Developing Canter on Green Horse
I have been working with my new, green pony, and I'm looking for some suggestions on improving and devloping his canter. He takes the right-hand lead correctly every time, and departs pretty promptly to the right. The transition could be smoother and prettier, but it's coming. The left-hand lead is trickier. He doesn't like to transition into the canter under saddle to the left. When he does canter to the left, he takes the wrong lead. I have been lunging him and getting him up onto the left lead with some effort, and praising him and rewarding him with a rest when he takes it. I'm hoping that he just needs to build some muscle and balance on that side. He usually starts with a stride or 2 of right lead, then does a flying change to take the left. He loves the gate, so I have been using that "draw" to encourage him to go forward, then doing some excercises to detach him from the gate. Suggestions for this would be appreciated, too, lol. The gate thing is now pretty easily managed, just a nuisance. He's pretty green, I'm basically taking him from the knowledge that a saddle is not a chew toy and a rider is not to be harmed,to as far as we can go. Thank you so much for your input!!
Have you tried over exaggerating your body position when asking for the left lead? Open up your right leg (and move it slightly forward) to encourage him to move that way and move your left leg back some and have it come against his side. Also you can reach back with your left hand and spank him on the butt. This will help him feel the way to make the transition because of the way your body is setting him up. If he doesn't get on the correct lead bring him down and try again. When he does pick it up leave him alone and let him choose when to downward transition (don't automatically stop him for rest because this will get confusing). After he is picking up his left lead well then you can work on him maintaining the canter.
Hope that helps
My 4yr old use to be like this and probably for a 3-4 weeks straight we battled this (that is once i decided to do something about it and not chalk it up to greenness). Ask for the lead you want and if he does not take it put him on a very small tight circle so that it is uncomfortable for him to canter on the incorrect lead. After making him canter that way for a 2 or 3 circles (whatever feels right to you) then ask him to come back to a walk or trot and ask for the canter again-once again on the same lead. Everytime he picks it up incorrectly put him on the tight circle and then bring back down and ask again. Make sure you are asking when his inside should is forward so that the next step he takes will be in tune for picking up the correct lead. It may help to do this in a round pen initially until he understands it there and then progress to an arena.
As far as picking up the left lead goes, you can try a trot pole set in the corner. Ask him to canter over the pole. ANd when he picks up the wrong lead, try to NOT let him do the flying change to the correct one. Bring him back to the trot and try again. Always ask in the corner or on a circle for now until he figures it out, then you can do the straight aways. You can also try a little bit of an opening inside rein to help lead him into it, but keep your inside shoulder up, don't drop it when you ask, otherwise he will for sure pick up the wrong lead every time. I hope this helps! Good luck!
Thank you all for the suggestions! I don't have access to a roundpen, SaddleUp, but I was thinking about having someone come out and hold him on a lungeline while I ride the canter (I'm due for some work on the lunge myself, lol). I'm concerned about riding him on too tight of a circle, esp. if he's on the wrong lead. He gets off balance doing lateral flexion sometimes, ha ha. I lunged him today (Weatherman called for rain and nasty all day, and the arena was soaked from the last three days of rain, grr.) and he was a little exciteable. I didn't press the canter issue, since the footing was kind of slippery. Hopefully things will dry out and I can put some of these suggestions to work!
First of all, you have to stay balanced and in the center of the tack, throwing your weight around and thus the horse off balance is only going to end you up with a variety of issues down the road. Basically I entirely disagree with MM's whole post.
If the horse has difficulties with the left lead under saddle, then work with it on the lunge. Horses will eventually develop the muscle if we positively enfore it on the lunge. Just please tell me you are using side reins and proper lunging equipment, or else you're probably making the problem worse. We always need to enocurage young horses to properly come into the contact while working.
And don't let him swap leads. Again this is going to create issues in later days if you continue to let him do that, or even encourage it. Don't punish him, just come back to trot and ask again.
Anebel, thank you for your post. I do not use side reins or other equipment when lunging my horse. What I am doing is basically roundpenning with a halter and long line. I do not have any experience with side reins, and I fear through my inexerience with them I could do more harm than their correct use could do good. I do understand the necessity of getting my greenie to come onto contact and begin work in a collected frame, but under saddle, contact comes with acceptance on the part of the horse of soft rein aids and support from the rider. Tying the reins off to a surcingle or saddle seems like the equivalent of taking away the forgiving, following hands of the rider and asking the horse to be just as soft and accepting when the "rider" is not. Please, correct me if I'm wrong, or if correct side rein use somehow achieves the same effect as an experienced rider. I am encouraging Scout to come onto contact at the walk and trot using half halts and lateral and vertical flexion exercises.
I don't think that MM is condoning flopping around and misbalancing horse or rider, but overexaggerating the cue to make it abundantly clear to the horse, who has very little idea what the cue means at this point, what I am asking for. I have used a similar technique on a lesson horse teaching him to sidepass with great success.
SaddleUp, I'm hoping that the rain will stop soon! The arena usually is decent, but 4 days of rain has kind of an adverse effect on the footing. I feel bad for my boys stuck inside (The pasture is in the same shape as the ring, at this point), or I wouldn't have lunged on the surface at all. The farrier is coming out on Tuesday as well. As of now Scout is barefoot, (testing the waters a bit, I've owned him for all of a month, lol) but he's a little tender footed, only in the arena or other hard packed ground and faster than a walk, so shoes in some configuration are going on. Maybe the tenderness is affecting his canter? Well, I'll know when the arena/lagoon dries out!
Contact is an extremely black and white thing to horses. They don't understand about developing and pushing into it if the rider's hands are contantly moving around and pulling their face every which way. Any rider on any "normal" horse needs to have extremely steady hands in order to teach the horse not to duck behind the bridle or otherwise evade the bit. Basically the more movement the rider's hands have, the less steady the horse's neck/head/mouth are going to be. By using side reins when lunging, we take away the unsteadyness of a rider's hands away completely, which allows us to really enforce the connecting aids and get the horse's engine going without having to worry about a rider getting unbalanced and jabbing the horse in the mouth. And bending/flexing a horse's neck is not only fundamentally wrong, it teaches the horse to evade the bit. The only parts of the horse that really "move" in lateral flexion and bend are the ribcage and a slight flexion at the poll, the spine remains absolutely straight. As for longditudonal flexion exercises as you call them, these are basically useless at this point because they don't teach a horse contact, they help a developing horse to strengthen the contact. All you are doing by asking the horse for different frames at this stage is confusing him. Keep everything very simple, there is one correct frame, one conact and one position that you ask for and that is straight from poll to tail, from two legs into two reins into a steady hand with a vertical head and neck stretching up from the base of the neck and forward/downward from there.
As far as this throwing your weight around thing, honestly it creates problems. You just have to trust me. Your best bet is to establish a vocal aid on the lunge and use that as a re-enforcement to the correct aid. Throwing a horse off balance is as easy as tipping slightly forward (like 2-3 degrees) and can end up creating rearing/bucking/balking issues. As far as moving the outside leg back a little further, or using a stronger aid, sure go for it.
I think we may be misunderstandeing each other, Anebel. When I say following and forgiving hands, I don't mean constant pulling and jerking in random ways. I'm talking about picking up a soft contact with the horse's mouth and maintaining the same feel. This takes the epitome of steady hands (I'm constantly trying to better my own), as the rider's hands need to move with the motion of the horse's head and neck as they move forward. This steadyness is especially evident at the walk and the canter, as the horse, whether collected or not, uses his head and neck within these gaits to balance, and the rider must be steady enough to maintain the same feel on the horse's mouth through this natural motion. My point on the side reins is that, especially at the canter, a contact that does not make allowances for the natural movement of the horse could encourage an unnaturally stiff head and neck carriage. As I said, I am not experienced with these tools, hence my reticence to rush out and buy them and ruin my horse through my inexperience, not the tool itself.
I do have a solid lunge and undersaddle cue that Scout has demonstrated that he does understand. The transitions promptly and pleasantly follow my cue (a firm, verbal, Can-TER). At this point, my cantering issues are basically the "trouble" left lead and the refinement that will follow the acheivement of basic correctness. Due to the lack of a solid left lead at this time, I have not yet begun refining the transitions. I do not want to continue forward on the right lead and have a gorgeous right lead with correct collection and impulsion, and a strung out wrong lead to the left, lol. The canter issues may even be my own impatience. I have only had this horse since mid-May, he is (ballpark) 7 years old, and as of mid-May his canter transitions included minor bucking, which is gone, or I wouldn't be fussing over leads, lol.
I won't go into my reasons for lateral flexion. What you are describing, Anebel, sounds like the textbook example of the final product, whichI have achieved on other horses using the same technique I have used on Scout, although a correct bend, on a circle, for example, does, in my understanding, include that bend following through the horse's neck to the same degree that his ribcage, etc., bend. My horses do not evade the bit, and they are soft in their faces and supple to turn. I am not asking for "different frames" and holding an unnatural lateral bend, I am asking for a soft and willing acceptance of the bit pressure laterally, then releasing and asking for straightness, which almost (this is a horse, not a machine) always follows. I also never called it longitudinal flexion, only lateral. I have never heard what I'm doing called longitudinal flexion, and if that is something that you have heard of that is incorrect, I apologize for spending time on the topic.
I am curious as to what you mean by an "normal" horse, and the hence "abnormal" horse who does not require extremely steady hands.
Thank you all so much for your posts! Unfortunately the rain continues. I can't wait to get into the arena and try some of these tips!!
Wow, that got long!!
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