Achieving the uphill canter

I would love tips and exercises on achieving the elusive uphill canter. My wonderful gelding tends to get forehandy, and then he doesn’t jump as well. He is not built downhill, thankfully, so we aren’t fighting his conformation.

This is a whole process in dressage. Basically it is called collection and requires a process of strengthening and training the horse to carry himself. The lifted collected posture can then be carried over to a lengthened stride. Collected doesn’t only mean super slow.

You will work at this in walk and trot befuew canter. You will use trot poles and in canter things like counter canter and leg yield. It’s not an over night process.

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Lateral work in all gaits including LY (AKA “plie”) in Canter. COrrect and consistent half halts. Walk-canter-walk transitions. “Rubber banding” in canter. THis is all really hard work, so take it in small chunks until his haunches (and core) get strong enough to carry him in an uphill balance.

The uphill canter starts at the halt, then the walk, then the trot, and then through walk-canter transitions.

If your horse can’t move back to front from the halt to the walk, the halt needs to be “gathered”. He can’t pull himself along with a front leg moving first, the hind leg has to step first

Likewise, if he can’t go from a walk into a trot immediately, without throwing his head into the air, and without diving onto his forehand, the integrity of the walk needs to be fixed

Same going from trot to canter. A great t-c exercise is to spiral in, then leg yield out and when the quality of the trot is good, ask for the canter. This does 2 things:

  • engages the crucial inside hind
  • lightens the inside shoulder.

And, he has to know how to walk-halt, trot-walk, and trot-halt by using his hind end to move INTO the downward gait, which means you have to be riding FORWARD into the new gait, not pulling him down to it

These things mean you have to use half halts to tell him “new request is coming up”. You can be riding the most perfect trot, but if you suddenly to “now walk”, his momentum is likely to get him onto his forehand because you’re pulling him down. Have someone do this exercise with you - go jog around the ring a little bit and have then either randomly say “stop!” or “when I count down 3-2-1 you need to halt”. Feel the difference in how your body responds.

I wouldn’t work on transitions within the walk, monkeying with the walk is too advanced for where this horse/you are, so do that within the trot and the canter itself. You DO have to canter to get better canters, BUT, most canter issues are because the walk and trot need work. So normal/working trot, then a few strides of lengthened trot (not the same as extended). You can teach lengthened trot by working through ground poles . Set them to his normal engaged working trot, work through those a bit, then roll them out another 1’ or so, or even just 6" if you have to, so that he figures out how to do that on his own, which is often simpler than you trying to guide him. Once he understands how to do it himself, he’s also learning that it has to come from pushing more, not pulling, and it makes your job that much easier.

Developing this is hard work. Hard. And you also don’t want him to continue the practice of forehand work, so for several weeks to a few months depending on how quickly he gets the concept, how consistent you are, how many days of work he gets a week, your rides might be no more than 30 minutes, maybe 40 if the last 20 are walking.

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Tones and tones of trot canter trot canter transitions on the circle. Really focus on bend, straightening, bend, and activity in the hind end.

One of my fav exercises is to have a forward working canter and ask the horse to collect as much as possible over several strides, then back into forward canter. Any changes of frame and transitions within the gait will help also.

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You need to keep your shoulder back, hands high ( not buried in front of the saddle ) and sit back to drive forward into the hand. Not as just an exercise either, you need to change your basic approach. You can’t just do it occasionally and expect horse to come up into it then let him dump on the forehand and drag you around. Consistentency.

The emphasis on walking above is to allow muscle and balance to develop, patience. A good ground person is priceless to keep you on track with this.

Might try to watch top Jumper riders in the schooling ring. See what they do …and it’s not jump. It’s precise flatwork.

Might want to hit the gym too. Need core strength to pull this off. It’s hard.

The idea of the gym/rider fitness is also a great one. If we aren’t at least as fit as our horses, we can’t reasonably expect to teach them how to do their jobs well. It’s not about being able to man-handle them into what we want, but on some level, proper riding DOES take a level of fitness/strength the average human doesn’t have.

Yes, you have to ride to get better at riding, but focused fitness to work on core, learning to control different areas of your body independently of others, what I call “functional fitness”, are CRUCIAL to the rest of our lives, on the horse or not. I doubt there’s a single upper level rider (or aspiring) who doesn’t work on some off-horse fitness, whether it’s weights, yoga, pilates, something.