Friday, February 25, 2011


My lesson today made me think of how much tension I tend to carry when I ride, and how it affects my riding.

Longtime readers will remember that I really struggled with cantering for a while.  Heaven knows I never worried about it when I learned to ride as a kid, but getting back in the saddle as an adult, I realized how little I knew about riding, and developed a fear of cantering.

To familiarize my newer readers with our history, here is a very old post:

Cantering on my horse for the first time (intentionally)

Unfortunately, we didn't work on it again for quite a while:

Back to learning to canter

Cantering practice was very on again/off again until we got to our current barn, which has nice arenas, including an indoor arena, which enabled us to finally start practicing regularly.  You can see some video of my really bouncy early attempts here, here, and here.

With Panama's naughty phase in late summer and early fall, and some other stuff we were working on, we haven't been working on the canter consistently the entire time, but often enough that I am getting more confident.  Today my trainer had me canter twice at the end of the lesson, and she said it was the best she's seen from me.  I'm finally getting the hang of how to move with the motion of the horse, so that my butt stays in the saddle better.

Anyway, what made me think of tension was the difference in our performance — both mine and Panama's — during a couple of exercises.  My trainer had me work on a variation of a posting trot, up two beats and down two beats, to improve my strength and control.  However, I have a really hard time with it, and I go absolutely rigid when I'm tense because I'm thinking about something too hard — like when I was learning to canter.

Panama was feeding off my tension and trotting faster, with his head way up in the air, so I took a walk break and then did a regular posting trot for a few laps to calm him down with something he already knows.  While I was posting, my trainer told me to pull my knees away from the saddle (I tend to pinch with my knees), point my toes slightly out, force my feet down, and finally, to sit back more as I posted.  When it all came together, I was amazed — suddenly I felt like I was relaxed and moving with Panama, and he was more relaxed and responsive, too.

I wasn't able to maintain that sense of moving together during the two-up/two-down exercise, unfortunately.  It's really hard, so I have to concentrate, and then I get frustrated because I screw it up almost right away.  The result was that I instantly tensed up, Panama went faster, and it all fell apart again.  So my trainer gave me "homework" — that's what I'm supposed to work on in the next week.

It was after that exercise that she had me canter.  We were almost out of time, so I cantered just once in each direction.  I've been starting to feel the rhythm a bit more lately, and today I could feel it more than ever — maybe my experience of a relaxed posting trot had helped, I don't know.  In any case, I was able to keep my butt in the saddle and move with the horse much better than ever before.  As my trainer pointed out, I was able to feel what he was doing much more easily that way, and was able to put a little more leg on when needed to keep him cantering (he has a bad habit of slowing into a trot before I'm ready to).  Of course, she was saying "sit, sit, sit," with every stride to remind me, but whatever works — I finally feel like I'm really getting it!

Today's lesson gave me plenty to work on, but as the title of this post indicates, it has also given me a lot to think about — about how all that tension negatively affects both me and Panama.  The more rigid I get, the faster and choppier and bouncier he gets, which makes me even more tense; and so the cycle continues.  I am going to try to go into every ride from now on with the goal of breaking that cycle.



At February 26, 2011 at 4:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thinking about breathing well and deeply - particularly the exhale - helps me a lot with tension.

At March 4, 2011 at 2:46 PM, Anonymous Melody said...

Tension ruins a lot of things, and is one of the hardest things to handle. I second what Kate said.

At March 9, 2011 at 11:49 AM, Blogger Katharine Swan said...

Kate, I'm getting much better about breathing. I used to hold my breath all the time, but I don't think I'm doing it as much. When I was riding last Thursday I thought about what you said, and was pleased to find that I was breathing in a nice, even rhythm. But I wasn't super tense at the time, so maybe that's why.

Melody, it sure does -- I wonder how many issues I've attributed to Panama, but have actually been because he's reacting to my tension?


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