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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Settling In & Show Name Brainstorms

Hi guys! So, I admit to lying again. The sports psychology post is (still) not finished. It’s not even that long, I just need more time to edit and clarify some of my thoughts and it’s taking me ages. Anyway, you can expect it in a day or two, I’m guessing, but I’m not setting anything in stone in case I compulsively edit everything again– it’s a fun life being a perfectionist!

Anyway, this post will be about the last two days with C. New trainer (N) has been working with me on longeing techniques, and I’ve already learned so much about positioning, tone, and laying down the rules that C is expected to follow. Namely, don’t buck/kick/trot until he’s a good distance from me, and step up when I ask, but N said that the down transitions are simply offers for him. If he feels like he still needs to expend energy, we shouldn’t reinforce the down transitions because we’d rather he do it on the longe than under saddle.

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Am I done yet?

After a (very long) longeing session, C finally settled down enough for me to get on. N offered to get on first and ride through the first few antics but I wanted to re-establish everything with C that we had before my three-week break. It was mostly good, but C was understandably wired and felt like a loaded gun the entire time. We only had a few baby spooky moments, which was fine because it’s a new place and he wasn’t ridden much while I was away. By the end we had him working on my rhythm, listening for the most part, and evaluating things instead of spooking at them right off the bat. By the end, C was soaked in sweat– I have honestly never seen him that sweaty, ever, and he did most of it before I even got into the saddle!

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Cooling off after hard work

Yesterday, he was amazing, but I’m thinking it was only because he was so tired from the day prior. He honestly kept longeing himself, even when we offered down transitions. We had amazing canter work– I felt very in tune with him, though his trot work was arrhythmic and a little all over the place. I did make him do some quality work before we stopped, and I think he’ll be back to his usual self soon.

He’s settling in better than I could’ve hoped, maintained his appetite, and loves watching all the cars and trailers and people go by his stall. The new stall is solid-walled so it has better protection from the wind, so no double-up on the blankets is nice and convenient! I’ve done working student jobs for two days, and it’s exhausting, but definitely worth it to pay off lessons. All over, not much to report except that C is finally settling down.

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I’m pretty happy with his body condition right now! His withers really popped while I was gone– he’s 16.1 hh!

On a different note, I wanted to get some opinions on show names for the baby horse! I’m not the hugest fan of his JC name. It’s not bad, but it’s not my favorite; I’m just very ambivalent towards it. I’ve always loved the one-word names, snappy and catchy, like Shutterfly, Flexible, Hickstead, Valegro, etc. Medium length, a nice sound to them… you catch my drift. So when it came to brainstorming C’s future show name I knew kind of what I wanted, but I also wanted it to make sense, and connect in some way with his barn name (Cori). Ultimately, I’ve been thinking about this since I bought him, and I thought about Encore but it’s a name shared by many, many USEA horses. And then I came up with one I’m feeling pretty good about, but I want your opinions!

What I’m leaning towards is “Chromatic“. I’m not sure what I like so much about it– I think the ‘C’s make it sound really sharp, and he is a chrome-y boy, but I’d love some opinions!

Hopefully I’ll finish up that post in a day or so… stay tuned!

— M


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Equine Linguistics

Thanksgiving week came and went, so I hadn’t ridden C in five days, and I’d just scheduled a jump lesson.

What sort of madwoman thought that was a good idea?

Thankfully, T did three training rides this week, so it wasn’t as though he’d be crazy, right? It wasn’t like he’d go nuts, because he’d been worked a few times. Besides, he’s a pretty quiet guy! He’d never, ever–

Hello, chilly day, and hello, acrobatics, the likes of which I have never seen (or felt) out of C before. Perhaps not to the same degree as Nicole’s horse Murray (or even, really, on the same spectrum), but in a definitively un-C-like manner.

At the trot, he’d flip his head and break to a canter, over and over. On the bright side, he’d get the correct lead. On the less bright side, he was cantering through my posting, and kept tossing his head and pinning his ears. Once I finally got him to a trot and made him wait for me to ask, and then asked, he ninja-kicked to the outside. To his credit, he still got the correct lead, thereby prompting a simultaneously jubilant and irritated sort-of-strangled pterodactyl cry from me.

Jumping was wonderful. He was responsive to my half-halts and seat, took the fences without stopping or peeking, and we only demolished one jump on the whole course! Besides that, we were in matching pink. Evidence below.

I sort of assumed he was just a little sore from the training rides. I’ll excuse the behavior, I thought, because he must be sore behind. I got off after walking him out, untacked him, and checked his back. No response. And his butt? Not so much as a twitch. So why, dear little C, were you complaining so much today?

I think the answer is equine linguistics.

What was C trying to communicate when he pinned his ears and started bobbing in a weird up-and-down half-canter trottamajig? It wasn’t back pain– the saddle fits and he wasn’t sore. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it was a product of my own doing. Lately to fix the canter leads, we canter and if he’s got the wrong lead, we trot and then canter again straight away (rinse and repeat if we miss it again). Was he simply making the connection that trot served only as a transition from walk to canter? If that’s the case, making him trot on my terms was the solution. So why was he kicking out when I finally said, “Okay, let’s canter.”?

I think, honestly, it was a combination of the weather and a baby horse tantrum.

Still, this situation made me think back to other situations where C had misinterpreted my cues. I feel as though the saying “When you get on a green horse, you are either training or untraining them” really applies here. A while ago I was wondering why C was interpreting my left leg as pressure to give to (as he’s meant to) and why he was interpreting the right leg as a ‘go’ button. And I realized that I did something that taught him that, because he sure as hell didn’t learn it on his own. I imagine that, being right-leg dominant, when I asked for transitions I simply squeezed a little tighter with my right leg, thus telling him (unintentionally) that right leg means upward transition, or ‘go’.

nyeh tongue cori

This translates to: I want my grain

weird face cori

and this translates to: I REALLY want my grain

I wonder how many other gaps I have unintentionally caused. For his leads, have I reinforced cantering on the wrong lead by leaning a certain way, or taking too long to remedy it? Did I teach him to jump strung-out and flat by asking for a long spot in our last lesson? Have I unwittingly installed bad, or just unusual, habits into my green horse?

I feel the longer I ponder this, the more I’ll fret. So for now, I’ll try to identify what I can fix about myself and my position to more clearly tell C what I want from him, and be patient when he doesn’t respond the way I want.

I need to remember that while I’m trying to learn his language (loosely: ears, body, and reactions), he’s also trying to learn mine (seat, leg, hands, and reactions). As far as equine linguistics go, I’ll try to interpret them as they come.

cori wants grain

And this translates to: cutest jerk ever.

— M


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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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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