Wednesday, August 2, 2017

examining the "jumping canter"

We seem to talk an awful lot about the canter as a gait, especially for jumping. On one hand, we talk about a horse's natural ability in the gait. For instance: Charlie's canter is by far his best gait. On the other hand, we always hear a lot about developing that "perfect jumping canter" - the holy grail of any jump rider - regardless of the horse's natural way of going.

One of my trainers, Dan, is pretty convinced that nothing matters more for jumping than the canter. And that this canter is itself a product of good flat work. That, if you've done your homework and developed your canter - there are no "long spots" or "chip strides" in jumping.

Rather, the distances take care of themselves bc you've got a canter from which you can easily move up to a going distance, or balance to the base for a closer spot. That you don't need to "see your distance" if you've got your canter (while simultaneously, seeing your distance is 1000x easier from that canter anyway).

not in the bridle; not round
overall: not a great picture
As a way of delving further into this topic, I've pulled out a couple reasonably representative photos of Charlie from the archives. None of these maybe constitute the epitome of what I'm trying to say - but they're all obviously quite realistic and hopefully can more or less demonstrate how I try to understand the canter for jumping.

Basically, the terminology that makes the most sense to me is having the horse "in the bridle." This is distinct from being "on the bit" - tho I address that in part somewhat separately as looking at the horse's general shape and way of carrying himself vis-à-vis "roundness."

not in the bridle; "round"
only kinda joking here... bc round but behind the bridle is a great recipe for bucking lol
To me, the phrase "in the bridle" means a few things. Perhaps most importantly: The horse must be in front of the leg. There must be impulsion. And there should be a certain degree of shifting the horse's weight to it's hind quarters in preparation for jumping. An "uphill" quality.

It should feel, in some ways, like the horse is pulling you to the fence - but that they're not stiff, strung out, flat or rushing on the forehand in the process.

in the bridle; and round(ish)
this to me is a very pleasant jumping canter
I bring up "roundness" as a somewhat separate element mostly bc I personally don't see it as a requirement for the "perfect jump canter." But I DO see it as a requirement for developing more lateral and longitudinal suppleness in the horse - something that IS absolutely necessary.

Especially in getting started with Charlie, it took me a while to figure out why the jumping could feel so terrible when he'd get all racey and over-enthusiastic. Finally - it occurred to me that it felt so crappy bc all our flat work (limited tho it was/is) would fly out the window and Charlie would get stiff as a 2x4, inverted and hollow.

And when you're strung out like that, it's basically impossible to see any good spot to the fence. Like, "is he gonna leap, is he gonna chip? who knows!" -- thus the many months of defensive, back seat riding by yours truly.

in the bridle; not classically round
this picture, to me, is a good representation of what currently constitutes a good jumping canter for charlie
Once Charlie started really figuring out the whole "going on the bit" thing in our flatwork (something we're still very much working on), he was able to discover a new level of suppleness throughout his body. A way to stay soft in his body, soft to the bridle, even when moving forward and lengthening his stride, and even when I really push him up in front of my leg.

I don't necessarily think that a horse needs to be fully round and on the bit to have the perfect jumping canter - they've got to be able to see the jumps after all lol. But that established ability to be soft and supple, at least for me, is a critical component of being able to push the horse up in front of my leg and into the bridle while maintaining engagement and thrust from the hind end.

Does that all make sense? Do you think about the "ideal" jumping canter similarly? Or differently? Is there different terminology that makes more sense to you, or some other component not mentioned here that is of vital importance to you? Maybe you disagree with some of my examples or evaluations above?

Or perhaps you think this is way too overthought and that you just canter the horse and jump the fence? Or that the "ideal canter" varies widely by each individual horse or discipline?

32 comments:

  1. I do get it- I love the feeling when Carmen is in front of the leg and we're going forward. There is no tension and everything is adjustable.

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    1. ahhh that's definitely the best feeling tho - that's the feeling i find so addicting lol

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  2. There are sooo many different canters. I don't know that Grif and I have harnessed the perfect one for perfect situations yet, but we have a lot of ratability at the canter and that's the first piece of the puzzle.

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    1. ratability is definitely super important - esp if you can keep the horse soft throughout. charlie went through this long period early on of being able to go 'fast' and 'slow,' but neither were really actually any good haha

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  3. Once again, you've read my mind with this post! As you know, I've been thinking A LOT about what that "perfect canter" looks like on XC, and earlier this season we worked a ton on maintaining bend and softness in the canter while jumping courses, which when combined with that forward, uphill, 'pulling' canter, makes every distance come up easy as pie. I kind of love how there are so many different ways to describe it; sometimes a new phrase helps it click a little better! One thing my trainer frequently yells at me is, "MAKE HIM TAKE YOU SOMEWHERE!"

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    1. ha i love it when trainers can figure out that new way of saying a thing that 'clicks' for us! bc yea i mean, ultimately, all that matters is that we have a way of understanding it such that we can repeat it or find it when we want it.

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  4. I totally agree with you -- when you have the right canter, the jumps just flow! I also like your term "in the bridle" vs "on the bit" for this specific instance.

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    1. oh good - glad it's useful to you too. idk why but that phrase has always really helped me make sense of the feel i want

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  5. I totally get what you mean. You want them in the bridle: not pulling through it or that dead air feeling when they hide behind it. You also don't want them "dressage round" but you do want them thinking round because it is easier to jump a pliable horse than a 2x4. It's a very neat feeling, and one I struggled big time with. Mikey either pulled me to jumps (in a bolty bad way) or was ducking behind the contact and then I'd pull on him and he'd either be a saint and jump, or duck out.

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    1. ugh that 'dead air' feeling is awful. that's basically kinda where isabel got to be eventually too, bleh, no good. and yea, 'thinking round' is another useful way to say it. like they need their head and eyes up, but also their backs too. that 'bolty to the fence' feeling isn't my favorite either. charlie can trend in that direction - tho luckily with how honest he is it isn't as bad as it could be. but still. i like it better when he's soft instead of running through the bridle!

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  6. This totally makes sense. I definitely don't have the words, but I was sitting here able to feel it as I read. We're just starting to get there with some consistency (yay new horse), but definitely struggle to get BACK there between jumps/related distances. So many half halts, so much core and leg strength I don't have.

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    1. yay new horse indeed! tho i hear ya on the whole bit about it taking serious time to get all the pieces working together. like i've had charlie for close to a year at this point and we're just now getting to where this type of feel, this type of canter, is regularly accessible in our rides. esp bc he still kinda almost doesn't have a half halt yet lol

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  7. This change in quality of Charlie's canter has been mesmerizing to watch develop over the past half year. Every video he is more compact, using that hind end and lifting the shoulders more.

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    1. eeee thanks! it's such an exciting feel too - like he's really figuring it out!

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  8. We spent the entire winter and spring focusing pretty much only on B's canter. I can attest that it improved our jumping dramatically! So much easier for me to judge pace, distances, etc, and our courses flow easily now....lessons used to be a huge workout for me, now I'm barely tired!

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    1. that's awesome! i remember when B's canter was actually a pretty big deal for her - crazy how much she's changed and developed! the work is definitely worth it tho!

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  9. I totally agree with you! I think that's a very good way to describe it. And I agree with Dan. When you have that good canter, the jumps kind of take care of themselves. And from that first photo to the last, you can so see the change in Charlie; his musculature and using his butt more and he does look softer! Just really really good :)

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    1. thanks ! and yup - that whole progression of change you point out in charlie is basically the entire point of this post!

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  10. I also think that any jump can ride well from a quality canter with a good track.

    As far as roundess and being in the bridle is concerned, I tend to focus less on head position and more on engagement of the hindquarters. My thought is that head position is dependent on the level of training and musculature the horse has. I think of it like how training level dressage versus grand prix level head position are vastly different due to level of training and muscle tone. High level show jumpers can often be on the bit with their heads quite high in the air because they have many years of proper schooling and muscle development and good hind end engagement.

    Basically, we are saying the same thing, just with slightly different words!

    <3 Kelly @ HunkyHanoverian.com

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    1. yea definitely - too strict of a focus on head position definitely misses the boat on what's actually going on with the body. and asking a horse to carry his head in a way that he's not yet strong enough to do will also cause a whole raft of new issues too-- possibly even affecting his confidence in the jump.

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  11. Yay CHarlie getting to all new levels of horsin!

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  12. to me i don't like my jumping canters round. i prefer in the bridle, with head up and nose out. i learned (frequently the hard way) that if the horse is TOO round they are bendy little turds who will disappear sideways. my favorite horses to jump have been much more 'uphill'.

    this is a good post tho, definitely the most important part about jumping.

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    1. yea it took me a while to figure out that i wanted an 'in the bridle' feeling that actually wasn't super round - esp bc isabel would totally fake me out while sorta kinda being behind the bridle and not actually connected and engaged. she didn't disappear sideways haha - she disappeared backwards

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  13. I definitely don't think of "being in the bridle" the same way for jumping as I do for dressage. Mostly because a dressage horse is elevating it's front end way too much to successfully dig in and get under itself to launch a fence. Lol

    But positional semantics aside, I do like a horse that is letting me touch its mouth and effect it's way of going while keeping a steady rhythm to the fence. Otherwise shit just feels all sketchy.

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    1. you couldn't possibly be referring to that time you jumped izzy, right??? talk about some sketchiness lol. brita always said that it felt like there was "nothing in front of you" jumping that mare. not a great feeling! totally agreed on liking something that i can take a bit of a feel on

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    2. Lol! She definitely disappeared on you in mid-air, but at least I felt like I knew where she was going to take off. There are some horses where you can't get a read because they are all over the place before a fence. That's no fun at all!

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    3. wait a second - i'm like 93% positive i have a video of you jumping isabel and shouting out "Shit!!" bc she put in one more stride than you expected! lol she was always tricksy like that

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    4. curses. nope. no video. le sigh. but damn was that chip stride always just lurking right below the surface...

      and yea - the wiggly ones are their own basket of worms too (literally)

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  14. Charlie is progressing so much it is really awesome to be able to tag along in blog land. Cantering is my worst enemy right now and it makes everything else harder. I lack personal experience in this matter, but what you say falls right in line with what I've seen at events. The horses that had a great canter that was compact but not forced jumped everything like it wasn't even there while those who were flat and heavy had to work so much harder

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  15. My coach never has us ride "on the bit", rather the horse into the contact. Their head carried wherever they want to carry it. Some horses like to jump with their heads up, some down. Its a preference much like people have for their mannerisms. Hes a GP showjumper who has trained under Ian Miller for over 30 years.

    When it comes to the canter and jumping, typically you should have three canters. The collected, the normal, and the going places. All three should be available at any time, for use in the appropriate lines. (This was from Blyth Tait)

    Those are my mantras! Currently I only have the GOING PLACES canter on Penny ahaha

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  16. I love that feeling of pushing from behind and also "taking you to the jumps", I don't know exactly how it ties into being in the bridle, but I definitely think you can "feel" that sort of canter (as it's the easiest to jump from). I struggled SO much with Riley's canter and I'm 100% grateful to have a horse that has a decent one right off the bat. Though, keeping his giant body all together is a challenge in itself!!!

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