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Swapping leads behind?

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  • Swapping leads behind?

    I just picked up the ride on a super nice 5 y/o Dutch warmblood mare. Over the last month or so, Ive been focusing on riding her very straight and correct in the walk and trot. She has made some big improvements; however, I cannot make any improvements in the canter work.

    She is much better to the right, will pick up the correct lead, but 9 times out of 10, she swaps behind within the first few strides. I try and ride through it, concentrating on keeping her straight and on my outside rein. Usually she swaps back to the correct leads for a few strides, and then she will cross canter again. If I let her drop her head and get too deep, and on the forehand, she will maintain the correct lead(s). But I dont want to keep letting her get on her forehand that much.

    The left is even worse. It is a PIA to get her to pick up the correct lead on the first try, it usually involves me either bending her completely to the outside to "force" her into the left lead, or doing serious shoulder-ins. And she *always* swaps out behind. I've been mixing it up between asking her to continue forward and fix the leads, or trotting and starting over. Going to the left, she locks her inside jaw and when I ask her to soften by just wiggling my inside rein, she swaps behind.

    I am thinking it has something to do with her straightness, but every time I ask her to move a part of her body in the canter, she swaps behind.

    Any thoughts? Exercises?
    Should I push through it, or stop and correct it?

  • #2
    How does she canter outside? Does she hold a lead or cross canter? What about on a longe line?


    • Original Poster

      Doesnt swap out in the field. Last time I lounged her, she did swap once, but corrected it on her own. And picked up the correct leads in both directions.

      So that makes me think its something Im doing? I have another 5 y/o half sister to this one, and she doesnt have any of the same problems. Very easy w/t/c.


      • #4
        If she has a nice canter on her own, then you want to be careful that you don't muss it up trying to fix things too much.

        If she longes o-kay and picks up the correct lead, can you get someone to canter you on the longe a few times to get the feel of her natural canter and to help you develop some aids without that don't involve 'forcing' the canter?

        If she can maintain the lead when she is 'deep' and swaps when she is asked to bring her poll up, it doesn't sound like she is strong/balanced enough to really carry herself with a rider up. Is she sore/stiff anywhere?

        At this point, if you are battling to get her into a better frame at the expense of a correct lead, I would 'let' her canter deeper and very gradually develop her strength to carry herself. Canter a few steps, ask for trot, canter again. Change rein. Rinse repeat. Keep it low key and successful for her.

        Good luck.


        • #5
          Above and also check for any soreness and pain issues. A lot of times if they are swapping in back and your not causing it there maybe pain somewhere
          Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


          • #6
            I would lunge her in sidereins and see if she swaps out, if she has trouble in the sidereins and then goes fine in them then it's a straightness issue. Otherwise it might be a hocks issue.


            • #7
              What does she do when she's turned loose? is she using her hind end and separating her hind legs widely at the canter, or does she seem to be keeping them together? If she's doing this or not can tell you whether it's more a training issue or soreness.


              • #8
                My Arab did a lot of exactly what you are describing until he was fit and strong enough to keep his balance at the canter with a rider. He had fewer issues outside going either straight lines or in big arcing circles, but he couldn't handle the smaller space in the arena. He didn't figure out how to canter correctly under saddle in the arena until he was nearly 7. To be fair, it probably could have happened sooner if I had worked on it, but I have no competetive goals for him. I have done all his training pretty much myself and have taken the we'll figure things out as we go and have taken things at his pace. He's been very slow to mature physically and I haven't pushed him.

                I'd chalk this up to a young horse trying to figure out how to work it's limbs problem and keep working on it. I'd do small increments of cantering. Maybe she can only hold it 5-10 strides before she's off balance and swapping. I'd drop to a walk or trot before that happens. Build from there. Canter a bit, drop down, canter a bit, drop down. My guy was worse on the corners and short sides of the arena than the long sides.


                • #9
                  I would have her checked by a good lameness vet. Every horse that I've seen do that has been hock and/or SI sore. Don't beat yourself up or her up over this until you've ruled out the potential for pain.


                  • #10
                    You say she's 5. You also indicate indirectly that she is quite green.

                    She may well simply be having a balance and strength problem with a rider on her back. Your trying to help by "moving body parts" may compound it. Try more time on the longe, and/or wait until she is strong enough at the trot to do lateral work, which will also strengthen her behind.
                    Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                    Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                    • Original Poster

                      Originally posted by merrygoround View Post
                      You say she's 5. You also indicate indirectly that she is quite green.

                      She may well simply be having a balance and strength problem with a rider on her back. Your trying to help by "moving body parts" may compound it. Try more time on the longe, and/or wait until she is strong enough at the trot to do lateral work, which will also strengthen her behind.
                      So this is kind of what I am thinking ^^

                      She is very green, started under saddle as a 3 y/o, but really hasnt done much until I picked up the ride. Her sire is known for producing "late bloomers."

                      When I first started with her, she would flip her head up every time I did something. Every half halt, every application of leg pressure, every change of direction, every change of pace, etc. I thought it was a pain issue, potentially needing her teeth done, but she really hasnt done anything, and is young.

                      Went ahead and had a dressage lesson to see what my trainer thought might be going on. She was FANTASTIC in the lesson. We worked on straightness, while maintaining contact on the outside rein, not bending too much in the neck, etc. Did w/t/c work beautifully. Spiraling on circles, baby leg yeilds, etc. Picked up leads, no cross cantering. We chalked the head throwing up to a balance issue that just needed to be worked on...and figured the canter would develop in time.

                      Since then, the trot work has gotten exponentially better -- no head throwing, she gets super tense, but we are working through it. If she gets unbalanced, I just slow everything down and let her work through it.

                      But the canter work, I just cant seem to make any progress on. Im trying to be patient and figured the canter went hand in hand with the trot -- she just needs to work on building balance. But I've had her in full training for about 1.5-2 months, and nothing has changed.

                      Am I rushing? How long should I expect to take for the canter to develop a little more? (Im not looking for miracles, just some sense that Im going in the right direction)

                      Should I be slowing to a trot and correcting every time she swaps? Or should I work through it? Is it OK to get up off her back and let her canter on the forehand -- if it helps her maintain the correct leads?


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by alliemare View Post
                        She was FANTASTIC in the lesson.
                        Take more lessons!

                        Should I be slowing to a trot and correcting every time she swaps? Or should I work through it? Is it OK to get up off her back and let her canter on the forehand -- if it helps her maintain the correct leads?
                        If your horse has a longer/weaker back, Yes, get off of it at the canter and maintain the correct lead as much as you can.

                        Once the canter is good, straight and forward then you start bringing the back up, asking for a little more contact and more engagement. This will take some weight off the shoulders. But until the horse is more balanced and muscled up, I wouldn't sit on its back, at least not fully (half or really non pushing light seat). (It is not because the horse has a lower and longer frame and that you are in two points that the horse is automatically on the forehand)

                        Also, sometimes we want too much. Stop trying to correct every little details and let the horse canter. No rein wiggleling, no drastic weight shifting. Take even contact on BOTH reins and stop being obcessed about having the horse strictly on the outside rein. Be patient.
                        ~ Enjoying some guac and boxed wine at the Blue Saddle inn. ~

                        Originally posted by LauraKY
                        I'm sorry, but this has "eau de hoarder" smell all over it.
                        HORSING mobile training app


                        • Original Poster

                          Originally posted by alibi_18 View Post
                          Take more lessons!
                          Trust me, that is my plan!!

                          Both my life and my trainer's life has gotten in the way since the first/last lesson. Im hoping to catch up with her soon, but until then, I feel like Im "cantering into the unknown". lol


                          • #14
                            I will also add that my Arab couldn't canter on the correct lead without being on the forehand for a couple months. It really did take a while to get an even remotely correct canter. Then it was like one day he just kinda figured it out, rocked back, brought his back up a little and suddenly everything clicked and its only gotten better from there.


                            • #15
                              (1) Have chiropractor check her sacrum to be sure that it is not locked up

                              (2) Is she still growing quite a bit, or is she tall already? If so, she'll need some time to find her balance every few months, as every time she grows---and you know that babies grow in different spots at different times---her balance is going to be off

                              (3) Stick to trotwork for a while, particularly in a slightly lower frame so that she's using her back and loins. Do some figure 8 and circle work, pushing her to your outside rein so as to engage the inside hind. That will help her (a) develop her core and stomach muscles, which will help her balance with a rider on board (b) help her develop her "side butt" on each side, which will help her lateral balance, and help her develop the muscles needed to balance on that inside leg during the canter.

                              Hope that helps!


                              • #16
                                If she's not yet balanced enough to hold herself in the correct lead, then I'd just lay off the canter for a while. My mustang had the most horrible canter when he was getting started in his training. I spent MONTHS just walking and trotting. The only cantering I would do would be on the trails on a long, slightly uphill straightaway.

                                You should definitely consider that there might be something going on physically - even when my mustang had a crappy canter, he always picked up the correct lead and never swapped. Why would a horse *want* to swap leads behind, unless it were physically more comfortable?
                                "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran