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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The $900 Facebook Pony Blog Hop: The Little Things

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With some behavioral snafus over the past couple weeks, Amanda at the $900 Facebook Pony’s blog hop is timed perfectly. No matter how spooky or naughty C gets, there are always little things I love about him.

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soggy booger 

Question: “What are the “little things” about your horse that you’re so fond of?

The first that comes to mind is a bit of an odd one. C likes to stretch when I’m walking him out to pasture or in, or just in hand in general. He’ll drop his head so far that his nose is dragging on the ground, shoveling through whatever happens to be there, and he occasionally kicks himself on the chin and then looks up in shock, wondering what hit him. It’s adorable.

Another little quirk is how much he likes having his sweaty behind-the-ears spot scratched after rides. He’ll lean into it and grunt, and if you stop, move his head up and down to simulate it.

I love how much he loves jumping, because I love jumping, and I love his silly excited bucks when we’ve had a really good jump and he just needs to celebrate! I love the occasional flying lead changes he throws in, just to pleasantly surprise me sometimes and remind me how super awesomely talented he is.

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wheeeee!

Playing peek-a-boo at the barn is fun too, even though I know he’s only cookie-hunting. It’s still cute!

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THERE you are! now, where’s my cookie?

On a more serious note, the change in my riding has been incredible since I’ve owned C. He makes me a better equestrian, in the saddle and out, every time I sit on or handle him. Owning a green horse has been one of the most simultaneously challenging and rewarding thing I’ve taken on, and that’s one of the things I appreciate most about him.

So basically, I love him because he makes me happier than I’ve ever been!

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smiling and pretending I didn’t just spend $400 on horsey items… shhh

— M


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And Now, A Scenario:

It’s a stunning evening in early spring. Birds are chirping, trees rustle in gentle winds, and the dying sunlight casts long shadows into the flawless footing of the arena. Upon bringing C in from turnout, M notices he is fresh and decides that popping him on the longe might not be a bad idea. Under the orange light of the sunset, reflected in his copper coat, C canters and bucks and farts in a relatively civilized manner as M coos him praises.

A truck and trailer slowly turn the corner. C has never seen a truck and trailer before. Instinctually he bolts in the opposite direction; M digs her heels in and tries not to lose her balance despite being dragged by a 1300 pound 16.2 hand-high behemoth. C realizes that not even an inch before him lies a mounting block, which he flies over, majestic and deer-like. On the backside of this ‘jump’ he tries to kick out, nearly falling flat-out on his face. M screams, “Well, what the hell did you think was going to happen?” at the top of her lungs while the pony clubbers in the neighboring arena look on in a mixture of horror and awe. The majestic baby OTTB recovers his balance and fancy-trots as though nothing happened.

As M leads her horse to the upper jumping arena, trainer (N) says, “I saw a chestnut streak down there. Was that C?”

Yes. Yes it was.

C proceeds to be angelic under saddle and his canter feels like clouds.

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“To what chestnut streak are you referring?”

Ah, the sweet art of give & take.

— M


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Sneaky C: Artful Evasions

Oh, C. Why must you be so sneaky?

Yesterday was another helpful lesson with N– my first time jumping in a month and 8th time total with C (yep, you read that right, discounting the occasional single crossrail I’ve only jumped C 8 times since I bought him). Needless to say, it took a couple crossrails to get me feeling like I had any knowledge whatsoever of jumping.

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r my heels ok?/??

We did a lot of trot in – canter out crossrails and a couple verticals, and a 2′ oxer (whee!). Most importantly, we nailed down how C’s been evading trotwork with ninja kicks. He strikes out sideways with his hind legs, effectively swinging his butt across to the side, and I didn’t quite realize what an impact it was having. Thank the lord for attentive trainers; N noticed right away that what C was doing was displacing me, pitching me forward with his booty bumps and erasing any collection or contact I had prior, reverting us back to long and flat and horrible. So N gave me a couple ideas to keep me in position when he’s gearing up to kick out– get stronger and taller through my core, keep my elbows flexing but at my sides, and maintain the aids so he can’t effectively blast through them.

And it worked! Obviously, Rome wasn’t built in a day and C won’t stop booty bumping me out of the contact in one lesson, but it’s good to know what I can do to get more genuine work out of him for our flatwork days, and push through the evasions.

Once we had that figured out, it was only some of my more pressing flaws. I have a bad tendency to keep my ankles, elbows, and wrists pretty stiff. My elbows and wrists should be flexing and ‘giving’ with C’s movement, while I should be sinking into my heels and letting my ankles flex, too. N repeated this mantra (very patiently) over most of the fences and by the end of it I felt like my heels were ten times better than the start. I’ve always had problems with my elbows in riding, so it was good to get another set of eyes on it again and start re-encouraging me to flex them, but not to give completely to C getting heavy in my hands (remember ZAS? Yeah, that). The last topic we broached was my release, or lack thereof, but all that took was a reminder to grab a bit of mane and it pretty much stuck (mostly because the difference was astounding immediately, so I think the importance of it kinda pressed on me).

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Precious little horse

C’s job for this lesson was trotting in at an even tempo (assisted, of course, with my posting), staying in front of my leg, and putting in an ounce or two of effort over the jumps. He did pretty well overall! N put down a pole in front of the trotted jumps to give a guideline for finding the distance and staying organized instead of rushing. C was definitely excited to be jumping again and I did quite a few circles to remedy this, and ensure he wasn’t rewarded for taking off towards them.  For the most part, we wanted to trot the jumps, but N told me the most important part was the rhythm. Either we had to approach at a bouncy, forward trot (tic, toc, tic, toc) or approach at a bouncy forward canter (one and two and one) but never rushing and never disorganized.

For the most part, I wanted to approach at the trot as it’s easier to regulate rhythm and remind C not to rush. After the lesson was nearly finished, though, N directed us to canter a vertical fence with fill and it went like a dream. C was more relaxed than at the start, responsive to my half-halts, and didn’t throw me out of the saddle; my ankles were flexed and my heels down, and my hands were forward and in his mane for the release. It felt monumentally better than the first couple sort-of awkward fences, and I couldn’t be happier with the lesson. I felt as though I learned so much in that one span– obviously it’s not permanently fixing everything N brought up, but it’s a good start.

Also, I’m a bad person and the sports psychology post isn’t finished. Also I have no new photos. Love me!

— 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