecutively– and managed to walk away from the table before crying again.

It wasn’t that I was mad at C. One of my best friends, who I have known and ridden with since we were 5 or 6, was there and she knew immediately what was going on. Other barn people tried to help by saying the tests were good for a baby horse, and the thing is– I knew that, but that’s not what I was crying about.

That friend messaged me later on Facebook and summed it up fairly well:

“They want to comfort you, but I think they are missing one point: It honestly does suck to know you have to wait for these things because you’ve been ready to compete with your own horse for so many years and for now it has to be a waiting period as Cori grows up.”

Hearing that C was ‘good for a baby horse’ is all well and good, but it made me feel guilty for feeling like I did, which was just… crappy. I hadn’t planned to buy a green 3-year-old when I started looking at horses, but C’s attitude and smarts and movement won me over. It’s hard for me to accept that sometimes, there is nothing I can do but wait for him to grow up and wait for it to click in his brain.

I knew that going in. So I wasn’t crying because we got a 60 or 58 or whatever the score was. I needed to cry because I was upset and frustrated and I know my horse isn’t ready for a higher score at BN dressage. I know he tried and I know he got frustrated, too.

But I also know that I sometimes need to be upset when things like this happen. I know that if I bottle it in I’ll get frustrated at my horse instead of getting frustrated with him. And yes, I know that sometimes I’ll wish I had a made/finished horse that I could hop on and drill through a perfect dressage test, no matter how guilty that makes me feel.

So I reserve the right to have a post-show boohoo– it doesn’t mean I love C any less and it definitely doesn’t mean I’m going to give up.

It does mean that tonight I will eat my weight in kit-kats and watch chick flicks with a beer in one hand and tissues in the other.

— M

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TRM BlogHop: 25 Questions

Cathryn at That Red Mare recently started a little bloghop of riding questions. I saw it on a couple of horsey WP blogs and decided to hop right in! Ha. Ha. Anyway…

1. Mares or Geldings? Why?
I’m going with geldings until a mare comes along to change my mind. Every horse I’ve leased or ridden consistently has been a gelding so it’s more lack of mare experience than anything else.

2. Green-broke or Fully Broke?
I like the idea of ‘teaching’ horses so I’m going to go green-broke on this. I find kick-on horses a complete chore to ride but a horse that knows its job and enjoys it would definitely be something I’d like. Danny was in between and he was my ideal for a long time.

you have to admit, he was devilishly cute

3. Would you own a “hotter” breed (ie. Arabian, Trakhener, etc).
Hmm. I don’t mind hotter horses or breeds. I’ve ridden a few arabs and not gotten on well with them, though, so I’m inclined to say no. However, I think every horse is an individual (the first horse I took XC was an Arab and he wasn’t hot at all) so I’ll settle on a big fat maybe.

4. What was your “dream horse” growing up?
Mmm oh boy. When I was really little, a dun stallion (of course). When I leased Danny, I wanted a 17hh dapple grey KWPN gelding with white/pink chromey bits on his nose and legs. And I planned to call him Staccato (was really into piano at the time).

5. What kind of bit(s) do you use and why?
I use the Stubben Easy Control French link loose-ring bit on C. He like it lots. He hated the single joint snaffle D-ring I used on him once so we haven’t gone back. Though he seems to like regular French links too so I may get one in lieu of the $80 Stubben bit for my jump bridle!

6. Helmets or no helmets?
Always helmet.

7. Favorite horse color?
Always been bays bathed in chrome. I love big white markings, massive stockings, anything chrome I love because I think pink nose markings are the cutest darn things (so I picked the right pony!).

8. Least favorite horse color?
Cremello probably? I don’t particularly dislike any particular color. Or, I rather dislike the look of appaloosa eye pigmentation, if that counts.

9. Dressage or Jumping?
I appreciate dressage, and if I were better at it, I might like it more. Jumping has always felt more natural to me and it’s honestly what makes my heart beat a little faster. Dressage is crucial but it’s not my passion (though my mother wishes it were).

10. How many years have you been riding?
I would approximate 8, counting out the year I didn’t ride during college and discounting summer camp years. If we count summer camps, then closer to 11.

11. Spurs/whip or no spurs/whip?
Neither when I can help it, haha! C doesn’t usually need assistance in this respect though I did get a crop when we had a little incident during the jump lesson. I didn’t even need to use it, though– I think its mere presence was enough to persuade C!

12. Your first fall?
A pony at the summer riding school called Bartles bolted and I went flying. I think I was in the realm of 10 or 11 when it happened. I only remember because Bartles was my favorite and I felt so betrayed.

13. When was the last time you rode and what did you do?
Monday. We had a dressage lesson and ran through the USEA Beginner Novice tests A & B once each, then worked a bit on geometry before calling it a day.

14. Most expensive piece of tack you own?
I haven’t invested in my own saddle yet, so my dressage bridle is currently winning at $150 ish. I bought most things second-hand so I’ve been pretty economic with my purchases (aside from C’s initial price… haha!).

15. How old were you when you started riding?
I started English summer camps at 8. I didn’t start taking weekly lessons until, oh, 11 or 12? And then rode weekly up through 15, when I started leasing Danny and made the switch to hunters from eventing (4 day lease). I wasn’t riding every day until I leased Charlie, so when I was 17.

at 13, my first XC run ever, with Azzy, an Arab gelding

16. Leather or Nylon halters?
I have a leather one for C (it came with him) but I’m not opposed to either really, in the right situations.

17. Leather or Synthetic saddles?
Leather. Although the newer Tekna saddles actually look beautiful, pretty authentic, and are very affordable…

18. What “grip” of reins do you like?
Rubber-pimpled or webbed, or both. Something grippy. I have laced reins I used in hunters but I prefer the ‘stickiness’ of rubber reins.

19. English or Western?
I ride English, always have, and probably always will. I respect some Western riders but I doubt I’ll ever be interested in learning the Western disciplines. Besides, eventing is enough to learn already!

20. How many horses do you currently own/lease?
One! Little princess C is my first and (currently) only horse.

21. Do you board your horse? Self-care/full board? Home board?
I full board C.

C poses in front of pastures at our barn

22. Have you ever had to put down a horse that you loved?
No, fortunately. The hardest thing I’ve done as of yet is acknowledging I was over-horsed and dropping a lease on a horse I loved.

23. How many saddlepads do you have?
Only two, actually. But I have two more on the way and plan on purchasing a heinously pink one in the near future.

24. Slant-load trailer or straight haul?
Either or, C does both like a pro.

25. Why do you ride?
For the challenge, the adrenaline, and the relationship with a horse. Also because I tend to pick sports up naturally, and riding is one sport I’ve had to work really, really hard to get even decent at (am I even there yet? Hm.). But honestly, mostly for the horses. There’s something about pressing your face into a warm neck at the end of a rough day that’s sincerely comforting. Riding erases my stress.


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Conditioning and Counter-Canter

On Saturday, I drafted half a post, and today, I decided not to publish it.

There are a few reasons. The first is that I wrote it while I was frustrated, upset, and couldn’t even come up with a reason why. It was rant-y and while the writing wasn’t the most horrendous I’ve done… I looked back on it today and scrapped it.

C has been struggling with leads and canter, but ultimately, it’s not his fault. He is trying, albeit a little obstinately, to do what I’m asking him to. I say canter left lead and he says, “Well, I can do the first half of that, at least for a few strides…”

Which, all things considered, isn’t a bad place to be for a baby horse. He listens when I ask for an upward transition, and (mostly) listens for the downward. And yes, it is frustrating that he doesn’t even favor a lead, but rather chooses at random, and more often than not the selected lead is the wrong one. I assume this must be the problem, because I can’t imagine it’s easier to counter-canter a circle than to canter on the correct lead (and just saying, when we hit prelim, we’ll ace that counter-canter at this rate).

counter canter.gif

It definitely looks this pretty, and it’s definitely on purpose.

Friday was awesome. I got to jump C for the first time since the derby, so a little over 3 weeks. To be honest, I think of this as generally a good thing. While it means our jumping isn’t as put-together, he’s young enough to make me want to be careful about the strain we’re putting on his baby joints. Obviously jumping < dressage in the minimal joint strain department, plus the only saddle that fits perfectly at the moment is a dressage saddle, so the universe clearly just wants us to dressage forever.

Anyway, we ended up doing a little grid work and it was a lot of fun. I need to work on getting out of my perpendicular-body hunter habits and C needs to be more motivated over crossrails. Curiously enough, jumping, we got our leads fairly well.

Roll forward to Saturday– impending disaster. I did a little warmup in the outdoor and moved inside to practice my dressage test, and it was exactly the train wreck I was fearing it’d be. We missed every lead, and that’s not an exaggeration. Every. Single. One. Even when I down-transitioned to trot and asked again on the circle, he’d pick up the same wrong lead. Over, and over, and over. I was upset enough where I knew it was better to get off than keep drilling it, but the mix of frustration and show nerves were a catalyst for a pretty severe whine-session to BBS and a couple other barn friends. It’s not that I was mad at C; I was more mad at me because I couldn’t give him the cues he clearly needed to get his leads right. I tried everything, from counterbending to looking up in the direction of the lead, to shifting my weight, to keeping him on a counter-canter until he sorted it out himself… and nothing.

Sunday, one of the barn friends hopped on for me to see if she could try something and make it work. At the end, she came up and said, basically, it feels like he’s trying (which I knew) and he just can’t do it. His butt feels weak.

Oh. Duh.

Nov 2015 (mid)

More weight, more neck, but still a bitty booty babe.


So we’ve worked out a lunging exercise that will help with some booty building. Obviously not this week (I don’t want him to be sore going into the test and make the canter portions harder than they already are) but following the show, definitely.

Today I had a dressage lesson, and it was a crazy windy day. A texted me asking if I wanted to reschedule, and I honestly considered it– why add another complicating factor to the test?

But then I thought, adverse conditions condition better riders. Besides, who knows what the weather will be like on show day? So I decided to go ahead with it, and it actually turned out well. We only got one of four leads, and I felt myself starting to slip back into the same frustration I’d been feeling all week. But A reminded me that leads were one portion of one portion of the test. She told me he was steady and starting to accept contact at the other gaits. We fixed my trot circle geometry and we nailed the free walk. The test wasn’t amazing, but it was great for a baby horse who is five months into training. And you know what? If we counter-canter, we’ll counter-canter like pros, and the judge will ooh and aah at the awkwardness.

I’m praying the bling browband just blinds them at the perfect moment and they mix up his legs (or something).


you see no leads. only sparkles.

And I did end up being able to jump last Monday on the barn friend’s horse– I’ll have video and a post for it just as soon as she has time to email them to me! It was a blast. I can’t wait until C is 5 or 6 and we can jump 3’3″!

Keep an eye out for that, and in the meantime stay tuned for a lesson recap of my lesson with Tina Steward this Thursday, and a show recap from the dreaded show on Saturday… Dun dun duuun.

— M


ZenBabyHorse Bloghop: Equestrian Haikus

Nicole over at Zen, Baby Horse! had a fabulous idea for haikus. This aligns well with recent frustrations, so I decided to try my hand at it.

Transition from trot.

Ha, who needs leads anyway?

Counter-canter king.

Clipping is good fun,

Until I see Cori’s foot

Heading for my knee.

Buy expensive grain,

My equine messy eater

Drools it on the floor.

C, stop pretending.

I can tell you’re not bending.

Use your damn muscles.

Tacking up is nice,

When your pony dozes off

And sleeps in the ties.

Inside aids and bend,

He accepts contact, and then–

Can you frame, bro?

No pictures because I’m waaay lamer than Nicole. Do I get bonus points for rhyming on two of the last ones, though?

As a side note– I’m pretty terrified for the upcoming show. Like, past my usual show nerves. Mainly because we’re doing the BN tests, which involve canter, which involves getting our freakin leads. And right now, we get the wrong lead every time, canter sloppily as C changes pace every two seconds, I’m worried it’s going to be an absolute train wreck.

I’m not usually a negative Nancy, but when I’m anxious… Reassurance, words of wisdom, and your own experiences appreciated!

— M

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Routine, Routine, Routine

The way horses like it, right?

Since everything with C is going (mostly) smoothly, and we’re working on the same things we were two posts ago, I thought I’d do a little riding routine write-up instead. At some point this week, one of the crazy talented junior riders at the barn says she’s going to let me do some real jumping on her horse, so I’ll probably do a post on that whenever it rolls around.

Maybe do stuff like this! Or higher than this! Yay!

Maybe do stuff like this! Or higher than this! Yay!

For now, routine.

I. Get to the barn. If it’s during the day, fetch C from turnout while fending off his overly friendly pasturemates. Watch in horror as he sticks his hind white sock into the mud created by the water truck (which they always park by pasture).

II. Bring pony inside. He will poo on the way.

III. Groom for 30-45 minutes, if there’s time. If not, pretend to have groomed him but really only pick his feet.

IV. Tack. Alllll the tack. Check for the thousandth time that the friend’s saddle fitting him wasn’t a fluke or a one-time thing. Step back and see if he’s grown uphill yet. Nope? Sad day. Put on his princess tiara (read: sparkly browband) and head to the outdoor if it’s not raining or dark.

V. Start the music. I use Blackmill’s Miracle of Life album because I like electronic music and the songs are pretty uniform in length, perfect for ride timing. Walk for at least 3 songs at 4 mins each to oil up those baby joints.

VI. Trot. And stuff. On circles. Usually I start with one song’s worth, but if he’s good I give a 30-second walk break as a reward before carrying on. Ask for inside bend, and ask again when he fakes it and hopes I won’t notice. I notice.

VII. More trot and stuff on circles. Literally, this is all we do. Ever. Okay, not ever, but it feels like it. Bend, bend, bend, stop sticking your left shoulder through my leg, bend.

VIII. Is he running away with me… at the trot? Seriously? Half-halt does nothing. Re-install brakes. C is displeased (because fast is how he gets out of real work) and giraffes intensely. Get him back into a semi-decent working frame.

IX. Time for an attempt at canter. If I ask and his head moves in a giraffic direction, back to trot. Ah, yes, a perfect transition! He stepped straight into it, and he’s not taking off, and he’s– on the wrong lead. Crap.

X. Go back to trot work for another song because we actually looked decent at the trot. C decides he is done with trot work and starts flinging his head around.

XI. Force C to focus and the second I get a nice frame & bend, back to walk.

XII. Walk it out for another 2-3 songs. Wish– no, pray– that we could get our leads. Struggle with a momentary bout of anxiety because we have a dressage show coming up, we’re doing two BN tests, and we can’t freaking canter.

XIII. Get off and untack. Try to cuddle C but he isn’t having it and whacks me in the face with his face (which is considerably larger and more solid than mine). Mutter to myself about the sheer ingratitude as I blanket him and walk him back to his stall.

XIV. Pour grain into bucket and water it down. Mix thoroughly because someone picks out all the supplements if they aren’t stuck to the yummy bits. Take a few pictures of C eating his grain with grumpy ears and leave, resigned to the fact that my horse doesn’t like cute photos.

XV. Spend at least 30 minutes, usually longer, cleaning tack or milling around uselessly so I don’t have to go home and face homework or real work. When I leave, put on the Lonely Island in the car and jam on the way home. Once home, realize I’ve left 1-3 items of importance at the barn. Oops. Also become vaguely concerned that “canter probs” is becoming one of the most used tags on my blog.

All for the sake of my beautiful, majestic horse.

All for the sake of my beautiful, majestic horse.

— M


What Kind of Equestrian Are You?

After C’s 3-day break, we’ve gone back to our scheduled programming, working on the flat with true bend (not the fake stuff, C, I can tell the difference) and building up baby muscles a little more. A friend at the barn was kind enough to let me try her dressage saddle on C, and what do you know! It actually fits, and fits pretty damn well.

fitting saddle, happy pony

fitting saddle, happy pony

Everything seems to be resolving itself there, but I was doing some thinking the other day (as I occasionally do in my free time) and projecting where I’ll be in a year, or perhaps two.

As some of you may know, I graduate from college with a BA in English and an emphasis in Creative Writing this autumn. While I am thrilled, because school never suited the type of person I am, I’m also vaguely terrified. As of now I have three options coming out of school and they are:

  1. Move back home, get a job there, and keep C at a more pricey, upscale eventing barn. It would still be cheaper than paying my own rent plus C’s, but I don’t know anyone there. Facility is very nice so I have no fears there. I am, however, slightly concerned I’ll end up employed in customer service.
  2. Find a job here/in the area. This would be ideal, except that it has to be a nicely paying job that will pad my resume, because A) Rent, B) Board, C) Food, and D) Career. I really like C’s current boarding situation and he’s happy where he is. Summers here, though, pretty much destroy me because they contain all the heat of hellfire.
  3. Go somewhere completely different. I’m looking right now at a very well-paid, very emotionally rewarding job in Tacoma. Those of you who don’t know me personally don’t know yet that I adore rain. Like, I love it. I don’t mind riding in it (though Princess C might) and I love drinking coffee inside watching the rain. I like the sound, the smell, the noise… anything rain is something I love except perhaps smudged mascara. Point being, I want to live in Washington eventually. I’m just not sure now is the best time. Similarly, I don’t know any barns in the area so I’d be going in blind with C.

Along this vein of thinking, I was wondering where C and I would be. There’s no predicting, as horse people know, the bumps and blocks in the road. It takes a special kind of horseperson (like the aforementioned friend) to withstand all those bumps and blocks. They hurt, they suck, and they make it harder to persevere in this sport.

shit like this

shit like this

There have been numerous times that I almost quit. Danny was the first horse that made me doubt that I’d ever succeed in (or be happy with) my riding. Don’t get me wrong– he taught me tough lessons that I needed to learn– but it was a pretty brutal teaching method. I almost quit my sophomore year in college because I had maxed-out credit cards and I didn’t have the mental capacity (or organizational skills) to juggle school, a job, and riding.

I feel strongly, now, that where there’s a will there’s a way. I am currently juggling school, a job, and riding, and I’m (relatively) successful.

Yesterday I came home tired from studying for midterms, after a seven-hour workday, two hours of class, and recovering from a cold. I was frustrated from all the saddle fit issues and staring fitfully at my bank account. I got home and bawled into the phone to my mom who essentially said, “Adult life sucks. Buck up. And go snuggle your horse.”

She was right. Maybe it’s a bad idea to go to the barn if you’re in a foul mood and you think it’ll translate to your riding. But I was making excuses not to go, and that, I think, is where people who want to be competitive really fall short in their riding. This sport is hard. It requires the same patience and expenses as raising a child, the time and effort of a full-time job, and energy that most people rarely have left over by the end of the day. It’s about dedication, and getting out there as often as you can, even if you’re tired or if it’s cold or dark.

And it’s different for everyone, depending on where you want to go and what kind of equestrian you are. If you just want to flat around, play over little gymnastics, or pop the occasional jump, that is totally your prerogative and your choice. Everybody has different goals for riding and some people have no goals at all, and that is completely fine. Not wanting to compete at low- or mid- or upper-levels doesn’t make anyone any less of an equestrian.

As for me? Well, I’d like to do crazy jumping things one day, prelim being my current landmark goal. I’m a very long way off (and so is C, obviously, in age and training, which I knew going in) but I’m going to put in as much time and effort and work as it takes to get there, even if it means riding at 10 PM in bitter cold after long work days.

C says,

C says, “Nobody consulted me on this 10 PM bitter cold thing…”

So, what kind of equestrian are you?

— M