Friday, September 28, 2012

Cantering in the Arena--at Last

Cantering in the Arena--at Last

I know, I know, this is way overdue. We did a little cantering last year in the arena and a little the year before, but I never worked on it steadily enough to get a solid transition. I decided to canter a lot on trail this summer, and I did. We loved it. I figured once we got back in the arena, that it would be easy—wrong. Reality couldn’t be further from the truth. It was just as hard as ever to get him to canter.

I didn’t use the clicker on the trail for cantering Cole because the one time I tried, we went sliding. I realized the footing wasn’t good enough for sudden stops. I did click him for coming back down to the trot when I asked him to, and consequently, he had good brakes. (Except for that one time...)

Last week, he started to work well at the walk and trot in the arena. I decided it was time to try the canter. I got bucking, sudden stops, huge trots, strange gaits and a few times—a canter. I clicked him for the transition, he stopped and got treats.

I was disappointed. I thought he would do as well in the arena as he does on the trail. I then remembered how he was when I first started trotting him in the arena. I discovered my horse has the natural ability to do the Piaffe—a dressage movement where a horse trots in place. I’m so glad I had witnesses that day. It took a number of frustrating tries before he actually took a step forward. I clicked him for the forward steps, and soon he was leaping forward into the trot. That scared me to death. That is Cole Train—always the over achiever.

The next arena ride went slightly better. We got just as much variation, but we did get a few more canters. He knew I wanted something, but he still wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted. I also think that going in a smaller space with corners rather than straight down a trail at incredible speed is a little intimidating for him. Throw me on his back—bracing myself—expecting a buck--doesn’t help. Some of those bucks were huge! Thank you Mingo for teaching me how the ride a big buck.

The third lesson started out like the second one, and then I remembered that I threw some pieces of candy in my pocket. I grabbed a piece and rattled the wrapper. Cole’s head went up, and he glanced back at me with an excited look in his eyes. It was if he was asking me what he had to do for the candy.

We cruised around the arena at a nice trot. When we got to the far corner, I asked him for a canter in the same manner as the trail—and we got it. I clicked; he stopped and got his piece of candy. It was like magic. Of course, we only got a couple strides in because he always stops when I click. We did it again and again and again. I lost count. A few times he bucked, so I didn’t click him. I started to wait a few strides before the click. A few times, he stopped on his own to get a treat. Of course, I didn’t give it to him. Finally, alas, I ran out of candy. When I switched to carrot pieces, he realized he was tired and lost his enthusiasm. I was tired, too, so we did some walking work.

Kevin was cleaning the stalls while we were doing this, and he missed it all. He came by to dump a wheelbarrow, and I told him what I was doing, and then joked and said I couldn’t do any more because I was out of candy. He reached into his pocket and pulled out some Werther’s! I rattled the wrapper, and Cole was ready to go, again. I took him to that same corner, asked for a canter and we did. After a couple strides, he tried to stop, but I encouraged him to keep going with me legs. He did, and I clicked. We repeated it, but went a little longer.

Kevin went to dump the wheelbarrow, and I continued to work. Twice, we started at the first corner and went along the short wall and through the second corner before I clicked him. The second time, all I had was carrots, so I decided to give him a bigger reward. I clicked him, and when he stopped, I dismounted. We were done for the day.

Well, not completely done. He was a little hot, so I led him around and we practiced our silly Cole walk. I kept clicking for it, and he was having so much fun that when I tried to get him to leave the arena to go back to our barn, he tried to go right past the doorway. Silly horse didn’t want to go home. He wanted to keep dancing for treats.

I was very pleased with the quality of canter he gave me. Last year, he tended to bolt when I asked for the canter. This year, he went slowly and carefully. It was so smooth, it was dreamlike. You see, both Mingo and Cruiser would fall apart if they went too slow. My very first horse, Brandy, had a fantastic canter at any speed. It has been a long time since I had a canter like that. Cole is built with the same Morgan proportions as Brandy, so it may not be a coincidence. Brandy was amazingly balanced at all gaits, and Cole is turning out to be the same.

Now, I am sure that some of you are rolling your eyes about all the clicking and treating, but is it any worse than the options for a horse so reluctant to canter. Would I really have been better if I slapped him with the whip or spurred him? I did use light taps with the whip, but nothing other than what I needed to encourage him. Once we got the candy out, I no longer needed the whip. Instead of a horse that got crabby and resistant from the use of force, I got a horse that was willing and delightful once he learned what I wanted.

I need to buy some more candy…

1 comment:

achieve1dream said...

You know me! I love the clicker!! I'm glad you got it figured out. :D If it was me I probably would have practiced cantering him on the longe line first, so he could learn to canter a small circle without a rider, but your way worked great too. :D I guess I'm just a bit of a chicken... I can't sit a buck at all LOL!