cantering, dressage, horses, riding

Going to Great Lengths

In the past few weeks, my canter work with Micah has undergone a significant transformation. With a schooling show right around the corner, that’s good news.

Originally, Micah’s canter was on the forehand and felt like more of a ‘careen’ than a canter. Although I had basic steering, it certainly wasn’t power steering. I didn’t want to mow down anyone in our path — which is why Natalie kept us on the 20 meter circle for what felt like ages.

To clarify, with a better rider on his back, Micah was/is fully capable of a beautiful, balanced canter. The learning was on my end.


Micah accepts a sugar cube, in payment for a job well done. He’s not worried about that cow in the background & is also ignoring that fantastic view of the Cascades.

Unable to resist playing tricks on the rookie rider, Micah enjoyed pulling me forward, out of the saddle. At the same time, he’d ease the reins out of my hands, making sure he was in charge. I’m quite sure he kept score and gave himself a bonus point every time he outsmarted me.

While it wasn’t too tough to learn how to sit back and keep the reins at the trot, it took me months to do so at the canter … probably because my position isn’t nearly as secure in that gait. Natalie confirmed that I had that wild-eyed, breathless look many a time.

Finally, with more consistent riding and Natalie’s patient instruction, I started to improve my position—transferring what worked at the trot over to the canter. This allowed me to have more influence over the horse. I started to put more bonus points on my side of our imaginary score sheet.

Poor Micah! He’d spent so much time training me to give away the reins and fall forward. All of his hard work undone! I could see his disappointment as I caught on.

In recent weeks, Micah’s graduated from a too fast canter to one that’s too slow. Who ever thought I’d live to see the day? This is progress.

Now we’re working on increasing MIcah’s tempo and, while we’re at it, lengthening his stride. This is useful since we’re supposed to show a canter lengthening at next month’s schooling show. (Just in time learning!)

In the interest of full disclosure, in trying to increase the tempo of Micah’s canter, Natalie pointed out that I was sending Micah a mixed message. I was trying to drive with my seat. In actuality, I should be relaxing my seat and back, giving (but not too much) with my hands, and driving with my legs.

Poor Micah was doing his best to put up with me. When I improved my riding, Micah responded admirably. Funny how that works.

Now we practice canter lengthenings down the long side (preferably when there’s no one on it, since I still have a fear of mowing people down) and bringing Micah back to a working canter on the short side. I throw in a circle once in a while, just to show that it can be done.

I still have a wild-eyed look about me, but now it’s a mix of exhilaration and determination … with only a little doubt about making that turn at the end of the arena.

Who says dressage is boring?!