Mental block on cantering - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 36 Old 01-05-2012, 12:45 PM Thread Starter
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Mental block on cantering

Hi there! I'm looking for some suggestions on how to relax when trying to canter. I seem to have some kind of mental block on it (I'm 32 and just started riding in September, so I probably have more nerves over this than a younger person!) and inevitably seem to "mess it up." I tense my entire body and as a result end up bringing my heels way up and feet back, which pitches me forward somewhat, and the horse I ride will go down to a trot if he feels I'm off balance (which I am). My hands also tend to fly up a bit sometimes, so he thinks I want him to stop or slow.

I've been trying really hard for a couple months to not do this but I can't seem to get it. I feel a bit overwhelmed by it all. I've read Centered Riding, and I try to remember to breathe, smile, and relax, but it isn't happening.

Do you have any suggestions at all? I'm getting really frustrated and I'm sure the horse is, too (which is why we don't try too many times in one lesson). My instructor says I need to relax, and she's right, but how?!
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post #2 of 36 Old 01-05-2012, 01:28 PM
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maybe you're just not ready yet? how comfortable are you with walk and trot? how comfortable are you with this horse? with other horses? with people watching?

it could be any number of things honestly including lack of muscle and balance on your part just in general.

good luck and welcome to the forum! :)
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crimsonsky is offline  
post #3 of 36 Old 01-05-2012, 01:48 PM
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Originally Posted by sparrowrider View Post
Do you have any suggestions at all? I'm getting really frustrated and I'm sure the horse is, too (which is why we don't try too many times in one lesson). My instructor says I need to relax, and she's right, but how?!
I just started riding in August and I'm 24. I just started cantering last week.. And it's tough to learn properly, how to sit and relax. I have the bumpiest horse in the barn to learn on too.. But! While I do work out all week, one way to relax is just let the horse go, sit heavy in your bum and look straight ahead. (I tend to look down at her ears lol) And for the past month I've been "heels down" mentality..just let those thoughts go and's not easy at first, but I agree with the previous post, it could be a number of things but my suggestion is to sit heavy, feel the motion of the back to front the horse does in the canter, and relax your elbows. Hope this helps!! :)
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post #4 of 36 Old 01-05-2012, 01:57 PM
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I don't think you can force relax. AND, I think most adult learners have trouble learning to canter. So, don't hit yourself too much for that. I am much more comfortable with it for now, but I do remember there being a time when I would have to really screw up my courage before asking for that scary canter. And I'd almost always loose my right stirrup from gripping up (right leg being the stronger, dominant one)

For me, doing some canters out on the trails helps, doing them up hills , since it just seems easier to stay on. And doing them for short distances where there is an obvious stopping place, like the top of the hill or a bend in the trail. Lots of easy canters on the trails helped a LOT.

In the arena, you need to have a horse that has a good canter. YOu need to have some canters that are really long so that you can go THROUGH the scary phase, recenter and reposition yourself, check in with your body and get a few strides where you feel what a correct canter seat feels like.

For me, one thing that helps is for me to abandon any mental responsibility for makeing the canter "ok". I mean, I would worry too much about the horse circling too tight, or leaning or stepping in a puddle or whatever. I would just worry that he couldlnt' carry me, let along canter on. He can . He's been cantering since the day he was born. Let him handle it. Trust him on that one.
It's not your job to do the canter. It's your job to LET it happen and try to be as easy to carry as possible.

I know that sounds vague, but really it helps to think in your mind, "he's fine about cantering, he can do this without any help at all".
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post #5 of 36 Old 01-05-2012, 02:05 PM
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How about getting your instructor to lunge you?

Put an oh crap strap on the front D rings and tie the reins in a knot so they can't flop down and get stepped on by the horse. Then grab hold of the strap and start trotting.

Let your instructor then take it from there. He will steer the horse in a circle with the lunge and let you know when the canter is coming. Then you don't need to cue it with your legs. Instructor will apply the proper motivation with the whip. Just hang on to the strap, let your legs hang loose, sit back just a little bit in the saddle and relax your abs, back, and hips to go with the motion of the horse.

Once you develop a better seat and balance that way, then your canter cues will be more precise.
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post #6 of 36 Old 01-05-2012, 02:10 PM
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I'm in the same position. 34 and just started riding end of October. The first time I purposely asked for a canter I was way too tense. Just did a few strides and brought him back. I felt pretty out of control. My instructor showed me an emergency stop first. The second time I was trying to canter on the lunge I fell off. Again I tense from anticipation. I'm quite comfortable trotting but I definitely want to work more on sitting trot. Small serpentines also make me feel better re: balance. At this point, it's my own anticipation that's really stressing me out.
Since my horse occasionally canters without my intentionally cueing him, my plan is to just let him canter the next time he does it. That way there's no nerves from the anticipation. Haven't had another lesson yet since my fall but hopefully that will help.
There was a thread a little while ago with good advice. One thing that stuck with me was to relax you lower body and think of your lower body separate from your upper. To just let your hips go with the motion of the horse. I know tension is making it bumpier and scarier for me, so this is my plan to try for next time.

The other thing I like to think about is how the first time I trotted on the lunge I felt totally out of control and thought I was going to fall off. But I didn't and it didn't take long at all to feel really comfortable at the trot. So I'm hoping it will be the same for the canter and soon I'll wonder what the heck I was nervous about.
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post #7 of 36 Old 01-05-2012, 03:34 PM
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Girls.. I am with you. The canter is quite big and scary, until you find that balance just like the trot ;)

My horse is green at the canter and he tends to JUMP into it, so it's huge and deep and crazy..

What helps is to breathe like you're doing yoga. Innnn deep, out deep. Think about your hands hovering like gentle butterflies above your horse's wither.. or if you're really having them fly up.. think you are holding a tray of your favourite goodies out in front of you.. you can throw it up in the air or the goodies will go flying and you'll make a mess! Try to keep that tray steady and low.. but don't look down at it!! Keeping your eyes up is the biggest thing.

How are you with your sitting trot? To me, the canter feels like a slower stretchier deeper sitting trot. You still have to drive with your hips, but more and slower and smoother than at the sitting trot. Your legs still need to communicate to the horse but you have to let alll of that weight drop into that seat and ooze down the inside of your legs to our feet, where it recycles back into the earth.

Also don't think about cantering.. if you think about it too much, your muscle memory will start getting tense. Try to think about picking up speed. Ride that sitting trot a little faster and work on relaxing and staying with your horse. When he feels smooth, then you can tell yourself, "why don't we move up into a little stretchy soft canter" and give the cue still working on relaxing and breathing.

The most common thing I personally do, is pull back and ask at the same time... which confuses my horse and makes him go into a crazy trot because he's trying to canter.. and my hands are saying DON'T YOU DARE DO THAT! So keep those hands nice and relaxed, those elbows soft and slightly open, giving to the hands, which are giving to the horse.

Remember to not look down, drive with that seat, and push all the weight down into your legs. Try to keep your hands as soft as possible, but still holding contact with the horse (not pulling though!)

I am learning canter on the lunge line because my horse is so green and I can't learn to canter and fix him at the same time.. maybe that would help you out! :)

Good luck!
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post #8 of 36 Old 01-05-2012, 05:33 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the replies so far! I know in my head that others have difficulty, too, but sometimes I feel like I'm the only slow one. I'm fairly comfortable with Hook, although I'm still new to horses so I'm not, say, as comfortable as with my cats, whom I know a lot better. I HATE people watching me. I have an anxiety disorder and I do think that affects me even when I'm not consciously aware of it. I'm not sure how to get over that but I do feel a bit more able to "ignore" everyone each time I go.

Right now we're stuck in the arena. Since the corners make me REALLY nervous, I think being outside with a longer straight stretch would help. I'm not worried about him not stopping; he's got good brakes and right now the problem is stopping too much. What you said about being able to get into it and have time to feel the canter, tinyliny, is what I'd like to do. I think the arena makes me a bit claustrophobic, particularly now in winter when there are sometimes six horses and riders in a not so big space.

I don't think lungeing is an option; I'll ask. I've frequently thought it sounded like a good idea but my instructor has never brought it up, and I know she has some back issues so we may not be able to do that. Also, lots of bending in circles, eep!

My balance overall needs work and I am trying to make progress there. My posting trot is getting better although my hands are not adequately quiet, which I think is partly down to leg strength. (That is, I think I might be throwing myself forward a bit from my shoulders instead of from the thighs.) I love the treat tray image, skyseternalangel... I'm going to give that a try even just for posting trot.

We are working on the sitting trot. Hook's trot is exceedingly bouncy and a bit hard to sit. Before the holiday break I was doing OK with it, and did some more last night decently. I'm hoping that if I get that down well, it will improve my balance and my ability to relax in my hips and back and help with the canter.

Thanks again for the encouraging words and thoughts. Oh, and I need eyeball glue or something, because I do tend to look down. Getting better at it, though!
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post #9 of 36 Old 01-05-2012, 06:05 PM
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I started riding at 50, and only started cantering at 53 - last October. Now I love doing it, but I had a HUGE mental block. In my defense, I had an injury after 6 months of riding that will probably leave me with a sore hip forever.

I'm not trying to pee in anyone's Wheaties, but you might try cantering with a western or Australian saddle. I recommend one with a horn. Grabbing the horn while cantering is counter-productive to a good canter, but it IS nice knowing the option is there.

I also was trotting with very long stirrups, and found the setting that works best for me trotting makes it hard for me to keep my stirrups at a canter on my Appy.

The nice thing about an Australian saddle with a horn (if you can borrow one) is that the saddle retains an English feel, but the poleys and horn give one the feeling that he can do anything and stay on. I know I cantered and galloped during my few rides when I was 20, and had no fear. But at 50, and with an injury, I've found fear makes me tense, tension throws me off-balance, and a vicious circle kills my progress.

This week was my first time cantering in my Bates close contact. It felt about 90% the same as cantering in my Aussie-style saddle...but I would have had a VERY hard time learning if I started it in my Bates!

OTOH, my daughter-in-law (25) had her first ride in an English saddle today - the Bates. After a couple of minutes, she asked our little mustang for a canter and then laughed her way thru a few laps! You see, I'd LOVE to be a young punk - say, 32! - and learning to ride.

Oh - and if borrowing an Australian saddle isn't an option, a western one isn't bad to learn cantering on. I used both western and English today, and the western is maybe 70% similar - enough to practice on, get the basic motion, and then go back to English. I personally find switching tack and riding styles to be like cross-training in a sport.

I probably shouldn't post this picture, but this is Trooper & I about half a lap into my first attempt at cantering, and his first attempt at cantering in a year (and maybe third in 4 years). It looks more like I was flying in formation with him - loose formation - but maybe you can see why I didn't feel good about trying it in my Bates . In my defense, 3 months later we both love cantering - so much so that I have to work to convince him not to canter any time I sneeze :

Riders ask "How?" Horsemen ask "Why?"
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post #10 of 36 Old 01-05-2012, 06:16 PM
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Originally Posted by sparrowrider View Post
Thanks for all the replies so far!
Oh yeah you're welcome! As for having people-watching-anxiety.. I had the same thing. Finally I realized what I was feeling and I had a serious talk with myself.. why was I worried about these people watching me? And then it all came out and I dealt with each thing.. and now I'm fine. Even if I'm trying something new (cantering) I don't mind people watching now.

Yeah I have issues looking down too, but you gotta keep that chin up and your eyes up.. else your body is all out of whack balance wise and position wise :/

Sitting trot will definitely help you with the canter! Personally I'm a freak and love sitting trot more.. cantering feels really.. funny. Like I'm doing some sort of exotic bar dance but my horse has HUGE deep strides from the get go.

There's lots of threads (lately especially) on sitting trot and there are some good tips in there as well as what NOT to do. But the better your sitting trot, the better you can work with the canter :)
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