Saturday, January 30, 2010

Working Three Gaits

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.


  1. WOW! This is so interesting, all the ground work in the long lines. I can only imagine the running you must have to do to keep up with Louie at the canter! I am glad it was successful for him though, and, that his leg appears to be fine and it's the crupper that is causing him to kick out. I would love to see a video of this training in action. It is all so new to me.
    Thank you for your kind words of encouragement about my first saddleseat lesson! It went really well! I have a random question for you, about cutback saddles. Are they sized the same as western and hunt saddles? For example, if I should ride in a 14-15" western saddle, what size cutback would I use? And do most cutbacks fit most horses, are they as hard to fit as western saddles? Thanks for your help!

  2. Take of your crupper. I no longer canter in lines while wearing a crupper. When a horse canters, his back rounds naturally taking up all the slack in the crupper that you would have when you're trotting.

  3. Pony Girl- thank you! I will try to see if I can get a video. It might be challenging because I'll always be in the way, running like a fool next to him, lol. I need to do more of it, get my butt in shape, but the ground is so un-even in the arena I'm worried I'm going to sprain an ankle lol.

    As for your lesson, I'm glad it went well! I'll have to pop over to your blog to read about it. Cutback saddles are sized much different than western saddles. The average cutback size is 21". So if you ride in a 15" western saddle, a 21" cutback would probably fit you. If you ride in a smaller western saddle, perhaps you need a 20" cutback. There are 18" cutbacks, but these are usually used for children, though I did use one a few years ago on a very short backed Arab that I had. Based on my height and leg length, and the fact that I need an 18" hunt saddle and a 16" western saddle, I should probably be riding in a 22" or maybe even 23" cutback. But yes, 21" is kindof the "standard size." As for cutbacks fitting most horses, well there is some variety in the tree sizes, though most are "medium" which is comparable to semi QH bars. There are some newer cutback saddles (like within the past 10 years or so) that have wide bars, intended for Morgans, Arabians, etc with flatter backs. They're pretty easy to find out there if you have a wider backed horse. Are you going to try SS with your appy? I'd love to see it! :)

    Brita- good idea, I will try that. I have a snap on my backstrap, so I can probably warm up with the crupper, then if I need to switch to running the reins through the tugs like I have been, I can unclip the crupper at that time too. There is part of me that wants him to get used to feeling that (I have replace a portion of the backstrap with surgical tubing, so there is some give) so that if perchance we have a spook or something in the cart, he'll be less likely to be freaked out by that feeling. But I suppose I could take it off for now, then re-introduce it later down the line once we get the canter figured out a little better. I have also debated trying the canter without having the rein wrapped around the butt to see if that works. Thanks for the advice though, I'm going to try that today.