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



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!


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!


sometimes we’re cute-ish, especially when blurry

— M


Sitting versus a Softer Seat

Since I have been home for the holidays, I haven’t been on C in about a week, but as per usual I am doing a lot of thinking about my position and how it will affect him, so I have more to think about when I get back out there.

Lately I’ve been googling the heck out of using a proper seat depending on the occasion. With C, since we are focusing on flatwork and dressage (I checked my notes and I’ve only jumped him 6 times total since I bought him!), I have been sitting his canter. Thankfully it’s comfortable so I don’t mind so much, plus it’s given me pretty good ‘following’ hips. I do have to check myself sometimes and make sure I’m not driving, leaving C behind my leg and on the forehand.

As such, he sometimes gets a little confused when I two-point, and breaks to the trot. I really don’t think it’ll be an issue cross-country, because he is never lacking in energy out there, but I was curious as to what you fellow jumpers prefer for stadium. A (assistant trainer) has told me and many other students to ‘dressage between the jumps’ which I had always imagined (and executed) to be seated or lightly-seated canter. However, after some research the consensus seemed to be “to approach and depart the jumps in … a light three-point” (source).

But consider the video below of our eventing demigod, Michael Jung from 2010.

I watched it through several times and for much of it he seemed to be sitting as such in dressage, more upright, in a deeper seat than other riders (or what is professed to be ‘the correct way’). Also, William Fox-Pitt in 2014 seemed privy to the same seat, sitting between the jumps. In both, though, I see each rider utilizing three-point in specific situations, namely on turns and longer stretches between the jumps (left) and sitting deeper upon approach (right).

I notice, too, that the horse’s own body and neck seem to reflect the rider’s position– forward and long on the left, and upright and vertical on the right. This makes a lot of sense, all things considered.

It seems common sense to say “fit your riding to the horse” and I do think right now C prefers the security and presence a sitting canter provides (though I don’t pretend to know what goes through his noodle brain). I also think it makes it easier for me to adjust him, and having the steadiness of a swinging canter makes it less confusing to ask for other things, such as bend or better contact.

After watching more videos of Jung and Fox-Pitt, I realized that a deep or three-point seat have their places in stadium. I can see how, where more speed or agility is required, it’s important to get off the horse’s back and allow them to gather themselves in the center (this visual makes sense to me). But on the approach to  jumps and between jumps in a line, they seem to prefer seated, perhaps for adjustability and ‘feeling’ the stride.

I know that every seat has its proper place, and I definitely plan on experimenting more and not settling into the comfort I find in a deeper seat. As we know, it’s never a good thing to be complacent in our riding, and I may find the solution to some ongoing problems by riding in a two- or three-point more often, where lightness and speed are required, and also so C gets used to being responsible for his own legs without as much of my assistance.

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 6.56.44 PM

I think this to be a lighter three-point to an oxer (on a friend’s horse)

I’m curious as to what seat you all prefer during your stadium rounds, in what situations, and why. Feel free to comment with thoughts to add to my reading– I’m all ears!

— M

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Chilly Days, Rain-Brain, and Relocation

As we learned last week, C enjoys using chilly days as an excuse to indulge in some little… behaviors. Mainly, ninja kicks and miniature booty-bumps– nothing simultaneously athletic and naughty, but enough to prompt questions from me.

Because they’re such little behaviors and I don’t want to complain until he flings his ass over his head, I refer to them as “boogery” and not naughty. Sure, the behaviors are annoying, and a dressage judge might be extremely unimpressed, but it’s not the end of the horsey universe.

naughty versus boogery

Yesterday we were working in the outdoor arena, with the usual threatening clouds looming overhead. I was anticipating a little complaint on C’s part, and it came, but with more irregularity than our jump lesson a week ago. Only one medium-sized kick when I asked for canter, and a little buck at the posting trot (??? what even!). Still, I was able to have C focus enough to do some actual work.

Nicole at Zen, Baby Horse! (who seems to be becoming an unwitting regular mention in these blog posts, bless her) gave me an exercise to help C learn couple of things: 1) not to drop in his shoulders and 2) move laterally off my leg. It’s a bit like a reverse shoulder-in; counter-bend, but keep him moving forward with his haunches off the rail. This way he’s stepping over in the front and the back. C picked this up pretty quickly, and I was pleased with the results. With a little extra tap of the dressage whip, he was moving very nicely off my leg. It was hard to keep him from halting, since he was bent into the rail, and I honestly was worried about smashing his face into the top bar of the railing. But thankfully, we finally ended the exercise in the intended way, and moved on to some more trot and canter work.

shoulderin2 for blog

Source — pretend the rail is on the right side of the horse

C has been better about finding contact, but he is starting to hang heavy again the longer I ride. I try to be understanding about this, because I think he starts to seek more support the harder the exercises get (like moving laterally, which is asking him to use muscles that aren’t fully developed yet). However, I don’t want that to be the go-to reaction– we’ll be trying to remedy this with some extra training tools. T wants to try a German martingale for our dressage lesson next Friday. All of these are temporary installments, of course. A few rides, and hopefully he’ll learn what I want, and mercifully C is a very quick learner.

On a positive note, C was awesome at the canter. It didn’t feel as though he was struggling, or that fish-out-of-water vibe I got from him before the dressage show. He actually came back to me when I asked; power from behind, collect with the hands, and it felt amazing. Never mind the fact he kicked out once when I first asked. It wasn’t real collection, of course, but it felt like he was actively listening and trying, which was a huge step for us.

On a side note, but also important, I graduate this week. Ultimately, that means I’m going to be moving home and looking for a job, so C is moving too. The new facility is beautiful and I like the new trainer a lot, but I will sorely miss my current barn family, who have all been so supportive and forthcoming with ideas and solutions for every bump in the road. And who knows where I’ll wind up in the end! But for now, it’s au revoir on January 17th for C and me, and back to my hometown.

Facility is huge (and I mean huge), with an outdoor (top right) and indoor for jumping, an outdoor and massive indoor (bottom right) for dressage, and a spare smaller schooling arena (left). I suppose I’ll never have to worry about crowded arenas, since the footing is also all-weather! At the same time, I know I’ll miss the personal, pretty much familial feel to our current place.

Talk about bittersweet…

— M

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A Whole Lot of Happy

I’m going to kick this off with a little mini progress report for C.


He’s definitely put on weight, which was our number one priority, and he’s developed a little more in the neck department, too. I know it’s nothing revolutionary, but even seeing the subtle differences makes me happy, so I thought I’d share it all with you.

C sprang a shoe Tuesday being his usual playful self in pasture (“Like an elementary school kid at recess,” in T’s words), so he got Tuesday and today off– no biggie, of course, as little child can always use a mental break.

Nicole over at Zen, Baby Horse! hopped on C today for a little joyride and as soon as they got around to cantering, she said, “Oh my god.” C’s canter is super floaty and easy to sit through, and even though he’s narrow it’s like sitting on a sofa of fluff and joy and clouds. Still, it made me all warm and fuzzy to see him A) pick up canter, on the right leads, with no complaints and B) see another rider enjoying him.

I’ve let a few people hop on him since I bought him, though only the talented teens who run prelim now, and other girls who have experience with young’uns. It’s so interesting to watch him go from the ground– kinda cool, really, because he is an awesome mover and I never get to see it, only feel it.

Long story short, C is fantastic. I always remember that in the moments he’s being not-so-fantastic– that the moment won’t last and I’m a very lucky girl to have such an amazing baby. He was super cuddly tonight and I gave and received lots of pony kisses.

Let’s just say I’m going to sleep with my heart full of happy!

— M



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