Canter & Candor

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


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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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2016 Resolutions and Goals

At the bottom is my 2015 in review— since this blog is only 3 months old, there isn’t much to it, but it’s there if you’re interested! This post will mainly be about my goals for C, myself, and my riding.  I decided to take a page from Megan at A Enter Spooking’s book and do quarterly goals. Because C is so young, I expect we’ll run into snafus, or even exceed expectations, so I’ll review this again in early April and adjust as necessary!

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Goals for C, late Winter/early Spring 2016

  1. Grow up and into those legs. This will improve coordination and his ability to do the things we’ve been struggling with such as leads, better transitions, etc. After that judge’s comments (“Lovely prospect, just a little gangly/uncoordinated right now”) I’m excited for this to happen.
  2. Build more booty muscle. It’ll make it easier for him to pick up and hold the canter, as well as make jumping a bit easier/smoother.
  3. Nail down longe commands. This is on me, too. Right now his longe manners leave something to be desired.
  4. Small collections/adjustability. Something that’ll really come in handy when we jump, since right now he gets excited and flat, and sorta rushes/drags me after the jump.
  5. Tolerate braiding. Seriously dude. Stop head bobbing.

Goals for M, late Winter/early Spring 2016

  1. More effort/thought into exercises. Keeping flatwork fresh and interesting is a bit of a trial, and sometimes I should just go in and set up a few pole exercises for us to go through.
  2. Listen to more podcasts/riding theory, purchase a couple books. These resources are so invaluable and I need to take better advantage of them!
  3. Pilates! I have a membership in my hometown for a wonderful fitness center that offers classes. I want to strengthen my core on and off C
  4. Audit a clinic or two. I’m kind of curious if the clinic I participated in was an anomaly or if that teaching style is the ‘norm’ for many clinicians– basically, if I need to grow thicker skin or if that teaching style didn’t suit me. Plus, education!
  5. Get more social. Right now most of my friends are barn friends. Nothing wrong with that, but I could do with more of them!
  6. Practice braiding. I can do tails ez pz, but my button braids are mediocre on a good day.
  7. Find a way to combine something I love with something that pays the bills. Lord help me.

Goals for riding, late Winter/early Spring 2016

  1. Develop a more independent seat. Bareback work, no stirrups dressage, build up that core!
  2. Get on a lot of different horses, if possible. I’d like to develop my riding skills and make myself more adjustable, to fit the ride rather than trying to make the ride fit me.
  3. More dressage! And I’m talking valuable dressage that will help C get rounder, improve his topline, and make him a more supple, responsive horse. I’d also like to work on baby leg yields to work on leg aids with him, and find a specific way to ask for canter that doesn’t confuse him.
  4. School Intro when the season begins. To work on how he sees XC, and better channel his energy out there. Right now his misbehavior means a lot of circling, saving the reward (the jump) for when he’s actively listening.

Goals for the year, 2016:

  1. Compete at one H/J Show at 2′. Because I hate crossrails and so does C (Okay, not really. It’s just me. I really hate crossrails despite how great they are for learning and schooling. Don’t judge me).
  2. Compete at one USEF Dressage show at BN. Because after writing Falling In & Falling Short after our last dressage show, I’m determined to redeem us!
  3. Compete in one event at Intro. For the experience! Plus we’ll nail the W/T dressage test.
  4. All pink, everything. Self explanatory, and I’m well on my way 😉

 

2015 In Review

October, 2015: I bought C on October 6th, the day before my birthday! After a period of “I-can’t-believe-this-is-real”, we had a wonderful little jumping lesson and started preparing for our first ‘show’, a little local derby. I wrote my first ‘theory’ post about expectations in baby horsedom, which I think I’ll be turning into a series this year! We had an excellent dressage test and a wonderful jumping round and came in 3rd at our first show!

November, 2015: We had our first brush with saddle fitting issues (and unfortunately, not the last) and I realized my horse is supremely passive-aggressive. I did my first bloghop (haikus for Zen and the Art of Baby Horse Management) wrote about dressage struggles and fear of the upcoming local dressage show at BN. Just in time for December, I compiled a post of my horse’s grossest facial expressions for your enjoyment.

December, 2015: I kicked off the month with another theory post on communication with our equine partners, cried a lot after a tough clinic, and fretted about how well my future and C’s align. I opened the best Secret Santa gifts from the Graduated Equestrian (successfully further pink-ifying C’s life). I also wrote a post that started a super interesting discussion about stadium jumping in a deep or forward seat. On New Year’s C popped out with some mystery hives and we may have found a saddle that fits– plus some analytical stuff about his little misbehaviors!!

In January, I’m hoping to keep the blog updated as regularly as possible, and start a number of new discussions that all riders can benefit from. Happy New Year’s to all from M&C at Canter & Candor!

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sometimes we’re cute-ish, especially when blurry

— 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.

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.

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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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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


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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


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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