Further Banter About The Canter

A brief December warm up in my area has come to an end. I am thinking that my at-home riding is pretty much done for Winter, save for the occasional bareback stroll perhaps.

In late 2019, I had some footing installed in my roundpen that allows me to get in more rides at home than I did when the footing was just grass. Still, it’s no substitute for an indoor arena as protection against wicked Winter weather. Instead, I am starting to think about my potential 2021 goals for Shiloh, particularly in regard to the canter.

I had been hoping to add the canter to our riding repertoire this year. Back in the Fall with Winter approaching, I decided to dispense with cantering on the longe and give it a try mounted. I first mentioned my canter plans in the “Banter About The Canter” post at https://thebackyardhorseblog.com/2020/11/02/banter-about-the-canter/. Since then, we have practiced canter transitions a hand full of times with varying degrees of success.

Shiloh seems to understand what I am asking and also seems happy to give it a go. We can usually now get maybe eight canter strides or so going to the right. But in the other direction, I feel like he is trying to organize himself for the canter but can’t quite make it happen.

We both kind of get out of position during the attempted transition in the difficult direction to the left, and Shiloh ends up moving into a hard pace rather than canter. I’ve been very pleased that we’ve mostly moved away from pacing at the walk and at the intermediate gait. But the pace still pops out at times during moments of physical/mental tension. In the pictures below, you can see the difference in our way of going to the left and right just after I ask for the canter.

We may be at the point where we need some additional support to further our canter work. I have already started resuming Winter riding lessons on lesson horses at a nearby barn so I should get some good cantering practice this Winter in an aim to improve my position/feel/timing apart from Shiloh.

Adding Shiloh back into the mix, I’m making a list of possible interventions at home such as asking a professional to throw a leg over Shiloh a few times or maybe arranging some chiropractic or massage sessions.

Back in the day, there were times with Bear that I found some combination of the above interventions helpful to our progress.

For example, I remember struggling during a multi-day clinic to get even one step of sidepass from Bear. The clinician eventually asked me to dismount so he could mount up. Within about five minutes, he had Bear sidepassing. I wasn’t able to get the concept across to Bear, but the clinician was, and I was then able to continue from there. It was a quick intervention that saved Bear and I grief.

Likewise with chiropractic and body work. I found that regular chiropractic work as he aged helped Bear pick up his left lead canter so much more easily than without it. Here we are during a lesson from a reining instructor in Colorado. No, we weren’t reiners, but boy do those reining folks canter A LOT, so it was a great opportunity to practice work at that gait.

It was never that Bear couldn’t or wouldn’t do those movements. Rather, I wasn’t giving him the tools that he needed. He needed more support than I could give him alone, so I sought outside help.

It is disappointing and frustrating not being the kind of effective rider that I’d otherwise like. This is an unfortunate reality for many of us who are horse enthusiasts. Sometimes our skills and talents fall considerably below our level of riding passion and ambition.

I don’t ride as effectively as I would like, but I can put in effort to improve, recognize my limitations and seek help at points along the way. To that end, I came across an article about a week ago. It has some really interesting insights about the canter.

The article is by Jec Aristotle Ballou, author of 101 Dressage Exercises fame. I mentioned her in my previous post describing the “equine pole straddling” exercise. Jec is definitely one of my favorite horse training/riding authors. I’m including the “Benefits to Cantering Your Horse” link here in case you’d like to read it:


The article gives me great food for thought as I make plans for, Lord willing, more cantering with Shiloh in 2021!

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