Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thoughts For A "Fall" Day

New Jersey did not get the memo that fall has arrived.  We're still hot, muggy, and sticky.  Not exactly motivational weather, but I have things to get done.  I guess it will have to do.

In my efforts to nail the canter-walk transitions I've realized a few things.  Mostly, I've realized that my horse's canter is not really that great.  I think it's pretty great, in that he can carry me around in a manner that feels relaxed and soft.  It's easy to sit Spider's canter, and he certainly seems round, but there are clues that it just isn't quite where it needs to be to move up the levels.

Clue #1:  I still can't do those *&#%^*$ canter-walk transitions consistently!  It is, however, getting better.  I can occasionally get them from right lead canter.  This is progress, it means Spider is getting stronger.  The left lead still evades me, but we are steaming ahead.  We'll get it someday....

I once audited a clinic in which the clinician used an amusing analogy to describe the proper collected canter.  He said, "The horse should ROAR into the canter like a lion!"  He even put his hands up in the air like claws, mimicking a lion "roaring".  The audience giggled, it was such a silly thing to say.  But it's an analogy that's stuck with me for years.

I also remember the very first time I ever sat on an FEI horse.  Up to that point, I had only ever ridden Western trained horses and lower level dressage horses.  When I asked for the canter on that FEI horse, I nearly fell off!  I was not expecting the canter to be so..... rambunctious.  He didn't canter so much as he leaped.  This was years before I had heard the roaring lion analogy, and I was not prepared at all!

I eventually learned to ride those leaping canters, and to control them.  On those leaping Schoolmasters I learned the canter-walk transitions and even the canter-halts.  The key is to start cueing the downward transition as the leap begins.  The tempo goes: leap, pause, leap, pause, leap.  As you feel the horse gather himself for the next leap, you apply your aids for the downward transition.  The horse leaps into your aids, and you set him down gently into the walk.

I've realized that I will never get that transition from a gentle, easy to sit, rocking horse canter.  It's too flat, there's no pause.  I need the leap.

My Spider doesn't leap like a lion, and I don't think he ever will.  He just isn't built that way.  But when I ride him now and I ask him to collect I get a few strides that roll like a wave.  Those are the strides I'm looking for.  I feel him roll up from his hind end like a wave breaking against the beach, then a pause, then he rolls forward again.  All I have to do is ride that wave up to its peak, then set him down into the walk.  It is a strength issue for him, and a timing issue for me.

I just can't resist making a ridiculous pun about it:  Sometimes to get ahead, you need to make waves!


  1. I love the analogy of leaping into the canter like a lion. It's a wonderful feeling to be on a horse with this much jump. Sounds like you and Spider are on the right track. Canter / walk is hard!

  2. What a great description of collected canter and the transitions. I could feel it -- and that roaring lion bit is great.

  3. I can really see the leap you mentioned by remembering some FEI Freestyle GP. their horses seem to jump at every stride.

    Hmmm how do you sit?

    Jimmy has improved greatly Teena canter by working mainly her shoulders. She looked like she had a butter-fly swimmer shoulders. Her canter was much more jumpy.

    I could not keep up his training, and her canter has definately changed ... much more flat less elevation ...

    If she was flat. he would stop her and make her spin. For example: at the right lead canter, she dropped her right shoulders. So he would stop her, by trotting/bending her in circle to the LEFT, then asked her to spin to the left. Then he would take the right lead canter.

    It was really making a difference. Perhaps it translates in English in turn-on -the-haunches and square with moving the shoulders at each corners???

  4. I love the way you explained the collected canter.
    Good luck!

  5. Great descriptions. Fact is, the canter becomes far more important in the upper level tests. Horses with good trots might not make it successfully to upper levels if their canters do not "sparkle."

    Another place the quality of the canter matters is in the tempi changes. A horse that does not engage well will have trouble with getting good tempis.

    Great post.


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