Thursday, November 19, 2015

Lesson Recap: Canter Poles (with video!)

I trailered Maggie out to an early morning jump lesson on Saturday. I warmed her up on my own and tried to get her nice and forward before our trainer came down. Inside leg on asking for forwardness, outside aids steady to capture the energy. My inside leg resulted in more forwardness to some degree, but it also had the side effect of creating some serious cranky ears. Maggie may have been a little cranky because she didn't get to finish her breakfast, but I can't say I blame her. I'd be cranky over that too.

Enjoy some video stills!
There were already some canter poles set up in the area and the game plan for this lesson was to utilize them.  We started out trotting over them, though. I'll say this about ground pole work before talking about the rest of the lesson: I haven't done a ton of it before. Sure, I took Maggie over a bunch of ground poles when I was first starting to introduce her to jumping, but every time I try to do anything that resembles cavalletti or a series of poles on my own I get a little nervous. I'm just not confident about it; so I was really glad to get to work over poles during a lesson to learn what I need to work on, and how to do it properly.

In our first pass trotting through the poles I mistook forward for fast. Immediately, Trainer stopped me and instructed me to come at it again with that same inside leg to outside hand connection that I had been been asking for in warmup. It's not just about getting though the poles, it's about being balanced though them, and I can't expect Maggie to be balanced if I'm rushing her and throwing away the reins instead of helping her stay connected. After Trainer pointed this out to me I realized I had reverted to the exact same tactic I had originally been using over fences - speeding up and bombing through it. Funny how just a little change in exercises will bring us back to square one and really reveal our weaknesses!

After a few passes at the trot, focusing on staying balanced and in steady rhythm, it was on to the canter. I knew this would be difficult for many reasons, the main one being that I've never actually done a series canter poles with Maggie before. 

So hard. Such attitude.
It went better than I expected at first - she certainly tried. I was kind of expecting her to do one of two things: immediately break to the trot or try and deer leap over them. To my surprise she actually gave it a good try right from the start, properly cantering the first few before we lost balance and broke to trot. 

And what is the obvious solution to keep from breaking to the trot?

You guessed it: more leg.

So basically this was a really, really good exercise for getting me to keep my leg on because the consequences of not doing so were immediately apparent. My goodness, it feels like I'm never squeezing hard enough. 

And I actually asked my trainer to take video for the last couple minutes so - voila! Actual lesson video! (For reference, the first few poles were set at 9 feet, which trainer said is a good distance for a bounce for Maggie, the second to last was at 10 feet which was a good stretch distance for a bounce, definitely not beyond her ability, and the last one was a one stride at 18 feet.)

And I'm so glad I got this video, because it really highlights a whole other issue outside of the canter poles that I don't think I would have paid much attention to otherwise - or at least it wouldn't have hit home as hard without seeing it for myself.

In the saddle, I didn't realize just how much I was moving my upper body. I could hear my trainer coaching me and tell me to use my core and "kick her without moving your body", and I indeed tried to tighten my core without bracing my arms. 

I didn't 100% realize why we were focused on my core and upper body all of a sudden, but from the video I can see that it's because I'm sliding around in the saddle. My whole body is braced and it's moving as one entity, when different parts of my body should be moving independently or at least more controlled in order to help Maggie balance. So...there's another thing to work on over the winter.

Best canter of the day. Still kicking.
Ah, video. Making honest people of us all. 


  1. i both love and hate canter pole exercises haha - so useful! but so hard!!! also fwiw i struggle very much with a too-busy upper body, but it's way less apparent when i ride a bigger horse vs when i ride my little arab mare. something about a tiny horse just makes it super obvious if you're moving around a bit haha

  2. ^that hadn't occurred to me before, but I think it makes some sense! Something to do with the proportions making more obvious, maybe?