Cantering Cava

First, we had a beautiful canter to the left.  Cava’s canter is springy and uphill, naturally balanced.  There is a lot of motion to move with, but all the spring in her stride makes the canter very easy to adjust and maneuver.  We did some circles and some counter-canter loops, then took a walk break to stretch and let her catch her breath.

Then Cava heard it.  Someone was in the feed room, pouring grain.  This meant it was time to eat.  She stopped, totally square, and attempted to put herself on the bit and waited for me to dismount and return her to her stall for dinner, despite my quietly nudging leg.  As I nudged her again, a little more insistently, she stretched her neck around so she could look at me.  She put her lips to the toe of my boot and gave me the sweetest questioning face, I was almost tempted to get off.  But I couldn’t let her get away with that, I knew I’d pay for it later if she thought she could quit working anytime she wanted.  So I gave her an “I mean it” bump with my leg, and she sighed and walked off.

We switched directions and picked up a trot, I figured I wouldn’t torture her since she was being good, but I did want to canter a little to the right.  As we headed towards the corner, I switched to a sitting trot, which immediately perks her up as she anticipates whats coming.  I did a few circles at a sitting trot, trying to keep her relaxed and balanced, waiting for my cue.  Then I asked her to canter off, and at first she ignored me and moved into the circle away from my outside leg, and then in the next step she picked up the canter… but on the left lead.

I knew why it had happened.  When she stepped over from my left leg, it ever so slightly changed the flexion to the outside of my circle.  I brought her back to trot, leg yielded her out to a bigger circle, and tried again.  That should have fixed it, because the leg yield out helped her step under with the inside hind leg and bend into the outside rein.  But again, in the moment of the transition, she momentarily lost the connection and picked up the left lead.

Now I’m wondering what’s up.  Is this a new game, or she’s annoyed I’m still riding and not letting her eat?  Or has she become stronger to the left? It’s always been her easier direction.  Now she’s figured out an evasion so she can always canter left?  These thoughts drift briefly through my mind as I adjust her balance so she has a little outside flexion, and counter-canter half a circle.  Then we transition to trot, and in that first trot step, leg-yield half a step and as she’s stepping out into the leg yield, we go back into canter on the right lead.   She canters a lovely circle on the right lead, and I’m tempted to quit there but I really want that transition more easily.  One more time I tell myself.

We return to trot, and on the circle I can already feel that she is wanting to drift into the circle and not maintain a good connection in the outside rein.  I ask her to walk, and begin spiraling out of the circle.  I can feel her back left, and she fills the outside rein.  In my head, I think this is the feel I want, I will trot two steps only and then immediately canter.  As I’m planning this transition, without thought my outside leg slides back and my inside seatbone lifts forward, and Cava steps lightly from a walk right into the right lead canter.  I laugh at her and myself and call it a day.  I got my right lead canter, and she showed me that when I have her correctly prepared she will give it to me, but at least until she is more solid with her leads, I need to be more careful to prepare her correctly and be very clear with my aids which lead I want, and that I do want a transition and not a counter-bend or haunches-in… on a talented horse like her, even without the training, she is inclined to give me exactly what I ask for, whether or not it’s a movement already in her vocabulary.

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