He Sings! He Dances! He Canters! (He actually only canters)

Canter transitions! Yes!

Our biggest stumbling block to date has been “up” canter transitions. I have to admit I do not find it the easiest thing to train. It is not necessarily rocket science to get a racehorse on a racetrack to canter. (The real science is getting them to trot, instead.) On the other hand, teaching a horse to step nicely into the canter requires a knowledge of movement, a horse with a solid back end underneath of him, and a lot of patience.

And so, for the past few months, I’ve been generally tolerating a little bit of a scramble heading into the canter. I’ve been more concerned that he get the lead I’m asking for. Being pretty at the same time – that would just be nitpicking.

Getting leads was no picnic, either. Generally he’d get his left lead if I curled him up to the left and stuck my left heel into his side. Sounds so attractive, I know. Let’s face it, it sounds like the last canter circle of the last course of the last class of a two day hunter show. Just canter one more time, please. And I swear we’ll go home. And of course, all the rest of the time, he’d get his right lead. Logical. If you start out your gallop on the straightaway of the racecourse, you’ll start out on your outside lead. You’d only be on your left lead when you were turning left – ah, it all comes together.

But of course we want to be able to pick up either lead, from a straight line, because we are picky like that and may want to ask for illogical manuevers like counter-canter (which proves that your horse trusts you so completely that he is willing to risk life and limb and common sense and move on the wrong lead for you).

I finally felt yesterday that this had to be addressed, in a big way, and we worked very hard on it, circling and circling and circling until he was getting the lead and doing it nicely, with a spring, rather than a run. Today, we worked on a long and low trot for about ten minutes, then I sat, pressed my leg, and – and –

Ladies and gentleman, (are there any gentleman reading this? Please comment if you are of the male sex. I have yet to get a comment from a boy) I present to you Final Call, Thoroughbred who canters with pressure from the outside leg and a smile.

I’m feeling very good. Thinking about the hunter pace on Sunday…

Hunter pace, walking in

Baby's first horse show, May 2010



Filed under Dressage, Final Call, Training Diary, Training Theory

17 responses to “He Sings! He Dances! He Canters! (He actually only canters)

  1. Barb

    Oh, you all will have SUCH a good time! And another really good pic of the pair of you. He is really quite an impressive looking guy!

  2. blob

    Canter transitions can be tricky. I’ve often found that getting a clean transition from the walk on a green horse can be easier than getting it from the trot. I think it’s partly because that forces me to be as sharp as possible in my aids but also because it doesn’t let the horse string out into an unbalanced trot.

    The other interesting thing that came up when reading this entry was the rider’s canter aids. There is some controversy and conflict in the riding world about the correct canter aids– particularly which leg should be the dominant leg. I have always used the inside leg and inside seat bone as the driving aid, with the outside leg as a bit of a boundary. Essentially using both legs. However, the inside leg is the driving aid. This the way the canter transition is typically taught in classical dressage. I can go into the reason and theory of why I believe this encourages the correct lead and departure if you’re interested (just let me know) but I’ll spare you for now!
    Having said that, I know several people are taught and swear by the outside driving aids. I think regardless the most important thing is that the rider is consistent with how they aid their horse, which is exactly the reason I’m bringing this up. There’s probably a good chance that Final Call was aided with a strong inside leg when he was on the track, which might be how he understands the aiding for the correct lead on a straight away to be.

    Just some food for thought.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I love canter theory, so if you want to go into it deeper, I’m sure I’d like to read it and I’m sure some readers would also.

      You’re correct on the inside aid being dominant with the racehorses. There’s a very simple reason why I want him to go off the outside leg, and that is that in horse showing (hunter-jumper) I have found the outside leg to be the predominant method of asking for a lead, and I want him to be simple for someone else to ride.

      Also, still having the tendency to fall onto the forehand makes the outside leg a little easier, I believe, as you drive the horse to “fall” onto the inside front to pick up that lead. It’s the difference between a hind-first transition (ideal, but advanced) and a fore-first transition (suitable for a greenie.)

      The inside leg of course activates the inside hind, requiring the horse stays back on his end and springs into the gait – still challenging for him. I am of the opinion that a horse can be cued either way, with proper staging, and one does not cancel out the other.


      Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

      • blob

        I should have guessed by reading your blog that you’d want to exchange theory!

        When a horse strikes off into a canter from a balanced position (which he does more or less naturally out in pasture) he steps forward and into his lead. So, when you ask a horse to take that first canter step you’re asking him to engage his inside hind. This doesn’t necessarily mean uphill and collected and dressage mode, it just means where you’re asking him to step off on the correct leg.

        Ideally the seat should be the main aid. This works even if you’re in two point– the seat is essentially, regardless of what position you’re in, your center of gravity. But for the sake of simplicity right now I’m going to talk about the seat as if you’re sitting full on butt in the saddle.
        The canter transition should be aided through the seat. The inside seat bone should push forward and up (like a scooping motion). This lifts the horse up into the upward transition. The legs then work to provide proper boundaries or guidelines and by giving the horse a little more encouragement if he needs it. The outside leg coming back and the outside rein provide the boundaries that block the other lead. If you keep your steady outside rein and bring your outside leg behind the girth, it’s nearly impossible for the horse to pick up the wrong lead. In fact, the entire inside part of your body should be going ‘forward’ to encourage that inside hind to step into the correct lead. I don’t mean that you should rock your upper body forward (though it’s an easy bad habit), but that not only should your inside seat push forward but your inside hand should be light and flexible enough that when the horse reaches forward into the canter, your hand should go with it. When I have a green horse or one that doesn’t like a particular lead I often exaggerate by giving my inside hand completely forward in the transition so he clearly sees the difference between the two sides. This can be done without ‘dropping’ the horse because of a steady outside connection and an engaged seat. Doing this once or twice usually makes it very clear that the inside is open and therefore free to engage and step into.

        You can also think about it this way: a good way to keep a horse on the correct lead (as mentioned in your original post) is to keep them on a circle. Why is this? Because in order to bend a horse we have to engage the inside hind. Just like in order to canter on the correct lead, we have to engage the inside hind. In fact, in many ways a canter transition should be set up in the same way a circle is set up. Just before you ask for the bend you prepare for it by bringing your outside leg back and squeezing with your inside leg. The difference is, of course, that when you want a canter transition you don’t turn your body in towards a bending line, or lead the horses shoulder in towards the circle line. Instead you set yourself up as if you were just about to ask for the circle and instead push forward.
        One of my favorite exercises is to do a trot 10 meter circle and then ask for a canter as soon as you reach the rail. The circle sets both you and the horse up to strike off, not only on to the correct lead, but in a very balanced, correct, and effortless way. It’s also a great exercise for hot or easily bored horses because it keeps them busy and listening.

        You can also think about the canter aid from the perspective of our own position. When you bring your outside leg back it automatically puts you on your inside seat bone. A lot of riders (myself included) have a tendency to twist themselves, especially in lateral work, so that they lean or put weight on the outside seat bone– but that’s incorrect. Part of the purpose of the whole ‘outside leg back’ positioning is to get us on to that inside seat bone without leaning or falling forward. If you stand at the halt and bring one of your legs back behind the girth, you’ll really feel how the weight is shifted to your opposite (ie inside) seat bone. It’s kind of cool when you really start to feel and notice it. And because your weight is on your inside seat bone it’s only natural that you should aid with that inside leg as well. The driving leg and seat aid should both come from the same side. It would be nearly impossible to drive from opposite seat bones and legs. It is also nearly impossible to drive from one seat bone when you have more weight in the other. If you watch youtube videos of grand prix dressage riders doing tempi changes you’ll see them basically swinging their legs. And those most of them move their bodies WAY more than anyone is supposed to, the reason their legs seem to be swinging is because everytime they ask for a lead change they change their outside leg, which shifts the weight, which cues for a different lead.

        When I rode with my jumping trainer she always told me that if I looked in the direction I was going when I landed my horse would likely land on the correct lead. Why? Because by looking that way I would be shifting my weight that way and that would cue the horse to land on that lead. It’s the same thing as that inside seat bone.

        The seat is really key to keeping you from falling on the forehand as you mentioned in your reply. If you think of scooping up with your seat, you’re actually doing the opposite. The leg, regardless of which side you’re driving from, should really be supporting and enforcing the seat (or the center of gravity), not the other way around.

        Though I’ve done a decent amount of jumping I’ve only ridden with one hunter/jumper trainer and that was years ago. She also taught me to aid for the canter with my inside leg, though I’ve definitely seen several hunter/jumper riders do/teach/learn otherwise. And reading your reply made me curious about flying changes in the hunter/jumper world. All the jumpers I’ve ridden either had such automatic changes that I never had to think about it or had enough of a dressage base that I could aid them as I understand a canter transition or lead change to be. How would you ask, or even better, teach a horse, to do a lead change? I wonder how it differs.

        I’m inclined to agree at the end of all of that a horse can be cued either way as long as his rider is consistent in what he/she asks of him.

        Anyway, I hope some of that made sense. Sorry for the long and disorganized post!

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        And where is YOUR blog, missy? You have something to share here! I thought about this as I was driving home last night, and decided there was nothing for it but to get out there and ride it. I agree with what you’re saying, I just want to know the feel.

        So. I went out and worked on some canter today. It wasn’t as nice as yesterday’s canter work. I was sad. But that’s okay, I’ll get over it.

        Here’s what I got out of it.

        Outside leg back and pushing, outside hand firm, inside leg on girth, inside hand light, exaggerated scooping motion with inside seat forward, and we get the correct lead.

        I really believe the outside leg back and the inside seat forward are what are making the lead come together, and when I watch a horse moving, this is what I see: to push onto the inside lead, they skip a step with their inside hind. The outside hind makes two steps for the one step that the inside leading hind leg makes. And that is what I think the novice horse finds challenging under saddle. Because of course they can do that in the paddock – they can do passage in the paddock – it is with a hundred pounds or more on their back that things get a bit more tricky.

        I think though, that this motion, outside leg into inside seat/hand, pushes the horse into a counter-bend – which is what Barb was mentioning, and what is the point of the “hunter cue,” which is what I’ll call the outside leg cue for the sake of causing more trouble than I really need. I was absolutely taught, as a child, to ask for a canter this way, on a counter bend, the goal being to free up the inside leg from bearing extra weight, so that it could skip the step necessary to pick up the canter.

        And here’s where it gets interesting (to me.) Final Call will pick up the right lead canter from the counter-bend, the outside leg, AND from the circle-bend, with more inside leg. But he will only pick up the left lead canter on a counter-bend. He is right-handed and hates hates hates bending to the left. And I am right-handed as well, and I know I don’t bend to the left the way that I should.


        Talk about disorganized.

        Oh and lead changes…. well I have always taught lead changes on a figure eight, sometimes with a pole in the middle, bringing them down to a trot, asking for the opposite lead, and then just shortening and shortening the trot time until you are half-halting and then giving the cue for the other lead. The pole of course helps because the horse springs over it and can change leads while jumping the pole.

  3. Oh, boy. I know this is all really good training advice and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to translate it to my body. Nothing to do but keep trying, though! Well, once we’re both healed, that is.

    Good stuff, Natalie and blob (?). And a really great picture–again with the socks!

  4. Barb

    Good posts! On a simple note, I had trouble with Vince picking up his left lead when I rode him during our first dressage lesson in October, before we worked a lot of things out. The instructor told me to post on the wrong diagonal and counter bend him just a hair to the outside, just enough so you could see his outside eye, then ask as he got to a corner. I’d never heard this, but it was quite effective.

  5. Nicholas

    Fully equipped male, thoroughly enjoy the blog.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Thank you! You exist! And only slightly disturbing.

      • Nicholas

        Presence of geldings in horse world, at work, billing by the minute (lawyer), it seemed clever. In retrospect, not so much. So, thank you for the “only slightly.”

        On a completely different note, I’m with Lyndsey, I could swing the purchase price, no problem there. It’s the running costs that stay my hand.

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        Oh it was clever. You’re just in a room full of mares and we’re bound to pick on you a little.

        It’s always one thing or another… And if you have to board, the running costs are what get you. I keep at home and it’s remarkable how inexpensive a horse can be, until of course they do something drastic and self-destructive, as all horses eventually do.

        Glad you recognize up front that boarding stables seem to charge by the minute. 😉

  6. Lyndsey

    If I had the money for board (I have the money to BUY a horse but boarding it is a completely different story when you’re entering grad school full time and working less than 15 hours a week!) I would totally drive down to florida and pick up Final Call. I miss having a horse so bad and I just love reading about him learn and flourish under your influence. I love re-training and bringing up greenies. I guess I’m crazy and like the challenge. Button-pushing horses always bored me, unless we got there together and I feel accomplished. Final Call would be perfect! He reminds me a lot of my old horse I had to put down last May. I hope you find him a great home. :]

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Thanks Lyndsey. I prefer the greenies as well. The exception would be a horse that is trained to your specs, and yours only… as opposed to one that is schooled to be easy for someone else to get on.

  7. Blob

    Yes, I mean really the trick is the inside seat and the outside blocking boundary/leg and rein.

    Which is why that exercise worked for Barb’s horse getting the correct lead.

    I’m sorry your canter work wasn’t as good today. but part of it is about consistency and communication with your horse– what they’re used to and what they expect. I really think you should give the 10 meter trot circle and then canter right when you get back to the rail exercise a try (if you didn’t already), I’d be curious to see how Final Call responds.

    Interestingly enough, I often find things have to get a little worse to get better.

    As for my blog, sigh, I would have one, I’m sure except that my own horse exposure is limited right now to once a week if I’m lucky– New York City is not kind to horse lovers in that regard. And it leaves me with limited blogging inspiration. Instead my inspiration comes from reading and living vicariously through other people’s horse adventures.

    It’s been quite the adjustment getting used to limited horse time. But I’m hoping that will change in the near future and who knows– maybe a blog will come with it!

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Well I’m sure I speak for the Retired Racehorse family that we’re glad you’re here! How interesting and ironic that you live in the city. I’m sure you could come out some morning and visit.

      Regarding the ride – oh yes, rides are up one day, down one day, up two days, day off. I was being quite unreasonable in showing disappointment since I was, after all, experimenting.

      I’ll try the ten-meter circle.. Probably next week.. And let you know.
      Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

      • Blob

        definitely let me know.

        I would love to come and visit at some point. Anyway to get some extra horse time and exposure. Besides I always dreamed of being a jockey.

        Where are you posted?

        Also, feel free to email me anytime. I clearly spend too much time on the computer as it is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s