Thursday, September 4, 2014

Conquering the Canter

With all my work going towards improving Guinness' connection and collection in the trot, his canter has felt  pretty neglected. The few canters we schooled last month felt disjointed and flat, not the norm for my horse.

So I resolved to spend part of August improving the canter, starting with those damned canter/walk transitions. In the past, the canter/walk transition has been pretty abrupt. Our troubles with this transition fall in one of two categories: 1. Guinness is behind my leg, falls into the walk, and often takes a strong aid to pick up the canter. This ever stronger aid often results in a bucking leap. 2. He is not through, and he blows through my half halt, taking a ton of short/quick steps. His neck will shorten, and the transition will often not happen. Instead, a we will execute a beautiful transition into a choppy, up-and-down canter.

Two months of solid work on our thoroughness and connection has set the stage to solve both of these problems. I now feel like I can reliably get my horse in front of my leg, and keep him from getting too short and stiff in the neck. Canter/walk go time.

I started off working on this by getting a forward and connected walk. The walk is often not as marching as I would like, but I’m learning to let it go. We’ll get there eventually. The important thing is that my horse is in front of my leg without stress.

Then, I test my half halts. I shorten the strides of the walk, while keeping Guinness flexible and forward. We’ll do this shortening for a few steps at a time.

The rest of the transition is up to me. I sit deep in the saddle, and make sure I didn't take my calves off when I asked for a shorter walk. Then, I lift my inside seatbone, slightly sitting to the outside. I put my inside seatbone forward, while keeping my inside leg stretched out long at the girth. (This is extremely hard for me.) If Guinness is truly on my aids, this shift in my seat is often enough to get the canter. If not, I will ask for the jump with the inside leg.

It’s important for me to remember to keep my upper body from falling behind my arms, and the movement. This takes a lot of ab strength, but more importantly, memory skills. I’ll often forget to follow the canter jump with my upper body. As a result, I’ll fall behind and the next couple of canter strides will flatten. Not good.

Must. Keep. Upper. Body. Forward.
I manufacture the walk transition in a similar way. I shorten the canter. To me this means exaggerating seatbone aids for cantering, keeping my calves on, and relaxing my lower back. To walk, I will breath out and change my seatbones to a walk rhythm. I often have to manage the contact during the first few steps of the walk, lest my horse stiffen.

As Guinness is more likely to slam on the breaks when coming to the walk, staying up and forward with my upper body is even more important during this transition.

To my delight, these transitions are coming easier and easier for us. The thoroughness really is showing up in all our work right now. I’m so excited!

I was able to score a brief video of Guinness and I schooling the counter canter depart from Second Level, as well as some other basic canter work. It’s not the most difficult movement in the world, but it’s been so challenging for us. I’m happy to see it coming together like it is.


One thing that really impresses me about this video? It was a bad day. You can tell from all the nervous hot-horse lather on Pig’s neck. He wasn't playing the relaxation game, but still pulled out some quality work for me.

Love this horse.

12 comments:

  1. All that hard work put in really pays off!

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  2. Love reading your breakthrough posts. As although I'm nowhere near having the skill to identify & control my seat bones as individuals i love how you explain things

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    1. Thanks! Makes me feel like I'm making SOME sense. :)

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  3. nice work! it's really helpful the way you break down all the little aids to work together to create each movement. my coordination is nowhere near there yet - but at least it helps me figure out what my body is actually doing when i ask for things lol

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    1. Haha, my coordination isn't really there either. But, at least I know what's going wrong, right?!

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  4. oh my - canter! problems here too... the most frustrating thing is how long it takes to get that coordinated while everything looks so easy on these girls cantering into the sunset on posters.... congratulations on your progess :)

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    1. Thanks! Coordination is the hardest thing, I think! Getting the aids right and done at the right time feels impossible on some days!

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  5. Looking REALLY good!!!! I don't get left behind because I have the tendency to lean forward to "help" him. :0)

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    1. Thanks so much!

      Leaning forward is my vice over fences. I'm so happy it rarely carries over into flat work! That said, leaning back certainly has it's disadvantages!!

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