canter, dressage, Second Level, shallow loop canter

Determined, yet Relaxed

This month we’ve been revisiting the shallow loop at the canter, a move introduced in Second Level Test 1.

Happy campers. Micah & I return to work after an injury-imposed break.

Happy campers. Micah & I return to work after an injury-imposed break.


Micah and I had been working on this movement back in March, before he was injured, and it was our nemesis. The loop to the right wasn’t too bad but to the left it was a nail-biting, gritty affair.
Work to the left has always been harder for Micah and I, both of us being less coordinated and strong in this direction. Looking back, I’m certain that while the move was physically more challenging for Micah in this direction, I was making things harder than they should have been by tensing up. I was trying too hard.
Micah went from thinking the move was difficult to wondering what the heck was wrong with me throughout it. Instead of imparting a confident “You can do this” attitude, my tension was giving Micah the impression that something potentially life-threatening was occurring. No wonder he was resistant.
At the time we were preparing for our first Second Level outing at a local schooling show. I wanted to do good so badly — but sometimes wanting to do good pushes us too far down the Type A trail, making us push rather than ask, demand rather than suggest.
When Micah was injured in April, it threw my plans of a show season out the window. There was a time when I wasn’t sure Micah would ever be truly sound again. Second Level didn’t seem so important any more.
In the end, this break from work was good for both of us. We spent the better part of two months at the walk and trot, rebuilding Micah’s strength and flexibility. I worked hard to help balance him through corners and maintain a moderate pace while putting as little pressure on his back as possible. On cooler days, Micah just wanted to ‘go,’ so protecting him from himself was a challenge.
I picked a fine, warm day to reintroduce the canter — taking advantage of Micah’s aversion to working hard in warm weather. He seemed quite surprised to be asked to canter again after so much time away from it.
Starting with canter work on straight lines only, in short segments, we cautiously increased the work, moving from straight lines to big circles, until the day we were finally able to canter ‘round the entire arena. What a gift — to feel my horse moving strong and balanced beneath me!
Our return to Second Level work has been so slow and systematic, Micah and I were both better prepared to readdress the once-dreaded shallow loop at the canter. Micah returned to the work stronger and more balanced than before. And the time off gave me perspective: I’d been making much too big of a deal out of this movement. If it failed, I could try again. If Micah got tense, I could switch to something else and then return to it.
Simply approaching the work with a fresh start and a more relaxed attitude brought us better success almost immediately. Now I look back in wonder.
Lesson learned: determination is a fantastic thing — but shouldn’t involve the gnashing of teeth, especially when trying to teach a horse.