Transitions Within Canter

Jan at A Thousand Pounds of Fragile Horse writes a great blog about she and her horse Buckshot. She asked me how we (Doug and I) regulate shortening/lengthening stride in canter, so I'm going to attempt to explain how we're taught by Joan to do it. I should have her check what I write first, because I know she'd find my writing too imprecise or inadvertently misleading, but I'll give it a shot. Jan is a western rider, so I don't think she'd have rein contact, which would be different than what we do. I'll describe our approach, and I think the western version would be using the seat and legs only? Maybe someone will tell us :)
The aid we use to regulate length of stride in the canter goes like this... As the horse starts to push forward for the stride (outside hind), you follow/push with your seat and lightly squeeze your legs. Then at the height of the stride's 'jump', coming into the concluson of the stride, you catch the energy very lightly with your little fingers, sort of a pinky finger pulse (we have our reins under our little finger, not third finger) or acknowledgement with the hands. Ha ha - Joan would faint if she caught me using terms like 'pinky finger pulse', but I think it works :)
After your horse comes to recognize how you've inserted yourself into her/his rhythm, you can give a crisper aid to shorten the stride and the horse will follow - shorten your seat's 'follow' and make the catch with your little finger crisp and quick. If he thinks you mean trot the first few times, immediately put him back into the canter so he understands - shortening the aid means shortening the stride.
The same goes for lengthening the stride - push further with your seat, slightly raise your hands and release the little finger more than catching with it. The horse will lengthen his/her stride. Be careful to use your seat and regulate your aids so you don't put your horse on the forehand.
This can all be done while keeping the same rhythm, the strides just get shorter or longer. If you want to speed them up or slow them down, give the aids more quickly or slowly and of course push more for faster :) I think most horses get the idea fairly quickly, but getting a polished consistent response takes a lot of practice. Rogo and Savanah will do it, but are still in the beginning stages. We haven't worked at it consistently. For western it seems to me you'd do most of this with your seat, but I don't know anything about western riding. It would be interesting to know.
I hope this made some sense. Its a very quick, high level summary. It works, but I don't know if I've explained it very well. Try to feel the timing more so than follow my description, because it's hard to describe the timing. Jan I think you might enjoy some dressage as well as western. And I'd like to know more about the reining you do!


Anonymous said…
I do it a bit differently, and maybe in a manner that would make sense when riding without rein contact - it works at all gaits. When I want lengthening (not faster) of stride, I "allow" more with my seat - go with the motion and even exaggerate it a bit, but I don't push with my seat since that can restrict the horse's motion. To shorten stride (not slow down), I "restrict" with my seat by ever so slightly resisting the motion - or going with it less. If I'm riding with rein contact, I don't change it at all or do anything with my hands. Hope that makes some sense.

And of course it goes without saying that you have to have "forward" (not fast) before any of this will work.
Carol said…
Thanks Kate. Appreciated. Wording is so tricky when writing about riding. Your wording is good, 'go with the motion and even exagerate it a bit'. This is what I mean by 'pushing' but it could be understood to be an invasive or bracing aid. It isn't. The same for 'catching' the motion with little fingers. This is a tiny pulse or acknowledgement of the stride, not in any way a pull. Rogo will really lift and begin to collect when I do this.
I think I may do a post on use of language to communicate riding information. It's so tricky!
juliette said…
Carol - I think Joan would be happy with your description! It makes sense.

I don't canter my horses (yet) but at the trot, I do try to slow my motion like Kate describes.I am in the bitless, but I do still use the tiny finger adjustment too. I give and take with the reins to get the feel I want. I notice that I am better coordinated as I get older. When I was younger it was more difficult for me to maintain the right balance between my hands and legs - it was hurky jerky. (Is that a term?)
Language is quite tricky. It all boils down to how the individual thinks of a cue. That's why some trainers work better for some people than others: it's not that one trainer is teaching something different, it's just that they're using different language!

If I want to lengthen, I don't really change my seat because my seat regulates the tempo of the gait. I want to change the frame of the horse, but not the rhythm, so I apply my leg and give a bit with my reins. If the horse speeds up instead of lengthening, then I use my seat to slow him down. To come back, I half-halt: squeeze the outside rein, tense my abdominal muscles and apply a bit of inside leg if needed. Whether I'm lenthening or shortening, my seat creates and maintains the tempo that I want from the gait. I can allow or restrict with my seat as needed to maintain the rhythm and frame I want.

I think were all pretty much saying the same thing, just using different words. Funny, it seems so complicated when written out, but it's so simple when I do it!
TBDancer said…
I've had instructors tell me to slow my posting motion (my OTTB tends to have a "sewing machine" trot, short choppy strides) at first, which is why I do a LOT of walking "on the buckle" and then warm up mainly in canter. That gets his trot strides a bit longer almost immediately, after we've cantered for maybe 10-15 minutes, both directions, circles, shallow loops, etc.).

This business of "words" is what makes some instructors more effective than others at explaining riding to us during the lesson or "in the moment," too. Part of the journey, I guess ;o)
As with Juliette - we're not cantering yet, except on the beach, or accidentally ;) We'll begin in earnest on cantering when we've got the new arena...

Just started working on big and little trots yesterday. I (think) I allowed more with my seat for big trot, and half halted with some leg added after for littler trot. Also used my posting to regulate. Only some tiny squeezes or loosenings on the reins as far as hands go - maybe the "little finger" business you were talking about? ;)

It is hard to find just the right words to describe these subtleties... but it's a beneficial exercise thinking about how to describe I guess.

Good post :)
Anonymous said…
That was super useful, thanks Carol! I am going to give that a try tonight.
Carol said…
Thanks everyone. I got a lot our of the feedback. Juliette, I think the bitless would be the same idea - an acknowledgement of on-going communication and staying with the movement. CFS, I think cantering on the beach wiht a horse in early training is impressive! I don't canter Rogo on the beach yet. TB Dancer and Shannon, it's all about the words and finding ones that fit isn't it? Maybe I could start a dictionary of some of the terms we use :)
Jan said…
I'm so sorry I have gotten behind in reading and didn't see this wonderful post sooner! Thank you so much for all of the great information! It is really helpful and I am going to reread it and use it.
Even though I mention western riding, I really ride with a snaffle bit and don't actually do official one hand reining. So your information will be very appropriate for me. Again, thank you - I am going to work on this and will update you.