Looking for Guidance on How to Help a Baby OTTB Maintain the Canter.

Hello, I’ve asked for help with this OTTB before but she’s 6 years old and only 6 months off the track. She belongs to the barn I ride at but my trainers having me help him with her since he broke his wrist and can’t ride right now. Unfortunately for some reason the barn has him on vacation until his wrist is fully healed so I have been trying to help train this horse with little to no help and I’m a bit stressed I’m going to mess her up. (There are other trainers at the barn but I’m in south Korea and don’t speak Korean and none of the other trainers speak English and when you do manage to ask via google translate two people have told me to get a crop and hit her. Which is not the solution, plus she’s so sensitive holding a crop would probably have her launch us into the sun.) I have been riding for 20 years and am very good at the basics but I’ve also never trained a horse before. We’ve been working a lot on leg and seat aids and I can get her to turn nicely and transition and halt with only barely touching her mouth. ( She is extremely soft in the mouth so this was a priority for me.) She is very smart and picks things up quickly and has a lovely walk and very steady rhythmic trot. The thing is she can’t hold a canter on the turn at all.
She has a nice canter on the straightaway of the arena but falls out of it as soon as you hit a turn. I’ve tried doing canter on the straight and trot on the turns to at least build up her strength but her trot falls apart when she falls out of the canter and I don’t want to ask her for a transition until we’ve regrouped. She also has a lot more trouble picking up a canter from a trot than a walk. She is a very narrow horse and needs to wear brush boot s pretty much constantly as to not injure herself but I don’t think that’s the issue since it doesn’t seem to effect any other gates.
If anyone has any advice for things i could do to help support her or exercises I could do with her to help build up her strength I would really appreciate it she’s a lovely smart little horse and I’d really like to help her properly. Thanks in advanced.

I would say its too soon to expect her to hold a canter on a circle.

Work on trot circles and aim for balance and rhthym.

Canter on the straight. Do trot canter transitions.

Work on flexions shoulder in leg yield at the walk. Get some control over her hind end.

Do canter on the straight and then trot corners.

Cantering circles takes strength and balance.


Thanks I’ll keep working on those movements with her since she was heavy on the forehand when she first came in she’s already been introduced to most of those to help get her to shift her weight back on her hind end. She’s not wonderful at any of them yet so lots more work and I’ve been stretching her a lot since shes way stiffer to the left. I definitely don’t expect her to hold it on a circle especially once I figured out the issue was she wasn’t strong enough (took longer than it should have admittedly) Is there anything I can do to help support her with how I ride? I’ve ridden for a long time but never on a horse this green without guidance. I know it’s gonna take time but I’d like to do what I can to help her be the best she can be.

Well you certainly don’t want to try to hold her up with the reins.

If you can maintain a light forward seat without slamming into her back at each stride, that could help. Otherwise I think greenies benefit from very calm, still, confident riders who don’t fidget or micromanage and let the horse move freely. You don’t want loads of contact at this point.

And keep the ride short maybe 20 minutes to start. All this is mentally and physically exhausting to her.


Trot is the training pace. Working on strengthening the trot will help the canter.

As said above get off her back for the turn.

A turn is a quarter of a circle, so she can’t turn if she can’t circle.

Is it possible to canter her out of the arena and up hills? It is the confined space that is the problem.

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Total hijack: what’s riding in South Korea like?!?


At 6 months off the track, she is still not up to turns at the canter. Develop her balance and strength with circle work at the trot, making sure that her quarter are following her forehand. The gymnastic strengthening of the circle only works if ridden correctly

Throw in one or two canter transition on each rein as part of your work session, each time increase the canter time.

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First of all, it’s a 6 year old ottb. This is not a baby horse. It also ran … RAN!!… professionally before it came to you, so I’m not sure why everyone thinks it couldn’t possibly organize its four legs in a turn…?

Two things I would do:

Longe before riding. Canter round and round on the longe. Expect it to canter civilized. The canter should look like something you wouldn’t mind sitting on, not like a freewheeling legs akimbo adventure. Let it practice up and down transitions, organized, quiet, and prompt. Use this work for 15 minutes before your ride to build strength and fitness, and a mentally calm approach to going in and out of the canter.

Also, never, ever, ever, ever EVER allow the “running trot”. This is that terrible jackhammer 90mph trot that happens either on the way up to or down from the canter. The second it starts, WALK. IMMEDIATELY. Pull on the reins hard enough that the walk happens within one stride. If you are trying to go UP TO the canter and you get running trot, WALK, give yourself three strides, and then ask again. If the horse breaks into the running trot, WALK, give yourself three strides, and then ask for canter again. (It is also important not to give yourself endless walk circles to reorganize because then the horse just gets a break and reward for making a mistake.) He’s allowed to do one or two steps of SOFT trot to get going, but the second you get the jackhammer WALK.
The horse will learn we have to be organized and methodical about things, we can’t just go LALALALALALALAAA SPLAT.

Use the transitions. Once you get good, non rushing canter transitions, voila: there’s the canter you can ride a turn in. If the canter deteriorates, transition DOWN, take three steps to organize, and transition back up. The same way you dont accept the jackhammer trot, don’t accept a shitty canter.

I don’t want to hear a single person explain to me that a 6yo ottb can’t do a reasonably organized canter transition. It’s been professionally ridden for most of its riding life. It stood in the gate and exploded out from a standstill. It was a professional equine athlete for years of its life. It can transition into and out of the canter, people.

The first thing you need to do is raise your expectations. A horse will not rise to expectations you do not hold.


Newsflash: horses aren’t all the same, and this horse very well could have issues that prevent her from being able to keep her balance on the corners.

Lunging is a good idea, with an eye toward trying to figure out why she’s having problems in canter. Free lunging would be even better, as it will allow her to make the circle bigger to start, which will take some of the pressure off while she’s developing her balance.

If she’s been lunged before then I’d start by asking her to canter a few strides at a time, because the up and down transitions will help her with developing her balance.

If she isn’t already balanced on the lunge then just start her at the beginning with the emphasis on calm and fluent and bring her along as if she’d never been ridden. That alone should give you further insights into what she needs to be able to develop her balance in the canter.


Fair enough, but if at six years old after a professional running career it is still having issues and requiring diligent remedial training approaches to do an up canter transition and canter the short side, I’d have some reservations about its future as a sport horse.

Probably it just needs an organized, methodical ride and clear expectations, but you’re right. It could have wobblers or something and have left the track for a reason.

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That’s pretty classic of a horse with soundness issues. Keeping balance in the canter (especially in a circle) is totally a green horse thing. Falling out of the canter around a turn, is usually related to one-sidedness, weakness, or soundness.

All the other mentions of her difficulties, and I would peg it on a soundness issue vs lack of training. Race horses know how to canter.


This is what jumped out at me “She is a very narrow horse and needs to wear brush boots pretty much constantly as to not injure herself…”

That doesn’t mean that she can’t learn to canter through the corners, but getting “firm” wiith her (or any horse, for that matter) is IMO, neither fair nor wise.

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Who is advocating getting “firm” with the horse?

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Racehorses can run at speed around a very gradually curving track, with a very light professional rider in two point.

That does not always translate to being able to stay balanced on a 20 metre circle or to take a tight turn at the corner of the arena, while maintaining a slower canter, with a heavier ammie up top riding in full seat, with walls all around.

I’ve watched a number of OTTB being retained by ammies and small time pros. We also have a track trainer using two stalls in our basically recreational barn for time out for her track and sales horses.

All her horses are a hot mess in the arena. They go in and charge around and bronc. She’s got a great sticky seat but no chops for schooling saddle horses. I’ve never seen any of her many horses do a coherent canter on a circle. She does do a big hand gallop around the arena if she can get past the bronc moments.


This is everything I was going to say. I have a bit of experience with OTTBs and while balance on a circle is usually lacking, being able to run around a circle is not.

If everything checks out OK with the vet, I’d say lunge line with side reins and teach her to canter that way.

“…Pull on the reins hard enough that the walk happens within one stride…”

Really? Get on a horse who can’t keep her balance in the corners and pull on her hard enough to get canter to walk in one stride? Lovely.


Maybe you should read my post again because the gait in question was the running jackhammer TROT.

So yes. If it’s falling apart in the running TROT, rather than zipping around with your teeth jangling out of your head, pull on the reins for HALF A SECOND to get the walk.

What horse abuse I’m advocating here.

In my experience, lots of horses’ canters are disorganized because they pick them up out of this trot. If you don’t allow (or just calmly correct) the running TROT, the horse starts to think about being more organized rather than splatting forward and running through the transitions. Improving the trot improves the canter transition which therefore improves the canter.

Textbook horse abuse!


Hi, back after reading everyone’s posts. Riding in Korea is interesting its like everyone learned everything they now about horses from a video with the sound off but the horses are well looked after for the most part. There is also extremely limited space so besides walking her up and down the little hill at my barn that is paved i can’t really ride her outside on a hill. She also has extremely good upwards transitions although she has a much better walk to canter transition than trot to canter. I do follow the mindset of if a horse just speeds up and don’t actually do the transition throw the whole thing away, resetting and starting over. This horse does tend to speed up on her trot to canter transitions but never to the running trot the only time she does that is when she falls out of her canter and then it really doesn’t take us long to get her back in a nice working trot again like maybe 4 to 5 strides. I would never pull on this horses mouth hard ever she is incredibly soft in the mouth ( like grabbing the reins to lead her if your not gentle enough will result in her flipping her head and she’s in a double jointed snaffle and she just got her teeth done so I don’t think that’s the problem.) and I use seat and leg aids unless absolutely necessary because of this. She does need brush boots since due to how she’s built she does have a tendency to knock herself, thus the reason for the brush boots i mentioned earlier. Seriously when she’s standing she not always but fairly often will place both front or both back legs right next to each other almost stepping on herself. She is stronger to the right than the left (I find odd since I’ve heard most racehorses are the opposite? and they run them the same direction in Korea as they do in America.) We are working on that her canter on the straight looks nice it could be nicer but its definitely not allover the place or out of control. She’s a very calm horse and tries really hard she’s never had a crazy moment with me even when other horses in the arena spook she’s always very calm and collected. She just isn’t strong enough. I haven’t asked about lunging I’ll ask if I can do that next weekend. Also will continue to do lots of trot circle work and work on trying to see if she has a better time when I’m in half seat instead of full seat. I have no idea why she left the track as I can’t get that information due to a major language barrier but I also doubt the amount of training that goes into like US and Australian thoroughbreds is the same level as the training that goes into the racehorses here in Korea. The entire horse industry here is extremely new and therefore greatly lacks the amount of horse culture we have in countries like the US that only come with time.

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It sounds like she is in good hands.

When she runs in the downward transition ask for a small circle. This will help her and eventually you won’t need the circle.

FWIW, I know of a huge OTTB advocate with a huge facebook following - you all know who I’m talking about - who currently has an OTTB that will.not.canter, even after almost two years of fitness/hacking work. Not on the lunge, not with someone on her back, nothing. Nada. She freaks out. She is a great trail horse, has a decent trot… but will not canter.

I don’t know what her hangup is. But strange things happen with horses, even ones who ran professionally. They’re all individuals.

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