#SundaySchool: how to develop and nail counter-canter

Take a look at this simple exercise, as explained by dressage rider Amy Stovold, to help improve any horse’s counter-canter

Aim

At least some counter-canter is found in most British Dressage tests from novice level upwards, and is used to demonstrate the horse’s balance, suppleness and straightness while still maintaining the natural quality of the canter.

Counter-canter helps to develop a horse’s canter rhythm, improve his balance and ability to carry the weight behind, and is a great exercise to use before starting flying changes. It is also really good for improving a horse’s suppleness.

Using the correct aids and maintaining a straight, central position in the saddle are very important in the counter- canter to ensure that the horse stays balanced.

I teach a horse counter-canter as soon as his canter is balanced and he is carrying the weight on the hindleg.

For this exercise, the horse should be established in canter and the walk-to-canter transition, and be able to stay balanced in counter-canter.

The exercise

1. Start in canter at M on the left rein and turn down the centre line at C.

2. Start heading towards the three-quarter line in the direction of B before making a shallow loop right. Start with fairly shallow loops so that the horse understands what you are asking of him. You can then build up the difficulty by making the loops steeper until you are riding a serpentine in counter-canter.

3 Counter-canter across the diagonal from B to K, then continue in true, left-rein canter. Your aids should always stay the same throughout counter-canter, so on the left rein, your right leg will be behind the girth and your left leg will be by it. Your outside leg will support and maintain the counter-canter. With a younger horse, you may need to support them a bit more with your outside leg and inside rein. There can be a slight neck bend over the leading leg, particularly with young horses, to help them balance. As the horse progresses, the neck should be as straight as possible. The hindquarters should remain straight so the horse is able to push through from behind efficiently. If there is too much swing in or out from the hindquarters, the horse won’t be able to sit and push as well as if it is straight.

4. You can then change the rein and perform the exercise on the right rein. It’s important to ensure that you perform the same exercises on both reins to keep the horse equal and straight through his body.

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Tips and pitfalls

  • Breaking into trot, changing the canter lead and swinging the quarters in or out are all signs that the horse isn’t balanced, so consider a shallower loop or revisiting the exercise when the horse’s balance is more established.
  • Always keep the loops shallow to begin with and build up the difficulty gradually as the horse progresses.
  • The horse should remain up in the poll and straight through their body in the counter-canter.

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