The horse I am leasing, Griffin, has not been cantered by his owner.  He is a 10 year old warmblood cross (probably draft) palomino.  I started riding him in August and started cantering with him soon after.  The first couple times he just acted like he had never been asked before.  The next couple times he kinda cantered.  Then he started just blasting into a canter.  After a few strides I can get him back into a decent canter.  He only lasts a couple 20 meter circles.  

To stop the blast-o-canter I tried barely giving him any leg aids at all.  He may have been a bit better.  Then he started bucking.  The second time my trainer said he started on the wrong lead and switched his front then when he tried to do a flying change it turned into a bucking flying change.  She thinks it is like he is afraid of the canter aid and is running away from it.  We have jumped him a bit, which he loves, and he canters very well after the jumps.

Lately I have been distracted by working with him on staying calm with all the windy weather and while other horses are also working in the arena.  The last couple weeks I have been riding him alone in the arena so he has been calm again so I tried cantering again.  Same thing - blast-o-canter the first few strides then bucking and hopping with his back arched like a halloween cat.  Not really kicking too much but he is in the air.  I put my heels down further and sit up straighter and back a bit and stay on.

What do I do to get him to stop blasting?  and bucking?  Why is he so scared at first?  

P.S. I never use a whip.  He doesn't like them and does well without it.  He also seems to read my mind when I am rounding a corner and about to ask him to do a figure eight he just goes into it.  He is either very sensitive to my shifting weight and the turn of my head or has some higher level training.  We don't know his history before the last 3 years or so.

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Thanks Jen!
I had this problem when I was first training my thoroughbred to canter. His topline is really bad and while he could canter in the field with no problem once I was on his back my weight changed everything for him. There is hope for him! There are several reasons for him to be afraid of the canter, if he is built downhill, or has a topline like Tar Baby, but in the end the purpose of training is to help him figure out how to balance himself so his canter departs will be calm. You say he is calm after going over a jump. My horse ws the same way and it really helped to teach him how to depart. I always made sure I asked him as I approached a corner, on a straight away it is hard for them to know which lead you want. Each time you take him over a jump just try to keep the canter for a stride or two more. i also only asked him at the end of my ride. Onc ehe was getting nice and calm I would ride him for 1 1/2 hours but only canter him half way around the arena ONCE then get off him and give him LOTS of praise. it took a couple of months for him to just canter around the arena and another month for him to learn how to carry himself in the canter. GOOD LUCK
I never thought of the downhill draft horse issue. Good thought! Today we worked on transitions into walk then back to trot when we were actually going down"hill" in the outdoor arena. He does canter well once he gets over the blast so maybe it is because he has recovered from "falling".
I just retired a horse who did just this. His right lead was difficult to pick up, even on the lunge. Eventually, any request for canter on either lead resulted in bolting and bucking. The vet found some pretty aggressive arthritic changes in his hind left. He's only 14. That said, everyone was really surprised when it turned out to be pain rather than a training issue. His behaviour on the lunge was what finally swayed me to call the vet.
I am going to see if I can get some help and lunge him to see if that is a solution. I will call the vet and/or saddle fitting expert if that doesn't work.
lunge him with correctly adjusted side reins. teach him to canter to your voice. let him figure out his balance issues without a rider on his back. It is likely to take a week or 2 of lunging until he can do a nice balanced trot canter / canter trot on the lunge. While he is learning that, I would leave the canter alone while you ride him.

Once he is lunging well then try it again under saddle. Use the same voice and say canter while using the smallest possible canter aid.
Thanks Liz, as I mentioned above in response to Kinni I am going to get some help from more experienced with lunging goofy horses. You are right - I think I need to have him figure his balance out without me on his back. Thank you!
Lunging with side reins is a great idea. When he's figured out his balance on the lunge, an exercise I've found useful for getting green horses to canter is to try going across the diagonal and ask for it just after you cross the center line as you're heading into the corner. You stay posting and all you have to do is push them forward until they pick up the canter. Don't switch your posting diagonal. The upcoming corner and you're posting diagonal which, if you continue on around the corner without cantering, would technically be the "wrong" diagonal, will help set your horse up to pick up the correct canter lead. Sometimes it's better to pick up the canter from posting rather than sitting first because it helps a horse that is a bit weak in the back to lift up his back more easily.
Thanks Hank! We tried lunging him with side reins this week and he definitely sill has to figure out how to get all his feet going on the correct lead. He didn't blast but he was awkward. He front were right but back were wrong then he would switch. He also leans when going to the right. He is more than I can handle lunging at this point. I need to practice more with some other horses. Whoa, interesting technique with the posting canter on the "wrong" diagonal.
Assuming you've checked for pain, worked on speed training, worked on balance, tried suppling excersizes and mastered "whoa"...and he is still doing this blast-0-canter thing, could it be that you're pushing with your seat or not giving enough leg pressure?

I ride western, so if my horse did something like that I'd be pulling her into the ground. I realize that's not a dressage approach, so I'll try to look at it from an English angle.

Maybe you should start by lunging him each ride, and do a lot of canter work in circles. Keep a quick release clasp on the line just in case he goes beserk. You may want to use some loose side reins just to keep him from going too hollow. When I say loose I mean very loose. no real effect unless he happens to put his head way up or gets all jumpy. gradually tighten the side reins until you have him cantering in the frame. Hopefully his muscle will be developed enough to handle that.

If you don't want to use side reins, which i suggest anyway, then canter him with and without his tack and see if you see a difference. By working on him canter without a rider, he'll become more confident and know what to do when you ask for a canter while you're on him. Then you can be more picky about roundness etc.
Thanks Zoi, I have actually backed off on leg pressure and just used a voice command and that helps a bit.
I need to practice on some easier horses before I try lunging Griffin. He can get pretty crazy jumping and bucking in the round pen even with a very experienced trainer and side reins.
When you say "pulling her to the ground" what do you mean?
Hi there, I have had a similar problem with my mare. She is a hano/trakenher. I was not sure why this started either. She was 11 at the time and now is 12.
My coach said that it was a balance issue during the canter depart. This only occured on the left rein. My strength is on the right and I believe she is stronger on the right as well. So when it came to the left canter we were both weak. Our balance as a team seemed to be off. The more I tried the more she anticipated the action. I was nervous so she felt it. She is very sensitive. My coach said to put my leg on so that she did not become confused with a light aid.
I had to exhale sit it out. I relaxed, sat tall and centered then put my leg on and gave a clear aid. My coach also said not to make a big deal when it happened. I used to stop her because I thought she was angry or her back hurt but when I made her work through the problem she was able to strengthen her take off. It helped my confidence and it made me aware of how much I needed to work both sides equally for her and me. I'm not sure if balance is the issue here but it is something to consider. Have someone watch to see if there is a difference on one side to the other. Longeing also helped my horses balance.


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