Several of you have asked me if there's any value in counter flexing your horse while in true canter so I'd like to discuss that here.

1. Generally, you want to flex your horse in the direction of the canter lead he's on. That goes for true canter as well as counter canter. So if you're cantering on left lead, position his head so you just barely see his left eye and/or nostril.

2. I do often ask students to counter-flex their horses while cantering. For example, they'd just barely see the right eye or nostril when they're in left canter. I do this to help riders feel if their horses are straight. The exercise helps because:

A. When in true canter (left lead while riding to the left), riders tend to bend the neck too much to the inside and the shoulders pop out. This happens even more so when the horse's hollow (soft) side is on the inside.

B. In counter canter, riders overbend the neck to the inside in BOTH directions mostly because they're trying to keep the horse from switching leads.

If you bend your horse's neck too much, his shoulders will pop out in the other direction. As a result, he won't be straight, and he can't be in a good, uphill balance.

Counter-flexing slides the shoulders over so they lie softly between the two reins. This teaches you the FEELING of riding your horse straight. Once this feeling of riding your horse straight feels "normal" to you, go back to riding in true flexion. (Your horse is straight when his shoulders are between the two reins, they're in front of your hips, and they're in front of your horse's hips.)

When you go back to true flexion, check that his shoulders stay in exactly the same spot that they were in when you were in counter-flexion. (i.e. they don't pop to the outside again.) If they do pop out again, just quietly go back to counter flexion.

Repeat the true flexion/counter-flexion exercise until the horse's shoulders feel like they're in the same place regardless of which way he's flexed.

A Happy Horse

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Comment by Desiree Johnson on December 18, 2013 at 7:31pm

A great exercise using what Jane mentions above is to hit the quarter line with counter bend and then turn into the counter bend (which will produce a correct bend in the new direction)  towards the rail.  Most of the time we always turn our horses in the main direction we are going.  It is a great exercise to turn into the counter bend, you just used that lovely exercise to get the shoulder lined up correctly and this way your horse will not always anticipate you turning in the direction of the travel of the horse.  The pattern could also be a half circle back onto the quarter line you just came from.  Then do the whole thing in reverse.  It does not even have to be the exact quarter line, if the horse can't handle that tight of a turn, but my drift (no pun intended) should be fairly clear.  Understanding what Jane says above and then being real creative with patterns in order to strengthen and straighten is so much better than just going round and round and round doing not much in the form of creativity of movement.  

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