Tips for improving canter stride? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 13 Old 04-08-2009, 05:00 PM Thread Starter
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Tips for improving canter stride?

Hi all. I'm new to this forum. I have a few questions regarding my horse's canter stride. I have a 16.2 Thoroughbred. I've had him for 2 years. He'll be 7 this month. I spent the first two years working on building up his topline and trying to get him to use himself more efficiently. His rear legs are a bit on the straight side, so he's reluctant to really reach underneath and proper himself from behind rather than pulling himself along. He has a nice, relaxed, rhythmic canter and can go all day like the energizer bunny. The thing is, despite his size, he doesn't cover any ground. His canter stride is 10' on a good day. Everyone at the barn calls him Pepe Le Pew because he just plods along like he's got all day. It's not a problem onto itself, but when we jump, it becomes an issue. Eventually I would like to take him to some schooling shows. I'm pretty sure hunters is out due his short stride. I'm not sure how we'd be at jumpers. He seems game for anything. Anyway, does anyone have any advice on how to get him to lengthen his stride? I can shorten it no problem, but I have yet to get a "standard" hunter stride out of him.

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post #2 of 13 Old 04-08-2009, 07:15 PM
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Aww I just have the cutest image in my head of him bouncing along like Pepe haha.

Have you tried placing ground poles set for his canter stride, then slowly have someone creep them apart to make him stretch out more each time he comes around to them? Sort of trick him and force him to stretch or he won't make the pole.
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post #3 of 13 Old 04-08-2009, 07:50 PM Thread Starter
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Yeah, he likes that game. The problem is I almost always ride when nobody's around, so I'd have to get off each time to reset the poles. He can Pepe through them at 9' apart. He can do 10' with not too much extra effort. I'm a little afraid he'll pull something or roll an ankle so the speak if I put them at 11' and he doesn't make it. I'm not sure how much of a horse's canter stride is natural and how much can be manufactured.
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post #4 of 13 Old 04-09-2009, 04:41 AM
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Funnily enough, I have the same problem with a horse I've been lent recently... He's quite short from the buttock down to the hock, so he's quite stiff when being asked to really engage his hind legs. In fact, he found it so hard to start with that we had some serious disagreements... rears... bucks...etc... until I figured what was going on. So I've started working him with my old riding instructor. It's really helped having someone on the ground. So, these are some of the things we've been doing:

- Initial warm-up. I start completely off his back, riding in two-point for walk-trot transitions. Because he's so stiff, it really helps to free up his back and get his hind-end really 'swinging'. I maintain a light contact, but don't ask for frame at this point. The trick is to let the horse find that impulsion and get really forward.
- Once he's moving forward and freely, we complete some circles, serpentines, bending and 'a few' steps of lateral work. This helps him to engage his quarters, move toward contact (pref long and low at this stage) and lift his frame. Once we have a correct frame, we move onto the next stage....
- Lots of trotting! Not sure if you experience the same issues in trot, but Oliver (the horse) would 'pull' himself along with his shoulders in all gaits. In actual fact he has a really naturally powerful trot. We work with transitioning within trot (extensions down the long side, then collections on the short side etc). By the end now, you can actually feel him 'reaching' to step under, and a really powerful propel forward.

Initially we'd leave it there... no getting to canter. We have just moved on to the canter in the last week... and this is where my errors come in.

- Stiffness in back. Although I was moving with the stride, Biz (my horse) is quite slight, so the movements never had to be very 'big'. On Oliver, who's a bigger striding horse, I was restricting his movement in my seat. My instructor has me make quite exaggerated 'hula-hoop' actions (best way to describe it) to ensure that I am really moving with him. The slightest sign of me getting stiff and he'll tighten up to a short, on-the-forehand canter. (Note: I also shorten my stirrups a hole to stay very 'light' in the saddle... just for now, but helps him and me!)
- Secondly. Due to the bucking (but still no excuse), I was riding him fractionally too short in his neck... which led to him being an inch or two above long & low, hollowing his back and dragging the hind end. I didn't even notice it until my instructor pointed it out!!

We've started to up the lateral work, which really helps with engaging the hind quarters... we're doing it slowly so he doesn't strain himself. Additionally, I'll canter alternate circles in the saddle, then in two-point, then in the saddle. Helps maintain the freeness of movement! All-in-all, after about 3 weeks of this, he's already improving (and for that count, me too).

Some horses are naturally built to have longer, freer gaits, so not all horses will be able to achieve the same level of extension/collection. However, I hope the above helps - we've tried it and it's starting to work for us. Best of luck.
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post #5 of 13 Old 04-09-2009, 07:21 PM Thread Starter
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Boy does your post sound familiar. You pretty much described my warmup! I completely agree that getting off their back and getting the forward motion first is key. After much experimentation, I've noticed is very easy to get impatient and take a little too much contact in an effort to get him connected, and I'll I accomplish is blocking whatever forward motion I had going!

Puck is always stiff for the first 20 minutes or so. His initial trot is AWFUL! It's like riding a pogo stick. I usually do 10 walk with basic flexing, shallow serpentines and stuff, 10 minutes or so of half seat trotting. I'm lucky if I can get him to reach into the bit at that point. The first canter is pretty much on the buckle. Like my horse, I love to canter, so we just go until one of use is about to drop. From there we're ready to work.

What gets me is that he does this fabulous extended trot when we're out trail riding. It's the prettiest thing ever and feels like he's floating. At the canter, when he really digs in and gets to it, he can cover some serious ground. I know he can do this stuff, so I know he's putting me on to some extent when we're in the ring. Also, since he's my first horse, I fall into that trap of not wanting to ask too much of him for fear of overdoing it and causing him any pain. After all, he is my little boy.
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post #6 of 13 Old 04-09-2009, 07:41 PM
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Do you have pictures? Video's?
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post #7 of 13 Old 04-09-2009, 07:42 PM Thread Starter
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I'm picture posting challenged. I'm sitting here trying to figure it out!
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post #8 of 13 Old 04-09-2009, 07:48 PM
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tbs are funny beasts so many different shapes, sizes and strides but agreed a horse well schooled on the flat so be able to extend, shorten strides when needed. How good is your guys flat work? half halts? Have you worked on really pushing him forward in the canter get up off the seat in two point and encourage him to lengthen then reward if he does.
When schooling my jumpers I like their flat work to be balanced, supple and forward. Sounds to me this big boy is clever and has worked out how to avoid having to work too hard. Is he working on the bit? on does he lean on corners, bend to the outside? All these things can effect his canter which in turn will effect his stride. Also very common TB things if he raced they are prone to being lazy and dropping inside shoulder and bending to the outside lovely look not hehe
My advise is as always take him back to working on circles 10 and 20m really make him work on his haunches and get that balance/confidence then I feel his stride will be nicer and exercises like this and your ever handy half halts are your best friend in teaching a horse lengthening and shortening
Good luck and sorry if I have repeated anything didnt have time to read thru all. Any questions feel free to ask, not the best at explaining things

Hi I am Gabi
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post #9 of 13 Old 04-09-2009, 08:00 PM
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Well, if you can figure out how to post pictures - or even video's - that would be fabulous so that one can see what is exactly going on.

Especially yourself. Our horses, reflect us.


On another note - this could be about your horses hoof angles. Hoof angles you say??? Yes - and this is something I just recently learnt just this past fall.

For some time, I had a farrier who was trimming him with incorrect angles, and I had no idea - because I trust the professionals in my life right? Right.

During this time, he was on Adequan and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get him to track up and move forward. My Eventing Coach - competes CIC*and CCI*, and she even had a hard time getting him to move out and forward.

He would move beautifuly out on Foxhunts, and would move out beautifully after a long warm up or hack - but I couldn't always do that to get him to move properly.

SOooooo one day, when my Boo's next Farrier appointment was approaching - I ended up getting a call saying that they wer going to be out of state. So I had to find another Farrier. Luckily I got one who actually just lives down the road - anyways......

He showed up and took 1 look at my TB and asked when he was done last. I told him 8 weeks ago. His response was that it looks like 8 months ago.

He looked at his pasturns, and his hip and shoulder angle and walked all around him looking at everything. Then he messaged his shoulders - and my TB almost dropped to the ground.

That was when he knelt down next to his front left leg, and drew in the dirt on the cement floor how off his measurements were and how off his angles were in accordance to his pasturns, hips and shoulders - he also showed me how much pressure accumulated in his shoulders from the incorrect angles.

His toes were long, he had no heels. All the pressure was accumulating in his toes - and because of that, he didn't want to step out properly. Didn't trust his heels because there were none - and was moving one way to compensate this.

I was appauled. I had no idea.

So we spent all winter going through Corrective Shoeing and getting the proper angles back.

Completely different horse now. He tracks up and moves out without that much leg, without that much seat - whereas before, I was huffing and puffing from all the work to achieve what we are getting now.

Just food for thought.
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post #10 of 13 Old 04-09-2009, 08:10 PM Thread Starter
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Luckily he's doesn't counter bend at the counter. On his left lead/stiff side, he's almost dead straight. I think just a little more inside bend would accomplish some connection. On his right lead/soft side, he naturally bends slightly to the inside, so I just have to shift my weight a tad to get him straight. He definitely comes through better on the right lead. (I don't have the heart to tell Puck that all the races he won were when he was on his right lead at the end! He really likes that left lead)

And yes, he's definitely got my number. He seems to know exactly what days he can convince me to take an easy day and just run around on a loose rein or leave the ring altogether and go out for a hack. I take tune up lessons every 3rd week or so. My call to my trainer always goes something like, "Hey, I think we've made some good progress. You can come over and tell me he's still ignoring me now!"

Thanks for all the advice folks. Keep it coming.
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