Monday, February 28, 2011

Counter Canter!

The weekend blessed us with lovely weather, far better than one can expect in February. So, thank you to the weather gods! Saturday was sunny, with lovely, comfortable temperatures in the fifties. Buckshot and I did some groundwork in his pasture after he had finished his morning hay. He did well with our exercises, which enable me to start warming him up with large circles in hand, spirals, as well as precision exercises with walk/ halt, or walk/ halt/ back. These exercises also help him to pay attention and focus on me, as well as give me opportunities to praise him (LOL).

We then walked and grazed our way over to the main barn where I had a special treat waiting for him. The farm had gotten a load of some mid-percentage alfalfa hay, and I had some waiting for Buckshot in his stall. Well! Let me just say, he loved it! He put his head down into it, and I don’t think he came up for breath until I had him fully groomed!! (He wanted me to put in an order for seconds!)

We went into the arena, stopping to do clicker training on girth tightening. He did well with it. I hoped he would do as well the following day at the scheduled reining clinic. We went into the arena and started the next step of the gate opening work. From mid-arena, we walked (in hand) to the gate, paused, and I used my hand at a point just behind the girth to get him to take a few steps and be parallel with the gate. He did fine, moving calmly til he was parallel and then stopping. I praised him, gave him a treat, and walked him back to the starting point. We did this three times. I told him he earned an “A” in this lesson!

Then I mounted and we began our walking warm up. After twenty minutes of walking, we began trotting and he had lovely, eager energy. We did wonderful, floaty trotting, and a beautiful straight line of trotting down the center of the arena, at a good, steady pace, and in an unusually straight line! I praised him for this! After several minutes of alternating trotting with walking, we cantered several times. I did well with my aids and he did very well- controlled, strong, but not explosive. I did very well keeping my seat more or less in contact with the saddle, and giving good hand response, moving in time with his head, and, in the curve at the short end of the arena, keeping myself straight over him (not bending into the turn).

Then we were joined by the other riders in our Saturday lesson. We did more walking, trotting and some cantering. The BO instructor was able to give me feedback on my cantering - we did get the correct lead each time (whoopee! That’s not always the case for me!). And she explained to me that what I was doing with my hands was helping Buckshot in the turns at the canter. She said that since I was giving with my hands, and not holding them fixed, I was not jabbing his mouth, rather I was supporting him which gave him more confidence in me at the turns. Isn’t that interesting, how as I get better, he is able to canter better! (Of course, he is much more advanced at the canter than I; I am grateful for his patience with me as little by little, I am progressing at it. Boy, it is a hard gait!)

I see my own progression as well. I am able to actually think more while I’m cantering; things like “tap with outside foot,” and “keep straight-this is a turn” and “steer him here” have room in my mind. Other thoughts, such as “keep seat twisting” and “move arms” stay far in the back of my mind. So I think I am developing a tiny, tiny bit of muscle memory. It is so satisfying and exciting to see my own bits of progress, and hear (from an expert observer) that Buckshot is comfortable at the canter as I get better.

After arena work, we took a trail ride through the woods and ended up at the field arena and did some more work there. I trotted Buckshot and urged him in the trot, and he did lovely, very energetic but controlled, extended trotting. Then, when we were behind another horse, trotting, and I asked him to slow slightly, he responded and eased off. When I felt we had done plenty of work, considering the limited riding of recent weeks, I backed off to do a cool down walk. The class shortly returned, down the driveway, to the main barn. What great work Buckshot did! I was so proud of him.

The next day, Sunday, we went to the reining clinic, taking four horses and riders to the clinic. The BO went, her husband, another rider, and me, with four horses. The weather was cloudy but pleasant temperatures. We had a great time! I have to brag, forgive me for bragging about my sweet horse, but I have to brag! We did a counter-canter! I have always thought of this gait (if indeed it is a gait) as super advanced and one that I am years away from attempting. So when it came up in the clinic, I was not very sure at all of it. But I watched the other riders, and listened closely to what the trainer told them to do. When it was our turn, I was ready to give it a try. The exercise was: do half of a large circle in the canter at the left lead, then go straight a few strides, then turn to do a circle to the right while staying on the left lead. So Buckshot and I started, we got our left lead canter just fine, got to the point of straight strides, and I held my right leg in place, and steered to the right, and we did it!! We came around the turn, and headed back to the other riders! The trainer gave us a huge compliment about doing it! I was so proud of us, just beaming and grinning! My dear, sweet (old) horse just did a counter canter, and so did I! Wow!

We did other exercises, and Buckshot had wonderful, strong, good energy throughout. I think he had a great time as well! He got extra treats after the clinic, and then all of us, tired but happy, loaded our tired horses back in the trailer, got them home and to their pastures. A wonderful day!


Carol said...

You guys are improving like a house a fire! Wow. Very impressive. I would love to be able to counter canter with Rogo. He could do shallow ones to the right in the fall, but not the left, and the indoor is too small to practice. It is so great that you could do a complete half circle your first try. Also, your canter skills are really improving. Being able to isolate and fine tune various aids while cantering is hard. Good work you guys!

juliette said...

Wow, Jan, that is really good. I think a counter-canter is difficult. Well done.

Your rides this weekend were such a success. I am glad it is finally warming up and we all can get in some fun rides!

Buckshot is such a good boy. He deserves lots of that yummy hay!

Grey Horse Matters said...

You have every right to be proud of yourself and Buckshot. The both of you have progressed so much in a short time. Counter canter isn't easy and getting it on your first try is amazing. Glad you had such a wonderful riding weekend and I'm sure Buckshot is loving his new work and all the treats. What a good boy.

Wolfie said...

Wow. Congratulations on your counter-canter!! I am still struggling with canter/loping. I am looking forward to the day that I am at the stage you are when you are cantering; where my thoughts are clear and my body starts responding naturally. :-)

Story said...

Sounds like the clinic went really well! Dee gives me a terrible time about counter canter!

I love what you said about developing muscle memory. I think it's only going to get better!