EquiShrink: Getting It Right

Seana Adamson, the Equishrink, is back with her psychology of riding column!

Photo courtesy of Seana Adamson.

Photo by Morgane Schmidt Gabriel.

Seana Adamson, Ph.D, is a psychologist specializing in Sport Psychology for equestrians and also is a USDF Gold Medalist. Click the #equishrink hashtag above to see more of her columns!

Hi Seana:

I have been riding hunter/jumper for many years and made the change to eventing. I am learning and improving my riding … but there is one problem. In my transformation of hunter/jumper riding to dressage/eventing way of riding I am having trouble getting the right lead canter. I am leg yielding using my inside leg, and trying to get him to bend to the inside. Other people can get this transition on my horse, but he knows I am having trouble with it. This has been going on for awhile, and my trainer is ever so patient, but I am having such a disconnect with the process and I can’t get the timing. I need to get this accomplished as this is getting ridiculous. Suggestions?

Wanna Get It Right

Dear Wanna Get It Right,

Thank you so much for your interesting question. I must preface my response with a disclaimer: I have never seen you ride, so all of my suggestions are very generic, and may not be appropriate for you or your horse. Accordingly, you might want to discuss any new ideas with your trainer before you try them out on your horse! That said, here are a few ideas you may find useful.

1. Make sure your horse is sound. In your case you mention that other people are able to get the right lead, and that is a good thing. With some horses, reluctance to pick up one lead can be related to pain in the front end, hind end or back. I guess that pretty much means pain anywhere in the body can show up in the canter!

2. To prepare for the canter transition you describe using your inside leg to leg yield and create bend, but make sure you aren’t over bending the neck and throwing your horse onto the outside shoulder. If your horse is bulging out too much to the left you will throw him onto the left lead. While it is good use your inside leg to pick up the inside shoulder and create a nice bend, in the moment of the strike off into the canter make sure you add your outside leg, usually in a behind the girth position. To prepare for canter I like to leg yield a step or two towards my outside rein to make sure the horse is bending properly. But in the moment of striking off into canter I think of the canter motion with my hips, and add some outside leg. With a young horse the aids may have to be more exaggerated. As my horses get more trained I try to ride the transition in a slight shoulder fore position.  But with a young thoroughbred I would not expect that immediately.

3. Use your eyes. Make sure you are looking where you want to go. If you are riding a circle, imagine the line of the circle is drawn on the ground in white chalk. Look at least a quarter circle ahead of yourself. But don’t look too far ahead of yourself. If you look too much to the inside it will cause you to twist and collapse in your hips. If you are riding straight then look straight ahead. As you are making the transition from jumping to dressage, you probably tend to lean forward when you ask for canter. This dip of your shoulders can wreak serious havoc on your young horse’s balance. Make sure you stay very quiet with your shoulders when you ask for canter. Think of your belly button being the furthest point forward on your body as you ask for the strike off. Roll your hips under, and with a nice loose seat think of the swing of the canter.

4. Use your arena. Until you get more confidence in the transition, place your transition as you are heading into a short side. For instance, if you are tracking left past “C” (in a dressage court), turn onto the diagonal H-X-F and ask for canter as you’re approaching “F”. The short side of the arena will help place your horse onto the right lead. If you place your circles at “A” or “C” you can again ask for canter as you’re heading into the short side.

5. Watch videos of other riders doing canter transitions to the right. Look for riders who stay very quiet with their shoulders and ask for the canter from their leg and seat. YouTube is an endless resource for visual aids. Watch riders you want to emulate. Whether on video, or in person, watch your favorite rider, then close your eyes and imagine what it would feel like in your body.

6. If the opportunity arises, ride other horses. Look for something safe and quiet, and see if the right lead issue follows you onto another horse. If so then you need a qualified teacher to help you figure out how you’re miscommunicating. You may be doing something funny with your alignment and/or weight.

7. And finally, you mention you have years of experience as a hunter/ jumper rider. Don’t throw that experience away! Trust that your body has years of experience sitting on top of a horse. While your goals have changed to a different discipline, remember that you have years of competent riding behind you, and you will get through this brief period of accelerated learning!

Good luck! I hope this helps you get it right!

Have a question for Seana regarding your mental game? Send it her way!

Photo courtesy of Seana Adamson.

Photo by Morgane Schmidt Gabriel.

Seana Adamson Ph.D, is a psychologist specializing in Sport Psychology for equestrians. She is a United States Dressage Federation Gold Medalist, has been training dressage horses and riders for over 30 years, and is the author of “Memorize That Dressage Test: A workbook of mental games to improve focus and flow.” Learn more by visiting seanaadamson.com.


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