Counter Canter
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, October 6, 2014 08:01 PM
I have been having hard time developing Santo's adjustability in canter. Santo is not natural at canter, at liberty he cross-canters often when he changes direction and on a lunge line he tends to be rather flat. Under saddle it is much better but still requires a lot of work to make him use his back and stay engaged. Lately I feel like we had a major break through. One of the reasons for it is counter canter work.
Counter canter is used to develop straightness and engagement which leads to collection. Also, it is very helpful to riders who tend to use too much inside rein. In counter canter the inside/outside reins get mixed up because for the canter lead you have one inside rein but for the turn another. In this situation riders end up using reins more equally which creates better balance in their horses. I have been working on counter canter a lot with Santo and it has proven itself to be a wonderful exercise to develop his canter.
In dressage tests counter canter is introduced in First level test 3 as a shallow loop, for example - HXK. This is a good way to start working on it with your horse. However, you can even make it easier and only do first half of the loop or only second half. For example, you start the loop and upon reaching X you continue on the centerline instead of turning back to the wall. This version requires 10 m half circle at the end to continue and makes it an interesting challenge for a horse. However, counter canter portion is pretty simple and easy to accomplish. I also introduce counter canter in the fields while out hacking where lots of space provides an opportunity for a very wide turn. The horses don't even notice they counter canter :)
If you look at the USDF Second Level tests (Canada is using the same tests) you will find 3 different exercises for counter canter. In my opinion test 2 with short diagonal and counter canter on the long side after is the easiest of them all. When your horse becomes solid at the shallow loop you can start riding short diagonals without change of lead. After the diagonal you can canter to the end of long side and make a downward transition to trot or walk. Later you can start counter canter the first corner and trot or walk on a short side. And next step is to counter canter both corners. The corners can be rounded to make it easier for the horse.
    Other exercises for counter canter:
  • Three loop serpentine ( Second Level, Test 1)
  • Short diagonal without changing lead and continue riding around the whole arena. Option is to make corners rounded or more defined. Also, lengthen canter on a long side.
  • Figure eight of 20 m circles. Option is to make 10 m circle in true canter and 20 m circle in counter canter
  • Half circle of 15 m like a turn on a quarter line
  • Gradually making circles smaller until some day 10 m circle is possible in counter canter
  • Transitions to counter canter on the long side
  • Same transitions on a short side then on a 20 m circle
  • Canter-walk-canter transitions on the rail picking up different leads . Great exercise to prepare your horse for flying changes
    What to watch for in counter canter:
  • Your position - your balance and posture is a great help to your horse to improve his balance and posture. When feeling that their horse is struggling with counter canter riders tend to throw themselves around rather than anchor and preserve the levelness, verticality and correct movement of the hips.
  • Straightness - no excess bending thinking this will help to preserve the lead.
  • Tempo -horses tend to speed up when counter cantering to avoid collection. Keep the tempo slow and very steady.
  • Lightness - horses will lean on the bit in counter canter when they are learning to balance themselves. Half-halt but do not hold and carry them. They need to learn to do the work themselves. Do not pull and kick at the same time. Depending on the situation the leg will precede half-halt or follow it - not at the same time.
Horses tend to work harder in counter canter as long as they are not overfaced with difficulty and this precise phenomena is very helpful in developing engagement and subsequently collection of the canter.
Happy riding...
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