Canter & Candor

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


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!

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 11.20.10 AM.png

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



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


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.


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…



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.


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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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


Equine Linguistics

Thanksgiving week came and went, so I hadn’t ridden C in five days, and I’d just scheduled a jump lesson.

What sort of madwoman thought that was a good idea?

Thankfully, T did three training rides this week, so it wasn’t as though he’d be crazy, right? It wasn’t like he’d go nuts, because he’d been worked a few times. Besides, he’s a pretty quiet guy! He’d never, ever–

Hello, chilly day, and hello, acrobatics, the likes of which I have never seen (or felt) out of C before. Perhaps not to the same degree as Nicole’s horse Murray (or even, really, on the same spectrum), but in a definitively un-C-like manner.

At the trot, he’d flip his head and break to a canter, over and over. On the bright side, he’d get the correct lead. On the less bright side, he was cantering through my posting, and kept tossing his head and pinning his ears. Once I finally got him to a trot and made him wait for me to ask, and then asked, he ninja-kicked to the outside. To his credit, he still got the correct lead, thereby prompting a simultaneously jubilant and irritated sort-of-strangled pterodactyl cry from me.

Jumping was wonderful. He was responsive to my half-halts and seat, took the fences without stopping or peeking, and we only demolished one jump on the whole course! Besides that, we were in matching pink. Evidence below.

I sort of assumed he was just a little sore from the training rides. I’ll excuse the behavior, I thought, because he must be sore behind. I got off after walking him out, untacked him, and checked his back. No response. And his butt? Not so much as a twitch. So why, dear little C, were you complaining so much today?

I think the answer is equine linguistics.

What was C trying to communicate when he pinned his ears and started bobbing in a weird up-and-down half-canter trottamajig? It wasn’t back pain– the saddle fits and he wasn’t sore. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it was a product of my own doing. Lately to fix the canter leads, we canter and if he’s got the wrong lead, we trot and then canter again straight away (rinse and repeat if we miss it again). Was he simply making the connection that trot served only as a transition from walk to canter? If that’s the case, making him trot on my terms was the solution. So why was he kicking out when I finally said, “Okay, let’s canter.”?

I think, honestly, it was a combination of the weather and a baby horse tantrum.

Still, this situation made me think back to other situations where C had misinterpreted my cues. I feel as though the saying “When you get on a green horse, you are either training or untraining them” really applies here. A while ago I was wondering why C was interpreting my left leg as pressure to give to (as he’s meant to) and why he was interpreting the right leg as a ‘go’ button. And I realized that I did something that taught him that, because he sure as hell didn’t learn it on his own. I imagine that, being right-leg dominant, when I asked for transitions I simply squeezed a little tighter with my right leg, thus telling him (unintentionally) that right leg means upward transition, or ‘go’.

nyeh tongue cori

This translates to: I want my grain

weird face cori

and this translates to: I REALLY want my grain

I wonder how many other gaps I have unintentionally caused. For his leads, have I reinforced cantering on the wrong lead by leaning a certain way, or taking too long to remedy it? Did I teach him to jump strung-out and flat by asking for a long spot in our last lesson? Have I unwittingly installed bad, or just unusual, habits into my green horse?

I feel the longer I ponder this, the more I’ll fret. So for now, I’ll try to identify what I can fix about myself and my position to more clearly tell C what I want from him, and be patient when he doesn’t respond the way I want.

I need to remember that while I’m trying to learn his language (loosely: ears, body, and reactions), he’s also trying to learn mine (seat, leg, hands, and reactions). As far as equine linguistics go, I’ll try to interpret them as they come.

cori wants grain

And this translates to: cutest jerk ever.

— 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