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Need help with a student

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  • Need help with a student

    I have a older student that has a mental block/fear about cantering. Her fears are reasonibly well founded based on some past experiences, but she definitely has the skill set to safely canter, and she has a safe horse, but she just seizes up and can't do it. She also will start a negative chatter which I try my best to stop. The thing is once she gets off she feels silly for not cantering and knows she CAN do it..but once on a horse the negativity starts.

    She CAN and will canter on my good old lesson horse Rocket, and she has cantered other horses, but she just doesn't believe in herself on anything else.

    She is currently part leasing a horse to improve her skills, and she cantered her a few strides a few times, and was fine but the last time she tried cantering for some reason she lost her balance and her inside foot came up (bent knee), but didn't loose balance with her body...still it worried her.

    On Monday we have planned a lesson where she will start out riding Rocket while I warm up her lease mare, and then she will canter Rocket, then switch right to lease horse. Thoughts? Ideas?

    She feels she needs to be cantering lease horse within 3 weeks as then she goes away and back to her other barn for a few months (she only lives her a few months a year), and wants to be cantering confidently before then...I think this pressure she is putting on herself isn't helping.

    Aside from her canter nerves, she IS a good rider and is really improving her lease horse's walk/trot work and lateral work.
    Freeing worms from cans everywhere!

  • #2
    Could you put her on the lunge line with the lease horse? That way you're there as "back up" if she feels panicked?
    Balanced Care Equine


    • #3
      Another longe line vote.


      • Original Poster

        Her fear isn't that she can't stop, it is that she will come off. Being on a continuous circle makes her worry more, not less...prefers the idea of a straight line. She will canter on the longe on my good boy lesson horse...even without stirrups or reins, but not on anyone else.
        Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


        • #5
          Have you thought about backing up a bit. I would take the pressure off her and tell her not to worry about it. Just trot. Give her some time. By removing the pressure to canter and just focusing on the gaits she feels comfortable with she may relax and come around much faster than pushing the issue. Who cares if she canters right now anyway. If she does not have any kind of time line, I would not worry about it. I would tell her that we are going to take the month of Dec. to really work on her seat at the walk and trot so that she feels comfortable and revisit the canter in the new year.


          • #6
            would your student be open to "just a FEW strides" on the longe? without stirrups ideally with nice floppy hanging legs (but with stirrups if she really feels better that way), inside hand under the pommel pulling herself down & back & deep into the saddle. Breathing would be nice, too. (If you can get her to sing or recite the alphabet, she'll be breathing plus she'll be diverted a bit from focusing on cantering)

            Literally, no more than three or four strides of canter, then back to trot or walk, whichever gait will let her feel most confident. Then build from that, as her confidence improves

            Empasize to her that there is no hurry, it will come when she's ready, and, anyhow, there is a lot she can accomplish at the trot, so don't put pressure on herself.


            • #7
              IMO as a riding instructor, we need to know where to draw the line and recommend professional help to our students. There are sports psychologists that are trained to help people with these issues . She may need antianxiety meds, which they can identify. If she truly has the desire but cannot bring herself to follow through I would kindly tell her that she may need help you cannot provide her with and leave the subject alone. Well meaning advice is probably not going to help her if she has a serious issue. We need to remember we are not therapists!
              "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
              The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


              • #8
                Years ago I had a young girl who was terrified of the canter. SHe was a good rider, had shown but would get so nervous she would simply stop breathing and fall off.

                I have video.

                I trained one of my high headed horses to canter straight to me and stop. Her high headedness made her feel safer than a horse with a lower head carriage. She would walk to A then turn toward C and canter. Halt at C.

                We did this for several lessons until she had her confidence back. THen we went on a trail ride for 12 miles. Cantered a good bit of it.

                THen we went back to work. She conquered her fear.
                “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
                ? Albert Einstein


                • #9
                  A minor addition:

                  I think the cantering must be your student's goal and idea, no one else's. What would happen if you let her know that she could trot forever, missing the greatest gait God ever developed? Do you think she'd ever get bored and, of her own volition, decide that life was too short to be missing a fat slice of divinity? Can you guys at least laugh about this together? Man, if she can ride Rocket no stirrups and no reins, she certainly can sit on another, lesser horse.

                  I also like the idea of shorter bits of canter. I'm thinking she canters at the beginning of the short side of your arena and plans to trot before she reaches the next long side. Also, if you can train her mare to canter from the walk, maybe using the western kissing sound as an aid, she won't have to worry about getting discombobulated at the trot.

                  I hope you can help your student.
                  The armchair saddler
                  Politically Pro-Cat


                  • #10
                    1. Ill PM you some suggestions
                    2. Do you have a horse that pony's?
                    chaque pas est fait ensemble


                    • #11
                      So many good suggestions above and I agree with them all. But I also find the idea of just backing off and letting the next time it comes up be her idea is a solid one. I saw an adult rider at a barn I rode at do this, and it drove everyone nuts. (In fact, I found myself wondering if this was the same person!) In the end, everyone kind of backed off, she continued to trot on forever, and finally decided that she didn't want to canter anymore and that was it. She still rides, at the walk and trot.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by rodawn
                        I highly recommend she invest in Jane Savoie's series on conquering fear. They're excellent. Provides tips for breaking that mental barrier.

                        She also might consider some psychotherapy with a sports psychologist on how to recognize and break the negative talk. She's not crazy - She just needs some help with developing a new life skill. Her fear won't be broken while she's riding. She has to develop the skills off the horse for this. Once she has the new skill "on the ground" so-to-speak, she can learn how to apply this skill while riding the horse.

                        Many professional sports athletes have had counselling with a sports psychologist at one time or another as everyone has to learn how to conquer fear - whether it be fear of failure or some other fear that stops them from being successful. Fear stemming from a trauma that occured within the sport is also another big fear that sports psychologists deal with all the time. She's certainly NOT alone with this.
                        I second the suggestion to try Jane's CD series on overcoming fear. I, too, have struggled with fear issues, and her series has been VERY helpful.
                        I saw the angel in the marble and I set him free. - Michaelangelo


                        • #13
                          A lot of good information above. I actually am one of those with a fear of cantering, and will actually avoid riding my horse at times. For me, what works best is just to think that I can canter just 2 strides, if I feel uncomfortable, I can always slow my horse down and either try again, or call it a day. This knowledge that I can (and quite frankly, will) slow my horse down at anytime, is enough to help me break past that barrier. And I do have a tendency to repeat this in my head, every single time I ask my mare to canter... I can always just slow her down...

                          I do believe as everyone has said though that there will come a time when your student will naturally just feel that it's time and she'll be ready. That's how it happened with me and my young mare, as I trotted around in a lesson one day, I just thought.... now.... right now.... and we cantered. It was time.

                          Not sure of her lease horse's temperment, but another thing that tends to help me is to get me thinking of something else. Take her out on a trail ride or hack, and trot for a bit, then slowly speed up into a canter... maybe talk and laugh with her as this happens so she isn't thinking and worrying.

                          I second the suggestions for Jane Savoie's fear course, while I have not got the course yet, I do have one of her books geared towards fear.


                          • #14
                            Is there any way to arrange one lesson session on one of those mechanical horses like the Equicizer? If it were me and I really wanted to address my cantering issue in total safety, that's what I would want to do.
                            I have a Fjord! Life With Oden


                            • #15
                              Have you thought about showing up for the next lesson with a bottle of nice wine and two glasses?

                              In all seriousness she needs to WANT it.....bad.


                              • #16
                                I run into this. Perhaps consider a western saddle or give her a strap to hold onto on her own saddle. The security issue is a real fear for some. They may be nicely balanced to us, but in the saddle, they don't feel what we see. I like the longe line...but mostly, student has to work this out for herself...the nervous chatter is common...let them talk....talking gets some of the anxiety out. She'll canter when she is ready to. Goals are nice to have, but if they're not achieved on that day at that given moment, it is so not important....what is important is that she feel secure in the saddle and she decides what she will and won't do. Good luck. Remember, we're always part shrink! ;-)
                                Bethe Mounce
                                Head Trainer, AmeriCan Romance Equestrian
                                Brentwood CA


                                • #17
                                  She is putting preasure on herself to canter. We are all our own worst critics. You have to just get her to relax, she is so worried about cantering that she is tensing up. Which of course just makes it worse.

                                  I say, work on stuff she is good at to build her confidence. Prove to her that she is a good rider. Have her canter Rocket a few times, building her confidence.


                                  • #18
                                    I agree with those that suggested sports psychology. It is amazing what the power of the mind will do.

                                    Also, from your description I get the impression that she is an intelligent, tactful rider but that maybe she needs to improve her core strength and base of support in order to feel more secure on a horse. If she were my student, I would have her practice sitting trot without stirrups, to strengthen her legs and core and also help her to more easily follow the horse's movement with her body. From what you said, she should be able to do this on her own (leased) horse.

                                    You also said that she will canter on your lesson horse ... how much has she cantered him? Are we talking a few strides, or several times around the arena? If it is the former, I would continue to have her canter him, and work up to where she is able to canter for a minute or two at a time ... Sometimes the first few strides are the hardest, until the rider settles into a rhythm with the horse. After she gets past that initial tension and relaxes into a rhythm with him, she may start to realize "hey, this is fun!" ... and will learn to sit the canter better, as well as developing strength in her core and legs to help keep her in the saddle. Once she actually feels confident in the canter on the lesson horse, maybe then she will be more willing to try it on the horse she leases.


                                    • #19
                                      I have an ongoing fear of jumping. I'm working on it. It's well validated... I rode a bunch of youngsters and came off on my head pretty awfully and a few more falls later with no treatment and I have horrible neck damage that interferes with my life if I'm not attentive.

                                      Anyhow.. that stage set... I tried taking lessons to get over my fear. It sort of helped, but I actually found myself getting more nervous and upset because I'd be SO conscious of what I was doing and paying SO MUCH attention to getting it right that I'd overload my self esteem and my brain. Despite the fact that I was successfully jumping again I was more worried about it than I was prior.

                                      What helped me was doing it by myself. I've done up to 4'3" before... I KNOW I know what to do. I know the instinct and reactions are still there. But having someone there teaching me actually made it harder to believe that I know what I'm doing because I would take criticism so seriously, even when it wasn't there at all. That's how far my confidence in jumping had gone. So when I started riding a free lease horse who was pretty solid over fences I started jumping again, on my own. (when I say on my own, I just mean no instructor... not with no one there. No sense tempting fate) I made the decisions. I pushed myself when I felt I could or backed off when I didn't.

                                      That said, I was thinking of all the things my instructors had said to me and when a jump would go wrong or a stride would be off I'd self-analyze and work it out. Again, I knew what I was doing. My instructors knew I knew what I was doing, but I would lock up under their eyes. When it was just me and the horse (the same horse... that was important) I felt okay to experiment on my own time.

                                      So what I'm getting at the long way around is maybe she needs to do it herself. You said she has a self imposed deadline... when she'll be taking the horse back to her barn and being on her own, yeah? It may be that the best she can do is to be alone with the horse and push herself. I think a couple people suggested that she picks the times to canter rather than you and I agree with them. Sometimes we need someone to push us, but sometimes when it's that strong of a desire we'll find a way to do it.


                                      • #20
                                        You either need to let her figure it out on her own or have her stay on your horse until she leaves.

                                        I had a bad fall off a bolting horse and I will not/can not canter. For whatever reason, the prospect of doing it is terrifying, and the last few times I tried I had to pull out of it because I Feel Like I'm Going To Die. And that is improvement, because I used to avoid trotting as well. I had over a month of lessons where all I did was walk. When I was ready, I made myself give the trot a try. Never got there with the canter and I currently am not in lessons and don't have a horse to ride.

                                        How often does your student ride? With me, it took so long, but I was only doing weekly lessons. If she's out and riding every day, it might be easier.
                                        It's a uterus, not a clown car. - Sayyedati