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I've been having trouble getting the mare I ride to canter. I know it's my riding because her owner can get her to canter in an instant. Even if I kick her pretty hard she won't get out of a fast trot. My instructor has to tell her to canter and even then it takes a while. What can I do? :?: :think:
 

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Are you using different cues than the owner? What cues are you using? Do you use a crop or longer split reins?

Any horse I ride, I use the same cues. First is the squeeze of my calves on their sides. Next is a verbal cue of a cluck or kiss but still squeezing with my calves. Last is to smack with my reins, cluck and squeeze at the same time. If I still can't get the horse to move, I repeat the last part with increasingly harder smacks. Once the horse responds, remove all pressure. Ask, tell, demand but reward when you get the right answer. Then practice, practice, practice.

By chance, if and when the horse does take off into a canter, do you pull back on the reins any? Pay attention next time you try. You may be holding her back by keeping the reins tight in anticipation without thinking about it. That's giving her mixed signals. Otherwise, she is testing you to see if you really mean what you are saying or she knows she can get away with not doing what you ask.
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Assuming you ride English, are you cueing properly? Inside bend, outside leg back, inside leg at the girth? If a horse won't listen to my cues I uses a dressage whip to enforce my cues, usually after the first time I get after them they are good after that.
 

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Agree with all the above - kicking doesn't necessarily mean go faster or change gaits to all horses. See what the horse is expecting and cue accordingly.

And what's your riding skill level? Some horses will refuse to canter if the rider is unbalanced as they don't feel like they can make the transition without their rider tripping or unbalancing them. Self protection, basically.

The next most common mistakes I've seen that will cause a horse to refuse to transition is a rider who is "stepping on the gas and brakes at the same time" (cuing canter but yanking reins), or a rider that continues to post while cuing canter - posting is telling your horse you want to trot, not canter. You need a quiet smooth sitting trot, some horses need their head (give a bit of rein), and a cue they are familiar with in order to transition to the canter.
 

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How I ask for canter...

Get the horse into a really nice working trot, halt halt, keep firm contact on outside rein, flex inside rein to encourage bend, slide outside leg back, keep inside leg on the girth, halt halt again to keep horse at reasonable speed, scoop with inside seat bone, do not tense or pinch body, just ride through the transition.

The scoop is very important. If you only kick, your seat can stop following and then the horse has no idea what you want from it.
 

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A cue is how you ask the horse, so you only kick with the outside leg as your cue? This might be why the horse is refusing to canter, it could also be like a poster said above that you're unbalanced. I know a lot of horses that will not canter if the rider is unbalanced.
 

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This may seem harsh but get a different instructor. If they can't teach you how to tell the horse correctly to move forward, not just kick him in the side, there are other things that they are not teaching you correctly.
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A well trained horse shouldn't need to be kicked, either. The TB I'm riding now doesn't need anything except to give him his head, a slight weight shift, and a tiny squeeze with the calves and he knows exactly what I want...and is off.

The Clydesdale in my avatar? Similar - give him his head, inside leg forward to cue his lead, outside leg back, and he's off.

A light kick is, in my opinion, a "Hey, wake up" tool in my books. Seldom used except when a horse isn't paying enough attention, the same as one would use a crop. If this person trying to teach you is relying on nothing but aggressive kicking and can't explain (or doesn't know ) the proper cues, I agree – consider finding a better instructor. Just wildly kicking without understanding or performing any of the other cues will just **** off the horse, and not all horses are so understanding and patient as this one apparently is - you don't want to learn that the hard way.
 

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Cues? She just tells me to kick w/ outside leg.
I guess kicking with the outside leg may get the job done, but it's nowhere near the soft aids that one should be striving for. It may be a little tricky for you to learn, but there's more to it than just kicking to make them go. I've always been taught that in addition to leg pressure, you should shift your body placement on the horse to encourage them to pick up the lead. Say you're going to be picking up the left lead- keep steady contact without throwing it away or grabbing the reins for support, squeeze with your legs, and shift your weight and leg cues back on the right side. Since you have not been riding for too long, it's probably going to be a trial and error thing until you get it down. Too much instruction could make it confusing, but just kicking the horse on the outside is not the way to go about it. I would guess that a reasonable instructor has given you a couple of other pointers, but when you're going through the learning process only a few things seem to stick in your mind at a time.

Also, make sure that you're moving enough in the trot, and that you're able to maintain a decent trot. If your horse is just plodding along slowly while you plop down on her heavily, then she's not gonna go. The owner may have her moving more, and she has more impulsion with which to pick up the canter. You don't want to have her running into the transition, but she does need to be moving more than a snail!
 

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How I ask for canter...

Get the horse into a really nice working trot, halt halt, keep firm contact on outside rein, flex inside rein to encourage bend, slide outside leg back, keep inside leg on the girth, halt halt again to keep horse at reasonable speed, scoop with inside seat bone, do not tense or pinch body, just ride through the transition.

The scoop is very important. If you only kick, your seat can stop following and then the horse has no idea what you want from it.
This ^^ ! I assume "halt halt" is a typo and should be "half-halt".
This is exactly how I've always been taught to cue for the canter as well by every instructor I've had. I get horses to canter on the first try, whose owners have never gotten them to canter.

By doing what your instructor says, and just kicking, you aren't cuing for a canter. Most horses will go faster when kicked, but I've been on horses that can trot faster than they can canter. "Go faster" doesn't necessarily mean "change gait". Also, buy just kicking to "cue" for a canter, you have no control over which canter lead is taken. If you end up on the outside lead, you have a potentially unbalanced horse, which is not good.
 

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This may seem harsh but get a different instructor. If they can't teach you how to tell the horse correctly to move forward, not just kick him in the side, there are other things that they are not teaching you correctly.
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I have to agree with this. If the only way they can teach you to canter is yell "kick him in the side", then you'll never learn the ability to ride with sublety. All your cues will always be big and you'll end up with horses that ignore them because they're always so big.

In addition to that, others are completely right about the horse sometimes just deciding not to canter if they feel the rider isn't balanced enough for it. The horse I grew up on, if he didn't feel like you were ready for a canter, then you couldn't whip him into one with a strip of barbed wire...and he was a world champion performance horse who only needed a slight flexing of a calf to spring into a lope.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
It's definitely me. My instructor is very good I know because a lot of people say good things about her. The horses owner can get her to canter in an instant without unsubtle cues. It's something about me. Maybe it's my balance. I like that idea. I have bad posture too. I don't know if that would impact it.
 

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This ^^ ! I assume "halt halt" is a typo and should be "half-halt".
This is exactly how I've always been taught to cue for the canter as well by every instructor I've had. I get horses to canter on the first try, whose owners have never gotten them to canter.

By doing what your instructor says, and just kicking, you aren't cuing for a canter. Most horses will go faster when kicked, but I've been on horses that can trot faster than they can canter. "Go faster" doesn't necessarily mean "change gait". Also, buy just kicking to "cue" for a canter, you have no control over which canter lead is taken. If you end up on the outside lead, you have a potentially unbalanced horse, which is not good.
Yes half halt, lol.. my bad.

It's so important to half halt. When you add leg, or even if you slide your leg back, your horse may anticipate and really shoot forward which can be unbalancing. So when you ADD anything, half halt to keep the horse together. Even if your horse is behind your leg and you add leg, you need to half halt. Maybe not as strong, but it does make a huge difference.
 

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It's definitely me. My instructor is very good I know because a lot of people say good things about her. The horses owner can get her to canter in an instant without unsubtle cues. It's something about me. Maybe it's my balance. I like that idea. I have bad posture too. I don't know if that would impact it.
So the instructor isn't the owner - 2 different people? Sorry, I didn't read or understand that.

If the coach is the one instructing you to "kick kick kick kick harder", she may not be as good a coach as you think she is. Don't misinterpret well wishes from others (who may also not know better) as an endorsement of her skills - you could put a bunch of skilled riders in her class and they'd be mortified with her teaching methods.

You should always ask a well trained horse to do something nicely and quietly the first time. It's only if ask doesn't work that you move on to tell which could involve more "direct" cues..but even then, kicking (IMHO) isn't always one of them - at our hunter/jumper barn kicking is STRONGLY discouraged, even chastised by the coaches if it's anything more than a slight "hey, wake up" bump. It's all squeezing, weight shift, rein position, and "pushing all the other buttons", and lastly, a crop used on the hind end as a last resort...and this school has been in business for 30+ years and has trained probably tens of thousands of riders.

Ultimately, (and please don't take it the wrong way) I don't doubt that you being unbalanced is also effecting things, but I would perhaps try to take lessons on a different horse that is more willing/understanding, and then ask to be schooled using more subtle cues. If the coach still insists on kicking (with little else for cues) as a valid method to get to canter without worrying about leads, your body position, your bit contact, etc etc etc, honestly, she may not be a very good coach, so reconsider finding a new barn.

Learning the way you are, some day in your future you are going to get on a horse that was taught properly in the the art of subtle and light cues and bad things could happen. So, what I'm saying, is that you don't want to engrain those types of training methods at the very beginning as they become habit.

I know of several of the high-end horses at our barn that, when coupled with a highly skilled rider, it's like watching poetry in motion - but KICK them and you're coming off either in a buck, or a bolt.
 

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So the instructor isn't the owner - 2 different people? Sorry, I didn't read or understand that.

If the coach is the one instructing you to "kick kick kick kick harder", she may not be as good a coach as you think she is. Don't misinterpret well wishes from others (who may also not know better) as an endorsement of her skills - you could put a bunch of skilled riders in her class and they'd be mortified with her teaching methods.

You should always ask a well trained horse to do something nicely and quietly the first time. It's only if ask doesn't work that you move on to tell which could involve more "direct" cues..but even then, kicking (IMHO) isn't always one of them - at our hunter/jumper barn kicking is STRONGLY discouraged, even chastised by the coaches if it's anything more than a slight "hey, wake up" bump. It's all squeezing, weight shift, rein position, and "pushing all the other buttons", and lastly, a crop used on the hind end as a last resort...and this school has been in business for 30+ years and has trained probably tens of thousands of riders.

Ultimately, (and please don't take it the wrong way) I don't doubt that you being unbalanced is also effecting things, but I would perhaps try to take lessons on a different horse that is more willing/understanding, and then ask to be schooled using more subtle cues. If the coach still insists on kicking (with little else for cues) as a valid method to get to canter without worrying about leads, your body position, your bit contact, etc etc etc, honestly, she may not be a very good coach, so reconsider finding a new barn.

Learning the way you are, some day in your future you are going to get on a horse that was taught properly in the the art of subtle and light cues and bad things could happen. So, what I'm saying, is that you don't want to engrain those types of training methods at the very beginning as they become habit.

I know of several of the high-end horses at our barn that, when coupled with a highly skilled rider, it's like watching poetry in motion - but KICK them and you're coming off either in a buck, or a bolt.
Exactly! The aids are so refined on those horses that if you give an indiscriminate giant kick, then you'd better be well prepared for the reaction! It's really the reason that I don't let inexperienced riders on my horse- he's fine if you know your aids, and he's a safe horse for dead beginners to walk around on in the arena. But if you flop on his back or try to kick him into a canter, then you're gonna have an irritated horse!
 

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Timing. Timing plays a large roll in getting a horse to canter. Ask someone to watch and ride in a fairly large circle. Try to figure out when the inside hind leg touches the ground with a "now". The spotter will correct you. You need to be able to do this until it's second nature. This means you will know when the outside hind hits the ground. It is when it does, your outside leg should be back a little in readiness, that is when to squeeze your calf muscle. Your toe may turn out a little for this. If the horse responds, your signal helps the horse step off with the timing of the stride.
 

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Kicking isn't clean or pretty, and doesn't mean the same thing to every horse. Skyseternalangel properly described the way to cue the average english horse to counter.

Summarized: outside leg, light inside rein.
 

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Speaking from my own experience, it's not always the riders at fault. The horses themselves can be trickier to get going. The 17.2hh Irish Grey I ride is harder to canter as she requires firmer commands such as placing the outside leg backwards. If that fails, we use a whip, not at her but just the instructor holding it paces her on being a hunting horse. I hope you find your solution :)
 
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