It has been a while since I posted last- we had a wicked cold snap again this week which put a small delay on our training again. But, we have been working on something new this week when we can find warm enough weather to work in: the canter- in long lines!
I had never asked Louie to canter in the long lines for fear of confusing him for driving, which is walk and trot only. But after hearing some good thoughts and feedback from other Saddlebred amateurs and trainers who also canter their horses in long lines without trouble, I thought it would be worth a shot. The issue that Louie and I have been facing with our right lead, I believe, is aggravated by the lack of a way to set him up to correctly step off into his right lead. On a lunge line, he bends his head to the inside of the circle, throws his butt to the outside and naturally takes the left lead. It was a little bit better in side reins, but we still had to fight the shifting of the haunches. In the pessoa, well, right now working on the canter in that isn't any better either- he can shift as much as he wants to, yet he is irritated by being goosed by the haunch strap. We were in need of a new way to work on the canter, though not under saddle as I would really, really, really like to get this down on the ground in a somewhat consistent manner before asking from saddle again (don't want to get into fights and add in the challenge of carrying a rider).
I thought it was time that we should have another go on that right lead canter before show season creeps up on us and we once again have to tackle the issue in the middle of show season. He is more muscled up now, more filled out and balanced, and not so lanky and clumsy as he was last summer. He is quite a different horse now (physically)- perhaps will be better able to canter on both leads, plus he has been taking both leads easily while running free. So we looked into trying the canter in long lines. This way, I can shift his haunches in by wrapping the far line down around his haunches, and I can add an outside bend, which, though not technically correct, can help us to get into that right lead. For now, I'll take an incorrect bend in exchange for a right lead. The lesson of compromise and the give and take of horse training is something I learned early on in my horse training adventures when schooling my old Arabian in the canter- you settle for one small step at a time, it doesn't have to be perfect right off the bat.
So, earlier last week, Louie and I attempted the canter for the first time in long lines. We started to the left I thought it best to learn what I am asking going his good way first. The first few cues he acted confused, trotted, rushed, etc. After about 3 attempts, I cued him again from a walk, shifting his haunches towards the middle with my line around his haunches, giving him a "half halt" and a kiss with a flick of the whip. He stepped off into a beautiful little left lead canter. I ran as fas as I could to keep up with him, fighting the urge to "canter" myself! He continued to the end of the arena where he was met with increased rein pressure behind his haunches as he rounded the corner. I loosened that rein as best I could, but Louie thought this felt funny and gave a little buck expressing his suprise, then continued on cantering. We only went about a lap, which is about as far as I can run and keep up with him right now anyhow. I asked him again a few more times and off he stepped onto his left lead quite nicely a couple more times. He definately was figuring this out, so I thought it was time to try the right lead.
So, we changed directions, extended our walk, then when we reached a corner heading into a straightaway, I shifted his haunches to the inside, bent him to the outside a bit, and cued him for the canter. Off he went in 1 stride on the right lead, then broke down to a trot, I quickly cued him again, we got 1 more stride of right lead, then trot. Finally I cued him one more time, he took one stride once again, then bucked, kicked, shook his head, and deteriorated into an angry/excited trot. We stopped there for the day as I worried that he might be sore on his left hind leg, causing that bucking.
We left the canter aside for a few days as the cold weather crept in. Then today I had Sandy out to watch us and help me decide if Louie looked off at all and if I should have the vet out for him. We warmed up at a walk and trot, and though there was a lot of excitement going on at the barn (bringing horses in, feeding time, etc), Louie cooperated fairly nicely. This kind of excitement and desensitization is really good for him, though we rarely encounter it at the times of day I usually work him. Anyhow, during one of the quiet moments we attempted the canter. This time the left lead was met with the same type of bucking/kicking as we had experienced earlier in the week on the right lead. Sandy pointed out that he was kicking out at either the crupper or the rein behind his butt, which he is not used to feeling. This seems quite likely, as this horse does goose really easily and has one of the most sensitive tails I have ever seen.
After a little bit of work, we set him up and asked Louie to canter again, this time he took off beautifully on his left lead, we cantered a lap, then stopped and praised. Time to try it on the right. We had a few false starts, confused trotting, a left lead, a kick or two, then off he went on his right lead. We continued along a straight away without incident, around the corner where he spooked at something happening in the barn and switched his fronts. As he headed around the turn he switched his fronts back onto the right lead and continued along and down the next straight away. We stopped and praised, as this was his first time he had actually taken and sort-of maintained a right lead in the long lines. Louie trotted out totally sound after the cantering we had done, which was really reassuring to me that he seemed to be feeling fine.
Sandy pointed out again that she really felt that the kicking he has been doing is due to the feeling of either the crupper or the rein behind his haunches, niether of which he is used to feeling in a canter. I really do believe that this is true, as now I see that he has done this in both directions and really non-specifically. So, we will continue to work on all 3 gaits in the long lines as long as he stays sound. We won't work on the canter every time we long line, or even both leads in one day necessarily, because we need to keep a routine from forming with this smarty pants or he will anticipate, but we can at least work on it a little bit at a time. It is quite promising, though ugly at times, that Louie was able to take his right lead today and I am hopeful that this will continue and eventually we'll be able to translate these lessons to our under saddle work.