Improving Their Jump

The ideal bascule, which makes jumping effortless and lengthens their athletic life expectancy, as well as making them successful in the competition ring, is when a horse folds his forelegs neatly underneath him, rounds his back, lengthens and lowers the neck, and then follows through with tidy hindlegs. 

Various faults occur, either by poor training, poor technique, lack of confidence, or poor conformation. One interesting jumping fault I’ve recently experienced, and haven’t really come across it before, is the slither technique.

Have you seen it? It’s when the forelegs get left behind and the horse literally jumps with his front legs under his belly.

Initially, I wasn’t sure how best to work on overcoming this fault, but as ever reverted to flatwork.

Showjumping is dressage with speed bumps.

The horse in question is rather large, with long legs. Like a super model! So the flatwork focused on engaging his hindquarters, getting him to lighten his forehand and bring his engine underneath him. Smaller circles and shoulder in have all improved his balance, and the canter has improved dramatically. He can now shorten and lengthen the canter strides without losing his balance and his hindquarters are doing more work than his shoulders.

Horses tend to slither over jumps when related distances are too short, which given this horse’s size puts him at a disadvantage. At every competition he will find distances a bit short. Which is why it’s so important that his canter is adjustable. It does mean for me that I have to be generous with my grid distances with him so that he learns, and develops the right muscles, to bascule correctly. Then once he is stronger and more adjustable in the canter we can start to teach him to work with the slightly shorter distances, that he would find in a competition environment.

Once a horse is starting to get the hang of basculing correctly the gridwork becomes invaluable. Having a quick succession of jumps, one or two strides apart improves the horse’s gymnastic ability because they have to extend and flex their joints in quick succession.

Over the last few months this horse has really improved and the slithering only happens when he gets too deep into fences. I’m enjoying seeing him going out competing with his owner now, and having more success.

The other factor that can cause horses to slither over jumps is when they are a bit slow to pick up their forehand and to lift the shoulder over jumps. Which caused me to use an A-frame with this particular horse the other week. A placing pole meant he didn’t get too close, and the A-frame really got him lifting his forelegs and tucking them up neatly. His owner could feel the difference in the bascule from the saddle – his back rounded underneath her over the fence.

Our next move is to try a line of bounces because this will make him pick up his feet quickly, and improve the muscle memory, which will mean that if he does get a bit deep into a jump he will be able to get himself out of trouble. Previously when I’ve done raised pole and bounce work with him he’s found it really difficult to organise his legs and keep his balance, which invariably means I have to get on and off a lot to adjust poles!

Just by using a combination of different exercises, you can make massive improvements to a horse’s technique and build the correct muscles. Recently, because this particular horse was jumping so well on a lesson, we did a bit of a Chase-Me-Charlie. I wanted to build the horse’s confidence a bit and see the extent of his scope, but I knew a single upright would be very difficult for him as he would have to pick up his forelegs very quickly; he’s much better in his technique but our high jumps needed to complement previous work, and not let him revert to slithering. So I build an oxer. The front rail wasn’t very high, perhaps 70cm, and there was a clear ground line. The back rail of the oxer, which wasn’t that wide, started at 90cm. As he cleared it comfortably I notched it up, and up, to an impressive 120cm. He cleared it easily, whilst still jumping correctly! I was so pleased!

Now we need to increase the height of the general exercises to build his muscles and confidence, whilst still using his body correctly and efficiently. Then they will definitely notice a difference at competitions! 

Proud As Punch

I had a day today (it will have been yesterday by the time you read this) that made me realise exactly why I do my job. It made everything worthwhile.

I’ve mentioned this client before, but she’s only seven and quite a small seven year old. She’s very theoretical and methodical in her riding, and her confidence is easily knocked and slow to develop. I usually only see her in the holidays because of her long school days, and at Easter we’d progressed to cantering on the lunge, letting go with one hand momentarily.

This week she’s had three lessons. In the first she cantered on the lunge at the end of the lesson, but let go of her grab strap with both hands on her own accord during the first canter. So we did a few more canters, getting her to let go for longer each time. Her balance was great: there was no bouncing at all and when she let go of the grab strap her hands were the perfect imitation of Charlotte Dujardin’s. In general, her confidence was pretty high, both with me (usually she’s very shy) and with her pony. At the end of the lesson I just casually mentioned that we would progress to letting go of the grab strap for longer and longer, and not using it for the upwards transitions.

She’s a thinker, so I sowed the seed, and the next day she had to ride very positively because her pony wasn’t feeling the mini jumping and took any opportunity to go his own way. At the end we did some more cantering on the lunge. This time, she only held onto the grab strap with one hand in the upwards transitions. She wasn’t holding on for the majority of the canter. I encouraged her to be more in charge of the canter: asking her pony to canter, and giving a little kick if she felt him slowing down. At one point, I was redundant at the end of the lunge line! Although she still just held on when she used her legs. But the important thing was that her confidence was growing.

In today’s lesson I did a related distance of mini jumps… about fifteen of her pony’s little trot strides, but the purpose was to get my little rider sitting up and keeping her trot after fences. She was generating a really big, quick trot into the jumps, so I made them a bit bigger and her pony gave a little skip over the fences to give more of a feeling of jumping. She was looking very stable and wasn’t fazed by the bigger movements. Then it was time for cantering.

I sent her out on the lunge and she rode the canter transition holding on, but let go immediately and did a couple of circuits without holding on and using her legs to maintain the canter! After a quick breather I sent her off again, but noticed that she hadn’t grabbed the strap. She asked for canter with her hands up and out. Unfortunately her pony wasn’t compliant and just did medium trot. But we rebalanced it all, and she asked again. This time she got it! After a few canters without her holding on at all, I asked the big question.

“Would you like to have a canter on your own?”

She nodded. So I unclipped her and explained how to go large and canter just past the blue jump (where I was stationed to encourage the pony if necessary). She set off in trot and at the agreed point asked for canter. She held on with one hand but that doesn’t matter – she was going solo!

They had a couple of strides of canter and then trotted round to try again. This time, they had another couple of strides, but at the next corner she got a bit bossier and asked him on her own accord. This canter was more successful and they had several strides. By this time she wasn’t using the grab strap at all!

After a breather they went again. The transition was in my corner and she used her legs to keep him going around two sides of the school!

I was so proud! She was grinning away, loving the canter, and the best part was that she looked so balanced and secure throughout. All the lunging has paid off because her seat is now well developed, which will have boosted her confidence as she felt safer. I left that lesson with a great sense of satisfaction. 

 Hopefully now it’s summer we can keep the ball rolling, and she will continue to grow in confidence, but cantering on her own has been a real hurdle for her to climb, so I’m just pleased she’s achieved it. I am annoyed I didn’t get a video, but I got so caught up in the moment I completely forgot! 

Here is a video from her Mum, when they rode over the weekend – there’s no stopping them now!!

Feeling Canter Leads

I decided to improve one of my young rider’s feel for canter leads so that he is quicker to balance his canter between jumps which will mean he is quicker on jump offs and rides more flowing courses.

While we warmed up, I got him to tell me (without looking) if he was on the correct canter lead or not. Then we played around with picking up counter canter without looking down to improve his awareness for each canter lead.

Then we applied this to some jumps. I put three fences along the centre line, facing the long side of the arena. After warming up over the centre fence I asked him to identify the leading leg. Which he managed to do successfully. So I asked him to approach in left canter and try to land in right canter. I didn’t tell him how to do it, I wanted to see if he could apply any previous knowledge to try to get that change.

After two tries, we were still landing on the left lead so I brought my rider in and explained what he needed to do. Turn to look in the direction you want to go, open the new inside rein and put the new inside leg on the girth, and new outside leg behind the girth as you jump, shifting your weight to the new inside.

Now my rider started to get the idea. His pony is very obliging, so they were soon changing legs over the cross pole.

Now we moved onto linking the fences on half circles, changing canter leads over each fence. We did several courses, jumping the three fences in serpentines, circles, or figures of eight. 

The main focus was changing, and checking canter leads. Correcting them as soon as possible so that the approach to the next jump isn’t hindered. I kept the fences as cross poles to draw my rider to the centre, as he has the typical boy approach of cutting corners and taking jumps off centre and at an angle. 

I think it will take some practice, but now I can keep testing my rider as to his canter leads until he is subconsciously aware of them. Then he’ll start to ride courses more fluently and look more stylish. 

Interesting Trotting Poles

My friend has a horse who is in rehab and needs lots of work over poles. Last week she laid some poles out on a diagonal to add some variation because he concentrated more when trotting diagonally over the poles and we talked about ideas to make trotting poles more interesting.

Twenty four hours later, I was teaching a pair of siblings. The weather was awful so I didn’t want to jump, yet also didn’t want to bore them with flatwork (one pony has the attention span of a gnat on a hot plate unless there’s jumps involved and to be honest, the weather wasn’t conducive to having an argument with a napping pony) so I opted for trotting poles.

The horse in this lesson tends to rush poles so I needed to make him think and slow down, and I wanted to improve everyone’s suppleness and agility. 

I laid the poles out in an S-shape. Three parallel, at 4’6″ apart, then three on a slight left bend, with the centre off the poles 4’6″ apart. A further three bearing round to the right, and then three more parallel poles to finish. I measured the distances to the centre of each pole, and the first three and last three poles were parallel to each other.

This meant that in order to maintain the same trot, with regular strides, the horses had to bend left and right. I find that if you do trotting poles on a curve then the horse is liable to drifting out, which is of no benefit to anyone. By putting in the double twist the horses couldn’t fall out by more than a stride, because as soon as they did, they had to change their bend.

We worked through the poles until my riders were riding the twist accurately, added a little impulsion to help their horse through the change of bend, stayed central to the poles, and their horses didn’t fit any extra strides in (this happens when they fall out because the distance between the poles is greater). The pony was clever, and initially adjusted his stride so he could do minimal bend, yet not clip a pole. So I made his rider aware of this, and be firmer with his steering aids so they met each pole in the middle.

I was really pleased that the other horse did not rush the poles, and you could see him thinking about the exercise. He wasn’t quite as clever with his feet and if he didn’t get the twist just right, he clipped a pole. His rider just needed to support him more, and close the leg on the turns to help him maintain his trot stride.

Once the twisted trotting poles were easy, I started raising them. I raised three at a time, at alternate ends. I wanted the slanted poles to focus my riders to the centre; and make it more obvious when the horses cheated and went straight, because they would clunk over the high ends of the poles. When the last three parallel poles were raised it caused very little issue, except highlighting when the horses lost impulsion. They soon picked up their feet though, so I raised the next three, which were on the right turn. Again, it made it obvious when the horses weren’t central and they were more likely to roll the poles.

By the end of the lesson all twelve poles were raised and the horses were negotiating S-shape easily, bending nicely and being very active in their trot. To finish, I asked my riders to trot large on each rein and feel and describe the difference to the trot. Both came back saying the trot felt more active, energetic, and with bigger strides. I thought both horses also looked like they’d found some abdominal muscles and had lengthened their necks where they were less tense.

It was really pleasing to see how they all focused and thought about the exercise, and you could really see a difference to the way the horses moved afterwards. Now to find a few more different interesting pole work exercises for my friend!

Canter Straightness 

Recently with some clients I’ve been doing canter transitions in straight lines. They’re really useful for testing rider and horse crookedness, and useful in checking that the rider is using specific and correct canter aids, and that the horse understands the difference. Of course once the aids and correct response are established then you can move on to simple changes and flying changes. If a horse falls out through the outside shoulder into canter then they are evading stepping under with the inside hind leg, so aren’t using their abdominals and back muscles properly, which will negatively affect the quality of the canter and they’re ability to balance in the canter.

Travelling large around the arena, ride a trot to canter transition as you pass B and E, coming back to trot at A and C. To help get the straight transition make sure that you aren’t twisting your upper body or leaning excessively into the inside seat bone. Maintain the outside rein contact to support the horse so that they don’t bulge through that shoulder. If they pick up the wrong canter lead, just rebalance the trot, and ask again, checking that the outside leg is clearly behind the girth and in inside one on it. If you have a couple of incorrect strike offs, then just ride a couple on a corner to rebuild your horse’s confidence in the transition and try again. Make sure you reward them trying, even when they try to take the correct lead then wobble and take counter canter. After all, making a straight line transition requires slightly different balance.

If you still feel your horse is wobbling in the transition, perhaps falling in, then you can place poles on the inner track to make tramlines to help focus you both on straightness.

Once the upwards transitions are becoming simple then introduce downward transitions in a straight line. These are usually easier; focus on a point on the fence and ensure your seat, legs and rein aids are symmetrical. If your horse drifts or wobbles close the leg to support, and open the opposite rein to encourage them to straighten up.

The next step in this straightness work is to make direct walk to canter, or canter to walk transitions, on straight lines. Once these are achieved you should be feeling an improvement in the quality of the canter as the hind legs start to work a bit harder and the horse comes off the forehand because they aren’t falling towards the outside shoulder. 

Riding the transitions without stirrups will help you check the levelness of your seat bones and ensure you aren’t twisting or leaning through the transition, so if you are finding your horse is going crooked in the transition check yourself first. 

Hopefully it won’t be long before these transitions become straight forward and simple, so then you can begin to incorporate it into your warm up and usual schooling routine, riding your transitions in straight lines. 

Next up, is starting to look at alternating canter leads. For this we need to use the centre line. Trot onto the centre line from either rein, straighten you both up, and ask for a specific canter lead. If you’re with someone else they could shout left or right, to keep you on your toes. Make a trot transition before reaching the end of the centre line, and change the rein. Of course, the cheating way is to come off the right rein, barely straighten up before asking for right canter. But push yourself; make sure you’re straight, and pick left canter after a right turn. 

You can build this exercise up as I did with one mare, and ride direct transitions, fitting in as many alternate strike offs as you can along the centre line. You should soon feel that the canter transitions are improving and there’s less wiggling through their body, more hindleg engagement and a bit lighter in the forehand.

The horse should also feel that they will pick up the specific canter lead that you’ve asked for, and be more responsive to smaller, lighter aids. Now you can introduce canter changes of rein across the diagonal or across the school, maintaining straightness and minimising the trot or walk strides between the canter. This is a popular movement in novice and elementary tests, and when you get it right, the canter feels great; setting you up nicely for the next movement. 

Once the canter is straighter smaller circles, collection, and extension becomes easier because the hindlegs are directly behind the forehand so it is easier to bring them underneath the body, and to propel themselves forwards. Which leads us onto developing canter pirouettes…

But before we even think about canter pirouettes and flying changes I have one final test to check the straightness of you and your horse in your canter transitions. In either walk or trot, leg yield from the track to the three quarter line and then pick up canter. So if you are on the right rein you shift from right to left bend after the corner. Then after the leg yield, change back to right bend before asking for right canter. You want to aim to be asking for canter whilst still traveling in a straight line to make the exercise harder. 

I think that cracking the straight canter transitions is the secret to being able to take the next step up in dressage. Counter canter becomes easier, and being able to maintain straightness gives you the ability to collect without damaging the quality of the canter, opening up numerous elementary movements. 

Give it a go, and have fun!

Preparation is the Key

I`ve been doing some research and reading, and have got some new schoolwork exercises to play around with in my lessons – so watch out everyone!

I`ll list the exercises here briefly, but the main point I want to make in this post is the importance of preparation.

Exercise 1 – Stay on a twenty metre circle. Ride a ten metre circle within the bigger circle, so that the larger circle acts as a tangent to the smaller circle. The exercise becomes harder when small circles are ridden more frequently, and you can also ride a downwards transition immediately before the small circle, and an upwards transition upon finishing.

Exercise 2 – Stay on a twenty metre circle in the centre of the school. As you cross the centre line, ride a ten metre circle in the opposite direction before rejoining the large circle. To make this exercise harder, ride a ten metre circle in the same direction as the twenty metre circle at B and E, so you are alternating direction on the smaller circles.

Exercise 3 – Ride a twenty metre circle in trot. Spiral into the centre and make a walk transition. Immediately ride a half ten metre circle outwards to change the rein, upon reaching the larger circle make an upwards transition. Again, to make it harder it can be ridden in canter with direct transitions.

All of these circles really test the horse`s suppleness and ability to change their bend without losing their balance and falling onto the forehand. In order to best help the horse, it is vital that the rider prepares them.

So what preparation is needed?

A half halt to start with. I find that everyone thinks of half halts in a slightly different way, but in this instance I think it`s best to think of a half halt as a pause, or rebalance. When riding from a large circle to a small circle, the horse`s hindlegs need to come under them a bit more, and they need to lift the shoulder slightly. Thus, they are rebalancing their bodyweight so that more of it is carried by the hindquarters and less on the shoulders. The rider should apply the half halt with this in mind. So when they close the rein, they lift slightly, bring their shoulders back and shift their bodyweight so that it is closer to the cantle. You can think of sitting towards the back of your seat bones. Of course, the leg also needs to be applied in order to keep the energy and to encourage the hindleg to step under and propel the horse along.

The rider needs to be clear on where they are going. I always start these exercises by establishing the large circle first so that they get their eye in. It`s important that you don`t lose the basic shapes, such as ending up with an oval twenty metre circle, or drifting through the change of bend. As soon as the shapes are lost then you should go back a couple of paces. Perhaps walk it to get your eye in again, or remove the little circles. The rider needs to be looking in the direction they are going, apply the steering aids are the right time – immediately after the rebalance, and ensure that the aids are clear. Otherwise they risk panicking and grabbing the inside rein to haul their horse around the small circle.

I think these exercises are really useful for developing the rider`s balance and co-ordination; timing the half-halt, and giving clear turning aids so that the bend through the horse`s body adjust fluently. It raises awareness of the horse`s balance, and the action of the hindlegs. The transitions on the circles encourage the horse to step under more with the inside hind leg, so the rider will be able to feel it more which will help with transitions on a straight line. Because the circles and transitions come up so quickly they make the rider think ahead, and plan; encouraging multi-tasking. To me, it is a step towards riding elementary dressage tests. I notice that a lot of people struggle to make the step from novice to elementary, and I think it is because the movements are harder and come up quicker. Riding these exercises engages the rider`s brain and should make elementary dressage more achievable. Certainly, I`ve noticed an improvement to the riders that I`ve used these exercises with and the horses I`ve worked on this have become more flexible straighter; staying on two tracks around the circles and being less likely to fall out through the outside shoulder or wobbly on the changes of bends.



Again, I`ve been swotting up with my coaching books, and in one of the more old fashioned books it talks a lot about position left and position right.

They aren`t terms you hear that often now, but actually they are useful phrases to know because as they encompass a whole explanation within two words so act as useful reminders when teaching.

So what are these different positions? And don`t get thinking that they are some strange yoga contortions!

Think about when you are riding in a straight line – in walk, trot, or canter – you are sat evenly on your seat bones, your legs are hanging symmetrically by the girth, there is an even rein contact and the hands are held at the same height, and level. Ideally, you are symmetrical.

Now think about turning left. Your left shoulder comes back as you turn your upper body left. Your left leg stays on the girth, and the right leg comes behind the girth as your weight shifts slightly left. The left rein opens slightly, and the right rein stays close to the shoulder. You are looking left. This is position left. Everything about the way you are positioning your body says “we are turning left”.

Logic dictates then, that position right is right shoulder back, upper body turning right. Head looking to the right with the right rein open and the left rein close to the shoulder. Right leg is on the girth and left leg is behind, with the weight shifted slightly right.

Now think about the aids for canter. They are the same as “position left” or “position right” aren`t they? So thinking about these two positions can help a rider make it clear to their horse which canter lead they want, help improve their feel for the correct strike off, and help improve a horse who favours one lead over another.

Incorporating these terms into teaching can also save on “wordage” – highly important when you spend as many hours talking as I do – because you only have to state which position your rider needs to be in instead of each individual body part.

These different body positions, and the ability to switch between the two came in very useful for a jumping exercise I did earlier this week … but you`ll have to check out the blog tomorrow!


Learning to Canter

I’ve got a project at the moment, and it’s proving to be an interesting one so far. A lady approached me and asked if I could teach her pony to canter. She thought he needed a stronger rider than she to ride the transition and maintain the canter. A stronger rider doesn’t mean brute strength, it means being able to sit the extended trot run into canter without becoming breathless or losing balance, and having the stamina to ride the canter once you’ve reached it.

He’s an old fashioned stamp of Welsh Cob, quite long in the body and a very high knee action, popular in the show ring. I think that because trot is an easy gait for him he’s never really learnt to canter, either under saddle or au natural.

The first time I rode him I got canter a few times. For two strides. But it was a leap and a buck into canter. However, I felt that the school wasn’t helping him that well because it was quite deep, so difficult for him to push into canter. And then it was quite small so we barely got going before we had a corner, which didn’t help our balance. So I suggested that we source a different arena or surface, or I tried cantering out on a hack.

The following week I took him for a hack, but we weren’t that successful because by the time we got canter we’d reached the end of the track. Which made me think that improving the transitions was the way forward, and once he understands that I can use canter tracks to improve his balance and quality of the canter.

It was arranged that the following week I would go with the horse to another livery yard, and have a lesson on him. Something to do with the logistics of hiring the arena.

Anyway, it’s a funny situation being thrown into a lesson on a relatively unknown horse and definitely unknown instructor. Anyway, much to my relief my riding impressed the other instructor and we both work on the same wavelength, so it was much more of a discussion than a lesson.

The first week I warmed up the horse until he was settled in his surrounding and relaxed through his body. We asked for left canter first and the poor pony runs with his front legs into canter, but leaves his hind legs so far behind he can’t coordinate the canter sequence. So a pole was laid on the track in the corner, and I used the jump over the pole to get left canter. It wasn’t pretty, but I got it and kept it for half a lap of the arena.  It was a four time canter, and very panicked, with him running through the bridle. It was tricky to keep the canter with my seat and legs, yet have a light contact so we didn’t go flat out! After doing a few transitions we tried the right rein.

The right rein was much easier, we still used the pole to get the transition so he understood the aids and correct response from him. He also felt more relaxed in the right canter, softer in my hand and slightly steadier.

We finished that session with canter transitions over poles on both reins and left him to digest his lesson.

Today, in session number two, we revised the canter transition over the poles and managed to get right canter on cue without the pole. I don’t have much steering, but the canter got slightly more balanced round the corners and I felt that the pony was understanding what his legs were supposed to be doing. However despite him warming up better on the left rein today, we couldn’t get left canter without the help of a pole on the ground. As he stopped respecting the pole we raised it to cavaletti height. Once in left canter he did soften to the contact and didn’t feel as rushed, although the canter was still all over the place. His biggest hurdle to overcome is learning not to pull into canter with his forelegs and let his body get longer, because then it’s impossible for him to find the three beat rhythm.

I was pleased with right canter though, because he responded immediately to my leg aids and cantered without the help of the pole. 

Hopefully next week we will build on the right canter transition, and begin to improve the quality of the canter, and then move on to asking for left canter without the help of the pole. The left canter will take longer to develop, but we can be patient! As the horse gets stronger and his muscles develop he will find it easier to go into canter and maintain the three beat rhythm.


Finding Your Seat

I read a rather complicated article last week which explained in detail about how your seat should move with the horse in different gaits.

It seemed to complicate the matter, so although I won’t show my clients the article I did find a couple of useful tips.

The walk is a horizontal gait, meaning that the legs move further forwards than they do up. To encourage the horse’s walk, and to stay active in it, your seat should swing forwards and backwards. Not so much that you’re wriggling around in the saddle – think of it more as allowing the horse to move your hips forwards and backwards with each stride. So, left hip forwards, right hip forwards …

The trot is more of a vertical gait, hence why we go up and down, but when trying to sit to the trot you should think of your seat and hips moving up and down in time with the up-down of the horse’s stride. This should help you absorb the bounce and go with their movement more easily. Again, you aren’t manufacturing the movement, you’re going with the flow. Think left hip up and right hip down, left hip down and right hip up …

Now this is where it gets complicated. The canter is asymmetric and has a rolling motion. So when on the left rein your hips want to make small anti-clockwise circles – like doing the hula hoop. And vice versa on the right rein. The article is read also went into detail about putting more pressure on one seatbone at a certain point in the stride, but I feel it will cause rider’s to overthink their seat and move too much. Really, all these movements that the seat is doing is just keeping it mobile, stopping the muscles from going rigid, and helping the rider go with the movement of the horse.

I’ve taught the idea of moving the hips forwards and backwards in the walk to several clients before, but yesterday I decided to try my simplified explanation about the canter seat to a client. She’s been struggling to sit into the canter and tends to come up and down in the saddle, so I thought the hula hoop theory may make sense to her.

I have to say that it really helped. It took a couple of strides initially, and she had to think about it, but her bum definitely stayed in contact with the saddle, and the canter was less rushed. I think it takes a few times of really concentrating on the hips circling in canter, and moving in the right direction, but hopefully as the pelvis gets more mobile and the muscles stronger yet more flexible then sitting into the canter becomes second nature. Then the seat can be more active in controlling the canter.

Now that I’ve test run my explanation, I’ve got a couple of other riders I want to try it with, so watch out!

Straight Canter Transitions 

In one, or probably more, of the British Dressage Novice tests there is a diagonal change of rein in canter, with a change of lead through trot over X. Now it sounds easy, but for a long time Otis and I wobbled through the transition, and where we weren’t straight I lost his shoulder into the trot and then the upwards transition was unbalanced.

To solve this, we started riding canter transitions on straight lines. When you learn to canter you do it coming out of a corner, and it becomes ingrained into us that all canters should be on a curve. Yes it obviously helps to get the correct lead, so is useful for green horses or riders, and it usually means the horse is less likely to run into canter. 

To begin riding canter transitions first make sure that your horse understands which leg he should be going on, in accordance to your aids. The leg aids should be clear and the response instant. 

Next, revise your trot to make sure that you are riding your horse straight down the long sides and that he feels balanced in a straight line, and even between left and right rein. 

I did this with a couple of horses I was schooling today, and it was to ensure that the canter was straight for both of them. The younger horse didn’t fully understand initially so I began with riding the canter transition as I exited the corner onto the long side, to give him a clue as to what I wanted. So when first introducing these straight line transitions ride them immediately out of the corner, until your horse understands. When he goes into canter immediately from the outside leg coming back and onto the correct lead the majority of the time, you can begin to move the location of the canter transition.

This exercise really tests your horses understanding of the aids, and his balance and suppleness. The transitions should begin to feel that they initiate from the hindquarters and be more energetic. The canter should feel straighter and slightly more uphill, lesson on the forehand and more three time. The second horse I schooled with these transitions today tends to go quarters in into canter, so asking in a straight line and immediately riding straight helps set him up correctly for the corner so he is more balanced. When he is straighter his hind leg spends more time on the ground, giving a very balanced and powerful canter.

After riding the transitions large you can test them by doing them on the three quarter line, where you will see if your horse drifts out. If I’m not careful Otis will drift right in left canter transitions. Without the fenceline to guide them, horses are more likely to wobble until their balance improves. I sometimes use a pair of poles to help keep them straight in the transition.

I began doing this exercise with a client a few weeks ago and she had a complete mental block about asking for canter away from the corner. Once she’d done it however, she could feel the difference in the gait of her schoolmaster.

Finally, when straight transitions are performed easily away from the fence line, you can bring in diagonal lines. You want to ensure you are straight after the corner before asking for trot, focus on the letter at the next corner, and squeeze your horse down that line with your legs, keeping the tunnel clear with your reins. Trot until it feels rhythmical and straight, then clearly ask for the upwards transition, still focusing on your line. I tend to ride a different number of trot strides so that Otis is waiting for my signal and not anticipating, but it means I can correct his trot if necessary.

Then of course you can progress to direct transitions on straight lines, but you should immediately feel the improvement in the gait as soon as you start riding straight transitions and being aware of both of your straightness.