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Connecting with the Seat in Canter

This is a very unusual column. Normally I comment on a picture to help and find ways for a successful future. Sadly, Kristie Lutz and Kennedy cannot do this. As Lutz wrote, “Kennedy was an 11-year-old American Warmblood and my best friend. I lost her to health issues a few months ago. She was schooling Fourth Level and showing Third. She was my heart horse and the most amazing mare I’ve ever had the experience of enjoying. She was an orphan foal (Premarin® baby) and came a long way from the rescue she was. I hope we can be chosen for your submission photo. It would mean so much to me to honor her memory.”

Kristie Lutz and heart horse Kennedy
Courtesy, Sherry Lutz

But understanding and learning from the past is one of the keys to life. It reminds me of how after losing a horse earlier in my riding, I said that I would never again have such a trusting and willing partner. My cousin told me not to worry because all my horses are like this. My trademark, she said, is establishing trust with every one of my horses. I could not see her point then, but now I realize that she was right. A good partnership always reflects our part in it as well as our horse’s. In analyzing this picture, I hope Kristie can find qualities that are her strengths to offer her next horse to build a new, unique and wonderful partnership.

When looking at this picture, I can see at once how much Kristie loved her horse. She appears to be in her “bubble,” fully concentrated on her mount and guiding her with light aids and a lot of feel. Kennedy is cantering with her ears slightly forward as if she is looking for her rider to make the coming task as good as possible. The impression I get from Kennedy is, “Don’t worry. I know what’s coming.”

In analyzing the details, I would like to point out a few little hints for Kristie as they will be helpful to understand and improve in the future.

Connecting with the Seat

Looking at Kristie’s seat, I wish for her to sit a little deeper, allow her leg and ankle to drop down, and carry her hands with the idea of lightness and forward push. By sitting light and with feel, Kristie is tipping slightly forward. Even though she is not pulling back on the reins, the tipping does restrict the horse’s ability to go into a forward contact. The result here is in the slight opening of the mouth and the nose a fraction behind the vertical.

Looking at Kennedy’s canter, I can see nice activity from behind. Looking at the horse’s feet closely, this picture was taken in the landing phase. The horse’s outside hind leg is on the ground, and the diagonal pair—inside hind leg and outside front leg—will be next. Knowing this becomes interesting. Looking closely at the position and height of the hooves of the diagonal pair of legs, I noticed that the hind leg’s hoof is carried higher and still in mid-swing. On the other hand, the front leg is lower, and the hoof is already in the position of “ready for landing.” This indicates that Kennedy will be landing a little heavier on the front leg. If Kristie looks up and ahead and shifts her weight slightly back in the saddle (without leaning back!), she could support the uphill canter and timing of Kennedy’s canter even better and both could achieve more self-carriage and freedom inside the movement. 

Feeling an Uphill Canter

To improve an uphill canter, I often have riders canter unmounted on their feet. Doing this, you feel how important the outside landing leg (the leg that is farther back) is, and the more the canter is collected (on the spot), the less forward shift of weight is happening. It is more of a quick lateral shift of weight. When cantering on foot nearly on the spot, your outside leg should become more tired and work harder by carrying more weight than your inside leading leg. 

Then take this feel onto the horse when cantering. Imagine you canter on your seat bones. The timing and the deep and steady contact of your outside seat bone is very important. It will free your inside hip to move and allow you to sit more upright without effort.

The next helpful tool is to canter for a few strides with closed eyes (of course only in a safe environment) and concentrate on feeling every landing phase of the stride. The outside hind leg, the diagonal stance over which the horse is shifting weight and balancing, and the strike off from the inside front leg that will be right underneath the rider in that last phase before the moment of suspension. 

The clearer one can feel what is happening underneath the seat in every phase, the clearer the timing of the aids can become. Then the aids will “help” the horse in the true meaning of the word “aid” and improve the quality of the canter without need of power and force. 

I hope these ideas can help Kristie to see how her wonderful relationship with Kennedy has prepared her to become a rider with so much feel, and that this is the strong point in her riding. If she approaches her next horse with this amount of feel, I am sure she will find the reward in a new, wonderful relationship and dancing partner.

Sending her my warm regards and comfort in the difficult time when we have to say goodbye—and hope to receive a picture to comment on of a new partnership in the future.

About Susanne von Dietze

Susanne von Dietze is a leader in equestrian biomechanics. A physiotherapist, licensed Trainer A instructor and judge for dressage and show jumping, she gives lectures and seminars throughout the world, including at the prestigious German Riding Academy in Warendorf. She is a native of Germany and now lives with her husband and three children in Israel, where she competes at the international level. She is the author of two books on the biomechanics of riding: Balance in Movement and Rider and Horse, Back to Back

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