I am usually a lurker on this board but need some help with exercises to correct blocking in the canter (specifically arms/shoulders but probably other uncooperative body parts as well). After my coach rides my horse, I can feel a huge difference - his canter is flowy with lots of jump, he is lifted through the withers, using his back, etc.......and then I get on and within 3 rides we're back to square one Help!
**Member of the Ocularly Challenged Equine Support Group**
I don't know that I have specific exercises, but rather a way of feeling and riding. Also, without seeing you ride, I have no real way of knowing what suggestions might help you.
The first thing I would recommend is that you practice feeling at the walk. Feel how the horse moves your hips back and forth at the walk. Feel how the weight changes in your feet. Feel how there is a natural compression and extension longitudinally at the walk. This is why it's necessary to allow your hands to follow the horse's motion.
While you are feeling these things try to make sure that your position is correct, without tension and fluid, as you want your horse to be. I'm not sure whether you have any mental images for correct position. I tend to think of my body as being a top and bottom with legs hanging down. I image there is a joint between my seat and upper body that I can release to allow my horse's movement, or tighten to restrict it.
For good upper body posture, I imagine myself as a milk maid carrying milk buckets with a yoke across my shoulders,( http://www.allposters.co.uk/-sp/Vict..._i1872436_.htm). Except I imagine that the rope goes down through my elbows. This helps me to stretch up from my middle and leave my hands free to follow. Putting weight in your elbows helps to keep your hands lighter and also helps to keep from scrunching your shoulders. Since my upper arms are ropes they can still move back and forth even though there is "weight" hanging down from them.
Another very important thing is that your body is vertically aligned. The easiest way to find your vertical alignment is to stretch your legs off your horse's sides, stretch your arms out to the side lean forward and then lean backward, and come back to the center. You are looking for the place where you exert the least amount of effort to maintain correct position. This should be done while your horse is standing still, with someone holding him. It's important to find and maintain this "easy" vertical position as you ride.
Once you are ready to canter and cantering allow your hips and hands to follow your horse. You can help keep your back from locking up by applying the same amount of weight in your feet (that you felt at the walk) alternating from the inside to the outside and back again. ("Stepping" too hard or repeatedly with the outside will create a down transition or slow/collect the canter. If you momentarily stop following with the outside rein at the same time as the increase in the outside weight, but maintain your leg or "driving" seat you can create collected canter. But I digress.)
You can also begin to play with the tension in your hips to decrease or allow increase to your horse's movement.
Think of your belly button as a light leading the way. Depending on how loose and supple your back is, this can be very easy, or very hard.
Lift up your chest and allow your breastbone to go up to the sky to help allow this.
The "feel" of canter is the hips following the legs. As the outside hind comes under, so does your outside hip, and then as the canter rock forward to the inside fore, you follow with your hips and drop your weight to that inside hip down and fore as your chest lifts up. I don't know what dance step that would be, but it's sort of like shuffling from back to front. If you're doing a change, you switch by lifting up the new inside hip and allowing it to go forward.
As the horse canters, allow your butt to "sweep" the saddle, back to front, tucking your tailbone forward and under with each stride. Don't try to hold still. The more you "hold," the more you'll bounce/move. You need to exaggerate the motion the horse gives you and move with it to be quiet.
I'm betting your shoulders/arms are blocked because you're tilting forward to deal with the big movement. I always have the fetal position as my go to move. Try to allow yourself to sit and have the hips lead the way so your shoulders can stay back and down. As the hips follow the canter forward, allow your lower arms to go with it, too.
It might help not to canter too long, but do a few/ten steps, and then back to walk before you get tense and stiff and to keep reminding yourself to sit down and stay back and follow.
Something very small, but that has helped me a TON with my upper body and contact at the canter, is paying very close attention to my hands and making sure my thumbs are not only facing up but pressing or rolling forward. This really changed the contact I feel in all gates and made a big difference my my arms/upper body at both the walk and canter.
OP - in addition to other good suggestions, you might want to try this: for part of your lessons, have trainer put the horse on a lunge line for canter work. This will give you a little less to think about and you can then focus on the relaxed, following hands and the "polishing the saddle w/ your butt" motion.
I had a set back for NO reason about a year ago - after some dental work and 10 days of no riding, I locked up, and horse would.not.canter more than about 3 strides. The lunge work helped immensely and it only took 2-3 times to get me unlocked.
We don't get less brave; we get a bigger sense of self-preservation........
As suggested above - your elbows should be opening/closing going forward/back at all gaits to get and maintain a proper connection with the mouth. AT the walk is a super place to start. When a horse walks you can feel the head and neck going up and down. What you want is to allow the horse natural gait to "pull" your elbows forward, then as the head/neck comes back (up) the elbows return to your waist (where they started).
At the trot the elbows open as you rise and close as you sit. For the sitting trot it's closer to the walk, as your bumm / hips come forward elbows are on waist, when you feel your hips come back elbows come forward - maintain proper contact. (It sounds like you are locking your elbows. many beginners give by opening fingers, more advanced riders use less finger opening/closing and more elbow/seat changes.)
At canter elbows are pulled forward in down part of stride (horses head goes down so elbows follow) and on upward stride elbows return to waist.
But be careful not to get bogged down on concept of elbows at the waist. It sounds mostly like you are locking body parts instead of "feeling" horses natural body movement and accomadating your body movements to horses so you can maintain a steady rein contact without pulling on their mouth or throwing the reins away.
Thanks for all of the responses. I actually remembered that I posted a thread a couple of years ago about not being able to sit the canter. I have definitely progressed past that point with a lot of work. I have no issues sitting the canter now but I just find that I am not getting that flowy powerful canter that my coach can get and I'm sure it has to do with blocking. When I watch this video (last few seconds): http://www.equestriancoach.com/conte...arms-and-hands it really helps me visualize what it should feel like. My issue is that I am trying to ride with more contact and I'm having trouble developing the right "feel" as I shorten my reins. When my horse is naturally forward, it's simple but my challenge is getting my horse forward and then following the contact........if that makes sense.
I did watch some videos of Edward Gal and then had a serious bout of self loathing
I have decided that videos seem to help me the most so feel free to keep suggesting things to google. I found Jane Savoie's videos really helpful.
**Member of the Ocularly Challenged Equine Support Group**