What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-
- Learn how to practice remaining balanced on the transition
- Understand the importance of a good lower leg position
- Make small adjustments to help with allowing the canter to happen
- Figure out how to get started the very next time you are in the saddle
One of the most thrilling and exciting experiences we can have on horse back can be cantering in open spaces. There is a feeling of freedom, of ‘two hearts’, of just pure unbridled joy…
Except when it’s not… For many riders, cantering in open spaces conjures up feelings of anxiety, fear and just all round lack of confidence and control. However, I believe all riders can work towards having an enjoyable canter in the great outdoors – in a safe and, dare I say, controlled manner.
In this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast I will give you a few simple exercises that you can begin working on today, to fulfil your dream of that open field canter in the near future.
It is important to realise that the only thing you can truly control is yourself. By learning how to better control your thoughts, emotions and actions, you can have more influence over your horse. Influence – not control…
I could give you a list of stronger bits and ’emergency brake’ techniques that will definitely give you greater influence over your horse. However, I am a strong believer that it must be enjoyable for horse and rider in order for it to be a true ‘win’.
So, we are going to focus on what you can control and improve. You.
Practice Your Transition into the Canter
The transition into canter. It often amazes me how some riders seem to think, or at least demonstrate, that they must do the cantering. No. Your horse must canter. Keep this in mind the next time you ask for a canter transition.
Your job as the rider is to set both yourself and your horse up to the best of your abilities for the canter. Once you have done this, simply ASK for the canter. Then get out-of-the-way and actually allow your horse to canter…
It all sounds like common sense, however I see every day how riders throw themselves into the canter. The go from being riders, directing the horse, to being passengers, perched up on the horses withers! Your horse cannot effectively strike into the canter if you are blocking the movement of the shoulders – which is what ‘perching’ is doing!
Work on remaining where you should be in the saddle before, through and after the transition. This goes for ‘leaning’ one side or the other as well in order to strike the lead. You don’t strike the lead – your horse does.
It is amazing what can happen when we are willing to simply ask the question and then wait for the reply…
Develop the strength in Your Lower Leg & Core
Cantering is a physically demanding, for both horse and rider. Developing your core strength will go a long way to helping you remain balanced and actively moving with the horse in canter. A stronger core will also help you to feel more confident when applying your aids; particularly those to ask your horse to slow down again!
The great thing about developing your core is that you can do it out of the saddle. This puts less pressure on your horse and also, gives you far more opportunities to actually improve this part of your riding.
Along with a strong core, I believe that a strong lower leg is equally as important. Many riders, when they feel anxious or stressed, squeeze with their knees. This effectively blocks your lower legs from doing their job which is namely supporting you and communicating with your horse.
No support and a lack of communication are a recipe for disaster, especially when cantering in open spaces. Work at developing the strength and effectiveness of your lower leg by practicing a correct position at all times in the saddle.
Practice the ‘click of the fingers’ rule which is that if someone could click their fingers and make your horse vanish from underneath you, you should always land on your own two feet.
You can join the FREE Equestrian Fitness Challenge HERE to help get you started on improving your core strength.
Adjust Your Stirrup Length
Your core and lower leg will only be as effective as your overall position in the saddle. One of the biggest influencers in your position is your stirrup length and also, how your foot is positioned in the stirrup.
Ideally, when cantering in open spaces, riding in the light seat or two point seat is the most ‘economical‘ for both horse and rider.
It allows you to move with the horse while also allowing the energy being created in the hind quarters to move underneath you and connect to the front end, unblocked and unhindered.
Adjust Your Stirrup Position
A strong core and lower leg position are necessary for a correct light seat. However, what is equally as important is the position of your foot in the stirrup. If your foot is in too deep, or if the stirrup is not angled correctly across your foot, it will result in your ankle joint becoming ‘locked’.
A flexible ankle joint is essential to a balanced light seat. It is an important part of your ‘shock absorbing system’
Turn the front of your stirrup (the side closest to your horse’s nose as it falls down the saddle) towards the toenail on your little toe. Allow the back of the stirrup (the side closest to your horse’s flank) to be just behind, or under, the ball of your foot.
This will result in the stirrup being angled more diagonally across your foot, rather than at right angles to your foot. A diagonal stirrup, positioned not too far down your foot will allow for your ankle, and therefore your knees and hips, to move with the energy.
Start by Cantering ‘Laps’ in an Enclosed Space
My final piece of advice for developing confidence for cantering in open spaces is to practice in a more confined and enclosed area. An enclosed arena is perfect. However, a small paddock or field with good footing will do equally as well.
Pretend you are out in the open. Work on improving your initial transition. Pay attention to how your body is moving with the horse. Work on developing a solid position and then, finally, on building fitness and mental confidence.
Begin with working on the rhythm and trying to maintain a good quality rhythm for a specific period of time or length of canter. From here, begin noticing how you can influence the energy using your aids. Practice your half halts. Make sure you are maintaining contact and also, pay attention to the talk going on in your head.
Confidently cantering in open spaces really comes down to how much faith you have in your own abilities as a rider. The great news is that by following a few simple principles, you can begin building that confidence starting at your very next ride.
Other Posts and Episodes that Relate to This Topic:-
- Equestrian Fitness Challenge
- FREE Equestrian Fitness Challenge Sign Up Form
- The Trot to Canter Transition
- Using Your Body to Effectively Influence the Canter
- Building Confidence in Your Riding Abilities
- Starting with the Basics to Build Confidence
- The Direct Relationship Between Your Fitness & Your Riding