Thursday lesson – Canter!

I had a lesson today and the focus was cantering.  Before we cantered though, we started out working in trot.  I practiced circles again today.  Then we set up a trot pole between two sets of standards on either “side” of the circle so I could practice two-point over those, while maintaining my circle.  I also did some sitting trot in the same circle (minus the trot poles).  My circles are getting better, but slowly.  My sitting trot has improved dramatically, but I know I am still a long way from being able to say I can do it well.

I am getting better at keeping my legs still though, which is a relief.  I hate when I know I am doing something I shouldn’t be, but I can’t get my body to listen to me and stop doing whatever it is doing wrong.  The longer I ride, the better body awareness I develop, so I know it will come with time.  I can at least recognize when I am doing something wrong now, but I can’t always figure out exactly what I am doing wrong, or if I can figure out what’s not right, I have trouble fixing it.

When we got to the canter work, I was doing a pretty good job of keep my legs long and my heels down.  I have to work on keeping my sternum pointed up and out though, or I end sort of hunching over.  The work we did prior to the canter work helped me get my thighs to relax.  When we started today, I was so tense in my thighs!  It showed up a few times in the canter but I could tell what was causing me to lose my position and generally was able to fix it, as long as it was my legs messing up.  When I drop my chest, i then drop one or both of my shoulders, which then causes me to round my back, I have trouble recognizing that I am even doing it, and then I have trouble straightening back out without getting out of rhythm with the horse.

I cantered in two-point again today.  It’s been ages since I did that and man, I was having trouble with it.  I kept trying to stand up out of the saddle, rather than just letting my hips bend.  When I got to standing, then I would lock everything up in my legs, which of course makes the ride unbalanced and un-fun.  I think I have an image in my head of what it’s supposed to look like when someone canters in two-point, and I don’t feel like my body is doing what I am picturing, so I try and compensate and end up doing it all wrong.  I don’t mean to go with the picture in my head, but I am pretty sure that’s what is happening.  I am realllllly short (4’11) so when I post or two-point, I am naturally not going to be able to look like I go as “high” as other people do.  I also need to just listen to what my trainer says and if she says I am correct, then I need to get that picture in my head.  Which is what I am working on doing.

I am going riding on Sunday again, no trainer, just me and Sox.  And who ever else happens to be at the barn on Sunday.  I know what I am working on.  Lots of canter: sitting canter and two-point canter.  My trainer and I were talking about homework between lessons today, and she said that she wants my summer lease to provide me with at least one thing:  confidence at the canter (I assume this also includes some improvement as well).  When we first started cantering, I was awful.  I was scared I would fall – which I eventually did – at the canter.  Falling off was probably the best thing for my canter though.  I was able to learn that falling is not the end of the world as I had pictured it.  Even though I knew, in theory, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world, my nerves always got the best of me.

After the fall, I was able to experience that everything was fine.  I relaxed so much more.  I still got a little antsy at first, and it felt like it would take forever to learn to do it right…and steering was just impossible for me.  So I cantered the long side of the arena and then would stop, then repeat.  I now try to go around the ring as many times as I can, but I believe 2.5 laps is the most I have been able to do so far.

I still get a little nervous over certain things.  There are moments when I am absolutely convinced that the horse will trip or slip or stumble and then we will both fall down and I will die.  Well, maybe not die, but definitely something bad.  If it’s not a gentle corner, I am sure it’s too sharp of a turn and something bad will happen.  Part of that is because when I was learning, my arms sucked.  They were everywhere and once I yanked on him at the right moment and I did cause Sox to trip going into a corner while cantering.  He didn’t fall, but it was a good stumble – enough that my trainer said she was worried for a second.  I know that, in theory, the horse has less of a chance of falling after a stumble than a 2-legged creature does simply because they usually still have 3 other legs to keep them up.  But that doesn’t make me less nervous.  So, currently I ride the canter around the entirety of the arena.  I have cantered twice in the smaller dressage ring and it was nerve-racking for me.

All that being said, my goals for Sunday are:

  • canter, canter, canter
  • canter in two-point without standing, but use my hips and let them open/close as needed
  • Sit the canter without hunching over
  • canter a different shape than the whole arena.  Maybe half the arena.  Make some turns.
  • Canter-trot transitions, not canter-try to trot but end up in walk-transitions.
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