I’m learning to canter on a horse. It is a distinct gait, different from a trot that has two beats. The canter has three beats and the motion from the top of the horse feels like a row boat going with big waves. It is fast and though I’m not completely in control of steering it yet, I have to say it answers my need for a thrill. The interesting factor that stumps me however, is every horse has its own way to canter and that determines how smooth the ride is. For a novice, me, I am learning on the horses with a dreamy smooth ride.
My horse and I have not yet come into sync with the canter. We are like two dancers stepping on each other all over the ballroom. It’s mostly my fault because when I watch Glen or Andie ride her she’s perfect for them. When I approach the canter on my horse I admit there’s something inside me that clenches up and freezes because the memory of her taking off with me on her back out of the arena and through the barn stalls is still a little fresh. (I blogged about that…wild ride)
Last week I rode Tempe in a lesson with Glen and cantered perfectly! So Wednesday weren’t we all surprised when I went to canter Gwinny, my four year old quarter horse, that it all went wrong. She takes off and she goes fast right away, and she’s still a little unbalanced so she leans in towards the middle. The immediate speed makes me think “she’s getting out of here quick” and so instinctively my body clamps up around her sides, I lean forward, and draw up my knees. That’s the position for a jockey, so what am I telling her with my fear reaction? Go faster. Then I pull on her mouth and give her the opposite message, so she’s confused. We both end up frustrated.
I need to sit deep in the saddle, give her the signal with my reins and a kick to depart into a canter, then I need to stay deep, let my legs relax long around her and keep my hands still. I need to trust her. I need to breathe and enjoy the ride. This is a mental obstacle, not a physical one. I want to snap my fingers and get over it. If only it were that simple.
I know a few things about fear. I’ve overcome other fears before and it takes cognitive strength. Today, I’m going to ride this canter and I’m going to speak to her honestly with my body so she won’t misunderstand my signals and speed up, but take an easy ride with her old mama on top so I can enjoy the rocking canter and begin the journey of confidence riding it on her back. Last time I cooled her down at a walk I closed my eyes and imagined she was cantering and I let my body go into the exact position it needed to be and I felt the calm. I practiced the calm. I memorized the confidence. The visualization is where I’m going to take my mind when I give her the signal to depart into a canter.
She’s still learning so much about being a good mount. She is so willing to please, and she’s smart. She learns quickly. I need to teach her I don’t really want to go as fast as I’ve been telling her previously. I think it’s as critically important for me to approach my own mind with fears as it is to breathe. I take this challenge and puff up to my full height of 5’3” (tee hee) and I’ll overcome and I’ll push the fear back into it’s dark cave where it belongs. Why? Because cantering is fantastically fun and I can’t live with my own irrational fear preventing me from having a good time. I’ll let you know how it goes.
On a side note. Lately as we approach the big trip to Uganda I’m working from five in the morning til ten at night, when I collapse in my bed knowing I didn’t finish. But, I give myself the break to go to the barn and be with Gwinny. I realized that I feed so many people in so many different ways that I go see her because she feeds me. And it never fails, when I drive away from the stables I am so relaxed, happy, and ready to take on the piles of work waiting for me. Riding has been my missing piece. I’m so glad I found it.