Or, How I Mythologized the Canter.
I'll be taking Saxony to my trainer in two weeks. We'll be there for four to six weeks. It's a first for me and I think it'll be a first for her too.
In my first horse life, after I graduated from wild summer-long bareback rides on a borrowed horse but found I hadn't left my love of horses behind, the options I saw were riding lessons or showing; I mean those were the milieus around me. People who wanted to learn to ride had riding instructors, and people who wanted to show had trainers. I would never show, didn't even have a horse, so I had a riding instructor. There was no middle ground; at least, I didn't know about any. I had some riding lessons and eventually I had a horse. She cost money, so I quit the lessons to pay her board. Several happy years passed during which I acquired two more horses. I became a better rider through miles and hours, but I didn't learn anything more about how to ride properly or well. Nothing, in fact.
When I came back to horses after 2o years off, I remembered the familiarity of them, the habitual nature of wanting them, the whole love of being able to touch them. I remembered all those things and it made it so easy to come back. What I overlooked was that I had never learned how to ride from beginning to end, through all three gaits, not to mention any of the other myriad nuances.
I returned to horses in the unexpected company of a fast, sturdy, opinionated mare who I eventually learned to be frightened of. I felt that I did not know how to ride her the way, perhaps, that she should be ridden. I didn't know what way that was, exactly, just that whatever it was, I didn't know it. So I took riding lessons, the option I remembered from all those years ago. I hired someone to instruct me and "train" my mare. Fits and starts, fits and starts. There was never unity, never a unified course. I never "finished" those riding lessons and she never "finished" her training. (Understanding neither of those endeavors is ever finished, but I mean the basics roughed in.)
That's history and now is now. Before my lesson with B began today, I mentioned cantering. I was thinking that Saxony would be arriving at the barn in two weeks and those things felt connected, to me. "I'm not going to say never," B said to me, "but not until your sitting trot is there. You can't canter without it." I felt chastened and elated at the same time. Chastened like an eight-year-old, Oh, I'm not that good? Elated like an adult suddenly understanding something key, Oh, I can't canter without it? I get it. B went on to say that the canter is simpler to sit once a rider has command of the sitting trot.
It feels lame to write this, because I've had so much experience with horses, done real time with them in my own relative way. But no, I didn't continue with my lessons back then, so I never made it to the sitting trot. All these years intervening and then to come back seated on a high-spirited, spooky mare and find myself wondering what comes between the trot and the canter? Hmm. I just couldn't get Scout into a canter without both of us wigging out. There was a void there, so I filled it with fear, simple as that, and began to broadcast it, too. The canter became huge in my mind, mythic.
It didn't help at all that I had a riding instructor that used to call it "the C word." Literally. She'd say something like, "Just another couple of lessons and we'll start work on 'the C word'." Oceanlike, my fear of the canter grew, spreading as a sea of impossibility in front of me. It also became, in the negative space around it, the zenith, the height of my ambition: Cannot be a rider without it.
My thighs are just burning as I write this, sore from so much rising trot, sitting trot, rising trot, sitting. I get it. Someone has told me. I am being taught the sitting trot. It is hard, hard work, and I would go back there in an hour if I could.