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  1. #1
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    Default Exercises/advice to get my horse to *calm down* at the canter?

    My guy goes great at the trot - I only get to ride him on the weekends because of my work schedule and how far away the stable is (and lack of funds to pay someone else to get on him and really work him during the week), so I try to make the most of my rides on the weekend.

    That being said, he's been really improving at the trot - rounding out and working from the hind end, but without fail, he's always a stink at the canter. I don't know if it's because it excites him or what, but he'll be good for the first couple strides working into the bit, and then work up after that - his head comes up and he feels completely inverted/hollow, especially down the sides of the ring. I try to do circles and then take him down the long sides after he relaxes a bit in the circle, but he tends to speed back up and invert himself again.

    It's almost like a game of tug of war - his trot is wonderful and you could ride him at the buckle and he goes great, but the moment he canters, it's like I have to have all the reins back before he shoots off like a madman.

    I don't tense up or change my position to give him any odd cues that would rev him up, so I'm not sure what I should be doing differently to help him out.


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  2. #2
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    I rode a TB that would get faster and faster at the canter. I was advised to ride half cirlces at the canter bringing him back to the trot or walk after every half circle. I would let him walk on a loose rein after the half circle, then pick up a trot or ask for another half circle at the canter. It helped to keep him focused and prepared to downshift. After he became more reliable at the half circle I would let him go for the full circle. I kept mixing it up with half circle or full circle at the canter to keep him thinking. I kept the canter work short with lots of loose rein in between. Sometimes I let him stop, stand and do nothing. That seemed to keep him the most relaxed. It only took a few weeks of work like this before I could slowly extend the canter figures. Good luck to you.


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  3. #3
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    Since I cannot see the horse going (I think it's hard to give thoughts on things like this without seeing the situation) but saying that - do you think he is just having balancing/strength issues? Some horses need time working to get strong enough to have a balanced canter they can maintain consistently.

    Maybe some trot poles, shoulder in, haunches in, half pass, type work can help him develop?
    How people treat you is their KARMA.... how you REACT is yours!


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  4. #4
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    Some things that have worked for me....

    Lunge the horse before riding.

    Warm up the horse sufficiently and include canter before asking for any kind of working engagement and connection.

    Some horses start out tight, and need leg yield, bend and counter bend, and stretching long and low, as part of their warm up routine, in order to be ready to engage and come through.

    When cantering durring the warmup, ride in a two point and stay off of the horses back.

    Be sure YOU the rider, are properly warmed up and limber before riding your horse, as a stiff/blocking rider may effect a horse negatively and act to lite him up.

    Be sure the horse has no pain issues such as stifle problems, or teeth that need floating. The canter is a gait that can magnify physical discomfort for a horse.

    Seek professional assistance from a trainer when needed so as not to risk reinforcing negative behavioral issues in the horses mind.

    Have a talented trainer ride the horse and give an opinion on how to best proceed in solving the issue.

    Examine the horses turn out and diet, and adjust if the horses behavior can be associated to that being a possible cause.

    i.e. Some horses become hot on certain types of feed, some horse do better with more turn out, including some horses that may need 24/7 turnout in a field with a run-in shed to keep their energy from building to overwhelming levels.


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  5. #5
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    If you only work him on weekends, and do lots of trot before cantering, I'd bet it's a conditioning issue. Trot is a more balanced gait to carry the rider's weight. So canter requires more fitness anyway, and add to that the work in trot first... Just smart to be mindful of fitness and fatigue issues.


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  6. #6
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    It sounds like you're going to be fighting a bit of a losing battle, honestly. He either needs more fitness to keep the nice canter you start with or just work with balancing & suppling, and two rides a week probably won't get you there quickly.

    I'd say just chuck the reins at him and let him figure it out. When my guy (hot jumper type TB) gets really up and just wants to gun it, I just chuck the reins at him and get in half seat. Me just leaving him completely alone is enough for him to turn off the "jumpoff mode" and just quietly hack.

    Is there anyone near you who's horseless but a good rider just looking for some saddle time? It sounds like he just needs more work.
    I've heard there's more to life than an FEI tent and hotel rooms, so I'm trying it.


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  7. #7
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    He's probably not balanced enough to sustain the canter under saddle. It will be hard to get him going better with just two rides/week but I have two suggestions:

    - Only canter until he starts to get quick, then bring him back to the trot until he settles and the let him canter again. The transitions will help him a lot and there's no hurry to hold the canter.
    - If you can keep him cantering, post to the canter. It's a great way to control the rhythm without getting into a tug of war.
    Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
    EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.


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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by horsegal301 View Post
    My guy goes great at the trot - I only get to ride him on the weekends because of my work schedule and how far away the stable is (and lack of funds to pay someone else to get on him and really work him during the week), so I try to make the most of my rides on the weekend.

    That being said, he's been really improving at the trot - rounding out and working from the hind end, but without fail, he's always a stink at the canter. I don't know if it's because it excites him or what, but he'll be good for the first couple strides working into the bit, and then work up after that - his head comes up and he feels completely inverted/hollow, especially down the sides of the ring. I try to do circles and then take him down the long sides after he relaxes a bit in the circle, but he tends to speed back up and invert himself again.

    It's almost like a game of tug of war - his trot is wonderful and you could ride him at the buckle and he goes great, but the moment he canters, it's like I have to have all the reins back before he shoots off like a madman.

    I don't tense up or change my position to give him any odd cues that would rev him up, so I'm not sure what I should be doing differently to help him out.
    Can you give us a bit more info? Is this a young horse? OTTB? Tell us a bit more about him.
    You don't scare me. I ride a MARE!



  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by equisusan View Post
    Can you give us a bit more info? Is this a young horse? OTTB? Tell us a bit more about him.

    Thanks for all your replies - I do warm him up quite a bit. Most of his hacking is trotting, so he definitely is limbered up - leg yielding and bending and counter-bending, and definitely stretching long and low.

    He doesn't have any issues and isn't a "hot" horse by any means, he's a 15 year old POA gone too large - his diet isn't anything that would make him hot, and vet thinks he's okay.

    I'm more prone to think that he's just not conditioned enough to be balanced along with the fact that I can only get out a couple days so possibly being spunky at the canter? He does not lunge... I gave up on that years ago.

    We have a couple people who do training rides at the place where I have him boarded, but I don't know if they have anyone who would be willing to get on him that wouldn't want money to do so - only kids/teens and with him being a goofball, I don't want the liability of someone possibly getting hurt and ending up in a situation I really don't want to be in.

    I wish I could find a video for you, but perhaps I'll try to get the boyfriend to video tape me tomorrow so I can show you all, but I'm quite scared to see what y'all would say about my horrid eq


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  10. #10
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    It is probably due to lack of consistent work. He has 5 days a week off in a row and then you only get to ride him 2 days. Is there a junior rider at the barn or amateur who would like to ride him for free just to get some extra ride time. This may be beneficial to you and the horse. It is really hard to fix a problem such as this on a 2 day a week riding schedule.


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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by horsegal301 View Post
    Thanks for all your replies - I do warm him up quite a bit. Most of his hacking is trotting, so he definitely is limbered up - leg yielding and bending and counter-bending, and definitely stretching long and low.

    He doesn't have any issues and isn't a "hot" horse by any means, he's a 15 year old POA gone too large - his diet isn't anything that would make him hot, and vet thinks he's okay.

    I'm more prone to think that he's just not conditioned enough to be balanced along with the fact that I can only get out a couple days so possibly being spunky at the canter? He does not lunge... I gave up on that years ago.

    We have a couple people who do training rides at the place where I have him boarded, but I don't know if they have anyone who would be willing to get on him that wouldn't want money to do so - only kids/teens and with him being a goofball, I don't want the liability of someone possibly getting hurt and ending up in a situation I really don't want to be in.

    I wish I could find a video for you, but perhaps I'll try to get the boyfriend to video tape me tomorrow so I can show you all, but I'm quite scared to see what y'all would say about my horrid eq
    Thanks for the info. You might consider that its an unsoundness issue at 15yo. Sore back? Hocks? Did the horse always go like this at the canter? Does he get lots of high protein food such that you could make a change to reduce protein and decrease his energy level. Does he get enough turnout? A video would be helpful.
    You don't scare me. I ride a MARE!


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  12. #12
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    Without his getting out all week, you are fighting an uphill battle. Is there a responsible adult (maybe a capable but horseless student or re-rider or someone who is between horses) available? If you are working with a trainer, they might know of someone. Over the last few years I have been that rider for a couple of people who just want their horses worked a bit (and well spoiled.)

    My experience with horses in intermittent work (like weekends only) is that on day 1 of work they are strong and unfocused followed by being a bit muscle sore on day 2. They are like the person who goes to the gym and pounds the weights and cardio on Sat and then can barely move on Sun and then they don't go back 'til the next Sat. they never get out of the "overeager/muscle fatique" cycle.
    F O.B
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  13. #13
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    Sounds like a fitness issue. I've had success in similar situations with lunging. Put him in sidereins that are not too tight but short enough so he can feel a bit of contact. Lunge at the trot until he's warmed up and then ask for canter. Let him canter a circle or two and figure out the balance and then trot. Repeat several times in each direction. This way he works out the balance without a rider.

    Under saddle, warm him up well and then ask for a few strides of canter on a circle, maybe 5 or 6. Then back to trot and rebalance. Repeat : or 4 times in each direction.

    If you can find someone to ride him during the week, even at the walk and trot, it would be very helpful to his fitness. Maybe someone could take him on a trail at the walk. Anything to help with fitness.

    Good luck!

    Oops just noticed that you said he doesn't lunge. Could you free school him so be could just canter around without a person?



  14. #14
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    Alright - gulping here because I'm nervous about posting a video, but here it is. He was a little fresh today, so he was a little uppity and definitely not round as he normally is - at the canter he was basically pulling my arms out.

    http://youtu.be/h08S_YasXSM

    Also have been in the works trying to find a new place where I can ride him more and was successful in doing that this weekend - he'll only be about 12 minutes away as opposed to an hour drive, so he'll definitely be able to get back into shape, I just want to make sure I'm approaching it the right way!



  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by horsegal301 View Post
    Alright - gulping here because I'm nervous about posting a video, but here it is. He was a little fresh today, so he was a little uppity and definitely not round as he normally is - at the canter he was basically pulling my arms out.

    http://youtu.be/h08S_YasXSM

    Also have been in the works trying to find a new place where I can ride him more and was successful in doing that this weekend - he'll only be about 12 minutes away as opposed to an hour drive, so he'll definitely be able to get back into shape, I just want to make sure I'm approaching it the right way!
    Okay I'll go first. He looks sweet to me. I see no sign of him being uppity or pulling your arms off. It's a bit hard to tell but he may indeed be stiff in his back and hind end. Again I'd have the vet check his hocks. You want him to be comfortable. I think you are riding him very nicely at the trot and you are on the center of balance. When you canter, however, I think you are behind the motion a little and he looks to me like he could benefit from you lightening your seat and maybe just staying in two point at the canter. You say he is pulling - what happens if you loop the reins at the canter? My best guess from watching the video is he's uncomfortable a little at the canter and it may improve with fitness (if the vet doesnt think he needs some help) but you need to get up off his back for now. See - not too bad. Right?
    You don't scare me. I ride a MARE!



  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by horsegal301 View Post
    Alright - gulping here because I'm nervous about posting a video, but here it is. He was a little fresh today, so he was a little uppity and definitely not round as he normally is - at the canter he was basically pulling my arms out.

    http://youtu.be/h08S_YasXSM

    Also have been in the works trying to find a new place where I can ride him more and was successful in doing that this weekend - he'll only be about 12 minutes away as opposed to an hour drive, so he'll definitely be able to get back into shape, I just want to make sure I'm approaching it the right way!
    Cute horse! You really do look good on him. I was expecting to see a horse that was rushing completely through the aids, but that's not what I'm seeing.

    What I'm seeing is what appears to be a good rider who requires some refinement in technique, to correct for some stiffness, imbalance, and riding with a driving seat.

    In my opinion, and it may be completely wrong...

    I'm going to speculate based on your video, that you are locking your elbows and pulling down with your entire arms to create your contact. This is an extremely common "stage" for some riders to go through, and the solution is in understanding how to develop an elastic contact from the muscles in you back, while allowing your forearms and elbows to remain relaxed.

    As a result of locked arms, you end up stiffening your upper back, and the forces created by making your contact in this way, then transfer down into your lower back (which probably hurts), and you end up bracing with your knees to prevent from tipping forwards in the saddle.

    The result of the above is that you end up following the motion of your horses canter using your entire upper body. This type of body motion at the canter, then tips your center of gravity in front of your horses center of gravity at one point in time during the canter rhythm, and then requires you to make that sudden surge forwards with your seat in order to quickly reposition your center of gravity back under the center of your horse, and thus retain your balance in the saddle. The result of this forward motion of your seat, is what we call a driving seat.

    From your horses point of view, you are in front of his center which unbalances him forwards, your driving seat is asking him to go forwards, and in response to these forward aids, he leans on your hands for balance because he's a saint and loves you, and is accommodating your riding style (good pony).

    The solution is first to learn how to create contact properly from your back.

    When you watch yourself in the video, notice that your hands are always too low, the reins are too long, and that your upper arms never swing, even at the trot...

    An exercise to work on contact...

    Get yourself a pair of reins off a bridle, and have a friend hold the bit ends as you sit in a chair holding the reins like you're riding. Then have your friend move the reins forwards and backwards as you maintain three pounds of continuous contact on the reins. Relax your elbows, forearms, wrists, and hands, as you do this exercise. Have you friend move the reins very far forwards, as far as you can reach without tipping your body forwards, and then move the reins towards you, so you bring those elbows back past your sides as far as they can go while still maintaining that three pounds of contact, and also keeping your forearms in direct alignment with the reins.

    Your upper arms should be swinging like pendulums forwards and backwards as you maintain your contact, avoid moving your elbow out to the side like little bird wings, and always keep those forearms aligned with the bit as though your forearms are like an extension of the reins themselves. Think "My hands belong to the horse".

    Then have the friend move those reins erratically back and forth so you can learn to keep that three pounds of contact no mater what they do with the reins. You should be developing that contact from the muscles in your back, and your upper arms should feel as though they are like springs. Have your friend completely let go of the reins unexpectedly at some point, and your arms should automatically spring back to the furtherest backwards position when you are using your arms elastically.

    Now keep in mind that this is an exercise for understanding how to carry your arms to create an elastic contact, and this is the feeling that you will aim to achieve most the time as you ride, but it is certainly not an all exclusive rule, as there will be times when you will need to create rein aids for different purposes that will require different ways of using your arms.

    Now lets put you hypothetically back on your horse with a proper use of your arms and development of contact. The next thing to work on is to loosen up those knees off of the saddle, and to let your legs push down into the stirrups during the "deep seat" phase of the canter. As your horses back lifts you out of the seat during the canter rhythm, you will then squeeze lightly with you calves against your horses sides to assist you in remaining in the saddle. So that at the canter, your legs and knees should be relaxed as you stretch down into the saddle, and you will squeeze with your calves as the canter rhythm lifts you back up again, but never pinching with those knees.

    If you put dollar bills between your calves and the horses sides, you should be able to canter while holding them there.

    Hypothetically, you now have the ability to use an effective contact, and ride with a loose uninhibiting knee and leg.

    Now it's time to learn to ride from your seat, you will find that you can "synchronize" your balance, with the balance of your horse, and you can put yourself behind the motion of your horse to slow his pace, or speed him up by getting in front of him. All the while maintaining balanced in the saddle with a steady contact, remaining relaxed, having an independent use of your aids, and not depending on your hands for balance. One develops this kind of "feel" through lots of practice.

    To assist you on your learning journey, You may do no stirrup work, use cavaletti, work on transitions while riding from your seat and core, and in general discovering how it feels to have your balance so aligned with your horses, that the horse will respond and do transitions from your balance, without any great dependance on the use of rein aids.

    You will push your horse forwards with your driving aids, and feel that energy come forward through your horses back, as he stretches forwards into the bit, and into your elastic and soft hands.

    We call this riding from back to front, the horse developing impulsion in response to the riders aids, and that energy (engagement) coming forwards into the riders limiting aids of the hand.

    In dressage it's called the circle of aids.

    Hope I haven't bored you with my long winded reply...

    Please disregard it if it's not relevant to your situation.
    Last edited by alterhorse; Feb. 19, 2013 at 01:56 AM. Reason: spelling


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  17. #17
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    I think you look like a very capable rider.... and your horse is cute... I think it was helpful to post a video.

    Your horse doesn't "look" to be strong. You do a good job at hiding it I think your horse, like the other poster said may need a look at by a vet. He looks stiff and the left front looks crooked to me. Pause the video at 1:11 maybe it's his shoe job - imbalances - hard to tell without seeing the horse in person. He sort of toes in with his knee out. He's actually a cute mover at times.

    It looks like it's hard for him to canter using his hind end as if he's running down hill. May be physical or maybe conformation. Pause again at 2:17 -

    He doesn't look bad at all. He is quite cute I think.
    How people treat you is their KARMA.... how you REACT is yours!


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  18. #18
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    I'm going to put in my 2 cents. I'm not a riding instructor, so take it for what it's worth...

    Firstly, you look like a great rider, and I adore your horse. He seems like a sweet, kind character who is working in great harmony with you. I do feel like he seems just a little stiff, which can cause some issues at the canter before it normally affects anything else. Good to have a vet give him a once-over and maybe start him on some joint supplements for good measure. At 15, my gelding had already been on a joint supplement for a couple of years and was pretty stiff without it.

    I think alterhorse gave you a SUPER explanation of how to fix the very minor things that are inhibiting his movement from the rider perspective. You really do look amazing on him - opening up your body movement will only improve his ability to frame up and canter even nicer. In the meantime, if you can't have a friend help you out right away, I would say get up off of him like a jockey does - remain in two point with looped reins, hands resting gently on his neck, and just let him work it out. If he needs assistance in the corners, use your legs to hold him up as necessary. Getting completely out of their way can sometimes do wonders - I'm likely going to have to do that with my TB mare who I'm about to put back into work after being a pasture puff for about 2 or 3 years. Until she gets strength and butt muscles built back up, I'm going to get up off of her and let her work it out, balancing her with my legs as needed.

    Best of luck!


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  19. #19
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    He doesn't look any where near as strong as your original post suggested.

    I go back to my original suggestion. Post at the canter to help him establish rhythm and loosen up his back.

    You're sitting down on him and it may be difficult for him to hold his balance (from his lack of fitness).

    Try periodically letting go if he's pulling on you. Keep him on the circle but give with your inside rein. He's not going to go anywhere in the indoor so if he gets a little quick, don't panic.

    Ride with a neck strap. Pressure on the neck strap helps soothe many horses. It also keeps you off his mouth.

    Do LOTS of trot/canter/trot transitions to get him to rock back on his haunches and to help him get stronger.

    Try to work him in shoulder fore at the trot. This also will help teach him to weight his inside hind and allow him to get stronger.

    Not a bad idea to have a vet check him out too but strengthening exercises will likely help.
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  20. #20

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    I feel your pain. I have a horse that I tend to only get out to ride on weekends, so we've been making slow (but steady!) progress and I know I can see it comparing our videos and pictures now from even just the middle of last year.

    Anyway, my horse also has a big shoulder (he's drafty) so it's really easy for him to just want to truck along on his forehand instead of moving correctly and it's taken a long time to really get him fit enough where he does it (most of the time).

    So my point is (and I haven't watched the video yet, I admit)... some of the things we did with him are:

    1. After doing the basic w/t warmup, we'd do a couple of times around the ring both ways with me up in two point and letting him canter as fast as he wanted to go. Like someone else said, he's not going to run away with you in the ring. But this had two benefits: it kind of got him up and excited about what we were doing so he tended to stay 'forward' for the rest of the ride and also once he kind of got that out of the way he was more likely to want to get down and work and listen to what my body was telling him. Basically, it made the ride more fun for him.

    2. Lots of half-halts. Which I'm still getting the hang of, but he does listen really well to them. But that requires me to be in my seat (I've been having a problem with drawing my legs up and pinching with my knees) properly and not leaning on my hands. I also tend to tell him, "easy, easy, easy," when doing this. Which is a good reminder for both of us.

    3. Basically, like everybody else says. It's probably a fitness issue. If I were you, I wouldn't expect him to be working into the bit yet at a canter until he's more comfortable doing it. Just let him go and get relaxed at doing it, first.
    The Trials and Jubilations of a Twenty-Something Re-rider
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