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Canter Departure From Walk

Panel Expert: Bernie Traurig

Submitted by member: Laura

I recently attended your clinic at Galway with my thoroughbred Stormy and we’ve been working hard and moving forward.

I’ve been working a lot on canter departure from the walk, as per your recommendation, and I’ve found that he’s getting overly excited about it and he is showing his hot blood the more I attempt it. In addition, he is still trotting 4 or 5 steps before he canters.  This did not happen when you were on his back at the clinic.  How did you get him to do it so nice?

I’m encouraged that he is starting to settle his canter and come onto his haunches really well with a soft rein after I let him canter free both directions.  I feel really in control and he is soft in all the gaits.  Not sure if there is enough information, but maybe you can shed some light on why I can’t get the walk into canter.

I use my outside heel with pressure, then increase and put the spur on when he doesn’t start cantering.  This causes him to trot fast then I pick my inside rein straight up (inline with my inside hip) with a little of a “pop” and he lifts up to canter. I do pretty much the same thing both directions; he feels pretty symmetrical to me.  I let him canter about 5-8 strides then bring him back to the walk to try again and in this state he seems to think he is back in the starting gate and is going to try for an early lead.  I loosen the reins a touch, give outside leg pressure and he BOUNDS forward and the canter starts out very disorganized.

On another note, I have been trying to teach him flying changes and he changes in front beautifully and calmly with sophisticated timing, but doesn’t change behind.  I ask with my eyes and the same rein aid I described above and some outside leg.  He’ll cross canter a few strides then trot 2 steps and complete the change.  I want to show soon is there any quick solution?

Look forward to hearing from you!

Answer By Bernie

Some exercises will have a tendency to get T.B. horses hotter, and if the canter departure from the walk is heating him up it would be better to ask for the canter from a slow trot.  Walk, transition to slow trot, then ask quietly. Eventually, as he gets it, shorten the amount of trot steps.  Try using your outside leg back a couple inches with pressure and give those aids when you are ready to ask for the canter together in a prompt but tactful fashion. Try avoiding the spur or even taking it off and trying some without. See if that chills him out a bit. Also try doing nothing with the inside rein and see if that makes any difference.

If he doesn’t respond correctly to a walk canter departure he is not ready to teach the flying change.  I would suggest getting him comfortable in counter canter and be specific about how you apply your aids. Going to the left for example on the right lead, your left leg (outside leg) is slightly behind the girth, your right leg (inside leg) is at the girth and he is slightly bent to the right (just enough to see his right eye).

Practice simple changes for a while with him through the trot and shorten the amount of trot steps over time before asking for the change.

There is no quick solution for horses like him who don’t have a natural easy change and you have to go through the process.

On you can find the process for his level in Fundamentals of Flatwork (Basic level). There are tips in the Fundamentals of Flatwork Intermediate and Advanced levels as well.  Other coaches also have done topics on the site specific to Flying Changes.

I hope this helps.

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Bernie Traurig

As a Horseman, Bernie is renowned for not only his riding talents but for his teaching and coaching gifts. As a competitor, Bernie has represented the United States Equestrian Team both at home and abroad on many occasions and reached the top of the sport in all 3 of the International Equestrian Olympic disciplines: Show Jumping, Dressage, and Eventing.After amassing 60 years worth of training and riding techniques and experiences with thousands of horses, Bernie is driven to give back to the sport that has given him so much fulfillment and success.

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