The Hardest Thing

I’ve been riding Stevie consistently and now it’s time to begin work on the canter.  Introducing the canter to retired racehorses is one of the hardest things to address when laying down a new foundation.  Relaxation is a must but the horse believes I am asking him to gallop and that’s understandable because he has most likely never cantered.  The canter upsets the balance of the horse more than the trot or walk because one phase has all four feet off the ground.  In the gallop, momentum provides the ability to balance. In the canter, the horse must at the very least carry himself on his forehand but it’s impossible to get up to the speed needed to maintain balance.  As training and physical development progresses, they can then shift their weight to the rear end and use this to maintain their balance.  Galloping is exciting for most ex-racehorses.  They wait all day to train and then go out and run.  Ex-racers, especially the horses who were good racehorses, struggle to contain themselves.  They are waiting to run.  

Stevie is 13 years old.  He has a level of physical maturity and fitness that young horses do not.  If a young horse was as excited as Stevie is about the canter, I would wait to introduce the canter until the horse had more ability to contain himself and physical development to find balance when working in an arena.  I do not work 3 year olds on the lunge except to obtain the walk and ho voice commands.  I don’t feel they are physically mature enough for repetitive circles.  If Stevie was more comfortable going on a hack, I would introduce the canter around the farm, but he isn’t comfortable hacking out yet.  I believe he likes the consistency of working in an arena much like the defined work area at the track.

I will be lunging Stevie before riding him to work on the canter during this time.  Introducing the canter on the lunge accomplishes three fundamentals: it prevents this excitement from invading the relaxation I have achieved while riding Stevie, introduces the voice command I will use to ask for the canter when I begin riding the canter, and  it allows Stevie the time to learn to contain his excitement.  The ability to contain his excitement is key in being able to perform, especially if he is destined to compete.

I don’t use the whip although I do carry it.  Using it to ask for the upward transition excites Stevie and that’s not what I want to do.  I also don’t cluck or chirp because that also produces excitement and tension.  I’d also like to mention that Stevie turns in when I ask him to halt.  I don’t want this, but for now, other things are more important.  I will get to correcting this once he is more relaxed and lunging is easier for him.  Experience has taught me not to try to fix everything at once.  Focus on key priorities and allow Stevie to be successful every day.  We have the time.

Lunge to develop the canter.

These videos were made with the Pixem.  Please excuse the wandering.  The video below is the riding portion of our training session on June 5, 2023. At this point in Stevie’s training, we begin with the walk, and focus on suppling and responding to the aids.  We then do trot work which some would say is a bit slow but this is the speed at which Stevie can maintain and work on his balance.  You can only go as fast as the horse can balance himself, at least in my training approach.  We move on to introduction to lateral work.  It’s more application of the aids while looking for some response or yield.  This will be addressed in each training session, eventually becoming true shoulder in, haunches in and half pass.  There will be no force used, simply an ask and as Stevie develops, he will  yield more and more until we are there.  In the meantime, this work aids in suppling Stevie.  Lastly we move to transitions which I feel are vastly important to developing strength.

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