This Week in Dressage: Walk to Canter

Trot-canter and walk-canter transitions have long been weak points for us. Mostly because I never developed the canter quality early on, and never prepared or rode the transitions in balance and self-carriage right at the start. I learned to see a canter lead on this horse, and to get the one I wanted – which usually involved a lot of flailing about with my upper body and leaning forward while looking down to try and see the lead.

Poor old Arwen.

derpy dragon

This movement consistently scores low for us, with comment “hollow”. I was originally taught to throw my weight to the inside, to encourage the horse to pick up the inside lead. Top tip: this don’t work. With me fooling about, and the trot lacking power, and the canter lacking engagement, Arwen learned to throw up her head and lunge into canter from the front.
The good about our walk-canter:

  • It’s obedient as they come; I can get it the first time, every time, without trot steps.
  • I can get the correct lead 99% of the time (whether it’s canter or counter canter), even on the middle of the long side or wherever.

The bad:

  • Arwen anticipates the transition and starts to get tense and jogging in walk.
  • I still want to throw my weight to the inside and curl up, especially in a simple change.
  • Arwen gets really hollow and makes a laboured sort of bounce into the canter.

So we set to work on this with riding it “in context”, pretty much as it would be in most tests, trying to figure out where it was going wrong:

  • Medium walk up the short side F-A.
  • Change rein across the long diagonal in extended walk.
  • Transition to canter at C.

The problem started as we transitioned back to medium walk at M. In the double bridle I tried adding a tiny bit of curb during the transition down, but that only made her more tense and caused her to jog and hollow instead of jog and lean. Her anticipating made me tense, too, so my seat was kind of all over the place. It was a hot mess. Sorry, Arwen.

I found this exercise on the Internet, and during our next session we started trying it out.

  • A turn up the centerline.
  • L leg-yield to the track.
  • Track straighten, then transition to canter.
  • Canter to M, transition to walk.
  • C turn up centerline and repeat.

Right off the bat this started to work better for Arwen. Her walk leg-yields are supple and I can get them very steep (L-B for instance) so whenever she’d start rushing, instead of getting in her face, I’d increase the steepness of the leg-yield so that she had to focus on that instead of on getting all dragonish. With her flexed to the inside, I also didn’t worry as much about the lead, so that mitigated my flailing a bit. As we returned to the track she could start anticipating but then I’d put her in slight shoulder-fore for a few steps and then ask for the canter.

This exercise took my mind off the anticipating and made me concentrate on the preparation – actively ending the leg-yield, keeping my upper body in line, going into shoulder-fore, half-halt, outside leg back, inside shoulder up, canter on. Arwen was rounder going up but added some trot steps. In the third session, I carried the dressage whip and gave her a touch as I asked the first few times just to make it clear we needed to canter on without kicking.

By the end of this I had a much more powerful transition, using the hindlegs to spring up to canter. I do have to half halt on the curb rein to prevent the head from flying up. Old habits die hard. But the more connected I can keep her, the more engaged the transition, the more engaged the resulting canter.

We went back to the medium-extended-medium walk and then canter exercise just once or twice and the difference was substantial. It’s still not going to be her best movement, but it’s an improvement. It’s not going to be brilliant until I can discipline my own body better in all the canter transitions and the canter itself, to stay tall (well, as tall as 5′ 4″ gets) and strong through my core instead of crumpling.

Dancing with this dragon was exactly what I needed this week. How great is the God Who turns our worship of Him into His healing of us?

Glory to the King.

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About firnhyde

A disciple whom Jesus loved. Called to horsemanship, among other things, and an adoring spectator at God's own stableyard. Volunteer medic, Jersey breeder, occasional writer. Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. Luke 1:38
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