The horse that just won't pick up the correct canter lead; we've all been there. It can be extremely frustrating for the rider when a horse won't canter on the correct lead because this leads to a variety of other issues including lost points in dressage, running out or falling out from the shoulder, misbalance, or tripping, just to name a few!
Here are some steps to help you understand the problem. There are a few common reasons why your horse may not be picking up the correct canter lead:
1. You're the problem.
It may be hard to admit, but this is the MOST common reason why a horse will not pick up the correct canter lead. A good way to test if you are the problem is to free lunge your horse in a round yard. If he picks up the correct canter lead in the round yard but not with you on his back, you're the problem! If you don't have access to a round yard, you can lunge on a line, but the horse is more likely to pickup the correct lead in a round yard.
HOW TO FIX IT:
I've had this problem myself, you're not alone.
Usually the root of this problem is that you are putting your horse off balance. My first tip is to work on your balance and your seat, first in the walk, the trot, and then the canter. You should be able to ride well balanced in all gaits without relying on your hands for grip, and whilst maintaining a good posture. Try riding without stirrups, getting lunged without reins - only on a safe horse with an experienced trainer - or getting a friend to film you while you ride so you can evaluate your own riding. Make sure you incorporate a lot of turns and bends in either direction to test yourself and the horse; you should be able to ride these confidently without changing pace.
Secondly, get an experienced rider or trainer to watch you from the ground. Sometimes we forget the correct way to ask the horse for what we want, without even realizing it. Having someone on the ground to watch you and guide you will help you to retrain yourself as well as your horse!
2. Your horse is sore.
This is another common problem. If your horse doesn't want to pick up the correct canter lead when he is unmounted, he may be sore or stiff.
HOW TO FIX IT:
The first thing I recommend to all horse riders is to get your saddle professionally fitted. You would not believe the difference having a correctly fitted saddle will make to both you and your horse!
If the saddle fits well and your horse has no obvious injuries, it may benefit from the services of an equine therapist. Some people use chiropractors, some use massage therapists, and some use physiotherapists. It's up to you who you choose to work with, but I advise you to ask around locally to gather feedback on your local practitioners.
Equine therapists can be very expensive, and you want to make sure that they are actually benefiting your horse, not just their pockets!
3. It could just be a bad habit.
If you're riding correctly and your horse is not in any pain or discomfort, your issue may be just a bad habit or behavioral problem.
HOW TO FIX IT:
The best way to manage this is from the ground. Lunge your horse in various sized circles, asking for the canter at all different point on the circle. If he picks up the incorrect lead, slow him down and ask for the canter again straight away. When he gets it right, praise him like he is god's gift to the earth and then ask him to slow again after a lap or two. If your horse has been using the incorrect lead for a while, he will take some time to build up muscle and fitness in the right areas when he is on the correct lead. He will probably get tired quickly when doing these exercises, so you will have to build up slowly.
As with all horse-related matters, if you can't figure out the problem, it pays to get a professional to help out. Look in you local area for a recommended trainer that you can trust, and give them a call.
Best of luck my fellow riders!
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