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When does the canter get better?

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  • When does the canter get better?

    I bought my mare as a 7yo unbroke broodmare out of a field. I backed her late in her 7th year and then she had off six months to have her last foal (I bought her in-foal *surprise*). She has had about one year consistently under saddle now (riding 2-3 times per week). She is 9yo now. I am the only one who has ridden her so I am responsible for the good and the bad that she knows.

    This spring we worked on cantering- just cantering. Then through the summer focused on leads. At this point she often rushed through the aids, threw up her head a bit and/or dropped her shoulder- especially to get the right lead. It took us several months to get pretty consistent about getting her right lead. A lot of this time she took the canter from a balanced, but forward trot with me in a half seat. She canters most lovely in the outdoor ring and on the galloping track, but continued to have balance issues in the indoor arena (smaller, different footing). In the indoor she would be more rushing, more anxious and more unbalanced.

    Now that we have our leads pretty good- I am focusing on getting her canter depart from a balanced trot and maintaining the bend. She is now sucking back to the point of stopping when she feels me set up for the canter. I am riding with a whip, no spurs. I think the saddle pad and quarter sheet are blocking a lot of the "reinforcement" from the whip. Her attitude about the depart is still much better outside, but with it being winter I am not riding outside much. Once she is actually cantering it's not too bad and she seems relaxed.

    Would this be considered fairly typical in a green horse learning to balance at the canter? How long does it typically take for this phase to pass? We passed the running through the aids phase- now we are in the "if you don't let me throw up my head and run I'll just stop" phase and I am ready to pass this phase too...

    Suggestions to help also appreciated.
    Karma and Drifter girl

  • #2
    I must sound like a broken record here, since I've posted this advice a couple of times before, LOL! But it's such a magical thing I really must share!! Do yourself a huge favor and teach your horse to do crisp walk-canter transitions. You can start on the lunge if the horse has no clue about these. Then transfer to under saddle. You will be amazed what these can do for the quality of a horse's canter. I only do walk-canter departs with my gelding until the very end of the ride. Then I'll throw in a trot-canter depart just to check all is still well. They are immaculate and it's because he is so balanced and confident in the canter now thanks to the walk-canter departs.


    • Original Poster

      dwblover- prior to getting her under saddle we worked on the lunge and long lines quite a bit and although she knows voice commands her walk/canter was never 100%- she would nearly "spin out" upon hearing the kiss and canter that she would race into the canter. How do you teach the walk/canter on the lunge? If you have already posted just send me in that direction to read. Thanks.
      Karma and Drifter girl


      • #4
        How long do you work the walk-canter transitions before starting under saddle?


        • #5
          Well, I actually taught my horse under saddle. I know lots of others who taught their horses on the lunge, but I taught my guy under saddle. (To me it's easier under saddle). This is how I personally taught it. I have a very clear signal for canter, I make a windshield wiper type movement with my outside leg. I very rapidly bring it back toward his flank and then back to normal position. (If I simply put my outside leg back as the canter signal he would become confused when asking for the half-pass, so the sweeping movement is very important. I am teaching him half-pass now and he is not confused at all.)

          So I practiced first the trot-canter transitions until they were immediate and crisp and jumping through. It helped if I touched his outside hind with the whip at first just to signal him to strike off with that foot. I didn't let him canter on for long, just long enough to tell him he was a good boy, as his canter was unbalanced and I didn't want him lugging around on his forehand. If he ever got confused and tried to trot on after the canter leg aid was given, he was immediately collected again and I'd start over again. They have to have a super clear understanding of your canter aid and your aid MUST be the same every time you ask, and you must get the correct reaction.

          Once those transitions were super reactive and he immediately cantered off from my aid, I knew he was ready for the walk-canter departs. The most important thing is to keep the canter aid the EXACT same. But the timing is even more crucial. The only way a horse can do a clean walk-canter depart is if you ask at the right moment in the walk phase. So as a hint I'll tell you the right moment is when the horse's outside shoulder is back during the walk. That is the moment you ask. Use the exact aid you used at the trot and touch the outside hind with your whip to signal that leg to step off. I'm not kidding you , my horse launched right into the canter from the walk because he had such a clear understanding of the canter aid. If your horse were to trot, I would immediately bring back to walk and repeat the aid until they give the correct answer, then praise like crazy. The only way to get there is with a very clear set of canter aides and a very quick reaction from the horse.

          It is worth the effort, my horse's canter went from a 5 to about a 9 by working on walk-canter departs. The walk-canter departs are really the only thing that I've observed over the years that can improve a horse's canter by that much. Once you have those established you can start playing with medium-collected canter, as transitions within the canter are also great for the canter itself, but to me nothing beats the w-c transition.


          • #6
            Canter is a thing for me too. My boy likes to throw his head up as well. DW is right....I don't practice it as much because I (not horse) have problems with clear aids, so I only do it if my trainer is around to help me out. But she is always saying you need to feel as if you can canter off from the walk, so I always try to get that feel before I do anything. And usually, when I have that feel of forward and up and ask (even with my aids not consistent 100%), he tries to figure it out and most of the time it happens.


            • #7
              my canter was good but now my horse has started to get grouchy and wont move forward in my trot to canter transitions and he sometimes bucks. what should i be doing to fix this?


              • #8
                dwblover, I am going to print that out. Excellent explanation! Thank you.


                • #9
                  OK, may not work, but I was told that you cannot get a good upward transition until your starting gait is right on the aides and forward in good quality. This means, working on a good march to the aides in the walk ( for a walk/canter transition) or a really balanced, nice trot before asking for a trot/canter transition. Since your horse is more upset by the indoor, I would , for some time, also not ask for canter departs anywhere except at the beginning of a long side, or on the 20 m circle, just as you leave the wall heading into open space. If you ask for the depart when the horse sees a wall in front of them ( such as at C or A, or heading into a corner) it will make the horse upset and rushy or balky. And I would be happy with 3 or 4 good strides across the open side before rebalancing into the trot or walk again as you come up on the next wall.

                  The fact that she CAN suck back in the trot as you set her up for the depart tells me you do not have enough impulsion or the correct balance to try that at that moment. I would be working on shoulder-in in trot and getting a really nice, forward, swingy shoulder-in going first, then straighten and ask for the depart as you head into the open side of a 20 m circle.

                  Also check your position- are you looking down in the depart? Are you loading the the front end or lead leg with your inside seatbone as you sweep the outside leg forward?. It is important to feel as if the lead shoulder is free and can lift up as you ask for the depart. I often see riders looking down at the lead leg as they depart and then they wonder why the hrose tosses its head up or bucks as they depart, because it is trying to shift your weight back off its front end.

                  May not apply to you, OP, but some things to think about.
                  "The Threat of Internet Ignorance: ... we are witnessing the rise of an age of equestrian disinformation, one where a trusting public can graze on nonsense packaged to look like fact."-LRG-AF


                  • #10
                    Jumpergirl1234, I'd rule out any physical discomfort in your horse first. If nothing is found, then I would address the bucking. Bucking, rearing, and crow-hopping are all caused by the same single problem, the horse is not in front of your leg. Here is something to think about, the horse can be going quite fast around the arena, but still be behind your leg. Sounds crazy right? Yet it is true, a horse can go fast but be sucked back behind your leg and you feel like you are sitting on their neck and have a large boat out behind you. At that point you have lost control of the hind end and the horse can pretty much do what they want.

                    When you ride your horse you always need to feel that 2/3 of the horse is in front of you, and only 1/3 is behind you. And that 1/3 of a part behind you needs to be weighted down and really motoring so that bucking is just not an option. Through frequent transitions from walk-trot-walk you can get the horse in front of your leg and weighted behind. The transitions must be immediate though, with quick, quick hind legs for the horse. Once you start to feel like an airplane about to take off, with haunches lowered and shoulders lifted and a ton of horse out in front of you, THEN ask for your canter depart and do NOT let the horse suck back while you ask. And also be SURE to stay BEHIND the canter depart with your own body.

                    And to King's Ransom, very flattering, thank you!


                    • #11
                      To get a nice canter....you don't work at the canter. Do you have really good walk/trot transitions on the bit? Have you done 4001 hours of lateral work? Your horse has to have the muscle and fitness to canter comfortably and nicely. It took me about a year to put a really nice canter on my horse once I started working at it. And we didn't spend a lot of time in canter.

                      I disagree with the walk/canter transition -- that one takes a lot of muscle and balance too and on a horse that is already rushing the transition and throwing its head up, I wouldn't go for that approach. I agree with dwblover's comments about really using those walk/trot transition -- if the horse can't step under and elevate the shoulders for that, you're not going to get a nice canter either.
                      Life doesn't have perfect footing.

                      Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
                      We Are Flying Solo


                      • #12
                        I've found quality walk work precedes quality canter work. (I agree with wildlifer)

                        Working on a pretty ugly canter right now, I can tell you what has worked for us. My instructor pinpointed that the reason why our canter was so ugly was because of balance issues and trouble staying between the aides.

                        We tackled balance by lots of walking and trot exercises and keeping him between my aides on going from straight to 30 m circle to straight again (going straight instead of just rounding one direction to another helped remind him to balance himself and not just go bend to bend and flop all over the place).

                        After a few weeks of helping him balance and stay between the aides, we began 20 m serpentines with straight with bends between the half circles. Then we started picking up the canter half way through the bend, continue straight, and then loop once, bring back down and then continue on the serpentine at trot and asking for the next lead.

                        This helped him maintain his balance at canter and also focused on the canter depart (which establishes the canter).

                        I really think that more than anything, our strong walk/trot work set the scene for our positive growth in canter work. Also, to help him develop the proper muscles, I did do some free cantering in the roundpen a few times a week. Letting him balance himself without me or without sidereins or without long lining.

                        I once heard Jean Luc Cornille say, you do not develop a quality canter by trying to improve the canter the horse has given you. You develop a strong canter depart and help the horse keep that quality canter. Once you lose the quality canter, go back into walk or trot and try again. I must say I agree with that philosophy, esp after really working walk/trot and then just focusing on the canter depart on the serpentine.


                        • #13
                          Lots of good advice here. Once your horse is fit and balanced most important is that the horse is forward, truly connected and through then the canter will improve with practice.
                          Groom to trainer: "Where's the glamour? You promised me glamour!"


                          • #14
                            the trot/canter and canter/trot transitions need the rider's weight aids altered. The trot has to do with the inside stirrup being weighted more than the outside stirrup, as well as the outside shoulder of the horse being blocked by the contact of the outside rein. (Inside leg to outside rein...also true for the walk) With you are utilizing the weighted inside stirrup, the results you want is a lifted outside shoulder. When the horse is crooked, in order to maintain correct contact your hand position generally must adjust to maintain the correct contact. With a hollow right horse, it means that the horse's right shoulder never lifts enough, and so if the end of the diagonal that you are trying to influence is that right shoulder, you will have to lift the right rein to maintain correct contact and encourage the horse to lift that shoulder. As a rule, you must not only lift, but also take the rein a little more forward as well. If you are trotting to the left, your left stirrup should be weighted and your right rein would be lifted and taken a little forward on such a hollow right horse.

                            Canter utilizes the horse's inside diagonal. You are working outside leg to inside rein. Your greater weight needs to be on the outside stirrup, and it is now your horse's inside shoulder that needs to be raised. On the hollow right horse, you will want to slightly, very slightly lift and release that inside rein, and at the same time rotate your left hand just a little toward the inside as you ask for the left lead canter.

                            The horse needs to be able to distinguish the difference between a weighted inside stirrup/ lifted outside rein and a weighted outside stirrup/lifted inside rein for the trot/canter transition. To go from canter back to trot, you simply change your weight aids. Eventually, you want the horse so trained to the weight aids, that you can just barely change your stirrup weightings and your hand positions ever so slightly in order to create the transtions. But, at the beginning, it is never ever without excessive aiding.

                            Your transitions going the other direction, i.e. to the right, will have the same problems with the diagonals that they did in going to the left. However, because the motion rotation is different, the effects will be different though the corrections previously given for the diagonals will be the same. In other words, you will still be using the weight aids on the outside diagonal for trot and on the inside diagonal for canter. But, the method of fixing each diagonal will be the same as if you were still traveling to the left.

                            No matter which direction you are traveling, the hollow-right horse is trying to keep its right side shorter, or flexed, while it is wanting to keep its left side longer, or extended. It means that the horse always wants to turn right by too great a degree, and does not want to turn left by enough. Just the opposite would be true for a hollow-left horse, but there are not many of those around.


                            • #15
                              As I stated you do have to have a nice trot established before you are ready to canter at all. But if you have the nice trot and lateral work the only way to improve the canter is to...canter!
                              And the best way to get your horse off the forehand and more balanced in the canter is through walk-canter transitions. I think people make them out to be a lot harder then they really are.


                              • #16
                                My horse's canter comes and goes in quality, so I've had to find creative ways to school. I wholeheartedly agree that working in other gaits can vastly improve the canter - often surprisingly so!

                                In walk, can your horse shift her haunches in response to your leg? I like to work on a slight travers (even on a 20m circle...which is fun!) then switch to a slight renvers. If my mare can keep her rhythm throughout these moves, I know she's engaging her core, lifting through her loin, and releasing in front of her withers and in her jaw/poll area - all of which are necessary to a balanced canter transition (and subsequently a balanced canter). Some days...this is all I do. Walk...lateral movements...changes of direction...changes of flexion. I never cease to be amazed at how much a day or two of this kind of work changes her canter.

                                On a side note, doing a bit of renvers always helps me, too, not just my horse! I tend to collapse my ribcage to the inside while asking for canter. Working on renvers challenges me to stretch through the inside of my body...so, I'm working on doing a bit of renvers first, then quietly shifting my aids to ask for canter. Amazing stuff, that...


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by jumpergirl1234 View Post
                                  my canter was good but now my horse has started to get grouchy and wont move forward in my trot to canter transitions and he sometimes bucks. what should i be doing to fix this?
                                  Check saddle fit - sounds like it may be pinching.
                                  Now in Kentucky


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by jumpergirl1234 View Post
                                    my canter was good but now my horse has started to get grouchy and wont move forward in my trot to canter transitions and he sometimes bucks. what should i be doing to fix this?
                                    Could be saddle fit, over-cueing, crookedness, excitement. Check equipment and rider. If it's excitement ride him forward through it. If it's crookedness, work on lengthening the horse's "short" side and straightening.
                                    Groom to trainer: "Where's the glamour? You promised me glamour!"


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by AzuWish View Post

                                      I once heard Jean Luc Cornille say, you do not develop a quality canter by trying to improve the canter the horse has given you. You develop a strong canter depart and help the horse keep that quality canter. Once you lose the quality canter, go back into walk or trot and try again.
                                      I wanted to highlight this because it's good. Steffan Peters uses the same philosophy -- only allow the horse to do things if he is doing them correctly. If he's not, stop doing it and start over, insist on either correct or nothing (being fair and allowing trying to count, of course).

                                      Or as Jimmy Wofford says, "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect."
                                      Life doesn't have perfect footing.

                                      Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
                                      We Are Flying Solo


                                      • #20
                                        Two of the biggest reasons that a horse bucks into the canter are:1) the reins are too short; 2) the rider is leaning forward into the transition.