Friday, October 31, 2008

Back to learning to canter

You may remember me blogging about cantering on Panama for the first time during the summer. It was a big step for me — I've cantered before on other horses, but as an adult I've never felt as comfortable about it as I did when I learned to ride as a kid; and then of course the few times Panama spooked and broke into a canter with me on him, I fell off.

Well, after that one lesson over the summer, I didn't get to try it again — Panama got his leg wound just over a week later, and as a result I didn't ride him for a couple of weeks. And then I got kicked out of the barn, and Panama's temporary new home was not really set up for riding or training. By the time we finally started having regular sessions again a few weeks ago, I had lost my riding muscles and my stamina, and had to build back up to that again.

On Wednesday during a session, my trainer asked if I wanted to try cantering again. Unfortunately, by that time I had worked so much on getting Panama to collect at the trot that my legs were quite tired, so I suggested we do it at my next session, which was yesterday.

So yesterday I cantered on Panama for the second time. We cantered three times, each time for only a short distance, as my trainer wants me to start small. The first time, Panama picked up the canter almost immediately, which surprised me (when we tried in July, he seemed skeptical that Mommy actually wanted to canter on him, and was slow to respond to my commands). As a result of my surprise, my balance wobbled just briefly, and I dropped my stirrup. At first I thought I would fall, but when I realized I was staying in the saddle just fine (thank goodness I've got some of my riding muscles back!), I slowed him down without any mishaps.

The second time we cantered, I kept my feet in both stirrups, but ironically enough I rode a little worse — I was tense and had my weight on my toes, which was pushing me up and forward in the saddle. Panama didn't want to slow down again that time, so I cantered him into a corner; he got the picture and stopped.

The third time was the best, but it was also the last, because I was getting tired. When we started trotting after the second time, Panama was tense and excited; all he wanted to do was canter! My trainer had me trot him around in a million small circles, first one way then the other, until he calmed down and started listening. (The idea was to make him have to keep thinking about what I would tell him to do next, rather than preparing his entire body to canter at any minute.) Finally he settled into a nice, relaxed trot, and we cantered for the third time.

Right after we started to canter, my trainer called to me, "Keep your heels down!" I pushed my heels down and the difference was amazing — I could feel myself sit back in the saddle, could even feel myself relax a teensy bit. Panama slowed down promptly for me that time, too. Even my trainer said it was much better.

I'm admittedly still a little nervous about next time, and I don't know that I'll practice cantering without my trainer there, but at least I'm getting it out of the way and making some progress!

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