Sunday, November 16, 2014

a canter-bay tale

noun: canter
  1. 1.
    a three-beat gait of a horse or other quadruped between a trot and a gallop.
    "he kicked his horse into a canter"
    • a ride on a horse at the gait of a canter.
      plural noun: canters
      "we came back from one of our canters"
verb: canter; 3rd person present: canters; past tense: cantered; past participle: cantered; gerund or present participle: cantering
  1. 1.
    (of a horse) move at a canter in a particular direction.
    "they cantered down into the village"
    • make (a horse) move at a canter.
      "Katharine cantered Benji in a smaller and smaller circle"
early 18th century (as a verb): short for Canterbury pace or Canterbury gallop, from the supposed easy pace of medieval pilgrims to Canterbury.

What is it about cantering that makes it so appealing to those of us who ride? When I was a little girl taking riding lessons that was all I wanted to do. The days we rode around the lake near the stable and were allowed to canter for long periods of time are some of the best memories I have.

Both my children wanted to canter too. We have photographs of each of them cantering with huge smiles on their faces.

Each week when my daughter rides I get to watch the beginner riders, most of them little girls on big horses, all of them asking "when can I canter?" With their short legs it's sometimes difficult to get the horses to transition from trot to canter but the desire to do so is strong and the girls will try over and over again until they get a few strides, and if they're lucky, a whole circuit of the arena in the magical gait.

For me what's wonderful about cantering is the forward motion, the connection between the horse and rider, and the sense of total freedom that I feel as a result. It's a time when my usually churning mind empties and all there is is joy.

It has been awhile since Keil Bay and I cantered. We took the summer off and have gradually worked our way back into a regular riding routine this fall. I'm careful with him when we've been out of work, and careful with myself. We start out walking, add in trot, add in the suppling dressage exercises including shoulder-in, and when it feels like we're both back in shape, I will ask for the canter.

The past few rides I have been feeling like I have my "legs" back in the saddle.

Yesterday was a chilly day here and the neighbors were out in full force in the woods behind their house, wearing white hats which were popping up at unexpected times. There were a few shrieks and the snapping of branches as they cut brush. Keil Bay was alert but very very good, and we had a lot of really springy trotting and the kind of ride where the 16.2 hand horse felt like he was 18 hands. His lifting his back lifted me as well, and for most of the very forward ride my boots were loose in the stirrups. We reached that point when my seat and legs were plugged in and the stirrups were simply hanging there. When Keil and I reach that point it's a definite sign that we're ready to move on.

Today it was quiet. Not quite as cold but very gray out. Keil was still very alert. The fact that there were no white hats popping around seemed almost scarier than when there were. What if they suddenly appeared? But again, he was very connected and very forward and it occurred to me that riding a forward canter is infinitely easier than riding a clunky one, so in a moment of girlish glee I sat the trot, slipped my outside leg back a couple of inches and off we went. We cantered left and then we cantered right and I had the same wild smile on my face that I did when I was 9. The same joy, the same giddy happiness. There was nothing in my head but undiluted joy.

Riding Keil Bay's huge and elegant canter is like riding around the lake to the power of infinity. As much as I loved it as a girl, I think I love it even more at age 54. WHEEEEEEEE!

And now, just as when I was young, I can't wait for the next ride.