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April 12, 2022
If your horse does one of these six things while attempting to canter... don't worry you're not alone and their all easy to fix. Last week we talked about the first three. Here's the link to that article. This week we'll tackle the last three.
1. Tossing head
3. Wrong lead
4. Canters too fast
5. Leaning or cutting corners
6. Never stops trotting
Let's tackle one at a time.
Canters too fast: Lots of horses canter too fast. In the beginning they only know one speed. And lots of people just resign to always cantering the speed the horse wants. But you don't have to. If you practice, you can teach a horse to canter slower than a walk and even canter in place, and believe it or not, canter backwards. Sure, it takes time and patience and lots of practice but it's sooooooo much fun to canter a horse that feels like a rocking horse, going the speed you want rather that the speed he wants.
There are dozens of strategies so don't get caught up on just one but here is one of my favorites. After weeks of ground preparation, teaching my horse to canter for longer and keep a nice even steady pace, I'll begin cantering under saddle. While riding I'll set up my arena or round pen with two cones along the fence lines about one hundred feet apart. Once I get into the canter I wait for my first cone and when I get there I start counting the canter strides. When I get to my second cone I stop counting and tally the total. If it took fifteen canter strides to canter that hundred feet then I know my horses speed. (15 strides/100 feet).
Once I know my horse's speed I get to play a fun game to slow the canter down. My goal is to get 16/100. Then 17/100, and so on, until I have a slow, fun canter. I like to speed it up in the same way. The point is... I make a game of going a different speed, which makes it fun for me and fun for my horse and doesn't leave us frustrated with a one dimensional relationship.
Leaning and cutting corners: Sometimes horses lean in because they are going to fast. You know there are solutions for that now. But sometimes they lean in because they don't want to go at all. Horses that lean in or cut the corners while cantering will almost always stop in the middle of the arena given the opportunity. Meaning, if you stop asking for things and just ride it out, you'll see the horse traveling smaller and smaller circles to the middle and simply stopping. So... ironically, a horse that leans or cuts corners not only has a steering problem but they also have an impulsion problem. They don't like cantering. The question then becomes, "What do you do to help the horse enjoy cantering straight?"
There are many tools you can employ, too many to write in one article but I can give you one of my favorites. In the arena or riding area, set up two markers again. While riding, or even on the ground, when you reach the first marker begin to speed up, when you reach the second marker, stop completely. Once stopped, give massive rewards to your horse. The game is "point to point." It's designed to encourage your horse to see value in going straight ahead to a destination. Lots of horses hate cantering because there is no destination.
Make it fun for the horse by repeating the game until you feel he or she offers her own energy and enthusiasm to reach the second marker. Then stretch the markers out. It won't take long before you're safely cantering toward the marker on a nice, straight line. Once you've nailed that game down, you can place markers anywhere and start traveling on arcs and circle but always toward a destination of your choice. Your horse will love this game and love you for introducing it!
Speedy trot that never leads to canter: In the beginning with horses, they can sometimes struggle to enter the canter. You can find yourself asking for the canter and all you get is a faster trot. With some horses it doesn't seem to matter how fast you go, they simply won't break into a canter. Many people find this frustrating and that's why it's on the list to talk about today.
The first thing you need to know about the canter is that it's not a speed, it's a gait. There is a massive and important difference there. Most people think it's a speed thing because it's faster than a walk or trot. But, as we know from last week, we can easily train a horse to canter slower than a walk. Therefore, canter shouldn't be considered a change in speed. It should be considered a change in footwork and balance. Knowing this will help the horse that speeds along in the trot.
Remember, there are many techniques, so don't get confused when I share my favorites. "There are many roads that lead to Rome." One of my favorite strategies for horses that just speed up is to ask them to rebalance by slowing down. I like to think of a horse like a slinky spring. Remember those cool toys that you can send slinking down the steps? Speeding up in the trot stretches that spring out. If it gets too stretched out it won't be able to gather its feet to canter. Cantering requires compressing that spring. It's kind of tricky. You do need the energy output the fast trot gives you but not the balance. So the best thing to do is to trot fast for a couple steps then slow down, then fast again, then slow down, then again until the horse begins to realize you don't want the fast trot, you want the energy output. Sooner than you think the horse will give you a canter stride, nice, and slow, and balanced. Before long, you'll get it every time you ask.
Of course it will take some practice and feel and patience. It may even take some creativity like placing a small jump on the ground to encourage compression and elevation instead stretching out. But I believe you can do it. I've worked with thousands of horses now and I've always found a way to help the horse enjoy the cantering games, barring no physical limitations.
I hope all this helps you understand the canter better. Cantering is the link between the novice rider and the elite rider. Elite riders tackle canter on a daily basis, whether it's in the saddle or on the ground. The only reason novice riders don't is because there is some limitation. Usually that limitation is one of the six described above. My hopes is that if you take this all on, you'll become a better trainer, owner, rider and enjoy the canter as much as I do.
Thanks for reading, comment below. I always love to hear from you.