Tuesday, January 17, 2017

How to Build a Canter (during snowpacalypse while concussed when your friends will kill you if you ride)

This post goes out to the like... two of you who aren't bored out of your skull by lunging and training. But my world is solid ice with 10" of snow on the way and I still can't ride and I want to think about something I don't hate.

I'd be lying through my teeth if I said I was happy that I haven't sat on my horse since November, but our winter of SB crippling out to the barn and putting Courage on a lunge line is having some interesting side effects. See, Courage has a super shitty canter.
whee!
Well. That's not really true. He canters in ONE WAY. He tenses his underline and PLUNGES into canter and moves his body via momentum instead of strength. To me, that's why he can jump beautifully but everything goes to shit in between the fences--his technique is superb, but if he gets an off distance, he doesn't have the physical ability to change his canter to fix it and panics. I cannot say whether the canter is genetic thing or racing thing or a brain thing or what. I can just say that is what I have.

The past few weeks in the Vienna reins have been utterly fascinating for me. Courage is now trotting regularly like this:
omg
I'm not scrubbing the whole video for the perfect screen shot. I'm pulling a ton of screen shots and going "omg how do I choose". To me, this shot shows a moment of suspension allowed by Courage swinging through his whole body. I see withers lifted, topline engaged. I'd like to see more from behind, but this is new for us and that's where he's at. He walks like a panther, his w/t/w transitions are gorgeous, and everything is peachy.

The vienna reins aren't magic--they just set some parameters and allow him to find his balance within a certain range. I keep them adjusted pretty long because I don't want him to feel trapped, though not too long, because they don't need to flap uselessly. Plus, I'm not here for a headset. It's critical that I focus on Courage keeping his hind end moving so he's tracking up (at least) at both walk and trot. That is what mechanically asks him to move his back and use his body. If I let him get "behind the leg" as it were, he'd just be stuck in a pose and dumped on the forehand with his back jammed up.
no pics of that

But what about the canter?

This is what is the most interesting for me. Canter is and always has been a hot button issue for us. The transitions are bad and the canter itself isn't better. Under saddle, the standing martingale has limited the leaping and bolting, but not stopped it and we haven't been able to change it.

So basically we have two isssues:
1) Courage doesn't understand how to step up into canter the way he can walk to trot and
2) Courage doesn't understand how to push from behind, lift his withers, and canter correctly

We can only address one issue at a time, because reality. However, this is a serious chicken/egg issue--you can't really canter well out of a bad transition, but you also can't really get a good transition to a bad gait. So.

The past few weeks, I've intentionally set Courage up for the best transition possible t/c, then just taken what he's given me and worked the canter itself. That brings us shots like this:
up transition shit but oh well
Again, this was very intentional. I needed Courage to find a good canter that was balanced and comfortable. I had to play with this A LOT to get there.

I'd assumed that because his balance was not good and claustrophobia is his go-to, that we'd do big circles and go freely forward, but no. What I found was that if I kept Courage on a 10-15 meter circle and VERY engaged, I could get a few strides of the canter in the picture above. As soon as I got those strides, I'd ask for a downward transition or if he lost his balance, just let him drop to trot and reorganize. This actually makes sense--I'm asking him to change his whole way of going and to do that, I need to make a difference every stride, not just let him cruise around.
balanced and moving forward softly
It took a while, but Courage was starting to get where he actually had a semi-decent canter. He couldn't hold it long and his upwards transitions were not good, but he was starting to have consistent, good downward transitions and was able to make a couple 10-15 meter correct canter circles.

But transitions are important.

And again, doing the same thing wasn't working. No matter how well I set him up, the best transition I could get was this:
not attractive. video here if super interested.
 We got it down to one or two strides of blast off and way-less-blasty-blast off, but even with the small circles and extra transitions and good canter, we weren't breaking through to the next level. The only way Courage understood to get to the canter was to drop his withers, invert, and lunge.

The vienna reins do set parameters, but I didn't want to crank them in and force a headset to get my point across. Besides, if there's something Courage is the best at, it's bracing on the least resistance possible. So. Crank him in, create a new fun version of this problem. Whee!

So we tried another different approach.

I hooked Courage up in the vienna reins like usual, but instead of my normal "walk til he's soft and reaching, w/t/w transitions on a small circle until he's soft in the body, gradually move him out to a bigger circle and ask for more trot etc etc etc", I immediately put him on a small 5-8m circle and asked him to reach for the contact from the lunge line.
then this video

IE, instead of maintaining a position through his own good graces, I wanted him to actively seek what I was offering. I didn't care what gait and we definitely had some frenetic "omg wtf you crazy human i must leave" moments, but every time he backed off, I asked for more. Every time he hollowed, I made his circle smaller, and when he took an honest contact and went forward, we gradually moved onto a bigger circle.

As he began to understand the question, I started asking for actual gaits. Same as with his downwards though, I let him give me what he had and there was zero pressure or punishment if it wasn't quite right--we'd just do it again. Think ask for canter transition, but as long as he thinks about trying, don't ask again or push or punish. Just keep going, because Courage is enough of an overachiever at this point that I absolutely respect his try and don't want to frazzle him.

Our first videoed transition looks like this:
hmmm
Yeah it's not great, but what I see is lifted withers and an honest attempt to step up, if somewhat mediocre execution. But instead of star gazing, he's a little bit thinking about the contact.

And then I had this canter:
mmmmmm
Withers lifted, hind leg stepping under, topline engaged.

And he even offered me this moment:
oooooo
 It was half a stride, not a circle, but Courage offered a stretch in the canter of his own accord, which means he felt balanced and comfortable enough to experiment with his frame. I'll take it.

 We kept working the transitions and by the end, I had this:
mmmmmhmmmmm
I don't see this frame and think "omg pirouette canter", but I don't care. What I see is a horse that's giving me his best shot right now. Instead of launching his front end and leaving his ass behind, Courage is stepping up into the canter, he broke at the poll, and he's thinking very hard about using his topline. I mean. Look. That underneck is almost slack. Yeah, I'd like to see him lift his withers and be a little more uphill, but that will come.

It's a long, slow, tedious process, no two ways about it. I am absolutely fascinated by figuring out ways to break this down for him and I love watching it start to come together.

Now someday, I need to be able to actually get on the damn horse and see if any of this pans out under saddle.
this one time, i put tack on him for no reason
C'mon SB's body. Get it together.

48 comments:

  1. Awesome changes! That is so exciting when the long, slow, "boring" stuff suddenly starts working. It will only accelerate his improvement with such a strong base!

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    1. I always hear that "once you get x, you will just fly along" and that doesn't happen, so either I'm getting lied to or there is something deeply wrong with my execution. Hard to say. But yay changes!

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  2. He looks like he's really starting to get it!!! And yea, lunging isn't the greatest long-term tool, or the most exciting thing in the world, but it is definitely handy for crap like this and letting them figure out their bodies.

    I am excited to see how all this pans out under saddle, too!

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    1. The little scientist that lives in my brain wants to do some trials to see if he can learn it under saddle, but alas. No riding. Wah.

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  3. I will raise my hand as someone that finds this super interesting. We have some similar canter problems, and I may try this tonight!
    *not concussed, but not brave enough to get on the pony after three months off real work

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  4. You're putting in the work and laying all the building blocks. I can't wait to see how this translates into saddle work once it warms up and you can ride!

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    1. I have about 38 contingency plans for our first ride, but still no date. Wah.

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  5. Not gonna lie. This. Is. Fascinating. Proceed...

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    1. I'm always super flattered the Pig's owner (yes, THE pig) is interested. ;-)

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  6. As fellow TB owner recovering from a broken foot, I feel your pain...and I want my pony to canter like that!!!

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    1. Don't rush it, they say. You'll regret it, they say. Get well soon!

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  7. Yep I need to find some Vienna reins to play with....
    He looks fantastic!

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    1. Obviously, they're not the answer for every horse or every scenario but I'm so thrilled we have them to play with right now.

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  8. I like the Vienna reins bc they are like side reins, but allows for the stretch should the horse seek it. Looks like C has got it figured out!

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  9. I think all the ground work is doing wonders! It seems that being able to see the changes (by being on the ground rather than atop) you're able to be more patient and obviously able to stay out of his way while he figures things out. Just from your photos I see huge changes! Fingers crossed they translate under saddle!

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    1. I hate that it works so well for him but it sure does. :-)

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  10. Love this! Been there! Sofie couldnt canter at all at one point and had very similar tendencies. She still hates her trot canter transitions. Consitancy and patience . It sounds like you guys are figuring things out and C is starting to trust and try for you. ��

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    1. She's lovely now! I'd be thrilled if C went like that.

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  11. Miles gave me the hairy eyeball today... so I left him in his stall. I'm such a great horse mom.

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  12. I like your thought process. I also wondered if by the times he's "warmed up" or giving acceptable trot work is he tired? So incorporating canter earlier or even first thing into the sessions vs at the middle or end could be interesting too. Fine balance between relaxed vs fatigued I feel like.

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    1. That's definitely a consideration--Courage struggles more to the right (you know, engaging the left hind) and he does much better if we work to the right first. He's quite fit in general though.

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  13. I love the progression ! It's kinda amazing to see the difference from the ground view, and have that opportunity to experiment and see what's working. Fingers crossed it DOES make a difference when you ride!!! (And yes that's WHEN not if lol bc damn girl be healed! (And maybe have the weather chill too))

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  14. Such a bummer you're still out of the saddle!

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  15. I think that this is so good for him- he can figure it out without the added stress of the rider and he's really trying.

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  16. Since you're so fascinated by the work with the vienna reins, you might consider really stepping up the game and going for some work in long lines. This lets you fix the horse without your body, legs, over thinking and all the different ways We get in Their way and block them from doing what we're actually asking them to do.

    I used to do it without really 'Getting it', but now that I have learned the intricacies involved in the art of long line work- I love it and find it really fascinating. Seeing the horse 'get it' and figure things out is a major bonus and also just as exciting.

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    1. I forgot to add that once the horse learns how to do things in the 'new and improved way', once you're back in the saddle its just a matter of you getting your part in the saddle right. I've used long line work to fix the horse, then get back on them to feel the difference, reinforce the work and build on it from there.

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  17. i think you are doing AMAZING. when most people with your injury would just faceplant on the couch in a pile of cheetos you are doing work with your horse the best way you know how and look it is working! I cannot think he wont be somewhat improved no matter what with all this work on the lunge! (Disclaimer, the first day someone climbs on him please please have camera rolling, i will bring popcorn HA ) but i can totally see how he is improving and am very excited for you!! YAY! i think this is way cool (though i admit i might stick a fork in my eye if i had to lunge that much and with a head injury non less LOL)

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    1. Cheetos, joke about my eminent demise, and a fork in the eye? This wins favorite comment. Give yourself a trophy emoji!

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    2. ha ha ha my job is done :) YAY ME :)

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  18. I really like how you've framed it into asking a question and allowing him to answer and then CHANGING the question - nicely done. I also love watching him figure it out on his own. He needs his aha moment and you need to get better soon!

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    1. This horse really forces the thinking issue. Well, that and the fact I can't actually do anything.

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  19. It's awesome that he's lifting so well at the base of his neck for you. Especially with him being stuck on the lunge for so long. My boy would be sucking behind contact so much!

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    1. I'm really excited about the base of his neck! Yes, dorky. And yeah, it's a good thing he's the sort that really embraces lunging because that's all we've had for a really long time now.

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  20. It's really fascinating to me how you have been able to break this down for him. It's clearly slow and tedious, but also just as clearly, you are getting somewhere. I can't wait to see how he goes when you are on his back again.

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    1. I get the feeling I'm going to be more of the problem.

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  21. That last canter photo is amazeballs. And I think if he gets it enough on the lunge, he will start to figure it out under saddle- it's all about muscle memory :)

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  22. You just made a post on lunging really interesting. Way to go!And he looks great in that last photo. Loving the saddle pad.

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  23. I love this post and the changes in C. He is looking amazing.

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  24. I think this work is fantastic. Rome wasn't built in a day so it's normal for him to go through stages in his ability to lift, push, sit, etc. I see a big change in the "launch" transition, and I also know this is very challenging to correct under saddle, at least, for mortals like me. It can ONLY help to show him that there is another way to use his body, while everyone is staying safe (especially his little pony brain). Keep up the great work!!

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