Tonight was an amazing ride in the sense that Dixie finally figured out how to collect and balance that canter. When people ask about Dixie and what he is like it is hard to describe. Is he quiet? Well yes in my opinion his brain is top notch. Perfect, well no horse is perfect. Can beginners ride him? Sort of. Um, wow that is not a great answer but part of the issue in riding green horses is being able to put the pieces together or help them find the pieces. I suppose what makes me say not a true beginners horse is that he has been struggling to find his balance at the canter for quite some time. He is a 16.2h and big strided. When he goes into the canter it feels like he is going somewhere which can be intimidating to some people. He loses his balance a bit and wants to pull you forward to find his own balance.
This is where I have to be the trainer and not just the rider. Take everything I know and come up with a detailed riding plan on how to tackle the issues at hand. I need to insist and not be so nice. I am good at nice but nice wasn’t getting me that far. How does this apply? Well Dixie is a 16.2 long type of horse perhaps a bit long in his back but just long overall. He really struggles with finding his balance and rhythm which is typical for a young horse. He also has a really soft mouth and sometimes is afraid of contact.
How do you teach them to accept contact? Lordy, that is a complicated question that I don’t know if I can explain in a blog post but I have a good idea of what steps I take. I like to use the softest bit possible. I have went back to the Herm Sprenger Duo for Dixie lately. I want him to work into the bridle and feel like he can sit softly in the hand. I have done plenty of homework with lunging him with vienna reins so he understands the concept but adding the rider makes it different! Of course because we like to interfer 🙂
My job is to make my hands be as consistent as possible and keep the resistance when he resists. Resistance is not a free ticket for him so when he pulls I keep the feel but add leg and as soon as he softens then so do I. When he goes low instead of floating the reins I keep the leg and sponge a tiny bit to ask him to stretch but not go so low. When he is above I bring back my elbows to retain the slack in the reins. I am trying to eliminate the inconsistent contact on my part. I am not holding him tight but I am using my legs to push him into equally pressured reins. Each ride has been 15 min of him saying can’t do this OMG this is hard and then the rest is like oh cool I totally get it why didn’t you tell me it was so easy earlier!
Initially the walk and canter were his best gaits. I worked hard to establish acceptance of the bit at the trot and get him supple and soft. Then we started fox hunting and what in the world happened to the canter??? Granted it wasn’t super before but it had gotten worse. He either rushed, pulled up or down or broke to the trot. Most people simply don’t understand how to ride a horse that is physically all over the place at the canter. You could leave him totally alone and look horrible or try to balance him and still look horrible. It never really got addressed before we spent winter fox hunting so now I am fixing it.
The past two weeks have been work to help him find his balance. Tons and tons of transitions insisting he balance himself and stay connected (not a frame but no pulling, going low, above or whatever else). So when he goes into the canter with his head in the air because he doesn’t want me to touch him keep the contact and add leg. When he runs keep the leg and the contact. Just stay there and keep asking. Be okay with the fact it will be ugly before it will be better. When it is better feel so good that you could get off and kiss him 100 times over because after a year he is totally getting it. He could not canter a 20 m circle in balance for the life of him before the past 2wks. He tried so hard but his body just couldn’t do it. Even on the lunge line it was Mach 10 or break to the fast trot. Today we cantered several 20 m c both directions balanced, soft and collected. Instead of a 12ft stride we had 10ft strides of nice jumpy canter. It was awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!
Why has he found the canter all of a sudden? Well it is just that way with young horses from my experience. You see this horse who has all the pieces but they have their own timelimit on when the pieces will come together. You can help them along but some just “get it” faster than others. I remember thinking my personal horse had the worlds worst canter. It was so horrible I was sure he was never going to figure it out. A year into work he got it and we never looked back..the same was true of his jumping. Well that makes sense since good jumping takes a good canter.
I suppose what makes me so excited to know that Dixie has figured out the canter is that good things are now ahead. A horse who has learned to compact their stride will be better able to rock back and jump off their hocks. It is the feeling you get when you are cantering that 20 m circle feeling that nice jump and suspension thinking oh boy I could totally ride down to a good sized jump with this quality of canter.
I can’t wait to ride him again tomorrow. I think he knows he figured it out. He is smart like that 🙂 I feel validated that I have been doing the right things all along. I am sure a pro could have gotten him to balance at the canter much earlier but life sometimes gets in the way of serious training. I use Dixie as my relaxation horse and while there is nothing wrong with that I need to become more serious about training him and not just riding him for fun.