I already told you that last Monday’s lesson was a real doozy. JL helped me address the wayward right lead canter. We didn’t perfect it right then of course, but she gave me an excellent exercise to help me rebalance the canter departure and get some control.
With having a second horse to ride and needing to be a responsible adult, I didn’t get to ride Sydney again until Thursday afternoon. It was a frustrating three-day wait as I was very eager to try the exercise on my own.
I started the ride like every other, although Sydney no doubt sensed my hurry-up attitude, as I really wanted to skip all of the warming up and stretchy trot stuff. Knowing that would just be setting myself up for failure, I gave myself a stern, down girl, and continued with a warm up. As always, Sydney warmed up into a nice relaxed trot that was adjustable in both directions. He also picked up the left lead canter quite politely, if not a little flatly.
Often times, after the left lead canter work, Sydney becomes tense as he knows that the right lead canter will follow. I used the tension to focus on forward and relaxed, and in no time, he was again trotting along with Eeyore ears. I was so tempted to ask for the canter while Sydney was so relaxed, but I wasn’t certain he’d offer it without the obligatory duck and whirl to the inside. So I shortened my reins, lightened my seat, and adopted more of a jumper’s position. Sydney tensed immediately. He knew what was coming.
I ignored his hollowed back and braced neck. This exercise isn’t about teaching him to relax and swing. It’s about getting his butt in line with his shoulders so that he can’t shove his hind out which not only blocks my outside rein aids, but it also blocks is inside hind leg. I kept his nose straight, and asked for the right lead canter. As usual, he tried to duck and whirl to the inside, but failed as I had a firm outside rein and my outside leg caught his. We came around the circle and tried again.
Each time I asked, he tried to repeat his trick, but wasn’t able to get away from my outside aids. At one point, I asked for the canter and got no response. I took this as a step in the right direction. I simply repeated the request until he finally leaped forward. It wasn’t a very good departure, but at least there was a hint of forward, which felt like an improvement.
I patted his neck, dropped the reins, and walked the entire arena. He stretched like crazy and never offered to lift his neck. This, too, I took as improvement. Eventually I picked the reins back up. He immediately tensed and fussed, but I was firm with my half halts, even actually halting completely. I returned to the trot work. Once again, we lost the 20-meter circle, but I wasn’t concerned. I just rode the 10-meter circle and lifted, lifted, lifted the inside shoulder until he stood up on his own. I opened the inside rein and pushed him out with my inside leg, and like a miracle, the 20-meter circle was back.
Once he was again relaxed and listening to my aids, I prepared for the right lead canter. This time when I asked, he bounded, but it was mostly forward. I quickly halted, patted his neck, and returned to the trot. I repeated my request, and each time I got a more forward leap rather than a whirl. After each attempt, I halted him, patted his neck, and asked again. At one point, something clicked for Sydney. He coiled his hind legs beneath him and began to do this little hoppity thing, but it included forward canter strides that had no element of a whirl. Each time he offered to canter, even if it was super short-strided, I praised him.
After one such offering, I praised him enthusiastically, and brought him to a halt. He tried to walk off, and I hauled him to a halt again. This time he stopped and took a deep breath. I hopped off and praised him like he had won a gold medal. I don’t know if he knew he had shown some real improvement, but I know I felt it.
All along the right lead canter has been a bit scary. Not knowing whether he was going to whirl combined with not knowing how to prevent it has been frustrating. I now feel so empowered. I know why he does it (haunches swing out), and I know how to stop it (outside leg and a strong outside rein). I am now confident, or at least hopeful, that the right lead will someday be as nice as his left lead.