Category

canter

canter, dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, riding lessons, training

Chocolate-Covered Canter Squares

As delicious as they sound, chocolate-covered canter squares

As delicious as they sound, chocolate-covered canter squares


My new favorite exercise is the canter square. It’s not actually covered in chocolate but the name has a delicious ring to it.
Canter squares are hard work for both horse and rider. I love them because they are really making me ride the canter. No more wishful thinking! No leaning forward out of the saddle! No giving away the outside rein!
If done correctly, canter squares make the horse really use his hind end, so it’s a great strengthening exercise. Micah’s canter is improving by leaps and bounds. Plus, canter squares are so hard, it makes the counter canter seem less intimidating (to me). I think it’s good to always have at least one really hard exercise in your repertoire, so you can keep redefining your definition of difficult.
If you’ve never ridden a canter square, first master the exercise at the walk and then the trot. If you have an instructor to help you, even better. Instead of riding a circle, thinking of riding a square. Move your horse’s shoulders over to make a right-angle turn at each corner. This takes lots of outside rein and a bit of outside leg up toward the shoulder. Sit back to encourage your horse to use his haunches and lighten his front end. Be sure to give (but not throw away) the reins after the turn to reward your horse (and avoid hanging on his mouth).
Once you get the basic idea down, you can start to finesse it. I ask Micah to slow down for a stride just before the turn. This really makes him use his haunches.
Canter squares are hard work for your horse (like weight-lifting), so don’t overdo it. And, be sure to tell him he’s a good boy!
Good boy!

Good boy!

Related posts
DIY Dressage
March 14, 2018
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
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.

Related posts
DIY Dressage
March 14, 2018
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
canter, counter canter, dressage, transitions

The Canter/Walk Epiphany

I find myself having dark moments in dressage. Days where I feel I’m going backwards, struggling with things I thought I was making improvement with. It’s hard not to feel incompetent in these times, so thank goodness for my trainer … she provides moments of hope.
I’ve noticed that my moments of floundering are often followed by a big leap forward. My horse is saying, “No, I couldn’t possibly,” when actually he can. A little extra resolve on my part, coupled with excellent advice from my trainer, Natalie Perry, usually pushes us through a bit of an impasse. It’s the proverbial darkest hour before the dawn.
After a week off (see Achilles Tendon Surgery, husband, not a great week) plus bodywork, Micah’s tried to take over a bit at the canter. There’s nothing like a big horse feeling full of himself, when you’re a bit down in the dumps.
Micah’s also not wild about counter canter and was taking advantage of my lack of expertise on the topic. We were sliding in and out of in-control and out of control.
The solution? The canter/walk transition. I love this exercise and highly recommend it.
We’d been working on the walk/canter transition for the serpentine movement in Second Level, Test 1 … where things were going rather nicely. On my drive home the other day, I had an epiphany — a lightning bolt moment. The canter/walk transition isn’t just a pretty movement in a test, it’s a critical training tool! My brain replayed numerous images of Natalie and Mari throwing in the canter/walk transition anywhere in the arena, as a schooling device. I realized I should be able to get that transition anywhere, at any time!
canterserpentine
This may sound obvious to really experienced riders, but to me this was a breakthrough.
In our most recent lesson, Natalie helped me with this, using an exercise I encourage you to try yourself. Pick up the canter, ride a nice circle, and then start riding across the diagonal. Throw in a canter/walk several times before reaching the next side of the arena. (If your horse is like Micah and sees a straight line as an opportunity to go for it, you’ll love this.)
The first few times, Micah was surprised and a bit offended. Be sure to prepare your horse for the transitions with half-halts, using your seat and core. Once he gets the idea, you can lighten up. This wonderful exercise vastly improved Micah’s left-lead canter, which has always been our weakest.
You can also practice this exercise on a circle, asking for a canter/walk transition anywhere you like. When that’s working well, try a half-halt. If your horse doesn’t respond, got back to canter/walk. When he rewards you with a prompt response, give him a pat — and yourself, too!
Give it a go and let me know what you think!

Related posts
The Ugly Transition
May 2, 2016
canter, dressage, equestrian, flying changes magazine, horse shows

Better Than Monday Night Football

With my first schooling show of the season less than a month away, it’s time to not panic. Sure, we just (today) managed a canter lengthening but it is, after all, just a schooling show – and we’re only supposed to do a few lengthened strides.

Each week I read through the tests and ask my trainer to help me with something I’m struggling with. There’s plenty to choose from.

I’ve also taken to watching youtube videos of real people riding the tests. It’s way more fun than Monday night football (or football any night, really). In addition to helping me to learn the tests, the videos help me keep a sense of perspective. These riders are mere mortals, just like me!

I see uneven contact in the bridle and want to tell Rider A to use her outside rein. She could also prepare her horse a little more for the transitions. He seems surprised.

Rider B is annoying her horse through the leg yield. I’m not sure what she’s doing wrong but he’s clearly pissed. I laugh out loud at his expression.

Rider C’s horse looks like a pistol but hangs in there through the entire test, even though the show grounds are directly under an airport – the sound of planes taking off is deafening. I’m proud of these two for keeping their focus.

Three cheers to this pair for  maintaining their focus, despite the show grounds being just under the flight path of the local airport.

Three cheers to this pair for maintaining their focus, despite the show grounds being just under the flight path of the local airport.

Unlike the videos of professionals riding perfect tests, I’m reassured by the humble efforts of these riders. They help me maintain my sense of perspective, when my stomach rolls at the thought of showing for the first time in six years.

In my finer moments, I’m looking forward to hanging out with the rest of the barn rats and giving it a good effort. Regardless, it’ll be more fun than football!

Related posts
DIY Dressage
March 14, 2018
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
bucking, canter, dressage, equestrian, humor, raku, riding

Thanks, Chief

A raku pot sits on my dining room table, a reminder of the little quarter horse I owned for a year. My mother made the pot and had it raku-fired with some hair from Chief’s mane and tail. It’s lovely.

Unfortunately, by the time I got the pot at Christmas, I’d given up on Chief (more on that soon) and sold him. Fortunately, selling Chief was one of the best things I could have done – despite the fact that I dearly loved him.

What does a raku pot have to do with Chief? The dark lines in the pot are made by tossing horse hair into the kiln, when firing.

What does a raku pot have to do with Chief? The dark lines in the pot are made by tossing horse hair into the kiln, when firing.

Chief had been trained Western but I thought he’d make a good dressage horse. He had nice enough movement and was willing in the initial (key word) stages of our work. He liked change, going new places, and mixing it up in the work. He was a confident, excellent trail horse except …. Continue reading…

Related posts
canter, dressage, horses, humor, riding, transitions

Whose Legs Are These, Anyway?

I’ve known my legs my entire life, and you’d think we would’ve worked things out by now. When walking or cycling, my legs behave as expected. I don’t even have to think about what they should do, they simply go through the motions for me. It’s fantastic!

On the horse, however, things are different. My heels slide up, toes point down, and the entire leg slides forward. No, legs, no!

IMG_0427

Continue reading…

Related posts
DIY Dressage
March 14, 2018
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017