Teaching PJ to Canter

So, PJ has difficulty picking up the canter.  Even in the field, if all of his buddies run off, he trots off really fast.  It makes sense because his lineage is in trotting prowess not the canter, but cantering is important in dressage.  Last year a lot of the work Bridget did with him was getting him to canter when she asked.  Before that, Barbara worked him on the lunge.  He got it well on the lunge and the last ride with Bridget before the winter was good too, but that was only one ride.

The ring was finally dry enough to canter this weekend, so I decided to try an experiment.  Since he picks up the canter right away on the lunge, I would use the same aids and voice commands that he knows from the ground.  When I was ready to canter, I first half-halted to collect him, then as I sent him forward again I said “ready,” then as I put my inside leg on, swung my outside leg back, and gave my inside rein I said “and canter.”  And he did it!  To the right he picked up the wrong lead behind, so I just brought him back to the trot and tried again.  When he got it, I praised him a lot.

On Sunday I also tried hand galloping him around the ring.  I thought it might be fun for him and encourage him to canter.  Well, it seems he has only one speed.  He wouldn’t go any faster than normal.  That’s okay.  It was worth a shot.

The aids for canter are just that: aids.  The horse has to know what they mean.  You could theoretically teach a horse to canter off when you tapped his ear.  Setting his (and your) body up correctly will not get him to canter if he doesn’t know that’s your request; he has to learn that’s what your body position and leg and hand movement mean.  For PJ, the voice commands serve as a bridge between what he knows on the lunge and what he’s confused about under saddle.  The plan is to be able to phase out the voice once he knows that my physical aids mean the same thing – canter.  I’m confident he’ll get it.

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3 Responses to Teaching PJ to Canter

  1. Barbara says:

    Nice! That’s the main reason I lunge, to teach voice commands.

  2. Dom says:

    I like the way you think. I have such a hard time explaining these concepts to people. It’s more than bloodlines and training. These horses don’t have the correct MUSCLES to canter. They have to start small, a few strides at a time, then build until they can go around the ring multiple times. Being in a frame and balanced before asking for the upward transition is also important. I teach ours to canter on verbal command or when someone kisses. They seem to pick it up really fast.

    • tryingtoride says:

      Last year it was obvious that he didn’t have the strength to canter. That’s what we worked on all summer. I had always thought all horses could canter easily, but each one teaches you something different. That’s the great thing about horses.

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