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Tight Horse Won't Canter

I have a 16 year old Arabian mare that is stumping me. I bought her as a very green broke, abused, and terrified eight year old. Her teeth are floated regularly, she has no lameness issues, and other than being slightly cold backed, she had no health problems. Our main problem arises at the canter. When ever I ask her to bend, flex, turn a circle, or just apply leg in general she pins her ears, wrings her tail and grinds her teeth. Out on the trail or in an open field she is quite content to just hack about on a loose rein. I first went back and reviewed the exercises I had trouble with on the ground, then at a walk and a trot but still had problems when I went to canter. I ride her either in a rope halter (which she likes much better) or a loose ring French training snaffle. Do you have any ideas???

Thanks, Chelsea

Please clarify if you have problems with her cantering when you are lunging her freestyle and on a line when you are on the ground with her? Also, is there a possibility of something else organically wrong, such as; back pain, shoulder pain, hoof pain, old injury trauma and the like. Let’s rule out that as much as possible first. A horse's body (cellular) has a long memory. I look forward to your response.

Thank you for reaching out.

Sincerely, Franklin

Franklin, thanks for the reply. My mare seems just fine when she is turned out or on a long line. I currently have her on supplemental MSM to help with her cold back. Prior to putting her on it, she would always stop very heavy on her forehand, i.e. canter to trot transitions would involve her locking front legs and bouncing to a stop. She has no old injuries that I am aware of (I've had her for eight years), although the woman I purchased her from wasn't the most reliable horse dealer!

Thanks again, Chelsea

Hi Chelsea,

OK. If organic problems can be pretty much ruled out, I would continue to do even more on the ground. If you cannot get the horse to flex on the ground first, chances are she won't do it under saddle. If you have a round pen, take some panels away so as to make the circle smaller. Also, try gently lunging her on the lead rope. It is a shorter line and the horse will have to bend more. Really attempt to warm the mare up quite a bit before asking for much tight bending or flexing. It sounds like you probably know how to stand by the horse’s neck and flex her neck towards one side and then the other. Once she will do that, it should begin to get her bending and flexing going more on track.

As far as her speed transitions go I would continue to lung her on the ground and work on it that way. If you had a calm, mature horse you could 'pony' her from, the forward movement of that horse might inspire her to move out at a canter when she is being ponied. You could also haze her from that other horse to get her used to moving. If you can fashion a 'flag' as a motivator, that might help also. Once horses get the idea it is OK and painless to move forward at whatever speed is requested, they usually get it pretty fast and become more willing.

Good luck and please let me know how it all goes.

Sincerely, Franklin

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