Tense and anxious after canter

Akkalia1

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3 October 2008
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I'm just bringing my mare back into work after almost a year off for sarcoid treatment. She has always had a habit of getting a bit tense after a canter, anticipating being asked for an upward transition and just generally not being as settled in her work. This had improved a lot prior to her time off and we were doing quite well in canter.

I've just reached the stage where I felt we were ready to try canter so last night, as she was feeling quite settled in her trot work, we popped into canter. First was actually rather lovely, nice easy transition and a settled canter. Came back to walk after to try and keep her settled then a wee bit of trot and into canter on the other rein, which was far more tense and rushing. After that she was unsettled, tense in trot, scooting forwards randomly and spooking. Took a long while of walk to then get a final more relaxed trot from her before finishing.

When she gets tense (and I would describe it as tense and anxious rather than excited, she is an anxious mare at the best of times) she doesn't tend to get strong as such, but she will rush and scoot, while coiling her body and neck up and in so I'm left with very little rein contact, its hard to then push her forward and down into a contact as she's already rushing.

Any thoughts or experiences on how to deal with a horse like this? She is an ex-racehorse, she's naturally forward and sharp, everything is always about keeping her calmed down. I'm going to start lessons again soon which should help a lot but any exercises that people have found to help a horse like this would be fab :) It is always an issue with her so it's something I'll be working through for a while I think!
 

Sleipnir

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If she's been off work for a long time, I'd also get a chiro to check her over before indulging into more active workouts, as there could be some extra tension/compensation mechanisms hiding in her body from being out of work. :)
 

Fern007

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My horse was like this. He realised that after canter if he messed about I would walk and regroup then carry on. He is not daft, also an exracer!! I found keeping my reins longer and just concentrating on what I wanted to do really helped. So if I transitioned to trot then wanted a circle it didn't matter what out line he was in or anything else I would just concentrate on that circle and not let him come back to walk which is what he had planned! It took a while but we got there in the end!! As long as your sure she is not reacting to pain then then I would just keep plugging away. Lessons will obviously help. My boy hates a really firm contact so I'm always mindful of my hands which is not always easy when they decide not to cooperate!!
 

HayleyUK

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Mine can do this where she’s anticipating going again: especially on the rein she finds harder.

I find just quietly riding her round and asking her to soften the neck down and almost ignoring the bouncing etc helped, as does cantering then repeating an exercise from earlier in the session in trot or changing the rein to ‘reset’ her.
 

Akkalia1

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3 October 2008
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355
If she's been off work for a long time, I'd also get a chiro to check her over before indulging into more active workouts, as there could be some extra tension/compensation mechanisms hiding in her body from being out of work. :)

Thanks for your reply. She is booked in for a physio session just to check her over for any tightness as you're right of course, anything like that will certainly not help!
 

Akkalia1

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3 October 2008
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355
My horse was like this. He realised that after canter if he messed about I would walk and regroup then carry on. He is not daft, also an exracer!! I found keeping my reins longer and just concentrating on what I wanted to do really helped. So if I transitioned to trot then wanted a circle it didn't matter what out line he was in or anything else I would just concentrate on that circle and not let him come back to walk which is what he had planned! It took a while but we got there in the end!! As long as your sure she is not reacting to pain then then I would just keep plugging away. Lessons will obviously help. My boy hates a really firm contact so I'm always mindful of my hands which is not always easy when they decide not to cooperate!!
I'm fairly sure it's just her natural way of going, she's always been like this and she has had very extensive physical checks before (for other quirks that I wanted to check to have pain ruled out), the verdict was, she's an anxious horse!! I am getting her checked over by my physio soon though as there may be some tightness present for sure after such a long time off.

So maybe I bring her back to trot and then walk too soon, when she gets super tense I tend to bring her back and try and chill her out, maybe I need to push through a bit more?

She certainly hates a strong hold on the reins, she's so light in the mouth, you're right though it can be so hard when she's being difficult and tense and spooky, it can be hard to release quick enough. She's a challenge, that's for sure!
 

Akkalia1

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3 October 2008
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355
Mine can do this where she’s anticipating going again: especially on the rein she finds harder.

I find just quietly riding her round and asking her to soften the neck down and almost ignoring the bouncing etc helped, as does cantering then repeating an exercise from earlier in the session in trot or changing the rein to ‘reset’ her.
Hi Hayley, yes, I definitely find this, she's far worse on the right rein, which has always been her most difficult rein. I try to do exactly that, almost encouraging her forward and down with my hands and being as quiet as possible, but sometimes she's got so tense it's almost impossible. When she was in more consistent work, a reset was exactly what helped her. I did find on Monday that going into a small circle when she got all coiled up helped a bit, think she had to think about what she was doing more, so that might be the way to go, keep moving forward in the trot after a canter but get her thinking abut where she's going rather than omg omg brain is blown!!!
 

AUB

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Mine also loves canter and gets very excited and just wants to canter more.

For a long time I would avoid canter or save it for the end of the session. Then I would canter both ways and be done. I’d even canter for quite long each way because transitions were difficult. But she just got more excited when she finally got to canter. And transitions didn’t get any better.

Practise makes perfect. So I began cantering quite early in the session, maybe after 5 mins rising trot, and I did all the shitty transitions.
Sometimes I even skipped trot and warmed up in canter just to confuse her a little. And yes, the trot and walk between canter was tense. And sideways hopping at times. But IMO the way forward is to keep calm and try again and again and again.
Now she’s definitely better.

Helgstrand dressage had a video on their Facebook on the training of the young horse, and I actually think there were a few good tricks.
Also I find it’s important to actually keep the leg ON when the horse is being silly after canter. If I’m too cautious with my legs because my horse feels hot, she will throw her hind end around, curl in behind the hand and actually not move forward in a steady pace. I need to keep my leg on to create a frame, get her out to the bit and move straight forward.
 

Akkalia1

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3 October 2008
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355
Mine also loves canter and gets very excited and just wants to canter more.

For a long time I would avoid canter or save it for the end of the session. Then I would canter both ways and be done. I’d even canter for quite long each way because transitions were difficult. But she just got more excited when she finally got to canter. And transitions didn’t get any better.

Practise makes perfect. So I began cantering quite early in the session, maybe after 5 mins rising trot, and I did all the shitty transitions.
Sometimes I even skipped trot and warmed up in canter just to confuse her a little. And yes, the trot and walk between canter was tense. And sideways hopping at times. But IMO the way forward is to keep calm and try again and again and again.
Now she’s definitely better.

Helgstrand dressage had a video on their Facebook on the training of the young horse, and I actually think there were a few good tricks.
Also I find it’s important to actually keep the leg ON when the horse is being silly after canter. If I’m too cautious with my legs because my horse feels hot, she will throw her hind end around, curl in behind the hand and actually not move forward in a steady pace. I need to keep my leg on to create a frame, get her out to the bit and move straight forward.
Thank you very much for this, I enjoyed that video. I've found that asking her to bend a little in the direction of movement when she's getting a bit off balance can help her a lot.

I really struggle with keeping my leg on, and know that I should. It's just so hard when she's already going faster than I would like and avoiding all rein contact by curling and I'm anticipating a spook or something. I realise this needs my leg, I must work on this.

You're right, I need to stay calm and keep practising. We have got there before, hopefully I can get through this stage again until it's more manageable.
 

Curly_Feather

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16 September 2014
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74
AUB makes some great points. Mine is not hot, he is just very strong. It will take months of concentrated work, but they need to learn that canter is just another gait. Don't save it til the end of sessions, they learn that pattern and anticipate it too much. Canter at the beginning, for warmup. Don't go more than half a circle, come back to trot for a few steps, walk. Do a steep walk LY, some SI, practice w/t/w transitions in SI. Then back up to canter. Loads and loads of different pieces of work, until cantering is just part of all the other things.
A good exercise for me to get some immediate control is canter a 20m circle, and just before I hit the CL down to trot and do a 10m circle in the opposite direction, really focusing on bend and having him step away from a sharp inside leg. It all works towards getting the canter to be part of normal, boring work.
 

Akkalia1

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3 October 2008
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355
AUB makes some great points. Mine is not hot, he is just very strong. It will take months of concentrated work, but they need to learn that canter is just another gait. Don't save it til the end of sessions, they learn that pattern and anticipate it too much. Canter at the beginning, for warmup. Don't go more than half a circle, come back to trot for a few steps, walk. Do a steep walk LY, some SI, practice w/t/w transitions in SI. Then back up to canter. Loads and loads of different pieces of work, until cantering is just part of all the other things.
A good exercise for me to get some immediate control is canter a 20m circle, and just before I hit the CL down to trot and do a 10m circle in the opposite direction, really focusing on bend and having him step away from a sharp inside leg. It all works towards getting the canter to be part of normal, boring work.
Thank you :) This makes sense.

I had a bit more success at a second attempt. Canter left was nice and then immediately after coming back to trot instead of just trotting a circle and then maybe coming back to walk, I went into a trot figure 8 for a while. Then went for right canter which was much nicer than last time, then back into figure 8 trot. I think having to really think about where she was going helped to take her mind off the canter. She was actually quite strong in canter this time, which I prefer to coiling up like a spring and coming off the contact. Shall keep persevering!
 
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Any thoughts or experiences on how to deal with a horse like this? She is an ex-racehorse, she's naturally forward and sharp, everything is always about keeping her calmed down. I'm going to start lessons again soon which should help a lot but any exercises that people have found to help a horse like this would be fab :) It is always an issue with her so it's something I'll be working through for a while I think!
I find mine - a sharp and sensitive boy who won a couple of good races and retired late - takes ages to settle enough to canter in the school. He is fine in straight lines and his canter so powerful I can barely sit to it anyway. I have to let him let off steam and get into the right frame of mind for it. Left rein's fine (still big) but he was ages settling with the right on a circle. I don't insist on lots of it either and do lots of poles and changes of pace and direction. I keep out of the school as much as possible.
 

Akkalia1

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I find mine - a sharp and sensitive boy who won a couple of good races and retired late - takes ages to settle enough to canter in the school. He is fine in straight lines and his canter so powerful I can barely sit to it anyway. I have to let him let off steam and get into the right frame of mind for it. Left rein's fine (still big) but he was ages settling with the right on a circle. I don't insist on lots of it either and do lots of poles and changes of pace and direction. I keep out of the school as much as possible.
We rather like the school!! She does mostly seem to enjoy schooling I think. Oddly poles seem to make her rather anxious too, I don't think she's going to be a showjumper! But lots of changes of direction and shapes seem to help definitely. I do find her canter quite big.
 
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