Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The Canter-less Wonder
When people tell me that horse back riding isn't hard, I'm not sure if I should laugh or slap them. I mean we are working with an animal with it's own brain, feelings, moods, EVERYTHING! If you've schooled beautiful for weeks before a show and the day of the show your horse bucks, well, he just felt like it that day ugh *head shake* I know I've been there! So when a mare I have in training just does NOT want to canter. Then what on earth am I up against?
So this horse is impeccable in the round pen and when lunging. Will walk, trot, canter both ways beautiful on voice commands alone. However, under saddle, it is a whole different story. Now she rides the horse in a treeless saddle and stays on top of getting her regular adjustments, so pain issues? Not even a chance.
OK so the owner has had just about everybody try and get on her horse to make her canter. They've used spurs, crops, kissing, clucking, kicking, voice commands, everything. The only thing that mare will do is trot just about as fast as humanely possible! She trots so fast she could compete in races! LOL! OR she'll buck.
So enter me. I observe, I get on, I kick, squeeze and kiss. Nothing. *sigh* OK, so we take her out on a trail ride with other horses and have them canter ahead of her so she'll canter to keep up. Nope just power trots. OK new plan!!!! Let's take her to a hill. She'll have to canter up a hill. We pick a pretty decent incline and the first time she merely trots up it. The second time we go we get 3 canter steps! Wahoooooo! A small victory, but a victory never the less.
So we're jazzed and ready to try this in the arena! No canter, no nothing. OK, OK now what. So I begin to wonder, MAYBE this mare isn't even broke to canter, maybe she doesn't understand what we're asking. Maybe her previous owners didn't let her canter, or taught her in a distressful or painful way.
Well if ANY horse won't go forward then there is obviously a lack of communication some where. So we MUST for the sake of horse and rider, slow down and go to the beginning as if starting a green horse. So I begin to have the owner do some basic exercises with her horse. We start to work on when the she tightens her leg around her horse, I want to see a forward reaction. So we have begun to work on extension and collection at the walk and trot. As well as impulsion and circle exercises. I even have her ride her horse bareback so she can really FEEL her horses movements beneath her. Or I have her ride in a saddle, but with her eyes closed for a minute or two at a time, so she has to depend on the feel and not what she sees. It's honestly back to basics with this one.
It's almost like retraining both parties. The owner must now learn to recognize a true forward movement as well as using a lot of seat and leg aids. Nothing artificial. No crop, no spurs. Just basic leg on belly communication. And the horse must learn that the aids mean forward.
If there is no medical problems as to why a horse won't do something. Then it is ALWAYS a communication issue. So we work, work away at tuning the horse and rider up to their responsiveness to each other, and someday they'll be cantering off into the sunset together.
But for now, while we've seen major improvements in the horse's willingness and responsiveness to the rider's leg aids to move her forward, we must still stick to what works for them. The horse isn't bucking anymore and it seems that she really is beginning to understand our actions. As we have understood hers. We are now getting a calm nice canter out of her although it's still in little spurts. Baby steps, always baby steps! But a canter step forward is ALWAYS better than any buck backwards!