Improving Teddy's canter - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 21 Old 03-03-2020, 06:39 PM Thread Starter
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Improving Teddy's canter

Iíve been working on the canter with both Pony and Teddy. They each have different issues. This is a discussion of Teddyís issues. I think weíve largely (not entirely) worked through Teddyís anxiety issues, and heís getting much much better picking up his left lead; now there are three issues that Iím feeling: balance, consistency, and collection.

Balance: heís off balance, especially in turns. I think this was part of what was making him anxious. We switched to riding in the large (approx. 40 x 50 meter) arena and just doing lots of super big circles, so that he can canter and not worry about tight turns. He is still tends to lean in a lot in some places.

Consistency: his canter is fast, slow, medium, way too fast, scrambly, collected, smooth, and ragged, all in a 60-second span. Some of this is no doubt related to balance issues and may also represent residual anxiety. Heís also fairly out of practice with the canter, since weíve only been working on it consistently for a few months; before that, it had probably been 1.5 years since he had done much cantering! (I put an exclamation mark here because I canít believe he hadnít been cantered with a rider in 1.5 years, but itís true).

Collection: no surprise, there isnít a lot of collection to his canter. He does have moments of collection, where he slows down and I can feel his back legs get under him and he sits up straighter (so happy that I can feel that now!) but he wants to follow this up by dropping out of the canter. I can push him forward when he does it, but when I do, he tends to pick up the pace and lose the collection. And I feel like Iím sort of punishing him for the collection (ďSpeed up!Ē) when I want to be rewarding him for it (ďGood boy, now keep on going!Ē).

What my instructor is having me do right now is just canter him around the big arena, many laps in a row. To sort of try to let him work through some of these issues himself, without me fussing at him with aids or asking him to do anything except keep going. So thatís what weíre doing. I like the idea, but Iím wondering which of these issues you guys would work on next, and how I would know heís ready to work on them.

Of course I'll ask the instructor as well, but this is the travelling instructor who only comes once every week or two.
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post #2 of 21 Old 03-03-2020, 06:54 PM
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I'm in the same spot with my mare. I have to say that building strength in general by going for long trots down trails really improved her canter as well, by building the muscles to help make her more balanced and collected before she even canters. I don't think I cantered her at all for three or four months as we were spending 100% of our time on trails just trotting, and her canter after those months was incredibly improved as compared to how she was cantering before that. To add onto that, I've been letting her canter without fussing over her and that is helping her find her own rhythm and balance as well.
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post #3 of 21 Old 03-03-2020, 08:06 PM
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Collection is the last thing that will come after everything else comes together, as will acceptance of the bit. Right now he will need his head to figure out his balance, but you can provide supportive contact to help him out. When his balance, suppleness and rhythm are consistent, I can promise you that his head will start to come into position. You certainly do not want him in a frame without balance and rhythm because then he would simply be holding in his head and not actually using himself properly. Do not worry about his head right now and instead worry about what his body is doing. If he relaxes into the bit without you asking, then that is fantastic and tells you that is where his body needs to be at!

Quote:
What my instructor is having me do right now is just canter him around the big arena, many laps in a row. To sort of try to let him work through some of these issues himself, without me fussing at him with aids or asking him to do anything except keep going. So thatís what weíre doing. I like the idea, but Iím wondering which of these issues you guys would work on next, and how I would know heís ready to work on them.
While I see why this could help some, I'm personally not a big fan of doing laps of canter. I've found it is okay for horses just learning the canter, but does not do much for those working on building the proper muscles for balance, straightness, suppleness etc. I much prefer doing small spurts of canter with circles, off the rail and lots of transitions. I've found it is much less frustrating for both rider and horse. My reason for doing smaller spurts of canter vs laps is because I have more control over the horse's balance to develop the proper musculature rather than riding laps trying, but not fully succeeding with keeping the horse using the right muscles.


As you mention, he is off balance in turns and I'd imagine difficult to stand up with the inside leg. You also mention he is leaning in (dropping his inside shoulder through the turn). You may need to lift the inside rein while using your inside leg to help balance him.
Instead of practicing the canter continuously, I think it may be more beneficial to ask him to canter in sequences. To ask for a canter going into a corner on a 20m circle. Prior to asking, make sure he is adequately balanced into the outside rein and moving off your inside leg. As you move from trot-canter, keep this connection with the outside rein by using the inside leg. Canter a few strides, then ask him to slow (sit tall, wrap leg and close hands on reins) and move back down to a trot. Gather him back up at the trot, then ask for another canter.

Quote:
Consistency: his canter is fast, slow, medium, way too fast, scrambly, collected, smooth, and ragged, all in a 60-second span. Some of this is no doubt related to balance issues and may also represent residual anxiety. Heís also fairly out of practice with the canter, since weíve only been working on it consistently for a few months; before that, it had probably been 1.5 years since he had done much cantering! (I put an exclamation mark here because I canít believe he hadnít been cantered with a rider in 1.5 years, but itís true).
Yes, this is no doubt related to balance issues and lack of strength in the muscles he needs to hold that balance with a rider. This is another reason I think you could benefit from doing the canter in sequences - to build the proper muscle prior to riding longer duration of canter.

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Quote:
Iím wondering which of these issues you guys would work on next, and how I would know heís ready to work on them.
To answer this question, the above is more so working on balance, but whichever you work on first would depend. If he often breaks in the canter by slowing and this has impeded progress, then I would work on consistency/ rhythm first with some sort of cruising exercise. But, you mention he can be a bit anxious at the canter so he may click better with working on balance first and slowly adding speed as he builds muscle. Personally, I've found the latter to work best for most horses. You can always work on getting him more forward later on and you'd have better control over what his body is doing this way.
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Last edited by Jolly101; 03-03-2020 at 08:19 PM.
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post #4 of 21 Old 03-03-2020, 09:33 PM
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The canter is the gait that is the most difficult to improve. That is why you watch a prospective horse at all gaits, but pay special attention to the canter, because if it sucks, it will always be a bit 'sucky'.


But, you CAN improve it some. yes, you can. and you do that by improving his trot, which is eminantly improvable. This is what my dressage trainer said.



I think she meant that the exersizes that help a hrose become stronger and more balanced (especially this) should be done at the trot mostly, and once your horse is balanced at the trot, you will find that the canter more or less falls into place.


Unbalanced at the canter has a lot to do with stiffness; either in the poll, or the hindend, or both. So, building some flexiblility in the poll would be the rock bottom place to start . . . at the walk.


I don't mean curling over, I mean a very gently flexion to the inside as you ask for a walk on a circle. look for the big jaw to sort of 'tuck into' the neck, at the whole head swivels to the inside such that you can see the inside eye, just a bit.


step two is getting step one AND some lateral movement where the shoulders do not fall toward the inside of the circle. Nor does the neck 'break' at the shoulder, like a semi truck jack knifing.


Once horse can do this on a circle, and perhaps spiral out, and in, at the trot, you will have a horse whose balance is much better. Get this good, and I guarantee you his canter will be better.
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post #5 of 21 Old 03-03-2020, 10:29 PM
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Canter work is fun!!

So, what you are describing is totally normal in a horse that is out of condition and hasn't been cantered in 1.5 yrs. Holding collection is hard, and he just doesn't have the muscle strength yet.

So help him out by changing within and between the gaits.

Begin with walk, so he understands what you are doing. Slow walk, medium walk, extended walk. Do this for a couple of circles, each direction.

Then between the gaits; w/t/c do this also for a couple of circles, both directions

repeat.

Then at trot; slow, working, extended

w/t/c

Walk sets, trot sets then can add canter sets (slow, working, extended) after a week or so.

Another good exercise is to spiral in and out on the circle in all three gaits.

Finally, you can set up four cones approximately 5 meters off the rail, spaced out evenly, like corners on a square.

First at walk, walk around the rail, and every time you come to a cone, do a small (10 meter) circle around the cone, then continue on. Once he understands, then do it at trot and finally canter. If he breaks into trot around the cone, that is ok. Reward any try, and move the cones farther out if necessary.

Endless circles, especially that large (40x50 meters) is not really teaching him anything.

If you can rate his pace, and gait, back and forth, he will be listening to you and learning. The changes of pace within the gait is the way to teach beginning collection and balance.

Hilda Gurney once said "Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect."

Endless circles at canter is not perfect practice. Trying to force collection when the horse is not strong enough or thinking forward is not fair to the horse and will increase his anxiety.

Praise early and often, so he knows what you are asking.
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post #6 of 21 Old 03-04-2020, 09:29 AM
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If you are comfortable or know someone who can help- I would go back to longeing. I donít like to ride a horse until they can do it without a person on their back. Putting in some time with him cantering on the longe, until he is strong enough to hold it and is cantering really solidly can help prevent some of the flailing I see unconditioned horses do. Riding a flail is not fun and can be hard to focus on improving.

And for the inexperienced rider, they just donít have the capability to ride the canter enough to fix it.

I start with Longeing without sidereins until the he figures out the canter and builds some muscle- 1/2 weeks. And then add side reins to help shape the balance better.

You can then climb on to work on w/t, but give it a few weeks for him to build muscle memory on how the canter should feel and to strengthen his back and stifles.

One of my mares is weak in her stifles and she requires a few weeks every spring to strengthen her back up again for cantering with a person. And this is a very well trained performance mare. She just gets the winters here off because of ice and needs the PT to be physically able to do the work.
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post #7 of 21 Old 03-04-2020, 06:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tinyliny View Post
The canter is the gait that is the most difficult to improve. That is why you watch a prospective horse at all gaits, but pay special attention to the canter, because if it sucks, it will always be a bit 'sucky'.
Actually the trot is the hardest gait to improve, not the canter. The canter can gain cadence, length, and strength moreso than a trot. I can influence a good canter and teach more there than a trot. Most dressage instructors I've worked with at the upper level have been of this mindset as well.
Quote:
Originally Posted by AnitaAnne View Post
Canter work is fun!!

So, what you are describing is totally normal in a horse that is out of condition and hasn't been cantered in 1.5 yrs. Holding collection is hard, and he just doesn't have the muscle strength yet.

So help him out by changing within and between the gaits.

Begin with walk, so he understands what you are doing. Slow walk, medium walk, extended walk. Do this for a couple of circles, each direction.

Then between the gaits; w/t/c do this also for a couple of circles, both directions

repeat.

Then at trot; slow, working, extended

w/t/c

Walk sets, trot sets then can add canter sets (slow, working, extended) after a week or so.

Another good exercise is to spiral in and out on the circle in all three gaits.

Finally, you can set up four cones approximately 5 meters off the rail, spaced out evenly, like corners on a square.

First at walk, walk around the rail, and every time you come to a cone, do a small (10 meter) circle around the cone, then continue on. Once he understands, then do it at trot and finally canter. If he breaks into trot around the cone, that is ok. Reward any try, and move the cones farther out if necessary.

Endless circles, especially that large (40x50 meters) is not really teaching him anything.

If you can rate his pace, and gait, back and forth, he will be listening to you and learning. The changes of pace within the gait is the way to teach beginning collection and balance.

Hilda Gurney once said "Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect."

Endless circles at canter is not perfect practice. Trying to force collection when the horse is not strong enough or thinking forward is not fair to the horse and will increase his anxiety.

Praise early and often, so he knows what you are asking.
I wouldn't suggest any of this, especially at the bold. First off, a 10m circle is a highly advanced dressage move, not introduced until a mid level except for the half 10m from the rail to x. But I don't agree with that in the novice eventing test anyhow.
A circle that small won't really teach him anything other than 'my head is now curled in, my body is falling, and now my anxiety is back!'

As for spiraling, once again something I would do with a more schooled up horse. I use it for definition of the lateral aid prior to lateral work on young horses and for strength training in horses with bad stifles. For this horse, who cannot balance on a 40m circle, spiraling down would result in the above mentioned anxiety peak.

Her trainer is correct, and I'll explain more below.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dehda01 View Post
If you are comfortable or know someone who can help- I would go back to longeing. I donít like to ride a horse until they can do it without a person on their back. Putting in some time with him cantering on the longe, until he is strong enough to hold it and is cantering really solidly can help prevent some of the flailing I see unconditioned horses do. Riding a flail is not fun and can be hard to focus on improving.

And for the inexperienced rider, they just donít have the capability to ride the canter enough to fix it.

I start with Longeing without sidereins until the he figures out the canter and builds some muscle- 1/2 weeks. And then add side reins to help shape the balance better.

You can then climb on to work on w/t, but give it a few weeks for him to build muscle memory on how the canter should feel and to strengthen his back and stifles.
This. THIS THIS THIS! Why do from the saddle what doing from the ground will be better? Horses need consistency. If you are not solid on even knowing how to correct the issues at hand, you need to extract yourself from the equation.

So, to me, all of this is rider fault. Two of your horses having a left lead issue is a red flag, as most horses aren't that similar. That means your right side is the weaker side when riding, most likely. I have no photos or videos, so I don't know for sure.
His leaning in on the shoulder is probably from you leaning your shoulder in to get the lead and then staying there in an attempt to keep it. You aren't doing it on purpose, but with green horses these sorts of mistakes make differences. Anything your body does influences their body.
How is your brain through all of this, as well? Are you thinking 'we have to keep the lead, why is he speeding up, why is he slowing down, we won't be able to make that turn?' Or are you thinking, 'ride straight, keep my leg, allow what happens to happen then correct it kindly and explain the situation.' ? Horses like this need calm, simple answers and just a small amount of work. If he does one corner well, pat and be done on the issue! You are here to build his confidence, not yours in your ability to retrain a horse. That is how you should approach every ride.
And trust me, a lot of this you're doing subconsciously - I think we all do when we work with our first few greenies!

Secondly, the 'endless circles' are a good thing. Your trainer seems to be wanting you to take the time to allow Teddy to figure himself out. With inexperienced horses, a lot of it is letting them to figure themselves out until you can start to mold the correct things they do into aids. He's going to be fast and slow and discombobulated for a bit - he isn't sure where to put his feet along with your weight. LET HIM! Unless it is a danger to you or him, let him make mistakes, especially if they make him uncomfortable.
When teaching hunters lead changes, if they don't give it to us or give us a half hearted one and only swap in front, we still canter on to the next jump and make them jump it. Horse will put together that 'oh wow that was uncomfortable and obviously the wrong answer to the question I was just asked' and try something different.
That 'different' may be a huge buck, but you keep on going until they do the right thing, praise them heavily and be done for the day. The next day if they do it right, you do it again. Build on the foundation, not the action.

I'd highly suggest lunging if you are highly capable. I mean knowing how to fit side reins without asking online, knowing how to drive forward and whoa and hold everything without getting tangled or looking down.
If not, I'd really work on this with a trainer more.
I apologize if this comes off offensive, but coming to an online forum isn't great or even close to equal to training advice, especially with no videos. You need a trainer there more than you have one currently, especially if you're this inexperienced with green horses. I don't want anyone getting injured or hurt - horses like this are more prone to injury as they aren't really thinking great for themselves yet.

As an aside - I'd HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend you open your reading pool and start studying up if this is something you continue to pursue. Paul Belasik has amazing books. I'd suggest Nature Nurture and Horsemanship first and then go from there.
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post #8 of 21 Old 03-04-2020, 06:59 PM Thread Starter
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So, to me, all of this is rider fault. Two of your horses having a left lead issue is a red flag, as most horses aren't that similar. That means your right side is the weaker side when riding, most likely. I have no photos or videos, so I don't know for sure.
Actually I started a poll for this and was surprised that, at least on this forum, three times as many horses were good to the right as to the left. So at least in this small sample size, I would say that most horses ARE that similar. Also I haven't written much about Moonshine, who is better in the other direction.

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Originally Posted by Interstellar View Post

His leaning in on the shoulder is probably from you leaning your shoulder in to get the lead and then staying there in an attempt to keep it. You aren't doing it on purpose, but with green horses these sorts of mistakes make differences.
This was something I had to work on with Pony. I had to lean to the outside to get the correct lead. So, despite your assumptions, it is something I am aware of.

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Originally Posted by Interstellar View Post

Secondly, the 'endless circles' are a good thing. Your trainer seems to be wanting you to take the time to allow Teddy to figure himself out. With inexperienced horses, a lot of it is letting them to figure themselves out until you can start to mold the correct things they do into aids.
Yes that's what I'm going for, however it appears the majority of respondents did not agree with that.

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I'd highly suggest lunging if you are highly capable. I mean knowing how to fit side reins without asking online, knowing how to drive forward and whoa and hold everything without getting tangled or looking down.
If not, I'd really work on this with a trainer more.
I apologize if this comes off offensive, but coming to an online forum isn't great or even close to equal to training advice, especially with no videos. You need a trainer there more than you have one currently, especially if you're this inexperienced with green horses. I don't want anyone getting injured or hurt - horses like this are more prone to injury as they aren't really thinking great for themselves yet.
I have lunged him a few times. I found it personally very rewarding. However, the trainer does not feel like there is value in lunging him more at this time, plus of course you are no doubt aware that going around and around in smallish circles over and over again is neither interesting nor healthy for horses.

I disagree with your assessment of the value of online forums, as I have generally found the members here to be extremely helpful in answering questions such as this. Also, you are assuming he is a green horse. He is not a green horse. He is a trained horse who unfortunately has large holes in his training. I have worked him through many of them, with the help of trainers, books, and this forum, and I believe I can work him through this one as well. Hence my seeking advice on the topic.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Interstellar View Post
As an aside - I'd HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend you open your reading pool and start studying up if this is something you continue to pursue. Paul Belasik has amazing books. I'd suggest Nature Nurture and Horsemanship first and then go from there.
Of course you don't know me, but .... yes, I may have read one or two books on horsemanship.
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post #9 of 21 Old 03-04-2020, 07:53 PM
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Originally Posted by ACinATX View Post
Actually I started a poll for this and was surprised that, at least on this forum, three times as many horses were good to the right as to the left. So at least in this small sample size, I would say that most horses ARE that similar. Also I haven't written much about Moonshine, who is better in the other direction.



This was something I had to work on with Pony. I had to lean to the outside to get the correct lead. So, despite your assumptions, it is something I am aware of.



Yes that's what I'm going for, however it appears the majority of respondents did not agree with that.



I have lunged him a few times. I found it personally very rewarding. However, the trainer does not feel like there is value in lunging him more at this time, plus of course you are no doubt aware that going around and around in smallish circles over and over again is neither interesting nor healthy for horses.

I disagree with your assessment of the value of online forums, as I have generally found the members here to be extremely helpful in answering questions such as this. Also, you are assuming he is a green horse. He is not a green horse. He is a trained horse who unfortunately has large holes in his training. I have worked him through many of them, with the help of trainers, books, and this forum, and I believe I can work him through this one as well. Hence my seeking advice on the topic.



Of course you don't know me, but .... yes, I may have read one or two books on horsemanship.
Helpful is one thing, correct in ways of training is another.

A green horse is any horse who is lacking in the tools to answer simple questions, such as a correct lead, without knowing the answer himself. I consider not being able to pick up, maintain and come out of the walk, trot, and canter easily very, very green. These are the simplest parts of a horse's toolbox that must be in place before you can introduce them to anything else.
Just as the rider's leg position is the most important, a horse's ease in the gaits is vital to training.

Horses are not inherently better one way or another, I really think it has to do with the person training/backing them and goes from there. But I don't have actual science to back me up, but that's that.
Humans are also stronger to the right (statistically more people are right handed than left), weaker to the left. Stronger right hand to "lift" the shoulder, stronger right leg to push to the outside leg for the canter aid, so a lot of horses get the right lead a tad easier.
We also think our right side is obviously stronger so don't work it as much. I have three horses who are strong left leaders, but that doesn't lead me to believe that every horse is strong that way - it makes me think I probably drop my right hand because it's my dominant and pull with it more, which shows itself in the right lead more than the left.

On leaning - leaning around to get a lead is counter intuitive. It won't help in the long run, it just helps in throwing the horse's balance off. Instead of helping them build the correct muscles, you're teaching them to rely on you to tell them which way to go. The outside leg being just a few inches back should be the only change in one's position in a canter transition.

On lunging - it isn't mindlessly going around in circles, and as you think that you have never worked a horse properly on the lunge, nor seen it done. It is an incredible training tool, when done correctly. The book I suggested isn't on 'horsemanship.' It's on the classical way of training a horse. Which begins on the lunge.
Paul Belasik starts his horses on the lunge and has never been bucked off or had huge explosions on his horses when beginning to back them. Nor has he EVER had a front end injury on a horse he has bred and/or trained himself at his farm.
I think that should speak volumes on its own.
Lunging is a way for a horse to understand your aids without the added weight on their back. It's a way to take down the risk factor and really spell things out, as well as help training tools. It's a lot easier for a horse to canter around all disjointed on a lunge line and figure out it's really uncomfortable and then figure out what's correct and how to fix it themselves.
Things I wasn't able to fix in months in the saddle I took to a lunge line and could fix in a week - because it was a tool I used correctly.
Contrary to what many people who incorrectly use lunging as a tool think, it is one of the greatest tools in the rider's tool box, next to long-lining. But that is very advanced and hard to master.

I go back to my previous post. I implore you to read up on the classical masters and what is correct from a training and riding perspective. Not horsemanship. Not newfangled doodads. Just solid, classical dressage. As well as books on the biomechanics of the equine.

Gerd Heuschmenn
Paul Belasik
Xenophon
Alois Podhajsky
Gustav Steinbrecht
Bertalan de Nemethy
General Decarpentry
George Morris (for rider position re: the forward seat riding method)

These authors and their countless books are the foundation for training any and every horse, and you can find many more answers in them than any person on a forum could ever present you. Any good trainer is working off these books from their personal collection, as well.
I had the privilege of having a student of Paul Belasik's as my mentor and trainer up to fourth level and got to ride under him a few years ago. He far and away is the real deal, and all of these other masters are his muse. He is the most easy to read, but all of the books they have written are worth more than anything, even anything I've written - even though it is an amalgamation of all of their works plus some first hand know how.
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post #10 of 21 Old 03-04-2020, 09:31 PM
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I've read a bit of Paul Belasik. He's great. However, if the student has not come to that position yet, they will not be able to understand what is said. As I don't know the OP, I cannot say if she will get much out of reading him. It's certainly worth a try.


As to lunging as a form of training . . . . I feel that unless you have someone guiding you in making lunging an actual learning experience for both horse and handler, it can become just a lot of the horse running around, leaning against the line, becoming upstruperous and basically training in negative behaviors.



Real lunging , as per the European tradition of lunging , is an artform. It needs to be taught, one on one. That's my opinion.


All the years I've been on this forum (something like 11 years), I've always tried to take into account the 'student's' ability to recieve any advice given here. It's true that we digital friends can only offer so much, but, we can offer encouragement, and hints.



When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
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