Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Finding our inner canter

This post , as promised in an earlier post , will be about canter  work with Maggie, but first I have to talk about our ride yesterday. I took advantage of a small window of good weather and took a PTO day from work. It was our first real "trail" ride of the season.. I met a friend who brought along her husband , who was riding a sweet but young and inexperienced little paint mare. The trail was not near as bad as I expected, only  small areas of rotten ice and mud. We ended up just walking for the majority of the ride, in fact, mostly  all of it in consideration of the youngster along. I didn't mind because this was Maggie's first ride out and I wanted to keep things low key. We climbed an area called Pete's Ridge, a trail I had been trying to find for a year but never seemed to manage. We managed to cover 8.45 miles , and some change. I was pleased with my little bay mare. We only had one meltdown and that was only a mile from the parking lot (which she knew) I was in the middle and we had one more steep but short little hill to climb and the horse ahead got too far out of range apparently.  She lunged up the hill and ignored my requests to walk. On her third and final leap, we landed at the top and she still wanted to catch up to the other horse. I asked her to stop and apparently that pissed her off enough , she attempted to rear and then buck. By then, she wasn't the only one who was pissed.  I hate rude behavior in a horse ( I made one change to it but can anyone name that quote??) We did a circle or  two and she came off her temper tantrum and was finally resigned to carry on in a more "lady like" way . She was  still a bit hopped up but was now listening. My friend was laughing at the  fit Maggie had just thrown and was quite surprised at how athletic she was , for being so short and round....I suppose it is a little funny looking on from some other saddle but when your trying to deal with it, it's not always so funny! We hit the final logging road to take us out and she settled back down. One meltdown isn't too bad.  It felt good to log the first few true condition miles.I hope to be back out on Saturday.

On to the canter work : I guess it was 3 weeks ago I finally started some concerted work with Maggie again. One section of the arena was dry enough to get something accomplished. After a long period of not riding much, I like to do a few lunge sessions at the beginning of each season to stretch Maggie out. It also allows me to assess her overall body and condition and watch how she is moving. I can see any hitches in her gait if she has any . It also help gets the “cobwebs” out of her sedentary lungs and heart . It helps gets her brain engaged into work mode and it has helped me to help her learn speed within her trot. All of this without the added burden of a rider. I usually do about 3 lunge sessions the first week back to work in the spring and no riding. Then I start riding and lunge in between for the second week. The riding is low key, mostly walking, bending, and lateral exercises. By the third week, it’s full riding at all three gaits and lunge work only if/when I am short on time or feeling lazy.

20-30 minutes is usually sufficient on the lunge as it can be hard on their legs. I use a 32 foot lunge rope made out of retired climbing rope. Last year, Maggie took quite a while to accept that she was supposed to go around on the end of the line . We mostly walked and trotted last year on the lunge. If she happened to canter, I let her but I never really asked for it. It was a rare occurrence that she did canter willingly on the lunge. She would much rather just trot as fast as those little Morgan legs would carry her, which is pretty fast and impressive coming from a 14.0 hand Morgan. I suppose its what they are made to do so I shouldn’t be surprised. The few canters she did offer only lasted a few strides and then she would , as I call it, “Seize up “. She would start to try to buck and pull against me, then she would speed up , panic, and try to run away. Fortunately, I have her trained to “WHOA” command and I would get her stopped. She would stop abruptly and look at me , with her Wild Morgan Foretop and Maine tussled, as if to say “ What just happened?”

It’s actually a little scary for both her and me. God forbid she get away from me dragging that long line and it get wrapped around a post or something!! So last fall, I did a lot of work on trying to find her canter . I set things up so it was as easy as possible for her. I used Tom’s archery track which is just a 90 meter straight line. We cantered… A LOT! I can only recall a handful of times where she offered a canter that could be considered relaxed and easy to ride and that was only because that was probably after 9-10 previous gallops.

So this spring, we have started up again with finding the canter on the lunge. We have had a few Seize Up moments going clockwise , but going counter clockwise is going well. Here is what I have found works and what doesn’t:

Do plenty of trotting first both directions

Ask for a lot of up /down transitions from walk-Trot-walk- Whoa.

Ask for a lot of speed changes within the trot

No big movements with the whip . She is hyper sensitive . Too much of a flick toward her hocks will send her to the moon.

Lots of trotting over ground rails – teaches her to stretch down and forward and think about where her feet are.

When asking for the canter, say “canter” and lean forward with my body, being careful to stay behind her shoulder (more at her rib) and just lift the whip gently from the ground up towards her flank.

Key here is to wait and not be impatient . She will pick up the biggest fastest trot you have ever seen and eventually the legs get all sorted out and pick up the canter. I give her one lunge lap to pick it up before I ask again.

Then, the final note is that I don’t ask her to stay in the canter . If she only gives me 3 strides, I let her drop back down into a trot, ask for a walk , then a whoa, and end the session at the point.

The goal with her at this point is to not make it such a big deal. Everything is over the top with her because she is hyper sensitive to pressure. Any pressure.

Chances are pretty good she’ll never truly enjoy traveling at a canter but she can certainly become more balanced and comfortable in it than she is now.

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