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Question -- Building Strength in the Canter

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  • Question -- Building Strength in the Canter

    My mare is progressing well in her rehab and we cantered for the first time in 6 months yesterday. She is sound, but feels very weak in her canter (as expected). She actually feels much like she did when I first started her.

    Her walk and trot work have improved dramatically in the course of our rehab. She is a short backed little mare who has a tendency to overpower her front end and lean into the bridle. Her theory tends to be when in doubt add speed and power. She is has a level slightly uphill build, but naturally wanted to lean into the bridle and into her inside shoulder. Through our rehab I have managed to get her very soft in the bridle in the walk and trot and I have been amazed at how much better she is going. Still falling in a little on some turns, but has learned to lift her back up when I half halt and is getting better all the time.

    When I cantered yesterday she was completely leaning into the bridle and curled into a ball. When I first started her we worked through this and she got better as she got stronger, but I spent months with her leaning into the bridle until she got stronger and it was a real struggle.

    What I am struggling with this time is do I keep cantering and trying to get her to "lift" and soften in the bridle and know that eventually she will get there. OR-- is there a better way to build strength in the walk and trot and not let her practice the bad habit of leaning?

    Also since its the dead of winter any tips for building this strength when you are stuck in an indoor would be greatly appreciated. Normally I would start her walking hills, but between winter and her rehab thats not really an option yet.

    Thanks for any suggestions folks can provide.

  • #2
    Not everyone will agree with me, but I generally think if you want to improve and strengthen the canter, you have to canter. So maybe canter for shorter periods of time or work on transitions. I imagine getting back to where you were will take a lot less time than the amount of time it took you to get there before she ended up in rehab...


    • #3
      My dressage trainer would say to keep working CORRECTLY and BUILDING STRENGTH at the walk and trot...so that she is physically able to hold herself better and more correctly at canter.

      Maybe add cavaletti work to get her really lifting (at walk/trot)

      But if you do canter, would giving the inside rein alot and not letting her HAVE anything to lean on help? If she has nothing to really lean against, then she can't do it (and if she has any self preservation, she won't fall on her face

      If you do 'give' her more, she may speed up and really dump onto her forehand, so as someone else mentioned...maybe just try to get a FEW STRIDES of a nice, somewhat balance canter, before asking for a transition downwards. And work from there.

      I have to rehab my own mare and will be going through the same thing as you....sigh....
      Equine & Pet Portrait Artist
      **Morgans Do It All**


      • #4
        My trainer is having me work through something very similar with my guy. He's very uphill, big shouldered, short coupled, with long, long legs and tends to be very wiggly and squiggly in the body and neck. We are currently working on getting him to stay straight between my hands and legs and build power from behind. He's got this great big, lofty, naturally balanced canter, but lacks strength, so my trainer is having me sit very quietly, keep my body absolutely straight, keep the rein (even if it gets heavy at times), keep the leg, and keep the canter as SMALL as I can within his current comfort level of balance. If he consistently breaks into trot, he's behind my leg, but he is also not to grab the bit and race around, because then he gives me the feeling that I'm shooting out the back - does that make sense?

        My trainer says that to build strength, you have to slow things down. One doesn't build strength by running around - one builds strength by staying balanced and then building the muscle and strength from there - think marathon runner vs. ballet dancer - slow, controlled movements. Once I have my boy square and straight in the trot, and pushing evenly from behind, his canter is easier to contain as well. If I don't have the trot even, straight, and pushing from behind, the canter gets all sprawly and we feel like Bambi on ice.

        Hope that helps!
        "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." - Thomas Edison

        So, the Zen Buddhist says to the hotdog vendor, "Make me one with everything."


        • #5
          I have been going through the same thing. I thought the horse was still lame at first as his canter was so awful and unbalanced. I have been building it up slowly firstly in straightlines on rides with short bursts then in the arena. Lots and lots of transitions to help them find their own balance and to not sit on the hand. I have also been working on slowing everything down. I am desperate to lunge as well to help him with his balance but have no facilities.
          The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.


          • Original Poster


            Thanks everyone for the replies and suggestions. I think I will keep the canter to once in each direction for 2 weeks and continue trying to make sure she has nothing to lean on. I also think adding in a little raised poles at the walk to start.

            I am still nervous about adding too much too fast. She's been doing well and want to avoid any set backs or compensation injuries if I ask for too much.


            • #7
              it's a balancing act -- taking the rehab slowly is never wrong, but as subk said, eventually you have to canter to canter.
              I like also what eventer_mi said -- my horse is built a lot like hers, and we have recently been working on a very, very compact canter, and then opening it up for a few strides, and back to compact. The downward transition is really hard for him but we add a little more challenge each time and his strength is coming!
              I wouldn't expect her to be able to do THIS until she is strong enough to canter a reasonable amount of time in your workout.

              I think I'd be tempted to ask for more correct carriage in the walk and trot to build strength, and just get some time on the canter. When you get her to the point where you can canter without thinking "it's been (2 minutes) (twice around the arena) (etc), I need to stop" -- THEN you can start asking for more strength and correct work in the gait.
              The big man -- my lost prince

              The little brother, now my main man


              • Original Poster

                Asterix your posts are always so encouraging. I worked today with a bunch of friends over ground rails and we did a good exercise adjusting the trot over the polls. They were doing Medium trot to working trot to Medium. My girl can't quite do medium and her working isn't as solid as it was, but she did a good job with the downward transition in the trot. But, it was hard for her. I think some more of that will help the canter as well.


                • #9
                  oh, yes, it will!! you sound like you are on the right track. Just be patient, and check in with yourself every two weeks or so -- you will realize how much progress she is making!
                  Those are BIG muscles, and it takes longer to build them up than to lose them, as we all know if we've seen them waste away on stall rest....
                  The big man -- my lost prince

                  The little brother, now my main man


                  • #10
                    Have struggled with the same thing here too. Agree with what people are saying about the short but quality canters, the cavaletti and canter poles on the ground.

                    I rode in an ICP workshop earlier this...errr last!...year and was advised to work the canter to fix the canter - but only as much as the horse could do correctly, even if it was just half a circle.

                    Circles will help you - for us 15m was about the right size - because they ask the horse to manage himself, rather than the rider having to do so much of the balancing work.

                    If your horse gets anxious or starts to anticipate, play around with a good distraction. For my horse, changes of direction at the trot are a near-magical way to regain his relaxation and focus. Shoulder-in is also a huge help to rebalance him because he almost immediately gets softer in front instead of fighting me there.

                    I actually do also think, though, that walk and trot can be a big help. I don't have a naturally uphill horse or a naturally all that good canter, but conditioning work, especially trot sets on hills, improved the canter immensely.

                    Longe work with and without side reins, long lining, and short stints with draw reins have helped us too.

                    If you have access to another, stronger horse with an "on" canter, consider sitting on that once in awhile to remind you what it can feel like, and just to give yourself a break. When I did this it helped keep me "in tune," reminding my body to keep riding the canter I wanted to have, instead of falling into unconscious habits riding the one I did have, if that makes sense.

                    I like the idea of a check in every few weeks. If you can get video every couple of weeks or every month, it should really help you see your progress - very motivating!

                    Good luck!
                    Talk to the Hoof