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 ;)”

IMG_20160319_152932

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.”

IMG_20160423_163958

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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Ambition & Doubt in Baby Horsedom

I’ll preface this post by saying I have never considered C to be anything but the best purchase I’ve made in my entire life. Solid financial decision, perhaps not, but he is an incredible horse and I’m a lucky girl. I’ll never wish things went differently because he’s taken my expectations and surpassed them, and I am so excited for our future.

But.

When I was 16, I wanted to do the 4′ jumpers– minimum. Maybe not at that precise moment, but it’s what I was working towards, and I was ready to work hard for it. For a while, I got closer, and then things sort of came crashing down. I’ve always been a competitive person, and I haven’t lost the ambition to not just succeed, but exceed, in the sport I’m passionate about.

shojumping gif

this was the dream. literally soaring.

So when I told T I wanted to start looking for a horse, I mentioned looking for a 6-year-old would be ideal, and green was okay– I didn’t mind growing and learning with the horse. Well, one thing led to another, and C ended up coming into my life. I have no doubt that in a couple years, maybe three, he’ll be an extraordinarily athletic and capable horse and I’ll be able to do the things I’ve always wanted to on him, and beyond all that, we’ll have a good partnership. I hope I’ll know him inside and out by then.

Until then, in those two or three years– which seems so far away right now– it’s going to be a lot of awkward bumbling and crossrails and probably (on my part, because I’m a crybaby) lots of tears EG: Dressage Show. And it’s not necessarily because I can do those big things right now and C’s age is holding me back, because I can’t. It’s more than I can’t work towards it as I did when I was 16, because I’m on a green horse timeline now.

Yes, I want to do prelim one day, possibly even beyond that if I really whip myself into shape. Big jumps don’t scare me, and they never really have. Of course, when I’m on C I’ll stare at a massive trakehner and say “Holy sh** we would die” but honestly? If someone threw me on a schoolmaster and said go do training, having never done it before, I’d do it (never mind self preservation) because I am that stupidly ambitious and I want to be better. And all that, because that’s where I want to be, one day. I keep repeating to myself there’s no hurry– and there isn’t, for C, because I definitely don’t plan on breaking him in a mad rush through the levels. But I do worry about my ability to learn, get fit, and also that fearlessness (which I think is required for anything mid- upper level) going away. I’ve read up a lot about people losing confidence over fences the older they get– quitting jumping for dressage, then quitting dressage for trails. Not to say that there’s anything wrong (or even easier) with doing only dressage or only trails, but that just isn’t me.

For Christ’s sake, I’m in my early twenties. What am I so worried about? Anyway, these are some fears that have been nagging at me. I am ever grateful to the junior training level riders at my barn for loaning me their horses sometimes, because I’ll admit it– at 3′ I feel somewhat close to competent and over crossrails and 2′ with C, like an absolutely clueless PoS rider. Riding their horses, and sometimes school horses, makes me feel like an okay equestrian again.

I’m chalking it up to lacking confidence with C specifically. Since day 1 with C I’ve constantly questioned my ability to be an effective rider and train C correctly. The first time I talked to T seriously about buying him, I asked “Am I good enough to work with this horse?” And I still ask the same questions of myself on a near-daily basis. I have a talented greenie on my hands and I’m just shy of terrified I’ll unwittingly turn him into a monster. Enough people reassure me that everything is fine, but I can’t seem to let that sink in. I want very badly to just be okay with the work I’ve done/am doing with him. And I also know this doubt is sort of part of an ammie owning a greenie, but man, it sucks (you’re probably all thinking ‘build a bridge and get over it, gurl).

I’ve choked back a lot of these worries and now I’m unleashing them all on you poor, poor readers. Regardless, there are all my feels.  hope someone out there understands at least little pieces of this text-wall of blathering nonsense.

Do you guys worry about getting ‘stuck’ at a point in the sport? Or fret you’re not doing best by your horse and giving them a solid foundation?

c for blog

check the neck, bruh

— 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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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