Losing the faith...

cheberts

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Feb 22, 2016
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Help. I need some advice and feel like I've tried everything. I've been learning to ride for just over two years now, I still can't find the confidence to canter and I know it's linked to the fact that my horse just won't walk and often doesn't listen.

I get on in the school and sometimes he walks for a bit but soon enough he starts jigging like he's got ants in his pants. I put him into trot and he tries to canter. Eventually I get a nice trot but, when I try to go back down to walk, he takes about three steps and he starts jigging or just going back into a full-on trot. We wrestle, it gets worse, then I insist on stopping. He stands still like nothing happened and is very patient but, as soon as I ask him to walk on, he starts trotting.

It's not just me. He does it with my daughter and with my instructor. My daughter is fearless and doesn't care what he does; she just wants to jump and he loves that. When he jigs with her she is strict with him but I think she actually gets through it because she's not afraid of what will happen next so she just corrects as she goes along. Since the work he does with her is challenging he eventually gets focused and settles down. My instructor can get him going like a dream in a good frame after about five minutes but even she admits that it's hard work; she says that at heart he's a very good lad (I know he would never do anything bad) and he does as he's told, but it's as if he's always looking for a window of opportunity to take matters into his own hands.

I am not confident enough or skilled enough to correct or control the jigginess and it's putting me off altogether. I'm feeling really low about it and wondering if I'm just too old to be taking up riding when I had no experience of it as a child? And I just don't know how to find the confidence to move forward when I don't trust him to listen to me, but I need the confidence to stop fear getting in the way of working with the problem. I'm stuck in a Catch-22 situation and I think I've lost the will to go on...

Can anyone help me with some advice before I give up?


PS Some extra info and reasons to be cheerful:
Earlier this year he had injections into his hocks so has been regularly checked by the vet who says he's fine. He's been having physio every two months, his saddle has been checked, his feet are fine, his teeth are in good condition, he has a comfort bridle and he wears a Myler snaffle bit.
My daughter takes him to Pony Club and is jumping 80cm fences, which he loves. He never refuses a jump (touch wood). He's great out hacking, alone or with others, he just ambles along and enjoys the view (although he is insistent on being up front). He hardly spooks at anything. You show him how to do something in the school a few times and he nails it. If I hire an arena somewhere else he behaves perfectly and we have a great time. When he decides he's in the right frame of mind, I absolutely love riding him. He's a baby in the stable and attentive when doing groundwork. He follows me around and stays wherever I put him. He goes mental for dinner and treats but he never barges and is never rude. I know he doesn't want to hurt anyone, and he always tries his best to please. He lives for praise and is pretty smug when he gets things right. If either of us falls off he stops and gives us a sniff to see if we're ok. I love him. Everyone loves him!
 

carthorse

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Jan 6, 2006
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I would suggest finding a school and getting lessons, a nice kind riding school horse will give you so much more confidence. Book a couple of private lessons to begin with, and explain to the teacher how you feel and the problems you've had. It's small wonder you lack confidence to learn canter when you're on a horse that's constantly trying to jog or trot, don't beat yourself up about it.
 

joosie

lifelong sufferer of restless brain syndrome
Oct 28, 2004
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Not an age problem, don’t be disheartened!
It just sounds like your horse (who sounds like a really nice guy by the way!) is just a bit too much for your current skill level.
As carthorse said, treat yourself to some lessons on a horse more suited to your ability... a quiet schoolmaster and a good instructor will have your confidence up in no time!
 

diplomaticandtactful

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Apr 25, 2003
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Not your age, he sounds sweet but just not right for your level of experience as a rider and if you are not confident on a horse who needs constant re-assuring and guidance then they sense it i.e. my friend was a better rider than I am technically but she was hopeless on sensitive buzzy types as she tensed on them and made it worse, whereas i liked them and was relaxed with them. She was much better at getting a tune out of a schooled horse and making it work. So it's not your fault, not the horse's fault, you are just a mis-match at the moment. You would find it easier with a horse who is more forgiving and easier to ride, and won't challenge you, so that you can concentrate on your riding rather than worrying about what happens next. It will do much more for your confidence than persevering here where you are more likely to lose more confidence and give up. I am 64 and been riding since i was 5. When i went to buy a horse, i looked at some and didn't even get on them as just not for me. Could see from the way they went i would not enjoy them. It's finding the right fit.
 
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Jessey

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I tend to agree, he sounds lovely but it sounds like you aren't the perfect match just now, have a look for somewhere to have private lessons on a schoolmaster, it will no doubt really boost your confidence and get you feeling much better about riding :)
 
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Skib

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Dec 21, 2003
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It is such a common problem. And no you are not too old. OH and I learned to ride in our 60s. He learned to canter within a year (on the lunge). I didnt canter properly and happily till I had been learning for over 2 years. And I didnt learn to canter happily in a small indoor school till 10 or 12 years later when I took lessons at a distant RS especially to learn this.
One thing that helped was cantering early in the lesson not postponing it till both I and the horse were tired.

Not all riding schools are good at teaching canter. You need a good lunge teacher so you dont have to think about brakes and steering.Breath deeply and stay completely relaxed. You can practise breathing and relaxation lying on the floor at home. Canter is often easier learned out hacking and once you get the hang of it it is lovely, like a rocking horse. And something which, like riding a bike, one doesnt forget.

Some teachers are frightened of teaching older adults to canter. Look for a school and a teacher who has the skills to get you over this hurdle. But if you dont feel like it, then dont do it. Canter is not compulsory - the only requirement is that if your horse spooks and canters unrequested, you wont fall off.
 
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chunky monkey

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I much prefer cantering out on a hack than in a school. I actually still struggle with the school. I tense up trying to keep my balance on the bends. Out on a hack i will stay relaxed.

Could you be causing the horse to jig because you are squeezing with the legs but not actually asking for canter. He could have got in a habit of mixed messages. Im sure a good instructor riding him should be able to sort it if its a behaviour thing.
 
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cheberts

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Feb 22, 2016
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Wow... I'm so grateful to you all for taking the time to respond and being so understanding. I felt quite emotional reading these.

Last night, I showed carthorse's message (which it looks like you all agree with) to my instructor and she thought it was a great idea. In a completely unexpected turn of events, she's just offered me one of her horses for some lessons! He's been trained entirely by her and is very calm and 'quiet'. She has always said that I can ride well for my level of experience but she agrees that the way he presents is a problem I am not ready to solve. She is able to 'fix' it when she rides him but it's not a sustainable solution since we are also riding and he just slips back again (and I can't afford to hand him over for loads of re-training). The answer is definitely for me to up my game and learn how to deal with it myself; I'm just completely stuck because I can't afford another horse and there's no way this one is going anywhere!

Came on here feeling hopeless and now I've got an idea and some hope. :)

Also appreciate the encouragement re: canter. The potential for too much speed terrifies me, but it's really helpful to hear people say how much they enjoy it, and I find it reassuring that others learned this later in life. Maybe it doesn't matter if it takes a bit longer...

Thanks everyone. What a great forum!
 

cheberts

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Feb 22, 2016
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I much prefer cantering out on a hack than in a school. I actually still struggle with the school. I tense up trying to keep my balance on the bends. Out on a hack i will stay relaxed.

Could you be causing the horse to jig because you are squeezing with the legs but not actually asking for canter. He could have got in a habit of mixed messages. Im sure a good instructor riding him should be able to sort it if its a behaviour thing.
It's a great point. I've been working a lot on this and I'm not gripping him with my knees so much anymore, but I do tend to lean forward when I get myself into a tizz and, of course, everything then gets messy.
 
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Jessey

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It's a great point. I've been working a lot on this and I'm not gripping him with my knees so much anymore, but I do tend to lean forward when I get myself into a tizz and, of course, everything then gets messy.
Leaning forward and gripping is as old as the human race, literally. When we are under attack/scared our thousands of years of evolution says go into fetal position and it takes a lot to teach our body a new reaction to fear, visualization can be really helpful with this :) and you can practice it even when you aren't on the horse.
 
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Huggy

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It's a great point. I've been working a lot on this and I'm not gripping him with my knees so much anymore, but I do tend to lean forward when I get myself into a tizz and, of course, everything then gets messy.
I STILL lean forward and grip when anxious - I've been riding for 35 years! You'll probably find you do it far less, relaxing on a relaxed horse. Hope you enjoy this new one you're going to ride - sounds ideal. Keep us posted!
 
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Mary Poppins

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Finding the right horse is so important. I am an experienced rider in that I have been riding for almost 40 years and have always had horses in my life. But I would be tense and terrified on a horse who jogged and was very forward thinking. I prefer the laid back types. I have owned my horse for over 9 years and most people would describe him as slow and boring. But he is perfect for me and I actually wouldn’t ride any other horse on the yard as they are all too forward for me. So as others have said, find a horse you click with and you will never look back.
 
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Skib

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Breathing deep should stop you curling up in canter. I suggest looking on line for relaxation techniques and practising them lying on the floor at home. In the 1960s in the UK I learned this relaxation in natural childbirth classes. Once you can relax sitting in a chair at home (including fingers and toes) try it sitting on the horse. Sitting on a horse, relaxed at halt, should eventually get him to lower his head - Then apply your breathing and relaxation in walk and sitting trot before trying canter.
A horse will go fast when it canters particularly if your relaxed legs are brushing again the sides. Mine always did. But the whole idea in the transition to canter is to allow the horse to flow forward between your legs. However, after the first step of canter there is no need to continue at high speed. Keep your hands relaxed but close your shoulder blades together (top of your back) and it will control the speed without stopping the canter.
The trouble is that in the first canter lessons, an RI may ask a beginner to canter without specifying how far. It is far better to decide in advance how far you are going to canter. Set yourself and the horse a target and destination. Even if it is only 6 strides of canter. One side of the school is best as you dont have to canter round a corner till you have the hang of it.
But if you do want to canter round a corner, think it more as an arc, as if you are going round a circle. Horse in canter make a shallower turn than in trot.
A lot of things in riding depend on the preparation. So the character of the canter will vary according to the preparatory trot. And on the attention the horse is paying to you. Alternating 5 steps walk and 5 steps trot will get the horse transitioning without rushing forward. Then if you trot a bit further and ask for canter the resulting canter should be easy-going too.
 
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