Last week after three frustrating days of having my riding plans thwarted by a bunch of windy, wet days, I finally managed a ride.
It’s a different experience riding in the cooler weather. Each year, I forget how much preparation is involved.
I track the forecast like a meteorologist to pinpoint the exact time of day when the combination of temperature, sun and wind will allow me to ride without turning into an ice cube.
I have to remember to bring my bridle inside the morning I plan to ride. It unstiffens the leather and makes sure the metal parts of the bitless bridle aren’t freezing cold when it makes contact with Shiloh’s face.
Then there are the layers of clothes. I feel like the Michelin man by the time I’m done dressing.
For this ride, I wanted to attempt ticking off another item on my “before I stop riding at home for the Winter to-do list”. Earlier this year, I started asking Shiloh to canter periodically on the lunge line in our roundpen. I finally I felt we were ready to canter undersaddle.
My first attempts were pretty funny. I decided to do a gradual sequence of aids by taking a deep breath, thinking “canter!”, squeezing my legs and then moving my seat as though we were already cantering while making a kissing noise with my lips. What I got was a fast trotting horse with me trying to scoop my seat as though I was cantering. Sounds as ridiculous as it felt.
Shiloh didn’t seem upset, neither mad or scared by my requests. I figured he legitimately thought that I must be asking him to hard trot rather than gait. I couldn’t fault him for an honest response. I was pleased that at least he increased his energy at my requests if nothing else. As a low energy kind of guy, anytime Shiloh offers a bit of “umph” that is not tension-filled, it is a moment to celebrate. His bouncy trot makes me laugh so I just kind of had fun with it.
Lots of things have been like that in the course of re-starting Shiloh to ridden work. It often takes me awhile to figure out what cues he responds to best and for him to suss out what I am asking. As long as we both stay relaxed through all the hits and misses, I am okay with the process. Sure, I’d love to have Shiloh further along than he is. The slow pace of our progress is disheartening to me at times, but it is what it is, and whether slow or fast, I am still riding. Not something to take for granted.
I mixed in my canter requests with gait work in the foxtrot, work over the poles, backing up and changes of direction. My husband kindly came out for a minute to capture some media of our ride. As a “to it yourselfer” I mostly have to judge riding progress from “feel” but having photos/video is super helpful and much appreciated.
Towards the end of my riding time when I kind of figured we probably weren’t going to be cantering that day, I gave Shiloh a longer halt break and stopped to chat with my husband for a minute before he left.
I’m not sure why, but I felt suddenly very compelled to ask Shiloh one more time to canter. Much to my pleasant surprise, when I took Shiloh back out to the rail and asked again for the canter, I felt a little bit of hind-end tucking and his front end lifting. There is was!
Sure enough, Shiloh did like three strides of canter before dropping out of it like a flipped pancake. Plop! But I must say, those three strides felt pretty awesome. I brought him down to a quick halt, dismounted and gave him a big hug and fussed over him.
I know that three strides is not exactly noteworthy in some people’s eyes, but I have found that the best way for me to work with Shiloh is to build very gradually. I praise any initial effort like crazy.
If Shiloh and I are fortunate, we can play around with the canter transition a bit more before the start of Winter and then build on it next year. A trick going forward will be to try to ask him to come back down to a walk BEFORE he drops from the canter on his own. That sort of timing gets harder for me the faster the gait or the more intricate the maneuver. I have to be quicker than Shiloh in those moments. He’s a slower type of horse, but he’s still faster than I am.
Canter on, Shiloh!
UPDATE: To read about our canter progress since this post, go to https://thebackyardhorseblog.com/2020/12/18/more-banter-about-the-canter/.