For Lesson #56, Karin picked Vinnie for me and Krystal for Paul. Since Krystal is part Thoroughbred and Vinnie is all Thoroughbred, Karin was obviously in the mood to make us race.
“Haul out the sun dial and clipboard, Paul! Karin wants to time us again!”
But it turned out to be an ordinary lesson. Like last time, Karin left us in the arena to warm up while she fetched Mackie. And once again, Kaiah used her Dog Wish Powers to make Karin reappear again.
As we were warming up, I thought about how nice this arena is compared to where we were last year. Even on this cold, overcast day the arena here is bright and inviting. I really think the open feeling has an effect on the horses’ energy level.
The extra energy came in handy, because even though we weren’t racing, Karin was expecting us to get both horses to canter. Despite us not really knowing how.
I complicated matters for Vinnie and me by using up the Achtung! cue to get him to trot during the warm up. I forgot that Karin’s horses are accustomed to hearing Achtung! for the canter, not the trot.
After ten minutes of Achtung, Trot! Vinnie duly and reasonably associated all my achtunging with trotting. And as soon as Vinnie broke into a trot, I spontaneously started posting. I’ve been conditioned to do this.
But it was a fast trot. I thought maybe, just maybe, we were actually cantering.
“Karin, are we cantering right now?”
She just looked at me with an expression that said, “If you have to ask, you’re not.”
I tried again: “Vinnieeeee —– Achtung, Canter!”
“You can’t tell him to canter and then start posting,” Karin chided.
But I had created the dreaded Vicious Cycle of Cue Confusion and we were stuck in it. A re-set was in order.
Karin brought both Paul and me over to the edge of the arena.
“Okay, I’m going to choose a place where I want Mackie to pick up a canter.”
She pointed to a spot on the wall. “But, before I get there, I’m going to signal to him that a change is coming. Like this.”
Karin made a subtle twist with her wrist on Mackie’s reins.
“It’s called a ‘half-halt’. You’re telling him to get prepared for some kind of change.”
“Ah, yes,” I said, “Like tapping on your brakes to let the guy behind you know something’s up.” I like driving analogies.
“Exactly. And your creating energy which you’ll release when you actually cue him to transition to the canter.”
Karin demonstrated. There was an obvious pause between her wrist twist and the cue. Like loading a spring, she was building a moment of anticipation in the horse.
This stuff is so cool.
Of course, I think it’ll be even cooler when I’m actually doing it. We did manage to canter, but it was clear that Vinnie was responding to Karin’s verbal cue and not on anything I was doing.
I noticed that when Vinnie picked up the canter that his head began a rocking sort of motion. Ah, so that’s what I’m looking for. Good to know.
Karin told us that one of her other students said that you have to canter sixty times before you actually have it. While I question the process that determined this number, it’s better than anything I can come up with. I think I’m at three or four.
Next time: a new colleague has arrived at Legacy Stables. She’s very pretty.