Introducing counter canter & progressive transitions – by Castle Leslie Estate’s Jenny Richardson

If you have aspirations to ride flying changes, I’d like to show you an exercise that builds up to this movement by helping develop an inexperienced horse’s balance by using quick-fire changes of bend and counter canter.

It is a simple and progressive way to introduce counter canter, e.g. right canter on the left rein, and also makes light work of teaching the flying change at a later date. The exercise gets the horse’s hind quarters working nicely.

Step one

'A young horse in leg yield left, showing lateral suppleness, but lacking the engagement of a more advanced horse.' Kindley supplied by Big Time Media

Leg yield left – photo by Big Time Media

Ride a small, half circle in the A/K corner (the top right corner) of the manege on the left rein in trot. Turn just before A and bend the horse to the right, as if you were turning towards ‘B’. Instead, ride a ‘leg yield left’ to the track, approximately at E, thus changing the rein. Go large. (NB – you are effectively riding a similar ‘tear drop’ shape as the well known dressage movement in a prelim test: ‘Half circle right 10 metres diameter, returning to the track at B.’)

Step two

Next, repeat the exercise at the bottom right corner of the school on the right rein – ride a small, half circle at the H/C corner, before riding a leg yield right, with left bend, to the track, approximately at E. You are now on the left rein. Go large!

Step three

Now join the two parts together, so you are riding the tear drop shape at both the A end of the school, and then the C end of the school. The horse should be very obedient and focussed to concentrate on the quick succession of changes of bend.

arena-markersStep four

Next, ride the above exercise in canter, firstly step one, then step two and step three.

During your leg yield, you will essentially be in counter canter.

So every time you reach the track at ‘E’, come back to trot and take canter on the new (correct) rein, so you are making a progressive, canter-trot-canter transition.

Top tips

Don’t focus too much on moving the horse over in a technically correct leg yield.

Just ask the horse to move away from your inside leg.

Try to make the point you hit the track (approximately at E) the same each time, as further on in your schooling, you can introduce a flying change at this point, instead of the canter-trot-canter transition.

Jenny Richardson BHSAI is Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, a venue that offers luxurious equestrian riding holidays and training breaks in the heart of Ireland.

The team welcomes riders of all abilities and age groups and offers expert tuition, gentle hacks and exhilarating cross-country rides.



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