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Teaching Student to Canter....

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  • Teaching Student to Canter....

    Please don't ream me for asking this but here goes...

    I have a 10 year old student who is very dedicated and works very hard at all aspects of horse riding and care. She began riding in August and was an absolute brand new rider. She's very quick to catch on and is doing very well at the walk and trot. She's posing without moving her hands, she's got the hang of diagonals, two point, sitting trot, etc. I feel it's time for her to move up to the canter.

    As a side note, I've been teaching for several years but this is my first year as a trainer with my own string of lesson horses. I have taught at other stables who've had a string of mostly quarter horses or ponies. I have all thoroughbreds. Two are absolutely beginner safe and I wouldn't think twice about putting any student on the two of them, however they are large thoroughbreds with large thoroughbred canters.

    That being said, she has attemped the canter in the round pen on a lunge line twice now: once on one of the totally beginner safe TBs with a massive canter and she fell off. She got back on and trotted around but was too shaken to try a canter again. The second attempt was yesterday afternoon on one of the greener TBs with a really smooth canter. He's perfect at the walk and trot but when she cantered, she began to panic which in turn made him panic and made him a little difficult to stop.

    The green horse is not safe at the canter so he's out of the picture. The other two TBs are just so big, it makes me nervous to put her on them. Should I just have her ride the smoother of the two?

    Any methods that make learning to canter a bit easier on the student? At the moment, I have her grabbing mane and getting in a little bit of a half seat so she's with the horse with weight in her heels but not laying all over his neck.

    Any advice would be helpful. I don't want her to become afraid of the canter and quit riding but I don't want her to trot forever either. She's dedicated and wants to learn to jump and wants to compete but is nervous about the canter.

    Thanks in advance!
    Iron Star Equestrian

    Heels Down, Eyes Up, Plan Ahead

  • #2
    Definitely see if you can get her in 2-point and hang onto the mane. If she's getting left behind at all with the big motion, she'll lose her balance fast. Now, you'll eventually have to re-train her to sit, but for now, give that a try.

    Also, I might move out of the roundpen and into a bigger, but fenced space. I don't think I'D want to canter in a round pen - too enclosed for the feeling of speed and balance. Try for cantering down the long side, stopping when you get to the corner.

    Is she generally timid? Will she fly down a hill on her bicycle? If so, tell her it's going to feel a little like that - fast, out of control at first, but FUN!


    • #3
      grab strap

      Do you have a grab/bucking strap on the saddle. I find that it makes it MUCH easier for riders especially on the lunge to hold on and keep themselves in the seat with a grab strap. It is simple to just put the reins through the strap so the rider is just concentrating on their seat, then just hold the grab strap and they can literally pull themselves into the seat. Once they get used to it they can simply let go and ,boom, they are cantering with their own balance. They can still easily pick up the reins if horse starts getting to be a little too much. I would try it on smoother horse first few times till she gets the hang of it.


      • #4
        Work on the horse first then the rider

        How about working with your horse of choice on the lunge line without the child. Get the horse used to cantering for 3-5 steps and then back to trot so when the child has her next lesson the horse is primed and ready to preform his job. You could also throw another kid up there to mimic the beginner child so the horse isn't so freaked out by a panicked rider.


        • #5
          I agree....out of the round pen.

          But I would put her on a lunge line with a grab strap. I might also do more work on her postion on the lunge line....sitting and posting trot without stirrups. Get her a bit stronger and more secure. Add trotting over poles too. Don't rush it...she will be there in no time....if she just started in Aug....and given the lesson horses you have...take a bit more time.
          ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


          • #6
            Time to make a good investment if you're teaching children: buy an inexpensive vaulting surcingle (essentially a surcingle with handles). I have found no better way to have children learn to canter than on the lunge with the surcingle and pads - no stirrups, no reins. They learn to sit the motion of the canter without grabbing the reins or pushing themselves away from the horse. Once they've gotten comfortable holding on, they can canter with their arms out to the sides or on their hips. They get a great seat and a ton of confidence.


            • #7
              I had a couple kids at "summer camp" this year who came with canter phobias. I was very careful not to rush them, but to be very encouraging to get them to try.

              I, too, had to use a large lesson horse (16.3)... an absolute gentleman, Mr Saintly, but there's no denying his size is intimidating. I let the kids trot around on him as long as they needed to feel comfortable-- if that was two separate lessons, so be it. When they were ready to canter, I did it with them on the longe line-- this old horse is a pro, and while his canter can get big/quick, he is relatively smooth. It also helps that he canters from *very* light aids from the walk... you don't have to kick him through a very fast, unbalanced trot with the kids bouncing all over the place.

              The more athletic kids were allowed to sit or two-point, however they felt most secure. The less-athletic one was MUCH more secure in her two-point position, grabbing mane and *concentrating on keeping equal weight in both stirrups*.

              We went in with a plan to only canter half a circle at a time, (so there was no chance the horse would build up speed) and plan to trot before the kids lost their balance. After a couple successful canters, the kids were *loving* it and couldn't get enough cantering!

              From those short lunging sessions, I also took them to a large pasture and ponied them on Mr Saintly. This way I could keep them on straight lines and gentle turns, and they could have some control over the horse when possible. But, with the leadline still attached I could stop the horse immediately when necessary. (It goes without saying that the pony horse I rode was a professional at this and best buddies with Mr Saintly).

              Cantering takes balance and strength, and a bit of courage from new riders. Be encouraging, but don't rush them if they really don't want to try. Keeping their trust in you and the horse is very important.
              “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
              ? Albert Einstein



              • #8
                I recall cantering on the straight side of the ring then back to walk at the corner. It helped starting the canter as your coming out of one corner, because the horse and you are bent correctly. Also, I'd see if you can install some verbal commands on the horse, whoa and easy. Maybe you could give a trainer ride before she gets on, where he learns to canter just the straight line and then comes back to a walk.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Nelliebelle View Post
                  Time to make a good investment if you're teaching children: buy an inexpensive vaulting surcingle (essentially a surcingle with handles). I have found no better way to have children learn to canter than on the lunge with the surcingle and pads - no stirrups, no reins. They learn to sit the motion of the canter without grabbing the reins or pushing themselves away from the horse. Once they've gotten comfortable holding on, they can canter with their arms out to the sides or on their hips. They get a great seat and a ton of confidence.
                  Wow! REally good idea. My sister and I both did vaulting and it was a great way to canter.

                  I don't teach a ton but I hate first canter. My middle age adult man found it accidentally a few weeks ago. What a relief. Short strided quarter horse. NO issue. He does ride with a bucking strap. I would do as this poster suggests.


                  • Original Poster

                    Thanks! I appreciate the advice. The Vaulting surcingle is a great idea. I hadn't thought of that.

                    I'll be putting a stirrup leather around the horses neck (bucking strap) for her to grab rather than the reins. I'm pretty confident in the last option I have. If he doesn't work, I'm afraid I'm going to have to check around for a large pony or something. I think he'll work though. I had a student ride him today and she pretended to be a beginner. She said that he didn't seem too bad at the canter. I'd imagine on the lounge he'll be okay.

                    Nelliebelle - where can I find a surcingle with handles?
                    Iron Star Equestrian

                    Heels Down, Eyes Up, Plan Ahead


                    • #11
                      Is there any way to test your more confident student to pretend to be a beginner on the lunge first?

                      It doesn't sound like your horses have much experience on the lunge. My guess would be that when your beginner gets on and starts to canter she will grip with her legs which might inadvertently send pony forward. It might be good to have him experience that first with someone who can stay on.

                      Also (spoken as someone who bounced off her first TB canter), make sure your student knows to expect the downward transition. The grab strap would be a great idea for that.

                      Good luck to you and your student!
                      When life gives you lemons. . .say &%^# you lemons! And throw those lemons back in life's face so that it will be afraid of you and won't try that crap again!


                      • #12
                        An alternative to a surcingle with handles: Have your student sit the canter with her outside hand holding to the pommel and her inside hand holding the cantle. Feet in stirrups, no reins, on the longe (obviously!). This is a great way to give the kids a way to "hang on" that also starts introducing the feel of the canter. Short bursts of canter to start, as already suggested.

                        A preparatory exercise I like is to put the kid on the longe at trot and have them hold their two point, concentrating on keeping their legs in precisely the same place, while I have the horse or pony trot faster/slower/transition to walk/halt/etc. Doing this with eyes closed makes the exercise even more effective. The lesson learned is to focus solely on one's position no matter what is happening under the saddle, and I've found it quite effective in easing the transition to canter, even when the horse available isn't the most appropriate first-canter horse.
                        Equinox Equine Massage

                        In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me invincible summer.
                        -Albert Camus


                        • #13
                          We have a helper run with the horse holding on the bridle/reins near bit. Then the student can learn to become confortable with the motion without having to worry about steering and stopping. rider holds on to reins and front of saddle. Next I have them let go with one hand/then two. Of course, let the horse get used to someone running next to him before you try it with a kid aboard. Then the helper lets go after awhile and runs next to horse "just in case" then gets further and further away.


                          • #14
                            My daughter who is 5 just learned to canter in the past month. We did not start to learn until she could do her sitting trot without irons for at least 15 minutes and could post at the trot without irons. Her leg now stays in place and she is not falling off. I used a martingale for her to hang onto instead of the grab strap , the grab strap puts their hand in their crotch and makes them off balance.
                            We cantered on the lunge for a week before she was ready to go it alone, all attempts have been successful!!! and her leg keeps her on and balanced thanks to all the no stirrups work
                            If you are lucky enough to ride, you are lucky enough.


                            • #15
                              I didn't read all of the responses, but i would highly suggest working on her gaining her balance. I'm currently giving lessons to a girl that owns a great horse but who gets quite fire-y at the canter. I work on having her do a bunch of exercises to get her to really find her center of balance (on the lunge line until she is comfortable to go it alone). This will also give her more confidence. A great way to do this is get her sold at the sitting trot stirrupless. This way she is deep in the saddle and will learn you get the same feeling when she goes at it at the canter. Sitting down deep in the saddle makes it much easier if she relaxes her body. I explain it by telling her to imagine that she is melting into the saddle and move WITH the horse. This way if she lets go of her shoulders she is able to not get nervous and tense which causes her to bounce around in the saddle and loose her balance. All this causes is her horse to get quicker and her to get more nervous...just a bad situation that doesnt get better. Good luck!!


                              • #16
                                I teach the canter after the rider is trotting small fences. I think that it gives them a better base of support PLUS they often experience a few strides of canter after a small jump. I really think though you need to find a smallish, "QH" strided type to start riders out on. Something with a smaller, smoother stride and preferably an older horse so that if she gets a bit panicky the horse won't change at all (other than to stop if the rider needs them to). I often do canter on the lunge, I first put a neck strap on for security and have them hold that and not the reins. Too much for them to have to use reins and canter. Really I do not teach a "sitting canter" until they can canter reliably in a "half seat", it is hard on the kids to sit a canter at first, they need to learn the feel of it before trying to sit to it. I have been teaching now for over 30 years, and have taught more kids (and adults!) to canter than I think I could ever count!! As a matter of fact a little 9 yr old of mine went to her first horse trials today and won her division, she has a very solid leg, but at this point is still in a bit of a half seat at the canter, nothing wrong with that, she never falls back when jumpiung and with the strong leg and deep heel this gives her, she has an excellent base of support. She learned to canter with the above "technique".


                                • #17
                                  I first learned in a round pen with no lunge line, and my teacher had me put one hand on the front of the saddle, one hand on the back and pull myself into the saddle. The inside hand goes on the back of the saddle, outside hand on front. She would tell me to really PULL my seat down into the saddle.(We were using a dressage saddle). I also found cantering without stirrups to be a tremendous help.

                                  One other exercise I still use is to trot in two point for a while (few minutes if possible) - hold that secure leg position with weight in lower leg, sit in saddle and then canter. It helps me hold my canter position well.


                                  • #18
                                    I do the first few canters on a straight away- have them in two point and grabbing mane and then as they go through the turn close their outside leg. I've got really good schoolies though... they make a beeline to me and then downshift to the trot. Cantering on the longe is tough- centripitel force makes balancing hard!


                                    • Original Poster

                                      I'm going to start looking for a qh type horse to lease or borrow for a bit. I think I like the idea of having her do a whole bunch of sitting trot with and without stirrups and starting her over low cross rails, then teaching her to canter. This will give me more time to find a suitable mount for her anyway.

                                      Thanks for the advice, it's all very very helpful.

                                      My horses are good on the lunge, the greener tb probably wasn't a great move on my part. She walked and trotted around on him like a champion though. He was excellent in that aspect.

                                      Anyway, I'll be on the look out for a large pony/small horse sized mount for the students learning to canter. I have a few coming up the ranks as well.

                                      Iron Star Equestrian

                                      Heels Down, Eyes Up, Plan Ahead