Hi, I have a draft cross that isn't very draft-y, more like a big WB or TB. He is Perch /Tb. He is quiet and gets bored easily in the ring. I jump him, too and small stadium fences are boring and not always pretty.
He is better out x/c as he perks up outside, and I like it much better, also. He is a young horse, 5, and I want to help him get stronger as I know that will improve everything. I do not have ready access to trails and hills, so that isn't an option every day.
What are some exercises to improve his canter and strength/fitness without boring him (and me) to death....
Yes, I ride regularly with an eventing trainer, and take some dressage lessons. My trainer has told me many times that he uses himself much better with a bit bigger fence. Only 3', maybe 3'3". Over x rails or small verticals he is not too interested to do much more than crawl over, doesn't rock back because he doesn't need to...He is 16.3, so that is tiny for him...
Lots of transitions, both to and from the canter and also within the canter. Spiral in and out on a circle. Stuff like that.
You can also do lots of gymnastics with him. It will help him canter (and overall strength) and also help keep him interested in the jumping without doing lots of big jumps. Pick up a copy of Jimmy Wofford's gymnastic book and/or the Klimke cavalletti book for ideas on what to set up.
First, you need to make sure the horse is in front of your leg. Lots of the drafty types want to make you work way too hard to keep them going. You end up nagging and running out of aids to use. If the horse is reliably in front of your leg in all three gaits, then...
Lots of transitions. 10 steps trot, 10 canter, 10 trot, 10 canter. If that's good, do it on a 20m circle. If that's good, reduce the steps in each gait.
If the horse is farther along, transitions that skip a gait: halt to trot and walk to canter.
Lots of cavaletti at the trot, including raised cavaletti when the horse is ready.
Now bear in mind he is young and not fully developed, so only so much can be 'fixed', as he still needs to grow up and into himself more.
But lots of trot poles, elevated poles, and simple gymnastics until he gets comfortable with that expectation, then canter poles, elevated canter poles etc. I like to add adjustability questions at this point in the gymnastics, so you work to compress the stride by a compact gymnastics then add some substance and spread to the second piece. It doesn't need to be huge, but the idea is to get the horse to sit on the haunch at the canter through the grid and explode off the ground and reach. With 6yr old horses I've done a compressed two stride to a low triple bar (2'6-2'9) with a 3.5-4ft spread. The more they learn this and build some strength to do it, the better the canter will be and the better you will be able to work towards 'that feeling' in the canter.
Never underestimate how valuable 'big trot, little trot' (I call it this for the kids) but its about compressing and extending, slowing and speading up (without rushing) etc. It doesn't have to be perfectly correct collection/extension to develop muscle and power, since you can't expect a 5yr old to have collection anyway. But lots of transitions within the gait at w/t/c and I think you'll see significant improvement. Don't focus too much on the slow, make sure you focus on the go.
Thank you all for the replies. I appreciate them. I had a lesson with a trainer who has been accepted into the 'Ecole de Légèreté' Teacher's Program. She rode my horse first and it was amazing, the first time I saw him really soft and reaching for contact and actually saw his front end elevate and he was reaching with his front legs at the trot. It was cool.
Now to recreate it at home, as I am pretty much a dressage newbie. I want to help him develop the strength and softness, as it will only help with the jumping, I believe...
I have a draft cross -a perch/standardbred. When I first got Fella he moved like he was a two-legged horse being closely followed behind by another two-legged horse. In other words he'd pull himself around on the forehand. The only kind of canter he ever did was the type where he was run into it (trot him fast enough that he'd either fall over or canter), and he didn't sustain it. He had two reasons not to canter: he's a standardbred, he's a draft horse. Things that have changed.
1. He had some great lunge work to re-introduce him to his backside.
2. I got a saddle that fit him.
3. After that I just did the old fashioned thing -aim him at a hill, pull the trigger, and get out of his way. Worked like a charm.
4. Hill work develops his back end. Drafts tend to be a bit front-loaded, even ones that are better balanced physically front to back. So you have to introduce him to his backside and then build it up.
JMO of course
He is total garbage! Quick! Hide him on my trailer (Petstorejunkie).
I love this one. Canter down the long side of the arena. COme to a quick halt (no walk) facing the end of the arena that you were cantering in. Do a turn on the haunches in the direction of the next side...and canter off (no walk). Stop in the next corner. Turn on the haunches, canter off. Repeat. Don't over work it though because you will make them sore. It really creates collection and you won't believe how it feels when you get this exercise going.
"What's so funny 'bout Peace Love and Understanding?" Elvis Costello
I've recently found a big improvement in my horse's canter by doing ground work and really getting him to soften and unbrace in his neck and step under/over with his inside leg while moving out in a circle (sort of like a TOF from the ground).
I agree that jumping helps, as do cavaletti exercises, lots of transitions, hill work. Don't canter him for too long if the canter itself isn't good. If he's not strong enough for a good quality canter for one lap, doing it for five laps isn't going to improve it, IMHO. Go for quality over quantity, because if he's not strong enough he'll just be pulling himself along and that's not what you want.
Also, I throw canter in the mix in the middle of our schools at home. I don't just do walk then trot then canter and be done. I do lots of walk and TOF, TOH, spiral in/out, walk-trot transitions, then off to the canter, then back to some more trot work to finish up.
A correct moving horse begins with the inside hind leg. It needs to be loose enough to step up and under when not moving on a straight line. He needs to be soft from dock to nose, and able to engage his hind end; essentially "squat" and use his hocks. This will cause the shoulders to come up and allow more range from the front legs. He needs to be able to hold this, while maintaining balance and a soft mouth.
Essentially, he needs to find his hind end and learn how to work correctly; and work off his hind end.
IMHO, 3'0 to 3'3 isn't an appropriate height for a 5 year old that is having basic issues on the flat.
Well I could write a whole novel about this very topic! LOL
I have a lazy, quiet 4 yr old standardbred, and boy have I learned a lot about REALLY riding. And I still have a lot to learn. But I'll give you my two cents anyway.
What the others posted about keeping the back soft and finding the hind end is IT.
How how do you do that- well, in my horse's case- transitions (which wakes him up out of his otherwise dull state), and short sets. I have been really focusing on riding the transition and allowing the middle part, otherwise I'm a tense idiot rider who ruins it for him.
The exercises we do- trot through poles - which works to keep us soft, and then canter out. Go for as long as the canter is quality, then put in a quality down transition, soften everything up and get connected, and do it again.
I also find walk to canter a much easier transition for us at this point to get a quality canter.
We also do the turn on the haunch thing too.
What doesn't work is starting off with a crappy canter and trying to egg him on and also fix it in the moment.
Transitions, transitions and more transitions. You don't want to do a lot of canter; you want to do quality steps and then bring him back to a trot.
As someone else posted, transitions within the gait are great.
I also use shoulder in as a way to help build strength and encourage my horse to step under. You could start with shoulder fore on the short side of the ring.
There's no reason why you have to do all the work in a ring, either. I do the majority of my schooling out in fields. That helps keep your horse feeling forward which can help if you have a horse that gets behind your leg.
TempiChange - I don't jump him often m - maybe 2 times per week. At home just small, maybe a few 2/6". Only go to 3' in my lesson weekly. If we are schooling x/c, we only go to Novice. I don't like to jump too much when they are young...
Again, thanks, I'm going to try some of those exercises today...