PERFECT YOUR COUNTER CANTER - How to set up for success

Counter canter improves engagement, suppleness and balance.  It is an excellent rider exercise and highlights the need for accuracy and attention to detail.

This exercise can be introduced once the horse has established a balanced, true canter.  True canter is when the horse leads with the inside foreleg, for example, cantering on the left rein the left foreleg would be the leading leg. 
The sequence of footfalls on the left rein would be:  off hind, near hind and off fore together followed by the near fore, not forgetting the moment of suspension when all legs are off the ground. The horse should be able to increase and decrease the stride within the gait.  Both the rider and the horse need to have a clear understanding of the canter aids - so if the rider asks correctly the horse should produce the correct lead when asked anywhere in the school, for example on straight lines and in corners. 
Counter-canter

Aids

On the right rein:
* A slight flexion to the inside (right). 
* Inside leg well forward at the girth to maintain impulsion, inside hip slightly forward keeping more weight onto the inside stirrup. 
* Outside rein guards the outside shoulder and allows the bend. 
* Outside leg is slightly further back to control the quarters.
* The rider must keep his weight central and over the leading leg.

Setting up the counter canter exercise - Remember Counter canter is when a horse is cantering on the opposite lead to the direction it is going in. So the horse will be on the left leg whilst cantering on the right rein.
* Establish an active, balanced canter. 
* Coming out of the corner ride a shallow loop, no more than three metres over E and B. 
* As your horse becomes confident and maintains his balance, increase the size of the loop, building up to 10 metres.  The steeper the loop the more engagement (collection) is required.
Once established you can ride counter canter around the arena on both the left and right rein.  Ride 20m circles in counter canter, or ride across the diagonal in canter, changing the rein and continuing in counter canter.  Counter canter is good preparation for eventually riding flying changes.

Possible pitfalls
* Asking for too much flexion (neck bend) - better to keep a straight head and neck until the horse is more established in this work.
* Poor outside rein contact causing horse to lose the outside shoulder (too much neck bend) and restricting the inside hind stepping through.
* The rider's weight slipping to the outside, causing the horse to lose his balance, change leg or go disunited.  The rider's weight must remain central at all times.
* Asking for too much too soon and as a result the horse loses balance and confidence.
* Deterioration in the quality of the canter.
* Inaccurate riding resulting in poor use of the school.

If the exercise starts to deteriorate, ride out of it and set it up again!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
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