Virginia 8 year old  Standardbred ridden in English bridle,loosering French link snaffle, drop noseband and  English All-purpose saddle in  100x200'arena by Advanced rider

Question: I am having trouble getting my mare to canter, especially to the Right. She never raced, and her trot work is quite good now. She will sometimes "get it" and canter nicely & fairly smoothly. But most of the times it's rough- she'll lose her balance & rhythm & start to pace; or canter in front & pace/trot behind she's a pacer). I've started doing work with
ground poles, and encouraging her to canter after she jumps (she loves jumping). But how can I help her feel comfortable doing what she's not bred to do? How can I strengthen her back end so she can maintain her balance. I don't have a lot of hills to do hill work on unfortunately. This is a new problem for me- teaching a horse how to canter!

From Panelist Lee

You are on the right track with the jump/canter training.  Other things that will help her develop her  hindquarters are lots of transitions -- walk, trot, walk --- walk, halt, back, walk,  -- walk, halt, back, trot .... and any work you can do in some collection at the walk or trot.  practice lots of bends, too -- good circles and curves, to develop her lateral
flexibility.  And, if you can, work her on the longe, at the canter, without your weight to distract her.  Again, lots of transitions, walk, trot, canter -- canter, trot, canter ... canter, trot, walk, halt, walk, trot canter, and eventually walk, canter, walk.  By the time she can do this last one, she should be getting pretty stong and able to do it better under saddle, if you sit very quietly and don't interfere with her head position much.  Let her be strung out for a while as she learns, then work on collecting the gait gradually, using mostly your seat.

Good luck with your retraining project -- she sounds like a lot of fun!

Lee Ziegler

From Panlist Erica

It might really help your mare to work up to canter work on the lunge line - allowing her to find her own balance and footfall without the added weight/pull of the rider. This can be especially helpful with those that are long and lanky or just not real graceful with their feet. Remember to start slowly - warming up at a walk on the lunge on both sides and not moving past a trot until your mare both builds up some more stamina but is also able to
handle the canter work in her physical condition.

When you start working her again for the canter under saddle - try to keep her trot/pace speed slower and relaxed while cueing her to canter. If she gets rushed into the gait she will not be as confident or able to control her feet as well as if she were relaxed when going into it. 

Also, be sure to check your saddle fit and be sure there aren't any sore areas on your mare as these may constrict her movement or make it very uncomfortable or even painful to canter. Good luck!

Erica Frei

From Panelist Nancy

This problem of the "fall apart canter" is fairly common with the gaited horses.  Sometimes they seem to be like a centipede - (too many legs!!).  If you have a round pen to work her in you might do best to develop her canter in there.  If you don't have a round pen, I would suggest that you start your canter on a circle or corner of an arena.  When you get the canter, only ask for a few strides.  Try to stop and praise her BEFORE her canter falls apart. 

 Remember, it doesn't do any good to practice a canter that is not correct.   You don't want to practice a bad canter.  A good exercise would be to ask her to do a canter depart from a back and then, after a few strides, stop and back her a couple of steps and then do another canter depart from the back.   I think that should hold her together better.  Gradually she should be able to go a little further in balance at a canter.  Also, working in a round pen or on a circle would help to keep her from falling apart.  These exercises 
should do very well to strengthen her back end also.  Asking for a canter from a trot shoulder-in might be helpful also - going directly  from a left shoulder-in (for example) into a left canter on a circle.

Hope some of these suggestions will help.

Nancy Cade

From Panelist Stella

If she's 8, and you've had her only 2 1/2 years of that, it may be she was originally started to race, and not just a matter of breeding, but training to discourage cantering when asked for speed. This takes a longer, since you're retraining, not just training. The cantering is no longer a no-no, but "OK," so needs lots of extra reward and encourage to change her mentally as well as physically.

It's probably best to start by lunging, to not only induce the canter, but also strengthen her and praise. If she tends to pace, sometimes a quick "pop" and release of the lungeline, while using a lunge(I personally prefer a driving)whip just popping behind...but not necessarily making any encourage her to keep moving forward, so that her head comes in briefly and slightly to you, will help break it up....

Then under saddle, also use circles, not too small at first, small enough to discourage extension of intermediate gaits(trot or pace), and use the weight of your body and seat to rhythmically "rock" with the canter as the horse's own weight as well, shifts from the lead leg to diagonal back. If you allow, on your forward lean, your upper body to be somewhat over the inside shoulder, she will have to "catch" your weight with her correct lead leg; 
then coming back, put weight to your seat, somewhat more to the outside hipbone, pushing with your seat, and use legs to encourage her to engage the back end and keep up the drive. I usually like to associate reward with a low, musical tone of voice, so if my hands/etc are too busy keeping the horse going, they know from my "speaking to them" thats their reward and I approve and am pleased with what they are doing. Dont forget to work both leads, but dont worry about more advanced type changes,etc. speeds, until 
you get her going consistently where she's comfortable and fit. BTW, make sure that you develop a signal for the canter that is clearly differentiated from extending intermediate gaits. Just have patience, and best of can be done...


From Panelist Liz


One thing that may help first would be to change your saddle. Many of the all purpose saddles can put a rider into a forward seat and if you are jumping this is the position you are in while jumping. On our gaited horse this seat keeps them from being able to maintain their own balance and balance a rider at the same time. Give another saddle a try, something like a strictly dressage, western, cut back any thing but a forward seat and be aware of how you are positioning your self. Ride in a nice classical position. This will help your horse a lot.

Also in working canter ,when one is having this trouble I will put the horse into a 50 foot circle at the canter and start to open it up bigger as they can hold it. Eventually widening it out to the rail. When they start to loose the canter tighten up your circle again. At the same time try to keep them from leaning to much in to the circle by supporting the shoulder that is one the inside of the circle. Keep the horses body as vertical to the ground as possible.


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