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Analyzing the canter to trot transition footfall sequence
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Brandy
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 Posted: Tue Oct 19th, 2010 09:15 pm
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Dear Dr. Deb,

I have an eleven year old mare who is struggling with the downward transition from a canter to a trot.  Up until about a month ago, she really didn't canter at all: her gaits were walk, trot, and gallop to escape and catch up with her birdie which had departed for parts unknown.  I can think of lots of reasons for this but I'm not sure they matter, she is who she is right now.

I got some hands on help with her a little over a month ago and we've made progress.  Currently the upward transitions are decent (they were horrid--by the time she would finally try a canter for an answer she was scared so they were tight, tense and awkward), the canter itself is present (no longer a frantic pronk) but the downward transitions are rugged, particularly with the back feet.  To my inexpert eye, it looks like she almost trips the hind feet back to a trot. (I have been doing this in a 65' round pen since I haven't wanted to do much ridden work until she can canter with her brain still within her head.  She's not being ridden due to a very late start in life, she is sound and healthy.)

When I realized I didn't understand what the feet should be doing when it is 'right' I got my geldings out for comparison.  I realized then that I don't know what it is really supposed to look like, or what the footfall sequence is when it's right, either.  Two of my geldings didn't do the transition nicely at all, they wanted to stop the canter and just stop, so I see I have more work there, as they appeared to be dragging their hind feet into it with that kind of a stop.  The third went nicely into a good, forward trot.  What it looked like to me is that the hind foot on the same side as the lead was the first to make the first committed trot step and change the cadence into a trot.  I also found that I couldn't focus well on both the front and the back at the same time, so ended up with more questions.

In summary, if you have time (and the answers are not readily available elsewhere in which case if you could point me there I'd be grateful) my questions are

What is the footfall sequence for a canter to trot transition?

If a horse is doing a poor job of this and the horse is not rideable, it is possible to influence the feet to do a better job and if so, how?

I'd like to understand it even if it's not the key for the mare, but at this point, simply because I don't know it.

Thank you.

 

 

Last edited on Tue Oct 19th, 2010 09:16 pm by Brandy

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Oct 20th, 2010 09:38 am
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Brandy, this is a good question and you've made some accurate observations on your own to start with.

Of course, you could just put the horse in the roundpen and do your usual routine with her, just as you have described in your post. But invite a friend who owns a digital video camera to sit up on the edge of the pen and take a film. Then you can play the film back at half or quarter-speed and see exactly what your horse is doing. This assumes that your friend would be knowledgeable enough to know what to shoot and when to shoot, but I am sure you can find somebody.

What you would find out if you did this with your mare and, say, nine other horses, is that there are ten ways of making "down" transitions. And if you had filmed twenty horses, you would find out there are twenty ways. In other words -- to some extent, every horse handles this individually, uniquely. There is no one "right" way to do it, and at that it changes with circumstances such as terrain, what the horse expects or intends to do immediately afterwards, and what the rider is asking of the horse.

How-sum-ever....as you notice, your horse seems clumsy, out of balance, uncomfortable, and rough and rocky, as if doing lots of transitions in the manner in which she is currently doing them might, over time and many repetitions, actually work toward making her less sound. So although we are not going to be critical of your mare for handling "down" transitions right now in whatever way she can manage, we DO want to help her find some better way.

This is a principle of training and "aiding" that I think cannot be emphasized enough: we are helping HER to find a way. We are not telling her any particular way. WE are not operating her body; SHE is. It is the mare herself who must make the transitions and who will indeed find a better way.

The reason that her transitions now are less than ideal -- less than good for her -- is that so many other things she is doing are also less than good for her. You very truly see that having her Birdie "gone" is not helping. But, like many people, although you clearly get the Birdie concept, there is still the matter of putting it into practice. What, exactly, are you supposed to DO to help her keep her Birdie with her? This is the part that the PERSON must think of, because the horse is most likely not going to.

Is it fair or reasonable to expect a horse to perform something that is either novel, or (as in this case) difficult, when the animal is not FIRST 100% OK on the inside? The first law of this school is: tranquiliza a tu caballo antes de pedirle nada! "Get your horse 100% OK on the inside BEFORE asking anything else of him."

What is the MAIN purpose of roundpenning, Brandy? I know you do know the answer to the question that I just asked above -- it is NOT fair to ask the horse to start anything when it is not 100% OK, completely contented; and it is NOT fair to continue with anything even if the horse starts out pretty OK but then gets less and less OK as it tries to do what it knows you are asking and can't. And no matter what answer you think of for THIS question -- what is the MAIN purpose for roundpenning? -- I am just absolutely certain it isn't going to be "getting good down transitions from canter to trot."

So the first thing I am going to tell you is that you have to get the mental and emotional balance right. Being in the roundpen is going to have to start being a lot less like punishment to the mare and a lot more like friendly mutual play. Now this is the question that I am not going to answer for you: I want you to write me back five things that you could do differently that will tend to cause your mare, when she is in the roundpen, to enjoy her time in there more and to worry a lot less about what might happen to her if she screws up.

Now as to the physical part of this. When horses speed up when speeding up is not what has been asked for, and when it will not help them do better whatever task, then their speeding up is for one or both of two reasons: either their Birdie is gone, or else they have lost their balance.

You can easily tell in the roundpen when the main problem is that their Birdie has flown, because when it has, they will go around the pen all the time with their head turned to the outside. The horse will give every indication that it wants to not have its body in the roundpen, that it even might jump out of the pen, and that it certainly does not want to be around you as much as it wants to be somewhere else. It will show you by its actions that, if the fence wasn't there to prevent it, it would put a lot more distance between itself and you.

Of course, one of your MAIN objectives is to get any horse you are working with to want, all the time, to be with you more than anywhere else. Your horse should rather be with you. Just like your dog. You work to get it so they will come to you and stick to you like a dog. There is no difference in what you should expect there, and in what you should work for there, between your horse and your dog.

But if the horse is not actually trying to leave -- if it doesn't cruise around with its nose out over the top rail -- and if, when you ask it to stop or turn, it does so by watching you, paying attention to you, following the gesture of your arm or rope, and turns with its forehand toward you and its butt to the wall or rail -- then if the animal has difficulty with transitions, or with maintaining an even, flowing speed and rhythm, the problem is that it is having difficulty maintaining its balance through the transition and perhaps also in the gait itself.

Horses very easily lose their balance from side to side and also from back to front. They tilt left or right, and they get themselves into positions where they tilt from back to front. When they tilt from back to front it is called "going on the forehand".

Momentary loss of balance is actually how all animals that have legs manage to walk. Every step can be broken down into the tilt, the pickup, the swing, the set-down, and the weighting -- in an exaggerated and lumbering form, you can see all these phases in the way Frankenstein walks.

So every animal, and people too, are continually losing -- and then regaining -- their balance with every step they take. First they tilt one way, then they tilt the other; but in between those left and right tilts, they must pass through the middle, which is the point of perfect equilibrium or balance.

Thus, the problem that your horse is having is not that she loses her balance; it's that she loses it and then cannot regain it.

Two factors make it particularly difficult for horses to regain their balance: they are going too fast, and they are stiff.

As to going too fast, notice that this is a self-reinforcing negative loop: first she loses her balance, which causes her to speed up in order to try to catch it; which in turn makes it more difficult for her to regain her balance. You must therefore often in the beginning actually physically prevent the horse from speeding up. You do this at liberty in the roundpen by:

* keeping the gait slow -- do most of your work at the walk. When you read the other threads here that deal with cantering, you will read that the lead is picked up in the walk. All precision work is done at slow speed, because it cannot be done at any other speed. By the time it looks (to the outside observer) as if the horse is moving very fast, you will have practiced at slow speed in such a manner that fast speed is slow speed.

* never let the horse go more than three rounds of the pen in any one direction. Step in there sooner and change directions at the very first sign that the mare is starting to speed up.

* if the horse does not obey more subtle signals to slow down, turn in, and reverse direction, then use grosser signals, i.e. you fade from the center to the wall, until you are actually physically blocking the mare's path. Be sure that if she 'squirts' through a narrow gap between you and the wall that you neither get kicked nor run over. If she 'squirts' through, on the next round get bigger sooner so that it stops her and turns her before she gets very close to you.

* if even this seems like it's just building up to a bigger problem instead of causing her to slow down and take it easy, then stop trying to work with her at liberty. Give her instead a refresher session in the halter and lead, and re-teach the whole mannering sequence (you should get the 'Mannering' CD set from our membership section if you don't have it already).

* frequently, but still with cheerful and friendly attitude, refresh the mare on a few steps of untracking in the halter and lead. One step at a time.

You will be assisted in all of this by reading other threads in this Forum that deal with cantering (look them up with the google advanced search function), in which I point out that to get a horse into a canter it is both unnecessary and unwise to ask the horse to speed up. You are yourself the cause, I expect, for the anxiety and worry around 'up' and 'down' transitions from canter that you have observed in the horse. Stop telling her to hurry. Cantering is not a 'gear'. It is not 'third gear'. It is not correctly obtained by speeding up, but instead is best taught at the lowest level of energy output where the horse can still raise the forehand enough to get her legs into the right positions.

Speeding up promotes weakness and is a sign of weakness. Going slow demands strength. Your mare therefore also speeds up because she is too weak to comfortably and with confidence anchor her outside hind leg in order to lift her forehand. She does not feel good about standing on one hind leg alone, which is what the canter departure demands she do. The strength will come, and can only come, with slow practice.

The second reason horses lose their balance and can't regain it is that they are stiff. Stiffness prevents us from being able to move our joints -- open and close the joints.

The first stiffness that has to be improved is lateral stiffness. Have you been asking your mare to expand the circle, in other words, to untrack at a walk in-hand, as I understand you are not riding her? Do you understand, Brandy, how untracking (stepping under the body shadow with the inside hind leg) relates to the leg-yield? If you do not, then I suggest you go to http://www.eclectichorseman.com and get a subscription to their magazine, and have them back-start it to the first installment of the series I currently have in there. The text is extensive, detailed, and profusely illustrated, and it deals first of all with this very topic since it is absolutely central.

No horse can raise the forehand until it has a certain degree of lateral suppleness. The ability to collect depends upon pre-existing or 'underlying' lateral suppleness. To canter, of course, it doesn't have to be of extraodinary degree or highly trained; but it does have to be a sufficient suppleness, and the fact that the mare is having trouble is proof that it is not sufficient. You therefore need to begin with one-step-at-a-time untracking, and from there learn how to line-drive the animal to have it do walk leg-yields (there is no such thing as a 'sidepass'; the leg-yield is only the first form of lateral work that you will be learning if you continue in this school).

You should also look in the Eclectic Horseman and see many, many pictures of Buck Brannaman, and a few other good horsemen, when they do the exercise with their horse on the halter and lead where you first have the horse untrack and then lead the forequarter through, so that the horse performs Ray Hunt's combination maneuver de facto, i.e. first a half-turn on the forehand followed immediately by a half-turn over the haunches in the same direction. This is not only a practical way to change directions when longeing, but an excellent in-hand method for promoting lateral suppleness.

Now finally Brandy, I want you to ask yourself and report back to me the answer to this question. If the horse's down transitions are evidently rough, what makes them rough? To put it the other way around, if the down transition from canter to trot was ideally smooth, where would the 'cushioning' or 'springiness' that creates that smoothness come from? To help you on this, here's a hint: if a horse is galloping or cantering while it plays out in pasture, and it charges up toward a fence as one often sees them do and then, of its own volition, it 'slams on the brakes' -- describe the exact sequence of events that you have seen the horse do then. Focus on the joints: which joint is it that flexes first? This will be the joint that controls the whole system, so your getting this answer right will clarify a whole lot of things for you.

I am going out of town tomorrow morning to go up to Bend, Oregon, to teach our fall anatomy class. It may be that while I am there I do not have daily access to the Internet, so you have a few days here to think about this, and I will respond to your answers as soon after that as I can. -- Dr. Deb

 

 

 

Brandy
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 Posted: Wed Oct 20th, 2010 10:20 pm
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Dr. Deb, thank you for the detailed answer.  I see that I have some work to do, and I will do that.  Some of your questions I can answer now:

DrDeb wrote:

What is the MAIN purpose of roundpenning, Brandy? I know you do know the answer to the question that I just asked above -- it is NOT fair to ask the horse to start anything when it is not 100% OK, completely contented; and it is NOT fair to continue with anything even if the horse starts out pretty OK but then gets less and less OK as it tries to do what it knows you are asking and can't. And no matter what answer you think of for THIS question -- what is the MAIN purpose for roundpenning? -- I am just absolutely certain it isn't going to be "getting good down transitions from canter to trot."

So the first thing I am going to tell you is that you have to get the mental and emotional balance right. Being in the roundpen is going to have to start being a lot less like punishment to the mare and a lot more like friendly mutual play. Now this is the question that I am not going to answer for you: I want you to write me back five things that you could do differently that will tend to cause your mare, when she is in the roundpen, to enjoy her time in there more and to worry a lot less about what might happen to her if she screws up. 
 

 

 


I am not sure whether you're asking me what THE main purpose of roundpenning is, in general, or MY main purpose.  I cannot answer the first, but MY main purpose has been to help the mare become both physically and mentally OK, to progress toward riding her.  I have not been 'only' taking her the roundpen to work on cantering, you asked me for 5 things that I might do differently.  What I have been doing are all of the 19 or so exercises detailed in Buck's Groundwork DVD and book, working on untracking, one step at a time, working on the 'drifting of the HQ' exercise, working on flexions (I have been doing vertical and lateral flexions the way Buck is teaching this year, which I believe to be similar to your head twirling), giving her a good scratch in all of her itchy spots during breaks.  Occasionally I take her there for her evening vitamin supplement.  Most of these things we do both inside and outside the RP so that she doesn't associate anything with specifically the RP.

 

Having been a former student of the school of how not to do things, I am familiar with turning the RP into an upleasant place to be and do my best to be aware of the tiny indications that it is happening.

As to using the RP to help her canter, I am using it as a tool so that she doesn't have to cope with the additional pressures of a rope around her neck or the halter on her head, and I am asking her to canter specifically to help her become "okay" at the canter.  She does not currently travel around with her head looking out, rather, she will stay as close to me as possible.

The canter itself isn't really the issue, either.  Given her background and then 4 years with me, she has never learned to become emotionally okay with any kind of stress, which has resulted in her become extremely intolerant to anything she does not 'want' to do.  Her lack of ability to canter is just a manifestation of this, I believe.

I think you are right about her lack of balance in this gait.  To that end, I did attend (with a horse, not the mare) Buck's Foundation class in July so that I could learn things that would help her.  I have been diligent about doing them, and we have made progress.  I have been doing the exercises you suggest.  Also, I apologize for not making clear that I am a subscriber to Eclectic Horseman.  I have been poring over your articles and while I'd love to say I 'have them down' each time I re-read them I find more details so they are a work in progress for me.

As to your last question, about which joint begins the 'stop' sequence, I will need to go observe more closely.  I think I can visualize it but don't want to answer until I have watched my horses in action.  I also think I know the answer from reading your work, but you have asked me to observe so that is what I will do.

 

Brandy
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 Posted: Fri Oct 29th, 2010 06:34 pm
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Okay, I have been doing homework.

First, on the observation of where the 'stop' begins, it is from the LS joint as the loins coil, which is what I thought I remembered from my previous reading and casual observations.

I watched all of my horses do this (I have a narrow gate from one pasture to the next, at the bottom of a hill, and nearly every morning they will canter to get to the far pasture and then stop to go through that gate), and spent a certain amount of time watching some youtube clips and videos of horsemen that I think are doing a good job of this.

From your question to me, it was clear that I was looking at the wrong part of the horse.  I went back into Volume II of your Conformation series and began to read.  Of course, this was interesting, as this time I was reading for a purpose instead of reading to collect information, and thus, I saw things that I'd missed before.  I also revisited the Ring of Muscles and True Collection.

You will not be surprised that the mare has always had a waist.  I'd remembered something about this, and her level of fitness, and had been pleased to note that as I'd been working with her on untracking, one step at a time, that the waist situation has improved greatly.

Until you sent me on the information quest, though, I hadn't put all the pieces together.

I'd been thinking of this backwards: I knew the birdie left at the canter and was thinking that she needed to learn to handle her emotions better.

Now I have the information to see the likely reason that the birdie is leaving at the canter.  Her LS joint has been so stiff that she probably cannot physically canter, and whether it's in the pasture of her own accord or me asking, until she gets more limber in that joint, it's going to be hard for her.  This stiffness has shown up in her 'waist' and also, when she goes down to roll she is very stiff.  Along with that 'waist' (which has, as I mentioned, began to resolve), she has also generally had a rather flat croup, that I had NOT noticed has also rounded up quite a lot.

My next question was, if the stiffness in the LS joint is causing so much trouble, then what can I do to help her limber up?  What I have found so far is the slow lateral work, getting the untracking good, and quality cavaletti work.  In the beginning, when I started asking for quality untracking, one step at a time, she was so tight that she could barely manage the untracking and the next step, the inside hind would nearly 'spring' back to end up 6-8 inches farther back than the outside hind.  We have gotten this to the point that although she will sometimes want that very last step to still be there, she is slowly and thoughtfully 'placing' that inside hind back instead of springing it back.

After your first response to me, as an experiment I ponied her out into a large field from one of my geldings to remove the roundpen from the cantering experience.  The first day, she still had a hard time picking up the canter, we tried several times, I had to get the gelding into a hand gallop before she broke the big trot.  Once she finally 'got' the canter, we quit.  The second day, there was no hesitation, each time I asked the gelding to canter, she stepped right into it and this continued up until we had to suspend cantering outside for the winter

What I have gotten from the last week is that the roundpen probably helped me to get to the point where I could analyze what my questions were and to find answers to help her but that it's probably not the place to continue helping her canter, that having a place to really go and then have a downward transition to a trot instead of a walk allowed me to find that she can do that transition nicely....but mostly that the whole 'problem' is in a place that I hadn't looked even though I had started on the right path....I need to go further and use my eyes in a different way.

For the next four months I will have lousy footing, which is very good to encourage slow, careful movement and I look forward to spring with a more limber mare!

 

Brandy
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 Posted: Sat Oct 30th, 2010 04:07 pm
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Hmm I just noticed a typo...I was reading Volume III, not II.  Also, the way I read my answer to your question makes me seem like I "have" all the answers and that is not true.  I think I have found "some" possible answers but am still looking for all the help I can get.

One more question, in Volume III you mention that belly lifts and hind leg lifts will also help to un-stiffen a stiff hindquarter and LS joint, but I have not yet found a description of what these actually are in your terms.  Is the thread that Pauline (I think) with the photos of 'stretching' along these lines?

Brandy
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 Posted: Fri Nov 5th, 2010 05:47 pm
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At the risk of talking to myself, I thought I'd post a quick update.  After a lovely session with my mare yesterday, I took her back to the pasture with the geldings and turned her loose where they were, under the pine trees.  I'd had her saddled, so she rolled even though she wasn't sweaty.

She has never been graceful about going down to roll, always lowered herself on the hind end rather stiffly, as if she couldn't quite let herself relax enough to really let down--but yesterday I noticed a very marked difference with the fluidity with which she lowered herself to the ground.

I have added in the cavaletti to our 'routine' (we don't really have a routine) and I haven't asked for any more cantering after the ponying experiment.

 

Brandy
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 Posted: Wed Dec 1st, 2010 04:50 pm
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Now finally Brandy, I want you to ask yourself and report back to me the answer to this question. If the horse's down transitions are evidently rough, what makes them rough?
 

She is not coiling at the LS joint and subsequently bringing her hind feet far enough underneath herself to stop tripping into the downward transition, so she IS tripping herself down.

DrDeb
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 Posted: Wed Dec 1st, 2010 07:15 pm
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Brandy, to reiterate -- I need you to answer -- short form -- the following questions:

1. Tell me five things that you could be doing differently that will make roundpenning a lot less like punishment to your mare, and a lot more like friendly mutual play.

2. What is the main purpose of roundpenning? Not YOUR main purpose -- THE main purpose, in other words, the main purpose that anyone should have in mind whenever they use a roundpen.

3. I provided you with a detailed list of suggested exercises, and asked you to report on how each and every one worked out for you. Have you tried "expanding the circle"? Do you actually know how to expand the circle, or do you need further directions?

Brandy, let me tell you something else. You've included little snippy bits in some of your posts that imply that I'm not responding fast enough to suit you. And you've written me privately to whine that I'm not paying enough attention to you. Anyone who does these things almost 100% guarantees that they are going to get fewer, or zero, responses from me. So you be thinking about what I meant when I replied to you by noticing, "this is not about Brandy." There are ten thousand other people who also need help, Brandy.

Now I have been explicit in this post about what you need to do, what you need to think about, and what you need to report. When you do just as I ask, you will find that your need for "attention" reduces, because you'll be in command of the situation yourself. It's my hope that this is ultimately what you would desire. -- Dr. Deb

Brandy
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 Posted: Wed Dec 1st, 2010 09:31 pm
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1. Tell me five things that you could be doing differently that will make roundpenning a lot less like punishment to your mare, and a lot more like friendly mutual play.
1. Not asking her to canter or speed up

2. Bow

3. Spanish Walk

4. Stand on drum

5. Untrack, one step at a time

 

2. What is the main purpose of roundpenning? Not YOUR main purpose -- THE main purpose, in other words, the main purpose that anyone should have in mind whenever they use a roundpen.

 

Prevent horse from escaping.

 

 

Your exercises for me were to keep gait slow, not allow more than 3 laps around the roundpen, step in with gross communication if she didn't respond to subtle cues, and periodically in a friendly manner to refresh on one step and a time untracking and mannering if necessary.

 

I have kept the gait slow, at the walk.  She has become more fluid in her movements and less likely to 'stop and then lurch forward'.

I have not addressed 'no more than three laps' because she won't do three laps unless I continually ask her to keep going.  She does not fly around the pen in a mindless manner.  She will constantly ask to come in and take any possible cue to come in.  Those two didn't seem to apply.

I have asked for one step at a time untracking.  She has been able to maintain more of a bend in her body and her muscles have relaxed in the HQ.

I have not found it necessary to do a refresher on mannering.

 

Yes, I have expanded the circle.  In the beginning (long before I wrote to you here), she could not do this.  She would attempt to make the step over, have to stop, turn, then start again, she was having to separate each part of the movement.  She was able to do this without stopping her motion prior to me writing.  She continues to be able to do this at a walk, moving all the pieces together in a fluid manner.  I have not asked her at a trot. 

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Dec 3rd, 2010 08:41 pm
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OK, Brandy, these answers are more on track.

1. The main purpose of roundpenning is NOT to keep the horse from escaping. After all, one could do that with any type of enclosure, including a 40-acre pasture. So, I want you to go back and think this one through a little more.

As help to that, go to the Google home page, click on "advanced search", and then enter the keywords: "starting a colt" or "starting a young horse". Be sure to dub our Forum address http://esiforum.mywowbb.com in to the lowest box, so that the search is limited to just this Forum and not the whole Internet.

2. There is nothing wrong with asking your horse to canter in the roundpen, even though she may do it rather badly. It is not the HORSE of whom I am seeking changes, it is YOU. So, when I asked for "five things you could be doing differently," I'm good with some of the things you answered, i.e. teaching her to stand on the drum and so forth. But it is not the horse's cantering per se that is the problem, it's how YOU are asking for it that needs to change. So, although "standing on the drum" is an OK answer, it isn't really the sort of answer I was hoping you'd come up with. What I am more looking for is: are you aware all the time of where your arms are? Where your feet are? How you are projecting your body energy? This is what I want you to think on, in terms of roundpenning "technique". Because it is that your own technique is faulty, and that is a good part of what is making it difficult for the mare to canter well and calmly. A lot of these things are quite subtle, Brandy, and that's an area that I don't think you've explored too much before.

3. I also initially suggested that you get a friend to make a videotape film of you working the horse in the roundpen. This would be of enormous help to you, as being like a "talking mirror", if you could get that done. -- Dr. Deb


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