Field canter work, light seat
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, November 29, 2018 07:21 PM
It is this time of the year again. Everything is frozen and a fresh layer of sow is covering the ground. All my horses are working in the field now. One of the exercises I do regularly in a field is a forward canter in a light seat (I would not call it a gallop, not fast enough :) I find it very useful not only for the training of the horse but for my own training in terms of balance, strength, stamina, symmetry and alignment.
What are important considerations?
Rider's Seat
In dressage saddle it is impossible to do a well balanced two-point. However, it is very possible to shorten your stirrups one hole and ride in a so called light seat.
  • Weight is more into the legs and stirrups similar to two-point, a feel of a standing on your feet in a slight squat
  • Upper body slightly inclined forward like for rising trot
  • Seat is hovering close to the saddle but not sitting into it
  • After each suspension phase of a canter stride a rider lands into stirrups and legs not into the seat, lower legs must be very stable (good exercise for riders with unstable legs)
  • Keep reins slightly shorter and use the base of the neck for support if upper body feels unstable or you need a steady hand for a half halt.
This is not as easy as it looks at first glance. There is a few areas where mistakes can easily happen even with the more experienced riders. One of those areas is a force distribution at the landing moment of the stride when outside hind leg hits the ground and rider suddenly acquires his/her weight. During the landing moment the weight should sink down into the legs/stirrups instead being pushed up off them. Also, observe if you are dropping your weight more into one stirrup then another. You may be surprised to find out you are loading/pushing off one particular stirrup more regardless of the lead.
The other area not often observed well enough is stability and levelness of the shoulders and arms. Light seat exposes an unstable shoulder better than a deep seat canter. It happens because the force of the landing travels through the body faster, it is harder to control The unstable shoulder will be moving and bouncing with each stride and the whole arm may join right in. It will be especially obvious on the lead of the unstable shoulder (right shoulder unstable - right lead). Rider's shoulders must not look like they are cantering - no twisting, dropping, bouncing, moving back and forth, pumping, etc. Shoulders are level, steadily carried, no movement in relation to the horse, only in relation to the ground.
Without fixing shoulder stability and landing dynamic a rider has no way to properly half halt the horse
For the horse benefits are numerous. You will develop:
  • Cardio and stamina
  • Length of stride '
  • Pushing power, especially if combined with uphill work
  • More strength and suppleness in his back
  • Confidence in yourself and your horse
  • Straightness due to very easy signs of crookedness (drifting, preferred lead, haunches pushed to one side)
Work on steadiness and evenness in the contact. You do not want your horse to become very strong and take over. Use circles to slow him down if he gets too excited, especially toward home. Push both hands into his neck and load your knees to help with a half halt. Leg-yield a bit into opposite direction of drifting to help straighten him. Pick a line and stick to it. Long straight line in forward canter helps you work on your and your horse straightness if you pay attention to stay level and symmetrical in your movement and insist on even pleasant contact. Later, when you become more familiar with this work variations include: small changes in speed, leg-yielding up a low grade hill, shoulder-fore, changes of flexion, flying changes, changes in the neck position (lower, higher)
If you cannot ride in the fields, or afraid to do so you can still do the light seat canter work in the arena. It will not be as beneficial and fun as outside due to walls, corners and no grade. Plus horses are naturally more forward in the field and basically train themselves :)
Tips in the arena: ride on inner track instead of the wall, use long side for light seat, sit for the corners, use counter flexion to straighten his shoulders, ride counter canter.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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