Cantering

Flipo's Mum

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Aug 17, 2009
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My main goal this year is to sort out Flipo's canter. (and mine).

For me, I will be getting lessons on friend's Arab (I can't afford lessons from RI, and really need time on another established horse to get to grips with my position and balance, as well as working out if he's on the right lead).

But for Flipo, I feel like I'm in a difficult situation.

1. He has arthritis - lower arterior ringbone from memory. The vet has historically said that 'he's not built for cantering or schooling' because he's a heavy dude - not just because of the arthritis, and in fact, I've not felt he's shown any affects of this - they've said its consistent with his age and type, and I feed turmeric to help. As I was so terrified of hurting his joints further however, we stopped all of the schooling for the last year, however when I addressed this again with the vet a couple of weeks ago, she said since this joint is a low mobility joint, it will do no harm to do a bit of light schooling, and will help with weight control being that I've not got the confidence to go off on looooonnng hacks all the time.

2. Flipo's weakness is in his nearside fore. He had a muscle tear in his underarm (sorry, not great with anatomy am I ?!) right beside his girth, and this probably contributed to an imbalance in his hoof and resultant lameness that has now been resolved by shoeing for the last year.

From these two points, I have a few concerns and want to work out the best, most sympathetic plan to help him strengthen up, gently introduce canter work with him striking off on the correct leg - with no real plans for going blasting around the countryside, I just want to be able to feel secure in my seat, able to control him, and able to venture into the show ring for our one show per year for charity. So......

1. Getting the right strike off. I think Flipo isn't strong on his nearside because of his lameness/ muscle tear, and wonder if there's anything specific I should or could do to help this?

2. He's a big lad, and we're not designed for tight turns. Our school isn't huge, and he's not very supple, so I'm thinking a bigger space to practice in which is fine, but its been suggested that I try lunging him to help improve without me being on him - let him strengthen up. Lunging isn't our strong point, neither is free schooling. I dont have the right energy levels, and after many failed attempts, I'm willing to admit defeat. So is there anything else I can be doing with him to try and improve his cantering strength? Help!

Cookies and milk for anyone who got through all of that and made sense of it! Sorry I'm rambling!!
 

Trewsers

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I read an article by Michael Peace recently about obtaining the correct canter strike off, I will try and find the pertinent points and post them, because I only skim read it at the time, so can't really get it down on here without checking!
What puts you off lunging? Is it that Flip isn't used to it and turns in towards you? Is he lazy and do you struggle to encourage him forwards? I lunged Storm quite a bit in the past - for different reasons, but in the end I found not using a lunge whip helped me - despite being told how to lunge properly by my RI and create the "triangle" with the horse, the whip and myself. Maybe this might be worth thinking about - just going in there with the intention of lunging but playing it by ear without a whip? (I am making assumptions here of course - you might find it preferable to do it the traditional way). I don't do loose schooling as such, every now and again maybe, but I think I prefer lunging on a line if I need to establish how she's going and get her particularly listening to voice command.
Anyway, I'm sure you'll get lots of advice - meanwhile I shall try and find that article.........
 

Trewsers

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Found the article, it's a bit long, but one thing that does stand out;

"If a horse picks up the wrong canter lead, his weight distribution is probably wrong in his shoulders. It's likely that this outside shoulder is falling out, so I would use my outside rein to bring it back in line just before I ask for canter. I raise my outside hand up to the wither to block the space for the outside shoulder to fall out through and open the inside rein so he has a space to step across into the right lead."

Not sure if that will help or not.......................
It might give more details on his website or Horse and Rider magazine's website.
 

Tina2011

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Evie dosen't school well, she is too big like Flipo.

She can do big circles, I have to work harder on one rein than the other.

I have given up with schooling circles bth, she tries but does not enjoy it so I think, whats the point as I am not trying to turn her into a heavyweight dressage horse.

I think your idea of practicing on another horse is good to improve your own riding. I find with Evie it is almost impossible to maintain the standard riding position, I find I have to have my leg further forward on her as she is broad and round and sit well upright when asking for canter as the big bum throws me forward and I loose the use of my legs before I have achieved the strike off.

I usually canter her in a straight line when I am out, or chose a big field and use a corner to get different leg strike offs.

I also us leg yielding to get her listening to responding to different leg aids. Turn on the forhand is also useful.
 

sjp1

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Sounds like a good article Trews.

To be honest, I would start cantering on hacks. Much easier, every horse has a favourite leg to strike off with, and if he has had muscular issues, I would start building him up this way. Much easier to canter out hacking then in a school, and legs don't matter in a straight line.

Also if in the school, from my perspective, don't throw the reins away in an attempt to get him cantering. This is where I have gone wrong in the past, have a good active trot in the school and just before the corner, go into sitting trot, inside leg on with good rein contact, and you will crack it.
 

Flipo's Mum

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Trewsers, spot on. Lazy, and he turns in on me. I've had lessons and can get him moving well, but then the next time I try alone, it all goes to pot and we end up chewing up the ground skirting round in circles and he stands on his flamin tail while looking all sheepish as if to say 'mum i don't understand what you want.'

I will maybe try without the lunge whip although not sure how I can get him to move forward in that situation. In the whole Mark Rashid '10' theory about energy (if your horse is at a 2, you've got to be at an 8/ if your horse is a 8, you've got to be at a 2) I am lousy at being the high energy driver. I do well at calming things (weirdly since historically thats not how it all works out) but am rubbish and encouraging him on.

I think Ill have to print out your Michael Peace suggestion and have someone read it out to me while I'm trying.....I'm at that awkward stage with my canter where its just all uncoordinated and messy!

Thankyou Tina, you know what I mean about the heavier types. Its almost like you're forcing them to do moves they just weren't made for and as such, I'm reluctant to push too much, but I'm unsure whats acceptable and I guess I need to gauge that with my own horse - I've asked for vet advice and they just don't seem to be vague!
I don't want to do 20m circles - far too small for us, and thats why it sort of puts me off lunging as its the same thing, but I guess I wouldn't be on him so that might be easier on his joints (if I can actually get him lunging!)
Sally, I've been trying short canters out on hacks, (and longer ones when in company) but we've run out of stubble now and I'm limited in places I can do this, but I will keep persevering. My idea just now is to pass by the livery yard on one or two hacks a week, take him into the school for maybe ten minutes maximum and do a few transitions. I'm also going to look for hills I can use to try and strengthen his back end - I know he will always be on his forehand, with his breeding, and it would be wrong to force anything else, but I think his butt could do with some more muscling and it would certainly help wouldn't it?
 

sjp1

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Absolutely it will help. Transitions are good for helping them off the forehand and making them more responsive to your leg too. Not necessarily in canter to start with, but from walk to trot.

Also what helps is after they are calm half way through a hack and their head is not up high, is to take the contact and use a strong leg. Doesn't have to be for very long, maybe 8 or 9 strides and then let them have a long rein to stretch down. Engaging the bottom is hard work through the back, but doing this when hacking is less tedious then in the school - can you tell we hate schooling!!!
 

Flipo's Mum

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Fab idea Sally, thankyou! I'm reluctant to spend heaps of time in the school so will try that! TBH I've recently had him being slow out, fast back again - so while he's like this, I have been trying to harness the energy of the return home and spent some time trying a stronger contact and leg on. It feels really nice, but maybe I'm needing to do it when I'm encouraging him to work, that way its me in charge of pace!
 

Laura_107

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Everything suggested is what I would do. Try to do as much cantering out on hacks when you can while it's nice and easy in straight lines, and maybe mix it up with lots of short transitions & then a longer canter so he can build up momentum (and realise it is fun!). In he school i would actually avoid lunging, with his limitations I would be concerned about the pressure on his joints. Personally I would do as many walk/trot transitions as physically possible and get him (as my has possible) working from behind. That will help his canter, but also maybe help him deal with the muscle weakness in his front end. I would focus on getting a good active trot going which will help you with your canter transition when you come to doing it in the school.

As for getting the correct canter lead, the instructor I know uses a pole at an angle in the corner. She asks for canter as the horse is trotting over it (with the correct lead) which forces him onto the correct lead. It works well.
 

Flipo's Mum

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Well an update on my cantering (or lack of!). I've been trying to do so out on hacks - just very short bursts - think three or four steps, to get my aids right and strike off. Sadly it's not gone well and something popped in my head - I ended up tense, thinking to myself 'I can't do this' I don't feel safe.
So I've been concentrating on fitness instead and had resigned myself to the novice class at the show - we're not ready so why should i pressure us to do something we need more time with.
Last night we went for a schooling session in the show field just to refamiliarise ourselves with the big open space and wow! At one point I was adamant , shouting at my mate that under no circumstances would I be cantering. Twenty minutes later after warming up and getting comfy I decided I'd give it a go (under ever so slight duress as I'm scared of cantering on the flat). Then I had a meltdown as friend stopped and wanted me to canter around her (she was on her horse) to see what I was doing that was getting me all panicky. Cue much falling in from flipo and almost falling off from me (I have no directional control in canter as I'm useless, flipo careered towards the Arab and the Arab let fly with a kick which sent flip off in the opposite direction - oops!)
Well that was that. I was angrily almost in tears saying I don't trust poor flip to do more than three strides, I tense up and he moves back to trot, I collapse and it all just goes out the window. Friend gave me a few pointers suggesting I'm not keeping my leg on, it's easier to sit if he's going forward and I'm giving him mixed signals. Well I decided one more try, but this time with the Arab cantering infront along the long side of the field. I sat, gave the aids, and we ended up cantering wonderfully along BESIDE the Arab, it wasn't perfect, I wasn't entirely confident keeping my leg on but any time I felt him slow, I closed my legs round him and he pushed on through. I think the more I realise he's not going to take off, fall flat on his face (he's a tripper if he's not going forward) then I can be more confident. I just seem to have built up this wall that says ill fall off if I do more than a few strides!

So update summary is - its the rider and mostly not the horse. I knew that! I will keep having a little to each week and see how we are for the show in a month. If we can make a half decent attempt then ill try riding in the heavy horse class but would imagine we will only canter a bit. I'm not in it to win it so I'm sure it won't matter!
 

Mary Poppins

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Have you ever thought about contacting Annie at Cumbrian Heavy Horses to discuss Flippo. She may be able to offer some advice on how to proceed with him. I would be interested to hear what she thought about your vets opinion of 'heavy horses are not made for cantering'. I'm not sure that she would agree.

I have a heavy horse and initially I was scared to canter as well, but these days I just LOVE going fast on him. The key to a nice canter is just getting him moving forward and off my leg. If he is having a sluggish day, his canter feels very laboured, but if he is going forward nicely he feels like he is flying. My RI gave me a tip to touch his shoulder with my whip (not hit him, just touch him) as this has the effect of lightening his front end. It makes such a difference.

I hope that you manage to canter at the show. You will feel amazing if you do.
 

Flipo's Mum

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MP, I feel so amazed that just one or two things I was doing wrong, have made the difference in my canter. I will try the whip thing as well, I carry the damn thing but never ever use it, so just a touch will probably be enough to get flipo thinking!

I did contact Annie when I first got flipo and was having issues, she was lovely and wrote a long reply with what I should do. She's very direct but knows her stuff lol! I agree with you, my frustration is that vets around here are so inexperienced with heavies and I struggle - there's always a caveat in any advice they give 'he's not a normal size so this might not be the case'.
At the end of the day, I'm hyper aware of flipo's comfort much like ladywithababy's concerns for tango. I've been convinced that I might only have a couple more years riding in him because of his size and joints so I'm uber careful. The vets haven't told me this, I just know of their short life expectancy. Friend used to work on a heavy horse farm and tells me there's no reason he couldn't go on until he's mid 20s (he's 13 just now) so I do hope, but I will be very careful with him in the meantime. We don't really trot on roads, I'm not going to canter all the time. I'm just careful!
 

ladywiththebaby

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Just caught up on this. Well done - sounds like you are doing really well! So nice for you to have such a lovely supportive friend to help you too. That's worth so much.

And I know what you mean about the short bursts of canter. I do short lengths of about 50 metres because as much as we both love it, I am so worried that he might trip that I find myself limiting how far we go as I don't want to push my luck! It's almost like I have a sand timer in my head and I really love the first rush of a canter but the longer we go the louder the worrying in my head that he might fall becomes! Such a shame as we both love it but I just don't trust him to be safe on his legs!

But in Flips case, I would say that you are doing the best you can to look after those joints so there is no reason why you can't be cantering along with the wind in your hair (not literally lol)! It's not like you are going to be doing endurance rides with him every week and I'm sure you choose your ground carefully. Just think of those horses of Annie's - I'm sure they do plenty of cantering! Make the most of him now, because if anything did ever happen in the future you wouldn't want to be looking back and regretting not making the most of this relatively healthy period. (All said with love!)

Go girl! Canter off over the horizon - you can do it!! :cloud9:
 

sjp1

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Well done, thats fab.

And if it is any consolation, Tobes rarely ever trips when cantering - if he does trip, he will trip trotting and even walking, but I actually can't ever remember him tripping cantering!!
 

Flipo's Mum

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Just caught up on this. Well done - sounds like you are doing really well! So nice for you to have such a lovely supportive friend to help you too. That's worth so much.

And I know what you mean about the short bursts of canter. I do short lengths of about 50 metres because as much as we both love it, I am so worried that he might trip that I find myself limiting how far we go as I don't want to push my luck! It's almost like I have a sand timer in my head and I really love the first rush of a canter but the longer we go the louder the worrying in my head that he might fall becomes! Such a shame as we both love it but I just don't trust him to be safe on his legs!

But in Flips case, I would say that you are doing the best you can to look after those joints so there is no reason why you can't be cantering along with the wind in your hair (not literally lol)! It's not like you are going to be doing endurance rides with him every week and I'm sure you choose your ground carefully. Just think of those horses of Annie's - I'm sure they do plenty of cantering! Make the most of him now, because if anything did ever happen in the future you wouldn't want to be looking back and regretting not making the most of this relatively healthy period. (All said with love!)

Go girl! Canter off over the horizon - you can do it!! :cloud9:

Absolute twins LWTB, that's exactly how I feel about cantering! I'm determined to relax and get over it though so we shall see how it goes. And Im already so proud of where we've got to, I wouldn't regret a single moment or want for more right now if something did happen, but I will keep going while we can and enjoy every moment. I know it's precious time isn't it.

Sjp1 that's a very good point, he hasn't stumbled during canter and I guess they are working more from behind (ideally) in canter. That helps my confidence!!

I've just had another go at it out on a hack. We were infront and he was slowing but I kept my leg on and he continued happily. I tried my whip at one point when he fell out of canter but don't think he even noticed it lol - maybe I'm too light with my aids. I'll keep at it!
 

ladywiththebaby

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Ah that's brilliant to read! You are doing brilliantly! Bless Flip!

As frustrating as it might feel sometimes, how lovely to know that he absolutely isn't going to take off with you!
 

Jane&Ziggy

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Now we need video of you cantering!

I find it amazing, actually, how much difference my riding makes. If I ask Ziggy into canter in the right way I get a fantastic balanced canter which I can sit right in to like a sofa. If I rush him into it, he is bouncy and jarry and I can't sit down no matter how hard I try, unless I use my saddle's grab handle *bad rider alert*. It's not the speed of the canter, it's something about the rhythm and lightness which makes the difference.

I'll let you know when I have it sorted :smoke:
 

Flipo's Mum

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Knowing him now Id never fear him taking off in high spirits but he's the sort of horse that starts to anticipate it and likes to rush! Im absolutely in love with him right now though.

It's amazing what one session has done for us. Nine times out of ten its the rider isn't it! I didn't think I'd have the ability to get better overnight but it certainly feels better.

I think my second issue is flipo's version of canter like you talk about ziggy's Jane . He's wide so his canter goes side to side as well as forward, it's not the comfiest, but I'm sure ill get used to it!
 

Flipo's Mum

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There is an oooold video of me cantering very badly but I think friend has plans to video us next time. She says I don't look as bad as I think I do. She has ideas that she'll be cantering along side us as our travelling camera man.

I'm not feeling it lol!
 

Flipo's Mum

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Update on our cantering - I've been doing a wee bit each week, and getting more comfortable with cantering on the flat which I'm really proud of. Just worried when we are in the show ring, that he'll strike off on the wrong leg on one rein as most of my practice has been hacking.
I had one session in the school the other day and it was a bloody disaster. Flipo rushes when he expects it and I just wanted to practice my aids to canter. I guess it wasn't too bad, but still very messy! I long to be able to practice in the big show field - but he'll nap to the gate and I'm not sure I can control him in canter, I need my legs to function and right now I'm just concentrating on staying on!
My confidence is growing though. I now have time to think during our canters, I tell myself to relax, sit up, push on and breathe - a huge improvement from before.
One thing though - I don't know if its flipo being so wide, or my crap riding, but my right leg tends to get forced more forward when we are cantering and it's almost like I'm twisted in the saddle a bit because of it. Does anyone else have this experience? I thought it was my stirrups being uneven so changed to new ones but its still happening. Little disconcerting!
 
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