Sunday, August 21, 2011

As Good As It Gets Today

 "A man's got to know his limitations."
— Clint Eastwood as "Dirty Harry" Callahan in "Magnum Force" (1973)

A woman, too.

I don't canter yet. Oh, I've taken a few strides here and there. Quaker was the first. We were playing, doing a fast trot in the pasture at Iron Ridge with Nita and Keeley. Quaker picked up speed for a few wonderful seconds until I barely hinted that he bring it back down, which he did immediately. I've also taken a few steps on Poco, and probably on Jaz, too.

Why I haven't kicked it up into 3rd gear is no secret: fear. I'm not talking about a deep, dark fear. Not at all. I am certain that I will do it at some point, but I haven't felt comfortable enough yet. The few times I thought I felt comfortable enough and actually asked Jaz or Heather's mare Ash for the canter, model lesson horses that they are, both refused. I trust them both.

For the longest time, whenever I trotted, I felt completely out of control. And I was. I could stay on, and we didn't crash into stuff mostly because the horses know you're supposed to turn when you get to the corner of the arena, and to avoid other riders. But if it came down to actually steering, navigating among obstacles, I felt like I was at the mercy of the horse. Now, if we're talking about Jaz, that's not a terrible thing, again, because he's a caretaker; he wouldn't take anyone into harm's way. However, when you pick up speed on a horse like, say, Poco, you can't count on him to look out for you or anyone else. In the right frame of mind, he'd plow into another horse or even into a fence in a New York minute.

I've been able to afford a couple lessons in the last few months. When Heather asked what I wanted to accomplish, I said I wanted to work on communicating with my horse with my legs and seat while learning to keep my hands quiet. In order for Jaz to pick up speed when I ask, I must feel completely comfortable and confident, or he won't do it. In order for that to happen, I need to be able to communicate with him without having to think about it — including what direction I want us to go — so I can concentrate on other important things, like maintaining proper balance and learning the new gait.

We're not there yet, but we're getting closer.


Morning Bray Farm said...

Dang, I can totally relate to this post! I definitely can't canter yet, and my riding instructor wants me doing that next.

I still feel completely out of control at a trot... and, like you, I can stay on, but I'm just out of control. It's a lack of confidence for me.

The reason my riding instructor wants me to be okay with a canter is in case Ellsworth bolts, which he's done a couple of times now - long story, but he's working through some issues with bicycles... wouldn't you know it.

It's amazing how much there is to learn and remember when riding, isn't it? I think I'll never stop learning... and, it's nice to know I'm not alone.

Leah Fry said...

No, Justine, you are definitely not alone. Onward and upward!

cdncowgirl said...

I have a very good friend who is dealing with the same thing right now. And like you its all about confidence.
I have no doubt that once you get some canter experience you'll love it. It truly gives you a feeling of freedom :)

AareneX said...

Canter has been my bugaboo for THREE horses now--Story didn't much, because they punished on the pacing track. Toad lost his brain when his body exceeded 7.5 mph, and when HIS brain fell out, MY body hit the trees. Fee had the same standardbred-mental-block about cantering that Story had, but I've made it worse by my complete lack of skill.

We've been working on it for years, but only recently have I been able to say at the beginning of a lesson, "I *really* want to work on cantering today." I've also been (recently) pushing her to canter up some long, steep hills, figuring that the hill can do the work of slowing her down on my behalf.

You can do it, Leah! Take your time. Years, if you want. We'll be right here to cheer for you.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Thanks for sharing what you're going through. I know exactly what you mean and am so envious of those folks who are able to purposefully steer their horse wherever they wish, as well as stay balanced and in control.
On my previous horse I felt like a sack of potatoes on her back whenever she moved faster than a walk. She had a huge, bouncy, jack-hammer like trot. We never made it past that to see what her canter was like. lol!

Apache is much easier to ride a trot and canter and a whole lot of fun. Her trot is small, with her back hardly moving, and her canter feels like I'm sitting on a rocking horse. I could ride that all day. I love it!
But as far as steering....not so good at that yet.
Thankfully, like those kind, smart, wise lesson horses you've been riding, Apache seems to know when I'm losing my balance or I'm not entirely ready to go any faster and she will slow down and even stop. I'm very grateful for that and hope to be able to become a better rider with her patience.

Thanks again for sharing a rarely talked about subject.


Leah Fry said...

What it comes down to is that I don't want to pick up speed just to careen around the arena. I know it will feel that way to a certain extent, when I first start. It feels like skiing. I wanted to be sure I could control it and STEER on the easy stuff before pushing myself on more challenging hills where my biggest concern was remaining vertical.

Jeni said...

... and I still haven't cantered the big girl either. To add insult to the whole darn thing - I'm all tight and stressed cantering Bonnie now - Post Bronco Bucking... what the heck ?!?!

We'll get there in our time.

Captain Bailey said...

This is one of my weakest areas as a rider. My first horse had a hard time cantering--not only physically (she had a really high wither, for one thing) but because she knew I wasn't ready. I always felt like my brain was being tossed around (although trot was like this too at first) but I never got enough practice at the canter to get past that "brain salad" stage.

One of the best pieces of advice I got at first was to remember to "relax your toes." That seemed to help me soften my entire body up.

Unknown said...

Lo siento.

Granted, one of my horses has no steering at the canter. While I can canter on Lily, it's taken a year and I'm not ready to take it outside the arena.

But I really want to. A nice rocking horse canter beats the pants off a trot for run to ride.

Here's to getting there. Slowly, steady.

Crystal said...

This is an interesting post cause I never even thought to fear the canter, but now that I think about it I was afraid, but I did it anyways and luckily my horse and intructer knew it would be okay and it was. We only did a few steps at a time, no saying you have to go very far the first time.

Now I actually enjoy the canter more than the trot (except on Razz cause she has no relax at canter, but we are getting there) it is sooo much smoother.

Beatrix said...

Congratulations on not rushing yourself and hurting the horse because you didn't get the basics down. Something I've seen a lot of is people don't pay attention to how they're doing at the jog/trot and go to the "fun" lope/canter, and as a result wind up jerking on the horse's mouth. Learning to get quiet hands is a GREAT thing for you to focus on.

Oh, and a hint for steering, LOOK where you're going. Plenty of people think they're looking where they're going, but they're actually looking at the ground, or their horse's head, or the rail, whatever. If you focus on where you're going, your body naturally falls into position to aim you there, and the horse feels that. It's like a pre-cue to picking up the rein and steering them in the direction that you want to go.

Having said all that, I think you'll find the canter/lope a LOT easier to sit than the trot. Once you relax into the movement it's a TON smoother.

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