Thursday, July 1, 2010

Aiming for a Better First Level Counter Canter

At this stage of the game, I feel confident Piper and I have Training Level down pretty well.  But with only one competition at First Level under our belts, I know there's a lot of work yet to be done to earn consistently decent scores at that level.
The biggest challenge for Piper is counter canter.  It's still a new movement for him and he still needs to "chill out" when doing it.  Cantering from the long side to X and then counter cantering back to the same long side (the loop in First Level Test 4) still tends to get him a bit excited.  And, in Piper terms, that means his head comes up, his back goes hollow, and he debates whether to offer me a flying change.
It wasn't until I sat back and gave it some thought that I realised I'd skipped some important counter canter training movements in Piper's preparation for First Level Test 4. My favorite of these is the Teardrop.
The Teardrop is a simple movement that involves cantering down the long side, then turning down the center line, or second quarterline, returning back to the same long side in counter canter at B or E, staying in counter canter for a bit, and returning to trot before navigating the corner.  This is a nice way to get the counter canter mindset working in the horse before going for something extreme like Second Level's 20 meter circles in counter canter!
Another counter canter exercise I found useful in the past, is simply counter cantering on the long side, starting on a quarterline, parallel to R and then towards to P (or S to V), and returning to trot well before the corner.   (Few things are worse than sending a horse into a turn without being in balance.)   Initially keeping a gap between the horse and the long side seems to help make counter canter easier.   Think room to breathe, room to escape.   Horses want both.   The gap can start at 5 metres (which means riding on the quarterline) and eventually reduce down to zero when counter countering on the long side is safe and easy.
Our next competition is only a few weeks away!  Until then, we're going to work on our Teardrops and Counter Canter Quarterlines.   And if Piper is anything like Jeddien was at this stage in her training, after each balanced counter canter, he will offer an even BETTER working canter with more expression, elevation, and balance.   Well, that's the plan anyway     :-)

1 comment:

  1. I do lots of counter canter in the warm ups with all my horses when they are strong enough to do it. Perhaps using it in your warm up and throughout your work, daily, as I am sure you are prob. doing already. Also, try lots of transitions in and out of the counter canter, through the trot, or if your horse is strong enough and can do them in balance, the walk. Canter true through the short side, out of the corners at the first letter, make a transition down (trot or walk), use a few strides to rebalance and prepare, pick up the counter canter. It's best to try to ride on the 2nd track (right off the track) to allow the horse to feel 'free' enough from the track to pick up the outside lead. Then, at the end of your long side, transition, pick up true lead, etc. etc. Transitions will help to balance and strengthen the horse, as will doing the loop from the test, but riding it very shallow and increasing your distance from the track as you feel he is ready. (Ride it only just off the track, straighten, then back to the track, then again off the track to the quarterline perhaps on the next long side, then straighten, back to the track, etc. etc. until you are riding the correct test movement. Build it up! )
    Also, once you feel your horse is strong enough, try cantering across the short diagonal and making a shallow short side in the counter canter, half-halts are your balancing aid. Then, return to the true canter across the diagonal (long or short) after the cc short side. That will give your horse 'little bits' of cc without having to hold it for long distances-it's a lot of hard work and they have to build themselves up to be able to hold it! Good Luck!