Sandra Beaulieu - Training Journal for Friesian Gelding, Gryphon - Difficulty Picking Up Right Lead in Canter

Gryphon:

Gryphon is a 9-year-old Friesian gelding that is trained in the walk, trot, and canter and basic leg-yielding and has been ridden a lot on trails. I rode Gryphon while he lived in Maine and my friend, Marsha Hartford-Saap, has been working with him since his new owner purchased him. Like most Friesians, he is behind the leg aid and has trouble connecting in his top-line. Marsha has improved his connection and he is able to trot forward, feeling through in his back.

Day One

Biggest issue: 

Picking up the right lead in the canter. He needs a lot of help to coordinate his body for this transition.

To help him get the right lead:

1) When he tried to pick up the left lead, I made very clear half-halts with the rein and my seat to help give him a compelling reason to not take the wrong lead.

2) I used my voice to say "No," when he got the wrong lead and highly praised him when he got the correct lead.

3) After cantering on the correct lead for a few strides, I would ask him to halt, and then I fed him a treat so he would start to have positive associations with this lead.

4) I "unbalanced" him by counter-bending and thinking of physically pushing him onto the inside shoulder at the right moment.

He successfully picked up the right lead about 1/3 of the time and he started to understand the "game". I wanted him to have fun and look forward to his training sessions. I believe his difficulty lies in his having formed a bad habit and his lack of coordination. Most young horses have a difficult lead to pick up, much like people are right- or left-handed.

Day Two

Today, Gryphon had plenty of energy and I hardly had to use my leg or whip aids to keep the impulsion. I asked for leg-yields from the center line to the rail, followed by shoulder-in. I asked for canter once on his good (left) lead before trying the difficult lead. On the left, he lifted beautifully from the walk and showed an improvement in his engagement and uphill jump.

  • Moving to the right, he anticipated the canter transition and tried to pick up the left lead. I half-halted strongly and used my voice.
  • I asked again, and again he anticipated and attempted to pick up the left lead. I repeated my actions.
  • I then asked for the walk and re-grouped.
  • In the walk, I counter-flexed him and shifted my weight to the outside to push the energy towards his inside shoulder.
  • From there, he jumped into the correct lead and continued to get the correct lead every time afterwards. Each time I asked, I straightened him a little more, until he had the correct bend and was not "falling into" the lead, but lifting correctly into it.

Day Three

Day 3 of Gryphon’s training was gloomy. He felt a bit tired from our previous rides and a little stiff in his body. We worked on basic trot and canter work. He picked up the correct lead to the right without a fuss.

  • I added: half-pass in the walk to our routine, performing simple half-turns towards the rail and then asking him to step over with his haunches. Gryphon is responsive to the leg for other lateral work so he could perform legitimate half-pass steps to either direction. I also taught Connie (Gryphon's owner) the aids for the turn-on-the-haunches. The aids are almost identical to the half-pass, so this will give her a way to practice the aids to eventually ask for half-pass.

I also asked Gryphon to bow at the end and he was so good that he went down so far he got sand on his forehead!

Day Four

This day was interesting. Gryphon had gone out to the pasture with my Friesian gelding, Douwe, for the day and it seemed to bring out his "alpha" attitude. During the session, Gryphon was distracted and constantly looking around. On a positive note, he was energetic! I asked for half-pass at the trot, since he had the impulsion, and he performed nice steps tracking to the right.

  • I added: simple changes in the canter using a large figure-eight. This would help fine-tune his leads and make sure that he is balancing and listening to the rider’s aids. When I asked him for the left lead, he volunteered his difficult lead, and instead of transitioning to the walk I pushed him to keep cantering and then asked him for counter-canter. He held the lead beautifully with no tension or resistance.

To end the session, I asked for piaffe in-hand and it seems Gryphon will learn the piaffe fairly quickly. He had a few engaged strides and he is beginning to figure out how to connect his body. Connie is doing an awesome job riding Gryphon and is learning balancing techniques for herself and her horse that will help improve their relationship.

Day Five

Today was a fun day! I did a few new things with Gryphon today- riding with my veil and riding him bareback.

I started the session with softening work, and he was feeling energetic so I had to really remind him to keep his hind end underneath him when he went forward. He is such a funny horse; now he just wants to take the right lead no matter what direction he is going and I had to work much harder to get the left lead. The clear message to not pick up the left lead and the praises and treats for getting the correct lead really changed things for Gryphon. So today I asked for more cantering on the left lead, and gave him the same rewards as the right lead, to balance him out.

  • At the end of our session, I rode with my belly dance veil. I put a knot in the reins so they weren't too long and just did simple trot with transitions while I held the veil up high behind me. Gryphon did great, but the fabric spooked some of the other horses in the arena! I also rode Gryphon bareback at the trot and canter- what fun!

For a 9-year-old horse that has had chronic issues, Gryphon is doing wonderful!