I have a young Australian Riding Pony gelding who I have just broken in (walking and trotting well under saddle) over the last 6 weeks. He is almost 4 years old and is 13.2hh. He's coming along nicely at the walk and trot and has cantered a handful of times under saddle with no problems. I traditionally don't do a lot of lunging as I prefer to work from the saddle. In fact, before getting on him I had only walked and trotted him on the lunge (never cantered him). The last few times I have lunged him I've asked him to canter and he immediately strikes off into a disunited or cross canter (leading with the correct lead in the front and the incorrect lead behind). This occurred every time to the right, though he corrected himself behind after just a few strides, and about 75% of the time to the left (again, correcting himself). He is lunged with fairly loose side-reins in a 20m round yard (I know it is a bit small for learning to canter, which is why I haven't cantered him on the lunge earlier).
Is this cross cantering on the lunge a problem or is it just a young pony balancing himself? He does not cross canter when running around his paddock nor has he done it the few times I've cantered him under saddle. Is there something I can do on the lunge to encourage him to to strike off correctly?
This is fairly normal for a young horse who is not yet strong enough behind. Often it is loose stifles and it just takes time to condition him correctly. Circling puts more strain on the hind legs, so he is better on straight lines.
Quality not quantity. As soon as he gets his legs sorted out, stop him and pet him. If you can reward the correct behavior and continue to condition him on long, straight lines, it should improve dramatically in about 8 weeks.
Walking up and down hills, starting turn on the forehand and walking over poles once a week will all help.
Give him time to gain strength and balance. I know he's young and just starting, but sometimes if all else fails, you end up waiting until they learn their lateral work, which of itself is strengthening.
Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.
Timely post. My 8 year old was doing this last weekend on the longe on the left lead. Trainer started trying to drill him to get it right. He's out of condition after a 3 year layoff. After about 10 tries, I finally told her to quit, as I could see he was getting frustrated, and it was just not going to happen. Vet was out Tuesday, checked him and said, yep, stifle is bothering him. He gave the same advice as previous poster... lots of long straigt trot lines and hills, but he said uphill is good, downhill is bad. Coincidentally, he also noticed that my farrier had put rear shoes with pads on him (the first time ever) last shoeing and said that's very good for stifle problem.
So... kudos to my farrier for noticing something was going on behind without even seeing him move!
shortening the side reins and bending him to the inside with short actions of the longe line - not makign the side reins too short, just getting them to a proper length. Horses usually cross canter on the longe because they are off balance. Longeing technique can rebalance them.
Some horses actually learn that the rider will stop them and restart them when they cross canter. They actually get trained to cross canter and think the downward transition is their reward for 'good behavior'. If one's very clever with the longe line and whip, one can bend them to the inside and very slightly decrease the size of the circle, push them forward and just tap the whip on the inside hind hock, and they will unite their canter by surging forward, and those few surging strides are great exercise and strengthen the inside hind. I wouldn't advise doing this more than 3x in a session as it's work for the horse, though they can work up to more.
Some horses cross canter and start getting more and more off balance and tearing around, sometimes veering into a smaller and smaller circle where they torque around and are in danger of slipping and falling or straining something. They may invert, stiffen their neck upward, yet get their belly closer and closer to the ground. In this position they are very likely to slip and fall. Often with this sort of problem you can't push the horse forward, bringing him back to a trot and letting him trot for a while til he is more relaxed might be the right thing to do.
Often, a horse will lose his lead because something spooks him slightly, or he tenses up and tightens up for a moment if some tack, such as stirrups, wobble and hit his side. My friend's (yes a baby) horse would terribly obediently try to counter canter every time the inside stirrup flopped on his side, LOL. Tying up the stirrups can stop that, LOL.
There are some cases where I just leave it alone if the horse cross canters. Our pony, who was stuck in a stall for a long time, was very stiff for a long time, so he cross cantered. It was so important to just get him moving that I just let him do whatever he wanted. Occasionally a rehab issue might justify that.
On the other hand, if the horse is counter cantering and is cantering united, I don't get after a youngster for that (any more!) if he's going basically well. For years I was taught to NEVER let the horse counter canter on the longe. But I learned that as long as the canter is united, it's alright for them to continue, and keeps them from thinking later, that counter canter is 'Evil'. But if it was impossible for the horse to canter on the true lead at all, I would try to figure out why and correct it.
seens s you work from the saddle rather than the lunge rein then go back to basics as you cant canter until you have the walk and trot paces by lengthening and shortening using the half halt stride
so the hrose learns to balance himself by getting his hinds underneath him
please take the time to read my helpful links pages which has e a lot of info on there including lunging
also find a decent trainer or instructor too help you
from any association club or society associeted with the fei - as all accredited trianers are listed
Firstly, I want to say thank you to everyone for your personal experiences and ideas, I have read them and take them all very seriously - it's great to hear from people who have had similar experiences.
Now to respond to your suggestions.
I have started doing turn on the forehands and I sometimes put a few poles around the arena to keep him thinking about his legs and where he's going (and he gets bored easily, as many do!). I will try stopping him to reward immediately when he does it right, instead of keeping him going for half a lap as I usually do, thanks for the idea!
Perhaps will have the farrier or vet out to take a look at him if the problem persists, however as he is not doing it under saddle, I'm hoping as he gets stronger he will work out how to canter correctly on the circle. I haven't noticed any stiffness in the stifles otherwise, however I am no expert.
As I live on the flattest country on the planet, hillwork is not actually an option. There are absolutely no hills within an hour or two of my property, so unfortunately, short of shifting earth, hills are a bit hard to come by
"Horses usually cross canter on the longe because they are off balance" - this is true. When he first picks up the canter, his head is up and back hollow, then when he changes to 'real' canter, he relaxes and flows forward better. Thanksfully, he seems to understand that disunited is less comfortable than united. I don't pull him up when he cross canters as he fixes himself, but you raise an interesting idea regarding picking up the wrong canter lead (I always stop him when he does this). But when I read your post, it made me realise that at this stage, the canter lead is not so much of an issue as long as he is canter forward and true.
Thanks for the helpful links goeslikestink, I'll take a look when I have some time on my hands... I have had a browse of a few already.
Again, thank you to everyone for your ideas and suggestions. I will lunge him again tomorrow and try a few out to see how he goes (don't worry, I don't expect a big improvement overnight!). I guess it will just take time, as everything does with a young pony.
I haven't noticed any stiffness in the stifles otherwise, however I am no expert.
Oddly enough with a young horse, it can be looseness in the stifles rather than stiffness. They just need more muscle tone to hold things better in place. You can add a few steps of reinback in hand to help also. Remember those t.o.f and reinback exercises are progressive. You need to do them every workout for 6 to 8 weeks before you see a difference.