Following on from my last blog on canter, I’m looking at counter canter for this blog. In essence, counter canter is cantering on the outside lead. All horses can perform counter canter, but it must be done in balance and with the correct rhythm for the horse. Counter canter is an exercise that improves the canter by engaging the horse’s haunches, making canter rounder and more active.
Counter canter is often taught by establishing a correct canter lead and then changing the rein across the diagonal, maintaining the same canter to put the horse into counter canter. Whilst this has its benefit, it does create difficulties for the horse. Often, they start to back off as they approach the corner, and it also creates a tight turn through the corner which can take the horse off balance unless it is tactfully ridden.
Making a counter canter transition on the long side is easier for the horse, but more challenging for the rider who must be attentive to the rhythm, impulsion, straightness and balance of the horse throughout. By using this method, the horse becomes very responsive to the rider’s aids, which make flying changes easier to teach.
If the horse makes a mistake and gives the incorrect canter lead, do not be tempted to stop them immediately, as this will destroy the horse’s confidence. Canter for a few strides, quietly return to trot and set the transition up again, with attention to the quality of the trot and the tact of the aids.
To perform a good counter canter, the horse must be supple and strong to retain his balance. Initially, ride the corners as shallow as possible to give the horse the best change to hold his balance.
Often, when the horse loses balance, he will speed up or change the canter lead, usually becoming disunited. When this happens, calmly return to trot or walk, re-establish the balance and impulsion, and ask again.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer
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