I've started a handful of green horses, but as I've shared before, once they had a gas pedal, brakes, and a steering wheel, I've hit the trail. When we wanted to canter, especially the first time, my green beans just followed another horse who cantered. Before you knew it, they figured out the canter cue. And since we always started on a relatively straight path, they didn't really struggle with their balance. And for safety's sake, we usually chose a gradual uphill, or a sandy river bottom trail.
Teaching a horse to canter by himself on a circle, as large as it is, has turned out to be harder than I suspected. And when you add in the fact that Izzy is also on the lazy side, you get a rider doing most of the cantering! It takes a huge amount of core strength (and upper body) to keep him moving forward.
It was JL who suggested we were ready to start the canter work. We've progressed from quiet circles at the walk to trotting a 20-meter circle at the trot while maintaining a rhythm to changes of direction at the trot. Once he was doing all of that without any fear-based tension, JL suggested we pick up the canter.
Fortunately, she knew it wasn't going to just happen when I moved my inside seat bone forward. Nor was it going to happen by putting my inside leg at the girth and my outside leg behind the girth while adding a little scoop to my seat. She warned me that I was going to have to ride like a newbie who doesn't know how to canter a horse. There was a lot of kicking and scooping of my seat (combined with a lot of flailing of my arms) before he finally broke into a rough and unsteady canter.
We've been working on it for a week now - five days straight. He's definitely getting some balance, but getting the initial canter departure is taking a while. I make sure I ask from the sitting trot, I make sure my legs are in the correct position, I scoop my seat, and then I kick, scoop, kick, give a yeehaw, and try desperately hard not to unbalance him!
We've also discovered that he needs to be moving with a lot of forward. I can't ask him to slow down at all or he gets a bit humpy. I also have to ride him in two point so that he can move his back. He's not balanced or strong enough for me to sit the canter yet.
My job is to just help steady him, work the outside rein to get the turn, and just be solid with the contact. Once he settles into a quiet rhythm without all the squealing, head flinging, and careening around, I ask for a walk. His downward transitions are actually very nice. I simply step into my outside stirrup and he transitions to the trot and then walk very quietly.
We've only cantered to the left, and all three gaits still need tons of work, but he is feeling like a green broke horse. Just yesterday, after three good canter sets, we actually made our way to the far end of the arena where we did some walking exercises over the poles. We finished up with a long walk back to the gate with no spooks or worry.
My plan is to continue working him consistently through the week. He'll then get two solid weeks off while we're on vacation. Hopefully he'll be able to use that time to process all that he's learned over the past month or so.