Exercises to improve straightness in canter
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, November 21, 2016 06:56 PM
All horses are crooked. When they canter they like to push their hind end toward the side of the lead. For example, a horse on the right lead will push his haunches to the right. Usually, they do it both ways. However, it can be in a different manner or to a different degree. In walk and trot such tendencies can be effectively worked on with shoulder-fore. However, in canter a shoulder-fore requires quite sophisticated balance and not so easily achieved. A simpler way to start developing straightness in your horse's canter is by doing spirals. There are two exercises which are very helpful. I will describe them from simpler to more difficult one.
Emphasis on spiraling in After you pick up canter and establish 20 m circle observe how your horse is cantering. If you have a direction where your horse wants to fall in badly this exercise will help too. Start spiraling in, focus on steering his shoulders not simply bending his neck. Continue until you reach a circle size where all of a sudden your inside leg starts to work and your horse will feel like he doesn't want to fall in or push his haunches in anymore. It is hard to tell what size of the circle that would be. It will depend on the horse's size, size of the stride, level of training, canter peculiarities of each horse. You want to keep cantering so do not continue spiraling in. Canter couple small circles and make a transition to trot. In trot establish good balance and spiral out. When back on 20 m circle pick up canter again and repeat the exercise. Change rein and repeat it on the other lead
Emphasis on spiraling out When you feel that first exercise is working well you are ready for spiraling out in canter. This will be quite hard for a horse at first because they must jump under themselves with inside hind and lift through the ribcage in order to spiral out correctly. If the rider does not pay attention to keeping the horse in front of the inside leg and uses inside rein to help initiate spiral out it will nullify the purpose of this exercise. Use a tap of the whip to get a response if leg alone is failing to produce results. The moment the horse tries to jump slightly outward half-halt outside rein to prevent your horse from falling into outside shoulder. At this moment you are aligning your horse by making him jump further under himself with inside hind leg and keeping his shoulders level and in front of you not allowing them escape to the outside. The stride becomes more organized with better jump and with a feel of roundness and connection, the horse canters straighter.
Toward shoulder-foreAfter your spirals out become consistent and you can feel improvement in your horse's canter start cantering straight in shoulder-fore position immediately after you spiral out. Plan your spiral out in such a manner that you will reach the wall exactly at the moment of a shoulder-fore position. In previous exercise you would continue on a circle but now you are going to use the connection from inside leg and outside rein and send your horse along the wall preserving shoulder-fore position. Be happy with only a few strides and then start another spiral. Do not force this way of cantering on your horse by holding strongly with the reins. Take time to develop his strength, coordination, tolerance and acceptance. Horses do not canter in shoulder-fore at liberty except jumping away from something spooky! :)
In all of the above exercises remember the importance of your posture and balance:
  • Levelness and squareness of your seatbones, hips, shoulders
  • Levelness of your horse's shoulders and hips
  • Align your shoulders and hips to your horse's shoulders and hips respectively
  • Never twist your seat to ask your horse for something, you will instantly unplug your seatbones, especially, in canter. Always be centered and square.
  • Your hands in front of you and same distance from your body. Do not pull inside hand back!
  • Inside leg at the girth at all times, outside leg behind the girth at all times (many riders lose the position of their legs during spiral out)
  • Make your hip's motion match your horse's motion without pushing or speeding him. The only driving aids are lower legs and then whip or spurs not pushy hips or rocking shoulders
  • Remember rider's hips describe backward circle during each canter stride cycle (inside hip's circle has slightly bigger radius) Read more on the subject
  • Upper body is quiet and vertical
Happy riding...
 
Comment by Lisa on Saturday, April 1, 2017 01:02 PM
I am working at straightening my horses canter and he is doing great in shoulder fore. I would like to start jumping and need to know if we should approach little 2' jumps in shoulder fore to help him stay balanced . And if not how do I help him stay balanced on the approach to a jump? Thank you so much!
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, April 1, 2017 04:45 PM
Working on straightening your horse is a job on the flat. When you are jumping you have already a lot to think about - line, strides, pace, balance. Plus you will be distracting your horse by asking him to do shoulder-fore on approach, he needs to focus on the jumps.
Working on dressage will improve your jumping overall and riding between the jumps will be better because your horse will be more supple, balanced, obedient. To keep your horse balanced on approach use half-halts and keep him between your aids. The more he is trained the better he will be. Plus, he needs to gain jumping experience before he becomes confident in it. Good luck!
 
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