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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The Core of My Problems

Hey guys. I’ve safely arrived across the pond and am currently traipsing around the Yorkshire dales in pouring rain. I assume C is doing well– no updates yet but I plan to harass the lovely folk riding him for them soon. With no access to pony, I’m spending some time reviewing videos and pictures from this past year.

So this is me (mid-Dec).

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Let’s talk about it.

I’m one of those people who, on the rare occasion I have video, I watch it a zillion times and freeze it at every point over the jump to see where my position is at. It’s not the best way to approach my faults, but I freely admit to being a nitpicker and this is how I cope with it in my riding. Once I’ve found a frame I don’t like, I analyse it and then go compare it to any other videos I can find– which I also freeze, screenshot, and compare.

When I first stumbled across this little gem, I think I threw up a little in my mouth. Once I did a little more research, I understood a little more why I felt so horrible about it, and also why it’s not all bad.

Good points:

  1. I gave him his head. It’s not a pretty release, but at least my hands aren’t tucked into my armpits! I’m not bopping him in the mouth, but there’s enough contact to re-organize after the jump.
  2. My heels are down. I struggle hard with this over bigger fences, so it’s good to see it’s still in place over smaller ones. This also means I probably haven’t slammed all my weight into his back.
  3. I am balanced in the stirrups. You know what they say– if you erase the horse from a photo, the rider should be in a position where they’re be balanced standing on the ground (and yes, I am crying laughing at this picture).
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#NAILEDIT

Bad points:

  1. I still bopped him in the back, right where the cantle of the saddle hit me. I think this is mainly because he jumped bigger than I expected, but is still problematic.
  2. My core has completely collapsed. This is my biggest issue with the snapshot, and I think my biggest overall. It’s why one of my primary resolutions is to improve my core strength. I need to be able to hold myself more efficiently.

Here are some shots of me and people in the same post-jump position. Intro, BN, Training, and Intermediate consecutively.

Compare the position of my midsection/abs to those of the competing riders’. My body has caved in– my torso and shoulders are straining forward for the release, and my hips have been flung back with the motion of the jump. As we can see, the set-back hips are pretty typical of a defensive eventing position. Which, overall, is good for me because I started out with a tendency to lean, which is a tendency I’m still working against. And I’m giving a decent enough release. So upper half and lower half? Decent! Workable! Better than okay on a green, athletic, huge-jumping C!

But that core? Oh, nuh-uh.

Guys, I see pilates in my future. And a lot of no stirrups work.

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C laying roses on my legs’ grave

— 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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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.

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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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Noodling it up on XC

After a very slow, stressful finals week, I was able to unwind by taking C on a jaunt to do a little cross-country.

Overall it was good fun! C absolutely loves jumping, even more when it’s not in an arena. He was thrilled to be out there, which translated to those boogery behaviors in amplified versions, especially at the beginning. He was a jigging, side-swinging, booty-bumping, side-kicking baby horse. A lot of it just felt like pent-up excitement, and the rest felt like the kind of behaviors he’s been exhibiting lately, which are just little opinionated tantrums.

Basically, T said that if he wasn’t going to do the jumps my way, he wouldn’t do them at all. So if he was impolite– kicking out when I asked for canter, jigging, trying to run off– it was endless circles in front of the jump until he decided it was more worth his while to behave.

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Putting the C in Cooperation

To get over them successfully, I really had to manhandle him; he’s used to dropping his head directly into my hands and making me hold him up. Obviously a lowered head isn’t the best idea for cross country (never mind the fact that he shouldn’t be hanging on my hands in the first place!) so I had to remind him, over and over, to please not do that.

He seemed to tire himself out with the misbehaving at the beginning and halfway through there was a lull of wonderful. Over the last three fences, though, I think he made up for getting tired by getting amped, and I headed back to micromanaging land.

But this experience made me so, so excited for when we’re able to do more of it! Because my origins lie in hunterland, I was nervous and a little intimidated to get out there again, especially knowing that he’s physically stronger now and he’s been throwing that weight around more than usual. It was reassuring to feel that his enthusiasm didn’t entirely obscure his listening skills, and that I could bring him back to me– even if it required a little more assertive riding.

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“Nooooo– okay.”

In a year or two, I can’t wait to see where we’ll be.

Also supplying some obligatory adorable photos from today, where I made C dress up holiday style and turned him out with BBS’s 4-year-old OTTB, G.

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Pony cuddles!

— M

P.S. I am officially a college graduate now! 🙂