If you have read anything I’ve ever posted about Champ on Decidedly Equestrian, you’ll know we’ve been battling with the Canter Monster for a little over two years. I can canter any other horse on the property with half the anxiety (even one I’ve never been on) and it looks twice (if not three hundred) times as good as anything I do on Champ. Why? Several reasons.
- Champ was taught to do a disjointed canter by a former rider (ridiculous, I know).
- He was also spurred into the canter (with the outside leg) and got very grumpy and would pin his ears and swish his tail when asked.
- I tend to over think things, stress and be a perfectionist (but I’m not the perfect rider).
- Our arena is tiny (not even 20 meters wide), because of this Champ has trouble balancing in such small circles and rushes to feel more balanced. I started compensating for him with my body and leaning to help him balance…instead of forcing him to balance himself.
- Champ has a very high natural head/neck set, so getting him to stretch at the canter has been an impossibility because he’s great at bracing against the bit pressure and running on.
- Champ had a left hind injury not once, but twice over the last few years and that has lead him to be less consistent with his left lead pick up.
We didn’t canter for over a year in the arena and it turned into a un-slayable monster in my head.
Bringing him back from his left injury revolved around getting that left lead back and charging around the arena like a monkey riding a frightened giraffe. I started forcing myself straighter to require him to balance, and that would make him break…and then pick up the wrong lead when asked for the canter again (unless I organized him for several trot strides). He figured out that he could break on his left lead whenever he wanted and get a break for a few strides and I could do nothing about it. It was looking hopeless for our Training level debut coming up this weekend.
Then in the last few weeks two major things happened.
One day I got tired of fighting his constant breaking and just rode. I cantered him on the left lead without letting him break until we were both almost falling down tired. I popped him with the whip and nudged with the spurs if he started to slow and just pushed him hard. I let him gallop around the arena giving him his head until I physically couldn’t keep him going. I broke him down to a trot and put him away (after a cool down, hose down, and massage with liniment so he could walk the next day).
He hasn’t broken to the trot without asking since.
The second thing was a *lightbulb* lesson moment last week. As I already knew, Champ ignored all efforts to half-halt at the canter. My instructor came up, grabbed his side of the reins and asked “Show me how much pressure you’re feeling from him.” I showed her. She said “That’s not enough because he’s blowing you off. Feel this.” As she held took up pressure on her end of the reins and I forcefully engaged my core to keep from being pulled out of the saddle. She said “Shorten your reins. 1000lbs of pressure or nothing. That’s what you should feel. Try it.” Within half a circle, Champ stopped bracing against the bit and started stretching. A week later, he looks like a different horse and I am riding him as confidently as I can ride any other horse. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s working towards it.
The Canter Monster is dead. Just in time.
Now on to the next beast.