What We're Working On: Canter

I have a secret (so don't tell anyone!)......the secret is a goal. The goal is for Clay and me to be able to do the First Level tests this summer at our shows without making complete fools of ourselves. Can it be done? I don't know, but the goal is in my head, helping to motivate me and keep me riding even in this nasty weather!

"I mustache you a questions...WHY are we working when it's so stinkin' cold??" -Clay

"I mustache you a questions...WHY are we working when it's so stinkin' cold??" -Clay

Last year we only went to one show, because Clay was so new to me. We did two Training Level tests and–considering I could barely steer him two months prior when I first bought him– receiving scores in the 60's on both those tests made me really happy. We have come far since last summer (I can almost always steer him now ;)), and I would love nothing more than to go out there and trump our TL scores from last year and to try our hand at First Level.

But June is fast approaching, and we still have a lot of work to do. First Level has a lot more canter than TL does, and canter is our messiest, weakest gait. In February we rode with both our favorite trainers, Kate Phillips and Gina Maki Hensel, and worked primarily on the canter with them. Clay, being the smartypants he is, progressed a lot in those lessons. It gave me hope that my secret goal is obtainable, but I am also realistic and I understand the importance of not pushing beyond the level your horse is developed to.

Even with our recent progress, canter is hard. It still doesn't feel natural or effortless at this point. Not at all. Clay is powerful and has big movement for a small horse. His canter is pretty unbalanced much of the time, he's not honest in the outside rein half of the time, and he is unsure of where his feet are. A really strong rider could help him organize himself better than I, but I'm having a hard time sitting deep and holding my own position at the same time as fixing our bend, managing our rhythm with perfectly-timed half-halts, and keeping him from breaking into the trot. For the first time in ages, I attached a bucking strap to the pommel of my saddle so that I can lock my pinkies through it when I sit the trot and canter. This prevents me from using the reins for balance and helps me maintain my position until I build the muscles I need and learn to trust my seat.

You have to start somewhere, and nothing is more rewarding than looking back and realizing how much you and your horse have progressed. I know there's a super canter in my pony...one that feels like butter and makes me look like a good rider because it's easy to sit. I'm putting in the hours, working on my position, strengthening and stretching myself between rides so my hips can open more, and pushing myself to be better. I hope that every time I ride Clay he can feel that I expect just as much from myself as I'm asking from him. Together we're becoming a team and moving forward towards that goal.