We had a very interesting lesson on Monday. The weather was funky: cold, wet, and pretty dreary, but we persevered and made the trek up to JL's place. I know that the only way to improve the canter is to well ... canter, but the thought of cantering the arena perimeter again was not very inspiring. But if nothing else, I am a workhorse.
Since the weather was so cold and damp, I started Speedy on the lunge line just to warm him up. Once he was a bit more awake, I hopped up and worked on some suppling exercises. Once we looked ready, JL joined us and watched more of my warm up.
I've cantered Speedy A LOT over the last two weeks which is great, but we are starting to have a little problem. The first couple of requests for a left lead canter have started to result in a serious slam-on-the-brakes maneuver. Hmmm ... where is that coming from? So before we did any more canter work, I ran the problem by JL so that she could see it in action and watch for whatever it was that I was certainly doing wrong.
It's like taking your clunking car to a mechanic - it purrs like a kitten once it arrives at the shop. Same thing with Speedy's left lead canter; he hopped right into it without any fussing. He halted politely as JL and I discussed what might have been happening.
Here is what she thinks: now that Speedy is engaging his hind end better and responding to my leg, he's thrusting forward with more power, relatively speaking. When his motor was barely chugging along, I could use a fair amount of hand to maintain the contact. With his newfound hind end strength, my hands are now telling him to whoa while my seat and legs are saying GO, hence the slam-on-the-brakes.
Once I understood the new dynamic, we were able to work on a whole new skill: walk to canter transitions. Oh, my, was that ever fun!
Since the problem was presenting itself to the left, that's where we started. At the walk, JL had us work on maintaining a very uphill walk with a very steady pace, no running into the trot or canter. It took a bit of practice, but I eventually understood the concept. Once he was maintaining his pace, JL instructed me to have Speedy canter by thinking REAR! The first attempt was excellent on his part, but not so great on mine. I squeezed and thought, UP, but at the last minute I threw my weight forward in the fear that he really might just go up and not forward. Speedy handled it quite well.
After a few practice attempts, I could think, REAR, while keeping my own body upright and still. It was amazing how quickly Speedy grasped the concept. It was as though he's been waiting all along for me to get it. JL explained that this was actually easier for him than trying to canter from a downhill trot.
We also returned to keeping my hands high; something we did for quite a while at the trot to keep Speedy from dropping behind the vertical. I had completely forgotten about it over the last month as little by little he has learned to carry his own head right where it should be. At the canter however, particularly to the left, he wants to over arch his neck and tuck under. SInce I already learned what to feel at the trot, it only took a few minutes to get it at the canter.
In one fairly short lesson we put together a lot of different pieces. I walked back to my own barn feeling a bit like Neo in The Matrix when he learns Jiu Jitsu in just a few minutes.
Now it's up to me to practice that feeling of launching upward into the canter. I've seen the illustration of a canter departure looking like a jet taking off, but until you actually feel the take off, it's hard to understand. I think I might have just earned my pilot's license!