Horse Heavy on Forehand at Canter - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 75 Old 12-26-2011, 10:49 PM Thread Starter
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Horse Heavy on Forehand at Canter

I'm looking for advice on my horse. I've had him for a year and a half, and I'm perhaps an advanced beginner. He's a 15.2 hand Quarter Horse that's very long and lean, built a bit downhill (perhaps I should include a picture?). Rusty is 10 years old, and he was trained primarily for western riding, although he did have beginning training in hunter/jumper a few years before I got him. I mostly dabbled around for the first year, riding him English and western. Then I grew more serious about my aspirations and decided to take hunter/jumper lessons, since my background is in English riding. After some thought, I decided to take Rusty to lessons with me. In my year of trying everything, I decided that Rusty would not make a good western pleasure because he has wonderful English gaits, and his personality didn't fit games, and neither did mine. He's been in training for four months as a hunter/jumper, with lessons once a week. However, we've run into a major roadblock.

Rusty's previous owner was into the peanut roller business and taught Rusty to drop his head, so much that he became heavy on the forehand. In Rusty's four months, he's made a lot of progress to where he is really using his hind end at the trot, and his headset at the walk is great, and his trot has really come along. At the canter, though, we just can't seem to get it. Rusty leans on the bit terribly, to the point where I must set my hands on his neck momentarily to get enough strength to get them back in the proper position. I don't want to completely drop him though because he is also rather hardmouthed and doesn't stop easily. Sometimes, I really have to pull him back for quite a few strides to get him to come down. If I let him have his head, he gets all strung out and fast. I'm afraid he'll trip himself. I know a lot of things take time and practice, but I'm starting to dread riding him because it takes so much energy and it isn't fun. I've always thought of cantering as an exhilarating gait, but with Rusty, I seem to become horribly winded after two or so laps around the small arena (although I'm not in the greatest shape). When he really gets heavy, my instructor tells me to "pop" him with my inside rein and release right away. Lately, we've also been circling when he gets really bad, but that doesn't seem to work out so well as he always breaks into a trot and won't pick up a canter on a circle (I don't think he has enough balance). I am also instructed to hold my hands high when we canter but to not hold him in a frame (we've been working on framework at the trot). I can't ever seem to keep my hands up though because he literally pulls me down.

I guess I'm looking for exercises and just plain advice regarding this situation. If Rusty and I can overcome this, I think he has potential in the show ring. He loves to jump and has great distances even with his strung out canter. But I want to know if Rusty will always have this problem and how long it will take to correct it to at least the point where this isn't always blocking out way. Rusty is very intelligent yet stubborn, and I love him very much, but I want him to be suited to his job and for me to enjoy mine.

Also...I ride him in a dee ring snaffle and a plain cavesson. He wears a breastplate and a riser pad because his saddle always slides back.

Any suggestions or ideas are appreciated!
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post #2 of 75 Old 12-27-2011, 11:56 AM
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Corazon, to me it sounds like he doesn't have a balance even on trot. You really want him to be balanced and move from behind on trot before you'll get a nice "light" canter. Could you post some pics/videos may be? If you have a dressage instructors in area, may be taking some lessons would benefit you both.

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post #3 of 75 Old 12-27-2011, 12:48 PM Thread Starter
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I have a picture attached here that I took of him this fall. I have no recent videos, but I have a link to one from the end of August/early September with him...I need to get my most recent video on the computer first. If I have time tonight, I might post that later. Otherwise, this lesson video will give you an idea of him. He's not running out of jumps anymore and I'd like to believe my form has gotten better now. Hope this helps! Link to video:!/video/vi...=2153559077228

Hopefully it lets you view it.

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post #4 of 75 Old 12-27-2011, 05:06 PM
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I think a good dressage instructor will help you a lot.

In the meantime, lots and lots of transitions from trot to canter and back. Don't let him canter on until he gets really strung out before transitioning down. Get him to canter, let him go three or four strides, half halt to rebalance, and transition down to the trot.

Then do it again, and again, and again. It is exhausting work for him and for you, but it will pay off in the long run.

The trot that I could see in the video could use more over tracking of the hind legs, meaning more hind end engagement.

I'm in a similar position with my lease horse. She's been out of work for a good while and every ride is really focused on building connection from back to front and building strength and aerobic fitness.
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Last edited by mildot; 12-27-2011 at 05:10 PM.
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post #5 of 75 Old 12-27-2011, 05:56 PM Thread Starter
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Unfortunately, we don't have any dressage trainers in the area (I live where western is the primary riding style). But thanks for the idea, it sounds a lot less exhausting than cantering on haha. I'll try to get a more recent video up tonight.
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post #6 of 75 Old 12-27-2011, 06:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Corazon Lock View Post
Unfortunately, we don't have any dressage trainers in the area (I live where western is the primary riding style).
Before you give up on that idea, ask these folks if they know of someone that you can trailer to or can come to you.

Home - Iowa Dressage & Combined Training Association

And in any case, I recommend you hit youtube for the dressage training videos by Jane Savoie. She has a way of both explaining and demonstrating her point very very well.

Last edited by mildot; 12-27-2011 at 06:47 PM.
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post #7 of 75 Old 12-28-2011, 01:33 AM
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Just as Mildot said, trot-canter-trot transitions are your best friend
There is no point at all, in continuing to canter once the horse is on its front legs. It is very difficult to get a horse back up and sitting on its hind legs once it's already burying into the ground.
Make sure the trot is forward, off the forehand and balanced before you ask for canter, canter for a few strides, thinking 'up' in those strides, then back to trot. I usually aim for 12 trot strides, 10 canter strides, 12 trot strides etc. for a green horse, but once they build muscle, balance and confidence, I ride transitions with only one to two strides of canter, to three to five trot strides.
These transitions, if ridden well - uphill, balanced, in front of the leg, active etc. are just brilliant for encouraging a horse to use its back through transitions and within paces.

As for his conformation, well yes he does have a long back, steep shoulder and low set neck, but his quarters and hind limbs are strong and sturdy, there should be no reason that he cannot sit behind with some good riding by you.

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post #8 of 75 Old 12-28-2011, 09:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Corazon Lock View Post
Unfortunately, we don't have any dressage trainers in the area (I live where western is the primary riding style)...
You might look for a good western trainer, and explain you are looking for 3-4 lessons with your horse for ideas on how to correct this specific problem.

Trooper is stiff enough in one shoulder that his canter is terrible in one direction. Even if he starts on the correct lead, he'll switch. I hired a local trainer to give my daughter-in-law & I four lessons on how to get him off his front and balanced better. She comes from a barrel racing background, but barrel racers don't want their horses pulling themselves around the barrel with their front legs either!

She gave both of us some riding tips - position, rein use, etc. She also gave us a bunch of things to work on with him. Mostly circles at a walk or trot, and what to watch for and how to help him correct it when he turns wrong. Trooper's problem is most noticeable in a canter, but much of the work he needs can be done at a walk or trot. His previous life as a low-level ranch horse didn't teach him to use his rear.

We haven't done much riding this month due to weather, but the exercises WERE helping him. They were exercises that a dressage rider would probably recognize. In fact, ANY good trainer will know some exercises to improve collection and balance. I don't know any English trainers in our area, but I know several western ones who are big on getting the horse to use his rear end. And the ones I know have no problem with being asked for 3-4 lessons to deal with a specific problem, and they wouldn't require someone to switch tack or styles.

I would not hesitate to hire a dressage coach for some training help with a western horse, so I see no problem in asking a good western coach for help with an English horse.

"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing...well, ignore it mostly."

Last edited by bsms; 12-28-2011 at 09:11 AM.
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post #9 of 75 Old 12-28-2011, 10:53 AM
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bsms makes a good point that I hadn't thought about.

The english disciplines are not the only ones that want their horses engaging their rear ends.

He also brings up the same point my trainer made to me: the trot is the working gait that most improves a horse's fitness.

It may seem boring, but time spent trotting while performing rebalancing half halts to make Rusty seek connection and engagement will be time well spent.

I feel your pain, I am working the same issue right now. While it seems that he should not have this problem after a year and a half of work, it may be that you and your trainer were not focusing on the kinds of exercises that Rusty needs.

Tell you what though, it's fun to watch Calypso (my horse) have an a-ha moment as she grabs the bit (in a good way) and I can feel her back lift and the push from the hind end get stronger.
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post #10 of 75 Old 12-28-2011, 11:01 AM
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I just thought of another drill that helps not only with hind end engagement (particularly the inside hind) but also helps with balance and self carriage: spiraling trot circles.

Start a 20 meter (or however wide your arena is) trot circle in either direction. As you circle, ask for a spiraling in by keeping the horse bent around using inside leg to outside rein aid while asking the haunches to move in with your outside leg just behind the girth. As you get to the smallest circle that you can, transition to a spiral out by leg yielding out as you trot around all the way back to the wall/fence.

Do that several times in a session in each direction.
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