Counter Canter is essentially being able to maintain a balanced canter on the “wrong lead”.
In this blog post I talk through some of the benefits of riding the Counter Canter especially on younger horses.
As this can be a difficult movement to master, prior to attempting the Counter Canter on a young horse, you must ensure that the true canter is well established, you are sitting correctly and that your aids are guided by the canter lead itself and not by the direction in which you are travelling.
As a guideline, your horse is ready to attempt counter canter when:
They can canter on a named leg on a corner and in a straight line
They can canter a 15m circle without losing rhythm, balance, straightness or impulsion
They can lengthen and shorten in the canter showing some degree of collection.
In counter canter, the rider is able to influence the horse’s outside hind leg. While the horse is in counter canter, the outside leg has to step underneath more and carry more weight, and the half halts encourage the horse to carry an even amount of weight on both legs. This gives the horse the tools to properly align his body.
When going through corners or on bends, the counter canter can help to stop the quarters from falling in or the shoulders from falling out and thus making the horse straighter (ie. The hind legs are directly following the front legs – I like to envisage train tracks).
As mentioned above, the counter canter gives the rider control over the outside hind leg and the horses weight distribution behind. By making the horse straighter and increasing the hind end engagement, it gives the horse the means to take more weight behind and thus, become stronger.
Remember, young horses are often quite weak and they will need time and practice to build up their strength.
Balance & Coordination.
Once established, riding the counter canter improves the horse’s balance by being able to maintain straightness and engagement on both reins. It also improves the horse’s understanding or respect of the individual canter aids given by the rider.
The horse should rely solely on the rider’s aids and not on their positioning in the arena to determine the correct leading leg i.e. the horse should be able to understand and strike off on the correct canter lead, on a straight line.
Suppleness & Flexibility.
The counter canter allows the rider to have more influence over the front and hind end of the horse. As a result, it is an excellent training aid which will improve a horse’s suppleness and flexibility at all levels.
The ability to move the horse and individual parts of the horse, means the rider can target areas that may need suppling. Being able to have control and softness through all four corners (shoulders & hind legs) of the horse is the goal. For instance, Counter flexion (poll) when used correctly can be hugely beneficial for maintaining straightness of the shoulders.
As you would expect, to execute a straight and balanced counter canter, you too, must be straight and have good balance.
Given that you need to ride the canter that you are in, as opposed to the direction you are travelling, you must learn to be clear and coordinated in with your aids to the horse.
If you are unbalanced, uncoordinated or crooked in your riding, the counter canter will highlight these issues right away. But as always, identifying a problem is the first step to fixing it so if it is feeling too complicated, return to the true canter and see if you can identify any issues which may be getting in your way!
I hope these points highlight the benefits of introducing and using the counter canter in the training and education of young horses as well as having its place in the training of the more established horses.
For more information on the exercises / patterns used to introduce and build your horse’s confidence in the counter canter, head over to www.equicoachonline.com to watch the FREE COUNTER CANTER TRAINING VIDEO
Sarah Elebert – Event Rider & HSI Level 2 Coach.