When I teach kids to canter I tend to run, or get a willing volunteer to run, with them down the long side.
The child feels more confident because someone is close by, and they can focus on balancing and holding on.
I tend to feel a straight line is easier to keep their balance, and far easier to lead along.
Some kids are eager for the next stage – doing it alone. I only let them even contemplate it when they can stay in the saddle without holding on. When I learnt to ride and we were ready to canter solo, we first followed one of the helpers on a steady lead horse. They controlled the speed and direction.
Not everyone has the luxury of a lead file, so if the pony can be trusted and works from the voice, then we’ll have a go at the end of the lesson when the pony is tired.
One young client I have is at the stage when she’s cantering comfortably on the lead, not holding on to the grab strap and keeping her bum in the saddle nicely. But her pony is quite bouncy with a big stride and she worries about going off the lead. We’ve started cantering with me holding the pony and finishing with me letting go for a few strides, but now I need to build her independence up without knocking her confidence.
I asked her Mum to practice lunging the pony in canter, checking he has smooth transitions and works off the voice. When I arrived for the next lesson I was pleased to hear that the pony was cantering well on the left rein on the lunge, but preferring to do counter canter on the right rein – which I’d already noted from leading him in canter.
We spent the majority of the lesson doing trot work, trotting poles and jumping a course of 1’9″ fences so that the pony would be quiet for cantering. Then at the end of the lesson we did one canter on the lead before getting the lunge line out.
I focused on the left rein, and just started getting my little rider to relax in the trot. After all, it’s a new experience being lunged. When she was happy, we popped into canter.
She held on tightly for the first few canters, but I wasn’t so worried about that as she had several new things to contend with: firstly, I wasn’t right next to her, and secondly she was cantering on a circle. Oh and thirdly, she had to apply the aids to canter!
We’re building up cantering on the lunge now; cantering for longer periods, bigger circles and then hopefully slowly letting go of the saddle so that she is doing all the work in the confidence that I’m at the end of the lunge line. In the meantime, the pony is going to be long reined and double lunged on the right rein to develop that canter so I can lunge my rider on both reins so she doesn’t become crooked.
Hopefully, by taking it slowly to keep my rider’s confidence up whilst pushing her to canter more independently she will feel more in control and secure in her seat with the canter and will have a smooth progression to cantering solo.
Watch this space!