Jenn Savill is a show and dressage rider that has been retraining standardbreds under saddle for five years. In this article she covers the biggest problem many standardbred riders encounter- teaching them to canter under saddle.
Retraining the ‘off the track’ standardbred can be a challenge; they are not used to being told what to do from up top and definitely not used to the rider’s legs or any ridden aids. As a rider, it is our job to educate them to become the good ridden horses they can be.
Well-schooled standardbreds are becoming more and more popular and accepted in the show and dressage rings. A common misconception is that standardbreds are not taught to canter in harness and won’t canter in the paddock. This is not true at all- most standardbreds happily canter, some just need to be shown how to go about it and as with anything horse related there are many ways to do it!
Before starting work with any horse I like to check there are no ongoing issues. I check the saddle is a good fit, the teeth have been seen to by the dentist and the horse’s body is in good shape. Ensuring everything is good and well in these areas means the horse is more likely to wan to try, and that you are setting the horse up to succeed.
I find it easier to teach the standardbred to canter from the ground up; I have recently been working on with my young gelding and have taught many other horses with the same consideration.
To begin with I like to teach my horses to canter on the lunge so they can balance themselves without
worrying about a rider. Let them get really forward and into it until they have a big bowling canter, this will increase their confidence at this gait. Eventually I will add a saddle into the mix.
Teaching the canter on a voice command makes it a lot easier to teach under saddle. Sometimes achieving canter on the lunge is easier said than done, it requires patience and encouragement on the trainers behalf. It is important to remember than even three strides is a win, and there is always tomorrow to try again.
Your horse may not get it right the first time but practice makes perfect and transitions are a brilliant way to get your horse balanced and listening.
Teaching canter under saddle is usually easier done on an adventure, where the horse wants to be forward.
I find going uphill helps to develop the rolling canter.
Begin by trotting up and most horses will naturally want to go into the canter, if not you should have a pretty solid voice button installed. Don’t be afraid to use a little leg for encouragement. Bunny hops and baby bucks are okay and don’t panic about getting the right lead at this stage.
Once the horse is in canter let them go forward; you may find riding in two point easier too (the horse certainly will!)
Once the standardbred has developed the confidence to canter uphill, it is easier to achieve on the flat. Sitting quietly to the trot; make sure the horse has enough bend around your inside leg to achieve the correct lead, apply your outside leg to ask for the canter and at the same time use your voice aid.
The transition doesn’t have to be pretty! Eventually you won’t need to use a voice aid, but in the mean time it is useful.
Your horse doesn’t have to be round during the learning phase either- remember he is learning something very new and always reward the positive.
It is important not to spend hours in the arena trying to canter, hacks out are just as vital for the mind and body as schooling is. You want to set your horse up for success, not to stress every time you ask him to ‘canter’. This is particularly important because if your horse is stressed every time you ride you will achieve nothing.
Always remember riding is all about having fun and enjoying your partnership.