Building muscles to hold the canter - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 6 Old 10-29-2010, 03:17 AM Thread Starter
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Building muscles to hold the canter

Hi all :)

I have a few questions! Say you have a horse you are bringing back into shape and training all at once.

Horse understands the cue to canter but seems to have a difficult time holding it, particularly making turns. Even on the lunge it generally requires a few attempts to get consistent, full circles without breaking into the trot.

Is it better to build them up at the trot and doing transitions or is it better to get them to canter as much as possible so that they can find their balance and keep going?

Basically -- is it better to do a little bit of cantering at a time in small bursts or to try to get them to spend more time at the canter?

I hope that makes sense!

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post #2 of 6 Old 10-29-2010, 06:21 AM
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I had this exact problem with my boy. Firstly you need to make sure your trot is steady and trackin up using the back in properly. If they are not using their back end properly in trot the struggle to launch themselves into the canter, as a result you get a flat canter in which they struggle to keep momentum and quickly break to trot. It is a frustrating issue but u will be amazed how the little things make a difference. My instructor ( who I only get like once a month) gave me the points I am giving you to work on and within a week I noticed a huge improvment in him. Next your best to work on a 20meter cirlce for this kind of work, helps with balance and makes it easier to get them working properly. You need to really push for the canter lots of leg even if they are doing a very fast 4 time canter more leg is what you need to get the canter going and for them to lift themselves up, sit tall your position plays a key factor, leg on at each stride but also give them a check to contain the energy preventing the flat canter. Half a circle is fine to begin with and build it up but make sure you stopping when YOU ask for trot not when the horser breaks, if they try and break ask for a few more strides then allow them to trot, remember to maintain a steady quite slow trot but you need enough power for them to be tracking up. Sorry for the lack of paragraphs I'm on my phone. Hope this helps, Kay.
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post #3 of 6 Old 10-29-2010, 08:06 PM
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How long has the horse been out of work? I've been bringing my boy back in after an injury (he's back out again after a week unfortunately, horses!!) and it is all about walk, walk and more walk. My bloke's been out for almost 6 months now and the plan was to walk him out on a long rein, getting him to stretch down and forward in an active, marching walk for at least a full month, before even thinking of trotting. Walk is great for building up their muscles and fitness, walk up and down hills, over varying terrain etc. Always making sure they're stretching down into the bit.

Start introducing short periods of trot, just a cruisey working trot, not for more than a long side or a 20m circle at a time. With my boy, I would have been doing this for another month on top of just walking. Once the horse is working well at walk and trot, able to lengthen and shorten the strides in both gaits, can hold a good 20 and 15m circle in both gaits etc. then you can start to think about introducing canter on the lunge. Start with trot-canter transitions every 12 strides for 2 - 3 times on each rein for the first few days, and gradually build it up to longer periods. Trot - canter - trot transitions are fantastic for building up the muscles needed to maintain a canter.
Start riding the canter under saddle, staying off the horses back for a while to allow the back to move freely without the rider's weight restricting it.

It's all a matter of gradual build up, you can never rush the process of bringing a horse back into work/condition or you'll find injuries will come up.
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post #4 of 6 Old 10-29-2010, 10:23 PM
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Kayty, well written post. I agree that walk is the way to go. How you walk is really important. Like you said, reaching down and Marching, going up/down, over poles, shoulder in , etc. You can do a ton of work at a walk.

Cantering on a lunge is hard for a horse sometimes, and if he leans on the line and pulls against it, and the handler pulls back , this can really put him off balance in the small circle of the lunge. Horses hate to be put off balance, so will not want to repeat that experience.
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post #5 of 6 Old 10-29-2010, 11:30 PM
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Doing alot of transitions is what helps, most of the time. You really have to build up the muscles, especially for them to hold a canter on a circle. The more you can do it off line, in a large round pen, I think, is the easiest, as there is no interference from a line, or a rider. Just do a lot of transitions, walk-trot-canter, canter-trot, walk-trot-walk, trot-canter, etc...over and over and over again, until the horse canters full circles without issue.

And when you are working undersaddle, try to drop them back down to the trot BEFORE they do it on their own...if you know she is going to break in the corner, then drop back down before you get to the corner, and after the corner, bring her back up to the canter, before corner, drop back down, etc...eventually you will try to round one corner, before dropping her back down to the trot before the next corner...Try to stay out of her mouth when teaching her to carry herself...the less you're pulling on her, the less she'll have to lean on, and possibly pull herself off balance. I do alot of coasting in the arena with horses that need to learn self carriage as well. Put horse in a gait, and stay out of their way unless they break gait. Just drop the reins, and let them figure out how to carry themselves with as little interferance as you can.

"The ideal horseman has the courage of a lion, the patience of a saint, and the hands of a woman..."
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post #6 of 6 Old 10-30-2010, 12:08 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the tips everyone :) He's been back in work for about four+ months now and the canter has been (re)introduced very very slowly/gradually for maybe a month and a half? We did exactly what you guys are suggesting (yay) starting with ONLY walking for about a month and then working on the trot (that needed a lot of work) and now that our trot is good adding some cantering.

His walk and trot are REALLY good now and he tracks up at the trot and can get a really good rhythm going. We've done poles, lateral work, shoulder-in, leg yields, turn on the forquarters -- all that stuff already. Rushing into this is the absolute last thing that is going on + we are working with a trainer.

I take him on hand walks (and sometimes/rarely rides at a walk) up and down hills at least two times a week.

At first it was difficult to get him to respond to the queue or to break into the canter without rushing into a crazy trot. He understands the command now and can hop into a canter without rushing so we are improving a lot :)

So basically: start short so that I make sure I'm the one to ask to stop and do it in small bursts that gradually get longer. Cool, that's what I wanted to know! that's exactly what I have been doing but I was starting to wonder if maybe I should do more cantering to help the canter instead of small bursts but glad to know it's going the right way.

Last edited by Deerly; 10-30-2010 at 12:16 AM.
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