Friday, April 24, 2015

Canter Work Takes Work

Ok so yesterday we talked about how I'm trying to fix my rising trot position.  Now let's talk about the canter.  And then I promise I'll stop boring you guys.

My seat and the saddle have really never been well acquainted.  They're more like neighbors who wave at each other from their front porches across the street.  For many, many years (long before Tucker was even born), this has been my "sitting" canter:

You'll note that you can see daylight between my butt and the saddle (even though it's a lovely canter and I still adore this photo).

The first time someone told me to keep my seat bones in the saddle, I thought, my seat has bones? but it's so squishy...  Literally in my thirty or so years of riding, no one has said anything to me about seat bones before I started taking dressage lessons.  It was a steep learning curve.  I don't even know if it was a curve.  Think rock climbing.

Studying the videos from my show, I see two things that I want to focus on fixing.  The first is that there is a moment in each stride when I am out of the tack, when his front feet are coming back down. I'm working on not pushing against my stirrups, which Amy explained in this lesson.  The other thing I noticed, of which I was NOT aware, is that I am pumping forward and back with my upper body like a weeble (you're welcome).  I weeble and I wobble but I don't sit down.

It turns out that this is more of a common problem than my "posting is hard?" query, so I found some reading material on this.  This article by Leigh Cochran from Dressage Today advises:
When the horse moves at the walk, trot or canter, your pelvis follows the movements smoothly while your upper body stays quiet, upright and balanced. To maintain this, your abdominal muscles and deep muscles of the lower back have to contract and relax rhythmically. This work only if your back is supple, not tense. Do not grip with your thigh muscles because this lifts you out of the saddle. Relax your leg muscles so that you can sit as deeply as possible in the saddle and follow your horse's movements.
When your horse canters, allow his canter to "roll under" you. Think of how a merry-go-round horse at a fair rises up and down under your seat. If your back stays relaxed and your seat stays deep, you can feel similar movement in your own horse's back. Try to feel it at the walk first, then at the canter. If you find yourself losing your correct position at the canter, return to the walk, reestablish it and try again.
I also think this advice by Heather Blitz about what it means to "bear down" is somewhat related. I did this exercise in a chair and on the horse and it helped me get the idea:
To feel bear down as you sit in a chair, put one hand on your abdominal muscles and the other one on your lower back muscles, then push your hands together. Next, think of using the power of your lower body to push your hands apart. Don’t hold your breath. It shouldn’t make you feel that you press any harder into the chair, just as it wouldn’t make you squash down on your horse’s back.

It’s important to realize how to make your core strong like this without it meaning that you crush your horse’s back down. It’s only a tool to help strengthen your own body’s core, stability and consistency. Bear down is not an aid to stop your horse or make him go. It’s a consistent state of being throughout your ride, from start to finish, that helps give your horse the sense that you are the leader of the dance.
We're a looooong way away from that "consistent state of being," but it's a nice, lofty goal.

All that said, what this really boils down to is that I need some core strength.  I take a Pilates class twice a week, so I'm working on it, but I could should do more.  Essentially, my solution to my cantering problem is an ages-old, timeless tale of self-inflicted torture:

Hang 'em up!
I pulled my stirrups off for the second half of my ride the other night, and have now vowed to do this at least once a week.  It actually really helped.  I wasn't really sore the next day, or at least I thought I wasn't sore, but then Ethan sent me a funny text and I laughed and ow-ow-ow-holy-lower-abs-why-why-why.  Which then made me happy.  Because maybe no stirrups work will not only fix the two bad riding habits I need to work on, but also may reduce the likelihood that I will be confused with one of these in my white breeches:

He looks so happy though.


  1. Nothing forces you to sit like no stirrups! My canter 'sit' is a lot like yours in that first picture, but typically I like to rock the half seat. It's something I've really been trying to work on, and I noticed the more I sat the more my horse's canter improved.

  2. I'm working on canter too, so this was super helpful. Thanks!

  3. You + Me, sister both need stronger abs. Then again, what equestrian doesnt?!

  4. yep this is relevant to my interests!! why is it so hard??? haha...

  5. I had a top level dressage instructor say to me, after watching a most excellent top level hunter rider canter, WHY DO I SEE DAYLIGHT between her butt and the saddle on every canter stride?!? Um. Because that is what top level hunter riders are *supposed* to do. It's a rough transition. This may not be possible on Tucker, but if you can find a horse to throw a bareback pad on, canter bareback, letting your legs hang down (no toe pointing, no heels down) until your body understands the level of relaxation you must have in your thighs and lower back. It's the closest position to dressage. This is my tune up position. If you try to drop your heels everything begins to tighten up, just let 'em hang, teenager style. Working without stirrups helps, but may trigger the "hunter" lower leg position, since that is such a huge part of hunter riding practice. Way to go!!!

  6. I'm such a weeble. I don't even know it when I do it. Hang in there! I think it gets better eventually.

  7. It does get better eventually. Like the sitting trot, it helps if the horse lets you sit on him. Red does, Mo doesn't really yet. You'll get there for sure.


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