horses, ponies, riding, riding lessons, Saddlebred

Lessons Learned From a Legend: Riding 104

Safety and Security Equals Accomplishment

Before cantering, you would want to have the walk, trot, posting, and guiding down solid! Do you feel safe and secure with your riding? You will want to feel very centered, balanced, before asking for the canter. A whole lot can go wrong when cantering a horse. This is when they have the most power over any rider. It’s the gait of freedom.

“It was winter when I conquered cantering Fame in both directions of the arena and learned what leads meant. It’s like when you skip, the leg that is forward is the leading leg, but the hard part was remembering which was left and right. My shortcut for learning my left from right is remembering my teachers make me write with my right hand. In the arena, if you track to the left so the rail is on your right, you would need to canter on your left lead. If you are on the correct lead, it balances the horse while making a turn. Racehorses (tracking to the left/counter clockwise) canter down the long sides on their right lead and do a flying lead change to their left lead to make the turns. This balances the horses while in the turns, but it’s done so fast, you can hardly tell. At least that’s what Mom and Dad’s racehorse trainer friend told me.” –An excerpt from The Last Crabtree Girl

Canter Lead, Leading Leg

Body check:
“Pull your ribs out of your belt” causes your body to adjust itself into the correct position. Head high, chest high, relaxed not hunched, shoulders square. Don’t arch your back—this could cause you, the rider, to stiffen your entire upper body.

Canter slight hand signal – raised rail hand – lead you want to take. Apply pressure with rail side leg, some horses are trained to canter with a slight turn of the horse’s head towards rail. Your instructor will let you know how to best canter your horse.

To turn, you will do a slight hand movement downward, applying pressure to the rein in the direction you would like to turn. Because you will be asking him to turn by applying rein pressure in the direction you would like to go, you will still need some pressure on the other side thus guiding him through the turn.

If you repeat the same steps every time the horse will be confident in what is being asked of him. Repetition!

Control and Respect Equal Accomplishment

We learn from one another by watching and listening. Your body control will gain you respect from your horse. With this respect, you and your horse will be working as a team. Riding as a team is one of the best accomplishments you will feel, and you will have a safer and more enjoyable ride.

Jockey’s ride like the wind, right? Well, they are hardly moving besides pumping with the horse and maybe they reach back and use their whip, but for the most part, they are using every muscle they have to stay still and quiet in the saddle to let their horse gallop as fast as they can.

It’s like watching a swan in a lake, a big beautiful bird gliding along. However, if you could see underneath them in the water, their legs are working franticly to take them where they want to go.

You can watch any World Champion horse and rider team, and the rider will have an amazing amount of control over their body that makes the ride look effortless. However, it’s true, there are some professional horse people who “step out” of this graceful position to show off for a moment, but they aren’t doing this at home. If they did, they would sour a horse in a minute.

In my book, The Last Crabtree Girl where my mom and I went for a week long lesson with Mrs. Crabtree, at first I felt like she didn’t even think I could ride, and I had been riding for eight years. It wasn’t until much later that I figured out she was not only testing me, but she wanted me to fully understand all the basics. She taught me why I should have all these checklists for control over myself and horse. She gave me an awareness of self and horse that was invaluable. Giving you these lists, I hope you find them as important as I did, but most of all I hope to help you find control, respect, safety, and security, which will bring you the feeling of great accomplishment.

Before I close with a story about my first ride on my reining horse, I thought I might let you know something about Swiss Kiss. Remember, I wrote earlier that this horse would pin his ears and threaten to chomp your head off at the stall? I like a challenge, so by the end of the show season, when Swiss Kiss saw me in the hallway of the barn, he would lift his leg up, like a begging dog, until I stopped at his stall, and then he would pin his ears forward and nicker. After a pat on the neck, I found out what he did like. It might not have been peppermints, but he did love sugar cookies. When we retired him and brought him home, his nickname ended up being Cookie Monster.

Bevis, My Reining Horse

My quarter horse trainer first let me walk Bevis around to get used to him. It was my very first ride on a reining horse, and I had watched several classes and horses in the class but never ridden one. It only took me moments to realize that reining horses have buttons. Yes, buttons. If I slid my leg forward, so I could see probably ¾ of my boot down from my knee, Bevis halted suddenly. I fixed my legs and lowered my hand, and he walked off again. I lifted my hand maybe an inch and his ears twitched because he was waiting for the next part of his que. My trainer had me stop and told me more of his ques and let me walk around “trying” them out. After we warmed up and I thought I had his “buttons” memorized, I was ready to go. I slid my hand just above his mane, forward with my reins steady, letting my reining horse canter off and hall hinny to the other end of the ring. Doing these three little things at once, a slight lowering of my hand back around the saddle horn as I sat deep in my saddle and said a slow and low toned “Whoa,” and he slid over 20 feet. WOW! My adrenalin was pumping. What a rush. To ask my horse to gain that kind of speed, it wasn’t necessary to do the whole Yee-Haw thing. He knew his job. I knew the ques, then simply stayed out of his way so he could get it done. The next fun thing to learn was how to spin him. Well, balance is the key. If I didn’t have balance control, he would have spun me right off into the dirt.

“Horses lend us the wings we lack!”

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