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mavis 10-20-2011 11:23 PM

Issues with cantering from a novice rider

I am a novice rider with confidence issues. And I am also feeling rather confused.

At one ranch and while on trails on Sierra Nevada, I was told I was brilliant for someone who said she had confidence issues. I could canter (though of course my horse was following another horse) but i could control the speed with my reinwork and legaids, and even get the horse to keep going with my leg aids. I could also canter on my own (without a lunge) and not be fearful on a schoolhorse in the arena.

However, at this school where I had been thrown off four times, i can't even canter without a lunge (or rather its because the instructor won't let me).. because I don't seem to be in control of the horse. And even on lunge, I can't canter beyond a few strides.

Yes, I am really afraid of a horse's unpredictability. But i have seen people being able to canter slowly on horses, and keep it going. I want to be able to do it. And I also want to make my discouraging instructor eat his words cos if I am able to do it elsewhere (when I am not fearful), i don't believe I am that crap. And if i can stay on the horse while at other ranches, I don't believe its always my fault when i fall off.

I need some advice.
1) I am afraid to use leg aid during cantering to keep a horse going, in case he goes off into a gallop or spiral out of control. I was told I have to keep nudging with my inside leg and kicking with my outside leg. While I understand this will keep the horse in canter, i am afraid the horse will also read it as a cue to speed up. I don't want to gallop in an arena yet. Cos i am not confident of being able to control the horse.
How do i urge a horse to keep cantering without losing control of the speed?

2) Horses don't seem to pick up my cues to canter. i try to relax with the reins, nudge my inside leg against the inside of girth of the horse and sweep my outside leg outwards and behind the girth of the horse and kick. Which I have been told looks correct. But sometimes the horse just speeds up and not canter. ARGH. Am i doing something wrongly? I see some people cantering without such evident legwork.

3) How do I get into a forward trot for the horse to move into a canter? Instructors sometimes confuse me. At two schools, i was told. "faster faster" while doing the rising trot .. then "sit for a few beats" and "now canter". When i was at sierra nevada, my instructor who was a former grandprix dressage champ told me, to SLOW DOWN SLOWN DOWN my trot before asking for a canter. And i have now clarified with my current instructor, that they mean Forward trot. So what's a forward trot without speed?

4) How do i balance steering a horse i.e. reinwork without stopping the horse?


AlexS 10-21-2011 01:03 AM

Are you a car driver? Obviously it's not the same as riding a horse, but I wanted to use that to try to make a point. If you are backing a car out of a parking spot at a grocery store, you would not use as much gas as you might starting a car from a red light, or trying to pass someone on a freeway. In a parking lot you would be more gentle and slower with the gas pedal.

It's similar with horses, if you are trying to encourage a horse to stay in canter, you would not kick hard enough to get a gallop - you would nudge, squeeze and progress into harder aids if the horse is not listening to you. But these harder aids would still not be enough to get a gallop as long as you do not go to an extreme with them.

That being said, I don't think that you should try to canter at the moment, nor at your current place of riding. If you are not able to maintain it for more than a few strides on the lunge line you are psyching yourself out and stressing about it too much. Try riding somewhere else, not every trainer and rider connects, nor does every horse and rider.

Forward without going faster means impulsion from the horse without the speed, so energy (more pep) is what you would feel. What actually happens is that the horse engages it's hind end more as they are asked to move forward without the speed increase, but that's not really something that you need to worry about too much right now.

I believe that you should sit before asking for canter as that gives the horse a heads up that you are about to ask for something.

If you have cantering a few times, you know the answer to question 4 already, your confidence is just shot and you are questioning everything. You steer to the left by using the left rein alone, you stop by using both reins. So you can steer without stopping, no?

I think that you would be a lot better going back to basics, and doing things that you are comfortable with first. Get super confident doing anything in trot before trying to canter again. It might also help you to work without stirrups in trot before moving to trying to canter as the only real thing that changes is a greater need for balance when you move from trot to canter for a newer rider.

The thing about riding horses and them being unpredictable is both what makes it scarey and the reason why we do it. Bicycles are far cheaper and easier to maintain and they do exactly what we ask of them without having a mind of their own, but that's not what we are seeking when we chose to ride a horse.

Go do a lot of trot work and get your confidence back a little bit first, then try again! Hope this helps.

tinyliny 10-21-2011 01:49 AM

Alex'x analogy to driving made me remember that my old instructor used to make me think of cantering as changing gears. She would have me rev the horse up a bit, but not let it go forward, as a person would do in driving a stickshift, reve the engine and then pop the clutch. But in any case, this analgoy might be meaningless to you.

So, as far as keeping the horse cantering once it has started:
Yes, you may need to put some leg on. Think of it more as "confirming" that canter is correct. As you go along, if you feel the horse is about ready to drop out of the canter (and it takes awhile to learn to feel this) you put your leg on and kind of squeeze a bit, just enough to say "yes, that's right, canter on".

The horse may break out of the cante because it senses that yoiu are not well balanced or that you are locking up your body. A stiff body is basically a sign for a horse to come to a stop, so it will help you to keep him going forward if you can learn to be relaxed and move with his body.

You see, this is a lot to learn, isn't it? It really takes time. It is easier, perhaps, to canter on a horse out in a field, following another horse. And I would certainly encourage you to have more such experiences. But you will find that riding in the arena, where you are learning to not only sit the canter, but eventually to effect it, is much harder.

Your frustration is quite normal, and I would just try to accept that it will take time to learn to canter. In the Spanish riding school of Dressage (where you have the famous Lippizan Stallions) the riders must ride for TWO YEARS! on a lungeline. How about that!
Personally, I think you should be glad to do lungeline lessons while you have them.

AlexS 10-21-2011 03:12 AM


Originally Posted by tinyliny (Post 1207435)

Personally, I think you should be glad to do lungeline lessons while you have them.

My instructor *possibly* takes her PMS out on me. From time to time she puts me on a lunge with no stirrups, my arms out to the side and my eyes closed. And my dumb rear pays her for that! :lol: The riding part is fine, it's the amount of trust in another human being that is killer for me.

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