Forward first Building strength in the canter
MOVING INTO the canter, Sean can see straight away that while Devon has been doing lots of trot work, there hasn’t been so much cantering. Chez is quite resistant in the canter, making it difficult for Devon. The answer, says Sean, is to do heaps more canter.
The hardest thing for young horses in the canter is they need to get strong behind before they can really hold the canter, explains Sean. Sean doesn’t do a lot of circles or dressage type work to start with his own youngsters, as they are often too weak physically. Instead, he gets into two-point and canters around the arena, until the canter is good.
Sean gets Devon to do exactly this. Almost immediately, the canter is transformed. As soon as Devon stops worrying about where his head is and just rides forward, Chez starts to look much happier and work through from behind (above).
“There now, that wee horse is a lot more settled; it looks a million times better. He’s actually working through his back now instead of shutting down on you,” says Sean. “That’s the canter you’re after. And have you had to do any work to get it?” “No,” says Devon. “So what does that tell you? He wasn’t going forward enough,” explains Sean. “If you start out riding backwards and fighting with him, he doesn’t want to give or go forward because you’re hanging on to him.
“Everyone starts to try and collect young horses up and work them too soon, but you’ve got to get them developed in their body first. You can see this horse is quite high behind and there isn’t a lot of muscle. What you were asking him to do needs a lot of power and muscle, which he doesn’t have yet. He’s too weak to do it, so what does he do? He fights you.
“You want to go easy on him a little bit and get him using that back end much more. I use the whole arena like this for weeks and weeks with the young ones and then eventually do one nice circle if I can get one. Everybody gets into the circle work straight away and then they think the horse is being horrible, but it’s not, they just physically can’t do it.”
He recommends that Devon canters Chez for a good 20 minutes every day, for five or six minutes at a time, with walk breaks in between.
“I do three laps on the right rein, walk for a lap; three laps on the left rein, walk for a lap. That way I have a system. Eventually I can build it up to four laps of canter, walk for a lap.”