Canter & Candor

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


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Beginner Novice “Big Kids”

Because that title gives absolutely nothing away, right?

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gameface!

So this Sunday (yes, mother’s day… sorry mom!) N did a little outing to the Horse Park at Woodside. After the slightly problematic Fresno schooling, I was really hoping that minus the train and shooting range issues, we might be able to get a decent schooling done.

And boy oh boy, did baby horse deliver!

It started out a bit tetchy, as C was wild on the longe and when I got on, even more so. After some trotting and cantering around and some ‘discussions’, he seemed to have enough energy out to take a breath and grab a snack, as pictured* below.

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nom nom nom

When we approached the first fence after a couple of warmup intro logs, N was like, “Okay, introduce him to it!” and I gave her a look. And when she asked why, it was because the jump was huge. Okay, not huge, but not intro. Cue horse mom panic about whether Poopsie is prepared to jump BN or not, yadda yadda, but N knows us best and there wasn’t much intro stuff at Woodside anyway, so off we went, and it was our best schooling yet.

C brought his A-game. He wasn’t (too) spooky, had just the right amount of go, and with a little encouragement/leg was willing to do pretty much whatever. It was fantastic. And the more confident I got, the better I rode, so all over? Just incredible.

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The only big issues came at the ditches. Since my origins were in the hunters, I hadn’t done many, and while I think C may have with someone else, he’d only done one shallow ditch with me. The BN ditches might as well have been hiding horse-eating monsters and we had to follow behind other horses and even then he flung me miles out of the tack– note to self, next time, listen to your trainer when she tells you to invest in a neck strap, for the sake of your very patient baby horse.

After that, we had one last snafu at a hanging log coming out of a water. I think I’d lost some confidence at the ditches and I was kind of hoping he’d just cart me over it, conveniently forgetting he’s still a baby and I can’t “let Jesus take the reins.” So he refused, we popped over a couple of intro logs with me being more assertive as I’d been before, and then tried again. The next jump in the line was a coop and I could feel him sucking back as we approached it, but I was especially determined and with a little leg and a little luck we got over it.

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A trend you may notice in the pictures– I have a consistently shorter left rein, so poor C has to deal with that, too. The things he puts up with!

But overall, when I got off, aside from agonizing pain in my knees and butt… wow. There is no better feeling than successfully schooling ‘real’ XC on a horse I made (for the most part, anyway). When I bought C, we were still working on steering and go and stop. And now we can collect and jump and it feels like a real partnership, where we both have to hold up our end of the deal. I am so, so proud of my baby horse, and how far he’s come, and heck– I think I might be proud of me, too.

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no better feeling in the world!

Cheers to the upcoming season!

— M

* Pictures by Darren Nolan, (c) 2016


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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 ;)”

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CUTE THINGS SHOULDN’T HAVE TO WORK

Okay.

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.”

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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.

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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


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In Which M Gets a Job!

I know what you’re thinking– two C&C posts in a row?! What’s happening? Is the apocalypse happening right now and M is trying to crack out some posts before the world implodes?

I thought about scheduling this for tomorrow like a good blogger, to be published at ‘prime time’, but I am way, way too excited to hold off.

But before we get to the good stuff… some M riding history!

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2000, 2005, 2010, and 2016

I started my riding career doing summer camps, from 2000-2004, and then proceeded on to regular lessons when I was 11 or 12. Bartles, pictured second, was the spunkiest school pony so of course I had to ride him in my lessons (even better, I know the lady he retired with, and visit from time to time). Danny was the first horse I leased, as you know, and Cori is my first horse. So this picture set is basically a progression from summer camps to lessons to leases to my very own horse, all in all, 16 years of riding (3/4 of my life).

And today, I got hired as an instructor at the very same pony school that I started out at, teaching kids 6 – 10 the very basics of riding.

It’s so funny how things like this have a way of coming back around, and I know that the first 6-year-old Mia pictured never would’ve dreamed she’d be there. But I could not be more thrilled that I might be able to give these kids what the pony school gave to me back then– work ethic, determination, heels down, and a lifelong passion for riding.

Keeping this short and sweet. I am on cloud nine!

— M


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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.

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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.

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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…

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WHAT

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.

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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


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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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What’s in a Name?

As it turns out, the process of creating a blog begins with a whole lot of staring at a blinking cursor and wondering what the magic words will be. After all, it’ll be those words splashed across the header of my blog. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to whip up a name I felt would befit the subject matter as well as my writing.

And then I thought, why not make it something to aspire to?

Honesty has been difficult for me in the past, and by that I mean I am a perpetual avoider of conflict. I’ll bend over backwards to make sure I don’t say the wrong thing or be bothersome and in doing that I tend to overlook my own feelings. So I’ve been practicing speaking up, acting more boldly, and being candid with myself. And, sometimes, when the situation is right, I try being candid with others.

I can’t say I’m yet an expert in candor, but I’m trying, and this blog will hold me accountable for the truth. The full, honest, uncomfortable truth about my experiences as an equestrian, and the trial and error involved when you’re working with what might as well be giant, dangerous, expensive, very volatile children (read: horses).

On that topic, some exciting news– I have a PPE pending on a certain pony for Monday next week, so if all goes smoothly, I’ll have myself a horse! I haven’t brought him up yet because I want to be sure things will work out, but I’m getting a little jittery and might have to indulge myself some PPB (pre-purchase blogging).

And if it does work out, I’ll have the perfect face to feature on my blog header.

Stay tuned!

— M