It was a hard ride for both PJ and I as we worked on canter departs. A little history. So, when I got PJ as a coming 5 yo, he was very out of shape and physically had a hard time cantering, and thereby, a hard time with the canter depart. First, while we were getting him stronger, we picked up the canter pretty much any way we could – even running into it. Then we went to the half-halt, half-halt, send forward and ask approach, which is the correct way to ask. Problem was unless he was really really really on my aids it didn’t work. Even when it did, he was throwing his head in the air, no matter how much contact or lack of contact I had. To help with this, I started asking in two-point. That helped a lot, but I think it is contributing to the problems we are having now.
Which leads to what we worked on today. Everything goes fine with my half-halting and sending him forward at the trot when we are warming up. Sometimes the first canter departs are sticky and sometimes not. The problem comes in when we go back to working on trot. Every time I half-halt and then send him forward he thinks I want to canter – especially on a turn or circle. Someone said ‘you can teach a horse to canter by pulling his left ear (but why would you want to),’ which basically means that the canter cue is an instruction. You can set the horse up all you want by sitting correctly and cuing at the right time in the trot stride, but you still need to teach the horse what the aids mean, they may not instinctively do it. I think that playing with all of the different ways I did to help with the canter depart just confused him. He thinks it’s the half-halt, half-halt, send forward that is the aid, not the outside leg back and scoop (and it should really be the scoop that’s the cue).
I spent a half-hour mixing up half-halting and going forward with canter departs. I am not proud to say that I got angry. He got frustrated. We both got tired. I tried to be very deliberate with my aids for both the half-halting and forward and then for the canter depart. Finally, I asked for canter, and got it, and then after a little bit of canter, I brought him back to trot. When we got back to the same spot where I had asked for canter before I just asked for half-halt and forward and he gave me that. I quit and we went for a hack. I know that part of it is that he wants to do the right thing, but I’m hoping he thinks it over and figures out the difference. Soon.