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April 05, 2022 2 Comments
If your horse does one of these six things while attempting to canter... don't worry you're not alone and they're all easy to fix.
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.
Tossing head: Nearly all horses toss their head related to surges of energy in their body. It's most common just before or after the first few steps of canter but lots of horses do this in the walk and trot too and even while standing still. The solution is simple and here it is: In my Free Mastery Principles course (link) you will learn a principle named "You get what you allow." This means if you end each session on a less than perfect note you'll never get perfection. But if you end the session on a good note (in this case, where your horse doesn't toss his head) you'll start developing a positive pattern in the horses mind.
Just the other day a young girl got on her horse bareback, the horse would move around okay but when asked to slow down or back up he'd toss his head. With coaching, she just kept asking for backup, kindly and patiently, until the horse quit tossing. In that moment she let go of the reins and reached to pet the horse. With this perfect timing the horse gave it up in no time. It works with every speed and every transition. Ask again and again and again until the head tossing stops, then quit. Don't get angry or upset, just ask again. And in case it get's dangerous, shut it all down. Don't allow it. Reset your boundaries and begin again in a safer environment.
Bucking: There are only four solutions for bucking related to cantering. Solution 1: Allow it and ride it out to the point the horse gives it up. 2: Stop the bucking immediately and go back to the trot then ask again, always stopping the behavior before it escalates. 3: Give up because your horse hates canter and you're not balanced enough to handle it. 4: Go slower, and teach everything from the ground. As you might guess, I use all but the third solution. But I prefer not to ride it out. So I rarely use solution number one. That leaves solution number two and four and I almost always prefer to combine them.
On the ground, I'll ask the horse to canter. If he/she bucks, I'll ask him to return immediately to the trot, then ask again. I'll repeat the cycle until the buck isn't presented then reward heavily. After a few days, the horse can canter without bucking and truly enjoys it because he/she is highly rewarded for the right behavior. After a few weeks I can canter that horse while riding without any trouble at all.
Wrong lead: Horses, like people have a dominant side. Some horses are right handed or left handed in their habitual movements leaving lead control a little harder to get. Sometimes horses experience pain related to cantering on a certain lead. You need to find out from a vet to rule out lameness issues. And sometimes it's just a mental block that prevents the horse from performing both leads. Either way, patience, persistence, and positioning is the key to success with leads.
When a horse canters to the left, the right hind foot strikes the ground first, then the diagonal pair (left hind/right front), then the left front foot, then a moment of suspension (all four feet off the ground), and it all starts over again. More than that... the hips, shoulders and head all line up in a way that supports that footwork. The hips move slightly left, and the shoulders lift slightly right. The head, in an ideal world, remains fairly neutral, if not slightly tilted left. Without all those mechanics, getting the correct lead is always a gamble. Even if you're traveling around the arena to the left, you're not guaranteed a left lead because the body parts might be out of alignment.
So... if you want to get your leads, practice the body mechanics in slower speeds. Practice positioning your horses shoulders and hips without transitioning. After a few days, that gets so easy that leads seem simple for you and the horse. There are other factors like sensitivity to your "go" signals and such, but learning about the body mechanics will give you a leg up, so to speak, when you start to one day learn about flying leads and tempi flying leads.
Stay tuned for next week and I'll dive into the other issues:
Cantering too fast
Speedy trot that never transitions into cantering
Once you tackle all these issues you'll have a perfect cantering horse. How cool would that be?
Thanks for reading, look forward to your comments.