July 30, 2013

The Canter Wars

"Set yourself, situate, like a fool try again"

-Matchbox 20

(My timeline was off a bit. We got the trailer in spring of 2011 and the canter wars began prior to that in the winter of 2010-2011, but the story doesn't change.)

I knew Gemmie could canter. She cantered out of jumps and on the lunge line just fine. My theory was/is that the previous owner wore spurs to get her to do barrels and she was anticipating pain when my leg went on her side. Regardless, I figured I better get some help and posted a Craigslist ad for a trainer to come out every other Saturday morning. I found J, a very nice woman who had gone to school for training and then had kids and life moved away from horses for a while.

I told her my main concern was cantering and explained the issue. She came out and I swear she must have left thinking I was either a liar or completely delusional. Gem was a total nightmare. Worse than she had ever been. She was tense, spooked at everything and ran amok through the entire lesson. At one point J suggested we lunge her a bit and end on a decently good note, but I think she was just tired of watching the horribleness that was going on in front of her. In fairness to Gemmiecakes, the arena had a metal roof and a bazillion inches of snow was melting and sliding off it during the lesson, but come on! Sigh.

The next lesson had Gem back to her normal self again. To skip the boring bits, we didn't resolve the cantering issue. I just started using voice commands and she would canter. It wasn't always on the correct lead or very balanced, but she did canter. Why was it so important to me? Well, my secret goal was to teach Gem flying lead changes (for non horse people this is where they change which leg they are leading off with in mid stride without needing to go back to a trot to do so) so that when we cantered on trails and I saw a turn up ahead I could ask her to change leads to be more balanced for the turn. In order to do this I needed to get her cantering with my leg. Not to leave you thinking J taught me nothing, I learned the beginnings of lateral work and we honed my jumping a lot.

And then, as always happens in life, crap hit the fan and the world changed. Well, maybe I'm exaggerating, but my world certainly did. Our landlord apparently decided it was more prudent to gamble our rent and board each month instead of paying the mortgage. Our friends got tired of spending their own money on a business they didn't own, go figure!, and so they stopped. The bank foreclosed and we had to move. It was a sad day when we packed up and moved the horses and ourselves out. It was the perfect place to live and we spent almost every night eating dinner and playing cards with our friends.

Rent and board increased and time decreased (thanks again to residency) and I was left without a trainer again. I will expand on our new barn next time, but to not leave you in suspense, I did win the canter wars. She now nicely and in a balanced fashion goes into the canter with the slightest pressure of my outside leg. It took all that summer, fall and winter to do it, but I was persistent. How? I began with asking for the canter with my voice and praising her. Slowly I would add my leg ever so lightly while still asking with my voice. Eventually it was a firmer leg and softer voice and then no voice. It helped that the jump arena was very large and I was no longer afraid of her tantrums, so when she kicked out I would just keep riding her and she learned it got her nowhere. I am very proud of this win!


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