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Help With Counter Canter

Posted by Nicole Nauss on February 12, 2014 at 3:30 PM


wondering if you can suggest some exercises to help develop the counter canter which we are starting to work on after several years of working on the basics of straightness, contact etc. The canter to the left has taken some work to get going forwards, straight and to try and prevent falling in through the left shoulder. The canter to the right has been much better, easy and more rhythmical. However the counter canter on the left leg ie to the right is more easy for my horse and he can maintain the bend. To the right however on our supposed better rein we struggle and the horse wants to fall through the shoulder and break into trot. We are just doing this little by little but wanted to ask whether there are any supplying exercises to do. We do have regular lessons and he has his back checked every 3-4 months. Many thanks.


Counter canter is an excellent tool for teaching your horse to be supple by stretching and contracting muscles, making your horse stronger and more flexible. It also helps train your horse to be more straight in his canter.


Ideally when working in counter canter your horse’s body should follow the direction of movement but remain flexed to the canter lead (ie his jaw is relaxed to the direction of the canter lead).


However, that is the end ambition, so to start with it is better to allow the horse’s body to have a slight bend in the direction of the leading leg (ie when your horse is on the right lead in counter canter he should have a slight right bend even though he is travelling left). This is why your horse is better on the opposite counter canter lead to his normal ‘best’ side as he is more flexible in right bend. This can be overcome with lots of suppling and stretching in both directions


Obviously this can be difficult for the horse to do if he is not balanced, so always make sure he is well warmed up before you start. Do lots of transitions, especially in and out of canter and also some lengthening and shortening of stride within your canter. Once he is warmed up and listening the first exercise is to canter around the school on the true lead in a reasonably collected canter then at the start of a long side make a long shallow loop towards the centre line and then back to the track. You should maintain the aids for the canter lead (and therefore the bend in the horse’s spine) throughout the exercise and the return to the track should be asked for by turning your head only in that direction.


Your horse should not be allowed to change lead of his own volition during this exercise. If he does, bring him back to a walk until he is calm then start again.


Once your horse can do this comfortably you can make the loop deeper with the curves more defined until it becomes a serpentine where he is cantering alternate loops in true and counter canter. From there you can work towards figures of eight. Never attempt to make sharp turns until your horse’s counter canter is well established as he may attempt to change legs or break in to a trot – and since you will be aiming to teach a flying changes next, you really do not want him changing lead at will, it must be when you ask for it.


Once counter canter is established you can work on harder exercises such as riding around the school doing simple changes into and out of canter canter whilst keeping the horse as straight as possible.


More difficult still is to do shoulder in in counter canter down the long side (just a few steps to start with) or to attempt renvers in counter canter on a circle.


Once all of these have been mastered (and yes, it will take time) you will have a well balanced and supple horse – good luck!

Categories: Q. & A.

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