Riding on the side of a dirt road. Canter.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, April 3, 2008 01:26 PM
Cantering on the side of the road is dangerous. If you never cantered your horse before the road is not the place to start. If the road covered with snow, the center is slippery and a horse can fall down if he deviates from the path. Horses are much more spooky when canter, they can jump sideways either into the center or into the ditch. You must not attempt canter until you spend sufficient amount of time working your horse in walk and trot. When you can control your horse's path and speed in trot by keeping him between your aids then you are ready to try canter. Always start working on canter facing away from home. Make sure you feel confident and know your horse well enough to deal with unpredictable situations.
Canter - You can ask for canter either from the trot or walk. It depends on your horse's level of training. Greener horse working from trot will pick up much more forward canter. Because there is no walls and a long stretch ahead he can start picking up speed. Trying to slowdown by holding with the reins will not help unless you have a strong bit which may not help neither. That is why it is very important to teach your horse transitions from trot to walk, work him long enough so he stays with you mentally even when he is excited and teach your horse to slowdown from the voice command. Another very important piece of the puzzle is to learn to use your thighs to control the stride's amplitude. More advanced horse can canter from the walk and the canter will be more collected and easier to control. However, even trained horse can get excited and strong while cantering on the road. Depending on what side of the road you are your canter can be true canter or counter-canter. For example, if I'm on the right side of the road and I pick up left lead canter I feel like I'm on the true lead with slight bent toward the center of the road. If I pick up right lead canter it will be counter-canter. If you let your horse canter anyway he likes he will put his haunches inside and be all crooked in the true canter. Think of slight shoulder-fore position even before canter and keep it while cantering. Canter toward home can get out of hand. Wait until you feel in control of the canter away from home, in control of the trot toward home and feel that your horse listens to you before attempting canter toward home. I have just cantered toward home for the first time on my friend's horse, Rory. We have been cantering away from home for a month now. She was in the very good mood today and she listened to me well. I decided to try canter toward home. She was very forward. At the beginning I had to half-halt her every stride. I do not half-halt just with the reins, I use my thighs and shoulders. We did that kind of work in trot a lot so she knew what to do. As soon as she responded I could soften my reins but I kept the amplitude of the stride under control with my thighs.
Transitions - If you are asking for the canter from a trot make sure you have control of the trot. Do not speed up hoping that he will canter eventually. You will get very fast and unbalanced canter. Control his canter from the first stride. If your road has slopes choose the most level and straight stretch of it for canter work. Do not canter for long at the beginning. Bring your horse back to trot, organize the trot and make sure your horse is in balance and listening to you before you ask for canter again. If your horse understands canter aids well and picks up either lead easily ask him to canter on different leads to keep him sharp and attentive to you. If your horse is green and has trouble picking the correct lead changing the side of the road may help with the problem. With more advanced horse you can work walk-canter-walk transitions or even canter-halt-canter. Constantly check that you are not holding your horse with the reins. Very good exercise for a schooled horse is to execute canter-walk-canter transitions rapidly, allowing him to canter only a few strides. He will stay very collected, he will start to come back easier and easier because he anticipates the walk and he will pick up the new lead from the lightest aids. This is a wonderful tool to prepare your horse for flying changes. Because you are not restricted by arena and do not need to turn you have a chance to repeat the exercise without any interruption. Be careful not too spend too much time doing it. It is very strenuous physically and mentally. Your horse can get hot and bothered.
Zigzags - Make sure the footing is good, usually right after snow melts - the dirt is still soft and not packed. You can zigzag your horse in canter without changing his leads. For example, you canter on the right side of the road on the left lead, you leg-yield your horse to the left, canter a few strides straight and then leg-yield him to the right again without changing his lead. Because the road is narrow, the horse will go sideways very easily, especially in the direction of the lead. Leg-yielding to the right on the left lead requires your horse to use his body more. Do not just let him fall to outside shoulder (which is right in our example). Have a feel that you can continue straight at any moment and actually try to interrupt your leg-yield and go straight for a few strides and then leg-yield further right. If he is reluctant to move to the right make sure he understands leg-yield in trot very well, create more gradual path for him and work more in this direction to train your horse's agility. You can create infinite variations of this exercise. The frequency and the angle defines the difficulty. You can make a downward transition and change your lead. You can change leads so you are always on the true lead, or you are always counter-cantering. If your horse knows flying changes and canter half-passes you can half-pass and change the lead without interrupting his canter.
Happy riding...
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