Are You Asking For it?
Posted by Lorraine on Jun 16, 2012
Are you struggling with your canter leads? Does your horse favour one leg over the other? It’s a common problem. There’s a common cause too. The rider! Trying too hard is a big cause of confusion and tension in horses and riders. Often when a problem begins your response to it can actually make matters worse.
If your horse is always getting the wrong leg what do you do? Bend him towards his leading leg? Lean towards it? Turn a tight circle so he has to bend? Use your outside leg harder … further back … or for longer? Or do you tap him up with the whip behind it? These methods may get you canter – they may even get you the right leg. But they probably won’t.
Four classic ways to get the wrong leg –
- Leaning or turning your horse’s head to the inside. Most rider attempts to influence the leading leg actually hinder their horse. Imagine all your weight was on one side of your body and you were going round a corner. You’d put out your other leg to try to stay upright, right? Which is exactly what your horse does. He’ll throw his weight towards his outside front leg to stay balanced and it becomes his leading leg.
- Using your outside leg harder or backing it up with your whip. If your outside leg is banging on your horse’s side he’ll curve his body away from it. If he does that he’ll bend to the outside and take that lead.
- Turning a tight circle in the hope you’ll ‘encourage’ your horse to take the correct leg will only unbalance him. If he feels he’s falling to the inside he’s going to throw his weight to the outside and take the wrong lead.
- Turning your body to the outside. On a circle your shoulders and hips should be turned to the inside. Your horse will copy what you do with your body and turn his. When you move your outside leg back make sure you only move your lower leg. Take your whole leg back and your hip will go with it. Do that and your hips will twist to the outside and put your horse on the wrong leg.
A pace is just a sequence of legs. Left and right canter have two separate sequences so think of them as two separate paces. It helps to make your aids clearer. It may seem trivial but if you move on to counter canter or flying changes it’s going to be essential.
Your horse has to be balanced to listen to your aids and strike off correctly. He bends through his body – not his head and neck. Too much neck bend causes more problems than it cures. Concentrate on keeping his head and neck straight in front of you and you’ll help him stay balanced.
If you don’t use sitting trot regularly it’s time you started! When it comes to canter it can be a shock to your horse when you suddenly sit and deliver your aids. The chances are you only do it for a couple of strides to avoid upsetting him. What you really need to do is to do it for longer so he has a chance to relax.
Trot a 20m circle at A/C and concentrate on your body. Look directly ahead. It’s easy when you sit to focus so hard on staying in the saddle that you start to stare at the floor. Look straight ahead and you’ll keep your weight back over your seat which will help your balance and your horse’s.
On a circle give your horse time to relax by sitting for at least ¼ of a circle before putting your outside leg back; try sitting at X and asking for canter between the corner marker and A/C. As you sit relax every muscle in your seat. Forget about how you look. Focus on keeping your hips and shoulders turned to the inside. Quantity does create quality with sitting trot. The more you do the more you’ll relax. If you’re a bit unstable initially it’s actually less unsettling for your horse than sitting and asking for canter in one stride.
If your horse strikes off incorrectly don’t panic and change anything. One wrong strike off isn’t a disaster. Relax, trot and ask again. The quicker you correct him the quicker he’ll understand. The most important thing you can do is stay calm. If it keeps happening go and trot a couple of circles in sitting trot and make absolutely sure your body is in line with the circle. Check your weight is even on both sides of your seat too. If your weight is heavier on the inside he’ll have to lean to the outside.
This exercise is about the correct strike off. Cantering ten circles on the right leg won’t teach your horse to strike off correctly. Transitions will. Canter half a circle and trot. Repeat and repeat until you get at least three correct strike offs in a row. Once you get everything in place you’ll find it’s easy.
Getting the wrong leg just means not getting the leg you asked for. Next time you feel frustrated because your horse has got the wrong leg again take a look at your aids and your body. Is it really him or have you been asking for it all along?
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.
For more detailed information on canter why not check out Teach Yourself 2? At 99p it’s affordable and instantly downloadable. It gives you five progressive exercises you can use to improve your horse, your transitions and your canter.
If you have a question on any problem to do with riding or training your horse get in touch via the forum or email me at email@example.com My advice is free – so why not try me?