Riding 29 year old Sandy in 1997

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Well, I finally did it.

I've wanted to do it for the last four years.  I actually did it once two years ago, for about three seconds.  

I've known I should do it.  I've wanted to do it.  I was pretty sure I could do it.  I knew it would be wonderful and I knew I would do it someday.

But I was afraid to try.  For four years I've been afraid to just do it.

But I did it today.

I rode Dawn at the canter.  She's seven years old. I've been riding her since she was three.

Okay, you're all rolling your eyes.  What's the big deal?  Well, the big deal relates to my post from a month ago "Staying on."  

You see, when Dawn went to the trainer at the age of 3, she couldn't canter properly.  She cantered like her hind legs were hobbled together, and she was unstable and the trainer did not feel safe riding her like that.  I had the vet examine her, and he said there was nothing wrong, but he felt she just needed to develop more strength in her hind end.  So the trainer trained her at the walk and trot only and we figured eventually I'd have to get her cantering myself.

Well, it wasn't all that much of an issue since I mostly trail ride and there's not a lot of places where it's even safe to canter because of the rocks.  But periodically I would make an effort to sell her (which has always been my intention with Dawn) and I didn't want to sell her with the disclaimer of "she's a great horse but I've never cantered her" so two years ago when I was using her to get myself in condition for the week-long ride in France I thought maybe it was time to try.

But Dawn was still attitudinal then.  When I was trotting and posting to get my leg muscles in shape, I would try putting leg on her to get her to extend the trot and she would resent it, and switch her tail and toss her head and act like Dutch just before he would "blow."  So I would let up and she would resume her nice steady trot and I wouldn't push the issue.

But one time when I had managed to ride her every day for a week and she was being very nice and compliant, I took her in the arena and got her in a trot, and put leg on, and she sped up, and then she just fell into the canter -- a lovely, smooth canter for about four strides -- and then she fell out of it back into the trot.

And the next time I asked her to canter, she switched her tail and tossed her head and gave a little leap and I didn't want to take a chance of falling and getting hurt and not being able to take the trip I was looking forward to so I left it alone and didn't try again.

Other people have tried.  My farrier's better half was with him one time when I was talking about the fact that I'd never cantered her and she said, "Oh, let me get on her," and she got on and cantered her and it was fine, and then the second time she did it, Dawn gave a little crowhop.

And someone else cantered her awhile ago, and she gave a little crowhop.

And my niece was riding her one day and got her to canter a few steps and she gave a little crowhop.

So . . . as far as I was concerned, Dawn would reward every effort to get her to canter by giving a little crowhop.  And I knew that due to the "Dutch effect" if she gave a crowhop with me I would shut her down and that would be the WRONG thing to do.  So I was hoping someone else would be the one to get her cantering -- someone who would ride her through the crowhop.

We'd talked about Tessa doing it for me -- being young and fearless like I used to be -- but she's gone all the time with her job and has two horses of her own to ride when she is here and it's just never happened.

But after the "staying on" incident last month, I've been thinking I needed to just do it -- I'd proven that I could ride her out and I really felt that if she could just get in a canter she'd be fine.

Today we went out for a ride and I worked Dawn in the round pen before we went, and we got down to the wash and Tessa said, "Do you want to do a trot?" and we did a trot in the wash and Dawn was fine.  And then we had to stop for a quad to go by and when we started off again she asked if I wanted to go in front.  So I put Dawn in front and while we were trotting, I put leg on her and she went faster without any attitude or tail switching.

So then we stopped and talked about it and Tessa suggested we try a canter and I decided I would, but I'd let Dawn decide if she wanted to do it or not, I wasn't going to make an issue of it.  So Tessa started to trot and we followed and then she went into a canter and Dawn started trotting faster and finally I put my right leg into her a bit and she rocked into a lovely canter.  I let her go about five strides and then called for a stop because I didn't want her getting excited and going too fast.  So then we did it again and this time she didn't respond when I put leg on, but I just told her "canter" (which I've been teaching her to respond to in the round pen) and as soon as I said the word, she started to canter and we went further that time, about ten strides and she was fine, her ears pricked forward and her head up, and not a crowhop at all.  And she stopped on a dime when I told her "whoa."

So . . . I finally did it.  I finally cantered Dawn, and it was lovely and smooth like I knew it would be.  And now I can honestly tell people who might want to buy her that I have cantered her and she has a lovely canter.

I think she's grown up.  And maybe I have too.

And that's the latest from the Ranch.

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