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help with getting a driving horse to canter once no longer driving

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  • help with getting a driving horse to canter once no longer driving

    I have a young 5 yr old horse (haflinger) who was used primarily for driving. I have now started riding him and find that he does not want to, does not feel comfortable (balanced), or is far to hesitant (past training?) to break into a canter when asked. In the round pen I can get him to canter (off of him) he of course canters in the field etc. but for some reason once bridled will not. He will sometimes canter on the front for a few steps and trot on the back but will not go consistently. Any suggestions as to how to get him to want to canter while under saddle would be appreciated. I don't think it is laziness as he will trot all day if asked. I have no idea on his history how he was trained to drive.

  • #2
    Sounds like he needs more time to get used to carrying a rider. Lets him build hus confidence for a season of riding. When you are ready to canter try it up a small incline 1st. Do not rush him


    • #3
      First of all, there's no intrinsic reason why he shouldn't be able to canter just because he's been trained to drive.

      I'm thinking this is for a couple of reasons:

      Either you're not giving correct aids when you ask for the canter.... So what are you doing?

      Or he's got a back problem which is evidencing when doing weight bearing work.... Have you assessed that?

      Or he's still unbalanced. In any event at only 5 he's not going to be balanced and needs to learn canter transitions.

      Are you long reining or lunging him? What is he like then?
      If you're not then that's the place to start.


      • #4
        I have taught a few off-track Standardbreds to canter. They often have both mental and physical issues to work through in order to canter, since they "know" from their race training that cantering is VERY BAD, and their muscles are not used to working that way. Perhaps some of this method would work for your horse too.

        I like to "fool" them into cantering by using a single ground pole or a small cavelletti while longeing. The idea is to get them to jump just a little, so that they land cantering. Get the horse going at a calm but forward trot on the longe line. Do this in an oval rather than a circle so that you can have a straight approach and at least a straight stride or two after landing. Put a ground pole midway down one of the long sides of the oval. As the horse is about to go over the pole, make whatever sound you want to use as a verbal cue for canter. If the horse hops over the pole, they will probably keep cantering for at least a stride or two, which is your opportunity to praise and praise them! If they trot over the pole, raise one side of it, then the other if you need to, until it's just high enough of an obstacle that the horse decides to jump rather than trot over it.

        When we start this, the horse will usually fall back to a trot after a couple strides on landing. That is fine, just make sure they are calm and then send them around over the jump again, cue as they go over, and praise/cue while they are cantering. Over time you can push them a bit after the landing so that they keep cantering for a few more strides, and eventually work up to cantering all the way around. It's best to do this in frequent short sessions, so it's not too hard on them.

        For me it's been the easiest way to keep the horse calm while they figure out what I'm asking them to do. If you also work on developing a nice round balanced trot and good transitions, that helps develop their "carrying" muscles for cantering.

        Edited to add: Duh, I just realized I misread your post, and he *does* canter in the roundpen. What happens if you put his bridle on and ask him to canter in the roundpen (from the ground)? If anything is different in his reaction, I'd start by making sure his teeth and the fit of the bridle/bit are OK, before trying anything else.
        Last edited by shygirl; Nov. 2, 2009, 03:18 PM. Reason: misread original post


        • #5
          Originally posted by mahonprince View Post
          I have a young 5 yr old horse (haflinger) who was used primarily for driving. I have now started riding him and find that he does not want to, does not feel comfortable (balanced), or is far to hesitant (past training?) to break into a canter when asked. In the round pen I can get him to canter (off of him) he of course canters in the field etc. but for some reason once bridled will not. He will sometimes canter on the front for a few steps and trot on the back but will not go consistently. Any suggestions as to how to get him to want to canter while under saddle would be appreciated. I don't think it is laziness as he will trot all day if asked. I have no idea on his history how he was trained to drive.
          he sounds like hes unbalanced and disunited in canter as he hasnt had the correct training
          trot -
          people think that becuase a horse can walk and trot he can canter
          but unless you put the work in beforehand he wont canter properly as hes not balanced

          post a video or some pics of you and him


          • #6
            I was taught a horse should never canter while in harness, so I reinforced that with my driving pony. When I rode her, part of the cue for cantering was to take just a teeny bit of mane in my hand. Eventually, all I'd have to do was sit back & tickle her withers and she'd canter, and she never cantered while driving.

            My new greenie has a long back and is rather unbalanced. It's taken 2 years to get her to balance well (and get myself balanced) and enjoy cantering with my weight . I'm sure with practice, you'll do fine.


            • #7
              Nowadays, the thinking has shifted to having horse trained to canter in harness for safety.

              Many horses driving, are also ridden and know how to canter well. They roll into a canter easily. They might throw in a stride or two in going up a hill, being excited following other vehicles at a club drive.

              With horse KNOWING how to canter in harness, having already experienced the FEEL of harness flopping, shafts or pole pulling on him, nothing is a surprise in those canter steps. Driver may let him canter on, or pull him back to trot since canter was NOT actually requested.

              I also was brought up that the Driving horse NEVER canters, it was a SIN!! I think much of that was from road conditions of the far past. Roads were ruts or muck, over most of the year. Wooden vehicles were not as sturdy as the new metal vehicles, and the ride can be quite bouncy going so fast! Secondly, in our area, Midwest, many driving animals were Standardbreds or crosses. Those animals were not allowed to canter in race training, they lost speed, could disqualify in the races. Standardbreds are much faster trotting and pacing, than they are galloping. If horse is NEVER allowed to canter with a carriage, corrected for cantering, he won't be inclined to try. Horse is "less likely" to fall after a stumble with two legs on the ground, in trot or pacing. With no canter training, total different feel to pulling, those accidental couple canter strides could then be the start of an incident. Might allow the horse to jump into a gallop for a runaway. I know ANY type of canter lift, was severely punished when it happened with a driving horse back then. My Grampa was ADAMANT about not EVER cantering when driving vehicle. Amish still never canter the family driving horses, out in public anyway.

              I have found that Midwest thinking, "no canter for a Driving horse" seems to prevail where Standardbreds were most common. Out further West, the bigger distance Western States, cantering horses were not uncommon in Driving. Stagecoaches come to mind first, they cantered and of course galloped, when the Indians and outlaws chased them in the movies! In real life, historical accounts, Stagecoaches did use cantering horses to get between stages. Lots of older folks talked of cantering the buggy horse on the way to town or home. Probably no cantering on the freighters, loaded wagons are too heavy.

              We drive differently now, in our Driving Competitons. Expectations of our animals are different. I think it is MUCH SAFER to teach the horse how to go along correctly, cantering when hitched. Save EVER having him surprised and trying to run at some future time.

              You train the animal for canter just like his other steps in learning. He has a vocal Canter cue. He is prepared, equipment is sound and safe. He WILL stop when you ask! I start canter training at the END of a LONG hard work session so he is tired! This makes him more willing to stop EASILY when requested. Set yourself up to succeed without problems.

              Do understand that NOT ALL vehicles do well behind a cantering horse. They MAY try to jacknife or pull to one side. Some 4-wheelers MUST have weight over the back axle to keep them quiet, brakes working. I have found most Antique vehicles DO NOT pull well at a canter. They are NOT designed for the speed or motion of a cantering horse. And they are OLD, have worn parts!! Pull horse up quickly if carriage causes problems. Praise him calmly and finish your session. Making things Ho-Hum, keeps him from getting excited about it. "Just something else to do when Mom/Dad asks for it". Same as cantering in a ridden class, just routine work.