Aspiring to Canter

Max and I have never cantered together on purpose. I mistakenly cued him to canter the first time, lost balance, and did everything you’re not supposed to do good enough that he ran off with me. The second time, he was trying to tell me that he was in pain, but I didn’t listen, and he had no choice but to buck, rear, and take off. There’s a cowboy’s saying, “If you get in the saddle, you had better be ready for the ride,” and Max is a ride. I need to be 100% balanced and confident for us both.

The last time I cantered, I bailed out of the saddle just in time to get road rash all over my forearm and a nasty concussion which took four months to heal. I spent enough time out of the saddle to become scared. That was four years ago.

Since I’ve rededicated myself to riding in 2021, I’ve been slowly gaining back my confidence in the saddle. I’ve taken a group lesson with Max once a week and ridden him 3-5 days between classes. We’ve worked on our strength, balance, and relaxation. We’ve come far enough that when everyone else picks up the canter during group, my coach tries to coax me into joining them.

For a few weeks, I dreaded her weekly words of encouragement. She would say, “Max is ready, and you’re ready!” while my face turned white and I envisioned ambulance lights. Gradually, I started to get bored of just trotting around while everyone else got to canter and jump.
When I almost did it one week, I knew it was time to start getting Max ready to canter.

I’ve had one of the trainers at the stable canter Max twice a week for a few weeks. He’s slowly remembering how to horse. The first few rides were him racing around like a ninny while she calmly balanced in the stirrups and stroked his neck. (I want to be her when I grow up!!!) Now I can see the joy in his face when she cues the canter, and he gets to stretch out and do what he loves. He’s begun to come to a point in our rides where his head pops up to give me a one-eyed look, his ear flicks back, his back tenses, and I can feel his silent question “Now? It’ll be fun! C’mon!”.

When I was riding all by myself and almost said “yes” to him, I knew it was time to start getting me ready to canter.

I’ve been riding 5 days a week, no excuses. I’ve been pushing myself to ride outside of the arena, trotting on a loose rein, up and down hills, over poles, with enough two-point to make my legs numb. If it’s just enough outside my comfort zone to make the base of my skull buzz, I’m doing it until it feels easy. I’ve been working myself up to the point where I feel ridiculous for not just cantering already. It still sounds scary, but I’m bored of the drama in my amygdala and just want to have it all be done with!!!

I was supposed to canter a lesson pony this morning. I woke up to a freak winter weather watch with 40 degrees of nope and a wind chill that sliced down to the bone. As much as I’ve worked myself up, making my first canter in four years be on a freshly clipped pony in freezing winter weather just wasn’t going to happen.

Horseback riding is my constant lesson in life on rebalancing and adjusting to whatever obstacles come up along the way. I didn’t want to wait another week to canter, but I’ll take the week and make the most out of it. I want to work on my two-point and general relaxation. I’ve been rehabbing from starting off as a dressage rider. I still try and sit Max’s expressive trot and get him to look like a dressage horse. It’s better for us both for me to just post with light contact while he stretches out his neck. Every ride I share with him on a long rein makes me a better horsewoman.

I’m looking forward to cantering the lesson pony next week as a better rider than I would have been if the weather had cooperated with my plan today.

I don’t know when Max and I will canter together, but I’m proud of the progress that both of us are making, and I know we will accomplish that milestone together and rock it when the time comes!

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