The last two sessions were the walk and the trot, so now on to the canter! This can be an exciting gear for us since it’s an upward shift in how it feels on the body. For those of you who might find this to be too quick-feeling, you could always try riding a bike and letting the speed sensation of the bicycle help you acclimate your body to the speed sensation of the canter. It’s also nice to go really fast and have breaks! When you're working with a young horse, retraining, or working with an OTTB, this canter time can be pretty exciting!
The canter is a 3-beat gait with a moment of suspension. It reminds me of being on a boat going over gentle waves, but sometimes those waves get confused and choppy feeling, so it’s important to realize that this gait needs work and time to develop strength and balance. For my OTTB, I like to use a pole or cavalletti on the lowest setting on the center line (aligned long ways along the centerline with ends pointing towards letters A and C). I put the pole near letters R and S, and P and V. That way I can incorporate them-or not-in three 20m circles. I can also ride a loop from K to B to H with the poles incorporated at a trot.
For preparing the canter, I like to use the poles to gauge how the horse is listening to me at the walk and trot. I pick up the left trot over the pole, and if my OTTB mare keeps a steady pace trotting up to, over, and beyond the pole, I smile and move on. Generally, though, the first few times it takes a few tries. Especially after the pole, there’s a bit of speed up in the trot pace so I re-enforce my aids but by doing a few different things – like a downward transition to a walk or halt after the pole, or being a bit stronger in my seat half-halts, especially over and after the pole so I create the pace I want the horse to maintain. Thankfully I have a pretty smart mare so every session she gets this with fewer fixes.
After I can keep the trot steady on the bending line of the circle, I add the canter depart after the pole. The pole and the bending line help me keep my mare bent in the direction of the canter lead that I want. So, since I was trotting left, I want to pick up a left-lead canter. Generally, she’s pretty good at this with a few balancing half halts to steady into a nice 3 beat canter. I know she’s got another gear she would love to show me but I want her to learn to carry this one with minimum interruption from me unless I ask. Now the right for her is a lot harder, and this is where I depend on the pole a little more since I really have to be strict with myself and maintain my position right to get the canter depart as soon as I clear the pole. I actually swivel my seat so I have right-bend positioning prior to the pole, and then I add a little more muscle pressure over the pole and ask for the canter. Generally if I don’t allow her to straighten my position or straighten out underneath me, I get a nice clear, balanced right-lead canter depart.
The nice thing about this exercise is with the poles, it helps you either hold an entire circle in a gait or break the circles into parts so you can really gymnasticize the horse and tune them to your aids. You can also leg yield out and go to the outside of the pole and make the circle bigger. Or you can use your outside leg and leg yield to the inside of the pole and start a spiral in and out, and then pick up the canter again-either with or without the pole-to see how the horse is transferring the understanding of a bent canter depart. It’s also useful to shorten or lengthen strides before and after the pole at the trot and canter so you can teach the horse to come back or go forward to your aids. So, lots of ways you can use this exercise to work on your canter departs and balance. Have fun and enjoy the canter!
Stay tuned for next week’s Two-minute Training Tip! If you need help building a training plan you can always email me questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out revelationfarm.com for upcoming events. Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RevelationFm!