Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Counter Canter – Just What the Trainer Ordered
I pulled Grace out of the pasture on Sunday with a new determination. I knew I had to step up and become more of a leader in the saddle. I still had my show ring embarrassment from Saturday fresh in my mind, but I knew better than to carry that over into my Sunday ride. Grace lives in the moment, and if I am to have any success with her I must live there as well. I usually don’t plan my ride ahead of time, I see what horse I have that day when I get on and I take it from there, but Sunday I knew we needed to work on counter canter.
I started off with a 10 minute Connected Groundwork session, not only for Grace but also for me. I find that I am more focused, more grounded by them time I get on. I love watching Grace out on the line when she works in the Connected Groundwork halter, she starts out in her short choppy jog behind, but within a few combs of the line she goes back out on the larger circle lowers her head and neck and starts to use her hind end. The result is a beautiful moving horse that looks like an absolute joy to ride. Once I have her in this frame, I know it is time to get on.
Once in the saddle I walked and jogged with lots of transitions and direction changes. After loping each direction I gave Grace a walk break and mentally prepared myself for the counter canter. We were in the large outdoor arena so we had more than enough room for a figure 8. It has been several months since I last worked on counter canter; I have a bad habit of moving away from foundational work when I am having fun with buttons like flying lead changes. I mean why work on counter canter when my horse can change leads in her sleep? I started on the right lead, which is easier for Grace. I had to keep my body absolutely correct when coming across the diagonal of the figure 8 to keep her from thinking about a flying change. She keep the counter lead on the large circle and when we came back to the circle going to the right I was amazed by how she slowed down and rocked back on her hind end. I also noticed that I was sitting straighter, more correct in the saddle. The quality of her lope improved each time we came off the counter lead. After another break we changed direction and went to the left.
Months ago when I attempted to do a counter canter on the left lead Grace almost got me off. When I asked her to cross the diagonal in the figure 8 she locked her jaw and ran to the rail. She was convinced that there was no way she could possibly lope that direction while being on the opposite lead. I was pleasantly surprised on Sunday when she didn’t put up the usual fight. She did attempt to switch leads, at which point I brought her to an immediate halt making it clear to her that thinking for herself was no longer an option. We continued on in the counter lead and just like the right lead each time she came back to the circle her lope improved. I again could not help but notice how much I had improved, I had to be ultra aware of where I sat in the counter lead, I have a tendency to lean to the left and I knew she would change leads if I did. Each time we came back to the circle I was sitting correctly with my horse underneath me.
Back at the trailer after I ride I noticed that Grace was standing square. It is common for her to rest her left hind leg as soon as we get back; I expected it considering it was the day after a show. It seems like a small thing, but in Grace’s world it is a big deal to see her posturing differently behind. We had a similar ride on Monday evening. This time we were in the smaller arena with less room for the counter lead then I had allowed on Sunday. Now the circles would be about the same size. The right lead was easy and again the lope improved coming off the counter lead. On the left lead Grace wasn’t convinced she could hold the counter lead on the smaller circle. I stopped her when she switched her lead and backed her up. I asked for the counter lead again from where we were and Grace told me “No!” I asked again and Grace reared up making it very clear that she was convinced that she couldn’t possibly pick up the counter lead from there. My reaction kind of surprised me. I didn’t get upset or scared that she had reared. I did not feel the need to punish her. I knew her reaction was the only way she saw out. I had asked her to go forward in the counter bend. She was convinced she could not go forward so she went up. I went back to the circle on the left lead and then brought her across for the counter lead. I was very aware of my body and made sure not to use too much hand. This time Grace held the lead the entire time. I made a big deal out of her letting her know that she had done the right thing. From there it only got better; she now knew she could do it. Once again I’m not sure if I am training this horse, or just out thinking her.