Help with Canter Transitions - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 7 Old 02-13-2010, 10:18 PM Thread Starter
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Help with Canter Transitions

I've had my boy Jazz for almost two months now. For the first month, where there was no bad weather, I rode him very consistently 5 times a week, and his canter transitions (which were poor at first) got better and better. Since the beginning of February however, we have gotten lots of snow and ice, which has made it impossible to get out of my house, so that I have only ridden him about 4 times this month, during which time his canter transitions have gotten worse and worse.

Today, I started out trying VERY hard to get a good transition out of him. After about 20 minutes of work (during which I asked him for canter multiple times, and when he didn't pick it up, had to fix his trot), before I started trying VERY hard to get him to canter at all. No matter how nice of a trot you have (seriously, I even tried asking him from a collected shoulder-in), he throws up his head, tenses his back, and just trots faster. And I KNOW he knows what I want, and I KNOW he can do it, he was just refusing to.

I swear, I tried everything I knew to set him up in a way that he couldn't refuse. I tried trot-halt-trot-pretend to halt-canter transitions, didn't work. I tried trot leg-yield to canter, didn't work. I tried shoulder-in to canter, didn't work. Tried walk-canter, didn't work. I tried looking the wrong way, thinking I may be overbending, didn't work. I tried double-checking my position to be sure that I wasn't leaning to the inside, didn't make any difference. Every time, his reaction was the same: Throw up head, tense back, trot faster. Finally, I asked him nicely one more time, and when he didn't respond I had a "YOU WILL CANTER OR I WILL KILL YOU!!" moment and gave him a firm slap behind my leg with my dressage whip. I almost never use a whip on Jazz, because I've never felt that I needed one, and it seems to just worry him and cause him to rush out of his natural rhythm, so, needless to say, he was quite surprised, and cantered as much as I wanted him to after that. However, I don't feel like that was really a solution - I would be surprised if he doesn't "forget" how to canter again by tomorrow.

I don't think it's a disrespect issue, because he was doing everything else I told him to willingly. So I'm totally confused. Any ideas?
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post #2 of 7 Old 02-13-2010, 10:32 PM
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I think you only rode him four times that month and he lost the muscling and mindset to do what you were asking.

Pushing your horse into a canter before he's ready isn't going to do any good. And your canter work will never be any good if his walk and trot isn't already mastered. Slow down, don't get on your horse for the first time in two weeks and expect him to canter even reasonably well. In fact, I wouldn't even ask him to canter. Remind him what it's like to walk and trot and do transitions and circles at the trot. If he's PERFECT, then canter, but if not, call it a day and try it in a day or two. You don't have to canter every ride. If you feel like you do, it's because you want to, not because your horse really needs it.

I can't remember who but someone on this forum said that the canter demonstrates the work at the lower gaits, or something like that, and I find it's relevant to this case.

Also, I have no problem with the way you got him to canter. You decided to canter and he needed to canter one way or another. You had to win your fight, and I totally respect that, but I think you were pushing it to have him keep cantering and do several more transitions. Once he started cantering the first time, you should have brought him down and called it a day. You already got in a big fight, why give him the chance to get into another one? You wanted him to canter and he didn't want to, so you made him, and he cantered. And instead of any kind of reward for getting up there, you worked him even more. Don't forget to give your horse a reprieve, he's working harder than you are.

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
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post #3 of 7 Old 02-13-2010, 11:01 PM Thread Starter
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Let me correct myself, I actually did ride him twice this week prior to this ride. (Also, I meant only 4 times in the first 13 days of February). On Monday we did all walk/trot, with some leg-yields, and additional lateral work (turn on haunch & forehand, and shoulder-in) at the walk. On Thursday I rode him a little bareback (sometimes I feel like saddles get in the way. LOL) at the walk and trot, and worked some more on bending and stretching.

While I'm sure that my walk/trot work is far from perfect, I do not believe that it is pushing him to do canter work. He has previously been a very solid upper Training Level dressage horse (even had auto lead changes), but was off serious work for about 5 months before he came to me on lease in December. He was somewhat out of condition, but has gained a lot of muscle in his hind end and over his back since then.

Also, I really should have been more specific about what I meant by "he cantered as much as I wanted him to after that". A few times during our fight for a canter transition, he would pick up the canter, and fall out of it after three strides or so - I praised him when he picked it up, and began re-organizing him when he would fall out of it. Anyway, what I really did with him, was canter a circle at one end of the arena, and then canter about halfway down the long side of the arena, trot, change direction, get the other canter lead (I certainly don't believe in working them unevenly), and canter a circle in that direction (he picked up the second canter transition right away). After he did that (with lots of praise in between), I brought him back to a trot and let him work down long and low (which he loves) down the other long side, slowed to a walk, and cooled out.
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post #4 of 7 Old 02-14-2010, 09:26 AM
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When you increase speed you magnify problems that you have at other gaits. You may want towork more on walk/trot transitions. Also there is nothing wrong with using the force necessary to get teh desired response. If you need to give him a tap behind your leg to remind him he can canter then do it. If the reinforcement is there consistently you will have to use it less and less.

There's nothing like the Rockies in the springtime... Nothing like the freedom in the air... And there ain't nothing better than draggin calves to the fire and there's nothing like the smell of burning hair. -Brenn Hill
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post #5 of 7 Old 02-14-2010, 06:23 PM
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A few canter strides in only one direction is hardly going to make a difference in his even-ness. I also believe in working evenly, but three strides is really not going to matter.

My point was that at the time you asked him to canter, I doubt he was warmed up well enough to give you what you wanted, given his reaction. A horse with that kind of training doesn't just decide not to canter, he wasn't ready. Even my horse always picks up the canter, and she's just barely at training level. I just get better transitions if she's warmed up well.

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
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post #6 of 7 Old 02-14-2010, 10:11 PM
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I used to have this problem with my old OTTB. However, my trainer taught me an amazing way on how to help him find his balance so he can calmy and correctly pick up a nice canter. You also have to remember, the quality of the transition will refelct on the quality of canter you get out of it.

I was told to pick up a 20 meter circle and get the horse bending around your leg first. Get them relaxed and willing to work from the hind end. Also, by having them on a circle engaging themselves it will be harder to for your horse to hollow out and try to run off.
Keep on the circle until you feel your horse really listening to your aids and then ask them to move their hauches out. Kind of so that they are moving more with thier head/shoulders/front end towards the circle and thier haunches away. Don't even ask for a canter until your horse is moving off your inside leg and doing what you ask.
When you feel your horse is moving his haunches out, then prepare for a canter. Just before you come out of the 20 meter circle, ask for a canter. If he hollows out and you are running into the same problem with the canter transition as you described, put him back into that 20 meter circle and ask to haunches-out again.

I hope that wasn't too confusing. I found that this really worked on getting my old horse to get amazing canter transitions as the haunches-out gets them listening to your leg while stretching out their back and engaging thier hind end. I even use this with my current horse, his canter transitions are soooooo nice now! :] :]

:: rachel && robbie ::
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post #7 of 7 Old 02-18-2010, 09:26 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks Blush, I'll try that with him tomorrow.
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