Great canter exercise!
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, February 2, 2022 08:48 PM
As the winter weather throws lots of cold days in the mix I have been rereading my notes from last year lessons. I came across a great exercise done mostly in canter. The sequence encourages straightness, coordination, core strength and obedience. In order to ride this exercise successfully the horse has to know counter-canter, canter leg-yield away from the lead and simple/flying changes.
The exercise is ridden as follows:
  • Start in counter canter on the long side, turn on the quarter line or inner track and leg-yield toward centerline. For example, if traveling right you will pick up left lead and leg-yield to the right.
  • From the center line turn into the lead. In our example, turn left. In the middle of the long side ride a flying lead change into counter-canter. If your horse does not know flying changes yet, do a simple change. In our example, change from left lead to the right.
  • Before the corner transition to walk. Turn on the centerline, walk to the next letter I or L and do a full pass into the last lead direction. In our example, to the right. You will reach the wall traveling left and can start the exercise again into new direction.
As you can see lots of things happening in a short period of time. This is a testimony to the horse's focus and obedience. For the rider this exercise teaches good planning, staying in the moment, keeping a horse balanced and prepared for what comes next. There is a technical component of movements and also a general component of quality of canter, balance, straightness, engagement, ease of execution. Lets see where challenges are:
Counter-canter - this part is challenging because of the turn. Lots of times riders want to lean into a turn even so slightly which may allow their horse to disengage and push haunches out and fall into a shoulder inside for the turn but outside for the lead. If this happens counter-canter is not productive, it's benefits of straightening and collecting a horse disappear.
Leg-yield - this movement must be established in a simple version before attempting it in any sequence. Most horses after turning on a quarter line in counter-canter will try to leg-yield toward the near wall into the lead. Leg-yielding other way goes against their instinctive reactions. Obedience, balance and coordination is challenged here to the fullest. I have a blog about the leg-yield in canter
Change of lead - can be done as a simple change through walk or as a flying change. Both must have straightness, balance and smooth fluid execution. A horse may lose some impulsion after leg-yield and a turn from the center line. Riding forward after turn is important. For simple change it is important to collect back. Flying change can be ridden with a feeling of medium canter to encourage jump, lift and big size. However, after the change a half halt will remind a horse to stay balanced, focused and ready for what's next.
Transition to walk - If you have just ridden a simple change this transition is easy. After flying change the horse can be a bit strong and big. Though, transition to walk has it's appeal due to counter-canter. It is very important to ride that transition right before the corner so the horse stays straight, If the horse is inattentive have an aim of going straight into the corner as you half halt.
Full side pass - This movement is more common in Western riding. However, it has great benefits for a dressage horse for training coordination, core strength and obedience. The leading side of the horse must step directly sideways. In our example it is the right side, meaning right legs front and back. The left legs will cross over in front. The horse should leave four parallel lines of hoofprints. From front to back:LF,RF, LH, RH. The horse may step too forward, backwards, steps of different size, speeding or slowing, loss of rhythm. A good idea to practice full pass on it's own.
Remember, repetition is important. However, do not turn it into drilling! Ride components first before putting it together. Stay in the moment but plan ahead. Be OK with mistakes, you and your horse will learn from them. Do not micromanage but learn to observe better. And last but not least - have fun and appreciate your horse's effort! :)
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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