Saturday, January 5, 2013

Creating the Canter

Recently in my work with Cadence, we've been focusing a lot on her canter work.  As an event horse, this is arguably the most important gait, as its the one we spend the most time in.  It is also probably the gait that has the most versatility, as the speed, length, and impulsion of the canter are all so.... influencable? Versatile? Different?  I can't really think of the word, but lets put it this way: the canter you have entering a canter pirouette versus the canter you have landing off a galloping fence are almost like two different gaits.  They differ in impulsion, speed, and length in a way that is unattainable in the trot or walk.  Unless you have a STB, that is.

With the basics now in place and (relatively) consistent, we've been able to move on to some more challenging work, such as lengthens, shoulder and haunches in, and a little half-pass... though that's still pretty green.  In our jumping, angled fences, bending lines, skinnies, and corners have been introduced and with the level of the work increasing, the need for her canter to improve became apparent.  It wasn't like there were holes in the canter work perse, more like we just needed to bring the canter to the next level as well.

Now Cadence's dam is a TB out of steeple chase lines on her dam's side, and A Fine Romance as her sire.  So even though Cadence is half Holsteiner, she prefers the long, flat, and open stride of a TB gallop.  We spent basically the first year and a half working on setting her canter back into something a little more collected and relaxed.  When she's there, she's got a lovely canter... but her preference is definitely to flatten out and lengthen.  She's always been fussy about sitting her canter down, and we've spent a long time slowly building that canter.  We'd start by just bringing it back for one or two strides in our jump schools, letting her out as soon as she came back.  Then slowly, the length of time we'd bring her back for increased, and we started adding it into our dressage schools as well.  Eventually we'd progressed to collecting her up for transitions, which brought about a short period of breaking every time we collected, and set us back for a few weeks.  Howevr, bit by bit the canter improved.

In the past few weeks, I've noticed the biggest improvement in her canter.  About a month ago, we spent a few flat schools working on collecting her canter, spiralling in on a circle, transitioning to trot, and then spiralling out. This combination of collection, transitions, and getting her onto my aids, made quite the improvement to our canter work.  Around that same time, we started working on building different canters in our jump school- cantering down a line in 4 strides, then in 5, and so on.  Last weekend, we even managed to fit 6 strides in a 4 stride line!  Quite a feat for a horse that kept putting in 3 at the start of the lesson....

Another big improvement to the canter came when we did a simple exercise- simple changes on a serpentine.  The first time we tried this it was dreadful.  To do this exercise well, the horse really has to collect and stay soft through the transition, because you only have 2 or so strides in which to prepare for the next canter transition.  As we worked on this, we'd start off by getting maybe 1 or 2 good transitions per school.  Then after about a week and a half, we were able to do 2 serpentines with only 1 or 2 poor transitions! As this progressed, magically so did other aspects of the canter.  The next time we tried the relatively simple (yet challenging for us) exercise of collecting through the short end and lengthening down the long wall, we were magically able to not only lengthen, but come back again! Witchcraft, I tell you.

Anywho, the canter really seemed to come together for us this weekend.  On Friday we rode the same collection on short end lengthen on long sides that we'd done previously, but we added 10m canter circles in the corners to our canter warm up.  This really got her balanced and on my outside aids, and resulted in a beautiful lengthen and even better collection.  Then today in our jump school, we did some bending lines and 2 stride triple combinations that required me to set her canter properly.  I screwed it up a few times, but in general she was fabulous.  We ended by cantering an oxer out of 10', 12' and 13' canters and Cadence was brilliant.  So while we still have a long way to go, its fun to see something we've struggled with pull together.

Little baby canter lengthens from my ride on NYE.  
Wow, that's really dreadful image quality... they're video stills from a video my cousin shot for me on my phone.  Ah well... if I were technologically savy enough I'd just post the video, but since I'm not we're stuck with this.  Funny, it looked like more of a lengthen in film.  Here it just looks like a slightly rangy canter!  At least her butt's engaged...

1 comment:

  1. Canter can be a tricky gait. Glad you are doing so well! :)