Seriously. I mean it.
Usually with these guys, the canter is the part I look forward to least. I’m a trot girl. I can sit a trot ALLLLLL day long, and that is my happy place. I often have to remind myself to do more canter work because I tend to leave it out if I’m not thinking about it.
At the same time, I’ve always heard people talk about horses with wonderful, naturally balanced canters. These are the kinds of horses people really seek out, because improving a canter is a lot of work. Even so, I wasn’t sure these horses really existed. To me, they are like unicorns, at least in the OTTB universe, where most of the horses I’ve ridden… they might have nice canters but there was always some issue with it – crookedness or short stridedness, or something. Whatever issue was present, this “naturally balanced, lovely canter” thing is not something I’ve really experienced all that much.
So Candace is a revelation to ride. Really. I KNOW she looks like a neckless giraffe right now. I know she hasn’t fully figured out what to do with contact or how to be round. I know she doesn’t have a consistent trot pace without a lot of work, and that she still goes a little crooked, and that she has a very slight hitch in her right hind somewhere (which, by the way, is going away rapidly as we ramp up her work). I know she looks skinny and gawky and all that! But once you pick up that canter, it’s just smooth sailing! She feels like she is on wheels, not legs, and the cadence is so perfectly predictable and rhythmic that I almost don’t have words for it. She flows over the ground like the first warm breeze in spring, forward and full of energy, but soft, safe, and yielding at the same time.
I could go on. But I’m going to try and talk about our lesson last night, which was her first with our dressage trainer, and was very successful. Up until now I have primarily focused on just going forward. My goal has been to keep consistent contact, and always keep her pushing from behind to build up the necessary strength to take the next steps.
After several weeks and a few minor setbacks (leg puffery, etc), I decided to start with the lessons this week and it turned out to be excellent timing . Stef got on first, just for a few minutes at the walk with a little trotting, to get a feel for her. Poor girl… Stef immediately started asking for a little more from her, to go forward into stronger contact, to bend and to flex (and yes, keep your motor running while doing so, little filly!). The confusion was evident on her face, and she tried several different means of figuring it out (aka “evasion”) before hitting on the brilliant realization that she could actually give to the contact and lift her back, which Stef immediately rewarded. Though confused, she continued to try, and each try got progressively better than the one before.
Once Stef felt she had established a good feel for what sillyfilly was all about, it was my turn. She was a little funky at first – I think she was feeling a little flustered by what Stef was asking of her, so when I first got on, she was very much a wiggleworm and scooting away from my leg and being sort of cranky. So Stef had us go straight up into the trot, and wonder of wonders, she started giving to the bit and trying to go round almost right away. The big trick was to try and keep some impulsion and forward energy so that we were doing it right – it was almost like it was too many things for her to think about all at once, so when she started thinking about her back and neck, her legs felt like they were stuck in glue. It was a lot for me to juggle too, and watching some of the video I want to hide in the corner (and secretly tie my stirrups to the girth for the next ride).
As we kept going, she began stretching down more, and Stef encouraged me to give her more rein and let her stretch as much as possible (provided she wasn’t rooting or dragging on the reins), which I tried to do but my reflexes aren’t always super quick. Several times I found myself with handfuls of nothing when Smartypants started curling behind the bit and getting overbent. Leg leg leg leg!!!
We did a little cantering and I was super pleased that she continued to try and flex and go round and give to contact at the canter – it was like as soon as she understood what we wanted, she was going to try no matter what! It was a little harder at the canter, probably because I lack some steadiness and my feel isn’t quite as good, but holy cats it was wonderful! I just have this completely hopeful feeling in my gut, and each time I ride her I become more convinced she is going to be AMAZING. In every way. She has the brain, she’s developing the body – next up is to learn how to jump some baby jumps. And again – that canter! I know when I post the video some people might say “so what?” but again – most of the CANTER horses I’ve ridden are not nearly so balanced and rhythmic this soon out of the box (not that I have super duper eons of experience, but it’s true!).
Hopefully I’ll have the video up later tonight – and trust me, it includes some moments that are not so great from last night, but also shows some of the progress I think. 🙂 I just couldn’t wait for the video to actually write this post, because I left that lesson last night feeling so happy and so energized!
I had “that” moment last night – the one where I look at the horse and stop whatever it is I’m doing, and realize that I might cry when she leaves. I spent a few minutes just pressing my face into that little hollow about her right eye, and realized I’m completely in love. She is so, so special.
I’ve got to start writing ad blurbs soon.