(re)learning how to canter

A special focus on the canter mechanic was one of the selling points of this year’s workshop for me. I mean, I was going regardless, but it was timely. I know my canter mechanic needs work, so getting to workshop it was extra exciting. (The other feature of this year’s workshop, polyvagal theory, was a major hidden gem.)

baseline canter mechanic. lots to like in Murray, but several bad patterns
here, the worst of which is flapping my torso around like one of those air
wobbler creatures — you just can’t see it in the still. also my left thigh is the worst.

I’ve been adding puzzle pieces to my understanding of the canter mechanic for a couple of years now. Megan first introduced me to a new mechanic by telling me to think of grabbing the saddle in the “down” beat of the canter and pulling it back up with my thighs, to decrease the accent of the down beat and increase the air time in the canter. Lots of people try to half-halt in the down beat because that’s when you naturally have a bunch of weight in the reins and it’s the beat that feels the most downhill. But leaning back and pulling on your horse when they can’t do anything about it actually — surprise surprise — isn’t that effective.

I added another puzzle piece with Mary’s video about the canter mechanic through Dressage Training TV. There, they accentuate the hip tuck on the hind leg (beat one). In the video (you can see this in the free preview I think), Mary says “weight the back leg, weight the back leg,” with the words “back leg” falling on beat one. When Megan assigned me homework of pushing Murray out of the ground for most of a circle and then half halting him back to a more controlled canter I would say to me self, “on the back leg, on the back leg” to remind myself of how I wanted that weight to fall. (And when I was pushing him out I would say “over the ground, over the ground, over the ground,” and probably push him back onto the forehand, oh well. I talk to myself a lot when I ride, apparently.)

my not-particularly-effective mechanic on Atlas after the clinic (click to embiggen)
specifically note how far back I get in his moment of suspension – I should be folding in that moment

This year, we discussed the canter mechanic extensively after my first demo ride. During that first ride the clinic host, Anne, filmed me cantering in a circle on Floundy. Now, I know I’ve shit talked Floundy a fair bit here, but he really does have a tremendous canter (double entendre intended*), and Kate really has done a lovely job of training him to go on the bit if you just have the right rein length and some bear down. Horse will fucking tell on you if you’re a twiddler or aren’t really bearing down, though. I’m also starting in not the worst place, in terms of my mechanic. Mary commented that my mechanic wasn’t bad in my first day’s canter. I responded that this isn’t really how I canter at home (it wasn’t — Flounder has a nice canter). Mary asked what was I better at, trot or canter? I had to think for a moment, but I said canter. What did I liked more, trot or canter? Canter. Mary’s point: the rider usually prefers the gait they are good at.

* One mnemonic device Mary uses to help people understand different canter balances is the words “Canada,” “Mozambique,” and “tremendous”. Say each words (in your head or aloud) and hear which syllable is accentuated. A “Canada” canter is most desirable, as the most emphasis is on the first beat (beat one/outside hind). A “Mozambique” canter is much more common, probably the most common, and very not desirable: the emphasis is on the last beat (beat three/inside front). A “tremendous” canter is pretty good, and certainly not terrible. The emphasis is on the middle beat (beat two, diagonal pair). You can do something with any of these canters, and you can definitely watch a horse go from Canada to Mozambique depending on the biomechanics. Harder to go the other way, though!


a surefire way to make a Mozambique canter — way too much extension pattern

In our canter mechanic discussion, Mary brought up the fact that the canter mechanic isn’t just “back” on beat one (the back leg), it’s down. And I was like “down? What? Down where?” Anne said that it took her so long to understand this idea that she literally had to use the visual of falling backwards into an inner tube to get it. I prefer the image of sitting on a fence where your knees are holding you on to the rail and your butt is falling back behind you, because there is an element of “knees up” to this mechanic.

And the final piece of the puzzle came together for me when I had Kate realign me for practice on a saddle stand, with Agi looking on. My struggle with my left seatbone had already been revealed at that point, and after Kate got me lined up and neutral, Agi grabbed a resistance band to show Kate and Megan some resistances. She looped the elastic under my armpits but above my boobs and gently pulled back. I resisted, and as I did my knees came up slightly as my thighs pulled me down into the saddle. Agi then said some stuff about how I should feel like that all the time and how I should be able to replicate the feeling without the resistance band but that’s clearly UTTERLY IMPOSSIBLE, the laws of physics say so. (The laws of physics say no such thing, Agi is correct, I need to work harder and smarter.)


pleasantly surprised with my alignment here
should probably be preparing for the back and down at this point though.

Finally, in our third demo ride, we dug into the canter a bit. Mary gave me three things to think about: 1) the carousel pole behind my spine, that my torso is moving up and down on, 2) back on the hind, 3) down on the hind. So we got to cantering around and Mary would layer on the commands. “Carousel pole,” she would yell. After I had that for a few strides she’d add in, “back! back! back!” on the hind leg. And finally “up down, up down, up down” in the rhythm of the second and first beats of the canter respectively. I only got it twice, and it took multiple got-it-lost-its of the first two instructions before I could even get to “down”. But the second time I got it, Flounder’s canter utterly transformed. Not only did I feel like I was finally sitting with every single moment of the canter, but it felt he was one of those hippity-hoppity ball things, but giant, and we were bouncing along the ground.

I haven’t been able to replicate the canter mechanic at home yet, though fortunately Fergus has a very easy canter. Partially I’ve been trying not to sit down into him too much — he either stops or gets tense and zips away if you fall into the man trap, so I have to be careful — and partially I’ve not quite gotten the timing on my own without Mary yelling at me. But it’s very exciting to have a moment of knowing that feeling, and yet another solid pathway of how to get there.


unrelated, but this pony asked for a flaming hot cheeto (twice) so i fed them to her

3 thoughts on “(re)learning how to canter

  1. That is a lot to remember. I have done a few centered riding clinics and I was told that I let my pelvis rock back too far in the canter. I couldn’t figure it out at all but a few weeks later I saw a video of me riding the canter and I could see it and then it all made sense. I’m going to try the Canada/Mozambique/Termendous thing next I get to ride.

    Like

  2. This sounds TREMENDOUS! I remember after the Mary clinic I had to go somewhere else I think a work trip and one of the girls at the barn said she could ride Dante while I was gone, I watched her ride him in the canter and she was so far back and like pushing him out from under her like a rug I was like uhm yeah no Thanks.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s