But anyway, Dreamy's canter has gone from nonexistent to pretty good. It is still not 100% balanced, and after about 1.5 times around a 20 m. circle it sort of falls apart, but hey, I am impressed with what we have. I think we are fine where we are for dressage, at Training level. The canter is not perfect, but it would be absolutely ridiculous and unfair for me to stay at Intro (walk/trot) level. I don't think we are actually ready for 3-gait under saddle classes, such as what we will do at the show in Skowhegan in a few weeks, but whatever. Her canter is really not that good around and around a large ring. It becomes flat and four beat.
All told, we have worked on the canter for EIGHT months. That is all. SO I am pretty proud of what we do have at this point.
So, despite the fact that I never got to help organize and ride in a "Canter Clinic", I would say that at this point I could INSTRUCT the canter clinic myself! LOL! Just kidding......in reality the reason my horse's canter is pretty good is because of my instructor Judy. All of the techniques I have learned to improve Dreamy's canter, I learned from Judy. All of it is based on classical dressage. No gadgets, no pulling, no pushing...just good riding.
So enjoy my ramblings on cantering and training the Standardbred....I hope it helps someone!
Disclaimer! First of all, take this for what it is worth. I am NOT a professional, just an adult amateur who has been studying dressage for years, but I know I still have a lot to learn! I have been taught by great instructors and almost all of this has come from them. I really cannot take credit. And some of this has just been trial and error with my own horse.
Dressage foundation – No matter what discipline you ride, I truly think dressage basics are good for every horse. It teaches a horse to come from behind, really USE their hind end, accept and reach for the bit, and simply move well. If you can, take some dressage lessons from a good instructor. It is money well spent.
Training scale – Learn the training scale. View it here: http://www.artofriding.com/articles/trainingscale.html. Basically it is: rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness, and collection.
Lateral work – I think lateral work is one of the most important pieces of training a Standardbred. Start from the ground, placing your hand where the leg would be, and teach the horse to move away from pressure. You can do turn on the forehand and haunches on the ground and easily transfer them to under saddle. Also learn and develop a leg yield and a shoulder fore.
Develop a half halt – There is much mystery surrounding just exactly what a “half halt” is. Basically it is just what it sounds like: you ask for an “almost” halt. Using your legs and rein aids, you ask the horse to rebalance. Half halts are used before a transition and during any gait. You actually need to teach your horse what a half halt is. Most of the literature makes it sound like your horse will just “do it” if you ask. You need to start by actually making the downward transition (from whatever gait) and then gradually use the half halt to rebalance instead of the transition. (see below under canter for more on this) As Robert Dover said, “Most riders ride from movement to movement. Effective riders ride half halt to half halt.” Makes sense if you think about it.
Cantering! – Obviously, a Standardbred CAN canter. Their race training makes this gait a mental hurdle more than a physical one. Of course, there are STBs who are built in a way that makes it harder for them to canter, but overall, the majority can canter under saddle. I have many tips below for the canter, seeing as this has been something Dreamy and I have been working on since May 2008.
1. Do a couple leg yields at the walk, either on a long side or on a circle, then ask for a trot, get a nice easy trot for a few strides on a circle, and then ask for the canter. Getting her to step underneath her body before the transition improves everything. Also I will do one to two strides of leg yield in a test right before the canter. They are tiny, usually on a circle or corner, and more of an aid to come underneath herself with that hind leg, rather than a full leg yield.
2. Time your canter aid when her outside hind is coming forward, as that is the first step of a canter stride.
3. When Dreamy decides she does not want to pick up the correct lead (happened A LOT last summer to the left), I would counter bend her before I asked for the transition. This helped immensely! Counter bending is something I use a lot.
4. Once she understood the canter transition from the trot, my instructor had me asking for the canter from the walk. This really helped her to step up into the canter, rather than lunge or fling herself into it.
5. I have found that a few good strides of canter are more beneficial than just cantering around and around and around. Since I want to improve the quality of her canter, I come back to the trot/walk when the quality deteriorates. Ideally, you can go from 2-3 good strides and build up to 5-6, then a full circle, then the ring, etc. etc.
6. I often use the trot transition to “half halt” during the canter. Because Dreamy needed to figure out her balance at the canter, and did not yet know what a half halt is, I could not half halt in the canter to rebalance her. I would ask her to trot, rebalance her that way (plus trotting is something she CAN do) and then ask for the canter again. This leads me to…
7. I have also found that transitions, transitions, and MORE transitions help a ton. I literally will do 2-3 trot-canter-trot transitions on a 20 m. circle. It teaches her to sit back and ready her body for the upwards transition, because she is expecting it. I also have done a trot figure eight, then asked for the canter each time I crossed X. Then I would canter half a circle, come back to the trot, and then ask again at X for the other lead. Granted, anticipation is not usually a good thing, but I found for a canter transition it was. (Dreamy doesn't get nutty about it or try to rush, so that is also why it worked. If your horse gets too riled up, encouraging anticipation may not work.)
8. I have found that having a “Canter Support Group” is a great thing! Feel free to email me anytime! firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are some great resources I have found online:
Cure That Pace! http://www.gaitedhorses.net/pacecure.htm
10 Steps to Improve Your Shoulder Fore http://equisearch.com/horses_riding_training/english/dressage/shoulderfore_030504/
How Horses Work http://www.drderock.com/page3.html
Sustainable Dressage (This entire website is fantastic!) http://www.sustainabledressage.com/
Here is the half halt info: http://www.sustainabledressage.com/collection/halfhalt.php
The Half Halt Demystified (Great DVD. Anyone want to buy it for me?) Just kidding...
Back to the Beach (Just a great article!) http://www.ustrotting.com/absolutenm/anmviewer.asp?a=18228&z=18