Sunday, March 6, 2016

Bareback Milestone: Cantering!

I first started riding Nimo bareback a little over a year ago, thanks to the inspiration provided by Liz.  I had never had much of a desire to ride him bareback because his gaits, quite honestly, aren't really that comfortable, and just keeping myself together in the saddle is quite enough, thank you very much.  But, I decided that it really is something I should be able to do (plus Liz looked like she was having a ton of fun), and there are some benefits for me in terms of working on my balance and my aids.

My goal has been to ride bareback once a week, but I rarely am able to do it that often.  In fact, it has probably been weeks since the last time my bareback pad saw the light of day (and that might have been when my daughter used it to ride).  Unfortunately, I've had a rough couple of weeks between training classes for work and becoming infected with a debilitating plague that sucked my will to live.  Finally, by yesterday, I felt like I resembled a human being.  My original plan was to do a 12-mile conditioning ride, but it turned out that I had no clean clothes, my daughter's supply was getting low, and I was behind on a lot of the more mundane tasks of life after wandering around in a plague-induced stupor all week.  So I ended up heading out to the barn at around 5 pm for a bareback ride.

I had no real agenda for my ride other than the usual stuff, like lateral work, bending and suppling exercises, working on really feeling my seat, and using the lightest aids possible.  I do the vast majority of my bareback rides at the walk and do a little trotting because it seems like something I should keep working on, even though it tends to be uncomfortable.  I usually have to do several minutes of trotting before I can get my hips to loosen up and open to the degree they need to for Nimo's really wide back and jackhammer trot.

So it was with some surprise when I realized I didn't need my typical acclimatization period to adjust to Nimo's trot.  While I wish I could say it was because I've done something awesome, after thinking about it, I'm pretty sure the answer is that the quality of Nimo's trot has actually improved quite a bit, so it just wasn't as difficult to sit as it usually is.

I decided to incorporate a little more trot work than we normally do and we had some really nice moments where Nimo was moving forward nicely, with a rounded frame and good contact, and I was able to engage my core very easily.  And that got me thinking, "What about doing some canter?"  At first, I decided that I would wait to canter for another couple of rides.  But then, I realized I was procrastinating and it was really time I sucked it up.  Nimo's canter is no longer the hideously unbalanced affair that it used to be.  His transitions into the canter are continuing to improve and they really aren't difficult to ride.  His canter can still be a bit "Friesian" in that it tends to move more up than forward, but it's a decent canter now.

Still, I argued with myself a bit about the potential for Nimo to crow hop if he felt uncomfortable if I got unbalanced and of course, by then, it was dark out, and Nimo can be a little spooky when I ride in a lighted arena at night.  Then, I reminded myself that it has been at least 3 months since the last time I fell off and close to a year since I last fell off and hit my head.  So really, if I fell off, there was no shame.  And, I had just purchased a new dressage helmet because my old once was several years old and due to be replaced (over 4 years without falling on my head in that particular helmet!).  But I happened to be wearing the old helmet because I had forgotten to bring the new one out to the barn.  So, if I fell and hit my head, I wouldn't have to wonder if I should keep the old helmet around, just in case.

I finally convinced myself that cantering was a legitimate choice and I should just try it.  I set Nimo up for an easy transition by trotting down the long side and asking for the canter as we approached the corner.  And voila! we were cantering!  Nimo did a nice transition and did not try to buck me off.  He was perfectly behaved, although I could feel him asking to go a little faster (umm, not yet, OK, buddy?).  We cantered for several strides, and I asked him to slow to a trot, which he did without hesitation.  I was pretty excited and I wanted to try again.  So I repeated the same sequence, and Nimo being who he is, figured it out, and I didn't even have to ask for the canter the second time.  Again, it was a nice transition and easy to ride.

So I got braver and switched directions.  Nimo has been struggling a bit with canter to the left.  His left shoulder has been feeling a bit stiff for a few weeks, and I've been meaning to do some body work on it as well as some ground work to see if I can loosen it up, but time got away from me.  Still, I figured I could at least try.  So I did.  And Nimo gave me his left lead canter immediately (maybe part of the left shoulder issue is the way I'm riding in the saddle?).  It was a very uphill transition and canter movement, so it felt more like riding a carousel horse on a merri-go-round, but honestly, it was ridiculously easy to sit.  I felt totally locked in to place and very secure.  (Dressage masters are now rolling over in their graves but sometimes it really is function over form...)  I tried it again with the same result, and then I decided to call it a night and walk Nimo out to cool him down.

I'm so excited about how great it felt to canter, and I'm kind of kicking myself for worrying about it so much.  Nimo did really well and I definitely got a feeling that I've never gotten in the saddle before (it's kind of making me want to explore a treeless saddle...).  And I think the benefits of our work carried over into our lesson today.  Nimo's left shoulder still needs work, but overall, he was rounder and softer and to the right, he feels really amazingly fluid now.  And I felt like my seat was more secure.  Plus, we did more canter work in the lesson than we've ever done before, and we're laying the ground work for flying changes (they are still a long way off, but it's fun to think about).

So, once again, thanks for the inspiration, Liz, although if I ever fall off and hurt myself, I'm making you come visit me in the hospital!:)

7 comments:

  1. Well done, what an achievement! Cantering bareback is like nothing else! :) I've been doing a little bareback riding lately and appreciate the difference it makes for my balance and use of my core, plus I love the improved sense of feel for the way the horse uses his back.

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    1. Thanks!:) And yes to all the benefits you listed -I should have been working on this sooner!

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  2. Yesssssssssssssss. Good work, grasshopper. ;-) Can I say, "Told you so," now? :-D The canter is the absolute BEST bareback. So light and flowing and fun - at least on a horse you're familiar with!

    Please. DON'T go to the hospital. But yes, I would visit you if you told me you were there and send me the address.

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    1. Thanks, Liz:) And I have no intention of going to the hospital, but I like to be prepared for all outcomes:)

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  3. Congrats. I love cantering bareback. It's really so much better than trotting bareback. My goal is usually to walk and canter only. However Nilla's canter and canter transitions have always been so terrible that even with the saddle I'd aggravate my back injury, but she's getting better so hopefully I'll be able to soon.

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