Ah-ha! Moment of the Week from Attwood: ‘Do You Like That Canter?’

You know those moments when it feels like a lightbulb gets switched on in your brain? In a new weekly series presented by Attwood Equestrian Surfaces, eventers share their ah-ha! moments. Today, we present the second in a three-part series by adult amateur eventer Judy Rossi about what she calls “epiphany lessons” she has experienced while training. Check out part 1 here. 

Judy and Dice. Photo by Flatlands Photography.

Epiphany Lesson #2: ‘Do You Like That Canter?’

I have a lovely 7-year old Oldenburg gelding. Dice is an interesting character. He loves being the center of attention with an unrelenting desire to be engaged. When I first got Dice, I described him as everyone’s “8-year old kid brother.” The one who could push every small, petty “pick me” annoyance button. And, just when you were ready to kill him, he would do something so adorable or so phenomenal that you would fall in love with him again. Dice’s greatest attribute — then and now — is that he LOVES to work. He is most relaxed when he’s got a job and working. In fact, Dice can be so relaxed while working that he lulls the rider (that would be me) into complacency.

When I bought Dice I knew he was very talented, but also very young and I knew training Dice alone was beyond my capabilities. Over the last couple of years, I have had the pleasure of training with Sarah Morton. Sarah is fantastic with young horses (and amateur riders) and brings them along the eventing training scale safely and confidently so both horse and rider achieve accomplishment and success (amazing gifts).

Sarah fully understands Dice and has helped me channel his energy and talent by keeping me focused on long-term goals, with such sayings as: “We’re not trying to build a Beginner Novice horse, so don’t worry about making mistakes at the Beginner Novice level.”

Judy and Dice. Photo by J. Stanley Edwards.

One day, while working on the flat with Sarah, Dice was “in his zone” ––quietly cantering in a lovely consistent rhythm. He was so relaxed that his eyes were half shut. I’m happily and contentedly sitting in the saddle barely thinking about anything. At that point, Sarah asked, “How do you like that canter?”

Huh? Um? Uh . . . .

I suddenly woke up as my brain started trying to come up with the “right” answer, because I KNOW there is a right answer. First thought? There’s something wrong with the canter because why else would Sarah ask me. Second thought? I have no idea whether I like this canter or not.

That was the moment.

I realized I wasn’t paying attention to my riding or my horse or the quality of the gait. I was simply sitting there, and while it felt lovely to be relaxed, I was not taking responsibility for my ride. I just figured Sarah would “tell me” what to do or what to fix.

Hello!? What am I doing up here? Riding is not a passive sport. Riding requires concentration and focus by both horse and rider. How else are we going to make it around cross country and get home safe and happy? We both need to be alert and engaged so we will be able to adjust — a lot or a little — sometimes in less than a nanosecond. For me, one place to start that training begins with asking “Do I like that canter.”

Judy and Dice. Photo by Flatlands Photography.

When Sarah asks me that question now, I’m ready to answer. I don’t always get the right answer (Sarah wants a shorter stride or a bigger stride, better connection, more impulsion from behind, more or less bend), but I can say that I’m focused on my horse, focused on my riding and focused on the quality of the gait.

Yes, Sarah, I do like that canter!

Judy is an adult amateur event rider living in Harvard, Massachusetts. She started riding as a young girl, and began eventing as an adult over 20 years ago. Judy has owned and brought along three horses — Bosco who learned the sport along with her and will always be “the horse of a lifetime;” Sateen, who told her that dressage and trail riding were a better career; and now Dice, who is doing his level best to be the best horse ever. When not riding, Judy is a marketing and communications professional and the founder of Open Fields Communications.