Friday, 15 January 2010

Back to whizzy horses. As I have said before, it pays to be in control of the speed of the horse's legs in the slower gaits before you go faster: so you want to be controlling the speed of the legs in walk before you trot, and in trot before you canter. Canter transitions are notoriously difficult to teach - and do - well, and most riders instinctively do the equivilant of putting their foot on the accelerator instead of changing gear! If you can sit the trot well for several strides you have a huge avantage over the riders whose only options are rising or bumping whilst kicking and hoping! Improving how you sit the trot may pay huge dividends in the transition itself.
A good canter strike off really helps you canter more slowly, and the horse that runs into canter via a fast trot will inevitably be fast and unbalanced in canter. If the trot is getting faster and faster it is almost always better to abort the transition than it is to keep kicking. Do not be afraid to abort the transition repeatedly, even if it seems that your horse is not 'getting it'. You will teach yourself and him far more by slowing the trot and asking again than you will by keeping on kicking as he trots faster. Be sure though, that you are not pulling on the reins at the same time as you ask for canter. If your body is saying 'I want you to canter, but actually please don't!' you can't blame your horse when he doesn't! If you suspect that this is true for you, what you need is an extra dose of courage, which may come simply from learning to bear down. This is my term for how skilled riders use their abdominal muscles, and I have written about it extensively in my books. It will also help to follow the steps below.
If you think your horse is going to be speedy, the best place the arena to ask for the transition is coming around on a circle towards the wall on the long side. Having the wall almost in front of the horse will help to slow him down, and you have 3/4 of the circle to go before you reach the begining of the long side. Here, the sight of that wide open space will tempt him to motorboat (and accelerate out from under you) and you to waterski (as you lean back, push in the stirrups and pull on the reins). The more to lean back the faster he will go - both in miles per hour, and in terms of how fast his legs go around. So this is a bad idea, and as ever, you need to 'keep up with the horse' so that your centre of gravity stays over his in each canter stride.
When you begin canter count the speed of the horse's front legs. Te-tum, te-tum, te-tum, works well as a way to do this. You need to be sure that you begin counting with the very first canter stride. If you are with an instructor, ask her to count out loud as you count inside your head. Very often just counting like this will slow the horse down. It can be a remarkably effective technique, but you must begin counting with the very first canter stride.
We'll talk more about the transition itself next time!