The canter just does not come easily to us. Some days it is relatively easy, but most days it is wrought with anxiety and frustration. With that said, Louie has actually been taking both leads fairly well lately and has hardly missed a lead any of the times I asked him in the past ride or two. I am SO relieved that he is finally taking both leads pretty well under saddle and is no longer favoring his left lead (at least under saddle- he still does on a lunge line). His biggest issue lately is that he doesn't want to pick up the canter right away when I cue him, but instead he wants to trot 10 or so strides before finally taking the canter from a walk. And, in that amount of time he's successfully un-done any bit of set-up preparation I've given him to take the correct lead. We stop and try it again until finally he lunges into it because he is so angry and frustrated, behind the bit, grinding his teeth, jigging, ears back, that he wants to run. We've got to find a more pleasant way to get into the canter cleanly. Seeing other horses pick up the canter with ease just frustrates me further.
Tonight we rode and we reached a fair amount of frustration over the canter. Louie actually took his leads well and by the end of the lesson was doing pretty nice canter departs. But it was no easy feat for me. I tried to pay attention to what I was doing with my own body when I was cueing him. I found myself putting so much weight in my outside stirrup that I had actually shifted my saddle an inch or two to the outside by the time I finished cantering one direction. I also found myself shifting my whole seat to the outside to cue him- literally not sitting in the middle of the seat. Third, I caught a glimpse in the mirror and noticed that I had completely let go of any bit contact right at the time when I cued him- something I used to do frequently until Sandy corrected me- and not "throwing him away" during the cue had been really helpful in maintaining enough impulsion to get into the canter.
Well, I think the mirrors and paying attention to my own position tonight helped to shed some light on my crookedness that I have noticed over the past month or so. I think I am just riding somewhat sloppily rather than being specifically unbalanced from one side to the other, though I have found myself with my right seat bone sitting outside of the seat more times than the reverse. I do have some ideas on a few things that may help us.
First, I need to keep paying attention to my position in the saddle like I did tonight. Louie has lost a little bit of weight in the past month (intentionally), so I also have to make sure my girth is tight. I need to try to stay relaxed and loose- deep breaths, this also helps to relax Louie. I need to keep working on transitions throughout the winter until they are second nature, but I think some work without stirrups, or even just with longer stirrups, or perhaps even in a western saddle may help to keep some weight in my butt and out of my stirrups. Lastly, I may have to break down and put some spurs on, as part of the reason I find myself sitting with one cheek out of the saddle is because I am contorting my body around so much to gather enough strength to push Louie over with one leg as he sometimes chooses to not be responsive to my leg. I also re-visited the fact that leaning on the bit does not slow him down any more than having no contact at all, but intermittent contact is far more effective.
So, I have my work cut out for me, and I really think that a dressage trainer could help me to clean up my riding, sitting more straight and balanced, using the proper muscles, cueing without falling off one side of my saddle, and helping Louie to become more responsive. I am hopeful. We shall see. I will continue to work on our cantering as we wait to start working with an instructor on a more regular basis. I also think that revisiting some canter work in long lines may be helpful as well. As they always say, "practice makes better!"