We’re cantering!

Okay, riding obsessed friends, let me tell you about our canter work and you can help me improve my riding! We’ve been working on trot/canter transitions. In the past, while trotting along I’ve squeezed with my legs and Baron thought I was asking him to trot faster. After a couple rides where we worked just on that, he understands that squeezing my legs during the trot means I’m asking for a canter. Pictures are courtesy of my 5 year old daughter who took video and snapped some still pics with my camera.

I love this shot! He looks so happy! It's one of my favorite pictures of us.
I love this shot! He looks so happy! It’s one of my favorite pictures of us.

He’s a fast learner. He really listens and tries to figure out what I’m asking him to do. I’m always amazed at what a willing worker he is. And he loves to canter! He prefers a fast, spread out, ground covering, exuberant canter and I prefer something a bit more sedate, but we’re learning to communicate and meet in the middle. He’s actually cantering very well. In just a couple rides, he’s gone from a fast, kind of spastic canter to moving in a collected, round way. I know these pictures aren’t great, because you’re looking through round pen panels; that’s what you get when your photographer is a 5 year old. But look how round he is!

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I’m finding that I’m able to sit his canter now, where in the past I always rode it in half seat. I’m becoming a better rider, but he’s also giving me a much nicer gait to sit. He doesn’t feel like he’s about to explode anymore.

Here’s the part you can help me with. When I squeeze and ask for the canter, he usually gives me a few fast trot steps and then a canter. How can I get a quicker, smoother transition?

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In the picture above, I’m signaling for the canter by squeezing with my leg. My heel has come up, and my hand is up because I’m grabbing mane. I still do, just in case. I’m wondering about his head in the picture. He has long periods where his head is down, like long and low, and then it comes back up. I don’t know if that’s something I’m doing wrong or if he just doesn’t have the muscle strength to work correctly for a longer period. He is so skinny, always, no matter what I feed him. He is starting to develop more of a topline though and I hope he can build some muscle this winter with more regular rides.

Finally, here’s a fun picture of the dismount. I look like a graceful gazelle in this one!

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6 thoughts on “We’re cantering!

  1. kshai1715 August 19, 2014 / 5:01 pm

    The fast “strung out” steps are a sign of his lack of balance. Several things will improve that, but they all take time.

    Half halting him before the canter cue will help reset him onto his haunches so he can move under himself and push off into the canter more easily. Asking for the cue while he is on a bend will help him, too. It’s a nice little “cheat” to help get the greenies into figuring out what to do. If you’re circling (or using the outer perimeter of the round pen that will help).

    The two biggest things that will help him are time and transitions. It takes time to build muscles so he can take a proper, collected and sane canter depart. It takes transitions to build those muscles. And those transitions need to happen at the halt, walk, and trot. For example, halt-walk-trot-halt. Keeping him checked in a bit with a half halt before each. Halt-trot transitions will help him understand moving off easier, and help get him moving more collectedly.

    Transitions are important, but they are also hard on muscles that are not built up, so I when working on something new (like a halt-trot transition for example) I suggest doing it twice per direction and that’s it. Do that in each session for a week (or at least 4 sessions, depending on how often you ride), and then build up from there with adding 1-2 additional transition attempts.

    I like to take things slow, and give the horse a chance to build muscle and absorb information. In the long run, it makes for better understanding of what Is needed, and thus, better training all around.

  2. kshai1715 August 19, 2014 / 5:22 pm

    The head is coming up out of a moment of uncertainty or resistance. When a horse is unsure, confused, or just flat out unimpressed with what’s happening (aka, PO’d), that head will come up.

    I would NOT worry about his head placement at this time, because he’s too green. You can probably use a little half halting, and “massage” the reins at the walk and trot at this point to get him to keep his poll soft and flexed, but you are not going to achieve that into a canter depart at this point, and you are certainly not going to achieve it with your hand resting on his crest.

    You, as a rider, need to sit back more, think about trying to touch your shoulder blades the horse’s back. You will literally feel like you are leaning back, but you will actually be sitting straight. If you are leaning forward, and bracing with your hands (“front end”), you cannot expect your horse to do anything different. If you ride with your butt under you, your horse will start to learn to carry himself the same- but again, that comes with time & muscle (through transitions!).

    When you are riding – at the walk (everything should start at the walk—- if the horse cannot accomplish “task A” at the walk, how can you expect him to suddenly magically accomplish it at the trot or canter? It’s impossible) – massage the inside rein slightly.

    For example… you are tracking right. You will massage the right rein softly (I mean just a bit of a squeeze and release on it, like you are trying to gently ring out a towel made out of silk), and you will hold a bit of pressure on the left rein (like the same amount of pressure you would hold hands with your 5 year old while you are walking idly through a quiet, serene park).

    When you start to use the force you might hold your child’s hand with as if they are about to run off through a busy parking lot, you are using too much pressure. If you imagine having an egg in your palm, and you crack the shell.. you are using too much pressure. Very soft, very easy. Let the horse’s head start to drop (towards the inside) and if you move your hand forward an inch, let the horse drop his nose into that contact. Squeeze release. Everything very soft. Again, it’s new, so ask for it twice and be done. (Each way).

    When you start into a transition, ask him to release into your hand first, then ask for the transition (upward or downward). Softly! Starting to teach him to remain soft and flexed between transitions is the first step towards teaching him collection … not to mention, it will help teach you to sit straight, be soft, and use your seat & hands independently of one another.

    Everything gentle, everything easy and simple. Do not confuse your horse (or yourself) with too many “subjects” (or cues) in one session. And of course, reward him.

    Your ultimate goal will be to be able to turn the horse using your OUTSIDE rein. In other words, when asking for a right turn, you will achieve it by pushing your left hand slightly forwards (and as he gets finer – just by releasing on your left hand with the pinky & ring finger.) You will be holding the right rein steady, and thus controlling the amount of bend, and keeping that inside shoulder up, not allowing the horse to lean in. Your heel on the right will help push his hips to the left side.

    In other words, your goal to make turns will almost be similar to neck reining, which will allow you ultimately to control how much he bends, and keep him flexed and soft through the poll and jaw– which will help encourage collection.

    • jeverheart August 19, 2014 / 6:18 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to comment! All of that is very good advice. I’m able to ride more now so I’m hoping that we’ll progress faster than we have in the past. Working on one thing each ride is working well. There’s a lot of info in your comments so we’ll take it piece by piece! Thanks again!

  3. kshai1715 August 21, 2014 / 3:17 pm

    I definitely like to pick one “topic” to work on each ride, but at the same time – don’t spend 30 minutes drilling that one thing into the horse.

    Warm up a little, tackle your “subject of the day” 1-2 times each direction, maybe 3-4 times depending on how muscled he is and how familiar he is with it, and then cool down. Keep your sessions short, giving the horse (and you) time to work on simple, single subjects and when those start coming together, then you start adding something different.

    You’ll know when you and the horse are ready for something else because the thing you’ve been working on is coming along easily.

    • jeverheart August 21, 2014 / 3:38 pm

      That’s exactly what I do. Usually our rides are only 25 or 30 minutes. We ride down a residential street to warm up and then do only 10 or 15 minutes of real work with stretchy walk breaks in between. It works really well. He doesn’t get bored and he’s able to remember from ride to ride because we keep it simple.

  4. kshai1715 August 22, 2014 / 3:28 pm

    Yep! Exactly.

    I like to joke that my QH, Chewbacca takes 20 minutes to warm up (he really does), and he gets worn out after 25 minutes. But man those 5 minutes in between are just perfect 🙂 hahaha

    And that’s all it really takes to teach a horse – just a few productive minutes.

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