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Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Rebels Without a Canter

Mystic is exactly the horse I would have created for myself.  She willingly moves forward but is generally a more “whoa-than-go” type.  I have no idea why I’ve been riding forward/hot-ish horses for my entire life.  I actually prefer to travel at a leisurely pace.  So I’m pretty much in heaven to not be barreling around an arena...half-halting for my life.  




I even find myself liking that she’s a smaller horse (15.3hh).  Something about her size is less intimidating to me.  When she has thrown the odd buck in (usually when her noodley rider is off balance or doing something wrong) it doesn’t really rattle me.  Usually I just laugh, apologize and carry on with whatever we were doing before I mucked it up.




But...

Our canter work is pretty mediocre.  If she comes out of the field with a lot of energy and I haven’t ridden Apollo/worked out before riding her...it’s decent.  If she has been running like a maniac in the field all day and I’ve worked out and/or ridden Apollo beforehand...it’s fugly. 

I can pretty much get her into a canter, on the correct lead.  Sometimes there is a ugly transition but it’s a real canter after that.  But maintaining the canter... very challenging.  Particularly for me, as I don’t recall any time in my life when I’ve had to provide encouragement to maintain the canter.   Usually I’m more like “half-halt, eaaaassy, halt-halt, STOP YOU FLAILING FOOL, half-halt”. 


Ahem....
 

I find that I end up riding really strongly through my seat and not using as much leg as I should.  And when my leg is on it ends up being more of a constant squeeze than a bump (which is probably easy to tune out).  I think I also revert a bit to my bad habit of not being elastic enough through my shoulders and elbows. 

It's even more of a struggle if there’s other riders in the arena.  I’ve gotten really used to riding in arena by myself at my other barn...so avoiding other riders is actually a huge challenge for me.  So I have to focus on my elastic arms, correct amount of leg aid, and not running into anyone... that’s a lot for me. 

I’ve been reading a few articles on the Meredith Manor website to help me.  I really like that the articles are short and concise, and I find the different contributors explain things in a way that very easy for me to understand.  Some books/other online resources are super wordy and my brain cannot brain that.
 





Thanks for taking a crap and then standing in it, cheeky mare.

 



I’d really like to wow Mystic’s coach when she comes back from her trip next month.  She has recommended improving both our fitness and for me to improve my leg strength with a few specific exercises at the gym for canter improvement.   This is my 10-point plan of attack for our canter:



1.       Do the canter earlier in the ride.  I leave it to the end a lot and I think we’d both have more energy to do it correctly if I didn’t leave it for the end.  We’re also usually done after our canter work is finished and she gets pretty lazy if I try to do anything after the canter work, I want to break that habit also.

2.       Carry a crop.  I have never worn spurs but I have used a crop on Mystic before.  I think if I apply my canter cue/leg aid and she’s sluggish it would be a good source of encouragement!

3.       Canter every ride.  As I mentioned in #1 I usually leave the canter until the end of our ride.  If I’m pressed for time or it’s getting close to the barn’s closing time I sometimes leave out the canter work.  Not practicing it every ride does not help!

4.       Breathe. I stop breathing sometimes at the canter because I’m focusing on trying to get my body parts to do the right thing (which makes my body tense and possibly even more useless).

5.       Canter on the lunge when possible.  I think this will help Mystic find her canter groove.

6.       Kate does squats, lunges, and thigh abductor/adductor exercises at the gym to improve leg strength.  Also core strengthening exercises (ie planks) are a good thing for an independent seat.

7.       Pick a specific canter departure spot and a specific end spot each ride.  Increase slightly each ride. I think if I have a better game plan about when and how long we will canter for it will give us a chance to practice precise transitions and gage our improvement (ie two twenty meter circles, increased to three the next week).  Right now I feel like I just pick a random spot and canter whenever we can for as long as we can...not really ideal.

8.       Lots of hacking to improve fitness!  The weather is super nice here right now and I think hacking is a great way for a baby pony to get fitter and see weird things.

9.       Try to get video.  I’m hoping my husband will help me with this soon.  Although I am already cringing at the thought of watching that video haha.  Video is such a helpful tool in figuring out what’s not working.

10.   Practice half-seat and two-point in trot.  I try to ride the canter in a half-seat, as Mystic’s trainer did. But I have never ridden in a half-seat in whole life so it’s pretty hideous (and I’m not very useful in that position).


Waiting for me at the gate <3 
 


I've already been seeing improvements with my current plan!  I welcome any suggestions to make our canter better :)

25 comments:

  1. I tend to over ride with my seat in the canter too :( lol but glad to hear you two are getting along! Shes adorable.

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    1. It's a struggle! I agree, her little blazeface melts my heart :)

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  2. More leg strength is key for this (ask me how I know....) It takes a long time to develop, so just hang in there. If you can, you might throw in some quick leg exercises like riding without stirrups, two-point or the "up up down" at the trot.

    P.S. Mystic is too cute <3

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    1. Great suggestions, I will try adding in some no-stirrup work...hadn't thought of that. :) Thanks!

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  3. You pretty much described all the reasons I love Boca as well. He sounds like a similar type to Mystic. I am also partial to big white blazes :)

    I have nothing to add. I think all the ideas you mentioned are great - hacking out, cantering earlier in the ride, cantering while lungeing, increasing by measured increments under saddle. Sounds like you have created a well thought out plan for your girl!

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    1. Blazefaces are the best! Our canter is slowly improving...slowly :)

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  4. I am useless when it comes to cantering horses with no natural forward Go. Good luck! I'm excited to read about how you guys progress!

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    1. Me too apparently! It's coming along, at a turtle pace :)

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  5. Ugh the struggle! Looks like you have a really good action plan--I particularly found lunging helpful for my horse's side of things, to ask for and practice the transition into canter without a rider in the way. Also, my biggest enemy was tightening my arms without even realizing it, so a lot of "visualize soft, giving hands, elbows, shoulders" and actively thinking this in the transition and while cantering. She looks super cute! So jealous of her tail! :)

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    1. She has a glorious tall! My sad thin pony tail is a bit jealous. I definitely need to work on my tight arms...I think that's a big part of our problem.

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  6. ugh yea i'm terrible at really helping them keep GOING in the canter lol, which explains why i love a more forward horse! sounds like you've got a great plan tho - and it seems like the kind of thing that only improves with fitness!

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    1. It's so hard! Hopefully it will get easier as we work at it :)

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  7. I used to have lots of problems getting into and maintaining the canter with my boy. Like you said, it just seemed like he lacked his 'canter groove'. We still have issues with balance and rhythm in the canter, but I feel like I can give you a couple of good pieces of non-technical advice that helped me a lot. 1) some horses just need A LOT of canter under their belts. Doesn't have to be pretty at first, just ask for the canter, give them their head and go around for a few minutes - preferably mostly on the straight. (I realize this sounds technically lacking in any finesse, but taking the pressure of perfection off helped me get passed the first step and I think the increased canter work helps them develop some balance and strength for it). 2) like you said, it seems helpful to pick a point in the arena and think to yourself "that's where we'll depart into the canter", I also find it helpful to count to myself "1, 2, 3, canter". On the 1, 2, 3 I'm prepping him and on the canter I actually truly ask.

    Good luck! :)

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    1. Wise words!! Thank you! :) I think I need to canter on the straight more often, I don't think the circling is helping haha.

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  8. I just realized Mystic and Bridget are long lost twins, although the hind stocking is on opposite legs. Seriously tho, they sound very much the same personality wise. The canter is/was my daily struggle with Ms Bridget. Your plan of attack sounds great and is very similar to mine. My only other suggestion would be to find something that motivates her - poles on the ground, a buddy cantering in front on the trail. It's so much easier to work on the canter when 75% of your energy isn't dedicated to just keeping the canter!

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    1. I can't wait until they can meet in person (in horse?) hahah. Canter is not an easy thing for us for sure. I think a dangling carrot in front of her nose would probably help the most haha

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  9. I just realized Mystic and Bridget are long lost twins, although the hind stocking is on opposite legs. Seriously tho, they sound very much the same personality wise. The canter is/was my daily struggle with Ms Bridget. Your plan of attack sounds great and is very similar to mine. My only other suggestion would be to find something that motivates her - poles on the ground, a buddy cantering in front on the trail. It's so much easier to work on the canter when 75% of your energy isn't dedicated to just keeping the canter!

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  10. A good canter won't appear over night. She's only been broke for weeks, so she's still learning and getting fit too! You're definitely on the right track though. You want to try and stay relaxed, so you're not fighting against her movement and inadvertently asking her to stop forward movement. For example, getting tense so your hand bumps on the bit. Carrying a stick or even a dressage whip might be helpful too. A little tap along with your leg to act as a reinforcement. Sometimes the dressage whip is preferable so you can keep both hands on the reins while you use it. But you also need to be careful that you don't pull back while using it, as that would send a mixed message and be confusing.
    Also, you may want to try canter on a larger circle or using the whole arena. Young horses are still finding their balance, so cantering a 20 meter circle is a lot harder than cantering around the arena. She doesn't sound like the type to run off with you, so I don't think you'd have to worry about that!
    Romey and I are learning the canter too. Currently, I have to kind of run him into it. Sometimes that results in him running and bucking. He has no half halt to speak of, so it's mostly just a huge mess. We too, shall keep practicing!

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    1. I think my tight tense body is holding us back in a big way! Apollo sometimes leaps does a mini-crowhop when he's fresh at the canter so I brace more than I realize. Using the whole arena is a good idea! We'll keep at it :)

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  11. Mystic is so cute in that first pic <3 I like forward rather than lesiurely because the opposite would make endurance riding a full-body workout every time haha Cantering is a toughie but I think you have a good solid plan outlined, can't wait to see more updates on her <3

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    1. Aww thanks! I can't imagine us doing an endurance competition....my legs would fall off hahah. We're working on it! :)

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  12. For my young horses learning to canter I ask for it going uphill when they are likely to want to break over anyway, trotting over a log or pole on the ground also seems to make them naturally learn to break over...I don't have a ring though and don't have the added element of avoiding other riders. Mystic looks so sweet!

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    1. Good idea! I will have to find a hill! Poles aren't quite doing it hahah. Thank you, she's a very good girl :)

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  13. Sounds like a good plan and I feel your canter pain!

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