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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan. 11, 2007
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    Central VA
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    1,399

    Default Help a newbie out-- crappy canter departs!

    So, after riding mostly hunters for years, I bought a horse a few months ago that is a LL dressage horse. I had a really bad fall/injury a few years ago and had lost the desire to jump. I did some basic dressage with my old horse about 10 years ago and like the cerebral aspect of it since I'm an "over thinker" in general.

    I bought a dressage saddle a few weeks ago and it's really been hard to get used to. I seriously feel like a beginner again! I'm starting to get used to it and I think the trot work is getting better, but my canter departs SUCK and I need help! I do take a lesson a week and my instructor is helping but I figured I'd see if anyone here had any pointers that would help.

    I'm timid and while the new guy seems trustworthy, I don't know him all that well yet. Previously mentioned fall was the result of a bolt. So I get nervous about cantering, which is dumb, since it's not like he's going to take off. He's a bit lazy and likes to go on the forehand but if you ride him correctly, is capable of pushing from behind and lifting up his back. He's actually a pretty athletic little guy but he is one of those that won't "give" you anything, you have to ask correctly. (He has not had great canter departs from the get go-- even when I rode him "hunter" style.)

    My main issues are twofold-- one is that I tip and hunch when I ask for the canter, then secondly, I pull back about the second stride and start clamping with my lower leg. I know what I'm doing, and that it's just an insecurity thing, but I can't seem to fix it. It's like I have a mind/body disconnect.

    Anyone have any suggestions? I thought of maybe putting a stirrup leather around his neck and making myself hold that when I ask-- that may keep me from grabbing his mouth. I'd just grab mane but he has no mane to grab-- it's really thin and sparse.

    I realize this is going to be a long journey and I'm in no hurry. Horse is at home with me and I don't want to show, I'm just in it to have fun and improve. I ride 4 or 5 days a week. Part of me wonders if I should just stick to w/t for now because I don't want to "train" him to do crappy canter departs! After the first few strides, I'm fine, though I do still need to let my lower leg hang. That's a hard concept coming from hunterland.



  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr. 14, 2010
    Location
    PNW
    Posts
    245

    Default

    Do you have access to a good trainer or trusted friend that could give you lunge lessons? It sounds like your horse is a good boy so he should be just fine for them. If you do not trust him 100%, do you know someone who has a horse that you deem as completely trustworthy to take lunge lessons on? You are correct that grabbing his mouth could make him sour... Lunge lessons will let you focus on you, not him.

    It sounds like your biggest issue right now is confidence (not knocking you, I have been there too!!!); you need to convince yourself that your horse is in fact a good boy and whatever naughtiness he comes up with you can handle. It will take time, but you CAN get there!



  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul. 28, 2011
    Location
    Oklahoma
    Posts
    44

    Default

    I would definately get a neck strap that you can grab when asking. Or just grab the billet strap of your saddle pad when you ask for the depart. That way, your hand isn't moving too drastically from where it should be.

    Well, for me that was best because I had the habit of keeping my hands too far forward.

    Do you have someone who could lunge you? Then you could drop your stirrups and really focus on relaxing through the transition. Transition up and down as long as you can handle it.

    But since you say that you're a little anxious because of your fall, don't do this until your comfortable going sans stirrups on your new horse. Being scared of not having your stirrups would probably only exacerbate your tenseness.

    Do you have the funds to take some dressage lessons? Even if it's only once a month, that would be helpful.

    I personally wouldn't worry too much about 'training' crappy canter departs. They may not be pretty because you aren't capable of keeping him round through the transition, but that doesn't mean you can't work on making sure they are prompt and forward. But again, if your so anxious that you are hindering your horse instead of helping him, hold off until you can pay for some lessons or get more comfortable on him.

    So, I rambled more than intended. Hope I was sort of helpful.
    Via SillyHorse: "Honey, if you paid that much for a 'clinic', you are the gold plated sucker."
    The self-proclaimed old-thread-reader.



  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug. 11, 2008
    Location
    MD
    Posts
    3,676

    Default

    My instructor got me through the upward transitions (also a timid rider) by having me hold the saddle pad or grab strap with my thumb on the outside rein. It stops you from doing half halts in the beginning, but it also keeps you from grabbing the mouth.

    I love my grab strap. It kept me on through a little buck/bolt issue in our 2nd lesson. Instructors comment was "well done, you didn't grab his mouth and wasn't that a lovely canter".

    LOL, I didn't realize it was a canter, I was just holding on for dear life. But obviously the strap did its job. It probably stretched 1/2" during that little episode. But whenever I feel too loose in the saddle or just a little nervous, holding it just for a few strides helps me get re-organized.
    Lowly Farm Hand with Delusions of Barn Biddieom.
    Witherun Farm
    http://witherun-farm.blogspot.com/



  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar. 25, 2011
    Location
    Pennsylvania
    Posts
    5,039

    Default

    First of all, your fear is not dumb. You can't muscle through it and that is the basis of your problem (sight unseen of course).

    1. You are out of hunters so you are used to riding in front of the vertical -ask me or anyone out of that discipline coming into dressage how we know! That takes alot of time to get past. It took me months to get a trot out of the PSG schoolmaster because of the leaning forward, loud aids, and uncertain balance. I called this the hot mess phase of my dressage training.

    2. You are afraid. This makes your body do all the things that will result in a poor canter depart. You're going to lean forward, your hands and legs are going to give your horse GO/WHOA, and you're going to clamp on. This will result in a bone-jarring, on the forehand trot, running into the canter, and a bone-jarring downward transition. All along what you want is the opposite right? Balance behind, lift into the canter, open hips, long leg, body following the motion.

    Here is my solution for you. Stop trying to canter until you feel more secure in your seat and on this horse. There's no race except in your own mind where you're thinking something like, "this is stupid; how can I be afraid of canter when I used to go tearing across fields and over massive jumps". You're being far too hard on yourself and it is not constructive. You can't shame yourself brave - you'll more likely just develop a bad habit that you'll have to break later.

    How to feel more secure in your seat? That depends on you. It may be a matter of seat time. It may be a matter of learning to canter on a packer - a soft, broad-backed drafty school horse with push buttons and a tea-sippin' gait. It may be a matter of talking to a therapist about your post traumatic stress. It may be a matter of quitting caffeine and boosting your B-complex.

    Whatever your tools become, you can't just man-up.

    Paula
    He is total garbage! Quick! Hide him on my trailer (Petstorejunkie).



  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug. 4, 2010
    Location
    Newtown, CT
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    584

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by KPF View Post
    So, after riding mostly hunters for years, I bought a horse a few months ago that is a LL dressage horse. I had a really bad fall/injury a few years ago and had lost the desire to jump. I did some basic dressage with my old horse about 10 years ago and like the cerebral aspect of it since I'm an "over thinker" in general.

    I bought a dressage saddle a few weeks ago and it's really been hard to get used to. I seriously feel like a beginner again! I'm starting to get used to it and I think the trot work is getting better, but my canter departs SUCK and I need help! I do take a lesson a week and my instructor is helping but I figured I'd see if anyone here had any pointers that would help.

    I'm timid and while the new guy seems trustworthy, I don't know him all that well yet. Previously mentioned fall was the result of a bolt. So I get nervous about cantering, which is dumb, since it's not like he's going to take off. He's a bit lazy and likes to go on the forehand but if you ride him correctly, is capable of pushing from behind and lifting up his back. He's actually a pretty athletic little guy but he is one of those that won't "give" you anything, you have to ask correctly. (He has not had great canter departs from the get go-- even when I rode him "hunter" style.)

    My main issues are twofold-- one is that I tip and hunch when I ask for the canter, then secondly, I pull back about the second stride and start clamping with my lower leg. I know what I'm doing, and that it's just an insecurity thing, but I can't seem to fix it. It's like I have a mind/body disconnect.

    Anyone have any suggestions? I thought of maybe putting a stirrup leather around his neck and making myself hold that when I ask-- that may keep me from grabbing his mouth. I'd just grab mane but he has no mane to grab-- it's really thin and sparse.

    I realize this is going to be a long journey and I'm in no hurry. Horse is at home with me and I don't want to show, I'm just in it to have fun and improve. I ride 4 or 5 days a week. Part of me wonders if I should just stick to w/t for now because I don't want to "train" him to do crappy canter departs! After the first few strides, I'm fine, though I do still need to let my lower leg hang. That's a hard concept coming from hunterland.
    Find a trainer (it can be who you are using now for lessons) to teach the canter departs. If both you and the horse are green it won't work. The green horse does not need an inexperienced or scared hand teaching him. Are you fine cantering in a different saddle, or is this due to the fall? The canter depart is very technical and a good one isn't anything like a bolt, but is a slow step into canter...I'm from hunter land too, but have done a bit of dressage with my guys. Honestly, good flat work is universal, as is a good canter depart. If you aren't experienced and/or are afraid it's better to have a pro help your guy...it's a setup for success so you can feel comfortable and he can learn correctly.

    As for your lower leg...take away your irons and strengthen your leg, this way you won't have a swinging leg.



  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug. 9, 2011
    Location
    Australia
    Posts
    58

    Default

    I feel your pain. I'm also a timid rider and my greatest fear is a horse taking off. This has been compounded by my lovely horse who is athletic, so canter departs tend to be a launch up and forward. This will be great later on, but last time I tried to canter, my last real memory is ending up half way down the arena in two strides hearing unmerciful laughter from my husband and my coach in the distance. I was never likely to come off, but it still scared the c$%^ out of me.

    My solution has been to spend a lot of time in walk and particularly in trot, making sure thatI push myself to the point of dicomfort (in terms of being forward) and really working on the connection from leg to mouth. Last lesson the penny finally dropped - to really ride, the leg needs to come first. A basic rule, yes, but I got it emotionally and physically as well as intellectually. (I actually felt my horse relax and say 'Finally, you idiot!')

    I've also been working a lot on downward transitions from my seat and really working at letting go of the reins. Badly explained - working from trot to walk with looped reins and controlling the transition using my core and my legs. This has meant that I've begun realising that I don't need to control the speed with my hands, which will hopefully mean easier departs because I've mearnt to soften my hands and give. Does that make sense? I've also learnt how to do a one-rein stop.

    This has all also meant that I'm starting to trust my horse and realise that he has better brakes than he needs. All problems stem from not enough forward. This can cause problems as if he isn't forward, he tends to spook which can also be scary, but he's never going to take off which means that I can trust him not to go into racehorse mode.

    I will be grabbing mane (or saddle blanket or whatever) to ensure no grab, and try to keep the light seat, belly-button to ears, engaged core I've also been working on. And I'm almost ready to try again.

    The only other thing to remember is that fear is natural and that riding hroses isn't. Our instinct is to curl up into a protective ball when we're stressed, and horseriding is stressful (I can find references if you want them but apparently our heart rate increases even just getting onto a horse, let alone putting yourself into a situation where you are consciously afraid). Correcting this takes a long time because you are trying to override your body which is doing its best to keep you alive. Hang in there! I'm feeling your pain!

    Sorry this is so long.
    Riding: the gentle art of keeping the horse between yourself and the ground.



  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct. 16, 2008
    Location
    Central Oklahoma
    Posts
    3,047

    Default

    Never underestimate the power of the pommel

    I'm a confident rider on my show horse. Hell, I have been riding him for years and I know every quirk he has and knows he is too lazy to do anything silly.

    Now when I climb on board my 4 years old, that is a complete different story. No, he isn't silly. He is actually quite mature mental wide, especially for his age, so why do I clam my legs and pull on reins when I ride him, even in a round pen, going just one direction? Well, because he is not yet strong enough to be balanced, he is so narrow I feels like riding a balance beam, and I get tight.

    What I did was get a hold of pommel when I ask for canter, for the first few times anyway. After that, my body started to relax, and then I can let go of that pommel.

    Works really well for me. Don't feel bad if you need that extra support. Use whatever tool you have to make you feel more secure.



  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb. 23, 2005
    Location
    Spotsylvania, VA
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    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Solve-...e/149140361379

    There are lots of us with fear issues
    I wasn't always a Smurf
    Penmerryl's Sophie RIDSH
    "I ain't as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was"
    The ignore list is my friend. It takes 2 to argue.



  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep. 9, 2008
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    north of the Arctic Circle
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    Default

    Having a grab strap present may make you feel more comfortable, just knowing that it is there. An old stirrup leather around the neck works really well!

    Are you comfortable doing at least 5-6 strides of sitting trot, keeping your horse in a reasonable frame and without gripping or tensing? This is important and can make a big difference in your comfort with a canter depart and the effectiveness of your aids. It helps me to think of the canter cue as coming largely from my seat/hip, rather than the lower leg. That's not to say that I'm driving with my seat, but that mental image helps me keep from pinning my lower leg, have a soft following seat, and somehow helps me find my timing for the transition.

    I agree that a few lessons from a trainer may be immensely beneficial. Even if you just do 2-3 lessons to specifically address the canter departs.
    "Winter's a good time to stay in and cuddle,
    but put me in summer and I'll be a... happy snowman!!!"

    Trolls be trollin'! -DH



  11. #11
    Join Date
    Mar. 10, 2006
    Location
    Albany NY
    Posts
    5,490

    Default

    Hint: In the dressage saddle, learn to sit back, way back (It will feel like) and wait for him.

    Learn to wait for him to depart. You aren't in a half seat urging him on. You will be 'with' him, and need to learn to feel his hind legs, and the inside leg step under him and feel him lift up (you have to b e back, off his shoulder for this to happen) and strike off. Its a half a moment of pause waiting for it. You're right, it is different, and you are starting at the beginning. So's he, so also when he gets stronger you'll be better.

    Don't worry about the canter, it will come when he is strong and you are both ready. At the trot, if he is wiggly, or not straight, it is a sign of lack of strength, so get strong and steady and round at the trod. Then start downward transitions, lengthen strides at walk, trot, from your seat only.

    Include halts. Include rein back. Then start mixing it up. One day you will ask for a canter in all of that and he will strike out beautifully and you will spend the next week trying to find it again. You will be well on your way. Work work work on everything at walk and trot. Canter will come very soon with that.
    Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.



  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep. 15, 2006
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    North of the Frozen Tundra, but I can see it from my house.
    Posts
    1,296

    Default

    Look to the training scale. The base is rhythm. Get into a nice sitting trot and concentrate on the rhythm. Now, maintain that rhythm in a half halt, and maintain it as you ask for the canter.

    If you tip forward out of a nice soft tall posture, the first thing that goes is the rhythm. You tip, and the rhythm changes; when you maintain it, you [I]cannot[I] tip forward.



  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jan. 11, 2007
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    Central VA
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    Default

    Well, we had a lesson tonight (I do take one a week on him) and my depart to the right was much, much better. However, it came time to canter left and I was super grabby with my left rein and pissed him off. Which resulted in cowkicking and ultimately a small buck (which I was proud of myself for keeping the canter after-- typically I freak and stop.) Instructor hopped on afterwards and cantered him and he bucked with her too. We've decided that for now, no cantering until she hops aboard first.

    So I guess I'll work on w/t for now and save the cantering for lessons. Unfortunately, there is nowhere around here (that I know of) with school horses that offers dressage lessons-- I looked previously to no avail. I wish I could do lunge lessons, I think it'd help. But my horse will buck and/or take off at the canter on the longe so I'm not going there with him. I would have no qualms doing it on a schoolmaster.

    The fear thing... well, I've already come a long, long way. I started taking h/j lessons once or twice a week after I healed from my bad fall (almost 4 yrs ago, and I broke my back badly, was nearly paralyzed). I was jumping small stuff (2') up until this spring. Unfortunately the fall happened on my own horse at home so that ups the discomfort factor. Plus the new horse, while lazy and honest, is also sensitive. The horses I was riding at my old trainer's barn were not sensitive so I'm sure they let me get away with grabbing, etc. a lot more. Not that they were dead old robot schoolies, one was actually a really nice client horse, but just not as sensitive as my new guy appears to be. Plus, I was riding in a close contact saddle and was used to my "hunter" position so I felt more secure.

    He's not green, but hadn't been worked consistently for a while before I got him. He's 10 so not super young or anything.

    I really don't want to mess him (or myself) up so I'll stick to w/t for now and see if things improve. I'll also find a grab strap for my pommel so that I can use that if need be. It's just frustrating when your mind knows what you need to do but you can't seem to make your body DO it.

    Thanks for the advice and commiseration!



  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jun. 17, 2000
    Location
    Durham/Chapel Hill nc
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    3,683

    Default

    Several ideas to play with -
    what about practicing canter departs on the lunge - with you on the ground, lunging him. Really, this is about voice training him to the depart, so once you're back on him you can say "Can TER!" as you ever so casually whisper the canter aids. It's also about gaining confidence in his sanity by seeing him do a whole bunch of canter departs.
    I generally find it easier to be really brave when I'm on the ground, so if you need to reinforce your voice with a good flick of the lunge whip, it's easier to have the courage when you are lunging.

    Are walk-canter transitions in his repertoire? Many people find it easier to stay relaxed and balanced going into the canter from the walk.

    A couple people have mentioned holding onto the saddle pad billets - this can be really handy as you can be pulling forward on them rather than backwards or upwards as you might on a neck strap. Gives security while building muscle memory in the direction of carrying your hands and thinking forward with your contact.

    Have you tried thinking of really leaning back, like putting your head on his butt in the canter transition. When tippers *think* they are leaning way way back, it usually puts them /us pretty much in a balanced upright posture.

    Are your other upward transitions good? Does he respond really well to your leg used softly? If it needs tuning up, do the tun-up in halt-walk and walk-trot transitions, and the increased responsiveness should help smooth out your canter transitions.

    Good luck!!



  15. #15
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    Jun. 17, 2000
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    Durham/Chapel Hill nc
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    Default

    Ah, I was typing as you were posting.

    Where in central VA are you? Bruno Greber at Ashanti Farm in Charlottesvile will do longe lessons on Ashanti horses, I'm pretty sure. They are pricey, but getting the feel of how things are supposed to feel can be priceless! I haven't ridden with Bruno, but I've watched him ride and coach, and have been impressed with his demeanor and knowledge.

    Sounds like you are on a sensible track already, but another set of eyes and a really schooled horse can be a great treat.



  16. #16
    Join Date
    Aug. 2, 2000
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    Chesterland, OH USA
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeannette, formerly ponygyrl View Post
    Several ideas to play with -
    what about practicing canter departs on the lunge - with you on the ground, lunging him. Really, this is about voice training him to the depart, so once you're back on him you can say "Can TER!" as you ever so casually whisper the canter aids. It's also about gaining confidence in his sanity by seeing him do a whole bunch of canter departs.
    This was the key for us.
    We worked on getting smooth boring canter departs on the lunge first. Millions of trot-canter-trot transitions. We focused less on "prompt" and more on "easy".



  17. #17
    Join Date
    Mar. 5, 2009
    Posts
    21

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    Lots of great suggestions here and please know you are not alone! I too have fear issues after a bad accident and have struggled with my canter and depart for years. I have tried all of the above (sometimes I still grab my bucking strap ) and here are few things not mentioned so far:

    1) Close your eyes at the transition. I really don't know why this worked for me, but I think it allowed me to "feel" the depart. I have also heard of looking up at the sky/ceiling during the depart.

    2) To overcome fear... cruise! This can be really scary at first then really fun! In a small, secure, enclosed area with no other horses, ride on the buckle and just go. (You can grab your bucking strap/pommel if you want to.) Start where you are comfortable then build up to the canter. Let the horse go forward wherever he wants to go. Just ride. This can be so freeing, and I believe builds up trust both ways - you start to trust your horse not to take off and your horse starts trust you not to grab on his mouth in defense.

    3) Have your horse's hocks checked. From your above posts, the bucking at the transition with you/your trainer and the taking off/bucking on the lunge line suggests to me he might be in pain. My gelding started having some arthritis at around age 10. He really started having trouble taking his canter departs and would occasionally buck/kick out (which he had never done before). After hock injections and daily aspirin, he transitions are no longer a problem and there is no bucking.



  18. #18
    Join Date
    May. 6, 2007
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    1,051

    Default BTDT

    Quote Originally Posted by paulaedwina View Post
    Stop trying to canter until you feel more secure in your seat and on this horse. There's no race except in your own mind where you're thinking something like, "this is stupid; how can I be afraid of canter when I used to go tearing across fields and over massive jumps". You're being far too hard on yourself and it is not constructive. You can't shame yourself brave - you'll more likely just develop a bad habit that you'll have to break later.
    Paula
    This, exactly. I'm a wimp and have strong forward-leaning tendencies. I had to rebuild my seat from the foundation. Once I did, I became so much more balanced, effective, competent .... and confident! A strong base of support is a wonderful thing.

    And I think, in the long run, taking time now to get this down will give you the foundation to move up more quickly and correctly as you progress.

    Good luck!
    Don't wrassle with a hog. You just get dirty, and the hog likes it.

    Collecting Thoroughbreds - tales of a re-rider and some TBs



  19. #19
    Join Date
    Aug. 17, 2001
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    Hangin' on by a thread...
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    Everybody has some really great things to say, so I'd like to add a couple.

    How prompt is your horse with his departs? If he's the lazy sort, which it sounds like he is, you could be hunching and grabbing with your leg because he has fallen behind it and you are trying to make him canter with your body and not off your seat and leg. If you are not comfortable sharpening up his response, have your trainer ride it so that he's listening better and you don't feel that you have to flail to get the appropriate response.

    Secondly, when you ask, think of pulling your stomach muscles up into your ribcage before you ask, and maintain that feeling through the transition. This will help keep you from collapsing forward. Also, remember that the first stide is UP, not down, which will keep you from falling forward in the depart. holding on to the pommel strap will help yoI keep your upper body back, instead of being dragged forward. Don't let him move you. Try reading the teachings of Mary Wanless to help you stabilize and strengthen your core. Good luck!
    "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." - Thomas Edison

    So, the Zen Buddhist says to the hotdog vendor, "Make me one with everything."



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