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  1. #1

    Default Teaching a 3 year old horse to canter

    Looking for some suggestions. I have a 3 1/2 year old warmblood mare, been slowly started under saddle since last spring. Awesome trot work- canter on lunge is fairly good (works in side reins). Cantering with a rider, esp to the right, is very difficult for her . Head tossing, hard to get her hind end under her..I feel like its loss of/lack of ability to balance in canter with a rider. Going to the left is not bad- not sensational but better balance and use of hind end.
    Throughout the summer we were able to canter in a very large area and just GO- and on a nice straight line with big sweeping turns the right canter is actually ok. Lately (with the time change, frozen ground, etc) we are forced to do more and more work indoors, small indoor arena (which I appreciate but reality is it is approx the size of 2 18meter circles with some corners at each end!!).
    Suggestions? Trot work as mentioned is nice, supple bending, etc. My instinct is to alternate ride one day, lunge one day, etc with riding days back off canter for a month or so and develop canter on lunge. ...? I hate the idea of too much canter on the small lunge circles though..at least under saddle I do have a slight long stretch of the indoor arena wall to develop 8 or so good strides coming out of corner....Is a few canter strides that arent so balanced better than NO canter? Would cavaletti make sense as it would strengthen the hind end?
    I have a fair amount of experience with older horses, and green horses, but not baby and green in the same combo!..and some ground help avail from time to time...I had toyed with the idea of giving her the winter off for some time to mature but as she is a bit hot, and sassy, it has been suggested by 2 professionals that I should keep her in minimal work going through winter..trying to come up with a good training plan so we are in a good place for a sensational canter come spring! Thanks for reading so far, and for any suggestions/advice!



  2. #2
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    Go trail riding, with a friend on an older sensible horse. You'll not only develop rhythm and steadiness in all gaits but fitness also.
    Last edited by Equibrit; Nov. 25, 2012 at 10:07 PM.
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  3. #3
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    She already knows how to canter. Your job is to balance yourself so that she can with you on her back. Ideally this is done with the help of an instructor who can keep you on the straight and narrow path to success.

    An alternative, is to continue on with your trot flat work, and allow her to gain strength and balance through that. You wouldn't be the first to have a horse doing a good shoulder in and then teaching the canter from that.

    Equibrit also gives you another alternative. It depends on your winters.
    Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.


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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by merrygoround View Post
    She already knows how to canter. Your job is to balance yourself so that she can with you on her back. Ideally this is done with the help of an instructor who can keep you on the straight and narrow path to success.

    An alternative, is to continue on with your trot flat work, and allow her to gain strength and balance through that. You wouldn't be the first to have a horse doing a good shoulder in and then teaching the canter from that.

    Equibrit also gives you another alternative. It depends on your winters.
    Merrygoround is right, she knows how to canter. All her suggestions are excellent. I would add that, given the size of your arena, maybe focusing ont eh transition itself and getting just a few good steps and then adding onto that is a better idea than careeing around.
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  5. #5
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    Can you lunge her in the indoor and use the whole space? It will give you some straight lines as you move down centerline and she goes around you.

    Will she canter at all to the right, or is it only a problem when you are asking her to use herself properly?

    My guy (now 5) had a hard time balancing his canter at 3, but he really had a hard time with the whole enchilada (very big and growthy). So I did a lot of cantering in 2 point down the long side and then sitting up a little bit around the short side (half circle really) then out of the corner and forward and off his back. Eventually I could sit on him more and more and his balance improved as he learned to keep cantering and compress himself a little. May or may not help in your case...

    ETA: I did this in a small indoor like you describe as well, the walls helped contain him a little bit!
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  6. #6
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    If you can find a neck strap or something to hold on to that might help. You have to just stay out of the horses way right now.

    Im riding a young one who obviously scared the previous rider at canter so I literally had to kinda hand gallop to keep him cantering and at first I think you think of all of the things that can happen but you have to just force yourself to stay out of their way literally. If you can throw them away a bit at first JUST until they understand cantering without quitting its a good thing

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  7. #7
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    She's 3 1/2. There is SOOOO much to work on with her over the winter without having to go near her canter. If my only option was an 18x36m arena I'd lunge her in side reins for her canter work over the winter and get her walk and trot really nice.
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  8. #8
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    i would not worry about canter for the winter. she is such a baby still - she is growing and they get unbalanced so easily when they grow.

    i personally might be tempted to give her the winter off and let her grow. if that doesn't suit, then just work in the walk/trot easy work while she is so unbalanced....


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  9. #9
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    Thank you all for your thoughts!



  10. #10
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    I agree with mbm that most 3 year olds could do with a winter off to grow and mature.

    But if you must, then I would do exactly what you suggested: Lunge one day, ride the next. And by this, I mean do your walk/trot work ridden, then hop off & do some trot/canter/trot/canter work on the lunge. Next day, try it under saddle. Just keep at it and it will come.
    "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." - The Little Prince



  11. #11
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    I think given the space you have is so small, I would forego the cantering over the winter, unless you have the ability to do so out on the trail. I agree with PSJ that this horse is so young, if she's having a hard time with her balance at the canter, then just let it rest for a while. Working at w/t only will help her improve balance and there is so much that can be done at those two gaits without worrying about cantering.

    When I got my mustang he had a crappy canter. I spent a lot of time on the trails with him and that's where we would do our canter work - long, straight, open paths are inviting for just going forward without always worrying about turning on a circle or through a corner. I would say, though, that through the improvement in the quality of his work in the trot, the canter naturally improved without drilling it over and over again. I really think it is a strength/balance/coordination issue.

    Considering the horse is so young, though, it might be nice to give her the winter off in a pasture so she can do some more growing and moving on her own (vs. forced exercise of lunging or riding).
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  12. #12
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    I'd give her the winter off. Still very young.



  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by cowgirlprincess View Post
    I had toyed with the idea of giving her the winter off for some time to mature but as she is a bit hot, and sassy, it has been suggested by 2 professionals that I should keep her in minimal work going through winter..trying to come up with a good training plan
    I assume that both trainers know your horse, I'd be inclined to follow their advice - I'm sure both will suggest training plans/goals if you ask

    Unless you have appropriate turnout AND pasture mates, I'd not leave her to her own devices all winter.

    When she's in a growth spurt, I'd give her a break from lunge (with side reins) & u/s work, instead hand walk/trot her, take her new places, do some horse agility/groundwork that engages her mind...


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  14. #14
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    I have a 3.5 year old right now, and as we go into winter in South Dakota we're in the same boat. He has about 40-50 rides now, all in all, and really our canter work involves schooling the transition and a few strides, with the occasional "throw it away" as mentioned above - stay in two point if needed, sit if can, and just let him go to build up endurance. Over winter his "work" schedule will literally be one ride per week and probably one other lunging in side reins session per week. The ride consists of lots of walk and trot work, working on his responsiveness to the outside rein and suppling (spiral in/out, etc), w/t shoulder fore/in and leg yield, and a few canter transitions; along with free rides outside when weather permits. His balance changes with each growth spurt, so his canter "work" isn't really work YET. That's what the lunge line and side reins are good for - really his canter work right now is the transition - is it instant, and off the inside hip, and solid? If he gets a good, instant transition and only 2-3 strides in balance, I'll bring him back down to a trot or walk before he loses it. Does that help?
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Equibrit View Post
    Go trail riding, with a friend on an older sensible horse. You'll not only develop rhythm and steadiness in all gaits but fitness also.
    This is how we taught my friend's horse to canter. She went out on her horse, I went out on mine (my horse was the woobie security blanket) and we would just go out onto a quiet trail and we would trot off together and then canter...okay, so sometimes my horse chased hers into a canter but it did work! (my friend would cluck or say canter when he cantered off) We did this all Fall, it was a blast for all of us and the horse learned to canter!
    "I'm holding out for the $100,000 Crossrail Classic in 2012." --mem
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  16. #16
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    I think you'd be amazed, too, at how strong she'll get with proper work in trot and walk (especially the walk!) simply because she's still growing and figuring out her body anyway. Then, one day in the future, if you're getting nice trot work, just keep building the energy and see if she steps into canter. You don't have to keep cantering and cantering...get a few nice strides and stop.

    If she doesn't offer it, just keep plugging away at the walk and trot.

    And I COMPLETELY agree on getting her out and about on trails or fields, if at all possible (even if you have to wait until spring).
    Last edited by Oberon13; Nov. 27, 2012 at 03:42 PM. Reason: clarification...for my own sanity


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  17. #17
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    Default Don't be in a hurry

    She knows how to canter. Build strength and balance with walk, trot, supple, transitions and the like over the winter. Don't be in a hurry.

    And like most non pros working with young horses with big gaits, the tendency is to want to "control" the canter, because they are afraid to just let the horse go and find it's own balance, they try to force it and the horse is neither educated nor strong enough to be riden that way.

    Unless you can just let go, then don't canter at all unless it's offered, don't worry about the quality right now, do a couple of strides if it's offered then transition down to a trot and go on with something else.

    3 and a half is still a baby warmblood. You've got years. Just slow down and don't rush. If you work and get a good trot, the canter will come.


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  18. #18
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    Thanks all. Some really helpful advice above...My instincts say to work on the walk/trot/cavelletti, suppling bending, etc-with the occasional field work in when I can (dont really have an older horse to babysit us out there so the trail work is small steps, to keep it all positive for both of us). I just needed some encouragement that letting the canter develop through working on OTHER skills and keeping it fun is in fact ok.. I think mixing up all the above under saddle work, plus some basic long lining and then lungeing in side reins - will build balance, confidence, and keep us moving steadily forward to perhaps a surprisingly (nice) canter come spring...and then there will be of course a handful of nice days this winter when I can take her out in the outdoor and go for a good under saddle canter with plenty of room...and if the timing is right in the indoor and she offers the canter all the better. Thank you thank you all for the encouragement and good ideas!



  19. #19
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    I would back her up small inclines, in hand....in a proper 'shape' (Frame is a bad word). Just a few steps after she's warmed up...then lead her forward, and repeat....over time...and I do mean TIME....advance to backing more steps, but never more than say 3 full strides (12 steps, pun intended), before you rock her forward. I bet she has weak stifles, and this little exercise can only help strengthen them, and if done properly (balanced, not her dragging herself in reverse nor pushing herself, either, really carrying herself), she'll stretch her hamstrings and strengthen her loins, too.

    I really wouldn't worry much at all (period just don't do it in that small space)...about the canter. Strengthen her loins, stretch the hammies, bulk up the stifles...and canter next Spring when she has more room. Helping a horse who's gotten anxious/worried about that up transition can be completely avoided if you slow down and get her strong and when you can...give her room to go straight, reach, and lift. She has the rest of her life to hit the 20m circle



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