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Monday, March 29, 2010

More on the Canter

The Canter/Trot transitions continue to get better and better (both up and down transitions).  It certaintly isn't a logical, linear progression - instead we leap and bound up to our next platueu, where we sit FOREVER and then it's upward and onward again (eventually).
It seems like the whole "canter transitioning thing" is a common enough problem that I thought I would post bit on my progress.  I know this is a bit long and disorganized, but hopefully those of you that are having similar problems can pick out something that might be helpful?
Wednesday's lesson I started to prep for my training level tests that I'm planning to do in early May at a recognized USDF show.  I'm a bit tense because ALL of the work we are doing is training level ready except for.....our canter transitions.  Even our actual canter is coming along, but the transition is just not there.  I really really REALLY want to show training level at this show so I came out of the lesson determined to perfect our canter.  Here's a slice of our journey this week.
On Thursday I gave Farley the day off, indulged in free food and DID NOT THINK ABOUT CANTERING.
The Importance of Visualization
On Friday morning I wrote the following e-mail to my trainer:
"Remember when you told me to visualize an orange popsicule?  I got to thinking about visualization and wondered if it might help me to stop the canter transition anxiety that is causing me to not support Farley 100% in the transition and within the canter gait.  I'm tense, so she's tense, so I yell at her to relax, and she fusses, and it generally just falls apart with me over correcting and not staying "zen" and "centered" enough. 
So here's my visualization trick - I will imagine a humongous oak tree.  On top of a green grassy hill.  It's peaceful, it's stable, and a happy place for me and Farley.  When warming up around the ring, I will be sitting under my tree.  When I am transitioning into the canter I will be sitting under my tree.  When I am working with the canter, I will be sitting under my tree.  If I need extra "cooling", I will be eating an orange creamsicle popsicule (on a plastic stick because wooden sticks make chills go down my spine) underneath my tree. 
Sometimes I feel like me and Farley are married.  We make eachother so very happy and we have this great, deep relationship.  We also can drive eachother nuts and we are so sensitive to what the other is feeling.  She wants to please me SO BAD, and I want her to be happy and enjoy her job.  Of course, the difference from a real marriage is that I'm the human and it's my job to make her feel safe and valued and since she's a horse and responding to me, she can't normally be held responsible since she's reflecting me.
See - I over-analyze EVERYTHING.  I'm just not happy with the frusteration I'm feeling and I'm passing onto to Farley so I'm thinking of different ways I can keep centered and support her through the whole cantering thing. 
I just KNOW once it clicks, we will be stronger partners for working through this issue and we can approach our next "dressage issue" with confidence that we will work through that too! 

OK - I'll stop rambling now."
The Importance of Transitions
Friday afternoon, armed with a new found dedication to centerness, calmness, and a sure-to-give-me-patience-song-list uploaded on the ipod I was ready for ANYTHING. 
After a nice, LONG walking warm up....
Digression - I've really started to take my time and walk for 15-20 minutes before starting work, focusing on my position, whether I feel centered etc.  The centered riding lesson I took really gave me something think about and those 15-20 minutes of warm up.  This is where I focus on the concepts of centered riding.
I start with canter transitions from a walk. 
This was a trick I learned from Becky Hart during the centered riding lesson.  At the walk I can be very centered and very clear in my cues and Farley is so much more relaxed since it doesn't carry all that "baggage" from our trot/canter transition. 
Once I was getting some good transitions from the walk (she was trotting some steps, but overall relaxed, correct lead, not rushing etc.) I went from the canter to the trot for 2-4 strides and then asked for the canter from that trot.
After a few times of successfully doing this, I started asking for a trot down transition every 5-6 canter strides, and then after trotting 2-4 steps, asked for canter again.
It was amazing.  The more transitions I did, the more uphill and relaxed the transition became!  I think my mistake has been not EMBRACING the transition and doing lots and lots and lots of them.  Instead I would do lots and lots of set up into the transition....get a crappy transition and then continue cantering for a while and then ask for another transition sometime later. 
This is one of the few training sessions that we've done at a canter that didn't end with one/both of us feeling frusterated and grumpy.
Saturday - Farley got a day off and I went hiking (8 miles round trip to Marble falls in the Sequoia National Park.  Amazing!).  I couldn't stop thinking (and talking) about the wonderful ride I had on Friday. 
The Importance of Half halts
Sunday - I didn't want to do the same thing I did on I decided to work on half-halts.  I don't work half-halts often enough, and I don't use half-halts enough in my work.  We worked at a walk first, then a trot, and finally a canter.  The time I took to work on half halts at the trot/walk transitions really paid off in the canter.  It wasn't as immediate as the transition work, but by the end, she was softer and not bracing as much in the transition.
The Importance of Time Off
Monday (today) - I schooled the canter a bit more than maybe I should have yesterday, so the plan today is a nice quiet 3-5 mile hand jog on the canals, and let the work of the past couple of days settle in both of our minds.  The plan is to sharpen up the work a bit tomorrow (Tuesday) and have nice, balanced picture to show my trainer on Wednesday.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I am a random arrival from your COTH signature link:

    You know, I have spent a lot of time on this subject as my own horse tends to be ummmm... overexuberant in his transitions to the canter.

    I try and focus on improving our down transitions, or on what I am going to do after we get the canter (circle, leg yield, pole) as a mental game.

    Some days that works great, others not so. But it sure as heck is better than this time last year!


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