Building the Canter
Building the Canter When we have a young or green horse, building the canter is something that we need to spend time thinking on, as it often becomes an issue with the young horse, and in turn can become an issue for the rider. What I see happen fairly regularly is the young horse being taken from ‘building the canter’ in his start under saddle, to then being expected to do correct leads and canter circles, without much thought to how we can build this for the horse, and the physical and mental toll on the horse.
Here is a timeline on how I build the canter for my horses, so they remain confident in the gait, whilst learning how to carry themselves correctly, with the rider in place.
Build the canter cue
Firstly, while online, and at liberty, I am going to build a very clear cue that asks the horse to canter. I personally like to use my voice (a smooch / kiss). By building the cue online and at liberty, and not using that cue at anytime other than when I want the horse to canter, from the very beginning I have a clear way of telling the horse what it is that I am wanting, so there isn’t confusion and the horse simply trotting faster when I ask for the canter. The objective: Understanding
Build the gait, without the rider
Spending time online cantering, allows the horse to ‘find his feet’ in the canter, and introduces the concept of the canter being on a circle. It is important here to note that the smaller the circle, the more difficult it is for the horse to learn to balance, and what we are trying to achieve at this point is the horses confidence in the gait. Ideally you would have a good sized roundyard, or teach the horse to canter around you on a long lead (22 ft or above). *note – only ask the horse to do 2 or 3 circles in succession before changing something, you don’t want to promote the horse looking to the outside, falling to the forehand or simply ‘switching off’ in the gait. We want him present and building confidence in the gait at all times. The objective: Confidence.
Build the gait, with the rider.
When we start to build the canter for our horse that is just getting started under saddle, we ask for a few strides of canter (using our cue), and then reward (by resting or quitting the session). We are only worried about the canter being willing and free – we are not worried about leads at this point. It is important to note that we do not need the horse to go faster to get into the canter. It is built from a ‘normal’ trotting pace. I generally build the canter in an arena so I can do it on a straight line, as often building the canter in a roundyard, causes its own issue of a lack of balance. We would continue this process for quite some time – each time we may ask for a few more strides, until the horse is confidently cantering with the rider when asked. I can start to introduce a leg to build the concept of asking for the correct lead, but I am not going to punish the horse for taking an incorrect lead. The more room I can give my horse in this the better – if I try to use a smaller circle (even 20 metres is small), or turn corners I am adding an element into the canter early. The objective: Confidence in canter with Rider
Build the curve Once we have the horse happily cantering with the rider, we can begin to introduce the concept of the curve, and start talking about correct leads. Firstly I am going to ask the horse to canter in his bigger space / straight line, and then I am going to ask the horse to take a curve / corner with me. In the first sessions I am only going to ask for a corner (i.e 1/4 of a circle). We are now introducing the concept of steering to the horse during the gait, and the concept of remaining balanced while turning a corner. As he builds confidence in the curve, we can add in a 2nd curve (for example cantering around the short side of the arena – so a 1/2 20 metre circle). Objective: Receiving messages (turn) in canter, and staying balanced in the curve.
Building Correct Leads
Once he is confident in the curves, we can start to build correct leads.
Firstly when I am asking for leads, I am going to have the horse comfortably doing ‘quarters in’ and ‘shoulder in’ which is part of the young horse starting process – independence of shoulders and hindquarters. Then, I am going to use my body position to set the horse up for a correct lead, and then I am going to ask him to canter off, while heading into a curve – this way he will find it more logical to go on the ‘correct lead’ as he is heading in that direction, but I have used my body to put his body in the correct shape first. For example, im trotting down the long side of the arena to the left, I am approaching the end of the arena, and I ask my horse for a quarters in, then, as we hit the curve, I ask for a canter depart. If the horse does not take the correct lead, I immediately stop the canter, and re ask on the next curve (or I circle back) It is very important to note – we are not stopping him for punishment, and we are not chasing him back up into the canter, we are merly setting him back up to take the correct lead. When he takes the correct lead, we reward him by allowing him to travel a short distance in the canter, and then stopping to rest. The Objective: Understanding body position means a specific lead.
Once the horse is understanding the correct leads, understanding to balance around corners, and understanding how to receive messages (cues) in the canter, we can start to ask the horse to remain balanced and consistent in the canter. Circles can cause the horse to lean (motorbike) in the canter, and once this is established, it can be difficult to fix. The way we can build the horse in self carriage, and he can learn how to maintain balance on the circle is to build to full circles. Firstly I build on the work I have already done. Here are the exercises I use, and why.
I start by asking the horse to canter on the correct lead, and then I ride a rectangle. Riding a rectangle provides a curve for the horse to maintain his balance on (the corner) and then gives him a straight to re-establish balance, and so on. The beauty of the rectangle is that you have 2 long sides (longer rest) and 2 short sides (higher intensity).
As the horse develops confidence and balance in the rectangles, I start riding squares. Squares offer 4 even sides, and I can make the square smaller as the horse gains more balance. Generally I start at a 30 metre square, and come down in 5 metre increments until I can ride a 20 meter square at the canter. Ovals The oval is where I start to build my circle – each end of the oval is a half circle, again I start at around 30 metres, and then come down to 20 metre 1/2 circles at each end. As the horse learns to carry himself, and balance on the circles, I can make the straight lines of the oval shorter and shorter, until I have developed a circle.
Circles are something we need to have in our horses, however I never get to the point where I only ride circles. I prefer squares and as my horses ability and skill level increases, I will increase the difficulty and intensity level.
I hope this info sheet has given you some ideas in how to build the correct leads and balance while preserving the horses confidence in the canter under saddle. Feel free to share, Tanja Kraus Tanja Kraus Horsemanship Po Box 456 Coffs Harbour NSW 2450 0412 592 033 firstname.lastname@example.org facebook.com/tanjakraushorsemanship www.horsemanshipforperformance.com