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Stop Struggling with Canter Departs
By Nancy Wesolek-Sterrett
Dressage Department Head, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre
Cantering in balance on the correct lead requires much more finesse than just squeezing the horse’s ribs and asking for more speed. First, the rider uses a sequence of aids that prepares the horse physically to canter on a particular lead. Then the rider applies the aids that ask ‘canter now.’
The rider prepares the horse for the canter effort by:
-riding the horse forward with energy,
-slightly positioning the horse with a soft inside rein in order to connect the forward-moving horse into the outside rein, and
-using a half halt on the outside rein that balances the horse and sets the outside hind leg on the ground to carry the horse’s weight in the first step of the canter depart.
With the horse prepared to physically start cantering, the rider now applies the canter aids as the horse’s outside hind foot is about to hit the ground by:
-sitting a little heavier on the inside seat bone,
-squeezing with the inside leg at the girth and
-and the outside leg just behind the girth.
When all of these aids are properly sequenced and timed, the horse transitions into the correct canter lead as his outside hind foot contacts the ground.
A trained horse and experienced rider make the canter transition look as simple as changing gears in a car with automatic transmission. The reality is that coordinating canter aids involves the timing of more moves than driving a stick shift car. Canter problems vary incredibly from rider to rider and from horse to horse. Riders and horses have so many different temperaments and different physical issues that generalizing is difficult. However, I see a few common problems over and over.
Connection on the outside rein. Lack of preparation spoils many canter departs. The half halt on the outside rein is key because it helps to set the outside hind leg onto the ground which is the first step to the inside lead. The outside rein becomes even more important when asking the horse for flying changes of lead as his training advances. It helps to balance, straighten and set the outside hind leg for a clean change.
It helps if the rider thinks of shaping a 20-meter circle just before asking for the depart. This puts the horse on the outside rein and positions the horse correctly for the half halt. As a green horse learns canter departs first from trot and then from walk, asking for a few steps of leg yield first can help the horse engage his hindquarters and prepare for the effort. Ask for the canter depart just before the outside hind contacts the ground, since it is the first step of the canter.
Riding a more advanced horse into the canter from shoulder in can help achieve engagement of the hind end, which can improve walk to canter departs. Be careful, however a shoulder in ridden with too much bend in the neck can actually make the horse get crooked, lose his balance, and take the wrong lead.
Rhythm and forward energy. Without forward energy, the horse has no ‘gas’ to propel him into a gait that calls for greater physical effort than the walk or trot. Forward does not mean speed. The horse should not ‘run’ into the canter. Green horses often rush or speed up instead of changing gaits. They may not understand the canter aids, the aids may be timed or applied incorrectly, or the horse may need more hindquarter strength. As the young horse develops the understanding for the canter aids, the rider can redirect the running into a canter depart with a half-halt.
Some riders inadvertently ask their horse to speed up by leaning back, getting behind the motion and pushing with their seat or by falling forward and taking their seat out of the saddle. These riders need to work on staying centered over the horse while asking for the canter.
The idea of ‘lifting’ the horse’s barrel with the inside leg at the girth and the outside leg behind the girth helps the horse realize the difference between asking for trot and asking for canter. The rider stretches the leg down along the horse’s barrel then ‘lifts’ with the lower part of the leg as the horse’s back rounds and lifts. Stretching the leg down, helps the rider sit deep in the saddle and not fall forward or back with the upper body. ‘Lifting’ into the canter also helps the rider transition into the lifting and lowering motion of the canter.
The opposite of speeding up is ‘popping up’ off the forehand. Depending on the horse, this may be an evasion, it may indicate that the horse was not in front of the rider’s leg enough before the request for the depart or it may mean the rider is doing something that blocks the horse’s forward motion, like balancing on the reins or tipping forward.
Balance. If the rider tips forward or leans to the inside, the horse invariably leans to the inside as well, loses its balance, and may take the wrong lead. In mirroring the rider, the horse is unable to shift his weight onto his outside hind leg as he takes the first step of the canter stride. He is off balance both longitudinally and laterally with more weight on his inside legs.
Riding a leg yield or shoulder fore into the depart can help these riders get both the correct body position and the feel for the outside rein that will help then strike off on the correct lead
Incorrect aids. Beginning riders often block their horses until they learn to balance over the center of the horse and are able to apply their aids independently. If the rider’s hips lock or the rider grips with the thighs, they restrict the horse’s forward movement. The reaction to this may range from a draft horse that uses it as an excuse to stop to the sensitive Thoroughbred who runs away from the gripping. Clamping with the legs or bracing against the stirrups also restricts the horse. Stiff elbows that do not ‘give’ forward as the horse strikes off can block the horse’s forward momentum or cause the horse to ‘pop’ into the canter awkwardly or not canter at all.
Many riders inadvertently draw their inside leg up when they apply it. When the calf or thigh muscles of the inside leg tighten they push the rider’s weight from the inside to the outside seat bone causing the horse to take the wrong lead. Gripping with both thighs or tipping forward lifts both of the rider’s seat bones off the saddle. If you are gripping, think of being bow legged and taking your thigh away from the saddle when you stretch down your leg and lift with your calf.
Timing the aids. Some riders have difficulty understanding just when to apply the corridor of canter aids. Since the outside hind leg (say, left leg) is the first step to the inside (then right) lead, the aids should be applied as the outside hind leg is off the ground or the inside hind leg is on the ground. At trot, this is when the outside shoulder is forward since the trot is diagonal pairs. At walk, this is when the barrel of the horse is to the outside. If you are driving the horse forward with alternating leg aids at the walk, this should be easy to find. As the horse’s barrel swings to the outside, the inside hind leg will be on the ground and the outside leg will be off the ground ready to swing under the horse and start the first step of the canter.
Take time and do not rush as you practice canter departs. Practice preparing the horse physically. Practice feeling where the horse’s feet and body are beneath you. Practice positioning your legs and upper body for the asking aids. Then put the sequence all together for a smooth change of gears. What a ride!ï»¿
© 2011 Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre. Nancy Wesolek-Sterrett has earned numerous United States Dressage Federation horse awards including Bronze and Silver Medals on horses she has trained. She competes her horses at Training through FEI levels. As a Certified Riding Instructor she brings over 20 years of experience to her position as Head of the Dressage Department at Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre (147 Saddle Lane, Waverly, WV 26184; 800-679-2603; www.meredithmanor.edu), an ACCET accredited equestrian educational institution.
Jupiter Farm Open House
Boston Equestrian Classic Demonstration on the Common
Putnam Boston Equestrian Classic Demonstration
Will Take Place on Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 5:00 p.m.
Event Benefits the Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit
Boston, MA, May 17, 2011: Mayor Thomas Menino will be on-hand at the beautiful Boston Common Parade Ground for an equestrian demonstration by the Olympic-caliber show jumping riders of the Putnam Boston Equestrian Classic. This event, taking place on Thursday, August 25, 2011, will celebrate the annual tradition of show jumping returning to the Boston area and will benefit the Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit.
“We are grateful to all those responsible for the support and recognition of the Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit, a well-deserving and much needed cause,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino, City of Boston, who will be on-hand to celebrate the Putnam Boston Equestrian Classic Preview Party.
“We are delighted to have both the equestrians from the Boston Equestrian Classic and the Boston Park Rangers show the public their talents at this picturesque location in downtown Boston,” said Antonia Pollak, Boston Park Commissioner.
The demonstration will be held at the premiere location on the Boston Common, located at the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets and will consist of Olympic Grand Prix Show Jumping by six riders who will perform over a course designed by Show Manager, John Manning. Following, there will be an exhibition by the Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit. When the equestrian activities are complete, the Sponsors and Patrons will walk across the Boston Common to an invite-only social reception on the Roof of the Taj Boston hotel. The Boston Common gathering is a preview to the main event taking place on September 8 – 11, 2011 at the Myopia Hunt Club in Hamilton, MA.
“The Putnam Boston Equestrian Classic represents the finest in classic show jumping in the Boston area,” said Donald V. Little, Chairman of the Boston Equestrian Classic. “It is an honor to host this amazing tribute to the sport of equestrianism. To top it off, one hundred percent of the proceeds of corporate and individual sponsorships of this preview event will go directly to benefit the Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit.”
First established in 1988, the Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit is the equestrian troop responsible for protecting the nine parks throughout the City of Boston known as the Emerald Necklace, which covers over 1000 acres and spans more than 5 miles. For many years the Boston Parks and Recreation Department (BPRD), however, budget constraints removed this funding and the horses and seasonal rangers are now entirely sponsored by private individuals and corporations. At one time BPRD stabled and managed over 16 horses, employed 35 individuals and now, because of the challenges with the economy, has reduced to only 6 mounts and 12 staff members creating a significant imbalance for the number of parks and acreage they cover. The Rangers have been an integral part of the park system for many years, providing security and safety as well as a wonderful attraction for all of us to enjoy with their uniforms and stately horses.
“I am so moved by this endeavor, the Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit have been in need of this type of charitable effort for a long time,” said Julia H. Donohue, Director of the Friends of Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit. “We are grateful to the Boston Equestrian Classic, Putnam Investments and the Taj Boston for their amazing philanthropic support,” she continued.
This year’s Putnam Boston Equestrian Classic will be held from Thursday, September 8, through Sunday, September 11, 2011 at the Myopia Hunt Club in Hamilton, MA. For the second consecutive year, Putnam Investments will serve at the title sponsor for the event, which has a top prize of $50,000 for its showcase Grand Prix event, an increase from last year’s $30,000. The Putnam Boston Equestrian Classic is expected to be bigger and better in 2011, promising new celebrities, new entertainment, and all the excitement from last year, yet much more. For more information please visit www.bostonequestrianclassic.com.
About Putnam Investments
Founded in 1937, Putnam Investments is a leading global money management firm with over 70 years of investment experience. At the end of February 2011, Putnam had $125 billion in assets under management. Putnam has offices in Boston, London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Singapore, and Sydney. For more information, visit putnam.com.
About Taj Boston Taj Boston occupies the city's most celebrated location at Arlington and Newbury streets. Overlooking the Public Garden, the property is within walking distance of historic sites, theatre and financial districts as well as fashionable boutiques and galleries, and is just four miles from Boston's Logan International Airport. Opened in 1927, the luxury hotel features 273 guestrooms, including 44 suites, many of which offer wood-burning fireplaces. As a preferred social and business center, Taj Boston is noted for its prix fixe and a la carte dining in The Cafe, weekend afternoon tea in The Lounge, cocktails in The Bar, monthly Wine Dinners and Spirits Dinners and seasonal Champagne Sunday Brunch on The Roof, as well as state-of-the-art business and guest services. Acquired by Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces in January 2007, Taj Boston joins The Pierre in New York and Taj Campton Place in San Francisco as the U.S. members of Taj Hotels' luxury www.tajhotels.com/boston.
PHOTO INFORMATION: The Beautiful Boston Common, the Site of the
Putnam Boston Equestrian Classic Preview Party
Putnam Boston Equestrian Classic Preview Party
City of Boston Parks and Recreation
EquineSite.com partners with the Putnam Equestrian Classic
May 16, 2011: EquineSite.com, the leading online resource for New England and NY equestrians announced a new partnership with one of the largest equestrian shows in the region. EquineSite is now the official Advertising Partner of the Putnam Boston Equestrian Classic to be held in Hamilton, Massachusetts next September.
EquineSite joins title sponsor, Putnam Investments and many other sponsors in supporting this growing equestrian event. This year, there is more prize money to be won! The Putnam Grand Prix is now a $50,000 prize, up from $30,000 last year. Other prizes include the 16K Meter 30 Division, 11K Meter 20 Division, 10K Speed Stake, 10K Hunter Derby and the 7.5K Welcome Stake.
This huge jumper event will be held at the beautiful Myopia Hunt Club, the most prestigious location in historic Hamilton, MA from September 8-11. Festivities will include a Family Day, Riding Out with the Hounds, New England Clam Bake and a special VIP Champagne Luncheon. EquineSite visitors will have a special opportunity to win tickets for this luncheon.
Stay tuned for more details about this grand event and mark your calendars for the special Putnam Boston Equestrian Classic Preview Party on August 25, 2011, at 5:00 p.m. Join us on the Boston Common Parade Ground at the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets. Watch Olympic Grand Prix Show Jumping Riders and the Boston Park Ranger Mounted Unit demonstration.
Ride For The Ribbon Massachusetts to be Held June 5th
The 4th Annual Massachusetts Ride for the Ribbon® will take place at Felton Field in Barre, MA on June 5th, 2011. The trails consist of dirt roads, railroad bed, wooded trails and some paved roads covering approximately 9.8 miles. We work extra hard to make sure there are lots of trail markers as well as a map for you to take with you. We look forward to making your ride even more enjoyable this year!
Registration and qualifications for rider awards close on May 27th, 2011. Please visit http://www.ridefortheribbonma.org for registration information.
• Riders must contribute or raise a minimum donation of $250 to participate in the Ride.
• A limited number of "rider sponsorships" may be available.
• Registration is limited to riders who submit the registration form and a minimum of $250 before May 27th, 2011.
• Riders who will be collecting donations online do not have to mail in the $250 with their registration.
• A confirmation letter and directions to the event will be mailed or e-mailed to each registered rider.
• Release Forms must be printed and mailed before the day of the ride - mail to Massachusetts Ride for the Ribbon Registrar, 213 Boston Post Road Wayland, MA 01778
• A $10.00 CASH "Event Fee" will be collected on the day of the ride.
• This ride is an NEHT affiliated ride.
• Riders must be 12 years of age or older. Riders 12 to 17 years old must be accompanied by a rider 21 years of age or older.
• Helmets (ASTM/SEI approved) and leather footwear with heels are required for all riders.
• The ride will be held rain or shine.
• Parking area opens at 7:30 am the day of the ride. There is also space for overnight parking/camping with your trailer the night before the ride. Please contact us for more information and to reserve a stall if you need one otherwise you must provide “containment” of your own for your horse.
• Registration and refreshments open at 8:00 am.
• Riders must start course between 8:00 and 11:00 am.
• There is running water available on site.
• There are flushing toilets on site.
First Annual “Miss Rodeo New England” Pageant
First Annual “Miss Rodeo New England” Pageant Seeks
“A Nor’easter On Horseback” to Carry Region’s Title
Friday, June 24 and Saturday, June 25
Marshfield Fairgrounds, Marshfield, MA
The First Annual “Miss Rodeo New England” Pageant, held in
conjunction with the 4th Annual New England Wild West Fest, seeks
contestants to compete for the title “Miss Rodeo New England.”
Miss Rodeo New England will represent the Professional Rodeo
Cowboy Association (PRCA) at rodeos and serve as a Goodwill
Ambassador of western life and lifestyle at other events. She will
also serve as the Regional Spokesperson for the Spirit of the
American Cowboy Foundation, a Boston based, all volunteer nonprofit
corporation, which is dedicated to raising money for pediatric
cancer research primarily by showcasing the sport of rodeo and
other aspects of the western lifestyle.
Contestants will be judged for horsemanship, speech,
personality, appearance, modeling, knowledge of rodeo and
current events and photogenic qualities.
The horsemanship competition will be held on Saturday, June
25 and is presented by everything cowgirl.tv. Contestants must
bring and ride their own horse. If they do not have a horse, the
Miss Rodeo New England Committee will help them connect to
one to ride for the competition. A Ride Pattern will be given to
the contestants, as well as questions regarding general
The winning contestant who scores the highest in all categories will
be awarded the title “Miss Rodeo New England 2011”, a
Scholarship, hand-tooled tack box and many other gifts. The top
scoring contestant from any other New England state will be
awarded their state title and be eligible to compete for the national
title, “Miss Rodeo America” at the Miss Rodeo America Pageant held
in conjunction with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in December
in Las Vegas, NV.
Miss Rodeo New England and other New England State rodeo
queens will be eligible to travel to Miss Rodeo America clinics
throughout the United States and at such events as the Cheyenne
Frontier Days in Cheyenne, WY, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame
Inductions in Colorado Springs, CO, Nebraskaland Days in North
Platte, NE, the Dodge National Circuit Finals and other prestigious
Miss Rodeo America 2011 McKenzie Haley
National Finals Rodeo, Las Vegas, NV
Photo Credit: John Shooter
• Single young women between
the ages of 19 and 25
• Excellent horsewoman
• Outgoing personality – ability
to project their personality from
the back of a moving horse
• Well spoken
• Knowledgeable about western
horsemanship, rodeo and
About Miss Rodeo America -
Public Relations Contact: Kathy Anderson 310-924-9416