Q: Improving the canter — “Do you have any tips or exercises for improving the canter please? My pony is consistently getting comments about needing more ground cover and more jump in the canter, particularly on the right rein. We have been doing loads of work on getting the useless jockey (yours truly) to sit straight and not lose the outside shoulder in some sort of crooked heap and this has improved but now we need more quality. My pony is small and native so isn’t naturally endowed with ground cover but everything in canter is just a bit flat at the moment. Any ideas to try gratefully received.”
A: It sounds like your pony might lack in a bit of power and generally that comes from strength. There are a couple of really good exercises that I would recommend to build his strength and his stride.
Put yourself on a 20 metre circle which will help keep him engaged, and ride forward for a bigger canter — more like a medium canter or one that you would jump from for eight – 10 strides, and then bring him back for eight – 10 strides.
You’re not going faster and slower, but you’re lengthening the stride and then shortening it — the rhythm shouldn’t change, but the length of stride should.
If he starts running, don’t worry too much as you are bringing him back anyway. He will run a bit at first as he is unbalanced but the more you repeat the exercise, the better it will get.
With regards to the shoulder, I would use a square or diamond. Ride a really good square turn through three or four strides. Use the outside rein and the outside leg, keeping the horse a little shorter on the outside of his body. Turn your inside shoulder almost as if you are looking back to the hind quarters and that will really help you to turn the horse from your body and not your inside rein.
Another useful exercise is to use canter poles on the floor and then raised canter poles which are an excellent way to improve the canter. Use four to five canter poles placed three of your strides apart and start on a circle to help keep him more engaged. You want to create a canter that feels like he is skipping through a skipping rope and if you have that feeling you have the canter where you want it.
Keep practising. It is something that will improve with time if you keep practising.