Sunday, 23 September 2012

Poisitve, Progressive and Natural in the Canter

   Me and Piggles continue to progress with our Freestyle stuff and in the last few weeks i have really focused on our canter... When i say "Really focused" what i really mean is focus as much as i know how to, focus has never been one of my strong points. Whilst my attention can span to the ends of the known universe my focus tends to wonder. I start focusing on one thing then end up focusing so much i kind of pick it apart, focus on the details and end up metaphorically wondering off down a completely different avenue in the huge manopolis that is Natural Horsemanship! So as a result of my focus this would probably be our third or forth Freestyle session on cantering.
Piggles bracing in the canter
   The canter was always such an emotional gait for Piggles. He would often rush into it, braced, tense, and would resemble more of a headless chicken than a cantering pony, a few times he actually bronced so much that both the stirrup leathers came pinging off the saddle! We worked on this on the ground first and soon enough he began to find relaxtion in the canter, his transitions were smooth, calm and willing. I can now come out of neutral point in which ever direction it is that he is circling and he just kind of melts into the canter like its nothing, head nice and low, his strides are balanced and rhythmical, he can now bend on the circle rather bracing his ribs and tipping his nose to the outside.
Now when i ask him to canter he just oozes that "Ahhhhhhhh" feeling, that same kind of Zen feeling you get after your first slurp of coffee at the end of a long and busy day.
Piggles learning to find relaxation in the canter Online

   Now we are ready to tackle it undersaddle. Usualy when we went for a canter, whether it was my idea or his he would always buck. The only thing up for debate would be how big they were and how many he'd do. Sometimes he would buck every stride, one time i actually felt like i was in a Rodeo, the 13hh fat Welsh Pony class, of course! Or he would only buck the once. Sometimes they really pinged me out of the saddle, other times they were the most pathetic little back leg flicks, i imagine the child equivalent being when they scruntch up their face and poke their tounge out at you, there were bucks that had that kind of feel to them. 
   The first thing that needed to be worked on, in true Natural Horsemanship style, was ME! I needed to learn how to correctly ask for the canter. Sound easy? Piggles is a super sensitive little chap and is just such a pal when it comes to giving feed back- he can be very honest and very critical. If i didnt ask the question right my answer was always "Buck!". There is no doubt just how much, given the chance, horses can teach us humans.
   I went back to basics, i talk the talk when helping out a friend of mine with her stirrupless riding now it was time to walk the walk. So we started with a simple "Stick to the rail" pattern at the trot. I peddled my feet, rolled my shoulders and mirrored his forquaters with my forearms and kept at it untill i had zero brace. Only when i stopped bracing could i then effectively use my body to direct and ask for transitions, becuase kicking or big squeezes dont work for Piggles those manovers always get marked with grade BUCK! Soon enough the trot was looking great and now i was in a position where i could work on the canter. 
  • Balance Point? Check!
  • Zero Brace? Check... ish
  • Focus Point slightly higher? Check
  • Energy Up? Check
  • Cantering in my body? Check... ish
...annnnnd....  No canter. Hmmm...
Try again
...annnnnd.... Buck. Hmmm

   So turns out it is darn hard asking for a transition up without bracing, and when your bracing its really hard to canter in your body. Think of it like this, the whole idea of Fluidity is to do in your body what you want your horse to do in his, so if i want Piggles to canter, then i have to canter. Simples. 
   ...Well instead of asking for the canter i braced and so guess what Piggles did and didnt do... 
yuhu, no canter just a fast bracey trot. Hmmm how interesting.
   I kept at it untill finaly, i lifed my energy, cantered in my body whilst staying 100% relaxed, and the difference i felt in me was just unbelieveable. I felt so so.. natural, it just felt so right. It felt safe, connected and effortless and low and behold Piggles popped into a canter without bucking! Now if i could get canter transitions to feel like that for Piggles then he will be saying "YES!" before i have even asked the question!
   Over the next few sessions we built on that and since then we have nt had. One. Single. Buck! Now how about that for feedback!
A lovely relaxed canter

   In out last session things were going so well that we ended up doing a series of halt-walk-trot-canter transitions and back down again, doing just 6 strides of each gait before the transions, all for which i didnt touch the reins! I was able to communicate just using my energy and body. Now when ever we transitioned up into the canter it took more like 9 strides but i wasnt too fussed with that! For now i was still working on the basics so i felt like Piggles was giving far more than i deserved at this point.

   Todays session wasnt quite so spectacular, and left me slightly confused. I confess that this is entirely my fault as i neglected my first and forth responsibility. 
  • Dont Act Like a Predator, act like a Partner. I went into the Freestyle session shaping our focus around his horseinality, like i always do. How was i going to achieve our goal of continueing to progress with the canter, what are the do's and dont's, what do i need to be mindful of, what are the best stratagise to use. Basicaly how can i taylor this session to Piggles and his needs. However i was very focused on the outcomes i wanted to achieve by the end of this session, i was so focused on progressing with the canter that i became far too direct line. Direct line thinking is the action of a Predator, not a Partner.
  • Think like a Horse-Man. Like i said, i was mindful of Piggles horseinality and chose patterns and stratagiese to suit it but i failed to play with the horse that showed up. Piggles was particulalry Intorverted today and had far more Woah than Go. So focused on cantering i didnt address this issue first. Do you know how much more difficult it is to try and work on canter with a horse that has more Woah than Go!? I was no longer thinking like a Horse-Man, i was being direct and not applying my knowledge and savvy. I needed to put my idea of cantering on hold for a second and first help Piggles become more motivated but i didnt.
"When the student is ready the teacher will appear"
   Aslong as i learn from todays experience then it wont have been a non progressive, negative session. Pat always says that "when the student is ready the teacher will appear" and today it seemed that i didnt need a lesson in cantering i needed a lesson in always putting my principles first and a lesson in being in charge of my goals and my horse in charge of the timeline. Piggles gave me a lesson in this today, for which i am thankful for. Tomorrow is a new day and i can head into out session a better horsewoman than when we headed into our session today.
   Todays session i said left me confused, this is why...
   Becuase of my neglect of responsibility one and four our transitions began a little slugish and becuase i continued to not fulfil these responsibilities and got too direct line Piggles then began to rush into the canter. He was begining to anticipate the transition and so everytime we went round a corner or i asked for a canter he braced and trotted faster, i, too, was also begining to brace by this point so things just started going a little pear shaped. 
   I paused and gathered my thoughts and finally i began to fullfill my responsibilities and Piggles needs. He is now beginging to rush through the corners anticipating the transition so i decided that everytime we went through a corner i would ask for a transition down into the walk, i would ask him to do the exact opposite of what he was excpecting and actualy retreat to something he has more confidence with and can do well. We trotted down the straights and walked through the corners and soon enough he became much more relaxed and we were begining to find a nice balance between Woah and Go.
   Now i asked that he maintained the trot in the corners, he still sped up in the corners a little so i decided to trot him in a 10m circle in the corner untill he relaxed and what happened next i wasnt quite ready for and am still trying to work out why it happened...

... I tunred Piggles of the track to begin our circle, after about a third of the circle (just as we began to face the track and join it again) Piggles, without any instruction from me, began to canter. Only this canter was unlike any canter i have ever ridden... ever. It was so so so SO slow and relaxed, we were still going at the same "slow trot" speed but he was actually cantering, the transition was so quiet, so soft and smooth i barely noticed it. He did about 2 or 3 strides and i brought him back down to the trot and began the circle again and in the exact same place he did the exact same thing, again i brought him down to the walk, we repeated his 5 times and every time he did the exact same thing, on the last circle i didnt ask him to come back to the trot just to see for how long he would maintian this lovely canter, he did about 7 strides and then i asked for the trot again.
   The thing that is confusing me is this;
The canter itself and where did it come from? Like i said i have never ridden a canter like that. It was super slow, relaxed, smooth and quiet yet had some impulsion. I dont understand how a canter like that could have proceeded our rushed transitions, it felt like the canter of an experience horse, one that was mentally, emotionally and mentally balanced and at the time i was working on relaxing Piggles. It just doesn't fit! Perhaps i completely misread the situation and Piggles was already mentaly, emotionaly and physicaly balance. Looking back on the video footage i must confess, whilst cantering Piggles looked a great deal calmer than what i remembered him to me. Oh joy, i just answered my question with another question. Dont you just love horsemanship!

Here is a very short video of mine and Piggles session tonight

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