There is nothing more frustrating than a horse that anticipates your every move. Does your horse: jog the minute you take up your reins in walk? Canter if your seat stays in the saddle for more than two strides in trot? Drop down into trot from canter if you so much as move in the saddle or on the reins? If he does then there’s a strong chance that what you’re doing to avoid the problem is probably making it worse.
The trouble with anticipation is your horse isn’t actually listening to what you’re saying. At first he’s just trying to do as you ask before you’ve asked. The problem is as he happily bounces off into canter before you’ve had a chance to put your leg on he’s failed to realise that you were actually going to ask for counter canter – or even walk! Whilst you don’t want to crush his enthusiasm wouldn’t it be nice if you could get him to wait before he jumped in feet first?
That initial enthusiasm soon becomes tension as you try your hardest to ‘sneak up on him’. In walk you shuffle your fingers up the reins, in trot you sit for half a stride and bang your leg on before he has a chance to go and in canter every move you make is preceded with a hearty squeeze to keep him going. Sound familiar?
It’s easy to think your horse is over confident the way he plunges head first into everything before he’s asked but what he really needs is for you to slow down and make things clearer so he starts to really listen to what you have to say. The more you try to avoid things the more confused he becomes. And that always causes tension.
The clearer your aids are the easier it will be for your horse to understand you. Check out this post - http://schoolyourhorse.blogspot.com/2011/01/riding-perfect-canter-transition.html before you try these exercises so you’re absolutely clear how to use both legs in your canter aid.
Check out - http://schoolyourhorse.blogspot.com/2010/12/other-way-of-stopping.html for ways to slow down without depending on your reins.
Your legs are there to ask for changes in pace and more energy not just to keep him going. Check this out if you’re using your leg more than you should - http://schoolyourhorse.blogspot.com/2010/12/lazy-rider.html
Use a 20m circle at E/B. Your horse will have to pay more attention to you because he doesn’t have the fence to guide him. In any pace ride a spiral into the centre of the circle so you finish with a 10m circle in the middle before you spiral back out again.
This spiral will keep your horse focused because it’s something different and the tight curve will mean he has to use his hocks. When he concentrates he’ll start to relax. The spiral is the main part of this exercise. Don’t come off it for the rest of the session. On it you can work between all three paces.
It’s important that you ride a true line NOT a leg yield in or out. You may find your horse tries to drift out to the bigger circle. Keep your hands together and the contact even in both reins to keep his shoulders together as one unit and straight in front of you. Use both legs in their usual place - putting your outside leg back won’t stop a horse drifting out – driving his quarters behind his shoulders will.
For this exercise your trot work should be done in sitting trot. This is really important because it will allow your horse to relax and stop thinking you’re about to ask for canter. There’s only one way to learn to sit well and that’s to keep doing it – and relax. The longer you trot the more your muscles will relax and stop bracing against the movement. Practice really does make perfect.
Once your horse has accepted the fact sitting trot doesn’t automatically mean canter – or walk you can start to introduce transitions between the paces. Take your time. Don’t spring anything on him suddenly. Make clear movements and be firm with your leg. Remember the firmer and clearer you are the more control you’ll have.
The tightness of the spiral will maintain your canter for you. Aim to canter into the middle and back out again at least three times so it’s continuous. That allows your horse to settle and get his balance. Make sure you sit up and ride forward with both legs to a steady contact to help him keep his weight back on his hocks.
Check out this post - http://schoolyourhorse.blogspot.com/2011/10/pull-up-to-ride-forward.html There are some easy tips on how to change your position to help him.
Practice walking on a long rein and taking them up again in one fluent movement. Check this out -http://schoolyourhorse.blogspot.com/2011/08/free-walk-on-long-rein-not-off-it.html There’s absolutely no benefit to you or your horse in shuffling your fingers up the reins. Lean forward take the contact on the outside rein and then take up the inside rein – all within two strides and then you’re settled again. Keep your legs on and don’t back off if he jogs. The answer is to take your reins up quickly and get your weight in the saddle as soon as you can – not to do it so he doesn’t feel it!
All these problems can be resolved if you stop avoiding them. Your horse can feel a fly landing on his back so there’s no chance of you ever being able to do something that he can’t feel! Make your movements clear and confident. Let him really hear what you have to say and then he’ll be able to listen.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.