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Technique dressage : The counter canter

Technique dressage : The counter canter

Discover the step-by-step process to develop and refine your horse's counter canter in dressage. From establishing straightness to navigating curved lines and incorporating transitions, these 8 steps will guide you towards achieving balance, responsiveness, and confidence in the counter canter. Patience and attention to detail are key as you progress through each stage, ensuring a solid foundation for your horse's advancement in this fundamental exercise.

How to succeed in your counter canter and when to use it?


The counter canter appears in young horse competitions starting from the age of five and in amateur level 3 tests. A relevant tool to test the quality of dressage, it is also a proven stepping stone to reach higher-level movements. Accessible to all riders and horses regardless of their level and ambition, certain prerequisites need to be considered in order to approach the counter canter with confidence.


Mastering the Counter Canter: Controlling Speed, Amplitude, and Rhythm


In the initial stages, it is essential to control the speed and amplitude, incorporating variations within the gait. Your horse should be capable of extending the strides without rushing and shortening the strides without slowing down. This goes hand in hand with absolute mastery of rhythm, ensuring the three beats of the canter are religiously maintained at all times. To achieve this, balance must be maintained both on straight lines and curves. The size of the strides can be modified as desired, but it should never compromise the accuracy of the canter.

Before attempting the counter canter, the horse should be comfortable on circles and voltes (refer to the Dressage Technique on the volte), which demonstrate their ability to collect and bend. Starting this exercise without control of the gait would be futile, as it requires stability, consistency, and suppleness.


The Importance of Straightness in Counter Canter


It is crucial to emphasize that the counter canter cannot be achieved without straightness. When performing the counter canter, ensure that the horse is cantering in a straight line, with the shoulders slightly ahead of the hindquarters while containing the outside hind leg. The horse should be slightly flexed but never twisted, remaining responsive to the contact. Maintaining an equal contact on both reins, the hind legs should follow in the tracks of the front legs, whether on a straight line or on a circle. Control of the outside rein is essential in this regard.

Without straightness, the horse cannot achieve the collection necessary for the counter canter. While counter canter is a beneficial exercise to correct a crooked horse, the absence of straightness coupled with an imbalance will make learning the counter canter challenging.


Maintaining Balance and Precision in Counter Canter


To avoid the common trap of a flying change, the horse must willingly respond to your reins and respect your aids, highlighting the importance of precision and stability from the rider. In counter canter on the right lead, the left leg is slightly positioned back to control the hindquarters and indicate the direction of the canter. The right leg remains down and close to the horse's side, supporting flexion and impulsion. The rider's shoulders subtly turn to the right, accompanying a slight flexion in that direction. The weight of the rider's body remains balanced in both stirrups, with a slight emphasis on sitting more on the side of the counter canter.

Avoid exaggerating the flexion in an attempt to salvage the counter canter, as it may compromise straightness. Reinforce your aids momentarily if the horse struggles, but immediately release the pressure. Excessive use of the inside rein or outside leg can hinder the exercise. With the horse remaining straight on both reins, maintain the counter canter through subtle leg aids. Eventually, you should be able to maneuver the horse's shoulders and hindquarters, alternating between flexion and counter-flexion without disrupting the counter canter.


8 Steps to Counter Canter


1. Establish Straightness: Ensure the horse is straight against the rail before moving to the inner track. The quarter line allows you to test your horse's independence from the wall, his responsiveness to aids, and his ability to carry himself.


2. Half Circle and Transition: At the end of the arena, execute a half-circle with a diameter of about twelve meters (adjust according to the horse's level/age) and rejoin the track halfway down the long side through a diagonal line, gradually reducing the angle in counter canter. Ask for a trot transition before reaching the corner.


3. Curved Line: Create a curved line, gradually adjusting the trajectory as needed. Initially, direct the trajectory toward the first quarter line while keeping the angle wide and rounded. Then, aim for X to quickly return to the track, tightening the turn in counter canter.


4. Half Volte and Curved Line: Add complexity by drawing a half volte with a diameter of around ten meters, reaching the middle of the long side (at E or B). Follow it with a notched curved line, allowing you to return to counter canter immediately. Be sure to extend and elongate the angles as desired.


5. Repeat the Half Volte: Repeat the half volte, this time followed by a half circle of twenty meters in counter canter, away from the rail to avoid corners and provide an option to return to true canter if needed. Return to true canter through a half diagonal, developing the stride.


6. Extend the Counter Canter: Repeat the exercise, maintaining counter canter for an additional length or even adding a second half circle of twenty meters in counter canter.


7. Serpentine Test: Challenge the ease of your counter canter with a three-loop serpentine.


8. Refine the Canter: Improve the quality of the canter by combining working canter on a twenty-meter circle in true canter and medium canter on a twenty-meter circle in counter canter. Repeat this combination multiple times to optimize balance and amplitude.


Remember, patience is key to success. Do not rush through any step. Dressage training progress is rarely linear, so don't hesitate to go back and reinforce previous achievements. Gradually increasing your expectations for counter canter will ensure your horse's confidence in this fundamental exercise for his progress.