Intentionally mixing cantering and lunging together is not for the faint of heart! It often requires nerves of steel – especially at the beginning of the journey…
Why Canter on the Lunge?
Well, why not?! Okay, I realize that many riders will answer that with “Because my horse turns into a lunatic!”, or “Because I value my horse’s soundness and my own life!”. And versions of these scenarios do feel really within the realm of possibility.
However, that is a key point. They ‘feel’ real – but are they really? Or is there a story going on in your mind that is simply telling you cantering on the lunge is a no-no for you and your horse?
I think that if you are working on a canter when riding your horse, there is a pretty good chance that you can also work on a canter while on the lunge. And reap the benefits.
Notice Your Feelings First
When I first began to really ‘work’ on the canter while on the lunge, I realized that a lot of the work was actually mine to do. And, the vast majority of that work was mental, rather than physical. I noticed that, when I began intentionally introducing canter on the lunge, my mind had a whole lot of stories about it all.
Just the thoughts of canter produced excess tension in my body which, obviously enough, the horse must have picked up on. Couple this with changes in breathing, body language, and just aids in general…
Looking back, I am certain that any excess energy the horse displayed was probably a reflection of what I was feeling and communicating.
However, once I realized this, I began working on it. Why did the thoughts of canter make me respond so differently? Was it true, all the doom and gloom outcomes I was prophetizing for us?
Or were my feelings of discomfort simply because I was doing something new – and that felt challenging to my mind?
A Few Pre-Requisites Before Introducing Canter
Okay, so along with doing the work regarding your thoughts and the feelings they produce, there are other things that also need to be in place before you can safely, and successfully begin introducing canter on the lunge. The first is responsiveness. Your horse must be able to understand what it is you’re asking. And respond appropriately.
Invest time developing your aids and responsiveness in halt, walk, and trot before even thinking about canter. Make sure that both the ‘go’ and the ‘whoa’ aids work well :)
I also firmly believe that the setting can either help or hinder your progress. Taking the time to set up an enclosed area, around 20m x20m to lunge in can help so much in the future. It will allow you to use the lunge line for contact, rather than trying to stop the horse or slow him down.
Introducing the canter on the lunge in an enclosed area also helps the rider to remain a little more relaxed and calm…
I also think it is important that you can easily work the lunge line and ‘keep up’ with your horse. Physical fitness is not just for horses. And working the line correctly will help to prevent tangles and knots.
Not Just a ‘Check List Item’
It is also worth keeping in mind that intention is important. Meaning that cantering for the sake of cantering is neither helpful nor productive. The canter can really help with the training and the development of your horse, but only if you put intention and focus behind it. Why do you want to canter? What are you hoping to achieve from the canter?
Creating a specific focus for your canter work while on the lunge will allow you to make each circle count; rather than just running in circles!
I would suggest starting with rhythm and going on from there. Accuracy and responsiveness are also really helpful filters when working in the canter. Can you maintain the correct levels of tension; relaxation? And, later, use the filters of suppleness and straightness to really develop strength and responsibility.
Canter on the lunge is also a great way to work on the contact; especially if your horse has a tendency to become heavy on the forehand when being ridden in the canter.
Introducing Canter on the Lunge
Start with asking for a good quality trot. Spend a few minutes ‘tuning’ things up a little more so that you are sure your horse is listening to you and responsive. From here, see if you can find a way to ask for the canter that your horse already understands.
Using verbal cues is often helpful, especially if you can use the same cues while you ride. Find a ‘common ground’ where aids are concerned and build from there.
Just like when riding, reward (verbally and ‘softening with the contact’) any step in the right direction from your horse. Keep in mind that your horse may initially seem to fall into the canter. This is normal. If he has only ever been ridden into the canter, he may be a little dependant on the rider for balance.
Asking for canter on the lunge requires your horse to ‘step into it’ himself. No balancing effect from the rider. This means things may look unbalanced, rushed, or heavy the first few times.
Just like when riding, it will take time to develop straight, clean, relaxed, forward, and light transitions into the canter on the lunge. It requires your horse to being to take more responsibility for his role in the transition and the gait. And it requires the rider to learn to balance the aids for clarity.
Introducing canter on the lunge is not an easy thing. Correct preparation is required. However, it is such a useful tool in your training toolkit that it is well worth the effort and time.
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