Canter revelations and other things

I rode Faeryn and Fling on Sunday, having given myself (and the ponies) Christmas Day off. Well, actually between cooking and hosting Christmas dinner, I didn’t have the time OR energy to ride. But I am sure the ponies did not really care about WHY they got the day off.

I rode Faeryn first and tried to think about what I’d discovered the previous time I rode. I have been having a tough time getting her to listen and respond to half halts at the canter. At the trot, I can’t say that she has a “classic” response to the half halt – she really responds more from ‘whoa’ aids from my core than from the rein itself per se. But, I can get her to ‘rebalance’ and shift her weight to her haunches. At the canter, that subtle aid does not work to get a true half halt, and using the reins to half halt was not working either. To be able to develop a more collected canter, she has to learn to halt halt. I could get sort of a ‘muddied’ version of the half halt – but not the classic, instant re-balancing and release that I was seeking. This both bugged and puzzled me for the past month.  I knew from my sessions with both Marie and Debbie that she is not straight enough – that is her biggest challenge. Debbie pointed out that she’s ‘broken’ at the shoulder. So for the past few weeks I’ve ridden her with the goal of keeping her straight(er) on the outside rein – and at the same time, encouraging her right hind to work harder. (And on a side note, it’s amusing and interesting to note how hard she and Fling BOTH will work to get me OFF my right seatbone. I have been habitually sitting more/leaning left, which has led to weakness on the right hind in both of them.And NEITHER of them wants me sitting on that right seatbone, making that right hind work harder!)

Last week when I rode Faeryn, during canter to the left, for the first time ever, I got one half halt that went ‘through’ and she responded in the classic way – with shortening of the frame, coming up a bit in the withers and stepping under. It was nirvana! It was at the end of the ride and I actually praised her to the skies, gave her a peppermint and quit right there.

And I had a revelation somewhere in the next 24 hours – DUH – she is not responding to the half halt because she CAN’T respond to the half halt when she’s not completely straight….energy flows through a straight line – it can’t flow if there’s not a straight line for it to travel – just like water cannot flow through a hose with a kink in it.

So, obviously, the answer is – first, get her straight. Sometimes that’s not so simple to figure out, but I think we’re getting there. I am not sure if it’s just the process, or it’s just me – but the canter is always the hardest gait for me to ‘get’ with my horses.

Fling was up next and I decided ahead of time to really try and get her warmed up a little quicker so I could spend more time at the canter – specifically flying changes. Fling takes longer to warm up than my other two – or maybe it’s just that I do a more ‘exercises’ with her during warm up – lots of lateral work at walk, including shoulder-in, half pass and haunches in each direction. And lately I’ve been doing leg yield at the walk along the rail – with her head facing the fenceline, moving almost perpendicular to the fence, to work on strengthening her right hind – so I only do that one direction.  She got all wound up because some people came down the street on horseback! OMG!! Why is it that my horses see people riding horses at home and at shows all the time, but when they see horses coming down the street they act like they are total aliens!  It took awhile to get her to focus on me again (basically when the horses were out of sight!) and then I started canter work.  Still not 100% happy with the canter work. It doesn’t feel quite through to me, even when it is very collected. However, I got two really good flying changes on the center line — as in , one flying change, go a few strides, and another flying change – and they were quite good.

Tomorrow is the deadline for sending my entry to the HDS January show and I’m getting cold feet. And if I do enter – do I do one day? Or both days?  The hardest thing for my horses about showing is being locked in a stall for two days. They all hate it and instead of making them more brillliant, they get flatter due to boredom and probably lack of sleep!  Plus, personally, after one day of showing, I am usually ‘over it’ even if I’ve done really well. On the other hand, part of me thinks at this point I just need to get out and show her at third until I am completely bored with it.

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