What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-
- Rule out possible causes for your canter being crooked
- How to ensure you are straight
- The benefits of initially working in walk and trot
- What to look for in your canter and how you will know if you are truly straight
Has this ever happened to you? You’re cantering, along enjoying every stride, when suddenly it dawns on you that things are not quite as straight as they could be. In fact, if you give a quick glance over your shoulder, you wonder if it is indeed possible for your horses’ back end to pass you out! Hmmm, straightness in the canter.
This episode is focused on how you can keep your horse straight through the canter. Deviations away from this ‘straightness’ can often be subtle, but it is often there…
Rule Out Possible Causes
Before we go any further, obviously I am assuming you have ruled out the possibility of a physical ailment causing any crookedness in your canter.
Making sure that there isn’t something physically wrong with your horse is first and foremost. Physical ailments may be preventing him from carrying the same amount of weight on both hind legs for example. If you are worried about that, have your horse checked by a vet. Also I suggest have both teeth and tack checked as well.
Once your horse has been given a clean bill of health, I want you to turn your attention to yourself – and what you are doing in the canter.
Make Sure You Are Straight
Very often riders get hung up on the fact that their horse is being a little bit crooked, but meanwhile it is the rider that is being a little crooked. Your horse is often merely reflecting or mirroring back what you, the rider, is doing in the saddle. Rider crookedness can often be quite obvious, as with the shoulders. Is one shoulder dipped slightly lower than the other? Or, is one shoulder travelling slightly ahead of the other?
Something that is a little more difficult to feel and more difficult to remedy, is when your seat bones that are not straight. Often, I see that a horse will go disunited behind in the canter due to the rider ‘forcing’ the horse, with their seat, to travel this way.
Make sure that you straight in your riding, and especially in your canter. If you are unsure about how straight you are, check out this free training HERE that will get you well on your way to straightening things out in your body.
So, let’s now assume that you are indeed straight, your horse is perfectly healthy, the tack fits… Where can you start if your horse is a still a little bit crooked in the canter?
Work in Walk and Trot Initially
Firstly, I suggest that you and your horse go back to the basics. Start in trot or walk. Focus on riding a lot of straight, balanced transitions. Crookedness can be quite obvious in the canter, leading riders to only work and focus on the canter. But this often only works to reinforce the crookedness!
Remember all the time that you are working your horse, you are strengthening and building muscles. You are both developing and you can do this the right way, or the wrong way. When you repeatedly ride the crooked canter, be careful you are not ingraining that fault in your horse’s basic body structure.
Rather take it back down to where you can really and truly control things. Of course in the walk and trot all things are generally equal, meaning that while the canter can sometimes feel a little ‘one sided’ (not equal), due to the nature of how your horse travels in the canter, the walk and trot are very equal and symmetrical.
So, it makes sense that when you are working, you are conditioning and strengthening your horse to move in that symmetrical way. By him continuously moving straight and symmetrical, it is going to strengthen and develop this way.
However, sometimes that alone will not be enough. If this is the case I am going to suggest that you try to take any crookedness, or any desire to go crooked, out of the equation. One of the simplest ways to do this is to work on hills. Gentle, gradual hills or inclines. When you work your horse up and down the hill, and you horse will find it very difficult to travel ‘crookedly’. This is due to him needing to have both sides thrusting him forward equally. In this way you can develop both sides.
Unfortunately, a lot of riders won’t invest the necessary time and energy to do this, usually because it is boring in the walk! If you are struggling with this (and yes, the struggle is often real) try focus on other things. Perhaps include some lateral work into your schooling. The focus is on consistently building and developing. Trying get that equal thrust from both hind legs, which will help to straighten out your canter.
How You will Know if Your Canter Needs Work
So, you are at this point probably wondering if your horse is truly straight – or if there is a little crookedness happening in your canter. How will you know if your horse is crooked or not?
Obviously, if you have mirrors in your arena, it is as simple as paying attention to what is happening. However, this is not the case for most riders. If you don’t have mirrors you can check whether your horse is straight in the canter by using a video. You can set your phone up and, simply, ride straight at it. If you don’t have a video, you could ask somebody to watch and tell you.
What should you look for? Simply that your horse is on two tracks. This means that both legs on the left side of his body are on one track (meaning the back leg is behind the front leg), and both legs on the right side of his body are on the other track. So, you have two straight parallel tracks, a little like train tracks.
You can also check that he is straight throughout the rest of his body. Sometimes you will notice a little bit of a curve or a kink. Checking for your horse’s tail between his back legs can often help you see this one.
Of course, don’t focus all your attention on your horse, but also pay attention to you, the rider, and what you are doing in the saddle. By focusing on yourself as well, you are making sure that you are both developing together in moving forward with this.
Finally, balance is an important element when it comes to straightness. Pay attention that you are producing balanced transitions. If your horse is using his whole body, as opposed to using one side and then compensating for the lack of using the other side, your transitions will feel more balanced. Aim for straight transitions, all the way through.
Only when balanced in the walk and trot, attempt cantering again
When you genuinely feel that you are both straight throughout your walk and trot, then you can begin asking for the canter again. Don’t keep hammering on the canter if it is not right, because all you are doing is reinforcing the ‘unwanted’ outcome.
As I have already mentioned, sometimes it can be as simple as straightening yourself up so that you are carrying yourself. In doing this, you then allow your horse to carry himself in way that is also straight.
Remember, any excess tension on either side of your body or your horses body, will reflect through into the canter.
Links mentioned in the episode:-
- Crookedness in the Saddle, Identifying Yours
- Engaging Your Horses Hind Quarters
- The Importance of Correcting and Perfecting the Basics in Riding
- What are You Saying with Your Seat Freebie