Has anyone got any exercises for schooling the canter from the very beggining?
Reeco is struggling to get it into his head that we have to strike off into canter and not just run into it. He always gets the right leg but we can't get a nice clean strike off.
I've been realy working on getting his botty right under him and his weight as far back as possible but he still rushes through the transition.
I had the same issue with my mare. She's not built for dressage. Last year at this time we could barely pick up a canter from a trot. She would literally dive onto her front legs to go into the canter.
To start, we worked trot/canter transitions a lot. For instance, a 20 meter circle we'd start in trot, trot to the center line and ask for canter. At the far wall I'd ask for the trot. At the center line canter. At the starting wall trot.
Serpentine loops the length of the arena, in the trot starting at A, we'd trot the first loop until we hit the center line. Canter at the center line and continue cantering until you reach the center line again. Trot at the center line, and continue the loop until you hit the center line again. The more varied you can make it, the better. The horse will also improve quicker if you're asking the horse to shift and change balance frequently (mind the horse though.. only do enough to challenge the horse, don't over face him/her). If you're training at Training level, try a three loop serpentine (one loop canter). If you're more advanced, try four loops.
You could also try leg-yield to canter. Do a 15 meter circle. On the second half of the circle, leg yield the horse out to 20 meters. When you hit 20 meters, ask for the canter depart.
Below are the exercises that really helped improve the canter strike off, and quality of the canter:
1. On a 20 meter circle at the trot, ask for haunches-in. Pick a point in the circle. Just before that point, take one stride to straighten the horse, and then leg yield the horse outward for 2-4 strides. As soon as you hit the third leg yield stride, ask for the canter.
That exercise helps improve the connection with the outside rein, gets the horse solidly on the outside aids, and keeps the inside hind leg traveling under the body so that when you do ask for the strike off the horse is more in position to start from behind. It also helps the rider learn how to keep their weight on the inside seat bone, and gives the rider a solid place to sit. The better able the rider is to keep her/his weight correctly placed, the easier it is for the horse to give a balanced strike off.
2. Counter canter. We started with just a few strides down the long side and trot around the corners. We've progressed to being able to do 20 meter circles in counter canter (took a good 6 months). It drastically improved my horse's canter. Because it requires the horse to really bring that inside (inside of the canter) leg up under the horse to keep their balance, it helps strength the horse. The stronger the horse, the better able they are to give a good quality canter transition.
3. Another exercise (from a well respected trainer).. She had me working on walk/canter transitions. I had barely started working on walk/canter transitions with my horse at that time. Anyway, the trainer had me start from walk and ask for the canter transition. When my horse lost her balance, began to rush, or stopped listening to my seat aids, I was to bring her right back to a walk (set her down), and immediately (1 second) ask for the canter again. We did this on a 20 meter circle. We then decreased the size of the circle (to 15 meters) and played with "how slow can you go" without losing the canter. At the time, it wasn't very slow.
The idea with the canter/walk or walk/canter to rebalance the horse on to their hindquarters. Playing with slowing the horse down was a way to ask the horse to sustain more engagement for a short period of time in order to build up the horse's strength. I played with this exercise for a couple of months (once or twice a week), and at first it helped a lot. But we were still having problems with the strike off into the canter. She was still diving onto her forehand, she still lost balance and broke in the canter. The exercise wasn't helping as much as I had hoped. Not all exercises work for all horses all the time.
3. We tried the spiral in/out at the canter exercise. I didn't feel it helped all that much. It seemed to frustrate my horse a great deal. I don't think I had a good enough understanding of the mechanics of it to use it with this particular horse. It would probably work for a horse that had at least a little balance in the canter... mine had none.
4. Practice smaller circles than your horse can comfortably do at the canter. We were doing 15 meter canter circles relatively easily. So I'd ask for a 10 meter circle at A, E, C, B. Or sometimes just ask only in the corners. When doing this, the main idea is that if the horse starts to bomb out (feels like loss of balance and the horse may break into a trot), ask for more forward. You want to solidify that the hind end needs to GO, then slow the front end. If you're on the wall and planning on circling at E (going right), then half halt before the circle, start the circle, at the quarter line ask with your inside calf for more forward, don't hold the horse up, don't muscle the horse through it. Make sure you're sitting correctly on the horse (maybe pretend you're standing on the inside stirrup).
What it does is teach the how to use themselves without having to pull and push the horse to engage. You're using the circle to explain to the horse why they have to use their butt. And as long as you're not attempting to "hold" the horse up and strong arm them through it, then it won't take too long for the horse to start to understand what you want from them. You could take the same concept going from 20 meters to 15 meter circles at the canter. Or maybe start with half of a 15 meter circle if your horse isn't strong enough to do a full 15 meter circle yet. Reward immensely for effort from the horse.
5. Half-Steps: We started training half-steps with my horse several months ago. I don't think these should be attempted unless you have a trainer right there walking you through it. The rider has to have an independent seat and aids, good feel, good timing. The horse has to be at a stage where it's feasible to start teaching. Anyway, one exercise we've used is to ensure the horse straight and even between the reins, then ask for the half-steps, then ask for the canter. She strikes off like a dream and is set up to hold the collected canter right from the start. When we started, I only got a couple of strides of high quality canter (she wasn't fit enough to hold it anymore than that). The first few times, all I did that, and the horse made a huge effort, we just quit for the day. As long as they give the effort, reward it. I can't say that enough.
Ask lightly, reward big.