Counter Canter (free video clinic!).
If you have a counter canter question please feel free to send a short 10-15 second clip of you and your horse doing some part of the canter work. We’ll tell you what we think. And if it is a great example, maybe ask your permission to post the ride. You can find contact information under both Melynnda and my information on the home page–our team of experts.
Counter canter. That is cantering with the outside leg leading instead of the inside. It’s use is to fine-tune the rider’s understanding of balance in the canter and encourage the use of the legs and hands independently of one another, getting ready to eventually school flying changes.
(You will notice I have not said anything about the horse. They actually find it quite easy.)
Probably because people deem it as a “failure” if the horse should swap the lead, they sometimes approach counter canter with great caution. (Actually, breaking to the trot instead of maintaining the effort needed to canter is a bigger problem than swapping the lead.) Since the purpose of correct counter canter is to get ready to school the changes, if the rider contorts the horse to such a degree that it would be impossible for them to change the lead, then it is likely that no lead change will happen. But also no benefit will be derived from such a practice. Therefore dedication to it is misplaced. It is okay if mistakes happen. The horse should be in a balance where they COULD do a change, but have been taught that is not what is expected–yet.
Here is a post that talks about the actual flying changes–preview of things to come: https://dressagesnob.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/ch-ch-changes/
Rider positioning: As in a correct canter depart: inside seat bone forward, leg at the girth, outside seat bone back, outside knee bent to bring the calf back. This must be maintained 100% through the exercise–and that takes a bit of practice.
Hint: if the horse is in a tight spot and needs help, it helps to center the rider’s body slightly to the lead side–a fraction of an inch. This will need to be abandoned as one gets ready for a flying change sequence. A slight increase in true flexion (toward the lead side) will also help if questions are being asked.
One of the goals of counter canter is to accustom the rider that they must keep their legs in a position, yet be able to maneuver the horse with their hands–both positioning and steering if necessary in different directions and to accommodate the balance.
Another goal is to have the horse understand that the rider’s weight and leg aids guide the eventual change of lead–NOT the hand. So the horse must get used to being slightly flexed away from the direction of the lead, yet not jumping off into that lead. The very easiest place to practice this is a counter flexion in the corner on a true lead. (You will see here a pattern of stacking the deck in the horse’s favor. If you practice lots of little counter flexions all through your canter work he or she will find it no surprise that you may on occasion ask for this in unusual places.) It makes sense to do these beginning exercises in the very easiest place for the horse
The figures: As with most things, it makes sense to not over face yourself or the horse. When you school counter canter always have a plan A and plan B. (Examples: I would like to make the shallow loop down the long side go to the quarter line, but the horse is having difficulty, I’ll use the second track for now. Or, I would like to cross the short diagonal and make a half twenty meter circle in counter canter, but the horse is starting to lean or take over as I begin the diagonal: near X I turn back in the direction of my lead and go around to start again.)
Now what we need are some videos. Your place or ours? If you have questions, please ask.