(Suggested posts – It’s in Your Hands, Get Straight to the Point, There’s More to Legs than Kicking, How to Ride the Perfect Canter Transition)
Most riders understand the term quarters-in. Of course it should mean travers - or at least the start of it - but most often it’s a term used to describe canter.
If your canter is crooked it’s true that your horse may have back trouble. His saddle may be too wide or perhaps it’s pinching him. But before you panic and reach for the phone book stop and think for a second. Do you ever see him cantering in the field with his quarters in? If you’re cantering on a hack, off his back, are his quarters in? Is he crooked in walk or trot? You know where this is going, right?
The majority of crooked horses are caused by crooked riders. Are you so sure you’re not to blame? Look on the bright side. If it is you it’s cheaper and quicker than booking an appointment with your local saddler or chiropractor.
The first thing to check is your outside leg position. Once you’re in canter what do you do with it? You should move it back to its usual place near the girth. If you don’t you’re unintentionally pushing your horse’s quarters in off the track.
Your hips have a huge influence on the position of your horse’s quarters. If they face the front so will your horse’s. But when your outside leg goes back your outside hip probably goes with it. Your inside hip is then further forward than your outside. Your horse will copy you. If his inside hip comes forward his quarters come in. That’s great. If you’re asking for travers …
The trick is to relax your hips to allow your outside leg to move forward or back without taking your hip with it. Root your seat bones to the saddle and let everything above or below move independently. It sounds simple but it takes practice. And time. Don’t worry if you can’t do it immediately. The main thing to do is put your leg straight back to its original position as soon as your horse strikes off into canter.
On a circle your horse’s body should turn to the inside. This puts his inside hip further back than his outside. Your body must do the same. If your hips are stiff they’ll stay straight instead of turning with the circle. Your inside hip will be further forward than the outside. Again your horse will copy you. Result? Quarters in.
When you come to correct your horse remember you use your leg by the girth to control his body but a few inches back to control his quarters. Use short, sharp nudges with your inside leg back to return his quarters to the track. Don’t be tempted to push. He’ll just push against you. Using your leg in short movements keeps your hips relaxed. Constant pushing can make you twist and tighten up in the saddle which only adds to the problem. (Worth remembering if you have trouble with lateral work)
Sometimes, although your canter is crooked, it’s not the quarters that are in. Just to confuse things sometimes the outside shoulder is out! This is easily solved.
Whatever you do with your hands will affect your horse’s shoulders. If your outside hand is too wide or lower than your inside hand he’ll drop his outside shoulder and fall out. Seen from the front his quarters may appear to be in but look where his feet are landing. His outside fore will be hitting the sand on the outer edge of the track.
Falling out in canter is often caused by a rider lifting their inside hand up on a tight turn or circle because they think it will help their horse stay upright. This is a misguided belief. If your inside hand is higher than the outside he won’t lift his shoulder up he’ll drop the other one down! Keep your hands level and your horse will do the same. His balance comes from his hocks not his shoulders.
(Many of you may be thinking “My instructor tells me to lift my inside hand!” They probably do but because it’s lower than the outside. If in doubt even up your hands.)
A crooked canter is one of the most common faults. It will have taken months to develop and won’t be cured overnight but with patience and attention to your own position you can make a real difference. And look on the bright side. When you come to start lateral work at last you’ll know your horse understands the aids!
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.