My horse gets so excited about canter he can’t concentrate once we’ve cantered.
“My horse has had his teeth, back and saddle checked so I know nothing is wrong. I’m sure I’m the cause but friends are giving me different opinions and nothing works! Some say keep him cantering until he gets bored; which he never does. Others say I should let him walk and relax before we canter again but he won’t walk – he just throws his head about and jogs! Any advice would be great. I ride him in a running martingale with a flash noseband as he hollows and throws his head up a lot when he gets excited.”
OK here are some thoughts! Bear in mind I’ve never met or seen you or him but this is what I’d do if he turned up on my yard.
My first thing would be to remove any battle between your hand and his mouth – just while you’re solving this problem. Head shaking (whoever starts it) always results in banging in the mouth which gives them the perfect reason to get tense and hollow or jog.
Change your running martingale into a standing martingale so that when he lifts his head the pressure goes onto his nose – that means he won’t blame you and you won’t lose your contact. If you can lengthen the martingale at the girth end do so and thread the cavesson of the flash through both rings. If you can’t then thread some string/ a flash strap through both rings and thread your cavesson through that. When he’s standing still the standing martingale should be loose, push his head up to fit it making sure the pressure goes onto the noseband before you’d feel it on your reins. What it shouldn’t do is pull his nose back and in; it’s just there to allow you to keep a contact and not get your arms pulled out!
Check out this post http://www.schoolyourhorse.com/2013/01/12/the-other-other-way-of-stopping/ and the link to The Other Way of Stopping so you start to use your thigh, knees and seat rather than your contact as an aid to slow down. It’s the best thing I’ve ever learnt and it works on every horse/pony.
The next thing to do is think about what’s happening. You have obviously worked hard on his schooling so the transitions aren’t too much of a problem. By the sounds of things it’s the excitement of the canter you need to get rid of! Canter always produces bucket loads of adrenalin so you need to get rid of it when you trot to stop him getting wound up. One thing that rarely helps in this situation is to canter for ages because that just generates more!
What you need to do is trot and instantly get onto something else so you both have to think about something other than whoopee! You’ll find a standing martingale is great as you trot because he won’t drop into trot and fall onto your hands. It’s important you don’t pull back into trot but use your knees and hold them tight in until you get the right speed.
The exercise I think would work well for you both is to canter a 20m circle at one end. One full circle is enough. Start on his easy rein. Don’t worry too much about the quality of the canter at first (as long as the lead is right) because you need to focus on getting the trot busy. Trot before A/C and then go straight onto a three loop serpentine with a circle in every loop. Don’t worry about anything – bend etc. – other than getting round the shape and keeping your trot fairly steady. Let the standing martingale take the strain and keep your arms hands and seat soft and relaxed. As the serpentine finishes pick up canter and do the whole thing again.
I wouldn’t expect a huge change at first but the more you do it the more he’s going to understand that there isn’t a battle coming at the end of a canter. If you stay relaxed – which you can if he isn’t throwing his head about or pulling – he’ll learn to relax himself. I would do this every time you school for a few weeks so he gets the idea you’re going to canter, trot and canter again as often as you like. I’d do at least five per session.
After five runs through I’d walk, give him a loose rein, pat him loads and ignore any jogging etc. Do as many circuits as it takes until he walks – the more floppy your seat the quicker it will come. Keep your legs against his sides but stay soft.
End with that exercise and put him away to think it through. You’d be amazed how much they think about things when you’re not there!
Once you’ve taught him that canter isn’t quite as exciting as he first thought you’ll be able to work on bend, balance etc. but don’t give yourself too much to think about in one hit.