Canter & Candor

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


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Secret Santa 2015!

Just before Christmas Eve, a little package arrived with a couple of items from Emily’s Equine Creations (which will reopen on January 5) that I absolutely adored. I put on the bracelet first chance I had…

bit bracelet

beautifully pink and horse-y

…and tucked the bridle charm into my bag for the next trip up to see C. I still haven’t decided which bridle to pop it on, but I’m thinking the figure 8, since my dressage bridle hardly needs more bling (did I just say that? Eek!).

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ALSO beautifully pink and horse-y

Honestly, I was thrilled with the gifts — though slightly confused that there was no note for me to figure out what lovely person had sent them. So you can imagine my surprise (and excitement) when a bigger package arrived just a couple days ago. I shredded the packaging and unearthed a mountain of mini candy canes nestled around some incredibly enticing packages.

presents from GE in box

AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

The card was incredibly sweet (funnily enough, we both recently graduated with English degrees) and revealed my Secret Santa to be Heather at the Graduated Equestrian! And oh my goodness, the gifts were exactly what I needed! Heather hit this one out of the park.

gifts from GE

Socks, polos, and treats!

Yesterday I went out to the barn for a dressage lesson (which was fantastic, but I’ll write a post about it later) and got to try those polos on. They are gloriously pink. Not kind-of-pink, not salmon or raspberry, but pink. I am obsessed and despite all the work required with wrapping polos they will be used… frequently. Plus, look how cute C is in them. How could I not?

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they make his bell boots look taupe

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I was mad cheesin’ so I cropped my face off, but let’s talk about how insanely long his legs are– also PINK

C sends a huge thank-you to Val for the delicious treats, which I kind of crammed into his face because A) I haven’t seen him in a week, B) he’s really cute, C) he was really cute, and D) it’s basically still Christmas. Anyway, the treats are minty and smell like molasses and C adores them (and he’s picky with treats, too, so bonus points!). And the socks are comfortable and boot-length, plus I just love more socks because I lose one of every pair. But not this pair! I’m determined!

I cannot express how awesome all of these gifts are. They’re functional and adorable and exactly what I wanted. So a million thank-yous to Heather for an incredible Secret Santa– it was my first year joining in (as you may know, since I only started blogging in October) and I had so much fun! Thank you also to Tracy at Fly On Over for organizing and hosting. I’ll definitely be joining in again next year!

— M

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Sitting versus a Softer Seat

Since I have been home for the holidays, I haven’t been on C in about a week, but as per usual I am doing a lot of thinking about my position and how it will affect him, so I have more to think about when I get back out there.

Lately I’ve been googling the heck out of using a proper seat depending on the occasion. With C, since we are focusing on flatwork and dressage (I checked my notes and I’ve only jumped him 6 times total since I bought him!), I have been sitting his canter. Thankfully it’s comfortable so I don’t mind so much, plus it’s given me pretty good ‘following’ hips. I do have to check myself sometimes and make sure I’m not driving, leaving C behind my leg and on the forehand.

As such, he sometimes gets a little confused when I two-point, and breaks to the trot. I really don’t think it’ll be an issue cross-country, because he is never lacking in energy out there, but I was curious as to what you fellow jumpers prefer for stadium. A (assistant trainer) has told me and many other students to ‘dressage between the jumps’ which I had always imagined (and executed) to be seated or lightly-seated canter. However, after some research the consensus seemed to be “to approach and depart the jumps in … a light three-point” (source).

But consider the video below of our eventing demigod, Michael Jung from 2010.

I watched it through several times and for much of it he seemed to be sitting as such in dressage, more upright, in a deeper seat than other riders (or what is professed to be ‘the correct way’). Also, William Fox-Pitt in 2014 seemed privy to the same seat, sitting between the jumps. In both, though, I see each rider utilizing three-point in specific situations, namely on turns and longer stretches between the jumps (left) and sitting deeper upon approach (right).

I notice, too, that the horse’s own body and neck seem to reflect the rider’s position– forward and long on the left, and upright and vertical on the right. This makes a lot of sense, all things considered.

It seems common sense to say “fit your riding to the horse” and I do think right now C prefers the security and presence a sitting canter provides (though I don’t pretend to know what goes through his noodle brain). I also think it makes it easier for me to adjust him, and having the steadiness of a swinging canter makes it less confusing to ask for other things, such as bend or better contact.

After watching more videos of Jung and Fox-Pitt, I realized that a deep or three-point seat have their places in stadium. I can see how, where more speed or agility is required, it’s important to get off the horse’s back and allow them to gather themselves in the center (this visual makes sense to me). But on the approach to  jumps and between jumps in a line, they seem to prefer seated, perhaps for adjustability and ‘feeling’ the stride.

I know that every seat has its proper place, and I definitely plan on experimenting more and not settling into the comfort I find in a deeper seat. As we know, it’s never a good thing to be complacent in our riding, and I may find the solution to some ongoing problems by riding in a two- or three-point more often, where lightness and speed are required, and also so C gets used to being responsible for his own legs without as much of my assistance.

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I think this to be a lighter three-point to an oxer (on a friend’s horse)

I’m curious as to what seat you all prefer during your stadium rounds, in what situations, and why. Feel free to comment with thoughts to add to my reading– I’m all ears!

— M


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New Home on the Holidays

Yesterday I swung by the barn I’ll be moving C to in January. It’s a very beautiful facility, and I wanted to hammer out some details with N (new trainer) before I leave.

Which brings me to…. England! I’m going on a trip to visit family January 6th to 18th, so C will be attended to by T and a few fellow students. I’m hoping he’ll learn lots while I’m gone, but I’m going to miss this sweet lil face.

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The noodle

So here’s the details on our future place! The outdoor arenas are all-weather footing (fabulous!) and spacious, and one of the indoors is a massive, beautiful dressage ring. All the better to do flatwork in! Unfortunately the group turnouts are apparently a little slippery and have gopher holes, and considering how C rips around pasture, I think he’ll go in a private turnout. On the one hand I’m bummed he won’t have the socializing group turnout provides, but I don’t want injuries, lost shoes, or any of that!

Anyway, the private turnout is fairly big and safe so he won’t hurt himself galloping in circles. Other than that, it’s pretty routine– he’ll have a stall in the main barn and it’s big, and right near the entrance. I unfortunately was too busy asking questions to take pictures, but more good news– N offers students the chance to work off lessons and some other fees so while I job hunt, I’ll have time to rack up some credit. Which is perfect because I imagine I’ll need some tuning up after two weeks of no saddle time!

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Lesson credit = more angelpony torture. 

Anyway, going to chat with N has made me feel miles better about moving! I’m sad to lose my current barn family, but the girls at the new place seem super nice so I think it’ll be a smooth adjustment.

I’d love to hear if any of you experienced with moving barns, and what you did to make the move easier on your horse. I want to make sure it’s as smooth for C as possible– definitely going to hand walk him around the whole property, but any suggestions for other ways to acclimate are so appreciated.

Happy holidays all!

— M


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Clinics and Grids and Evasions, oh my!

This past Saturday a clinician came to my barn to do a grid jumping clinic. Since I’d never done a real clinic before, I thought it could be a learning experience, so I signed me and C up.

From the start he was on his best behavior, but as soon as we left warmup and got into the ring, he was trying new evasive tactics. Shoulder popping struck again, a bout of Sideways Head Syndrome, and the classic ‘here-let-me-run-very-fast-to-avoid-real-work’. Still, C wasn’t being a terror, just little things that made me growl at him really quietly so the clinician wouldn’t hear.

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but I forgave him after ’cause look how cute he is in neon pink

I don’t think I’m going to head far into detail about the clinic but I felt really awful after. It wasn’t that the clinician wasn’t good, but she didn’t teach in a way that worked with me. I don’t need my hand held, but I do need occasional encouragement that I’m getting somewhere, or pointing out that maybe every one thing out of ten is going right. As it was, that didn’t really happen, and it felt like everything had gone so terribly wrong that, being the crybaby I am, I left the clinic and promptly burst into tears (we’re talking the ugliest crying ever– if you’ve never seen me cry, count yourself lucky).

kim crying gif blog

like this but redder

I have no doubt that for a different type of person, the clinic would’ve been awesome. I also have no doubt that I still learned from it, even if I felt like absolute crap after. I just think that it would’ve been more conducive to my learning to have it taught a different way. So I’m going to write down and list the parts of it that I found most helpful, so I can halt this negative Nancy train!

What I learned:

  • Sharper turns as a result of outside leg and both reins
  • Avoid noodle-ness by applying leg instead of trying to straighten with rein (bad habit of mine)
  • Ride the tempo that I want
  • Everything on my terms, not C’s
  • C does respect crossrails, but forgets they’re there when he’s too busy fighting me.
  • Keep my upper body still
  • I really hate jumping from the trot (okay, I knew this before, but now I really know this!)

Anyway, now that I’ve had a couple days to clear my head, I can definitely see the benefits. Another thing the clinician said was that I have been babying C a little too much. I told her I thought the turns were too sharp for us (~5-8m turn) and she essentially went, “No. Make him turn.” Turn he did! In lowering my expectations, I may have dropped them a little too far. Oops.

I will probably choose not to clinic with her again, even though she did have helpful input, just because I feel the best way for me to learn unfortunately doesn’t jive with the way she teaches. For thicker-skinned folk? Sure! Sadly, that’s not the best way for me (yeah, George Morris would probably flay me. I’d probably never recover from the trauma).

As a side note, the saddle saga continues– I bought an Albion Kontact off ebay for a screaming deal and again it just doesn’t quite fit him. Dammit, horse!

Current scoreboard… Saddles: 7. M: 0.

— M


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Ambition & Doubt in Baby Horsedom

I’ll preface this post by saying I have never considered C to be anything but the best purchase I’ve made in my entire life. Solid financial decision, perhaps not, but he is an incredible horse and I’m a lucky girl. I’ll never wish things went differently because he’s taken my expectations and surpassed them, and I am so excited for our future.

But.

When I was 16, I wanted to do the 4′ jumpers– minimum. Maybe not at that precise moment, but it’s what I was working towards, and I was ready to work hard for it. For a while, I got closer, and then things sort of came crashing down. I’ve always been a competitive person, and I haven’t lost the ambition to not just succeed, but exceed, in the sport I’m passionate about.

shojumping gif

this was the dream. literally soaring.

So when I told T I wanted to start looking for a horse, I mentioned looking for a 6-year-old would be ideal, and green was okay– I didn’t mind growing and learning with the horse. Well, one thing led to another, and C ended up coming into my life. I have no doubt that in a couple years, maybe three, he’ll be an extraordinarily athletic and capable horse and I’ll be able to do the things I’ve always wanted to on him, and beyond all that, we’ll have a good partnership. I hope I’ll know him inside and out by then.

Until then, in those two or three years– which seems so far away right now– it’s going to be a lot of awkward bumbling and crossrails and probably (on my part, because I’m a crybaby) lots of tears EG: Dressage Show. And it’s not necessarily because I can do those big things right now and C’s age is holding me back, because I can’t. It’s more than I can’t work towards it as I did when I was 16, because I’m on a green horse timeline now.

Yes, I want to do prelim one day, possibly even beyond that if I really whip myself into shape. Big jumps don’t scare me, and they never really have. Of course, when I’m on C I’ll stare at a massive trakehner and say “Holy sh** we would die” but honestly? If someone threw me on a schoolmaster and said go do training, having never done it before, I’d do it (never mind self preservation) because I am that stupidly ambitious and I want to be better. And all that, because that’s where I want to be, one day. I keep repeating to myself there’s no hurry– and there isn’t, for C, because I definitely don’t plan on breaking him in a mad rush through the levels. But I do worry about my ability to learn, get fit, and also that fearlessness (which I think is required for anything mid- upper level) going away. I’ve read up a lot about people losing confidence over fences the older they get– quitting jumping for dressage, then quitting dressage for trails. Not to say that there’s anything wrong (or even easier) with doing only dressage or only trails, but that just isn’t me.

For Christ’s sake, I’m in my early twenties. What am I so worried about? Anyway, these are some fears that have been nagging at me. I am ever grateful to the junior training level riders at my barn for loaning me their horses sometimes, because I’ll admit it– at 3′ I feel somewhat close to competent and over crossrails and 2′ with C, like an absolutely clueless PoS rider. Riding their horses, and sometimes school horses, makes me feel like an okay equestrian again.

I’m chalking it up to lacking confidence with C specifically. Since day 1 with C I’ve constantly questioned my ability to be an effective rider and train C correctly. The first time I talked to T seriously about buying him, I asked “Am I good enough to work with this horse?” And I still ask the same questions of myself on a near-daily basis. I have a talented greenie on my hands and I’m just shy of terrified I’ll unwittingly turn him into a monster. Enough people reassure me that everything is fine, but I can’t seem to let that sink in. I want very badly to just be okay with the work I’ve done/am doing with him. And I also know this doubt is sort of part of an ammie owning a greenie, but man, it sucks (you’re probably all thinking ‘build a bridge and get over it, gurl).

I’ve choked back a lot of these worries and now I’m unleashing them all on you poor, poor readers. Regardless, there are all my feels.  hope someone out there understands at least little pieces of this text-wall of blathering nonsense.

Do you guys worry about getting ‘stuck’ at a point in the sport? Or fret you’re not doing best by your horse and giving them a solid foundation?

c for blog

check the neck, bruh

— M


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Noodling it up on XC

After a very slow, stressful finals week, I was able to unwind by taking C on a jaunt to do a little cross-country.

Overall it was good fun! C absolutely loves jumping, even more when it’s not in an arena. He was thrilled to be out there, which translated to those boogery behaviors in amplified versions, especially at the beginning. He was a jigging, side-swinging, booty-bumping, side-kicking baby horse. A lot of it just felt like pent-up excitement, and the rest felt like the kind of behaviors he’s been exhibiting lately, which are just little opinionated tantrums.

Basically, T said that if he wasn’t going to do the jumps my way, he wouldn’t do them at all. So if he was impolite– kicking out when I asked for canter, jigging, trying to run off– it was endless circles in front of the jump until he decided it was more worth his while to behave.

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Putting the C in Cooperation

To get over them successfully, I really had to manhandle him; he’s used to dropping his head directly into my hands and making me hold him up. Obviously a lowered head isn’t the best idea for cross country (never mind the fact that he shouldn’t be hanging on my hands in the first place!) so I had to remind him, over and over, to please not do that.

He seemed to tire himself out with the misbehaving at the beginning and halfway through there was a lull of wonderful. Over the last three fences, though, I think he made up for getting tired by getting amped, and I headed back to micromanaging land.

But this experience made me so, so excited for when we’re able to do more of it! Because my origins lie in hunterland, I was nervous and a little intimidated to get out there again, especially knowing that he’s physically stronger now and he’s been throwing that weight around more than usual. It was reassuring to feel that his enthusiasm didn’t entirely obscure his listening skills, and that I could bring him back to me– even if it required a little more assertive riding.

cori nuuuu

“Nooooo– okay.”

In a year or two, I can’t wait to see where we’ll be.

Also supplying some obligatory adorable photos from today, where I made C dress up holiday style and turned him out with BBS’s 4-year-old OTTB, G.

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Pony cuddles!

— M

P.S. I am officially a college graduate now! 🙂


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Chilly Days, Rain-Brain, and Relocation

As we learned last week, C enjoys using chilly days as an excuse to indulge in some little… behaviors. Mainly, ninja kicks and miniature booty-bumps– nothing simultaneously athletic and naughty, but enough to prompt questions from me.

Because they’re such little behaviors and I don’t want to complain until he flings his ass over his head, I refer to them as “boogery” and not naughty. Sure, the behaviors are annoying, and a dressage judge might be extremely unimpressed, but it’s not the end of the horsey universe.

naughty versus boogery

Yesterday we were working in the outdoor arena, with the usual threatening clouds looming overhead. I was anticipating a little complaint on C’s part, and it came, but with more irregularity than our jump lesson a week ago. Only one medium-sized kick when I asked for canter, and a little buck at the posting trot (??? what even!). Still, I was able to have C focus enough to do some actual work.

Nicole at Zen, Baby Horse! (who seems to be becoming an unwitting regular mention in these blog posts, bless her) gave me an exercise to help C learn couple of things: 1) not to drop in his shoulders and 2) move laterally off my leg. It’s a bit like a reverse shoulder-in; counter-bend, but keep him moving forward with his haunches off the rail. This way he’s stepping over in the front and the back. C picked this up pretty quickly, and I was pleased with the results. With a little extra tap of the dressage whip, he was moving very nicely off my leg. It was hard to keep him from halting, since he was bent into the rail, and I honestly was worried about smashing his face into the top bar of the railing. But thankfully, we finally ended the exercise in the intended way, and moved on to some more trot and canter work.

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Source — pretend the rail is on the right side of the horse

C has been better about finding contact, but he is starting to hang heavy again the longer I ride. I try to be understanding about this, because I think he starts to seek more support the harder the exercises get (like moving laterally, which is asking him to use muscles that aren’t fully developed yet). However, I don’t want that to be the go-to reaction– we’ll be trying to remedy this with some extra training tools. T wants to try a German martingale for our dressage lesson next Friday. All of these are temporary installments, of course. A few rides, and hopefully he’ll learn what I want, and mercifully C is a very quick learner.

On a positive note, C was awesome at the canter. It didn’t feel as though he was struggling, or that fish-out-of-water vibe I got from him before the dressage show. He actually came back to me when I asked; power from behind, collect with the hands, and it felt amazing. Never mind the fact he kicked out once when I first asked. It wasn’t real collection, of course, but it felt like he was actively listening and trying, which was a huge step for us.

On a side note, but also important, I graduate this week. Ultimately, that means I’m going to be moving home and looking for a job, so C is moving too. The new facility is beautiful and I like the new trainer a lot, but I will sorely miss my current barn family, who have all been so supportive and forthcoming with ideas and solutions for every bump in the road. And who knows where I’ll wind up in the end! But for now, it’s au revoir on January 17th for C and me, and back to my hometown.

Facility is huge (and I mean huge), with an outdoor (top right) and indoor for jumping, an outdoor and massive indoor (bottom right) for dressage, and a spare smaller schooling arena (left). I suppose I’ll never have to worry about crowded arenas, since the footing is also all-weather! At the same time, I know I’ll miss the personal, pretty much familial feel to our current place.

Talk about bittersweet…

— M