“My horse is great in walk & trot, but canter is a nightmare! Please help!”
“My cob goes nicely in walk and trot, her transitions are soft and good, but when I ask for canter she throws her head up and her canter is unbalanced. I’ve tried to sit quietly but it makes no difference.”
This is a really common problem with cob types as they find trotting so effortless. I can see exactly what you’re describing!
The problem in the transition is she’ll be tightening her back and drawing her neck back towards you. Sitting quietly is very understandable and it’s a natural reaction to do it but actually what you need to do is drive her forward into your contact – you almost want to think about over-riding so you really ride the last few strides.
Her first reaction may well be to hurry and rush but sit it out and focus on keeping her as long as possible. A flat, four time canter is far easier to work on than a tight wobbly one! Remember to keep your hands still so you don’t give her any reason to hollow on you.
Work on canter transitions on a circle so she’s less likely to shoot off down the long side. Really nag at yourself to push on as you ride into the transition (it’s so easy to ‘hesitate’ at the moment of asking which will give her the chance to tighten her neck back at you). Don’t worry if she gets strong as long as she stays long in her neck – if her neck is longer so is her back and that’s what will improve her canter strides. Focus solely on the transitions. Once she canters, canter half a circle and then trot. Settle your trot and then ask for canter again. You want to do this over and over again – don’t get a good one and think ‘that will do’! Make sure you can really ride into canter without backing off and ride a good transition to trot. She might get a bit excited but if you stay relaxed and keep your legs on she’ll get bored – most horses do if you do the same thing over and over! Problems only occur if your riding changes – such as pulling or taking your legs off to ‘ease’ the situation.
Focus on the transitions up and down too – really ride the strides into and out of canter however awful she feels. Your legs are there to drive her hocks underneath her even if she’s rushing and the more you push on the further under her they’ll have to go. If you haven’t read my posts about using your knee and thigh as a brake check this out because it’s invaluable. It means you can keep your contact still and push on while your knees are stopping her flying away with you. There’s a good post about downwards transitions here.
Once you’re finding the transitions easier you can work on her canter. Ride circles up and down the school rather than going large because it will help her to relax into a rhythm. Whenever you have problems with canter the long sides and corners can really upset any rhythm you try to get. (Check this out)
When she’s actually cantering try not to be too ‘light’ with your body or your legs because you’re trying to keep her calm. Pushing on and keeping your seat in the saddle will help her to balance and it will give her confidence. This can be difficult when your brain is telling you not too but it does work honest!