Mastering the Canter

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Everywhere I go—whether it’s to clinics, expos, conferences or just riding with friends, there are riders working on mastering the canter. Whether it is a novice rider just figuring out how to cue the horse and keep it going, a rider trying to slow down the gait and smooth out a wild ride or an advanced rider working on collection at the canter and difficult maneuvers like flying lead changes, we all have skills to master at this complicated and exhilarating gait.  And that’s one reason why my canter DVD, Canter with Confidence, is our biggest seller.

I’ve been training horses and riders for several decades now, so I know that people have the same problems with their horses and horses have the same problems with their riders. That’s one reason I started my Training Library years ago and compiling all the questions I get and the answers I gave. In addition to the face-to-face questions, I get emailed questions every day and they even still come by mail occasionally. Most of the questions I’ve already answered or written about so I am always on the lookout for new and unusual questions. Of course each individual’s issues are unique but some of the back stories on the horses or riders reads like a docu-drama. Still, no matter how unusual the question is,  the answers usually fall into a few common themes: leadership, authority, release and use your seat.

The Canter Master DVD shows actual riders working through cantering issues. Working with five different horses and riders—all at different ability levels—I was able to address a multitude of common issues at the canter in a visual format that allows the viewer to see the problem and understand the solution. Our first rider is on a nicely trained horse, a very sweet mare, but she was blasting into the canter at warp speed because the rider was over-cueing, stiffening up and interfering with the horse’s mouth. When I rode the horse, she transitioned very smoothly and cantered slowly. Once I showed the rider how to prepare for the transition and cue the horse systematically and smoothly, she was able to loosen her death-grip on the horn and sit back and actually enjoy the ride!

Our next subject was a really intriguing horse ridden by an up-and-coming young rider. It was a half-Arabian sport horse, and they were showing in Arab shows and huntseat equitation. It was a gorgeous horse, very athletic and very forward and each time the boy cued for canter the horse would launch into a bucking fit and run like a freight train. Bucking and/or running through the bridle at the canter are common problems and there can be many causes—sometimes rider induced, often stemming from physical problems in the horse. But in this case, it was an extremely common rider-horse co-dependence—a chicken and egg thing between the horse and rider (was the horse causing the rider to do that or was the rider causing the horse to do that?). Regardless od=f the cause, the cycle needed breaking and only that rider can do that. The solution was in first teaching the horse to lower its head and get rid of the stiff and bracing neck he had developed from years of being pulled on because he was going too fast. Then to get the rider to use his seat and not his legs to cue the horse and to give the horse the release he needs. You’ll see a big transformation in a short time.

For the next short story on this video we shift from a teenage boy with a bucking horse to a 60-something lady and her gorgeous show horse who are working on collection at the canter. I loved working with this rider who had recovered from several back surgeries and was still actively competing. Teaching her to use her seat, legs and hands together in a soft rhythm in timing with the stride of the horse, she was able to slow down and round up her horse and smooth out the gait.

Rounding out the video, is perhaps one of the most common questions I get about the canter—how do I get my horse to do a flying lead change? Well, if it were that easy, anyone could do it, right? First you must have all the pre-requisite skills like perfect canter departures, leg yielding, collection, etc.; the rider in this case was ready, on a horse that she had raised and trained herself. But every time she asked for the lead change, her horse would  change to a cross-canter, if he responded at all—very common issues. The horse actually changed really well for me, it turned out he just needed more of a pre-signal from the rider (the most common fix for lead change problems). By breaking the preparation and cue down for the rider, she was able to make the leap and do some great changes.

Do any of these issues ring a bell for you? How about all you instructors out there—do you think people and horses struggle with the same old issues and if so, are we getting any better at teaching it?

Enjoy the ride!

Julie