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Counter Canter Lessons

Counter cantering is different from merely cantering on the wrong lead. The counter canter can be used as a body control exercise that will teach the horse to better listen to your aids. Here I will give you a few exercises to improve collection, suppleness, and responsiveness in your horse.

Teaching Suppleness and Body Control

When you allow your horse to canter on the wrong lead without asking for the maneuver you are teaching him a bad habit. The horse moves in a strung out frame and pulls himself along with his front end instead of collecting and using his hocks. When ridden properly the counter canter will make your horse more supple as he bends through his body. The counter canter exercise also allows you to teach body control as you bend the horse in the opposite direction he is traveling.

Cues to Counter Canter

For this lesson I will be describing the exercise on a large circle or on the rail tracking right. Be sure to work to the left as well to work both sides of the horse equally.

  1. Begin riding a large circle to the right at a trot. Ask your horse to pick up the left or counter lead by applying your right leg behind the girth and your left leg on the girth. At the same time, open your outside rein to allow your horse’s should to move to the left.
  2. Once he strikes off on the counter lead, release all of your cues but keep your inside leg (leg on the inside of the circle) a little behind the girth to prevent the horse from swapping back to the inside lead. Canter in large circle. Make them at least 20 meters around, as the smaller circle you make the harder it is for your horse to keep his balance. Starting on the rail will be easier as you don’t have to steer the horse as much.

Opening the Shoulders

When you have counter cantered both ways on a large circle and your horse is comfortable with the lesson, you can begin moving the shoulders. Remember to teach the horse in easy to learn steps. Only start this lesson when he is confidently counter cantering when you ask.

  1. Counter canter on a circle to the right.
  2. To open the horse’s left shoulder start by tipping his nose to the inside of the circle using your right inside rein.
  3. Hold your left outside rein a little higher than your inside rein to support the outside shoulder. Keep your inside leg at the girth to push the shoulder to the outside of the circle.
  4. The horse should shift the weight off of his leading leg and onto the other three which will allow him to extend his leading leg. He should also rock his weight back so he can have increased impulsion from the hind legs.
  5. When you feel him trying to move in this way, remove your cues and let him canter forward around the circle a few strides before asking him again. End the lesson when the horse can take one or two good strides where he is really reaching with with his fore leg and opening up his shoulder. Repeat the lesson on the opposite direction, in this example to the left on the right lead.

Moving the Hips

Before you start this exercise be sure that the horse is comfortable doing the previous two lessons.

  1. First, counter canter a lap or two to the right then begin by bringing the horse’s nose to the outside of the circle using pressure from a lifted outside left rein.
  2. Next apply inside right leg pressure behind the girth to slightly push the horse’s hips to the outside of the circle. Use soft pressure on the inside right rein to guide him around the circle if he drifts, then release when he is back on track.
  3. When you can get one or two good strides with his hips to the outside, release your cues and let him continue around the circle. Ask for the hips out a few more times, then bring him down to a walk or halt and let him rest.

Refrain from practicing the moving the hips lesson for an extended period of time as this can interfere with the horse’s movement in the canter. It is important to balance moving the hips and moving the shoulders to keep the horse balanced in his stride.

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