Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cantering Conundrum

Jetta says that she's not bad, just challenging. I always say I enjoy a challenge, right?

Jetta has actually been quite good for our last two rides. I went out in the evening last night and despite a new boarder that rubs me the wrong way we had a nice ride. 

I have nothing against gamers and in fact used to be one, but my pet peeves: horse has no manners and neither does the owner - tying the horse in the arena instead of in the stall or in cross ties? Tying with the lead rope attached to a stud chain? Horse is hyped up and apparently doesn't have a walk gait and jigs around the arena snorting up a storm? Owner sticks her non-horsey boyfriend on said hyped up horse, sans helmet and he basically struggles to control the horse while she goes to clean it's stall, not paying attention or offering guidance. Grrr.

That aside, we've been working on our canter transitions. They're ok now, but I want them to be really good! I want that easy, invisible transition where the horse just steps into the canter. Either I get an enthusiastic leap into the canter or a fairly good transition with ears pinned.

Apparently I can't win.

I've tried different methods of asking her to canter - putting my outside leg back (makes her pissy), not putting my outside leg back, doing a slight haunches-fore into it (then whenever I want her to do haunches-in she gets upset), "picking" her up into the canter (miss the transition 55% of the time), etc. Some trainers have recommended doing transitions over and over again until they're not a big deal, but no matter how many we do, it just amps her up more until I just have to focus her on something else.

This morning I tried to ask as quietly as possible for the canter, though occasionally Jetta would go to canter then immediately drop back to the trot like she wasn't sure I was really asking for it. Again, transitions were all ok today, but I want better.

Plus, all this work on cantering has made her anticipate it so much. We will be trotting along and I won't be doing a single thing to indicate the canter, yet she'll offer it (of course then it's a beautiful transition but I didn't ask for it!). We ran through Training test 1 today for practice and she offered me a canter twice when I wasn't asking. Sigh...

At least instead of returning to a tense, heavy, rushing trot she remained fairly light and springy which was a welcome improvement. Nice not to have a freight train in your hands.

We have a little over a month to sort this out because we're going to a show!!! Finally a league dressage show on February 24th. I'm set on doing this one, though just in case it doesn't work out there is also one March 9-10th. I would love to do both, but I don't know if I can swing it financially, especially if I go to a jumper show on the 9th of February. We shall see...

So, what aids to you use to ask for the canter?


  1. I have deja vu reading your post today! My mare was doing the exact same stuff last year and the suggestions I was given were the same as yours... transitions over and over and over again. All it did was make her super hyper and we weren't able to accomplish anything.

    I still have issues with her anticipating, because it's just the way her mind works, but she doesn't just decide to canter on her own anymore and we've made real progress.

    What seemed to work for us was using the anticipation against her. We worked on some exercises that got her anticipating the stop, rather than the actual transition. I started off with the trot, so we'd trot, stop, back... trot, stop, back. After doing that a thousand times in the arena, she got super soft and super light and was almost hesitant to trot because she knew the stop would be coming shortly after. Our transitions were like butter and eventually I didn't have to do the exercises anymore at the trot.

    This year I've been working on the canter and we're using this same exercise. It has been working really well and our transitions are no big deal, most of the time. We still have a lot of work to do, but she's made a lot of progress.

    Is Jetta super sensitive? My mare is, so I have to use my body more than my legs or I get pinned ears and a pissy mare face if I touch her belly to ask for the canter.

    I don't know well this will work for you and your dressage goals, but I hope it helps or gives you something else to try! Mares are so much fun! :)

  2. I've been taught to always use your seat. Push the inside seat bone forward and up, supporting with the inside leg (mostly in the thigh) which maintains the bend and asks for that hind end engagement that's needed for those seamless transitions.

    With my old guy, h e was so sensitive that I only had to think canter, the miniscule changes in my body was all he needed. If I purposefully tried to cue he'd get grumpy and the transition fell apart. But, with that I then had to be sooooo careful not to inadvertantly cue it while trotting or I'd get what you are getting--those random canters.

    Good luck!! Time, persistence and patience will always pay off :)

  3. I had to track this down, but I remember reading this a few months ago and I thought it was a really good theory on horses that anticipate the canter too much:

    Interesting and worth a try?

  4. No help on the actual canter aids as I am working through this myself, but my old eventer used to offer canter any time he felt like I was asking for too much trot (he came from a western pleasure background). Correcting him from the canter would just make him tense, because he thought he was doing the right thing, so my trainer's response was for me to KEEP RIDING THE TROT no matter what he did. It's strange to post the canter, but eventually he'd come back to the trot with no correction other than my posting rhythm. As we progressed, he'd occasionally throw in a single canter stride then come immediately back to trot, and eventually the problem disappeared entirely. Our canter transitions also became more balanced and less fussy - maybe because they were less of a big deal?

    Good luck! Let us know how it works out.