In which we aren't there yet, but we aren't giving up on getting better

Margie posted the GPS track of our arena lesson at Fish Creek yesterday.

Yep.  It looks like we turned the arena into a swimming pool...for sharks...

It was a good, hard lesson.  Not the hardest I've had with Fiddle lately, and not the most frustrating.  

But definitely challenging.

Group lessons mean we can take turns being watched, practicing, and watching
other riders--all good for learning.

We're working on balance, flexion, shoulder-in--all that good stuff to help horse and rider communicate better.

I've re-thought my strategy for Fiddle's canter work.  

We've got a couple of issues to work through before we will be successful.

#1 issue:  She isn't very good at this

Fiddle is not only really bad at cantering, there's also some fear there.  She doesn't like to fall down (who does?) and falling is a distinct possibility for her at the canter, since she's so disconnected.

 #2 issue: Fear --> Anger
That's how this horse does things

She also fears being WRONG.

Improved balance on the circle, once she gets going.

I've talked previously about Fiddle's issues regarding right and wrong vs good and bad.

Better balance, better rhythm.  And then...
Basically, Fee cares deeply about being right, and doesn't give an overweight rodent rear-end about being good.

I know there are lots of people-pleasing horses out there.  Fiddle isn't one of those.

She does good stuff because doing good stuff is the right thing to do.

...she falls back into the trot.

One of the things Fee "knows" is good is to "take care of the rider."

She also knows that floundering around and nearly falling is not good rider-care.

She doesn't want to be wrong when it comes to taking care of me, and I have no problem with that.

I kinda like the part where she takes care of me--it totally saved me last year when I was broken but didn't give up riding.

Canter depart is clumsy and heavy

 But she would rather avoid the clumsy, nearly-falling, maybe-hurting-the-rider thing, and when I push her to do it anyway, she gets afraid and angry.

And when Fiddle gets scared and mad, the communication stops.

Once moving, she can do this

So, my first step is to get her comfortable with a good, coordinated canter departure and a verbal cue.

When she picks up the canter in the round pen, even clumsily, she gets heaps of verbal praise.

If she's not afraid, she will try things that are difficult

Sometimes I'll even stop her for a moment, hand over a cookie, and send her out again.

Cookies help the praise sink in better.

Simultaneously, I'm working on my canter-riding skills with Hana.

Once Fiddle is able to canter comfortably in the round pen, we'll practice in the arena on a longe line without a rider.

Then, when she knows she can canter in the arena on a line without falling, we'll add a rider (not me) who can help her stay strong and balanced.

Confidence is key.  If she becomes afraid, she gets angry and then communication stops.

I don't mind that she gets angry...but I need her to work through it so she can make progress.  If I don't get angry back at her (easier if I'm not afraid of hurting myself), she will try to do hard stuff.

Yes, there are easier horses in the world.  

But this one suits me.  We have fun together, and we could both easily survive the rest of our lives without cantering.

But cantering is a challenge and challenges are good.

I'm not in a hurry.  (good thing!)


  1. You are such a problem solver! What a great way to address the issue:) I've found lots of canter/trot transitions helps them strengthen the back end and they get more comfortable with canter.

  2. Great plan! :) Good on you for your determination, and even better for your empathy and lateral thinking!!!

  3. Ahhh, what a good, sensible plan. Much better than just putting your head down and bulling on through. Yay!

  4. You have a roundpen! Jealous!!! That's exactly what I'd do - roundpen, then lungeline, then DORY: )

    Hey, I'm having trouble figuring out what that building (?) is in your banner photo- the thing on the left side of the image. I don't remember anything being there - just trees.

  5. Lytha, the round pen is at Fish Creek. I use it whenever I'm there for a lesson or when I'm picking up another rider to head out to the trails.

    As for our "new building": that is the neighbor's marijuana grow op. :-) all legal and taxed here in the great state of Swamp!

  6. Sounds like an excellent plan. And born out of a deep understanding of your horse.

  7. I sort of sat on my hands when you posted about this before, (because people often get offended when you say their horse is scared of something) but that was what I saw too - a horse who was unbalanced and unhappy about it, so resisting the whole process and making it very difficult for you to be balanced or help her balance.
    Best way I know of to improve the quality of the canter depart and the canter is to improve the quality of the trot preceding it. Much easier than starting with a flaily canter and shifting the balance point till it is a balanced canter.
    It might be worth trying a few trot poles spaced so that the trot cannot get strung out and rushy, and and asking for the transition directly after, so you are asking for the canter from the shorter, loftier trot - it helps teach them that they can step under themselves into the canter instead of flinging themselves onto their forehand or using speed to flail their legs into the correct order!


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