getting more comfortable with cantering?
So, I have spent the majority of the 9, almost 10 years I've been riding being absolutely terrified of cantering. I've been really working on it and now I can canter Lacey basically anywhere that it's safe to canter and feel pretty ok about it.
But, I still kinda freeze up once I get to the actual gait. I can't really steer hardly at all, I'm sure I hunch my back/lean forward, and I *gasp* start holding the saddle horn. :shock: I basically just stop riding and become a passenger instead of a rider. I'm slightly better out on the trail but in the arena, I'm stuck.
I know that my balance at the canter totally effects Lacey's balance at the canter and so it's imperative that I work on whatever's going on with me since Lacey also has balance issues at the canter too that I need to work through, but I can't when I'm not being effective and probably causing half of her balance problem myself.
Basically, are there any exercises that I can do in the saddle, or out of it, that will help me get more comfortable? I'm perfectly comfortable trotting and walking and I know I have pretty good balance while riding in general, but cantering? Not so much.
I'm sure part of it is that I stiffen up like a board, subconsciously. So any tips to keep me loose would be greatly appreciated as well.
It would be very helpful to see a video of your riding when the horse is in the lope. If you don't have a video, can you explain what it feels like when you are loping? does it feel like your seat is flopping all over the place? If you lope for several laps, do your inner thighs ache or where do you feel the pressure? My friend that I show with is fairly new to the horse world and she is working to overcome her fears at the lope (she also grabs the horn). I can tell you that it takes lots and lots of riding at the lope to overcome the fear. Practice loping in patterns as well as straight lines. This will help you gain confidence that you do have control of the horse and can guide them through and around objects. Try closing your eyes for a few strides to just feel the motion. Make sure you are breathing. It might also help if you almost use your hands to mimick the horse's front legs in the lope. This will help you feel the rhythm of the gait and also might help you relax.
Something that really helped me was just remembering to breathe. Lots of people tend to hold breath if they're scared. Concentrate on your breathing.
It's hard for me to comment properly, as thankfully I haven't ever had any major confidence issues, however I do know many people who have. Personally, my way is to just suck it up and get out there and canter mile upon mile - But obviously that isn't the approach for everyone, so i'll try and branch out :)
Is Lacey fairly happy to keep going where she is pointed at a canter without much interference from you? Would she mind if you are fiddling around a bit in the saddle? If not, then maybe give this a try. Pick up a canter, give her as much rein as you are comfortable with, and then move your body! Roll your shoulders in little circles. Look with your upper body left and right. Roll your ankles in circles. Sit up super straight, then cme forward, and then come back. Rise up into two point for a few strides, then back down to a full seat. Basically, it is very hard to be tense when you are focussing on moving your body. Let the stress roll out of you through moving, and when you feel more settled, sit back, still, and enjpy the canter. If you start to tense up again, do it again. If you are feeling insecure and don't want to let go of the horn, then do movements one side at a time - one shoulder, pinwheel one arm, roll one ankle, and then swap.
If that doesn't work, or doesn't sound like something you want to try, then my next suggeston is to SING!!! Pick a song that goes roughly with her canter stride and one you know enough of to sing a verse or two instead of only one line. Sing loud, sing proud :) Singing is an awesome way to relax your stomach and lower back, it takes your mind of being nervous, and if it is the right song, ti will help you stick with her rythym and may even help her regulate her own rythym. If you google 'songs that go with canter' then you should find some songs that suit the rythym. Don't worry about looking/sounding like a ninny, either! Sam and I tend to start to sing when we get over-tired on trails, we have been known to canter holding hands singing twinkle twinkle little star :)
Here are two videos of me cantering. The first was taken in late July/August and we were horrible. Lacey looks super stiff and her feet were wretchedly long so she was super uncomfortable. But it's the only video I have of me cantering where you can actually see me for an extended amount of time. If you watch closely at the last half of it where I'm kinda coming towards the camera, you can see how stiff my arms are and how locked up I am...
This one is from about a month or two ago. It's longer and at a horrible angle for really telling anything but we both look a wee bit more relaxed. I realize that she's on the wrong lead in the very beginning and that would be because I hadn't discovered at that point that her cue to canter is the inside leg, I was taught to cue for the canter with the outside leg, so I was basically telling her to "counter-canter." hahaha
This video was just to show that we have improved, marginally. Haha
Wild-spot: That's a good idea about moving myself around! I will give that a try in about 4 weeks when I take her to camp and have an actual arena sized arena to work in! Right now, maybe this is another part of my problem, I feel like we're super cramped in that arena and that the "long" side is only a few strides long. She also needs me majorly supporting her through the corners, she either falls out or trips all over if I don't attempt to guide her in a perfect egg shape. Needless to say, with my current passenger-esque quality, I can't do that egg shape so we generally just canter along that one side, then go down to trot.
I'll give singing/humming a try. I also suppose that if I'm forgetting to breath (which is probably also likely) singing would also help that. :D
Also, you're lucky that you don't have any confidence issues! I wish I was like that! Just don't get bucked off 30% of the time when you canter and finally end up being bucked off into a hook on the wall (back when I was first learning to ride)! :lol:
I've been thinking about trying a figure eight kinda shape, trotting in the middle and cantering a half circle on either end to maybe force me to steer. I did that once back when I was still taking lessons and somehow it worked out. I just need to get up my confidence to try it.
I have heard of so many people that are nervous in the canter, and it makes me so glad that I learned on a school horse with a canter that felt like a giant bird that you were flying on-even though I did fall off the first time >.< at no fault of the horse's-I didn't do the saddle up tight enough and slid right off. ANYhoo, would it be possible for you to get someone to lunge her while you canter? That way you can focus on everything else without having to worry about steering.
I was more thinking of cantering along a trail, where you can keep it up for longer and just let Lacey kind of power along - But if the arena is where you are more confident for the moment, then definately stick to there. I hate riding in dressage size/shape arena, it is impossible to get a good canter up and keep it. You need to find someone with a reining size arena (I use camodraft arenas, but similar, I think) where you can just pop them into a canter, and keep it going around the outside without needing to pick them up for corners, etc. Great for fitness and teaching them to self-rate.
Suppling up your abdominal muscles, lower back, and hip flexors will work wonders for your body. It's difficult to balance and work a horse when your muscles are tight and/or weak. There's a bunch of exercises you can do for these muscle groups all over the internet, so I don't need to link them here. Once you start to strengthen these muscles, particularly the hip flexors, you will be able to feel them when you ride and use them to fluently absorb and move with the horse. I don't know if this would work in a western saddle, but you can always do 2 point (stand up out of the saddle) if you aren't quite feeling right so she has the freedom to move forward without an unbalanced seat blocking her.
Your videos remind me so much of my friend, although you look more relaxed than she did at that stage of riding. Anyway, you need to really work at keeping your horse cantering for multiple trips around the arena. My guess is that your legs are stiffening up and you are no longer pushing her through the corners so she breaks to a trot. You will get more and more comfortable at the canter if you can sit it and feel the motion for more that 10 strides. Each time you ride, try to make your horse canter for a longer period than the time before. She looks like she need a little more bit contact and more leg push for impulsion and that will also help her balance.
I'm usually completely alone at the barn. So most of the time there's nobody around that could lunge her for me while I ride. :(
Yeah! That's the kind of arena I need! The camp arena is pretty big, I'm not really sure that it's a recognized size or anything, but the long side is about three times as long as the long side at "home" and the short side is about double. It's one of those perfect arenas where I can just hop on and keep her going without worrying about how she's gonna take the corners. I'm excited. :D
I do try to 2-point when we're out on the trail and we canter, but I've tried that in the arena and I just can't seem to keep my legs around her barrel to guide her through the corners and such. However, I have, for some reason, discovered in the last week that I can use my legs for aids AND post the trot at the same time (big break through for me, haha) so maybe I should try 2-pointing again, it might work out better than I'm anticipating.
I will give it a try though. I have kinda let myself not go over to that side since that hill still worries me, even though it's dry now. I need to trust her to know where her feet are. I'll also give having more contact a try. I really need to remind myself that I can use leg while I'm cantering and it really does work. For some reason, out on the trail I have zero issues with using my legs and cantering, but in the arena, it's one of those things I really struggle with.
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