Monday, November 29, 2010

Still Cantering

Spider was really sore last week. I can tell because he was being a little balky and squirmy under saddle. He's never blatantly defiant, he just tries to evade me. That's not a bad thing, the soreness, it means he's building muscle. He got two days off because of the holiday and seems to be feeling much better.

In one of my last posts, Jean of Horses of Follywoods suggested counter-canter as a great muscle building and balancing exercise. It is a great exercise, and it's usually one of my favorite exercises. Just not with Spider.

Spider was a jumper before I got him, and as such was taught an automatic flying change. Automatic as in "I will change my canter lead irrespective of my rider's input". It took nearly two years of work to get him to stop doing it. And, when he's unfit, he still does it. The second he comes unbalanced in counter canter, he swaps leads. And it isn't a clean, powerful leap into the new lead, like a dressage flying change should be. It's more of a shoulder-dropping fall into the new lead. Very frustrating.

When I encounter a problem, I like to go back to the beginning. To break Spider of his automatic change the first time I first improved the quality of his canter. I practiced lengthening the stride, then shortening it in circles and straight. I flexed him in and out of circles, paying special attention to not flex him out for too many strides at a time because he'll change leads. From there, I began to use the First Level shallow canter serpentine. First Level Test Four calls for a shallow serpentine from the rail to X and then back to the rail again. At first, I sort of cheated on this exercise. I would canter to X, then leg yield back to the rail. I did this to avoid changing direction, so that Spider could figure out that I didn't want him to change leads. As he began to get the point, I began to ever so slightly point him in the new direction. As his balance and confidence grew and he began to "get" it, I asked for more. Then, one day out of the blue he had it. We were able to do the exercise flawlessly, and then do an entire figure eight with no change of lead. Then we tried the Second Level Test One three loop serpentine. No problem. It took awhile, but in the end it was almost effortless. Slow and steady wins the race, I suppose.

So, I'm doing the same thing again. Right now we're up to flexing in and out of the circle. When I feel like he's balanced enough, we'll go to the shallow serpentine. Hopefully I won't have to use the leg yields this time. I think it's just a fitness issue, I can't imagine he could have forgotten how to counter canter. Well, maybe. "Automatic" training can be very hard to break.


  1. Oh my. I know the problem. My PJ used to fly the change for nearly everyone but me on the right lead. Part of the key is to absolutely commit your body and brain to the lead you want. Even a subtle shift in your seat...something Spider would try to get you to do...will get that change.

    However, I totally agree about its being a fitness issue. And, your moderate approach sounds like a good one. Once the counter canter gets confirmed again, it will be a valuable asset to your overall training.

    Have to laugh a bit...with Tucker...when he was sound enough to really work...the concept of changing the lead for balance was completely alien. He would counter canter quite happily "forever" rather than offer a lead change. Until his hocks are better, I will not attempt much canter work, though. Wish it were just a fitness issue, but there are some soundness problems too.

  2. Sounds like a very good approach, and things should get better as his fitness improves.

  3. Very interesting post.
    I would like to have more precision about leg-yield. You explain dressage better than some books ^-^
    For a leg-yield to the left, what does the horse do? Engage his inside RIGHT hind more under himself, moving him towards the left, but he keeps his nose and neck to the right?
    It is the reverse of a shoulder-in on the circle?
    What cue do you use? your inside leg at the girth to bend the ribs???

    Booo I am getting really confused O_o


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