View Full Version : Throwing Head in transition to canter

Sep. 28, 2010, 06:13 AM
I am having major, MAJOR issues with my mare and it is so frustrating.

So basically I bought her about a year and a half ago, as a very green, spooky, wild, feral, crazy QH x Arab project horse. She couldn't canter (cross-gait three steps, trot two steps, galloping the next) and it's taken me a good year to get the canter correct but she's definitely got it now and is very balanced.

However, the problem has always been the transitions. I don't know if it's because she is just being a mare or if she is getting upset with me or what... but whenever I ask for canter, whether it's through walk, trot or the halt, she literally THROWS her head up in my face. This is very frustrating, and it definitely hasn't improved in the time I've had her.

I can't pin point it either - I've changed the way I ask her (from asking only with the inside leg, only outside, both), I've tried just saying "canter"...and it doesn't matter how through, soft and relaxed she is, as soon as I ask canter she loses it. Once the transition is over she is fine again.

I have had her saddle checked, her back checked, her teeth - everything is absolutely fine! I am really look for some help here as I can not work out how to fix it.

She has established leg yields, shoulder fore and shoulder-in,
so there is no reason why she shouldn't be able to stay through in the transition.

Thank you for the help!

Sep. 28, 2010, 06:41 AM
Not saying this is true in your case, but usually the head toss during the transition is caused by the rider's hands not following the horse's mouth properly when asking for the transition.

At the moment of giving the leg and seat aids for canter the rider loses focus of the hands and bumps the horse in the mouth rather than following the mouth.

Sep. 28, 2010, 07:36 AM
Following up on the thoughts of Baroque pony, Can you ask for a canter depart with no hand (both hands)?
Just let your hands be forward in the up transition. I would ask for the depart in the second half of a corner, in the first half of the corner leg yield, asking for more use of the inside hind leg --less use of the inside rein-- then ask for the canter depart on the way out of the corner.

In the rest of your rides, how much self carriage do you allow of your horse? Do you have contact all the time or do you give her the reins? Not throwing the reins away but not have a constant hold all the time. Offer her freedom on one rein or the other all the time, in every gait.

Sep. 28, 2010, 07:43 AM
We had similar problems with our Arab/QH cross and he ended up needing a Chiropractor adjustment.

Sep. 28, 2010, 08:29 AM
Posted by jcotton:

Offer her freedom on one rein or the other all the time, in every gait.

Nice way to put that. Very important that you do not accidentally *catch your horse's mouth in a vice* when you think you are only *maintaining contact with both hands*, so to speak.

Sep. 28, 2010, 09:38 AM
Try doing a connecting HH before,during and after the transition!

Sep. 28, 2010, 09:43 AM
Does she do the same thing on the lunge line? I would consider this an important diagnostic question. I am not a horse trainer or dressage, expert lol, but in working with my own green horse I can use th lunge line as a litmus test: if my horse does something both on the lunge and off equally then it is probably him (whether physical, mental etc.), but if he stops doing it on the lunge or it is at least reduced on the lunge, I am probably, unfortuntely, at the very least a contributing factor.

Sep. 28, 2010, 09:45 AM
Does it happen in both directions? One direction more than the other? On the longe?

My gelding was weak behind from a bout of EPM and did this until he was stronger. Once he was stronger, then he only did it going to the right, and then he stopped doing it altogether. It was almost like he couldn't push off with his hindquarter well, so he would lift his front by using his neck as something "easier".

Not sure I'm explaining that well.

Eclectic Horseman
Sep. 28, 2010, 09:54 AM
Ask for the canter depart in the corner. Add more inside bend and flexion when you ask. You want the horse to initiate the canter by pushing with his outside hind; sounds like horse wants to pull himself into the canter with his forehand. Could be a training problem or weakness in the haunches.

Sep. 28, 2010, 11:28 AM
Everyone has given excellent suggestions. If, after tryng the "diagnostic" things (can she canter on the lunge without head tossing, or asking for canter with light or no contact, eliminating possible rider interference...) try asking for canter from shoulder-in on a circle or after leg-yielding to the rail. In both cases, be certain you yield the inside rein as you ask for canter.

This strategy has helped with an Arab gelding a client owns.

Sep. 28, 2010, 01:07 PM
my arab mare does the same exact thing. When I tell my son to ask for canter with a loooong rein (think on the buckle) she does not toss her head. I don't have the courage to do it, so I have him working on it. As she gets better during the work, I have him begin to pick up the reins a little during hte transitions. This is an arab thing and will def take time to work thru. They get blocked feeling very easily.

Sep. 28, 2010, 06:57 PM
I don't believe its an "arab thing" to throw the head up in a transition where they may get snatched in the mouth. Most any horse, of any breed, does not appreciate a snatch in the mouth.

It took me years to have the confidence to throw the reins away in transitions and allow them freedom from constant contact on both reins. And my horses are going better than ever now because of my changes in my riding.

Sep. 28, 2010, 09:12 PM
Thank you everyone for the insight and comments, it’s really appreciated. Each and every one of you had some things to say, so I thought I would address you all individually.

BaroquePony – I will try this tomorrow when I go to ride her, this is definitely possible. I cannot say whether I hold more then usual during the transitions, but after my ride tomorrow with my focusing on it, perhaps I will be able to tell!

Jcotton – Definitely, she is very well voice trained and I can ask her to canter with no leg, no hand and no seat. However, do to the nature of dressage, that is not always possible – I’m not sure if sometimes it is an over-reaction to my aids and it upsets or what? Throughout my ride, I am always giving the inside rein (with slack) to promote self carriage and she is capable of holding herself for about ten steps before I need to take up the contact again and ride her through. She bends, counter-flexes, yields etc. At the touch of the leg and change of leading seat bone so I wonder if sometimes it is that I’m asking “too much” for canter.

Wishnwell – I was thinking about getting her done again, she has only ever had bowen therapy and is definitely not an unhappy and in pain horse!

EasyStreet – HH are our nemesis – she is hugely lazy now compared to what she was when I bought her and HH to her means stop!! She is very sensitive and I only have to think whoa and she hugely whoas! Somehting we need to work on for sure.

Myvanya – I haven’t done a lot of work with her on the lunge due to lack of round yard and also I hate using a lunge line because I think it interferes with them too much. I have done a few loose lunging sessions but this was done with gear on (and unfortunately, my old trainer condoned tying the head down and wouldn’t listen to me argue so there is no way I would have been able to see what was happening!) I might try this in the next couple of days and report back on how I went!

OneGrayPony – What is EPM? It is in both directions, just as bad as the other. It is possible she is not as strong as I think she is behind, but once we have passed the canter transition, she uses her hind really well.

Eclectic Horseman – Thank you for the suggestion, I will definitely try this.

Beasmom – I agree, the suggestions given so far have been really helpful! It’s just such a strange problem to have, she is educated enough and can pick up canter on a circle, on the straight, counter canter on circle and straight but the transition is horrible!!

Arabaiansrock – I do agree with you there, they are quick to the get the blocked up feeling, especially when tense. I will possibly have to go back to basics by the sound of it.


Sorry for those that don't have Facebook!

Sep. 28, 2010, 09:16 PM
Release your inside rein and lift it a little as you ask for the canter depart. Make sure that you are weighting your outside stirrup more than the inside one.

Sep. 28, 2010, 09:55 PM
Most of the time head flinging in the trot/canter transition is due to not having the horse through, forward and on the aids at trot. Very simple equation- horse through and forward in trot, on the bit and round, canter transition is easy, and horse stays round. No magic lifting of one rein or another, no throwing the reins away.

in limine
Sep. 28, 2010, 11:02 PM
mickeydoodle - you are so right

Sep. 29, 2010, 12:39 AM
mickeydoodle - Normally I would agree with you, but this is something so completely different! It doesn't matter how through she is, how soft, how relaxed, you can have her LDR or in a very uphill frame before the transition but as soon as you ask for canter - GONE!

Sep. 29, 2010, 03:33 AM
OP-- don't really have anything helpful to contribute but she is GORGEOUS!!! :)

I'm jealous!;)

Sep. 29, 2010, 03:38 AM
Sparling_Sunset - Thank you, she is my baby :)

I am actually a jumper (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1797486174#!/photo.php?pid=353018&id=1797486174&ref=fbx_album), but I take my dressage very seriously (and love it just as much!)

Sep. 29, 2010, 07:43 AM
mickeydoodle - Normally I would agree with you, but this is something so completely different! It doesn't matter how through she is, how soft, how relaxed, you can have her LDR or in a very uphill frame before the transition but as soon as you ask for canter - GONE!

it is not the frame, it is not relaxation it is IMPULSION and forward that will make the transition- the trot must be really going to have a smooth transition on the bit

Sep. 29, 2010, 08:43 AM
But you can't have "through" without relaxation, it should be the most important thing - who can get rhythm, tempo, forwardness without having a relaxed horse? You'd end up with a running horse, that couldn't hold rhythm to save itself!

You completely misunderstood what I said, by refering to LDR and "uphill frame". Would you prefer if I said - it doesn't matter whether she is LDR (long, as deep as possible, as round as possible, springy steps, engaged behind) or in a very uphill frame (as in not quite sustained collected work, but can engage further and lighten the forehand considerably).

Eclectic Horseman
Sep. 29, 2010, 09:52 AM
I just don't find this to be at all unusual, particularly in a breed that is more naturally on the FH and out behind.

(That is not a criticism; that is what gives the Arab and the Trakehner breeds such a lovely floating trot.)

The problem is that the horse is usually weak in the hindquarters because the hind legs trail, and THE HORSE IS NOT STRAIGHT. You need to bring the forehand over so that the front legs are lined up between the hind legs, so that the canter depart from the outside hind goes through and is not blocked by a crooked horse.

Sep. 29, 2010, 10:14 AM
More leg/seat a split second before HH... do you test and re-test using your whip to put her "infront of your leg?? It is a prerequeset to the HH in order for it to go through....Took me a lond time on that one...my horse kept falling out of the gait, falling on the FH or loss of forward impulsion ect till I got that squared away! Your horse is LOVELY!!!!:yes::yes: Good luck!;)

Sep. 29, 2010, 11:35 AM
Wow, she is a cutie! Love me a chestnut with chrome!

Can you possibly post video of what's going on?

Are you working with an instructor or trainer? What does he/she say?

Perfect Pony
Sep. 29, 2010, 11:41 AM
Wow, she is a cutie! Love me a chestnut with chrome!

Can you possibly post video of what's going on?

Are you working with an instructor or trainer? What does he/she say?

IMO the only way anyone on the internet can help you is a video. My mare (who was called "sound" for years by vets, chiropractors, trainers, you name it) actually was mildly neurologic as well as had a lesion in her stifle. The ONLY symptoms of these problems were a very slight right hind toe drag, and her flipping her head into the canter.

I believe that when a horse has a resistance, they are more often than not trying to tell you something. It may be a slight lameness or something hurting, OR incorrect riding, but without seeing what is going on no one can give you the correct advice.

Sep. 29, 2010, 05:49 PM
Eclectic Horseman - She is a chronic faller-out-of-the-shoulder-er (haha!), and we do lots of counterflexing, counter canter on a shallow loop etc. to straighten it. I'm just not sure how I can possibly get her to engage MORE when I have tried to get her more uphill and she can and does lighten the forehand. Sounds like something is going to need to be checked out, I'm definitely thinking about getting a second opinion.

EasyStreet - Thank you for defining that for me, our HH are not the best. I definitely want to give this a go.

Beasmom - Thank you :) I actually do not have any recent footage of her going on the flat, only jumping rounds unfortunately. I will endeavour to get this for you so everyone can see what's going on.
I do have a trainer, she is a lovely lovely rider and I adore her teaching methods, she is from Holland - please bear in mind I live in Australia, most of you will probably not have heard of her. She has not been able to fix this either, apart from repeating the transition until I ALMOST don't have to ask, and she is more pre-empting with a little support from me and then it is alot smoother but still the head lifts. My mare does the same thing with her riding her, unfortunately :(

I will try to get some footage so you can hopefully see what is going on.

Sep. 29, 2010, 05:58 PM
This does make it sound like there's something physical going on -- not just some "rider" problem or "Arabian" thing.

I just had an idea. What does she do when you ask for a canter depart on an uphill slope? Talk about asking for more engagement without actually asking for more engagement!

For laughs could you try it and tell me what happens? I'm working on a hunch here...

Sep. 30, 2010, 04:01 AM

Well I rode today and actually had written a list of the things I was going to try and memorised it before I got on.

So basically I did it all, huge leg yields into the canter, shoulder in into the canter, more engaged, went through LDR into canter and worked on lightening the front end as much as possible before asking.

I think I may have cracked the problem.....

1. It all started with her lack of strength to go into canter (at the beginning). She would trot fine, on the bit, then I would ask for canter and she would have to drag herself (as mentioned by someone previously) by using the forehand and coming off the bit.

Which led to.....

*feels sheepish*

2. Me beginning to hold in anticipation of her coming off the bit, that is me expecting it too early and her getting pressure on her mouth as if she were off the bit but she wasn't YET.

Which has led to...

3. Her expecting a jolt and throwing her head (even now that she has the strength to canter) in a way to avoid the jolt.

I FEEL SO BAD :cry:, poor girl.
I asked for the transitions on a looser rein, had her quite low and extremely through and she did lift her head but she was not throwing it because the contact was not there (or the pressure she was expecting).

I will now be making a conscious effort to keep the contact as soft as possible and hopefully this habit will be cured eventually.

THANK YOU so much to everyone for your wonderful opinions and all your help!

Sep. 30, 2010, 06:21 AM
do sitting trot and ask her to canter on a corner easy for her easy for you then maintian the canter down the long side of the areana then back to sitting trot on the short side of an areana then ask again at the next corner until you have one complet circiut of the school free walk then change the rein to the other side and repeat so rather than constantly ask for a circle, as for it in short sessions this way as some dont grasp the whole idea of what your asking as horses are as indidivual as people she might be one that you have to do things in stages with to get the idea of what your asking

Sep. 30, 2010, 08:01 AM
Don't beat yourself up about it, it's an easy thing to do as you're bringing one on. Glad you figured it out, and hopefully in time she'll both be strong enough, and she won't anticipate that getting pulled in the mouth and she will forget - it will take some time - so just be really careful with her in the meantime :)

Sep. 30, 2010, 09:06 AM
Praises for you for being willing to try new things and sort this out. It is fine if she lifts her head, for now, ultimately, you want her to lift her shoulders --allows room for her hind end to come more under.

Keep challenging yourself to be free and loose in your body.

Sep. 30, 2010, 09:12 AM
Good for you! You're on your way now.

Sep. 30, 2010, 09:55 PM
good for you- the head will fix itself when there is a really forward, energetic and balanced trot

Sep. 30, 2010, 11:12 PM
Posted by luchiamae:

2. Me beginning to hold in anticipation of her coming off the bit, that is me expecting it too early and her getting pressure on her mouth as if she were off the bit but she wasn't YET.

Kudos to you for asking and then taking your *check list* and methodically working through the steps.

It is very common to overdo everything :yes: when really all you need to do is follow your horse and just ad the aids in the natural rythym that you have established.