Need some "legging up" in canter?
Working in canter for an extended period of time (let's say, around 5 minutes) has many benefits, and if you want to know why, read the article that I wrote here. The exercise below is an awesome way to develop (you and) your horse's conditioning, work on suppling the horse over the back in canter, play around with balance and hind end engagement, and just work toward something as simple as maintaining a steady tempo.
This exercise is also good if you find that your horse often drops his back (and "giraffe necks") when you transition to canter, or during the canter. We want to teach the horse to loosen through the back and allow it to move while in canter.
You will use the whole arena for this, with circles at A and C. Try to do this in an easy pace - not too fast, not too slow. You can always build up the horse's impulsion as he settles and begins to use himself better, without adding speed to it. The pattern sounds like it isn't much work, but there's quite a lot going on when you go around a few times and let it work you and your horse.
Start at A. Canter on the right rein.
1. 20-m circle
Start with an easy, softly stretching 20-m circle. Think of it as a half-stretch, so not really stretching down as you would for say, a 2nd level dressage test. But do make it a stretch, so that your horse can carry his head a little lower than usual, and stretch through the back a little more than usual.
Ride in half-seat yourself, and take most of your weight off the horse's back.
Keep a mild 20-m bend, keeping your horse on a large circle but watching the outside shoulder. Keep the shoulder straight and allow the bend to happen through the body, not just through the neck.
2. 10-m circle
When you get back to A, do another circle, this time much smaller. Make it a 10-m circle, with more bend, and this time, sit into the saddle and bring the horse up into a nice uphill outline. This circle requires more collection, so keep the canter active and strong but add in the deeper 10-m bend.
3. Canter on up the long side of the rail
After the 10-m circle, head into the corner and then go straight up along the rail. Go back to the half-seat, and ask your horse for the small stretch again, this time on the straight rail. The long side of the ring should allow you plenty of time to strengthen the canter (not speed up, though) and develop a nice, even tempo and stride length.
Strengthen: If your horse feels good, isn't pulling down on the reins, and feels like he has good balance, ask for a little longer stride and a little more impulsion. Don't let the reins go longer and make sure you ease the horse into the bigger movement. (If your horse does pull down on the reins, just sit up a little and ease up on the canter, or even do a down transition to trot, and then canter on again. We want the horse to strengthen the canter, but not to end up on the forehand. So use trot transitions to bring the horse into balance again, as needed.)
You're feeling for a bouncier, more trampoline-y canter. You should also feel like you spend more time in the air than on the ground.
4. 20-m circle
Go through the next corner and back to a 20-m circle at C. Stay in the half-seat for the 20-m circle, and keep the horse in the mild stretch. The difference between the stretch here and on the rail is that you have to re-establish a bend (even though it's just a mild bend) so you're also working on the lateral suppleness on this circle.
5. 10-m circle
Now do a 10-m circle at C. Sit, prepare for the bend as you come back to C, and then bring the horse uphill again in his outline. Use this circle to let your horse do a little "carrying", have a higher and shorter outline, and use his now more active hind end to take some weight off the forehand.
6. Canter down the long side of the rail
Then ease out of the 10-m circle through the corner and down the next rail in the half-stretch (for him) and half-seat (for you) position again.
And repeat! If you want, you can do this pattern several times in a row one way, and then take a walk break, and do it several times the other way.
You can also do the whole thing in walk and trot, either as a warm-up or as a cool-down. The concept of stretching and then shortening the back is a great way to supple and strengthen the horse's back and hind end in all gaits.
Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!
Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions.
This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.
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