Training a Draft Cross

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Training a Draft Cross

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  • Draft horse wont canter at request
  • Draft. horse. canter. is. how. fast

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    01-06-2013, 03:09 PM
Training a Draft Cross

Hey! So I've raised and trained my horse alone. There are trainers on the premises that I will ask for help, but I do everything alone with my horse.

What I'm curious to know is how you know what is too much for your horse?

My horse is a draft cross - 3 years old and approximately 15.1 at the withers and 15.2+ at the butt. I've slowly worked her into the idea of being under saddle and being ridden. What I do now is ride her mostly at a walk and trot her for about 10 minutes or so. I do large circles, figure 8s, etc. She catches on incredibly easy and is very responsive to my aids. She is going to be 4 in August. Of course, I want to get her to have a really nice trot before progressing into trying to canter, but does anyone know a good time to get a horse to canter under saddle? Is there any time that is considered too soon? I'm just afraid of ruining her. I always think I'm too heavy for her (I'm paranoid haha) even though everyone says I'm not.

What are some ideas you guys have to improve the trot/impulsion? What are some recommendations as to what to do for training her? She's very level headed and calm. I can move around a lot on her and she doesn't care. I just love how laid back she is but at times I want her to have some 'umph' in her step
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    01-07-2013, 09:32 AM
Has she ever cantered with a saddle on before, say in a round pen (I'm only asking to see if she's totally used to a saddle bouncing around during faster movement)? A good rule is to have your horse well established on the ground so that you can reinforce those cues when you're in the saddle. Also, the simple fact that she's a draft cross has nothing to do with how you will train her, a horse is a horse!

If you feel that she is responsive enough to you (steering, halting, etc), and that you are confident in your seat and how she may react to cantering with you on top of her for the first time, just go for it! Remember, get the basics down first. No horse is going to canter perfectly the first time under saddle, meaning the right leads and in a straight line, but we take training in baby steps, right?

What I have done in your situation (and I am by no means a professional trainer) is use a roundpen for the first time cantering. If you don't have one, that's ok too, there's just more of a controlled space in a roundpen. After a few walks around the pen I'd get her going at a relaxed trot so she gets into a good rhythm, then simply ask her to go faster. Just take it in baby steps. Depending on how she reacts to you (she may get excited and take off, buck, or she may just canter along nicely) canter for a round or two, or even less. Some horses will go into a canter and stop right away because it's new and feels weird, and some will be so laid back that they'll just go with it. Be prepared for anything.

Here's a pretty good video of taking a first canter in baby steps, not pushing the horse too much and letting him get accustomed to the feel of cantering under saddle.

    01-07-2013, 09:39 AM
Also, take it a few days at a time. Don't push it too much on the first day. You want to be able to positively reinforce her for the response you're looking for. Once she picks up on what you're asking (and she will), meaning she goes into a canter when you cue her to and she more or less "gets" what you're asking, do that only a few times and call it quits. Pet her and verbally reinforce her, let her know she's a rock star. Then do the same thing the next day and the day after, slowly adding more time to your training sessions.
    01-07-2013, 09:45 AM
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A thing you should take into consideration - drafts and draft crosses grow and mature very slowly. At 3, she is still just a baby and might find it hard to balance and move freely with a rider, thus the lack of the "oomph". I wouldn't start cantering her under saddle yet, and spend more time on groundwork (responsiveness in particular, also ground driving can do wonders for riding later in life), relaxation, stretching, walking and trotting up hills in hand and under saddle to build up muscles, straightness. My horse, a light draft, was backed at 4 and had his first canter under saddle as a late 4yo, and he was still pretty compromised by his large, growing body. Now, only at the age of late 6, he has reached the maturity of a grown up horse. I like to take it slowly - there is nothing to miss, and we get healthier horses in the long run, if we wait a bit before asking more from them.
    01-08-2013, 12:25 AM
Thanks for your responses!

Yes, she canters on cue in the roundpen. She's really good with that and she is well-adjusted to having someone on her back. She is very laidback and mellow. I just know how drafts and draft crosses mature more slowly, like Saranda said, so I'm always so hesitant. I can feel her confidence when she carries me now - big difference from when we were just beginning. Thanks for the video, too. I'll keep it in mind when I do eventually try to canter her. I won't be able to do it in a roundpen though because the roundpen at the barn is fairly small so I'd be afraid of her losing balance. Additionally, it's flooded thanks to this stupid weather :/

What also concerns me is the fact that she has become back at the knee. I'm just always afraid with what I should make her do and what's considered "too much" because I don't want to cause permanent damage since she's young and still growing with that conformational fault.

By "oomph," I just mean a little more effort haha. She trots pretty slowly with not much energy behind it. I squeeze but she stays at the same pace, usually. If she does speed up, it's only for a few steps before she slows down a bit again. I've gotten her to slow down for a nice sitting trot, but it's harder to get her into a nice working trot. I feel like she has retrogressed these last 2 rides so I'm going to go back to ground work for two days before her first lesson on Thursday.

What exercises do you do for stretching and for relaxation? I can do hillwork with her. We have some of those around the barn.
    01-11-2013, 11:32 AM
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    01-12-2013, 10:03 AM
Well it sounds like she's a pretty chill gal, laid back and well tempered enough. I don't think you'll have a problem getting her up into a canter when the time calls for it. Though it sounds like maybe getting her to go that fast will be a challenge! Just remember to be consistent the cues she already knows on the ground, if she jumps right into a canter with a specific cue like you said, that's what you'll want to use when you're riding her as well.

As far as stretches it would probably be better for the OP of that suggestion to answer, but here are some that I have done:

- Lift one front leg and bend the knee. Raise the bent knee up in front of the horse. Move around to the front and slowly extend the foreleg out to straighten the knee. Hold for a few seconds and then slowly fold the leg back and place the foot on the ground. Repeat with the other front leg.

- Pick up a hind foot and fold it up under the horse's belly. Keeping the leg in line with the hip joint, slowly extend the leg backward until nearly straight. Hold this position for a few seconds and then slowly return the leg to the normal position and place the foot on the ground. Repeat for the other hind leg.

- Perform carrot stretches. Holding your horse with halter and lead, stand to one side just behind his shoulder and show the carrot. She will turn her head around toward the treat, stretching the neck. Repeat this on the other side. Do a few on each side. Another carrot stretch you can do is by placing it between the horse's front legs to encourage her to lower her head and round her back. Placing the carrot beneath her rather than in front ensures the back does not hollow as he stretches, which is detrimental to the development of his back muscles. When she is coping well with this exercise, position the carrot by alternate shoulders of the horse and ask him to bend laterally at the same time as stretching down. Do not allow him to walk in a circle; his body must remain still to achieve the beneficial stretch.
    01-12-2013, 10:04 AM
There are also a lot of great videos on YouTube to give you inspiration.

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