Hippoi Athanatoi

Canter Torture

I wasn’t able to find a replacement for the cancelled group lesson on Tuesday, so it was good that I had at least signed up for a private lesson for today, to keep my holidays from being entirely horse-free.

As usual when I have been away from the stable for couple of weeks, I worried that Murphy had managed to injure himself, and given that I don’t know if I will weigh in at 60 kg on Tuesday I really wanted to ride him today. Fortunately, he was quite fine and in a very good mood too, as he so often is when the stable is nice and quiet. I understand him, because there are few things more coys and comfortable than a stable in winter (well, okay, its still autumn here this year thanks to global warming :P) with just the horses and yourself around. The temptation to take extra time getting him ready was definitely present, but I had a set time to be ready for, so that wasn’t an option.

Once down in the arena, it turned out the private lesson before mine was running late (two girls were having a double—an hour long—jumping lesson together), so I could have taken a bit longer up in the stable. As it was, I got to watch them some and take my time about a slow warm-up at walk. Not too bad, but I had a hard time being effective with the warm-up since I couldn’t vary what I did very much as they needed most of the room for the jumping. Murphy felt quite co-operative, however, once we had had a talk about not following the others like mindless sheep.

When they were getting close to done, I was able to start trotting some, and overall Murphy felt reasonably forward and pretty attentive. I should probably have concentrated more from the start, though, as my instructor was quite quick to ask me to start cantering once I had explained that I wanted to work a bit more on counter cantering and maybe some shoulder-ins too. And not only did she ask for canter almost right off (though we had walked for 10-15 minutes and trotted for about 5, so it just felt sudden to me, I guess), she also asked for me to start working on it right off.

She had been really demanding with the two girls before me, and she was clearly in a very ambitious frame of mind today, as she asked me to shorten and shorten and shorten Murphy’s canter. Obviously, we’re not talking about reaching any very slow, collected canters here, since he’s not very good at shortening his canter in the first place, but she was really after me to get a lot more response than usual.  No wonder I got a little over-ambitious at times, to keep him at a canter while shortening his strides, but after a reminder I was able to do much less and get better results. I can really feel it now when I hit the right way of riding his canter.

That was just the warm-up, though. We then moved on to what ended up being the main exercise; a small circle/volte roughly at the middle of the short end of the arena, out of which I was supposed to start cantering and then steer towards the long side from which I came, resulting in a change of lap and a counter canter. I was supposed to keep this counter canter for as long as I could, not just through the first two corners, as we had done previously. A piece of cake, right?

Well, no. We started with the circles at a walk, and it seemed I could not for the life of me managed to shorten his outside enough to satisfy my instructor. Putting high demands on just how I use both my hands and both my legs at the same time really shows the problems with my co-ordination which, even though it has been improved somewhat by the Pilates, is best described as ‘lacking’. So it took me quite a while to get him both short enough on the outside and straight but supple enough on the inside. Not to mention getting his outer hindleg in under him enough. The first few attempts at canter resulted in the wrong lead, though some of these my instructor did note was due to his poor co-ordination rather than mine.

Eventually, however, I got what I wanted, and we were able to start working on the counter canter.  Going right with a left leading leg turned out to be pretty tough, though, especially as she started asking me to collect him again. Normally, you’d shorten with the outer rein, but when you counter canter your inner side is actually your outer side, so several times I interrupted instead of shortened his canter because I used the wrong rein. But after a while I started to get the feeling for how to do it, and managed to get him shortened up somewhat even in the counter canter.

We then moved over to counter cantering the other way, and here I felt quite a difference. It was harder to manage the circles, because he overbends so very easily to the right, but the canter was much easier to manage. In fact, several times he came close to dropping down to a trot and I was sure he’d change over to normal canter, but I managed to use my outer leg properly to keep his outer hindleg going and with it the counter canter. And, at the same time, he responded much better to the collection. Unfortunately, we only had time for a little more work. Then again, I was pretty worn out anyway by that stage.

We finished up with some trotting, and he was quite soft and supple. I didn’t get him as well onto his hindquarters as during that one great lesson, though. I think I might have gotten closer if I had been more effective during the warm-up, for as it was I got a little stressed when the work seemed to start up so quickly. Even if I can get myself working more effectively from the start now, I might need to ease into the higher demands a little more slowly. Overall, though, I was pretty pleased. I managed to affect his canter fairly well on a few occasions, and in some of the canter transitions (particularly when going for the right leading leg) I could really feel his hindlegs coming in underneath him to start the canter off.

Now I just need to work on my weight so it gets back down to 60 kg as soon as possible, so I can take a few more private lessons on Murphy within the next month or two. More exercise, I guess. Considering the fact that my legs are still weak from this lesson, I am still nowhere near as fit as I’d really need to be for very effective riding.

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