My Canterbury Tales

Friday, September 11, 2009

One of the first things that got me hooked on riding a horse was my first canter. It felt glorious. The canter remains my favorite gait, and yet, aside from the gallop, it is the one I use the least! Why is this? This very question has come up recently in a Clinton Anderson publication. In the No Worries Journal (Fall 2009), Clinton devotes an entire article to cantering with confidence--an article spurred by his observation that people do not canter their horses enough. Clinton asked my very question: Why not? And he discovered the answer was fear.

I have to say a little fear is at the root of my own lack of cantering. What is that fear based on? For me personally, the fear is twofold: 1. When Lilly walks, she walks slow. When Lilly canters, she canters fast. In a field, up a hill, even down a trail, this isn't so much a problem. But in the ring, she runs around fast and twitchy, almost like she's panicked. Or maybe she's just trying to quickly get it overwith! In any case, it does not feel relaxing. It feels wild. And, 2. There have been times when once Lilly is moving fast, I am not so good at getting her to quickly slow and stop. Whoooops, now that's no good! Whoooooooa, Brumby!

Clinton's answer is to fight fire with fire. Ride through the fear, says Clinton, and you will have nothing but exhilaration on your hands. And this is exactly what I try to do. (OK, I have grossly oversimplified his article, but you get the idea...) Lately I have been better at it. If Lilly seems mad at having to canter, or lazy, I get tough and make her do it anyway. This is a picture of me preparing for a cantering lesson. There is no doubt that when she resists the canter and acts spoiled in the ring that I am afraid of the situation. I try to ignore it. I rationalize that it must feel scarier than it really is.

My husband, who took these pictures, likes to sit on the sidelines and tell me everything I am doing wrong, along with suggesting completely unreasonable ideas. The non-rider with all the answers. He is sincerely trying to help. Here he said my reins were not loose enough and actually he is right. But at the time I was trying to get my brumby collected, and was seesawing the bit in her mouth to get her to draw her pretty head in.

I have mentioned that I do not have the best posture at the canter. I do not have that string from my head to the sky, like Sally Swift talks about, pulling my spine straight. I like to blame this on the fact that I only started riding horses a few years ago. Excuses, excuses. I'm sure that I lean forward because somewhere in my head I've gotten the idea (the erroneous idea) that I feel more secure that way. Or maybe it is to be closer to my brumby's head so I can yell reprimands into her recalcitrant ear.

Here we did a little jump. But I hadn't cantered to the jump. If I did that, we would have gone flying! Especially since the jump is pointed at the gate.

Look! We are so fast I'm a blur!!
Actually I think this was just another camera malfunction.
One last thing: you may be interested to hear that the word "canter" and its origins are linked to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (one of my fave books, by the way). As the pilgrims made their trek to Canterbury, England, the pace they set was called the canterbury. Later the verb was shortened to canter. I have actually been to Canterbury and although I was not a religious pilgrim and I certainly wasn't on a horse, it was well worth the trip. Long Live the tourist trade!


Paint Girl said...

I love to canter, but depends on the horse I am riding. Brandy, even with her bucks and crowhops doesn't scare me. But cantering Fritzy, now that's another story! She goes so fast and she leans really bad. So I don't do it. I leave it to my trainer. When I took lessons, I always dreaded the "Now lope" from my trainer.
I think it always seems faster than it really is while cantering. I'll tell my sister that she is going so fast, and she says "No, she's not!"
I love how our non-horsey guys always try to give advice. I always have to say "thanks for your input, but really, I have been around horses for 17 years! I know what I am doing!"
Keep on cantering girl!!

juliette said...

I too have been to Canterbury - loved it! I didn't know the etomology of our word "canter" until your post. I love to canter horses that our balanced perfectly - I have too many bad experiences with horse on their forhand. My pony even fell on me and she also fell on my mom. We got her balanced finally, but those memories are in my head when I ask for the canter. A wonderful exercise that I read - have to try - in from Jessica Jahiel's Horse Sense Newsletter. I mentioned it in one of Kate's comment boxes, but I don't have her email. I have yours so I will send it to you. It is too long to type in this comment box (even though I did type a lot!). Sorry!

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