Friday, April 13, 2012

Let's Ride! How to Canter a Horse

Fantasia Adventure Holidays

The third of the three main speeds of the horse, is the canter. After learning how to walk, the horse learns how to run, which is what riders must also learn to accomplish. It is a rudimentary element before learning to do anything more difficult on the horse. Learning to correctly ride at the walk, trot, and canter improves balance, coordination, and strength.

The canter, which is forward moving, is a "three beat" gait. In the canter the horse will be moving two diagonal legs in unison, with the other two independent. When cantering, the horse's legs follow this sequence: right hind leg, left hind leg with right front leg, left front leg. When moving, the horse's head and neck will be moving up and down slightly to maintain balance. If you have ever had the pleasure of sitting in a rocking chair, the feeling of rocking back and forth is how the canter feels. The horse will lift with his front end and push with the back end, thus creating the rocking motion. You will see it more readily in Saddle Seat, and less so in Western Pleasure.

Before getting on the horse and starting to ride, riders must wear a helmet and protective footwear. Safety is paramount when combining horses and individuals in activities. Riding horses is an inherently dangerous activity and participants in the activities assume the risk of being injured. You, as the rider, may not always be in control of the horse, but can help to prevent injury by wearing an ASTM/SEI certified helmet and protective footwear (along with clothes, obviously!!). If at all possible, have an equine professional (preferably an instructor) with you during your first ride.

1. First things first, maintain your posture!!
  • When you are sitting on the horse, do not slouch or tense up, as there will be more of a propensity for you to fall off. Maintaining good posture will also help communicate your cues to the horse.
  • Make sure you are sitting square in the saddle and that your balance has not shifted to one side.
  • Keep your legs under you (with feet preferably in the stirrups), not too far forward but not too far back. Do not let your legs move forward as if you are sitting in a chair, and do not allow them to swing. Keep your legs still and "quiet".
  • About a third of your boot should be in the stirrup, with the balls of your feet on the bar of the stirrup. Your feet should be parallel to the horse with your heels down. And toes should not point outward.
  • There should be an imaginary straight line from your shoulders, down to your hips and through your feet, but you shouldn't be able to see your toes if you look down.
  • Arms, wrists, and fingers need to be relaxed but steady. Your hands should maintain steady contact (or tightness) with the reins, meaning you should feel contact between your hands and the bit (the big metal thing in the horse's mouth).
  • And finally look ahead of you or where you are going to be moving to.

2. Pick up the reins (if you haven't already) and maintain even and steady but light contact with the bit. You should be able to feel the horse's mouth through the bit, but you shouldn't be pulling on it. If english, there should be little to no slack in the reins. If western, you should have contact but more slack than in english.

3. Ask your horse to pick up the walk. Make sure the walk is at a good, forward moving pace. If you do not know how to do this, please re-read, understand, and complete the steps in the How to Walk post.

4. Ask your horse to pick up the trot. When you pick up the trot, make sure that it is a good forward moving, but calm trot.  If you do not know how to do this, please re-read, understand, and complete the steps in the How to Trot post.

5. Before even beginning to position your horse for the canter, work on some transitions in order to warm the horse up. This means working on walk to trot, trot to walk, walk to halt, trot to halt, halt to trot, halt to walk, and maybe doing some circles at the walk and trot, so that you are comfortable with those gaits before moving into the canter.

6. Position yourself on the horse in order to prepare for the canter. This means bringing your outside leg back behind the girth and leaving your inside leg against the girth. Keep steady contact with the reins, with a little more bend to the inside. Although, you do not want to turn your horse's head to the inside, as you will become frustrated and it will confused your horse. Now, using both legs, with more pressure from the outside leg than the inside, GENTLY, squeeze the horse's sides. When squeezing, make sure that only a small amount of pressure is being used. Your leg above the knee should remain motionless. As the lower leg is squeezing, push your hips slightly forward. Once the horse starts moving, release the leg and move your hands forward slightly to prevent giving the horse mixed cues. If the horse does not move off of the lower leg cue, nudge with your lower leg. If the horse still does not respond to your cues, urge the horse forward with your heels. If the horse still does not move, check your cues, your body language, and try again. If the horse is not cooperating, make sure that you are also moving your hand forward when asking for the trot.

7. Once the horse starts moving, keep your arms relaxed so that you can allow your hands to move forwards and back with the movement of the horse's head. Allow your body to relax (while still maintaining posture!) with the motion of the horse.  This is where you are going to feel that lovely rocking motion.   If you feel that your horse is starting to slow and possibly stop or walk again, nudge him or her again until you get the same rhythm as before.

8. Congratulations, you have asked your horse to canter, and succeeded!!

Any questions?

Let's Ride! Correct Canter Leads




The third of the three main speeds of the horse, is the canter. After learning how to walk, the horse learns how to run, which is what riders must also learn to accomplish.  It is a rudimentary element before learning to do anything more difficult on the horse.  Learning to correctly ride at the walk, trot, and canter improves balance, coordination, and strength.

The canter, which is forward moving, is a "three beat" gait. In the canter the horse will be moving two diagonal legs in unison, with the other two independent.  When cantering, the horse's legs follow this sequence: right hind leg, left hind leg with right front leg, left front leg.  When moving, the horse's head and neck will be moving up and down slightly to maintain balance. If you have ever had the pleasure of sitting in a rocking chair, the feeling of rocking back and forth is how the canter feels. The horse will lift with his front end and push with the back end, thus creating the rocking motion. You will see it more readily in Saddle Seat, and less so in Western Pleasure.

The canter has two leads, the right lead and the left lead. The more extended foreleg is matched by a slightly more extended hind leg on the same side. It is preferable, except during a counter-canter, for the horse to be leading with the leg that is closest to the inside of the arena/ circle. A horse that begins cantering with the right rear leg will have the left front and the hind legs each land farther forward. This would be referred to as being on the left lead.

So, after you pick up the canter, if perchance you look down, you will see the extended leg and shoulder moving more forward than the opposite leg. However it is preferable to not look down when you are riding as you will offset the balance of the horse and yourself. So, in order to know which lead you are on, you will have to feel it through your seat (or have your instructor tell you until you CAN feel it). That is, when the horse is reaching forward with one leg, you will feel a pull in your seat toward that leg.  If you are having trouble still feeling that pull, a quick glance at the horse's shoulder will tell you which lead you are on.

If you realize that your horse is on the wrong lead, ask for the halt, wait for him to stop completely, and then ask for the correct lead again. For the left lead, you will be asking more with your right leg, and for the right lead, you will be asking more with your left leg.

The Basics: Horsie Conditioning Part 2

This is the second part of the original Horsie Conditioning that I had made for a friend. 

Once she is toned up from the Winter softies, you can begin this regiment of Cardio & Muscle Development.  

Begin on Trails, (hopefully ones that have hills and flat)!   
  • Walk 10 minutes, 
  • Trot 10 minutes, 
  • Walk 10 minutes, 
  • Canter 10 minutes, 
  • Walk 10 minutes, 
  • Trot 10 minutes, 
  • Walk 10 minutes, 
  • Canter 10 minutes, 
  • Walk 10 minutes.  
By alternating the three gaits, you are alternating muscle groups, as well as bringing them up, then down, then alternating up, then down. This is what is happening to the Cardio system as well.....trot and canter both work the cardio system completely differently. To improve the longitudinal balance of a horse, the rider (or can be done on a lunge line) repeatedly asks the horse for up and down transitions, frequently (or within a five stride time frame). Such as Walk-Trot-Walk-Trot-Walk-Trot. This teaches the horse to keep a majority of her weight in her hind quarters. Helping to assist her in keeping weight off of the front end, and/or the bridle.

Strength Training or Long Slow DistanceThis training initiates development of your horse’s muscular endurance (the ability to sustain work for prolonged periods), but to improve muscular strength you need to increase the intensity of the workouts or the number of repetitions of a particular drill.

Incorporate steeper hill climbs or accelerate your horse’s speed up a moderate ascent; gymnastic grids, cavelletti grids, or more advanced dressage or equitation exercises are also reliable methods to increase the exercise intensity while improving muscular strength. Include strength-training exercises two to three times a week, or every other day. Remember that as your horse develops muscle strength, her cardiovascular condition continues to improve.

If she has a sore back: canter at first in a half seat position until she’s a bit more muscled, stretched out and used to cantering again before you plop your butt down on her back.

The Basics: Horsie Conditioning


Okay so I wrote this a while back for a friend of mine who's horse was going from the winter softie to summer show competitor. The horse was an Arabian, and the conditioning worked for her. So I decided to share it on my blog! As long as you have some horse sense, take it slow and watch your horse, it will work for you as well. Just remember: Everything cannot be done in a day!!

Always remember to warm-up and cool down. Warm-ups should be no more than 10-15 minutes long and will improve the efficiency of the muscles working. Walking and then trotting for warm-up and trotting then walking for cool down.

You will want to work your way up to working at least 4-5 times a week. It is said that it is important to give your horse a day off every third or fourth day. It seems that its up to you or her, though.
Work on the big things first and then work on the little things.
Once your horse is comfortable at this pace, you’ll want to further “stress” her tissues to gain conditioning improvements. Either increase the duration of the workout or the speed, but never both at the same time.  Even if she’s up for it, don’t push her too hard.  It will work against you.

Work on your communication skills on the ground in the round pen or enclosed arena.  That means lungeing, long lining, and groundwork. Your horse should be able to walk, trot, and canter quietly and safely around you equally in each direction. Of course if she wants to have fun, don’t dismiss it!! LoL! Notice if she is showing any discomfort in movement and if her whole body and muscles are moving in unison as she goes around you (such as not being able to stretch her head and neck out and down).

Start out: Minimum of 30 minutes a session building up slowly to longer sessions, varying each ride

Walking, walking, walking
Little bit of trotting
Walking, walking, walking
Try serpentines and circles at walk
Check balance at walk (you and her)
Bring in short bursts of trotting (check her listening skills and your communication skills)
Walk her over ground poles. Let her stretch her back and neck
Do some patterns at the walk. Watch your posture!

Next: Add in more trot work and a bit of canter (this doesn’t have to be all at once)
When she and you are okay with that, add in:
Walk/trot sets
Ground poles
Trail work – walk/trot sets

Moving forward/ adding in (this doesn’t have to be all at once):
Walk/ Trot/ Canter transitions
More ground pole work

Moving forward/ adding in (this doesn’t have to be all at once):
Impulsion (developed through performing up/down transitions in short frames, such as walk, trot, walk, canter, walk, trot, walk, canter, each for a distance of 3 to 7 strides in variances.  Can be developed by the use of cavalletti's in variances of height and location.), half halts (walk, half halt, walk, walk, trot, walk, half halt..etc as you see fit)

Moving forward/ adding in (this doesn’t have to be all at once):
Extended walk, Slow walk, Trotting ground poles, slow trot, some cantering, lateral work (make sure she has impulsion), don’t forget those transitions!
Trail work – walk/trot sets (if you can find them…hills, or deep ground/sand)
Moving forward/ adding in
Extended trot, slow canter, straight and serpentine, cantering circles, walk/trot ground poles
Trail work – walk/ trot sets

Moving forward/ adding in (this doesn’t have to be all at once):
Extended canter, cantering circles and serpentine. (simple lead change at x)
Let's canter them there ground poles....hehe
Trail work- lets add in some cantering
Short gallops, followed by a return to a normal working canter, build wind and endurance.

Moving forward/ adding in (this doesn’t have to be all at once):
Collection!!
Start at trot, then walk, then canter

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Basics: Horse Vital Information


There are some key pieces of information all horse owners need to know about their horse. In case of emergency, these pieces of information will be helpful in better preparing and informing your veterinarian to any problems that your horse may have. Included in the information will be the normal temperature, resting pulse, and respiration. The horse owner will need to take these vital signs over the course of a few days and then average them out. 

Normal Temperature:

A horse's normal temperature is between 99-101 degrees Fahrenheit. A foal's normal temperature is a little higher than that, measuring 99-102 degrees Fahrenheit.  Temperature may increase by up to 3 degrees depeding on ambient temperature, level of exercise, and the degree of dehydration.
In order to measure normal temperature, you will need, preferrably, a digital thermometer, and some vaseline. The temperature will be taken rectally, and the vaseline will help with insertion.

Resting Pulse:

A horse's normal resting pulse is between 32-48 beats per minute. A foal's normal pulse is about 80-120 beats per minute. Age, ambient temperature, humidity, exercise, and excitement can all affect the horse's heart rate.
In order to measure the resting pulse, you will need a stethoscope. Place the stethoscope over the ribs, right behind the elbow.

Breathing Rate:

A horse's normal breathing rate is between 12-16 breaths per minute. A foal's normal breathing rate is about 30-40 breaths per minute. However, just with the other two, ambient temperature, humidity, exercise, and excitement can affect your horse's breathing rate.

In order to measure the breathing rate, watch the nostrils or flanks and count the number of times the horse breathes out.
Two more tests that I like to have available to both myself and the veterinarian is the degree of dehydration test and the capillary refill test.

Degree of Dehydration:

This test is to check the horse's fluid levels, so to say. A horse should drink a minimum of 5 gallons per day. I know, that sounds like a lot of water, but horses (excluding minis) are big animals and need to stay hydrated.

For this one, you are going to pinch the skin on the horse's neck. Make sure that it is within the "IM shot trianlge," or near the center of the neck. If the skin flattens back into place when you let go in less than 1 second, the horse is fine. If it doesn't, it means the horse isn't drinking enough water, he is dehydrated. If the horse is dehydrated, try flavoring the water, such as apple juice.

Capillary Refill:

This test measure the time that it takes blood to refill the blanched tissues in the gums, which indicates blood circulation.

Lift your horse's upper lip up and firmly press your thumb against his gums for 2 seconds to create a white mark. This white mark should return to the normal pink color within 1-2 seconds after releasing the pressure.  If the CRT takes longer than 2 seconds, the horse may have shock. If the gums (or any other mucous membrane) is an odd color, like very pink pale, bright red, grayish blue or bright yellow, call a veterinarian immediately.

Tack 'Em Up! Fly Protection

Duramesh Neck Cover by sstack.com


As things start to warm up and winter becomes spring and spring becomes summer, the bugs come out. Those little flying nuisances that like to pester our friendly four legged creatures and make them (sometimes) into a ball of chaos.  Not so fun for us, and certainly not fun for them. So, in order to make your horse happier and more pleasant to be around, there are a variety of protective items that you can make or buy. Here are a few of those items:

Fly/ Tick/ Etc Chemical Repellant:

You can either buy chemical repellant from the store or make your own.  Fly spray comes in a spray bottle, or a larger "refill" bottle. Fly repellant can also come in a roll on form. These products are great for using on the face, such as on the eyes, around the mouth, etc.  Make sure to always check the label to see if you are using the product correctly. You don't want to be using anything that can be harmful to your horse.  You can also make your own, as I stated earlier.  There are many recipes on the internet that you can choose from.  But remember, when making your own, that you need to wear protection from certain chemicals.


Fly Sheets, Masks & Other:

The fly sheet and fly masks for horses are just mesh coverings over the body, legs or face and help the horse to stay fly free (for the most part). These items can be found online or sometimes at your local tack shop.

Fly Baits:

Ah, yes the lovely fly bait. They come in the old fashioned fly papers and fly traps. They smell horrible to us, but smell supremely delicious to the flies.  You must take care they are out of reach of horses and children.  If not, you will have a nice surprise when you walk in on a horse with fly paper stuck to it. Other methods that work are water traps and bags. I have heard that using a water and vinegar mix in these contraptions, together with a bit of vegetable oil works great.


If you are still having issues with flies and they seem to be getting really bad, make sure that you are keeping the stable/ barn areas as clean as is possible. You can also use fly predators on your manure piles, put in an insecticide misting system in the stable, or put up bird houses near your manure piles to cut down on bug content. Many of those items can be bought in store or ordered online.

Do you have any suggestions to help your horse during the "bug" seasons?