This week I answer a question from horsetrainingsolutions reader Estelle G. who has been trying to improve her horse’s canter, among other things.
Hi Elizabeth, Just a line to let you know how I’m doing with my Irish Sport Horse, Alston Mists.We have enjoyed the Summer months, hacking out; we hardly missed a day! We have been concentrating on ‘ confidence building’ & I’ve attached a few photos to show you how confident we are at passing ‘spooky’ objects, now that we know each other better!
We managed to trace back to when he came over from Ireland, 2 of his previous owners; one young lady bought him as her First Horse but quickly realised ( in her own words) that she had ‘bitten off more than she could chew’ as he was very strong willed & was away with her & too strong for her to control.
Hardly surprising when the owner before her used to let him gallop when they turned for home!! After which Alston then wanted to gallop everywhere he went!
Anyway, the lady who got him as her First Horse then sold him to her Riding Instructor ( who we bought him from) & she has told us that she owned him for 2 years, & has used on him a Chambon, a Flash Noseband,( fitted very tight) a Running Martingale & then a pair of Draw Reins.Then she started ‘Jumping’ him & used a Pelham to control him.
Poor lad! he has a few scars on his face, where things have been rubbing & made him sore; particularly on each corner of his mouth ( with the Flash Noseband adjusted too tight) So, I did not wish to add to his torture, but had to re-make his ‘very dead mouth’ for a start.
I decided to put him in a snaffle, a copper one with a middle link,& it took around 6-8 weeks plus lots of mints to get him mouthing the bit as he should.I also put on him my ‘old favourite’ the Market Harborough martingale adjusted loose at first & gradually adjusting it as he progressed.This allowed me to control him when he got ‘a bit strong’ without resorting to more severe bits.
It has taken a while, but he is no longer going on his forehand with his head in the air, he has built up his top-line & hindquarters, & the huge muscle on the underside of his neck has now reduced, giving an altogether ‘ softer, more rounded’ outline.He makes a lovely contact with the bit, for longer periods of time out hacking, now.
But I’m aware that he finds it tiring, so I reward this with a long rein, which he appreciates.However, we have a good walk, a slow trot & the extended trot is almost there, but when I ask for canter in the sand menage it soon becomes a four beat, instead of a three beat canter!! He becomes so excited,I can only just hold him, he becomes so strong.
Perhaps you can tell me where I am going wrong, & advise me what to do in order to settle him into a nice calm & collected canter?
I would be so pleased to hear your views.
Best Regards, Estelle G.
Thank you for your e-mail. You sound to be doing very well with your horse and restoring his confidence in human hands.
My immediate thought when reading your e-mail was “one-rein stop” – Exercise 12 and Exercise 18 on the Thinking Horse video.
You must start the one rein or single rein stop on the ground at a halt. He must understand this exercise at a halt in order to do it while moving. The concept behind the one rein stop is disengagement of the hindquarters.
Why? Well, this is the “emergency brake” on your horse. Every horse has one, you just have to make sure that he knows it is there!
From a halt, drop the outside (right) rein and bend the horse to the left and plant your left hand on your thigh. Look down at the ground. Your horse will probably move its hind end. Keep your hand planted on your thigh until the horse stops moving. When he has stopped, reward him by releasing the pressure. If he moves off, bend him around again until he stops (keeping your legs off him all the time).
Repeat the exercise to the right. It is important to remember not to bring your hand behind your thigh. If you do this, you bring your balance and centre of gravity behind your body. Remember you are asking him to flex, you are not trying to throw him over on his side! It is a rein exercise – make sure you don’t have any leg pressure on your horse or he might think you are asking him to do something like a leg yield, which you are not.
Practice this exercise at least 60 times (30 on each side of the horse) alternating sides from a stand still.
Your goal is to get the horse to stop moving when you ask for the one rein stop. Keep practicing until he reaches for you emotionally (see Richard Thompson video below). And then reward him by stroking his head and making it a really nice place for him to be (as can be seen in both videos).
When he has learned to do this exercise from halt, then practice as above in walk. The faster the gait, the less bend you should take to disengage the hindquarters. What you are looking for is a very slight bend to take away the hindquarters and your horse will soon understand what you are asking. Ideally, he should stop moving when he feels you dropping the outside rein and before asking for the bend with the inside rein.
After you have mastered this exercise at the walk, move on up to the trot. When you have mastered this exercise at the walk and the trot, move on up to the canter. You have to practice this at the walk, trot and canter.
Be careful when you start with the trot and canter, too much bend and the horse may actually fall down.
The one rein stop must be practiced in order for it to be a useful tool in faster gaits. If you use it in a faster gait without practicing from halt through the gaits, you are asking for an accident!
Here is a little more text about it:
This is really a huge training aid when done properly. It has to be practiced and practiced and practiced until your horse is as light as a feather on the rein. It has to be practiced without any gadgets, just a normal snaffle bit and rein. The idea is to get him reaching to you emotionally.
Richard Thomson shows this off quite well in his video at around the 1 min mark.
When all the above is working properly, then you know that you have your horse sensitised to the reins and he no longer uses the reins to pull on or lean on. You can use the one rein stop to stop him when he gets too excited in canter on the school.
The canter is 4 beat because he is tense. I assume he doesn’t have any back problems? Cantering is stressful for him, as he has learned to avoid the bit as much as possible, even if it means leaning on to it with all his strength.
Practicing and using the one rein stop correctly should give you the tools to bring him down to a standstill before he gets too excited and gets the bit between his teeth. However, you must build up to the one rein stop. He needs to build up his mental muscle and learn how to yield to the rein. Do not go into the one rein stop in canter without having done lots of practicing before-hand! A one-rein stop in canter must always be done with the inside rein.
Some tips for practicing the canter. Think more of asking for canter transitions rather than riding the canter. Ask for an upward transition in to canter and when he gives it to you stop asking him for more strides. Do a one-rein stop or a downward transition to walk. Reward him by letting him have a rest. Then ask again for an upward transition into canter. If he gives you a good upward transition immediately come back down to walk or halt and let him have a rest. If he rushes into the canter, do a one rein stop or halt. Reward him for stopping, and then ask for the canter again.
Ask and release is the ultimate training tool when used properly. If he responds in a way which is acceptable to you, then stop asking him to do more of it. Take off the pressure and let him have a rest. If he responds in a way which is not acceptable, do a one-rein stop or halt. Count to 10 and then ask him to repeat the transition again.
Always finish the exercise on a good note i.e. reward the slightest try on his behalf to do as you are asking him to do. Be precise.
Do not keep on practicing until he no longer knows what you want of him. Once he responds well to upward and downward transitions (this may take more than one session, even a few sessions), ask for another upward transition and let him canter a few more strides then ask for a downward transition to walk. Build up the canter in this way.
It will probably take a few weeks until he understands what you want him to do and until you can canter a full circle without him getting excited. Once you can canter a circle, then use the same procedure to build up to cantering on a straight line.
If you have a round pen to practice in that would also be quite useful.
I found this video on U-tube. It isn’t perfect by any means but gives you some idea of what I’m talking about.
There is no quick fix, as I am sure you know. A horse learns by ask and release or pressure and release. Make sure you are rewarding the right thing and he should learn what you want him to do. Break your sessions down into mini sessions – one canter transition at a time. Be aware of when to stop asking for more.
Let me know how you get on, or if you have any further questions. Are the canter aids clear for example, or is there any confusion there?
I hope this has been of some help.
Thinking Horse DVD Click here to see sample exercises.
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