Afraid to Canter?
Hi and thanks for reading this! For reference, I've been riding for two or three years now, taking lessons once every other week (twice a month or so) with a great instructor. Last year, I started volunteering at a therapeutic barn and I was asked three months ago to start exercising some of their horses.
My instructor had me canter probably three times total before the ground got sloppy and frozen. I felt pretty secure on her horses (out of the two that I ride one is a total babysitter and the other is lazy and would like to slow down whether something happened or not :-)) but I don't think I got a really good feel for the canter because she only let me ask for the canter until I felt the transition and then pull my horse back.
When I starting riding at the other barn, I rode with an adult with plenty of riding experience. She said I could canter the horse I was riding (who was also a babysitter) and I tried it and it was awesome! Sure it was messy and I was probably holding my balance with the reins, but I liked it.
They ended up selling that horse that week and I began riding several other different horses, including an ex-racehorse. I don't know if the more experienced lady I was riding with didn't have a good feel for my riding ability, since it was only the second week I rode there, or what, but she told me I could canter him.
The problem was that he needed more support than I could give him. He doesn't always pick up the correct lead and balance himself due to his time racing. As a beginner, I can't even canter myself, so how was I supposed to help him pick up a balanced canter on the correct lead? I tried several times and got him to successfully canter once. I then decided on one last go and it was a messy disaster. My heels popped up, I practically dropped my reins, lost my seat and almost fell off. After about a half lap around the arena, I managed to turn him sharply and finally grabbed back enough of my reins to stop him.
Maybe it was a blow to my confidence or mental fear started kicking in, but I started sort of subconsciously thinking, "Oh gosh, what if I can't stop a horse I'm riding? What if a horse takes off with me? What if I lose control? What if I fall?"
To make matters worse, I rode a horse that I totally trust and thought no way could I ever lose control/fall off of (he's a 25+ year old horse who was a lesson horse before coming to this barn) and I thought he would be safe to canter. I thought maybe I could hold my seat better with a light/half seat canter (my instructor had been teaching it to me) so I tried that. Old Smokey reverted back to his hunter days and decided that light seat translated into 'jump anything in sight' so he veered off course and tried to take me over a low rail.
After that, I kind of lost all my nerve. I went riding there yesterday and remember thinking as I brought one of the horses in, "I guess I don't HAVE to canter today." When I got on, I said, "Well, my stirrups are kind of long and Jean probably won't want to stand long enough for me to adjust them." I was making up excuses to myself!
So what should I do? Should I just get over it and keep trying to canter until I feel comfortable? Should I find someone to lunge me so I don't have to worry about steering? Should I go back to trotting and try to become more secure at that? I feel some pressure to learn so I can give the horses a more thorough exercise, and I do want to learn how because everyone says it's so much more fun than trotting (and I am a pretty good trotter after two/three years of it :D) Any ways I can not psych myself out before I even get on?
What do you guys think? Thanks again!
3 suggestions from a non-jumper:
1 - Work your half seat. You shouldn't lose control in a half seat. Something I found hard - and I don't ride English BTW, not anymore - was to set up a triangle of cones and work on trotting the horse in various circles around the cones. I would enter the triangle, decide which cone I wanted to go around next after entering, then do it. Do it at a walk, at a trot, sitting and in a half seat. Maybe I'm out of shape, but it always wears me out fast!
2 - If something scares you, it isn't wrong to get help from your tack until you get better at it. I started using Aussie-style saddles after a back injury shortly after I began riding. I only used them part of the time, and switched back and forth with both my English and Western saddles. Over time, I ended up riding them all the time. They feel very English, but if things go wrong, they give a lot of help at staying in the saddle.
A few weeks back, we cantered on a trail - OK, Mia turned it into a gallop - and Mia decided she was NOT going to slow down. We had an argument, and I won. But my thighs hit the poleys (Mickey Mouse ears) in the front of the saddle for the first time in a year, and hit hard. That tells me she might have pulled me out of the saddle if I had been riding an English saddle.
Does that mean I'm not a good rider? Yep. Guess so. So what? I can't get better without more experience, and I don't want to buy that experience with broken bones. I'm 54, and my bones don't heal very fast anymore. :?
3 - See if you can find a horse you can ride just practicing the canter. You can't get better at anything without practice.
Good luck. My riding is pretty questionable, so feel free to totally ignore my suggestions! Mia with her Aussie saddle when she wasn't excited:
I dont uderstand why there seem to be so many irresponsible riding establishments out there. No one should be putting an inexperienced rider on a horse thats going to take advantage like that and after 3 years (?) you should be further ahead than you are so I'm inclined to question how good their instruction is
If you're needing to use the reins to balance yourself in any way then you arent ready to canter yet - thats so unfair to the horse and I'm not blaming you here because you're paying for someone to train you.
You need to get your confidence back first and be on a totally trustworthy horse.
Can you ask for some lessons on the lunge? It would help your balance if you could spend some time riding without reins. Work on your sitting trot as that will help you to deepen your seat and learn how to 'relax' into the horses movement
The 'half seat' is used for jumping mostly, its used in Polo and when you're galloping across country and is a good strengthening exercise but not something to be doing when you start out learning to canter and for many horses just that tilt forward/bottom out of the saddle is a signal to 'go' and certainly isnt going to help you stop a bolting horse
I agree with Jaydee. YOu have been pushed too fast, too soon and are being left out without the support you need. dont' blame yourself and don't start thinking negatively about yourself, or it will only grow in strength. Just say, "I am afraid to canter , for now. There'll be plenty of chances later."
Trot the horses, a lot. trot them out fast. This will be better excersize for them and will strengthen YOUR legs (which will help you when you are ready to canter again). Set this whole thing aside for a bit, and one day, you'll be trotting along and the horse will slip into a canter, and you'll just LET them canter and you'll be fine.
Also, strange as this may sound, if you haven't fallen off a horse yet, once you do it will be much easier for you to risk things. You have to fall off at least once. Usually, it's no big deal other than a few bruises. Once you learn that falling off doesn't equal death or failure, you'll be less likely to worry so much and will ride better.
Maybe it is the stiffness in my lower back, but it was a huge relief to me to find out I could canter my horse in a half-seat, even using my Circle Y western saddle. It is true that my horses seem to think my upper body is like the throttle of a plane - shove my shoulders forward for fast, throttle back for slowing. But if I start a canter in the half-seat, I can then work on settling into the saddle in synch with the horse's movement, rather than flop around in the saddle and try to catch up with the motion. However, I grant that is the perspective of a none to good rider who struggles to learn anything.
:offtopic:bsms - Is Mia maybe 'running' into canter rather than going into canter from a more collected trot so that by the time she's in canter she's already going at quite a speed?
Think like a spring between your hands and legs that you are coiling together and creating energy that you then release by as much as you need her to go forward
I saw the Waterford bit mention - yes they are strong but when a horse (and arabs are great for it) puts their head up and out horizontal the bit is no longer acting on the bars where it should be but on the corners of the mouth and really its doing not a lot other than end up between her teeth and the more you pull the more thats likely to happen
A ported leverage bit (like a low ported kimberwick) helps lower the head, depends on how far you want to go but with 2 horses that came to me with no brakes due to the same problem one became stoppable really easily in a happy mouth american gag, another in a german hackamore
Also - I'm no fan of martingales as training aids but when you get a horse that evades the bit by putting its nose skywards a running martingale is a great help if only until they learn
jaydee, thanks for the thoughts off-topic or not! Mia will canter fine in an arena, and the couple times I've tried it when we are alone on the trail, she has been behaved. It is cantering in the open, WITH another horse that gets her excited, to the point that I'm currently not cantering her in that situation until I spend some arena time working on her brakes. But then, in the arena, she stops very easily....
I think you have described what she does quite well - stretch her neck out, nose out like a race horse, ready to run the distance. After reading your post, I read up on Kimberwick bits...its sounds pretty interesting. There was an old HF thread where several folks recommended Kimberwicks as useful for when an otherwise easy to ride horse gets excited going fast with others, which describes Mia to a T.
She normally is very responsive in just a plain 2-piece snaffle and I normally ride her with a little slack in the reins. Not too much, because she likes to know I'm on the other end. She hasn't done a true bolt in ages, in the sense that bolts are fear-induced and her problem area now isn't fear. Her head is normally at a 45-60 deg angle with the ground. But if there is another horse there to 'race', she stretches out and her head is probably around 15-20 deg angle.
To connect this back on topic: This is an example of how tack can be your friend. I have a gelding I trust with my youngest daughter in a rope halter. Mia is a very different horse. She brings a lot of intensity to anything she does. She can be a lot of fun to ride because she is so aware of everything her rider is doing. But when she gets excited, it is dangerous. If I was God's gift to horses, that might not matter. But I guess I'm a slow learner. Starting at 50 and with no natural aptitude, I think it is reasonable for me to look at ways to improve my safety.
Like jaydee and tinyliny have said, it is totally acceptable to tell an instructor you need to back off until you have more confidence that you can do something safely. I've backed off with Mia. After over 4 years of riding her, there are still times where I think I'm taking too many chances. My back still regularly hurts from a fall I took, my one and only to date, a few months after I took up riding.
There is nothing wrong with telling an instructor you would like some lunge lessons to work on your seat at a canter. Riding should be fun. When it gets scary, back off a bit and try to break things down into smaller pieces. If you can't do ABC at once, work on A, then B, then C, and then ABC. That isn't cowardice. It is brains!
To bsms - Your suggestions are super helpful and I will try them as soon as the holidays are over and I have time to get back to the barn! I hadn't thought of trying a different saddle - good idea :) Your suggestion about starting in half seat and then sitting into the motion is also a great idea. I think that will totally help me get the rhythm. Also thanks for reminding me that riding IS supposed to be about fun and I don't have to be a perfect rider with no fears all at once. I needed that :)
To jaydee - My instructor puts me on really safe horses and wouldn't ask me to do something I'm not ready for. She has only had me canter a few times a few strides. And I have been riding with her for three years, but only once every other week, so I haven't gone often enough to really develop, I guess. It's at the other barn where I'm put on some less experienced guys and I feel like I should canter more. The girl I ride with has not forced me to canter, she has asked each time and even told me I shouldn't canter a QH who's pretty heavy on the fore. But I appreciate your suggestions and I will try to find someone who can lunge me :) thanks!
To tinyliny - You might be correct about me taking a step back and just trying to enjoy myself and it will come - in time. Riding seems to be a pretty mental thing in addition to the physical aspect of it. The falling off part seems to make sense - usually when something you're afraid of happens and nothing bad happens, you're just like, "Oh," and move on. :)
Thanks to all three of you for your suggestions!
faiza425 I'm really concerned that the person you are riding with is not a good instructor - even riding only fortnightly after riding for 2 years or so you should be confidently cantering, jumping and hacking out.
My school riders are jumping after 6 months of once a week lessons - I'd be furious with any of my staff if they could not teach a rider to be proficient at that stage.
Do you have the chance to ride at another school at all - to see if the tuition there is any better. If you are nervous then I can understand taking a little more time but then at 6 months I'd expect you to be cantering at least around the arena if not enjoying a canter on a hack.
No commenting on the OP, but not all riders are created equal. Someone with natural talent can accomplish far more in the same period of time than someone that struggles. You can't really assign a time line to how far and fast someone should progress. Honestly, I think the trainers that stick with those who have a hard time with simple riding basics (and those riders are absolutely out there) are saints.
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