Please remember that when trying to canter, wait until you are ready. Wait until the horse is ready. Make sure he is listening to you and responding to other cues. Make sure you can feel some impulsion in him.
Get your head in gear and engaged properly. Keep your energy at an appropriate level. Don’t be a “hot” human – mentally prancing and jigging wanting to let loose at the canter. Control your energy.
Choose the pattern- straight down the rail or into a circle or a specific pattern. Choose the starting point. Then get your aids organzed. You will sit back. A little further. You will move your legs into position- inside leg, a bit forward, outside leg, a bit back. Leave reins at normal length. Remember to lift the inside rein slightly when giving the cues.
Approach the spot of departure. Give the aids, including the kiss sound. Give him the reins. Keep seat twisting and in contact with saddle. Breathe. Maintain a good give-and-take with the reins. Steer him. Steer him. Steer him. Breathe. Think ahead. At end of arena, give more leg around the corners. Steer him. Pick a point to return to trot. Go into trot. Thank him. Come down to walk. Breathe out.
Now think – what did I just do right? What did I just do wrong? Pick one thing, just one thing, to work on on the next canter. Rest, at the walk. Give him a rest. Keep your mind engaged. Good work, Jan! Now do this about five thousand more times and we’ll have a good canter!
Results of “Note to Self”
I had the opportunity to take a day of vacation this week and go out to the barn. I planned to get my car serviced in the morning, and spend time with Buckshot in the afternoon. The car servicing became a nightmare, and I got to the barn a bit later than expected, a bit frazzled. But the farm was wonderfully quiet and peaceful and as I got Buckshot from his pasture, he seemed normal, in a good mood and eager to do something. I chose to table the round pen work and after tacking him up we went into the arena.
We did about twenty minutes of warm up and easy exercises at the walk and trot. Then, calmly, I decided it was a good time to try the canter. I did not shorten my reins; rather I left them at their normal length, since I knew that I have a tendency to inadvertently shorten them while cantering. I did most of the steps from my “note to self.” Buckshot went immediately and calmly into the canter! I had good seat connection with the saddle. I kept my hands low, and as we approached the turn, I consciously kept my hands low, gave a little leg and we went successfully around the turn, still in the canter, still calm, still connected! Wonderful! At the end of the arena, we went down to the trot and then walk, and I praised Buckshot! What a good horse!
We did the canter again, in the same direction. Same preparation. And wow! Again, it was a calm, non-rushing, controlled canter with me having good seat contact, and lower hands, and Buckshot maintaining the canter all the way around the arena, so we kept going. We did a second revolution of the arena, at a good canter! Wow- this is a first for us! Twice around the arena, at a good, controlled canter! I was thrilled! Good boy!
After this second canter, I determined to take a break and stay at the walk for several minutes. We did serpentines and spirals at the walk. Then we did the canter in the other direction. This is his weaker direction, to the right. Our canter was a bit weaker, mostly in my steering, because he goes much more toward the center when cantering to the right, but it was a good canter for us. Good boy! And then, another canter to the right. Another good effort by us! Then back to walking, and doing a few patterns at the walk/trot.
What a good accomplishment! I didn’t flail and kick, or bring up my energy to the frantic point that, I think, incites Buckshot to rush. I focused on keeping my hands low, seat connected, steering and voila! A terrific canter resulted! I praised him enthusiastically, gave him a treat, and took him to untack and rinse him off.
Maybe Buckshot – at the canter – is one of the horses I’ve heard about, but didn’t think I’ve ridden: the horse that does a gait only when the rider gets all of the aids exactly correct. At other gaits, I would describe him as being usually eager. Eager to trot, so he responds immediately. Eager to work, so he responds to “walk” readily. But at the canter, perhaps he needs the rider to get it right, exactly right, and then he can/will canter nicely.
Or perhaps it is that as I get better, a tiny bit at a time, he can/will canter nicely. Either way, my focus is important in this gait. And it was wonderful to see some improvement and be able to canter longer, and better, than ever.