relaxing/balancing the canter
Hi... I'm new to the forum. I've hit a brick wall with me green horse at the canter.
I've owned Primo about 6 months. Prior to my ownership he was a trail horse and possibly a show horse (for what I have no clue). He's a bit a of a sensitive boy, but is very smart and generally aims to please. It's very clear that he has had gaps in basic training and may have been mishandled. We have gone from super stiff horse that rode with his head in my face at all times to a nice low frame, on the bit, with good cadence, and working from behind. He LOVES to ride out and jump. We are preparing to event Elementary (lol, I know most don't prepare for elementary, but we've had a long process) in Oct, and it's a canter test... BN A. Umm... so here's the issue.
He's a perfectly pleasant horse, long swinging gaits, ears floppy, till we canter. Clockwise that transition is ok... one stride of scrambling, but he's started balancing,, his ears are pinned back though and the stiffness through the neck and back is absurd. Because he's so angry it's difficult to circle or practice any of the test moves. Counter clockwise, it's all bad. He scrambles into the canter, leans like a motor cycle and honestly scares me that he will fall in the corners. Add to this the pinned ears and stiffness. Now this is all in the ring (indoor arena).
Outside... it's a bit different. He's still a bit high headed, but his mouth isn't clenched and he relaxes in the canter. The transitions are smoother, no awkward moments. And he's highly steerable, 20 meter circles (and smaller) are no problem. He also jumps happily, and canters very softly to and from fences. Really that is what I want, that canter I have when we jump.
My normal routine is to lunge 4 days a week and ride 5 days. He generally works 6 days a week. So I lunge for 20 minutes in side reins, he is cantering in the side reins (though with similar results and lots of pulling at the canter). And then ride for an hour. For the most part we work on the flat either in the indoor or in the field. Once a week we'll hack out, jump in the field, or just trail ride. The day he only gets lunged, I work on the canter transitions, I've found that asking over a pole has produced the quietest canter. Currently undersaddle when cantering I've been breaking it down on the circle, cantering a few strides, trotting a few, concentrating on a quality canter.
I feel like we've been peddling in place for a while now. My trainer really thinks we should be moving up to BN, but the dressage isn't there (obviously) even if he can handle the rest. I am taking dressage lessons on the side, but at this time shipping him there is not an option.
WOW... long. Thanks in advance.
Is there a reason you lunge him so often? And are you sure he's not just really tired by the time you ask for the canter? Even if you only ride 30 minutes before cantering, that's 50 minutes of work beforehand. No wonder he can't pick up and balance nicely at the canter.
Personally, I would drop the lunging, and really think about your trot work. If your trot work isn't spot on, your canter work never will be. Make sure he is upright and balanced at the trot, do lots of circles, transitions, figure 8's, serpentines, etc. Don't anticipate the canter, stay relaxed, and when you feel he is calm, ask for canter. If he doesn't give you a decent transition, bring him back to the trot, get him organized, and ask again. You don't want a sloppy transition, so don't accept a sloppy transition.
While riding the canter, make sure you keep your body soft and relaxed, and upright. Keep him on a circle, half halt, and if he's being a motorcycle about it, think of lifting that side of your body as well as his. Actually pick up your inside rein an inch or two. Try to sit slightly more heavily on your outside seat bone to encourage him to come to you, but only a touch more weight.
Whenever there is improvement, stop and praise. If he makes a brilliant canter transition, canter him a few strides and bring him back down. That was good and worth praising. Don't continue cantering until he loses the balance.
My horse is having similar problems, and it's taking a long time to overcome. So much mental baggage! I believe it has to do with previous pain associated with weight, I THINK on one side of her withers, OR in one hip. I can find no sensitivity any more, but I think she THINKS it might hurt, so she still goes quite resistant when we start, and of course it's uncomfortable! But we've come to where we can start several times, getting the canter, and by the 4th time, the departure is pretty good and quiet, and so we go a circle, or a length, and then she gets a treat. I say it's "mental" because at her first show, where I planned to skip the canter entirely if I had to, her canter departure and striding was the best part-- smooth and flowing! She had other things on her mind.
So I haven't any suggestions except to keep at it, and as far as the lunging, it doesn't actually help unless you can ride on the lunge. (I did that too at first, and it did help to show her she didn't hurt any more. But it's taking a long time for her to trust this.)
So, you are only having the cantering problem in the arena, correct?
For one thing, you are lunging him quite a bit. Especially since you are working him in side reins, it is going to be very hard on his muscles and joints. After my horses are initially started under-saddle, I only lunge once or twice a week, sometimes not at all, and only for 15 minute intervals. He is probably getting sore, and if you are lunging in the arena, associating the sore feeling with being in the arena.
My gelding had the same problem when I started him. While I'm not sure where it directly stemmed from, I think it has something to do with the feeling of confinement, as it lessened in the outdoor and disappeared in the open. I free lunged him in the arena, simply turned him loose and asked him to canter. I let him figure out things on his own terms. Once he was happy with that, he free lunged tacked. Then, when he seemed comfortable, I got back on and cantered. Whenever he got on the forehand and plowed, I would half halt a few times, then if that didn't work, bring him back to the trot, circled, and ask for the canter again a stride before he reached the rail. This helped him re-balance.
Many horses don't like indoors, especially ones that are fully enclosed. While walking and trotting they are fine, cantering is often a nerve wracking thing, which is quite understandable as horses don't have very good depth perception. (this is the same reason you find horses afraid of water, they simply don't have a good judgment of how deep things are, or how far away they are)
You said he was still high headed outside? This means he is not working well enough from behind to have a nice rounded frame. Really push him up into your hands and ride him forward.
I definitely don't recommend progressing until he is comfortable and working well from behind in the canter, inside and outdoors.
As for the lunging, this was my trainer's suggestion. She would prefer that I be doing that 7 days a week. I guess it's not 20 actual minutes in side reins, but 20 in total on the line. He's generally still going well at the end of a ride, I will admit I do walk a lot between exercises. I try to canter mid ride rather than at the end. Since it's not something we're great at it's not where I want to quit. Though there have been days when he was getting somewhere and I just wanted to bail out of the saddle.
riccil0ve- What you've suggested is the direction I've started working, rather than trying to have him canter all around the ring. I have been working him on the circle making sure he is bending nicely around my leg, even leg yeilding out further, before asking for the canter. However at the moment of asking he panic scrambles into the canter about 3 strides going counterclockwise. I have found asking over a pole produces a nicer canter.
Should I be bringing him back the second he scrambles or continue to ask him to canter?
Outdoors I do a lot of serpitines/cirlces/figure 8s. He is starting to come into my hands at the canter, but he is thankfully not on his forehand in the mean time.
I would like to first welcome you to the forum! I'm sure you'll find it super helpful, as I have and I've only been on here for two months or so.
As far as your horse goes, I think that he might be tired and sore. I have a quick question as to your training. Are you lunging him 4 days a week and then riding him after? You said that you ride 5 days a week, so that means that you lunge 4 days a week before you ride, and not one day a week that you ride? Or do you lunge perhaps 2 days a week without riding and 2 days a week with riding, and the other 3 days of riding without lunging? I get myself confused rather easily...
This brings me to my next question, is he getting any days off a week? Is he getting regular turnout, or is the only "turnout" he gets while you ride him? If so, I think that he is sore and getting sick of work. If you are lunging him in the indoor arena, he is associating hard work with the arena, and hard works isn't much fun to a lot of horses. I would suggest changing where you lunge him, and don't lunge him for very long.
For instance, perhaps you can throw him for a loop by one day only lunging for 5 or 10 minutes, then being done. Or maybe not lunging him at all. Take him in the the indoor and just walk around, maybe trot a little. Sometimes horses just need a break from cantering, I had to do that with my old horse. When you return to work, he will be fresh and more willing to work. I would also suggest more turnout in a pasture (if at all possible) so that he can have time to relax. To me, it seems that he just needs some relaxation.
I hope this all made sense, and helps you out!
I agree with what has been said. I'm curious to why you are working suck a green horse so hard? Does he get any days off? Why do you lunge and then ride almost everyday? Some horse's don't react well to that. Other then that from my own experience some horse's get claustrophobic, which could be one of his issue's in the indoor arena.
Welcome to the thread, I hope you enjoy your stay. :]
Something to remember is that trot to canter transitions are actually very hard on a horse, much harder than a walk to canter transition. Think of the gait, how the legs are moving at the trot, and then at the canter. Then the walk. See how similar the walk is to the canter?
Though he stays quiet when not ridden, his canter work severely back slides if I'm not working him nearly everyday. I do not canter every day undersaddle, more like 2x a week, but I usually work on it on the line each time he is lunged.
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