For over 3 decades, Robyn Hood edited a quarterly publication “TTEAM Connections”. This information rich newsletter was full of articles, case studies and interesting stories about all aspects of the Tellington TTouch Method and complementary topics. Here is a “Q&A” that was published in one of the last issues.
This topic is common one when scrolling through the many horse training groups and forums on the internet; “my horse doesn’t canter easily” or “my horse doesn’t like to canter”. The answers will vary greatly from the benign but basic to downright abusive.
From a Tellington Method perspective, difficulty cantering under saddle requires the person to put on their “detective’s cap” and look into several potentially smaller issues or indicators before dealing with the canter itself.
Q: I have been a subscriber for many years and I do enjoy reading it and learning about some of your training methods.
I recently purchased a 14 year-old gelding. Good conformation and excellent disposition. Only one problem, he has never been taught to canter from a walk or even a slow trot. He will only canter after a “fast extended trot”.
Besides myself, several experienced riders have tried to canter him, but no luck. What do you recommend?
Regards, John B
A: There could be several reasons for this behavior. This is where “detective work” is helpful.
Does your horse canter easily in the pasture when he is free? This may seem obvious but if you hardly see your horse canter at liberty, it is not surprising that cantering under saddle would be near impossible!
If you lunge him; can he canter on a lunge line? I would imagine that it would be difficult for him because he sounds like he is not well balanced.
Many horses who have difficulty with purposeful canter transitions never really learn to engage their throasic sling under saddle so he is out of balance when asked to canter and just goes faster until he “falls” into it.
There is also the possibility that he is tight through the pelvis and it is difficult for him to engage his hindquarters and shift his weight.
I have several suggestions.
First, be sure to check you saddle fit and be sure that it is not restricting his shoulders. If the saddle is interfering with the shoulders he will be reluctant to move forward into the canter because as the horse’s front leg moves forward the shoulder moves back.
You may also start incorporating Tail TTouch – hair slides, tail rotations and gentle traction with a slow release can help the muscles in the back and hindquarters.
The “Pelvic Tilt” will also help him simulate the movement he needs to make as he goes into the canter. If he reacts by
moving away or seems uncomfortable you may find a chiropractic vet or acupuncturist very helpful. If he is comfortable
with the tail work do a few minutes even after he is saddled and while carrying a rider.
Under saddle you may find incorporating an old classical exercise, the “Half Walk” or “Third Walk”. Many horses tend to work over tempo which will make it difficult to have a balanced canter depart.
From the walk, use clear half halts through your aids to ask him to shorten his stride so they are about half the length of his usual walk.
This can be easier to achieve, initially, with a TTouch Balance Rein. A Balance Rein allows the rider to contain the walk without shortening and restricting the head and neck.
Ask for the half-walk for four or five steps and then let him walk on.
Repeat this several times as you go around the ring or are out on the trail.
You can do the same exercise at the trot – half-trot – you will be asking him to shorten his trot, which will encourage his hind legs to come under his body so he can carry himself into the canter.
As with the half-walk you can ask for four or five steps and then let him move into a normal trot.
Riding with a TTouch Body Wrap is another useful way to improve the canter and increase activity and awareness through the hindquarters.
Using a stretchy elastic bandage, attach a “Promise Wrap” to the saddle (either on the girth billets or to the D ring, depending on the length of wrap. We highly recommend that you prepare your horse by doing some Tail TTouch first and walking and trotting your horse in hand while wearing this wrap before mounting.
Each saddle style and model is different, so you may have to adjust to fit each individual situation. Wraps may be attached to girth billets; ‘d’ rings; or stirrup leather keepers with a simple, flat knot.
Once you have decided which point of contact you are going to use, tie one end of the wrap to it. Unroll the wrap and casually but confidently walk around your horse’s hindquarters, consistently making contact with the horse’s body. Once on the opposite side of the horse, tie the second end to the corresponding point of contact in a quick release knot.
You may choose to have a second person on the offside to tie the second end if you are unsure about how your horse will respond to the wrap initially. Work in an enclosed space when first using any Body Wrap configurations.
True to its name, this wrap can sometimes make a seemingly instantaneous change in horse’s way of going and impulsion. Be sure to note the length of the horse’s stride and straightness before applying the wrap. Horses often look much less strung out and more ’engaged’ as soon as they wear the wrap.
Another way to change habitual patterns of posture and bracing is to utilize SURE FOOT Stability Pads. SURE FOOT Stability pads offer a variety of unstable surfaces that you offer to horses to stand on. Experiencing the sensation of standing on these pads, sometimes just resting a toe, can dramatically change a horse’s posture, way of going and self-carriage through passive, horse-led sessions.
Created and developed by Wendy Murdoch, SURE FOOT’s effectiveness is acknowledged by owners, veterinarians, equine professionals, trainers, trimmers, and farriers around the world. The Program uses SURE FOOT Equine Stability Pads, designed by Wendy, specifically for horses. Your horse has an opportunity to experience his own habitual patterns and find ease when standing on SURE FOOT Pads. Watch as he shifts from anxious to calm, and from calm to a deep state of relaxation. Even more amazing is these improvements last long after the horse walks off the Pad. Greater relaxation means, less stress, easier to train, greater freedom of movement, more resilience to the environment, and greater wellbeing.
Using poles and cavalettis is a wonderful way to help encourage a round, balanced canter and clear transition. On a lunge or under saddle, work with poles at varying distances and experiment with cross rails and small jumps to encourage a natural jump into canter with a good bascule. Add a cue word and a lot of praise to help reinforce the behaviour.
A gentle uphill slope is another great place to start encouraging a balanced canter.
If your horse continues to have difficulty with canter, we highly recommend that you find a good integrative vet who can help find any physical limitations that may be hindering your horse’s physical ability.