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The Magic Canter

August 15, 2010

Since my last dressage lesson, I have been trying to recreate that wonderful slow, collected, springy canter.  My hunter jumper trainer has been helping me continue to work on this.  While at the upper levels, a dressage canter and a hunter canter look pretty different, for right now, slow and springy is the goal no matter what discipline we’re working on that day.

In my Thursday lesson, Gina worked with me to create the perfect canter by first getting a slow but energetic canter, and then suppling her on the inside rein (flexing her jaw) while maintaining light contact with the outside rein.  I sometimes will supple her with the outside rein as well, if I feel like Carly is locking up on that side.  I supple the reins until she drops her head down and rounds up.  Then I sit as still as possibly, doing the minimum necessary to keep her shoulders up. It worked, and I recreated our lovely canter on the flat portion of the lesson. But I could not quite carry it over into the jumping portion – Carly got too long and we either left out a stride or she added an awkward half step right before each jump.

In today’s lesson, Gina reminded me how I got the perfect canter by keeping her slow and suppling her into a round frame.  The she left me alone to figure it out.  We got it!  It is hard for us to make it the whole way around the ring without her canter changing, but we’re getting there.  Even better, though, I find when I get her round and slow, I don’t need to do anything to keep her going. I just try to sit as still as humanly possible.  It is a fragile thing, right now, this magic canter and if I change anything in my body, Carly might take that as a sign to change something in her body.

In today’s lesson, we succeeded in finding that canter in between some of the jumps.  I would half halt her moderately hard, and then let go to remind her to keep her canter small and her shoulders up. The timing plays an important role here – if my half halt lasts too long and Carly feels like I am holding her, she will start to pull against me and fall down on her forehand. Today, Carly and I were in sync, and I had god timing.  As a result, we had a great canter in between our jumps. We were getting the correct number of strides and okay distances and  my trainer was hollering, “Yeah, yes, that’s it!” (which is always a good indicator).But also, in between the lines I felt the slow uphill canter that I usually feel only right after Gina has done a training ride on Carly.   Getting Carly to canter the same way the pro does is success!

Now that I am getting this canter, the trick is to keep on getting it.  Each ride, I think (hope)  it will come a little easier and feel a little better.  A lot of things are changing for Carly and I – we’re transitioning from being the pair that can hardly keep going even when I kick and whip and cluck to the pair that keeps going with me just sitting there quietly, enjoying each and every step.

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