Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Corridors and Canter Mechanics pt 3

Okay three days into posting about this lesson and I'll actually let you read about what the damn title says the post is about. This will be the last post on this lesson as I'll be getting another one the day you read this, and that lesson (plus a cross country outing with BOTH Tangoose and Fantastic Kat!) will carry us through next week probably as I'll be in Michigan.

As previously stated, Kat came off the trailer pretty well-behaved (if we pretend she didn't try to kick the hay net behind her and then drag me across the parking lot and almost over Megan while bridling her [I had her teeth done last week and I think that helped lol]) and warmed up un-spectacularly but I was feeling a bit sheepish. I'd done all this work on my position and I instantly felt more comfortable back in my saddle on my horse, but I didn't actually know if it had made one whit of difference.

I see it all the time: you made a radical change to a rider, and they work on it and think they're REALLY getting it because BAM it feels like home, but they come back to you and it felt like home because they'd reverted to how they rode at first.

So I puttered around waiting for Tracey to wrap up with her horse, I trotted some and attempted to convince Kat that the bushes weren't going to eat her (spoiler alert: we survived) and then trotted a bit the other way and tried not to allow my mind to get frantic.

Kate, keep your hands still, legs back, turn the toes in, is your core engaged?! OH GOD WHERE DID MY RIGHT LEG GO

Not exactly a zen master over here but I'm working on it, okay?

I was quite relieved when Tracey put the ears in because I'd completely given up on a productive warm up and had just dropped the reins and begun banter about who-knows-what with Megan in an attempt to keep Kat's chill attitude at play.

She sent us out on our circle, reminded us to stay on a circle and not a square, and complimented me on some improvement overall in my leg position. I was pretty stoked about that.

Then we really got into the nitty gritty.

I need to continue to remind myself to keep my feet underneath me, despite improvement:

This totally makes sense to me, as my vaguely chair-seat and camped out style of riding is a habit I spent years developing and there is no way to chase a habit away that fast. What did surprise me was some of the effects Tracey points out that it has.

When my right leg sneaks out, my right hand comes up, and I collapse a bit onto Kat's back. It's not a LOT, and I'm not a total heap, but it's enough to cause Kat to throw her head up/shoot forward/lean on me with her ribcage.  

I overbend my horse's neck:

It turns out that the horse doesn't need to have a ton of visible bend in their neck, rather, if you feel the bend through the horse, or they are connected well to the reins, that is pretty much sufficient.

I also fully own that this is a habit from previous trainers, and that traveling this correctly feels too-straight to me. But the change in Kat's hind-end is not something to argue with.

I also like to move my hands around too much the moment I feel Kat stiffen against my leg aids (my fault, don't know why, want to find out) and so especially tracking to the right Tracey had me keep my right hand perfectly still, apply the right leg, and move the left rein away from her neck for a moment. She wanted me to think of 'righting the ship' and getting the mare upright again before requesting correct bend.

Within the transition, I need to form a corridor:

With my core, my thighs, and my hands. A transition to the trot doesn't involve swaying with the shoulders or getting gushy in my core and waiting. I felt it only a few times during my lesson and am looking forward to practicing, but when I keep my hands very still and do my upward transition with my weight balanced in my thighs, I can feel the way she uses her body and ask for more straightness in the transition than I usually can.

We practiced this a lot. In the downward, I need to keep my hands still and allow the energy to continue forward even though we're transitioning to a new gait. All changes can be an addition of balance or energy and I can't allow Kat to just SLAM to the walk.

I also have to be more progressive with my aids so that when she flounces to the trot I do not get left behind. She needs to practice stretching the transition out so that she can step to the trot before we worry about stepping into a bigger trot. 

Writing about it and using language like "SLAM to the walk" makes it sound more violent than it really is, but developing the feel for what it could be and the focus it requires to improve it makes this language seem like the more apt.

Plus, what fun is a post where I put qualifiers on too many things.

From within the corridor, maintain balance:

When my feet are beneath me, my posting coming from my knee and thigh, and my core engaged, I can begin to allow her to take 'looser' steps. I must keep her slow, but I can carefully begin to allow her to take bigger steps. Absolutely not at the cost of balance though, as Kat will inform me quite quickly by taking the bit and plowing onwards if she doesn't think I'm correctly balanced.

And now, the canter:

Tracey said that we would do a few more transitions and then she wanted to see the canter. I looked over and gave her a bit of an awkward smile. It was half 'yes!' and half 'oh crap!'. She then asked if, for some reason, she shouldn't want to see the canter, which I laughed off and replied that our transitions aren't exactly controlled but the canter itself is nice.

My biggest project has been relearning how to "sit up" because I spent many years riding in a slightly hunchy not-full-seat and not-half-seat so I've been doing a lot of work on sitting up/leaning back, what have you.

Kat and I moved to the canter and I immediately knew I wasn't correct. It wasn't that anything was different from any of the times we've ever cantered before, but I just knew, in a Satori-moment, that this wasn't what the canter was supposed to feel like.

Tracey pulled me to the halt and explained some things about cantering that are going to change a lot for me once I totally get it.

You never want to get behind the vertical, especially as the hip opens up when the horse's forehand is on the ground, so if you get behind the vertical you're essentially driving the horse's forehand more into the ground. Not our goal. So we need to strive to stay at or ahead of the vertical.   

We need to begin to feel as if we are resisting that forward and downward surge in our hips, our hip flexors and core coming out to play in a way that feels like you're trying to resist gravity and pull the saddle away from the shoulders. Sort of saying to the horse with your body, hey, don't go down that far.

And as the shoulders come back, we send the hips back, pull the knees up (without moving them, obvi, we should imagine that they are connected to one another through the horse's ribcage) and allow space for the shoulders to come back as much as possible.

Then the saddle moves forward and down again, and we allow the hips to open again - but only some. We don't follow that motion all the way forward, lest we get out of sync with the rhythm and our shoulders get whiplashed around.

And repeat.

This is hard, hard, hard work. I got maybe three strides of it somewhat correct the first time around and Kat and I both just fell from the canter into the walk. I was gasping for air (no exaggeration whatsoever). Tracey said something along the lines of, "good, there it was, it's so hard for the horse they tend to break from the canter" and I'm just thinking, 'nope, we both couldn't hang with that'.

Tracey said to me that I was right, her canter is good, but it is large and long and that will take us a lot of time to teach her to manage.

And I took that to mean that I have a lot of time in any given canter stride to think about this crazy action of the hips, to soften my elbows and work correctly with my arms, and I decided to take this big canter that will take a long time as a very beneficial thing while I learn this new way of riding the canter. 

We did it again, and came to the sensation where I could feel her shoulders suspended before me again, and although I felt too-rigid as her shoulders came down, I knew I was starting to get it.

I need a lot of practice and I'm excited to get more feedback on it, but with how massively sore my hip flexors have been... Maybe I've dug myself a weird rabbit hole this last week and maybe I'm just barely making some progress.


  1. I wish I had grabbed video of the canter, it was like night and day! I think I told you, but learning the mechanics of rider position at the canter completely transformed my riding. It really felt like the tipping point for the upper levels for Rico and I. It's crazy how much it matters! I can't wait to apply all this on TC soon enough.

    1. One of my kids took video tonight and I was blown away by how different it looks. Yum. But also why is it so hard.

  2. I definitely want a lesson with a trainer like Tracey!

  3. All of Megan's pictures are so much better than mine!

  4. I'm new to your blog, but just wanted to say that after reading this, I tried to implement some of what you described at the canter in our ride last night, since our canter work is where we struggle the most. Holy crap. It was super effective, but also my legs are still dying today. Your description made perfect sense though!

  5. This is all so cool to ready - it sounds like Tracy is doing fantastic things already. And those pics of Kat - to die for!! So glad to hear the lessons are going wel!!