Canter Leads

I had a very satisfying lesson this week; one which made me realise how much I enjoy my job.

In the last lesson with this pair, I first asked to see their canter. We’d been focusing on the trot work and rider position up until then, but I wanted to get an insight to the canter so I could plan the next few lessons.

Right canter was great. Yes, a bit green and unbalanced, but the horse was willing and could maintain canter around the arena, which when you’re 18.2hh is quite a feat! However, left canter was another story. In fact, it didn’t exist!

The horse insisted on picking up right canter, despite being asked correctly and in a corner. After a few attempts, he changed his lead in front, but continued to be disunited. Then I learnt that he has never done left canter. He’s always refused. His rider said that on the lunge he picks up right canter then changes, however when we looked into it further, we came to the conclusion that he only changes in front to the left canter, never behind.

After a few futile attempts everyone was getting tired, so we abandoned it, but I gave my rider homework of lunging in a smaller area (she split the 40x20m in half using jumps) to see if her horse could be persuaded to discover left canter on his own.

It’s been a few weeks since that lesson what with work shifts, sarcoid operations, but this week we were back to it.

Canter had improved on the lunge in that the horse was much more balanced and supple, although still staying disunited on the left rein. He was now changing his front legs almost immediately in the canter.

After some lovely right rein canter work, improving the transitions and rhythm, we turned our attention to the left. The first couple of transitions were unsuccessful, so I placed a pole on the curve in a corner of the school. I raised the end nearest the middle of the school, but unfortunately the horse didn’t pick his feet up enough for it to work. What I was aiming for, was for his rider to ask for left canter on the final stride before the jump, so that as the popped over the raised pole, the horse was encouraged to pick up left canter. It didn’t work, so undeterred I built an upright jump. A sizeable 70cm, despite my rider’s concerns as she doesn’t do jumping. But the jump had to be significant enough for a giant horse to pick his feet up over it.

On the left rein, she approached in an active trot, and as they took off over the jump my rider asked for left canter with exaggerated aids. He popped the jump quietly, landing in left canter. She rode away, large round the arena with plenty of encouragement and then after a lap, came forwards to trot and gave him lots of praise. We repeated it so that we had three left canters. In the last transition, where he was getting weary, he picked up a very lethargic left canter after the jump and fell into trot, but my rider asked immediately for left canter, and got it!

The aim of our session was to introduce the horse to left canter; for him to learn the aids, to discover his balance and coordination in left canter, and to learn to keep left canter for longer periods. And for his rider to get the feel for his left canter, so that she can tell if he’s disunited or not. She could feel that the canter was correct, and can now focus on repeating this exercise to build up the horse’s strength in left canter. We can then reduce the size of the jump until it is just a pole on the floor, and then take it away altogether. And then when they can pick up left canter at will, and maintain it for a significant period, we will turn our attention to improving the quality of the canter.

My job is all about finding the best teaching path for horse and rider, even if I sometimes have to think outside the box, and sometimes the most puzzling questions are the most satisfying to work with.

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