Working on the Canter

Does anybody have any suggestions for schooling the canter?

I am riding a horse that doesn’t exactly like to canter. The owner thinks maybe it is because of his short back although saddle fit has been checked many times and that doesn’t appear to be a glaring factor. The vet/chiro has been out to see him fairly recently and she hasn’t expressed any concerns about his inability to school dressage. His owner says that many times in the past when she has asked him to canter he will stomp and/or buck. I haven’t experienced either of those when I ride him but he does pin his ears and the transition is not very clean.

My inclination is to just ride a ton of transitions until he doesn’t feel like it is such a huge event- I think it has been a major fight for a while so every time someone asks for the canter he wigs out. Last night I asked him for canter from the walk and though he pinned his ears, he picked up the correct leads and I didn’t get an out of control explosive depart either- it was decent. He also came back to me a little quicker than previously as well. I’ll admit that with this horse I have actually had more trouble with a downward transition from the canter than actually getting him to canter. Our trainer said that his owner has had the opposite problem so they haven’t had the opportunity to work on downward transitions from the canter much at all. That was a lengthy explanation, I know, my apologies. I’ll return to the question at hand:

Can you share any tips for schooling the canter?

  • Should I only be asking from the trot or is asking from the walk okay too?
  • Any canter relaxation tips for horse or rider?
  • Do you do any specific exercises to work on canter that you really like?


Of Geometry, Filming, and Saddle Pads

I had a successful lesson yesterday after a week-long hiatus from my solicited lessons (see previous post for explanation of the un-solicited variety). We worked on promptness to lateral cues and bending. At the trot we did the spiral in and out on a circle drill.

Just a note, THIS is a spiral:


THIS is apparently MY working definition of a spiral:

just, no.

just, no.

No, I had not been drinking.

One great thing I did though, was finally grow a pair and ask my trainer if I could film my lesson! She said “of course” so I brought my setup with me yesterday and filmed my whole lesson. I have a Kodak Playsport (nifty little waterproof USB camera capable of filming in HD) and a versatile clamp mount. I set that baby up on one of the beams along the rail in the corner and just pressed record. The memory card I have would have recorded up to and hour and a half but I just needed 45 so it worked brilliantly. The only thing I would do next time is look for a different spot to mount the camera- the angle ended up a little tilted but I didn’t mind too much, this was just a test anyway.

There are SO many benefits to filming a lesson.

  • Seeing exactly when you let the outside shoulder go and thus didn’t get the inside hind step you were asking for.
  • Hearing your trainer ask you over and over again to bend your elbows (and seeing why) (and yelling at yourself on the screen to freaking LISTEN to her!!)
  • Watching your shoulders creep up your neck during a sitting trot
  • Finally understanding what leg yield should feel/look like.
  • The chance to pay better attention to stuff you missed in the moment because you were focused on something else.

and last, but most important…

  • The ability to capture still shots of the .5 seconds you managed to do something right!
The moment before that shoulder squirted out into my floppy outside rein.

The moment that shoulder squirted out into my floppy, un-soportive outside rein.

Here we are on our circle.

Here we are on our circle looking kinda bendy at least.

Having a trot

Trot on the rail.

Here we are having a nice walk. Take a picture quick!

Here we are having a nice walk. Take a picture quick!

Elbows… llama.

Elbows… llama.

Louie is also sporting a new saddle pad! There are always plenty of all-purpose pads available at the barn but sometimes dressage pads can be scarce. My trainer’s dressage saddle is pretty big and an AP pad just doesn’t cut it.  I got a super deal on a dressage pad at equestrian collections so I snuck it into the pile. A new pair of brushing boots might sneak in the barn in the coming weeks too since ours are  starting to look a little rough.

Looking forward to riding on Tuesday and Wednesday this week!


My Cup Runneth Over

It was a very good week packed with lots of riding!

I rode this guy…



and this guy…



And this guy…



And this girl 🙂



So, needless to say I am a little sore, mostly in my back and through my hips. But surprisingly I don’t feel quite as beat up as I had imagined! It was so cold this week but riding definitely keeps you toasty warm.


Have a great weekend everyone!


Back to School

As a good student of horsemanship (trying to be) I sometimes think riding lessons ought to include a classroom element. Now, if that truly were the case in most lesson programs I would grow to loathe that portion of my studies and probably be doodling horses in my notebook and failing to pay enough attention. Hey! just like REAL school!

Maybe it is because I am more of a visual learner or maybe it is because it is just really hard to understand vague concepts but sometimes those aha! moments hit me when the concept is illustrated and explained more thoroughly. During a riding lesson there is rarely enough time to give a full explanation of the “concepts”. Instructors tend to favor guiding you into (hopefully) correct positions/actions to start you building some muscle memory. Obviously this is also super valuable but sometimes I need a little more than “see how Horse did what you asked there? good job!” as explanation/validation of those actions.

Here’s an example:

Bending. I work on it quite often in my lessons and it is a huge part of what every rider must focus on at some point during every ride. I know that my past instructors have vocally guided me into better positioning that, in turn, allows the horse to bend. But I never really understood the mechanics behind it. Until I read this blog post by Bonnie Walker on Dressage Different. The way she explains what the rider’s body must look like and why, tugged on a spiderweb-covered chain and FINALLY lit up that light bulb for me. Because honestly, if no one breaks this one down for you… it’s a little counterintuitive. It would not be my natural inclination to allow my hips to be separate from my shoulders during a turn and allow my hips to point away from the direction of travel. Humans are vertically oriented so my shoulders stack on top of my hips preventing me from having to “account” for a back-end when turning but, as Bonnie explained, any four-legged critter (even a crawling human) does! It was hugely illuminating to me to think of myself in the position of the “four-legger” while riding and mirror hips for hips and shoulders for shoulders with the horse.

Okay go ahead and sneak in a big old eye-roll and, for all you 90s kids, a great big DUH!!

Maybe Equinovice has been living under a rock but I’m telling you I didn’t understand this concept until mere moments ago and I have been taking riding lessons for over 6 years now with 6 different instructors and multiple disciplines. Now you might be thinking well, your instructors were not very good then. This is simply untrue. I have actually been quite lucky in that respect and have had the privilege of learning under some fabulous instructors. I am just acknowledging that there are some instances where “in the saddle” experience alone may fall short of truly teaching. My call to action is really to the STUDENTS here: Actively seek fuller explanations of riding concepts. If something is unclear in the saddle, remember to ask your instructor about it later and do your own research.



Here are a few stills from a video I took of a recent ride. We have improved a lot in the past three months! I know I am getting more sensitive while I am riding which allows me to more effectively respond and make changes to my own position. I can tell I am beginning to take a more active role in riding and noticing a little more everytime how the subtle changes I make can affect my horse. This is what I desperately wanted to understand just a year and a half ago and simply couldn’t make the connection. Teaching muscle memory takes time and I am building those connections everytime I ride. I am continually grateful for the opportunity to work with Kate and the patient instruction we receive.

She is pretty cute.

She is one special drafty! swl