Canter & Candor

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


Asking More in Baby Horsedom

This last weekend, C and I did a little at-home schooling show, which I’ll do a recap for once the media comes through! For now, a little discussion– I’d love to hear some other opinions here, because it took me a while to realize this for myself.

Every once in a while N does a training ride on C, and I usually either watch or ask for a text recap so I know sort of what’s going on. I missed the latest one, and the summary I got was: “He was a little confused as to why I was asking him to get round, because mom doesn’t make him work that hard ;)”




Fair enough.

Immediately following that was the schooling show and our first dressage test since the UC Davis Derby back in November. It wasn’t disastrous– we got all our leads, and I didn’t forget the test– but it was just… meh. C took some contact, sometimes, and other times was above the bit. Sometimes we got bend, and other times we were straight as a rod. Sometimes we got round-ish and sometimes we were flat.

And when we exited the ring, N was like, “You need to be asking more of him. He’s ready.”


Honestly, look at him… this horse is healthy enough to be doing more, too.

But he didn’t buck! I thought. He didn’t leave the ring! And nice as it may be that those things didn’t happen, those aren’t acceptable standards for him any more. Sure, he’s still a baby, but he should be further along than he was five months ago. Our standards shouldn’t be we stayed in the arena!  any more; they need to head towards we maintained steady contact! or he wasn’t above the bit!

As N put it, we have the forward energy. We have acceptance of contact. We just need to put those things together and get him working rounder, using his hind end more, getting steady instead of fussy. It’s been hard for me to wrap my mind around not babying him quite as much, but I know she’s right– during my ride today, he was shocked when I asked for bend and for him to use his back. We had an argument, and I won (though my arms are sore, and probably will be moreso tomorrow) and suddenly his back felt an inch taller, and I could feel his inside hind coming under his body instead of trailing behind us as he dragged himself along.

By the end of the ride both of us were puffing and sweating and while 90 percent of it was a “discussion” (C: I DON’T WANT TO WORK HARD. M: Get on your ass!) the end results were incredible. He was using his body like he was supposed to.


C: “0/10 would not use body again”

I know he’s a baby, and obviously I’m not going to go out and jump 3′ with him. But it’s definitely time to step things up, and that doesn’t just mean him, it means I need to step up too.

My body is so not ready.

— M



Baby Horse Bravado

First off, happy new year everyone! I’ll get a post up later with some resolutions and updated goals and all that jazz.

As C is building muscle, he’s becoming increasingly confident, bordering on cocky. No, wait, really cocky. On Tuesday we had an excellent dressage lesson. He was lifting through his body, pushing with power from behind, accepting contact, the whole nine yards. I have never felt more in tune with him than in that lesson– T commented on how we really looked like a team, and how he’s made me a much better rider (which is very true). I left the lesson feeling absolutely elated, confident, and incredibly proud of my increasingly intelligent, adjustable, and responsive baby horse.

sunset pic

And the cooldown walk at sunset wasn’t too shabby either

And then Wednesday morning rolled around. He was pretty naughty, which I chalked up to something new I was trying with a saddle, so I cut the ride short to preserve some of that happiness from the day prior. And yesterday? He was a nightmare.


C says “pbbbttthh, mom, sucks to be you”

Usually his naughtiness is in the form of little behaviors like booty bumps, little kicks out, nothing unbearable and definitely nothing that could unseat me (I’m pretty sticky). This one I got on and the second I asked for a trot he was not having it. The little behaviors started earlier than usual, since they typically start once we do canter work– and I can kind of understand little expressions of frustration, as when I ask him to develop newer muscles it’s difficult for him. But this was pretty unacceptable, and only got worse when I asked for canter. Since I’d prefer not to be riding a nutcase baby for a jump lesson, we threw him on the longe for a bit. Baby horse turned into a bronco, and T told me when she rode him a few days ago she had to longe him for quite a while before he simmered down and stopped rearing/bucking/kicking.

Once we brought him in, I hopped on again, ran through a one stride ground pole to crossrail line, and he lost all that glorious brain I was so proud of. He grabbed the bit and went. I was taken a little by surprise because while we’ve had to ‘reinstall’ his brakes a few times, he’s not usually at that degree of misbehavior. We tried a few things– lots of transitions, and not allowing him to jump (as the jump is the reward for behaving) until he settled back, but just when things would start to calm down he’d get rushy and unbalanced again.

T said, if he has the energy to be running off with you, he has the energy to longe again. So back on the line he went. She palpated his back a little and noticed he was sore (likely from A. being a douche on the longe line, B. because of the new saddle fit thing I tried Wednesday, and C. from the solid work we did Tuesday) so we sent him off to let him stretch out a little. Stretch he did! He actually had his nose so close to the ground stretching out his back muscles that he kicked himself in the face. It was all well and good until I brought him in to switch directions and noticed…



Hives. HIVES. All over his back where T had palpated him.

We’re not talking a spot here and there, like his whole back was rippling with hives. T and I were stumped. She went through a mental list of things she’d had on her hands and couldn’t think of a thing that would’ve caused a reaction. And trust me– these hives weren’t there when I first sent him out on the longe the second time around, and only appeared when I brought him in.

Naturally the lesson was well-cancelled by this point, but could it get weirder? I went in, washed off the hive-y area, put some liniment on, tossed bute in his grain and spent the evening puzzling over what the heck could’ve happened.

I’m also praying the naughty was brought on by the soreness and not C just being a jackass. What he was doing… well, I don’t mind misbehaviors and I can sit through most of them, but he wasn’t responding to downward transitions through seat, so I had to get very handsy with him. It was incredibly unpleasant for all parties, and I kind of hope he learns from this one experience so neither of us have to repeat it. All over a very blah day.

But! If I blot the last two days from memory, I feel better.


Saddle?! Maybe?!

Also, I may have found a saddle that fits– see above?! What?? Obviously I need to jump in it before I make a decision (hence the attempted/failed jump lesson) but keep your fingers crossed for me! The flaps aren’t as forward as I tend to prefer, buuuut… if it fits (the horse), I sits.

— M


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!).

bridle tag

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


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?

hot pink polo front

they make his bell boots look taupe

cori cutest2

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


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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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


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?


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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