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Need Relaxation Ideas*UPDATE*

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  • Need Relaxation Ideas*UPDATE*

    *Update in last post*

    Ok so I'm an instructor and I have a student who has me stumped!

    Here's the deal, she's a decent intermediate rider (or at least I thought she was) until I move her off her large pony and onto a horse. She's fine at the trot but as soon as the horse canters she tenses every single muscle and just perches in the saddle. It's fear.

    I don't get how she can know how to sit a canter on a very uncomfortable 14.1 pony (I've ridden him, it's not a great canter), but put her on a 15.3 horse (she isn't huge) with a GREAT canter and she panics. It's such a completely foreign idea to me that's just not my nature.

    I've tried the following (note I became her instructor in Sep. and I started her with horses in Nov. after last show season was over):

    *Riding with no stirrups
    *Riding with no stirrups on the lunge line
    *Having her sing while she canters (this actually had some mild success)
    *My track for the last month was just to force the issue and make her do it, hoping that she would just realize this is NOT a big deal. But if anything that's made the problem worse.
    *Not asking for a canter, just working on precision at the walk and trot. This is good, but isn't transferring to the canter at all.

    She's getting too big to show the pony, she needs to move up to a horse, but at this point we're supposed to start showing in another 2 months and I wouldn't let her do a w/t/c class at all.

    About the horses (I've had her try out 3). One is large (16.2 but a total packer, but she was so intimidated by his size she fell off after one canter stride), one is about 16h and while not such a packer (he can get fast) he's a good boy and takes care of the rider (she had the same perching issue) and number three is a 15.3 mare, she's a doll and the best canter (why I chose her).
    Last edited by hrford; Feb. 21, 2013, 08:47 AM.

  • #2
    When I tense up my instructor has me breath in through my nose out through my mouth. She actually says it like a cadence, we all relax. Breath in, breath out.


    • #3
      I would get a radio and blast some of her favorite music (well maybe not blast) I rode at a wedding once and music was playing and I had zero trepedation because it just felt like a dance party on ponies. If you can I would also invite her to go on a trail ride/ go outside the ring and make it so that riding isn't about precision or stress but just make it fun?
      My Horse Show Photography/ Blog


      • Original Poster

        I try but her lessons are at 7pm and right now it's pitch black out. I actually pulled out barrels the other day (I know nothing about barrel racing) and tried to make it fun. I even rode and set a time (at a nice easy canter) to try and get her beat it. She tried to beat it at a trot (and almost did) but wouldn't canter.

        I mean if I was as tense as her I wouldn't want to canter either! Her balance is zero because she just tightens everything, and like I said taking away her stirrups just makes that worse.

        She's a nervous sort by nature (very much like my son) but so opposite of me.

        I repeatedly say, YOU DO THIS FOR FUN, SO HAVE SOME! To no avail.


        • #5
          Have you asked her why she is so nervous about cantering? Did she get hurt, when she fell off of the 16 + hand horse? Is she a visual or verbal learner? Have you had her try to hold the pommel with the outside hand and the cantle with the inside hand (of course, this would have to be done on the lunge line or with nobody else in the arena)? Tell her to use her hands to hold her seat deeper into the saddle, then for her seat to slide from back to front in the saddle. If her hip joint is locked, she cannot slide, as the sliding will help her hip joint to open and close.

          If she is a visual learner, then have her think of how the wheels on the locomotive on a train move. Her hip is the spoke of the wheels, which does a backward circular motion.

          Try the "pretend you are sitting on a hundred dollar bill game". If she can keep it under her seat, then she gets the money. If not, then you get to keep it. You can use Monopoly money or actually put $1 under her seat. Also, make certain that she is not gripping with her knees, as this will cause her seat to come out of the saddle and to "perch" too.
          When in Doubt, let your horse do the Thinking!


          • Original Poster

            She has fallen off, but she's never been hurt, other than her pride. The having her hold herself in is a good idea, and typically we have the arena to ourselves so not an issue. I will definitely try that. Thank you!

            I've talked with her about it, because she knows I'm running out of ideas! She says it's such a long way and she's worried she'll fall. I told her that worry makes it more likely that she will fall and that being loosey goosey while unattractive at least lets you flow with the horse! But just like anything, tell someeone not to look down and of course they do.

            I've tried sit a buck, and having her ride bareback, she just loses the $. She does grip with her knee, and telling her not to just doesn't make it better! I've had her give ME lessons, hoping that watching me and critiquing me would help. But nope.


            • #7
              What did she do on the pony? Did she jump, how high, what did she show in?


              • #8
                Have you asked her what scares her so much? Perhaps if you can talk it out each time before she goes to canter and have a plan that she is going to just do 2 or 3 canter steps and back to the trot she can start to feel more confident? Maybe give her a grab strap on the front of the saddle too?

                Maybe even put her in a western saddle, let her hold on to the horn and just do a few steps of canter at a time.

                Perhaps even using a vaulting surcingle and letting her sit the canter on the lunge line with something to hang onto and having to really use her legs around the horses barrel would help too?
                Stoneybrook Farm Afton TN


                • Original Poster

                  She just showed flat last year (I wasn't here) w/t and w/t/c.

                  She has the same issues with jumping, fear getting in the way of everything else. Jumped pony up to 2' at home, but anything above a larger x-rail gets her with the same issue. So the fear is limiting her in a LOT of areas. I've stopped jumping with her for right now as she's cruising towards a big crash if we can't get this under control. I know her other trainer does small jumps with her but using the pony.


                  • #10
                    As someone who used to have canter issues (my first fall, and then my worst fall were both at the canter - when I started riding again as an adult, cantering TERRIFIED me, despite having no issues with it as a kid after said falls), the no stirrups work is not at all the answer - if she's even remotely like me, it'll make the tense worse.

                    What worked for me is first just not cantering, which it sounds like you've done, and then just doing brief canter sessions - a few strides, and then back to trot. Maybe only doing 3 total strides the whole lesson. And my trainer would distract the hell out of me for those few strides - jokes/making me tell stories/answer questions, anything to make me get out of my head and just go with it. Now, I wasn't in a rush to progress, and I don't know if this girl is, but we did that for forever, and slowly made the canter sessions longer, and now, no issue. It was taking those small steps and making cantering no big deal that made me relax about it.

                    As to the jumping - just don't do it for awhile.


                    • #11
                      I find that my being scared is mostly about TRUST!!! I am a 30 yr old woman and I bought a 16 TB who was a saint 90% of the time but he had a nasty habit of bucking randomly. This made me scared to canter. I would get tense and ridgid and my trainer would yell "breathe" every 5 strides lol.

                      After I sold him my trainer only had one horse for me to lesson on and it was a 14.2 h pony. This pony brought my confidence back 110%. I actually loved going "fast" on him and was even considering doing a jumper course just for fun.
                      This didn't just happen over night. I rode and showed him all of last year, and we built a trusting relationship.

                      I have finally bought a new horse who is a little smaller (15.3) I have only had her about a 3 months. I was nervous at first and I fell off of her at least once a week the first month I had her for different reasons (jumping trot poles, bucking, spooking) but we are learning to TRUST each other. We have had some really good rides and the more I canter her and nothing bad happens the more trust we build.

                      One exercise that my trainer has me do is just canter the short side of the arena and then come back down to trot then walk then pick up canter again on short side. it accomplishes quite a bit. (I have Cantered, it just a short amount of time so I don't get to nervous, and working on transitions is always good!) Also she has me do circles the same way canter half the circle come down to trot, then pick up canter a few strides the trot etc.

                      I think this student just needs TIME and to build Trust with this new horse! Take it slow and let her work out her issues in her own time. It may not be as fast as you would like but sometimes we need to take a step back.
                      The Love for a Horse is just as Complicated as the Love for another Human being, If you have never Loved a Horse you will Never Understand!!!


                      • Original Poster

                        I like the idea of just canter the short side. I can really see that helping her. Telling her to just canter for three strides, just gave her something else to worry about and then she'd be even more tense!


                        • #13
                          I came off a few times on a bolting pony then had a year off searching for the right horse. He is a saint and only 15.2h but when i started back it took me a while to just relax in the canter. I was pinching and tense but never came off of him. It was just my past experience and me getting older didn't help lol. Really with me it took time. Months on just riding. My trainer started me out when I was ready cantering a few strides at first. I've been riding 15 years. Barrel raced, did jumpers, hunters some eventing and now just dressage and never had an issue. The fear was just so deep in me I couldn't relax after the falls and break from riding. I'd canter a few strides and go to the trot. Trainer praised me greatly and didn't try to correct anything at all with my position. My advice would be just ask her if she wants to canter a few strides. Tell her she can stop when she wants. Even if it's 2strides. It took me a month and I'd canter the long side and about another months before I'd canter the turns. I have a dressage ring so squared corners so I really needed balance for the corners. Let her go at her pace until she is comfortable once she is comfortable then start coaching her position. Don't put on to much stress about it and showing is the last thing to worry about IMO. Let her go at her own pace and she will come around.
                          Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


                          • #14
                            Just to clarify don't tell her canter so many strides. Just tell her to canter as much as she wants. You don't care just do as much as you feel like. The pressure may get to her also.
                            Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by rabicon View Post
                              Just to clarify don't tell her canter so many strides. Just tell her to canter as much as she wants. You don't care just do as much as you feel like. The pressure may get to her also.
                              Yeah, that's really what I meant - my trainer didn't say "Canter THREE strides!" She'd say something like "Ok, why don't you canter a bit - just as long as you want" and sometimes I'd do 3, sometimes 6, sometimes 1! And I hated cantering the short sides - I much preferred doing a few strides in the middle of the long side.


                              • #16
                                TEACH HER TO BREATH. Literally I had a problem of freezing in bad situations until recently I literally had a hyperventilating panic attack and was rushed to the ER. Now I'm much more aware of what my breathe is doing. Teach her how to breath with the strides. Like at the trot, I breath in for two strides, breath out for two. Make her set her breathing rhythm with the strides. Stick her on a lunge line to canter and knot up her reins and have her close her eyes when she canters, tell her to trust the horse because absolutely nothing bad is going to happen if she loosens up.
                                Have her stand at a halt in the middle of an arena and practice tensing up, and then releasing and tell her to try and feel the way her horse shifts under her when she does that, and how the horse relaxes when she relaxes. Also if it persists after she explains what's scaring her, maybe talk to her parents about having her see a Sports Psychologist.


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by ultimateshowmom View Post
                                  When I tense up my instructor has me breath in through my nose out through my mouth. She actually says it like a cadence, we all relax. Breath in, breath out.
                                  This. But have her breathe into her belly, not her chest. It's a Centered Riding technique I learned when I was a demonstrator for a teaching clinic. It takes some practice to do, and really has an entirely different purpose I believe, but it did help me with nerves before horse show classes, etc. Actually, I forgot all about doing it at my last show (which was after a fall) and my nerves were almost parlayzing pre-class. Now that it's back on my mind, I'll have to resort to it again!


                                  • #18
                                    IMO breathing is great and we need to do that to relax but until she gets over the fear it's self breathing is going to not do much. If its truly fear she is tensing no matter if she is breathing or not. Believe me I went throughout that. I could breathe with the best of them but still be tense and pinching and scared but I was breathing lol. Work on the breathing to help her relax some once she is comfortable with the canter itself and is not terrified. I'd tell her don't forget to breathe and show her how but nagging her about breathing is probably going to stress her more and make things worse. For a show it's great because of show nerves we will hold our breathe sometimes in a class but your not in fear for your life your in fear of nerves of not doing well or forgetting something etc. Not doing well and afraid your going to die are to different things and she just needs to canter at her on speed and as much as she's comfortable with. She will get it but it will take her time
                                    Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


                                    • #19
                                      Another thing that helps me is to see my trainer do it 1st. For instance I was looking at a horse to possibly lease and before i even got on I asked my trainer to do some of the things that I might do and see how the horse reacts.

                                      For instance she "fell alllll over his neck after a jump" and he didn't do anything. she dropped her stirrups and pretended to be sliding off and he just stopped. She just sat there going across the diagonal & "auto swaps!"

                                      Ask your student what she is afraid might happen and then get on the horse and act out her fear. Maybe seeing for her self that he is calm will help her.

                                      Also as your lessoning randomly throw in things like " He is being such a good boy", or "look how quite he is going around today", & "He looks so relaxed" My trainer does this and it really makes me take notice that "yeah my horse does feel relaxed and quite"

                                      For instance this weekend we did my first lunge line lesson on my horse to help with my seat. My horse was throwing her head around and being very bratty. I was really scared she was going to buck or bolt or do something crazy, but my trainer just kept telling me to ignore it, we were OK. And that she had control of her head. Hearing her say it helps me relax a little, but maybe I have to much trust in my trainer lol
                                      The Love for a Horse is just as Complicated as the Love for another Human being, If you have never Loved a Horse you will Never Understand!!!


                                      • #20
                                        ok I have def dealt with this 100% and have only found one instructor that helped with this and got me past it. The main thing is to breathe but when you have that much fear you can't remember so the best way to get her to breathe in the beginning is make her sing a song. I am not joking tell her to sing happy birthday or something else stupid and sing it with her. If you can't hear her tell her you can't hear her and make her sing louder. I felt like a complete idiot but it made me breathe and broke my concentration on what I feared. Once I was past the completly terrified point my trainer had me count outloud one, two, one, two for each canter stride. It kept me breathing but wasn't as silly as singing. I still do this when I canter my horse after he's had a break from cantering or if I'm jumping something I am nervous about. My fear came from a really bad fall and a few months off b/c I couldn't walk. I would also stick with the one horse that you think will be the safest. I developed trust in the horse my trainer put me on after my fall and rode him for months until I was completly confident on him and could move to other horses. I still always get nervous on a new horse in the beginning.

                                        I also think that having her canter just a few strides for as long as she is comfortable is a good idea. Don't set the amount but tell her that she has to canter at some point in her lesson and leave it up to her when. She may do better cantering in the beginning to get it over with and then focusing on something else or she might want to save it to the end.

                                        Another thing would be to have her do lots of two point at the walk and trot so she builds up her balance and muscles. Have her canter in her two point she may feel more secure. She can grab onto the mane with an inside hand and still have her outside hand to steer out. When teaching we always taught the canter in a two point first then had the students sit the canter once they were more solid. Our barn was very big on two point though at least a few times around the ring each direction every single lesson.