I've had my mare for almost two months. She's six, and was retired off the track last August and hadnt been ridden since! So far, we are successfully trotting into jumps, leg yielding in w/t as well as bending. She has been a dream to work with, except for her one major flaw.
I'm young, And she is my first OTTB... But in terms of training, it is by far the most differcult thing I have encountered so far. Lets start of by saying that I've had my trainer, who happens to be my mother (she's trained up to I2 Dressage; so yes, she's qualified and experienced.) get on her once, her canter was hardly better than mine. Which was a revelation for me; since normally my mother can fix anything to do with a horse in regards to training! I had one of my friends attempt to canter her, no better. And another trainer try and help me... No improvement. Her canter is extremely unbalanced. Trying to 'hold it together' And keep her from counter bending or drifting is nearly impossible. And when you try, her strides get very short and bouncy. Going right, she stays on the correct lead. But does not bend, or move off your leg very well. Going left, it is a CONSTANT struggle to get her to keep her canter on the left lead for more than 4-6 strides. It's been suggested to me that I should be lunging her in side reins; which I did when I first started riding her, and the last two times I've ridden. Now I understand 2 times of lunging with sidereins at the canter isn't going to make a difference... But I figured I'd notice something; not at all. Now these side reins weren't loose either. The inside rein was also tighter, so she had to stay bent in, Although not a huge amount. I notice when I'm lunging she'll look good and balanced for a couple strides; then it all falls apart again. Another thing I've noticed is that when Trotting into a jump and cantering out, she is so much better.
Please, if anyone has any suggestions please comment. I'm quite FRusterated by this as it is definitely limiting me in what I can do.
Can you hack her outside the ring? Sometimes getting out in the open (safely, of course) can fix problems with moving out and may create a more energetic and balanced rhythm. (It also breaks up the monotony of riding in the ring )
It does sound as though she may not be fit enough to hold that canter together though.
I will also point out that when one of my boys is having trouble maintaining a lead, they are usually due for a chiropractic adjustment, and in the case of my older gelding, a hock injection. If the horse is out in the lower back or pelvis, the maintenance of the lead in a particular direction is hard to hold or will cause them to swap.
I would have a vet or chiro give her the once over just to make sure there are no soreness issues. You may have already done that, and if so, it may just be a fitness issue that requires a little more muscling. With more muscle, she can hold her position and be more balanced. Lunging in the side reins will help with that, but it may take a few weeks or months.
Another idea - Using the trot jump with the "nice" cantering away may teach her the right way to do it. See how long she can hold that nice canter after the jump and work from there. Try to get a few more "good" strides every time until you are cantering around the whole ring.
Good Luck and keep us posted on your progress.
Last edited by LoveJubal; Apr. 27, 2013 at 10:22 AM.
Hey, take my advice with a grain of salt as I am no pro, but I have had a few thoroughbreds off the track now and I definitely can sympathize with this problem! I actually think you nailed a good solution in your post. Back away from asking for the canter for a while and let her pick it up naturally after a small fence. Let her canter down the long side after the fence and when you get to the corner ask her for a calm halt. Let her stand for a moment and chill. Once she has relaxed, turn her the opposite way (ie, if you were cantering her to the right, halt and then turn her left) and walk her down the long side before turning around and approaching the fence again. The halting and turning the opposite way will help to avoid her anticipating the turn and falling in. Eventually start completing the turn with her every second run-through or so (but still intersperse it with a few halts). She will be thinking about the halt, which will get her preparing to sink back on her haunches and shift her weight back -- this will help balance the turn
I hope this is some help! Good luck
"Disapproval of the way other people run their businesses and treat their horses is the meat and drink of the hunter-jumper industry." Working Student Blog Current Blog
I'd be curious of how well she canters when turned out in a pasture. You can sometimes learn a lot about a horse just by watching them at liberty.
Some horses like to run when first turned out, and perhaps also when it's time to come in. If you just watch, or if you video them cantering in the field, then you might notice a clue that might guide your training methodology.
Lunging without side reins can also offer clues, but it's probably best to teach the horse to lunge properly, and that may take some time. Ideally the horse should learn to be accustomed to being lunged, and be obedient to the lunging commands.
If the horse is having balance issues, you should be able to see them from the ground, and a trained eye can usually zone in on the general area of where the horse's issues are.
It's hard to fix something if you don't know what's wrong.
She's only been going under tack for 2 months. That's not much time for her to build strength and, really, get broke. I'm glad she had a good solid let down off the track (so many people rush them into being a riding horse!), but you have to think of her as a baby horse and understand that she's going to take awhile. Kudos that the rest of her flat work is so good!
Second thing, she's a THOROUGHBRED that RACED. What we want from an OTTB in canter is often a very foreign concept and can take a long time to change. She needs to re-learn how to carry herself, retrain years of muscle memory, and it can be a slow process.
My suggestions? Don't force it. She NEEDS to canter so she can learn to canter, but don't force slow, collected, bending, circles, etc. Canter large around the ring. Don't pull on her (OTTBs pull back because that is what they are used to on the track and they WILL speed up). Keep a soft, correct, gentle contact and gentle encourage her to go straight, forward, and in a rhythm (probably a bigger rhythm than you want!). And, I would focus on the STRAIGHT. She sounds like she is taking to the more subtle aids very well, so ride her STRAIGHT between hands and legs. Don't worry about the bend yet. You can throw in the occasional big circle, but don't over do them for now.
Next, transitions, transitions, transitions. Don't just canter endlessly around, trying to improve it. Do LOTS of canter/trot/canter transitions (you can try canter/walk/canter but I don't think she'll be strong enough or broke enough to do them well). These are both the weight lifting exercises of the horse world, and also will help her start to learn to change her balance from low and flat to up and round. Don't rush them. Make each transition as good as you can make it. Set up, make a nice downward to trot, establish a good trot, set up and make a good transition to canter. At first, this might seem to take ages, but if you are consistent and patient, they will get quicker and more balanced and suddenly you'll notice your canter is improving, becoming more balanced, more uphill, and more manageable. And because she is a TB, it'll probably happen quickly (they are so smart!).
The left lead issues will PROBABLY improve with strength and time and will probably lessen if you let her go on a bit. This does back to the first thing of just letting her canter large, straight, and forward. Don't try to make her canter like a broke riding horse yet (you have to build to that with the transitions and some time).
In the mean time, keep working on the walk and trot and all the good flexibility work you are doing in those gaits. That will carry over to the canter with some more time. You can help her strength improve, too, by doing lots of trot poles in the ring and walking up hills out of the ring. DO get her out of the ring (and let her canter out of the ring, too!). This will be good for her brain but also helps a lot of with her overall strength and fitness.
And, most importantly, just give it time. Don't be frustrated. She's young and green and having to relearn a whole lot of stuff. Two months is no time at all. You'll be surprised how quickly she'll suddenly get it one day. But you just have to let it happen.
I am familiar with one that I thought would never get the right lead canter. It was trotting over low fences and cantering on the other side that helped solve the problem. That along with time and endless patience.
Last edited by merrygoround; Apr. 27, 2013 at 03:29 PM.
Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.
Sometime it just takes time. I have one that's been off the track for 2 and a half years and just now has her canter really improved and she has lightened up in the front end considerably. She is also a big girl with a big stride and she just needed time to figure it out.
I agree that hacking her out or flatting in a field and letting her go forward is worth a try.
OTTB's are like bicycles, they are better balanced when they are going fast. At the track, horses almost never canter. The canter is a transitional gait from a trot to a gallop. The only time they usually canter is on the way to the post while leaning on a pony. They do not "canter" in the sense that a H/J rider understands the gait. Watch a post parade and see that many of the horses are tracking at a 45 degree angle, head and neck askew over the withers of a pony, under the management of the pony rider, not the jockey. That is what a racehorse understands as a "canter."
Developing the gait is incremental. If she'll hop over a little jump from a trot and canter away, use that as a chance to encourage her to canter well. Keep her straight and balanced and count her "good" strides. If she gets 4 today, try for 5 the next time.
Once she has a bit more fitness and has shown herself not to get flustered if she gets a bit confused, here's a great canter development tool. If she will hop through a tiny pair of X's as a bounce, he's an exercise that I learned from Jumphigh83. Teach her the basic bounce, a "no stride" in and out. Then add a 3rd X. When she handles that well, add a 4th. These are all bounces. Basically, a bounce is a big canter step and it has to be balanced. As the rider, you have to feel the rhythm of that canter through the bounces, and continue to hold it as she leaves the grid. Again, at first she may hold the rhythm for only a few steps but in time it will get there.
Horses off the track have to go through a "re-modeling" process. They have a set of muscles developed in race training that they have to swap out for a new set of muscles. After 6 months or so off, she's probably lost most of the old muscle form, but she hasn't replaced them with anything. Keep building her up at the trot, asking her to extend her step while stretching her head and neck downward. Encourage her to work off your leg at the trot to establish that "rule." While it may be awkward, continue to ask her to work on the canter for short periods. At first, allow her to be awkward and off balance, then try to ask for a couple of strides moving off the leg to the outside hand. If she gives you even a couple of steps, consider it a win and don't nag her. She will get it in time. Once she does, the improvement will be in leaps and bounds.
All the above assumes that the mare is free of soundness issues.
Resident racing historian ~~~ Re-riders Clique
Founder of the Mighty Thoroughbred Clique
My OTTB came with a wonky canter as well. It's been a project (going on 2+ years). I agree that you may want to have a chiro and vet evaluate her. Mine improved greatly after chiro work. Fitness is also a big thing. Do lots of correct trot-walk-trot transitions to build up her hind end.
When I say mine was wonky I mean, swapping leads continually, flinging her head and launching into a canter, feeling like you are cantering at a 45 degree angle to the ground.
I am not a strong rider at all, so most of our retraining the canter has been from the ground. Just today I lunged her with side reins and she stepped into the most beautiful, balanced canter. I also give lots of voice praise...good girl, etc. TBs are so smart...they want to be praised.
Thankyou all so much for your help and ideas; keep it coming! All your different views and opinions are very much appreciated.
Today I took a few of the comments ideas... And tried some stuff. I put draw reins on her today for flatting, she was great and round in w/t as she always is. I picked up her right lead and tried not to hold her together to much, and did a very large circle; she was fantastic! The draw reins helped to get her straight, which I love. I'm going to try flatting in them the next 2-3 times I ride. Going left, I did have a hard time picking up her leads, So I didn't focus on it too much.
I've got an OTTB myself and have had him for 3.5 months. The canter is still a work in progress, although he's actually fairly balanced...once I got him into a bigger arena. Our indoor is horribly small and cantering in a small space was just not. gonna. happen.
Now that we can go outside I've started focusing more on the canter, realizing that every time I introduce something new (especially at a faster gait) I will lose a little bit of the straightness/suppleness/rhythm that I've instilled up to this point. My guy has gotten really good walk/trot; we've started accepting true contact (even stretching into it!), established a steady rhythm and tempo, and have learned lateral aids. However, none of those apply to the canter right now. What others have said is very true - horses have to canter to improve the canter, but it's not going to be pretty for awhile. I wouldn't worry about whether she's counter bent right now, even though I know it may feel like you're cornering a motorcycle! Focus instead on maintaining rhythm and tempo without grabbing at her face. As she builds strength and the right muscles you'll be able to work on other things, but she needs to be able to balance herself without you holding her up. This can take awhile, so just be patient. Remember, it's often harder to retrain then to start from scratch because horses have to forget everything they've been taught up to now. Remember the small steps forward and celebrate them! Good luck...it's so rewarding to look back and see how far you've come.
canter up hills, trot down 2 days a week
2 days a week canter over cavaletti (vary height and length, even baby bounces)
2 days a week no cantering at all, just walk, trot, focusing on the basics
1 day of rest.
I put draw reins on her today for flatting, she was great and round in w/t as she always is.
Not a fan of draw reins on greenies. I wouldn't worry about a round frame at this point. Focus on balance and the horse learning to carry itself. You don't want to end up with a fake frame and the horse behind the bit.
Last edited by equisusan; Apr. 28, 2013 at 09:17 AM.
Don't ever give them something to lean against. If the horse falls forward in its balance, immediately downward transition. It's an indicator the training is not being suited to the horse. The rider should catch it at a teeter with a half halt. If the half halts become frequent, the green horse needs a break.
Draw reins are used by those that don't know better, and can't ride better. Don't be a drawreiner.
The draw reins helped immensely, and while I will not be using them everytime I ride, I will be using them because they are helping. They keep her straighter when cantering. Not to mention, are a great help In continuing to teach her to be round in the w/t.
I'd also like to mention that I wouldn't call her green exactly...
Little kids can get on her and walk her around, she moves perfectly off my leg. I can do half passes in the walk even, so it's not like we're still having troubles in w/t. Her canter, after 3 years of racing, is just unbalanced.
From your video of the mare trotting on the longe line (from your blog), I would absolutely call this mare green.
She's hurrying along because she doesn't have the strength or knowledge to balance herself in a trot at an appropriate cadence/rhythm.
And she's also unable to balance herself well because her head is being pulled in toward the center of the circle. You DO want a horse bent, nose tipped in and ribcage curved out. But this mare is braced through her ribcage, leaning into the circle in an unbalanced manner (if you had a western saddle, the horn would NOT be pointing straight up), and hurrying her feet so she doesn't fall over.
I'd lose the draw reins and side reins and teach her to bend at the walk. Working her on the longe line as in the video is not doing either of you any favors.
That video was done 6 weeks ago, true, but I would SLOW DOWN in more ways than one- wait for the trot to get strength and organization before you canter, or even jump.
The draw reins are covering up a symptom, not fixing the problem.
I watched the video too now, and I saw a horse lacking balance that would not be cantering mounted yet in my program.
She needs to be at square one.
You obviously care about her of your seeking advice and smitten enough to create a blog for her. Let your actions show the same.
You're a few months away from my originally suggested exercises. I'd do trot cavaletti work on the longe, and then mounted once competent. Take her for trot sets over gently rolling terrain so she can learn how to engage her core and adjust. Play around with slight counterbend to bend while maintaining rhythm on big figures. Practice trot walks on the wall mounted and in hand, and reward when she steps under and telescopes without leaning towards the bit.