Perfecting the Canter
All of the things you've learned so far in this book come together in this
lesson. You've been working hard to establish your seat. Once you've
done that and also learned to reasonably collect your horse between your
hands and your legs, you'll be far more able to control the horse, and you'll
find the canter very comfortable.
Your horse for this lesson is a special one.
Justin is regal and gorgeous. He knows it, too, striking a pose as if to say,
"Just look at how great I am. I'm above all the ordinary school horses in this
field." He prefers Red Delicious apples and will turn up his nose at a sour
Granny Smith any day of the week. He even rolls in mud elegantly. Justin
has one little problem. He overreaches, that is, his back feet hit his front
heels, so he has to wear bell boots to protect his front feet.
Justin isn't a full-blooded Morgan. He's a mutt. That's just as well, because
many Morgans can be a bit more than a beginning rider can handle.
Whatever other breed Justin has in him has made him a good, well-rounded
Justin's also very smart. We're talking brilliant. He waits for you to give him
the aids, and they'd better be clear directions. He wants you to be the
leader and will test you to see if you can meet his standards. Think ahead
with this horse. If you panic and grip, Justin won't stop, he'll move on and
Breakdown of the Aids
To prepare for your cantering lesson, you should begin by reviewing the
aids to the canter. Like all gaits, the canter requires that you position your
body in various ways to get the horse to move as you want. To make this
easier, let me break down the aids to the canter so they really make sense.
Aids to the Canter
1. Half halt. You give a half halt to let the horse rebalance and know you're
going to tell him to do something different.
2. Pick a point. This is a physical spot on the ground. It's an inch. It's a
centimeter. It's very specific, because to initiate the canter the horse
has to change the way he moves, and so do you. If you don't time this
correctly, Justin may run into the canter (trot faster), or he may have a
delayed reaction to the canter, which could unseat you.
3. Sit down. You have to sit fully down in the saddle because the horse is
going to gather his body underneath you and change how he's moving,
and you need to follow with your back.
Bending the Horse
4. Position your legs. Position your inside leg at the girth and you outside
leg behind the girth. (Remember, "girth" in this context refers to where
you sit in proper balance, directly on your seat bones). At this point, you
just position your legs, which remain passive.
5. Position your hands. Shorten your inside rein, but both reins should still
have equal contact with the horse's mouth. What does this mean?
You're turning the horse's head to the inside, but because the contact
remains equal he doesn't turn his body. (Of course, if you pulled on just
the inside rein, he'd turn). This establishes a bend, which will help
Justin pick up the correct lead. More on that later.
6. Squeeze with your outside leg. You actually squeeze with both legs, but
make your outside leg the active one.
7. Push with your back. Do you recall the swing analogy from way back in
lesson 1? Imagine sitting on a swing with your feet off the ground. You
want the swing to move forward, so you push forward with your back.
8. Give with your hands. I don't mean throw your reins away. I mean
release the pressure that your leg and back have created.
The sequence of the aids is critical. The motion must be initiated from the
rear toward the front: legs, back, hands.
Clues to Successful Cantering
You cannot build impulsion or energy and pick up the canter
simultaneously. The energy must already be present and
contained, and then released into the canter. When you squeeze
with your outside leg behind the girth, you aren't trying to go faster,
you're trying to release the already contained energy.
If you manage to contain your horse's energy and he still
doesn't canter when you ask him to, you probably didn't give the
sequence of aids precisely enough.
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