Canter departs

Canter departs

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Thirteen years ago, my horse somersaulted and landed on me when we were cantering during a riding lesson. I don’t remember what happened exactly. We were cantering down the long side at the end of the lesson and she felt magnificent: strong impulsion, light in my hands, and then something. The world spun and I slammed into the dirt face down between her legs. She kicked once with her back legs and hit my helmet on the temple. She looked around at me like “What are you doing there?” My right leg was underneath her body below the girth and still in the stirrup on the other side.

Isis’ canter had huge impulsion: every push-off with her back legs in a canter stride felt like someone shoving me. My core muscles would burn after riding that stride one time around the ring. It wasn’t a rocking chair, more like a rocket chair. All of her gaits were like that: splendid to look at but challenging to sit.

Except when she started tripping. She would fall to her knees sometimes, or other times it was like she couldn’t recover her movement and her legs wouldn’t cooperate. We would be trotting, and I’d feel her back leg give out like she had missed a step or her foot had landed in a hole. Dip, step, and keep moving.

After that accident, every ride on Isis was slightly terrifying. The once-desired feeling of cantering now posed a block, like a shut door locked by a traumatic event. She would trip multiple times during a ride. Isis shifted her weight when I mounted, planting her feet to stabilize herself. We walked, her gait felt steady, until it wasn’t. The ground suddenly got closer as she fell to her knees then pulled herself back up and started walking again. Even footfalls most of the way around the ring, except in the back corner where one step on her back left missed a beat. My hips dipped to the right with her misstep and recovery. We resumed walking. Every ride had episodes like this. 

My friends told me I shouldn’t ride her.  What if that horse has a metabolic disorder and has to be ridden or exercised in order to keep her medical issues under control? My hands shook after every ride. I was anxious before I would get on and anxious afterwards.

Isis died in 2011 but this part of our riding still lingers with me. I still tighten my core and my legs far more than I should. My hands still get sweaty when I think about cantering. 

There is no physical reason for me to be nervous about cantering Kasane. Kasane does not trip. She’s steady in her gaits and strong in her movement. No neurological issues. She’s light and willing to try things (and avoid doing what I ask, but that’s a training issue we’re working on). 

I ask her to canter and I lean forward like I’m off to the races. I should be sitting back and visualizing lifting into the canter with the lightest of aids. When I do that, Kasane does a canter depart and canters with a silky smooth stride. She’s wonderful and relaxed and reaching — when I am relaxed. 

Except most of the time I’m not. My legs are tight, my butt is tense, and she can feel all of that through the saddle. Her gait gets tighter and more like a pogo-stick with bounce instead of reach. 

And when I do relax, her gait is so easy to sit. It is a joy and a wonder to have the opportunity to even work on her canter after a year of not knowing if we would be able to continue riding after rehab last year. 

We’ve made huge progress, the Bay Wonder Mare Jr and I. We’re a team. She’s schooling First Level at home with shoulder-in, leg yields, and haunches in (still working on this). She is doing trot extensions with impulsion that make me laugh with delight. 

One last canter depart to fully let Isis and the anxiety of “what-ifs” go so my girl and I can enjoy her rocking-horse (and not rocket-horse) gait. 

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