Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Back to beginner level: Afraid to canter

Riley and I are moving into a new phase of our partnership. We have a problem with the canter, and Jerry Seinfeld explains it best...

    You see, I know how to GET the canter, I just can't HOLD the canter. My heart's just not in the canter. There are 3 issues...
    • Limited turnout. When Ri canters these days, he's a hair too strong in the bridle. Our ring has some slick spots, and while my head says forward, my heart says WHHOOOOAAAA. 
    • Strange shift in the "energy" of the indoor. A powerful magnetic force is sucking Riley's outside shoulder to the exit door. It's not so bad going right, but going left if I'm not super-vigilant, we end up fighting about what direction we going and we run into the wall. 
    • Trainer's diminishing influence. As I ride more, my trainer is riding less (two Stacey lessons, one trainer ride a week). Riley senses a power vacuum.
    So the canter is a scary place to be for a forty-something amateur. That said, I need to suck it up and get full mastery of the canter. Trot canter-trot-transitions are in my game plan for every ride. I'll get it straightened out.


    1. I found after having my son I had the same problem, and expecially since every horse I had avaliable to throw a leg over was GREEN! On certain horses I have no problem cantering, but on others, eek! I also need to work through the same problem! Good luck!

    2. I'm so glad I'm not the only one. I'm breaking out my filly and while I've ridden over 20 years now, for some reason, I can't seem to maintain a canter (lope since we're western) with her. I feel like I'm just going to slide right off. I know we just need to commit to it, and we'll be fine (she is wonderfully responsive at the trot), but knowing and doing are two different things.

    3. You're doing better than me--I can't figure out how to get Cole to canter in the arena. My fault--he was too explosive to teach him on the lounge, and I wanted to get riding. He has no clue...

      And maybe I am a little reluctant to make a big deal about it. I've seen his explosiveness on the lounge...

      We did manage to canter on the trail last fall, so I think we will work it out there when the weather gets better.

    4. While I'm sorry you are having "Canter Fear," I am glad to know I am not the only one! I psyched myself out at the canter, and had to go all the way back to getting the canter to HAPPEN. Poor Clinton (my horse), would be in such a state, worrying about why I was worried and scared (and half crying...because I was mad at myself for being afraid, as well as being afraid). Now I am almost at the end of the tunnel...recently, I stopped only doing 20 meter circles, and went around the entire arena...a HUGE step!!

      I suffer from the head/heart issue. I literally have to tell myself to stop over analyzing the canter, and force myself to relax. In fact, my instructor has been encouraging me to hum while cantering...that way, I can't think about being scared (concentrating on the song), and it forced me to breathe. After doing that for a while in my lessons, I was finally able to canter all the way around the ring, without stressing out.

      Obviously this only works with some horses, but for a few lessons recently, I've had a cheering section (my instructor, and some friendly boarders), egging me on the whole way around the ring, chanting, "go! you can do it!". (It was kind of funny...and sweet) Even Clinton got into it...cantering with such pep! The positive encouragement really helped me: the cheering got into my head, made me smile, and feel I could canter. Perhaps Riley/You could benefit from positive sideline encouragement, in some form?

      Regardless, I know you and Riley will work through your "reservations"!

    5. Love the Sienfeld reference. That is my psyche on certain parts of riding also!

      Magnetic gates/doors, such a pain. This may not be an option for you? A number of us agreed to ride with all the gates open during schooling together. If anyone wanted the gates closed, fine. After awhile, the gates lost their magnetic powers, except for the persistent power to stop and chat. :)

      Canter fear on a young strong horse seems logical to me. Yeah, you'll get there. Good for you, not ignoring your concerns!

    6. Good luck! I struggled with a canter fear before you knew me, coming off of a bad fall.

      It sounds like you have a good sense of what are the factors, though, and so it'll just be a matter of time before the arena's less slick and the exit's less attractive for Riley!

    7. I had a similar issue when I came back to riding after 20+ years and got my big Hanoverian, who has a HUGE canter. I stressed and stressed about it, and finally my trainer said, you know, you're not riding it as badly as you THINK you are, but you need to ride it so he stays fit. Just do it.

      I realized one day shortly after that, when he spooked at the canter (did a really high speed pirouette) that he spooks so elegantly I didn't even shift position the least bit. After that I got much braver about it. But if I get nervous I will go into two point and just ride it like that, which I can do pretty easily.

      It's still a big gait for me but at this point I trust him.

      One thing that always helps me is to do it on the lunge line some each week - I get some muscle memory going and it's easier after that.

      I think a lot of us have been at this point! Stick with it.

    8. My main problem with canter is ME running out of gas. :-) I am not fit enough for more than 1 1/2 times around the ring. But I know what you mean; if I was on a youngster with a lot of get-up-and-go, I would definitely be nervous. I bet Ri senses that and it probably eggs him on, unfortunately. Practice makes perfect... you two will get there, especially when he's able to spend more time in turnout.

    9. Now that's my big secret! I have yet to canter my beautiful gentle Percheron who is so strong that if she decides her head is going to the right, and you don't give to it, your entire body follows her head, right out of the saddle!

      She also is a bit strong in the bridle, and I've intentionally let her run into a wall when she didn't listen to my body aides. Praying she didn't bust through the wall.

      I'm interested in how this all works out for you.

    10. You'll get it. You've been riding long enough to figure it out.

      But I do understand the fear. Tucker has had some issues with his hocks and will often kick out and threaten to buck into the canter transition. That intimidates me and it's really hard to insist when he's fussing.

      Age has a way of making you wary. I understand completely and sympathize. I have every confidence in your ability. Just give yourself some time.

    11. Hmmm, there seems to be a pattern here. I am also glad I'm not the only one. When I was younger, I knew no fear. Now...I am so (too) cautious?!
      I can't get Doc into a canter in a small arena. In a larger arena, I'm worried about getting him to stop.
      I have only tried cantering Pippin 3 times. My trainer gave me a tough time because I became so tense I was hunched up. Argghhh!
      I keep trying to remind myself that I used to do this all the time and things rarely went wrong. It's still falling on deaf ears (another fact of aging?!)

    12. After reading your post and all the comments here I'm relieved to see others have the same issues with cantering. First time I rode Rose at the canter she spooked and I went through a fence headlong into a stone table. Now, even after riding numerous horses at the canter to remind myself that I CAN do it I find myself having nervous as hell. Wishing you luck!

    13. Another evidence of Ri maturing, starting to test you. He's learning to read his rider, which is a weakness and a strength. He has to listen to his rider, then he feels he can get a little power trip going. I think the idea to put you on the longe is a good one, but really, there is not rush. Do it when you feel safer with the weather and ground conditions. There is no rush.

    14. ooo I have the strange magnetic force in my outdoor, and the cater issues you are describing. I can't wait to see how you fix them!!

    15. A friend sent me a text last night asking if I had seen the post yet, when she told me the content I knew that I would have to read it. I am so glad that I am not the only one with canter fears, my horse bucks like a mad man into the canter and then randomly while in it. Darn horse is big and his bucks are HUGE. I was in tears and shaking the last time I tried to get him to canter, couldn't even do it. I know that I have to but am so scared that I don't know what to do to overcome the fears. Thanks for a great blog, love reading it.

    16. Thank you for a good chuckle this morning and he's right you just have to master "holding" the canter.

    17. I to am a 40 something amateur dressage rider, training my now 4 yr old Warmblood x TB mare - got her as a yearling. I do have an awesome trainer that works with us every 2 weeks. Canter is coming slowly for us - I get the transition, but holding her in canter is tough for me! She is fast, doesn't steer well, and I don't trust her not to run right into other horses in the arena. I am also commited to work hard on this - mainly my issue, I know. Love your blog and will look forward to your progress in this gait!

    18. Oh geez. My horse was walk/trot/gallop when I got him. I spent a lot of time in half-seat with my hands gently pressing into either side of his neck. He was never one to bulge out on the circle, but he did explode into the canter transition. We have come a long way since then.

      Remember, you cannot experience courage unless you also feel fear, for the truly courageous do what they must in spite of being afraid, but always with a healthy dose of self-preservation. I think that the fearless simply lack imagination. ;)

    19. So I'm not alone!!! Samantha and others -- a lot of you describe issues that are tougher than what I'm dealing with -- I give you lots of credit.

      Riley doesn't live up to my badass canter stories every ride.

      Tuesday I took a lesson after the horses have been inside (no turnout) for two days. I lunged him for 20 minutes and got on, telling my trainer about our out of control canters and warning other riders in the ring. After half hour of trotting, I canter to the left, and it is slllooooowwww and laabboorreed. Not fast, but not balanced either. Oh well. It was safe.

      As a former instructor said, they're not machines, and every ride is a new situation.

    20. Oh man! Phantom had a "Mixmaster" canter from the beginning. Even my trainer had trouble getting him to pick up a canter and hold it.

      Over time I've learned to do a lot of lateral work to soften him up before we embark on our canter work. I think he's trying to crossfire -- which puts both of us in the wrong position to sustain the canter.

      I'm riding in a dressage saddle, but Phantom's canter makes me want to assume a soft two-point like I did in my hunter days.



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