Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Working on the Lope/Canter Departure

Today I got an email asking me how I get a horse to depart into the lope from a walk or stop and how I get him to pick up the correct lead.

I think that before we get started there are some things that need to be understood about the mechanics of the departure and the lead, that will help in teaching a horse how to move into those transitions and how to pick up the correct lead. And we need to go over the positioning of the riders legs as well.

1) The departure and the lead start on the outside hind leg. When the horse pushes off of his outside hind, that allows him to pick up the inside hind and the inside shoulder. At this point in the horses training, he should know how to use his hind end.

2) It will work better if the horse is straight and parallel to the rail, that way he will not be able to drop his inside shoulder. If the horse drops his inside shoulder, then he will not be able to pick up the correct lead.

3) The position of the rider is very important. If the rider drops his inside shoulder, then the horse will do the same. The rider needs to be centered on the horse.

4) The riders inside leg should be back behind the cinch/girth and the outside leg should be at the same place as the inside leg. When a rider moves his outside leg further back than the inside leg, the horses hip will move to the inside and that horses shoulder will move towards the rail. Remember, the departure should be as straight as possible.

5) The horse must be moving off both of my legs laterally before we move into teaching departures.

Now that we have established mechanics and position, then we are ready to ask for the departure.

What I like to do is teach the horse to relax before we do anything new, so I like to walk to horse down the rail on a loose rein dong small circle to make sure that they are going to follow their face and that they will bend around my leg.

When I feel that they are ready, I will ask them to stop and stand, then I like to squeeze with my legs and ask them to take a few steps forward before stopping again. After doing that a few times, I will stop again and ask for then ask for the lope by clucking and then kissing and cuing with my outside leg. If the horse does not pick up the lope, then I will stop and ask again. I do not want the horse top pick up the trot first because I do not want to teach him that habit and I do not want them to speed up.

If the horse does not pick up the correct lead, I do not like to do smaller circles as that makes the horse drop his shoulder an speed up. I want the departure to be slow and correct so the horse will stay quiet and slow while he lopes. I also like to leave the horses face alone so he is comfortable while leaning his departures, so I like to work on a loose rein.

I have found that this is the best way to teach horse his departures, it is simple and it makes it easy for the horse without any confusion, and by eliminating the confusion this does not take long teach your horse his departures at all.

When I am asked to fix a lead problem, I do the same thing, in other words, I go back to basics with the horse.


Heather said...

What do you do with a horse who knows his leads and can pick them up in a corner or on the rail from a walk or trot but who is speedy? He doesn't rush the departs, but he speeds up along the rail. I'm not sure if I should be giving him his head and letting him slow down on his own eventually, or if I should be doing half halts and releasing when he slows down. I like to stay out of his face, but I'm not sure how many laps it would take before he slowed on his own (he slows for the ends, then speeds back up along the long side of the arena).

Trainer X said...

That's the same way I like to teach them too. Slow and balanced, not running them into it and creating a giant mess...

Trainer X said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JohnieRotten said...


with the speedy horses I like to do the walk stop but I will letthem lope until they speed up then I will stop and start them slow again and when they go slow I praise them.

I have had a few in the past that I have made them lope until they slow down and there again when they slow down I praise them. I usually go the other way first though, because I have had them take a whole to slow down by just loping them.

Dena said...

You mean you don't just kick them into it slapping them with popper reins every step of the until they pick it up?
Or dump you off?

Yeah, I know. Quit being a smartass and behave.

JediMom said...

OMGosh I just worked on this tonight with my trainer. Getting myself correct and getting the horse correct. I think it clicked for both of us tonight, LOL. One problem is I have a 22 year old standardbred, she has a hard time picking up the correct lead to the right and she will slip into a pace, a speedy pace but a pace, or always the fun one, the half lope half pace. That hurts the back, cramps my hip, and bounces my and the saddle up off her back. I bet it looks ugly also. LOL.
My trainer has me work off the fence and for loping to go from the walk to a lope. She said it's easier. We also are working on the back and then the swing around into the departure.
Now if I can keep my hands right, get the timing down, remember to look where I want to go, remember which leg to use, my mare might have a chance. LOL.

fernvalley01 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fernvalley01 said...

well stated , I am sure enjoying this blog!

SFTS said...

Curious JR what you do with a horse who's been allowed to rush into the lope (generally by trotting, as so many folks unfortunately use to "teach" them to lope), a horse who has been allowed to shift hips to the inside (therefore becoming really unbalanced and stiff) and those horses who are "taught" the canter depart by shoving the horse's front end toward the rail to "throw" them into the correct lead by simply getting them off balance?

I know what I do to combat these issues...just wondering what your view (and the views of my fellow trainers) is.

Also, on the rider's body position: This is one of the biggest issues I have found with both kids and adults. Especially with Western horses where they must ride using one hand, so many of them seem to want to either twist their body or drop both shoulder and hip. Just worked on that with a talented youngster yesterday afternoon. She was taught "equitation" by an APHA/AQHA trainer for the past two years. It's a work in progress...

sweetlillena said...


You stopped short of describing what you do when they pick up the incorrect lead. Please-hold nothing back! (Ok, I can't remember the "smile" symbol. Just curious.)

JohnieRotten said...


If the horse will not pick up the correct lead, 9/10 times it is because he has dropped his shoulder, and that may be a result of the position of the rider

If the horse is dropping his shoulder out laziness, I like to move his sholder over laterally with my inside leg and make hime stand for a moment before asking for the lead.

At some point I am going to do a video of this and post it so you can see what I am doing. I just have to figure technology out first.

And in reading the blog over again this AM I realize I did leave out how I correct the lead.


If a horse has to trot into the lope then it is just a balance issue with the horse and more than likely the rider.

If you watch the horse in the transition, you should be able to tell if it is horse or rider.

Too many people focus on the rider to tell what the horse is doing, and they are not focusing on the horse to tell what the rider is doing. Truth be known, the latter, not the former is the way to go.

I always like to watch the horse to see what the rider is doing. I teach my students to make the horse an extension of themselves.

There is one other thing that I feel that I need to re-emphasize on this thread. When training a horse, there really is nothing to analyze as horses are straight forward. Simplify your training so you do not confuse the horse. Most bad habits are formed from confusion and from the horse being miscued.

sweetlillena said...

Thanks JR,

I was educated in the school of stop, back up and sidepass then retry (did they ever look at the shoulder???) My horses generally do not do this (who knows what OTTTB will do), but I was curious. Great idea to post a video.

JohnieRotten said...


when I am correcting the leads I used to stop and back up and sidepass like you said. This is the same pricipal only less steps.

With my cutters and reiners or eith any horses for thatatter I like it as simple aspossible.

Dena said...

One other tip in slowing a speedy horse.
Make use of half of the arena until they become more responsive.
Not as much long rail drama to deal with until the seed is planted.

And a very relaxed posture goes a long way with the consistancy.
Methodical and not reactionary.

SFTS deliberately moving the horse off straight line to cue a canter is something I have seen a lot of in SS.
Along with the words "Big Departure."

Padraigin_WA said...

JR, I really do hope you move up to western Washington, so I can take western lessons from you!

SFTS said...

Dena wrote:
SFTS deliberately moving the horse off straight line to cue a canter is something I have seen a lot of in SS. Along with the words "Big Departure."
- - - - - - - -

One of my biggest peeves. In an article (commentary actually) once, I mentioned how about actually training the damn horse instead of shortcuts?? That tactic is so prevalent because of the concentration on the "big trot". It has less to do with the departure itself ~ flat saddle classes are still all about the trot, sadly.

JohnieRotten said...


We really can't wait to move up there.

I have been asked if I would do out of state clinics by several people lately. It is now a serious consideraton.

GoLightly said...

Interesting stuff, JR.
In the english world, I used the "outside leg behind the girth" cue.
It is kinda like "tapping their outside hind" to engage it and make it the first step of the canter.

I agree on the straightness, but the lope isn't a straight gait, is it.

What cue is used for leads, then?
Western riding, I know nothing.
If both rider's legs are in the same place, what is the cue to the horse for his lead?
Other than direction of his face?

hah, sounding more western already;)

JohnieRotten said...


When we cue for the lope and the lead, we do turn our outside to out so that we do ask for the lead behind the cinch. When we pick up the lope/canter, we straighten out our foot.

There really are not a lot of differences in western and english.

WhatTheHay said...

Heather, I ride English and definitately am no trainer but...when my horse gets speedy at the canter I first make sure I'm sitting up straight (not leaning forward), then give a little half-halt and tell him "easy". If he responds, we go along...if not, I give another half-halt and voice command. When he's going the pace I want him at, I don't say anything but then when we are finished he gets a big pat and praise. Letting him go around and around too fast for as long as he wants just makes him think that what he is doing is ok, but rather you need to bring him back to you.

JohnnieRotten, I love this blog!

SFTS said...

JR, it wasn't me that was asking that question, it was GoLightly. :) However I appreciate your answer, I was curious myself!

milwaukeecob said...

I am trying this tonight. my coach has us do canter from a trot, but RedMare is gets strung out and it's ugly. I'm trying it from a walk tonight.

I'll report tomorrow.

SFTS said...

Milwaukeecob, why does your coach have you pick up the canter from the trot as opposed to from the walk? Granted, in the show ring, we do have to pick up the canter/lope from the trot/jog sometimes when asked by the judge, therefore your horse needs to be good at those transitions (like all transitions), but I am wondering why they would suggest you to a trot-to-canter alone rather than a walk-to-canter transition. Thanks!

Cut-N-Jump said...

GL- rest assured, I ride both disciplines, english and western, without much difference other than the clothing, tack and amount of contact. Otherwise it could be one giant clusterf$ck out there.

After JR posted this particular thread, I had to ask if this is because when riding the Arab stally, I can't for the life of me remember to keep my inside leg on him- resulting in a blown right lead when we should be going merrily along on the LEFT one. Pfft!

Then I have the DUH! moment and we nail it, do a lap or two, to end on a happy note. Which leaves me to screw it all up again the next time around...

Funny part about it all? I don't have a problem with leads on the red mare. Close contact or dressage saddle. WTH?

I guess she is more forgiving, where he's not and making me do it right every time. As it should be. They are our best teachers.

Cut-N-Jump said...

SFTS- Add to that when the judge asks for a counter canter. I have seen this 'derail' several horses, riders and rides altogether. It has been drilled into the horses head to pick up whichever lead in accordance to which side the rail is on and their direction of travel.

Re: "Big Trot"

I know of a couple of horses, (Arabs) the trainers never taught to canter. They were running the horses through a sale as EP mounts and wanted that Big Trot, so they pushed the horses to trot as big as they could and built them up to maintain it.

They sure did trot big, but one of the new owners was excited beyond anything and ready to show the new horse, all set to blow away the competition in the EP classes with that HUGE trot...

when she soon discovered the horse had no clue how to canter, let alone do ANY type of departure.

The trainers had to 'come clean' and that horse underwent a crash course in departures, leads, balance and the things that had been skipped over in training.

But their horses sure did trot big across the stage at the sale...

SFTS said...

CnJ ~ at least the counter canter request usually only comes on an Obedience (or Discipline Rail at PtHA shows, for instance) and I figure if you're entering those classes, you should be aware that they may be asked for, therefore your horse should be able to hold a counter lead. But I get what you're saying. Personally, I want my horses to pick up a correct lead when asked, but also pick up the lead I ask for. Make sense? If my legs, body and hands tell the horse to pick up a lead (or perform a lead change), I expect that lead no matter if it's counter. But on the flip side of the coin, I want my students and clients to be able to get their correct leads while in their classes.

On the "Big Trot" thing, yep, that's the story so often. Doesn't surprise me in the least. I can't count how many English horses especially I've gotten that had NO clue how to pick up a canter. That and the lack of concentration on walking........yes folks, the walk IS a judged gait!! Amazing how many trainers fail to get that. Sigh.

toadstoolbob said...

CnJ ~ at least the counter canter request usually only comes on an Obedience (or Discipline Rail at PtHA shows, for instance) and I figure if you're entering those classes, you should be aware that they may be asked for, therefore your horse should be able to hold a counter lead. But I get what you're saying. Personally, I want my horses to pick up a correct lead when asked, but also pick up the lead I ask for. Make sense?



You are the most despicable condescending bitch I have ever encountered.

And I have encountered a few, but you take the cake. Why you are allowed to post here is beyond me.

I have the feeling JR could out train you any day of the week, and that just pisses you off.

And this from the gloves blog

why on Earth should I care about being understood or accepted by a bunch of people from across the nation and the globe who mean nothing to me, have no effect on my life and who I will likely never actually meet face to face, nor have any business dealings with?

Perhaps it is time you did start to care.



I love this blog. Luckily I am able to sit at the computer again and start typing.

Are you going to write a training book?

And are clinics an option? that would be great!

SFTS said...

toadstoolbob wrote:

You are the most despicable condescending bitch I have ever encountered.

- - - - - - - -

What in the Hell?

I was AGREEING with what CnJ said, and you somehow twist it around that I was doing...what? Being condescending?!

Not sure what I did in another life to wrong you, but I guess some folks will just find fault with anything I say, no matter what, no matter how I say it.

Have a great evening, Bob. I'm off to give another lesson and head out on a trail ride to top off the day.

CharlesCityCat said...

Wow, Toadstoolbob doesn't seem to like SFTS much, now does he.

Maybe he needs the address for JR's " The Gloves Are Off" blog so he can take his comments there.

Anyhoo, I ride hunters, and that does not mean HUS. I was always taught and our horses are trained to pick up the leads with a bit of outside heel just behind the girth to cue for the canter and a bit of inside rein to ask for the proper lead.

Now this all has to be asked for with the appropriate posture of the rider. It can all be bungled if the rider isn't doing his or her job correctly.

toadstoolbob said...

I do not dislike SFTS....

I think she needs to change her tone here and everywhere else, that is all.

Cut-N-Jump said...

SFTS- apparently I am not the only one with the bad habit of preaching to the choir.

Bob, I had posted above just shortly before having seen the words of SFTS that you copy and pasted over from the gloves are off. Yes she is known for having a condescending tone in her posts. That is nothing new as you may have already noticed.

horspoor said...

I tend to ask for the lope/canter departure from the walk. It seems easier for the horse to organize the canter from the walk, rather than the trot. It also eliminates the 'rushing' or 'chasing the into the lope'. At least for me.

Inside leg on the girth line, outside leg a hair back...wait till you feel the outside hind starting to come forward, and a little squeeze with both legs...and waahlaah...canter. lol At least in theory. So for me the cue isn't just putting my outside leg back...that's the horse's prep for the cue that is to come...they know what's coming, but they don't go until the little squeeze. Gots to wait until I ask. Gestapo witch that I am. Well, the first few canter departs I'm just pleased to have gotten them clean without much yahooing.

Big rewards for young horses that get their canter departs. They're told they are brilliant, big rubs and pets...I make a big to do about it. Even if the canter departs are a stumbling mess...if they tried they get rewarded.

I've only been asked for counter canter twice in a show (rail show that is). I use it for schooling lead changes, or teaching lead changes.

blueheron said...

SFTS, I so agree with you about the walk. The most important gait, in my opinion. It's the foundation, and when anything isn't going right, I go back to the walk and figure it out from there.
That's one of the things I like about the lower levels of dressage, how important the walk is.

horspoor said...

Yeah, the walk remains important as you go up the training scale, it's just that so many horses' walks are ruined by the time they hit FEI.

I can't remember the horse at the Athens Olympics...didn't have a walk. It couldnt walk. How the hell did it end up at the Olypmics?

blueheron said...

TSB, I really don't see anything on this blog thread that warranted that kind of attack on SFTS. Whatever happened to the short attention spans and ADD nature of the internet, especially blogs? Get over it, let people learn and move on.

Me, I was going to say, Hey, SFTS, I've noticed you're communicating really clearly lately, and that's pretty cool. Nice job.

blueheron said...

HP, I have only seen a couple FEI horses that had a great walk. When you see it, at that level, it's like, "Wow, the horse has a walk."
Is it that they don't focus on it, or does all the work on collection and movements at trot/canter ruin it? I've never quite understood. Because a lovely long walk is one of the best "rewards" I know of, when I horse has been working hard. But I've never ridden beyond 1st level, so what do I know. lol.

JohnieRotten said...

We always like our horses to have a nice flat footed walk. I hate when they get racey in their trasitions. That is why I like to take it as slow as possible.

As far as people jumping each others shit here. Please take it over to the 'Gloves'.

While I realize we all take people comments the wrong way some times here is not the place to air our differences.

horspoor said...

I really don't care to ride a horse that doesn't walk out. That little stifled, bound up shoulder feeling some of them have...gaak. I want to feel like I'm going somewhere. lol

Dena said...

TSBob I and hubby have lived through 3 kind of to us major surgeries.
Some kid ran into his car with a 3/4 ton pickup he was driving a little contour.
40-45 miles an hour was the estimate and apparently he did not see the line of cars halted at the stoplight. It was daytime.
Anyhow, I noticed that the pain meds tended to make Mister a little cranky within about 10 days after a surgery.
By the 3rd one I got out the broom and channeled Babe Ruth.
Just a thought.

SFTS today was not the day you deserved all of that.

Loping and the benefits of counter canter by Dena for GL.
Not because she doesn't know. Ye Gads no.
She asked me a long time ago to please explain the benefits of counter canter.

1. A really well trained and fit horse that should never end up in a direct to slaughter pen.

2. Security and safety options over fences.

3. Conditioned awareness of horse to rider.

4. Balance.

I should like to point out that I personally do not care for counter canter on a circle.

I know there are probably lots of other benefits of counter canter.
But I am no dressage rider.
Wait a minute...yes, I am...ummm...no I am not.

I actually agree with CNJ and SFTS in that I want what I ask for regardless.

And one thing I noticed missing here that I remember from my pleasure horse days that fits very well with bringing on green horses is patterns.
Circle in the four corners, figure eight, half arena circles, etc..
Bigger circles. Not the 8' ones designed to encourage the dreadded 4 beat stumble hop shuffle.

SFTS said...

blueheron wrote:
Me, I was going to say, Hey, SFTS, I've noticed you're communicating really clearly lately, and that's pretty cool. Nice job.

Dena wrote:
SFTS today was not the day you deserved all of that.

Thanks...both of you. I am trying. Of course, now I am just tired and therefore perhaps not quite as easily understood as I can be. ;)

Dena said...

SFTS you are welcome.

HP yellow horse is calling you. Major forward motion.
Big. I mean Big... Really BIG!!!
Veddy veddy free in the shoulder.
And he has big boy badass buttswing.ROLMAO

SFTS said...

For a canter or lope cue, I use my outside leg scooted a hair further back, maintaining contact with my inside leg just behind the girth/cinch on the inside. I also use my seat (drop the hip to the outside slightly) and just a slight bump on the inside rein. Harder when riding one handed in a Western curb, but not impossible. Of course, when asking for a counter canter, it's opposite! :)

blueheron wrote:
SFTS, I so agree with you about the walk.
- - - - - - - -

What is it about walking?? I really haven't paid too much attention to Dressage at the higher levels for good walks, but I think there should be a renewed emphasis across the board on walking.

Now, I don't like a pokey, hoof dragging walk. Like HP I want a horse that's actually going somewhere. But I don't like a horse to be rushy and trying to break into a jog while I'm asking for that nice, long strided yet flat footed walk, either. Just a happy medium, thank you!

Dena wrote:
I actually agree with CNJ and SFTS in that I want what I ask for regardless.

And one thing I noticed missing here that I remember from my pleasure horse days that fits very well with bringing on green horses is patterns.

- - - - - - - -

I've got a book called "101 Dressage Exercises For Horse and Rider" that I LOVE. Here it is on Amazon:

Many of these exercises can be used for any discipline, and they are wonderful. I've had more than a few clients go out and buy their own copy. We regularly use these exercises in lessons, from kids to adults, and I've incorporated some of them into pattern practice for my Horsemanship and Equitation students, too.

Great stuff!!

horspoor said...

I have that book SFTS...love it.

I also like Cherry Hills 101 Arena Exercises.

Another I like, though harder to find is Barbier's book. He is more of the school of 'in lightness' thinking for dressage. Much better option for the hotter, less thumpy horse. lol He also has a really cool little tall thin book 'The Dressage Companion'.

SFTS said...

Thanks for the book tips, HP. I am going to have to spend some time at Barnes & Noble in their horse section to see what other books I'd like to pick up.

I have heard good things about Cherry Hill's books. Also, two books I picked up from the library a few years back out of curiosity were "Storey's Guide to Training Horses" and "Stable Smarts", both by Heather Smith-Thomas. Both had some very good information, they offered me more simplistic explanations to give some of my students on various training and riding issues, since I have had a tendency to sometimes overcomplicate things. :)

blueheron said...

Wow, I just had to share this with all of you. Could be fun, could be scary...

Horseback Archery Camp!

horspoor said...

SFTS, of course Sally Swift's Centered Riding is still my bible, but check out 'Dressage as Art in Competition', and 'Lessons with Lendon'.

I have way too many books. Some even creak when you open them they are so unread...but had to have them at the time.

milwaukeecob said...

I just wanted you to know that I did practice your suggestions for canter depart, plus my sister's sugg's that I make sure she is in FRONT OF my leg (take a feel of her sides with my legs-a bit like gunning the engine) and then cue. We did a small schooling show on Saturday and RedMare was LOVELY. She cantered every time. It was downhill and diving, but I didn't care, because we NAILED the departs! (And it was our first time at that venue, so omg--strange things everywhere!) She got peppermints during the warm-up for the departs and after the tests too. She was wonderful. We'll work on the quality now, but your sugg's were a big help.

JohnieRotten said...


glad to hear you had a good show, that alwYs makes me happy.

Now that your mare is figuring it out cleaning up the departures will be no problem. Keep us posted.