Issues From The Saddle: Foxtrotter Won’t Canter On The Beach

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Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: Hi Julie,

I have an 8 year old Fox Trotter; he works well in the Bridleless bit, is well trained in ground work and great on the trail, he’s very smart and spirited. Modoc loves to do a fantastic running walk on the beach. My problem is I can’t get him to gallop on the beach, touching with the spurs or spanking with a crop just gets him trotting super fast (it’s a great smooth trot though). My question is what cue do I use to get him into a nice gallop? I have no desire to jab him with spurs or pummel him with a crop, there must be a better way. The one thing I have learned in this horse experience is that it is always ME who needs the training.

Thank You.
Sue Martin, Prunedale CA

Answer: Sue,

I am so glad you have already learned that all-important lesson! Some people never learn it and go on blaming their horse for their own deficiencies. But in this case, it is probably not you or your horse at fault, as much as the situation that is causing the problem.
My guess is that the reason why your horse does not want to canter on the beach is a physical one. From what you describe, he seems like a cooperative and obedient horse—so I don’t think he is being obstinate.

When he is doing the running walk or even trotting, he has at least two or three feet on the ground all the time—to distribute his weight and keep him from sinking in too much. When the horse canters, he first pushes all of his body weight on his outside hind leg; then at the end of the stride, all of his body weight is suspended on his inside fore-leg. My guess is that in the soft sand, with all his body weight on one leg, he is sinking into the sand too deep and it is either scaring him or hurting him (or both).

It sounds like your horse is perfectly willing to move forward in other instances, so that makes me think he just cannot canter comfortably in the deep sand. You could get a little more demanding of him when you are on a hard-packed surface but I wouldn’t push it in the deep sand. Also keep in mind that the canter is not generally the best gait for gaited horses—often it has been discouraged in their training, in an effort to “set” the horse in his other gaits, like the foxtrot. So this could also be a contributing factor as well—he may not only have developed his canter, but he may think it is wrong for him to do.

If your horse is cantering well for you in other instances, my guess is that he just cannot do it in the deep sand and I’d just stick with his lovely running walk when you are on the beach. If you are also having trouble with the canter in solid footing, then you need to work on it there first. My Canter with Confidence DVD goes into great detail in understanding the gait (footfalls and rhythm), how to cue, how to set your horse up for his leads and correct lead problems, how to collect the canter and all the way up to lead changes. If you need some work on the gait in general, I’d look there first.

Good luck and enjoy the beach for me!
Julie

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