Can­ter With Con­fi­dence

Trail Rider - - CONTENTS - BY JULIE GOOD­NIGHT WITH HEIDI ME­LOCCO

Can­ter­ing your horse on the trail is ex­hil­a­rat­ing, but you need to stay in con­trol. Fol­low top trainer/clin­i­cian Julie Good­night’s seven easy steps to can­ter with con­fi­dence.

Can­ter­ing (or lop­ing) on the trail is ex­cit­ing and fun. It’s ex­hil­a­rat­ing to have the wind in your face and your horse’s mane blow­ing be­fore you as you ride through open spa­ces. But can­ter­ing on the trail is riskier than walk­ing and trot­ting. Your horse might get keyed up, for­get his train­ing, and take off, leav­ing you in the dust miles from home.

Here, I’ll give you seven steps to can­ter­ing with con­trol and con­fi­dence on the open trail: (1) Know your horse; (2) know the ter­rain; (3) learn the pul­ley rein; (4) start in the arena; (5) prac­tice out of the arena; (6) ride with sea­soned teams; and (7) know the group dy­nam­ics.

Step 1. Know Your Horse

First, con­sider your horse’s tem­per­a­ment. Horses have a nat­u­ral ten­dency to get strong when you ask them to can­ter out in the open — es­pe­cially if they’re with other horses. Their herd men­tal­ity kicks in, and they thrive on mov­ing fast with the group.

Be­fore you can­ter on the trail, you must know your horse and the skills you’ll need to keep him under con­trol. Some horses with a lot of “go” are al­ways a chal­lenge to con­trol while can­ter­ing out in the open. Oth­ers are more tractable.

Con­sider your horse’s age and ex­pe­ri­ence. A young horse rarely can­ters well when you first ask him to move out. Horses gal­lop first, as this is a nat­u­ral gait. With train­ing, they learn to con­trol their speed and give you a col­lected, re­laxed can­ter.

Step 2. Know the Ter­rain

If you’re con­sid­er­ing can­ter­ing on the trail, you must know the ter­rain, as well as the gen­eral area. Can­ter­ing through the woods or out in the open with­out know- ing the area is a fool­ish risk. Scope out the area first, so you’ll know what haz­ards to avoid.

Good foot­ing is cru­cial for safe can­ter­ing on the trail. In the Rocky Moun­tains, where I live, only a few trails have stretches where it’s safe to pick up the can­ter. When I guided trail rides, I knew ex­actly where it was safe to move into this gait.

The foot­ing doesn’t need to be level, but there must be enough space to get into the can­ter and main­tain it for a long enough dis­tance to keep up a steady rhythm so your horse will stay bal­anced. You want him to tran­si­tion to a slower gait be­cause of your cues, not be­cause the ter­rain or a trail ob­sta­cle forces him to.

The foot­ing must also be easy on your horse’s joints and hooves.

Can­ter­ing your horse on the trail is ex­hil­a­rat­ing, but you need to stay in con­trol. Fol­low top trainer/clin­i­cian Julie Good­night’s seven easy steps to can­ter with con­fi­dence. BY JULIE GOOD­NIGHT WITH HEIDI ME­LOCCO ~ PHO­TOS BY HEIDI ME­LOCCO

Step 3. Learn the Pul­ley Rein

Be­fore you can­ter out on the open trail, learn how to ride with the pul­ley rein, a rein aid that uses lever­age to slow or stop most any horse. Ride in the pul­ley-rein po­si­tion when­ever you pick up the can­ter if you know your horse might get strong while can­ter­ing in the open. But even if your horse is a slow-poke, learn this rein aid so you’ll

be able to stop your horse no mat­ter what hap­pens.

With this rein aid, you’ll keep one rein short and braced against your horse’s neck. With the other hand, you’ll pull back on the other rein, and re­lease, as needed. (You can per­form this rein aid with ei­ther hand do­ing each job; choose the hand that’s most com­fort­able to you.)

To use this rein aid while can­ter­ing, ride with two hands on the reins with your hands in front of the pom­mel. Shorten one rein by grab­bing the tail with one hand as you slide your op­po­site hand down the rein to shorten it.

Place the hand hold­ing the shorter rein directly over the crest of your horse’s mane, just above his withers. Brace your hand into his neck. That hand stays put and keeps con­stant con­tact on the bit, pre­vent­ing his head from turn­ing when you pick up the other rein.

As you con­tinue to hold that rein in place, slide your op­po­site hand down the cor­re­spond­ing rein, on the other side of your horse’s neck. You’ll use this sec­ond, lever­age hand to pull and re­lease to slow down your horse, as needed or stop com­pletely if you ever feel out of con­trol.

Some rid­ers will pull and re­lease ev­ery stride to keep their horses in check if they have a ten­dency to get strong. It’s just like keep­ing your foot hov­er­ing above the brake when driv­ing down a moun­tain pass — you’ll be ready to slow down when needed.

When your horse is can­ter­ing at a re­laxed, steady pace, you can re­lease the rein aids and en­joy the ride.

Step 4. Start in the Arena

Prac­tice can­ter­ing (and the pul­ley rein) in an arena with good foot­ing, be­fore you head for the trail. If you can’t con­trol your horse in an arena, it’s un­likely you’ll have con­trol out in the open. In this se­cure space, your horse knows he doesn’t have am­ple space to take off, if he’s prone to be­ing strong and fast. Can­ter­ing in an arena will help you get the feel for the gait and your horse’s spe­cific can­ter­ing rhythm. You’ll also get a feel for his brakes. Can­ter­ing in con­fine­ment be­fore you hit the trail will also boost your con­fi­dence at this gait, whether your horse needs to work on his gait tran­si­tions or he’s a well­trained, steady horse you can trust in any sit­u­a­tion.

Step 5. Prac­tice Out of the Arena

When you know you can con­trol your horse at a can­ter in the arena, find a level, straight place with good foot­ing near the barn to con­tinue your horse’s train­ing and to build your con­fi­dence.

This step is es­pe­cially im­por­tant if your horse needs a more open feel, with­out turns, to be able to pick up and main­tain the can­ter, an asym­met­ri­cal, three-beat gait that takes bal­ance and co­or­di­na­tion.

He might also feel more con­fi­dent can­ter­ing with­out see­ing an arena rail.

Young horses es­pe­cially ben­e­fit from can­ter­ing out in the open where they can get mov­ing out, find their bal­ance, and get com­fort­able car­ry­ing a rider.

Step 6. Ride with Sea­soned Teams

When I taught clin­ics at my ranch, I some­times had rid­ers who wanted to can­ter, but had trou­ble get­ting their horses into the faster gait. They needed to feel the move­ment and have the space to move the horses into the can­ter.

When my as­sis­tants and I knew that a horse would co­op­er­ate if there was am­ple space, we’d take that rider out on the trail. We’d put him or her in the mid­dle of a group of sea­soned horse­and-rider teams and go out onto our well-known trails. Then we would wait un­til we got to a place on the trail where we knew it was safe to can­ter. We’d pre­pare the rid­ers and horses, and can­ter all at once.

We knew we could get any horse into the can­ter when the other horses were can­ter­ing, as well. We knew that most any horse will can­ter when he’s in the right place and we prompted the herd to our ad­van­tage. This tech­nique takes a lot of stress away from a rider who’s re­luc­tant to can­ter.

When we were ready, we would slow down with ap­pro­pri­ate no­tice and make sure all rid­ers stayed to­gether.

Step 7. Know the Group Dy­nam­ics

If there’s more than one horse, it’s a group. Any time you want to can­ter and there’s more than one horse, you need to com­mu­ni­cate be­fore you can­ter.

If any rider in the group doesn’t feel com­fort­able enough to can­ter, you don’t can­ter. Al­ways ride to the speed of the low­est-skilled rider.

When you do choose to can­ter with a group, have a plan. Know the stretch of trail with good foot­ing on which you’ll can­ter. Be­fore you get there, make sure the rid­ers aren’t spread too far out — that all horses are to­gether.

Set up hand sig­nals to start and stop. Make sure no one is left be­hind. It’s not the rider who takes off on her own that has a prob­lem — it’s the horse that feels left be­hind. As an an­i­mal to which the herd means sur­vival, a horse’s great­est fear is to be left be­hind and vul­ner­a­ble to preda­tors.

When you stay to­gether, it’s easy to reg­u­late the speed and make sure you know who’ll stay in the lead and who’ll be the last in the line. TTR Julie Good­night (http://juliegood­night.com) lives in cen­tral Colorado, home to miles of scenic trails. She trains horses and coaches horse own­ers to be ready for any event, on the trail or in the per­for­mance arena. She shares her easy-to-un­der­stand lessons on her weekly RFD -T V show, Horse Master, and through ap­pear­ances at clin­ics and horse ex­pos held through­out the United States. She’s also the in­ter­na­tional spokesper­son for the Cer­ti­fied Horse­man­ship Association (www.cha-ahse.org).

Heidi Me­locco (www.whole-pic­ture.com) is a life­long horse­woman, equine jour­nal­ist, and pho­tog­ra­pher based in Mead, Colorado.

Can­ter­ing out in the open is ex­hil­a­rat­ing and fun — as long as you know the ter­rain and trust that you can stay in con­trol of your horse’s speed. Here, Julie Good­night gives you her seven steps to can­ter­ing with con­trol and con­fi­dence on the open trail.

Julie Good­night

Check your horse’s speed by bend­ing your el­bow to slow him with the lever­age from your right hand, as Julie Good­night demon­strates here. To ride with the pul­ley rein, lock one hand into place on your horse’s withers, then pull and re­lease with the other hand.

Prac­tice can­ter­ing in the arena be­fore you head for the trail, as Julie Good­night demon­strates here. If you can’t con­trol your horse in an arena, it’s un­likely you’ll have con­trol out in the open.

When your horse is can­ter­ing at a re­laxed, steady pace, you can re­lease the rein aids and en­joy the ride.

If there’s more than one horse, it’s a group. Any time you want to can­ter and there’s more than one horse, you need to com­mu­ni­cate be­fore you change gaits.

If your horse is re­luc­tant to can­ter on the trail, or you need to build your con­fi­dence, ride in the mid­dle of a group of rid­ers, and go out onto well-known trails.

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