Excerpt from Francois Lemaire de Ruffieu's new book: Divide and Conquer Book 1: Fundamentals of Dressage (hardcover)
The horse is said to be at the counter-canter when he is cantering on the right lead while tracking left or on the left lead tracking right. The advantages of the counter-canter study are listed below.
• To confirm the stability and the tempo of the canter on both leads,
• To confirm the horizontal balance, i.e. equal weight distribution among the four legs.
• To straighten the horse who has a tendency to canter sideways, i,e haunches deviating toward the lead direction.
• To amplify the canter strides (an opposite bend to the canter lead amplifies the stride).
• To flex the horse’s loins, which will result in activating and engaging the horse’s hind legs.
Rider’s aids for the counter-canter are the same as the correct canter leads but in reverse: Tracking to the left the aids for the right lead canter will be as follows (it will be the opposite for the left lead):
• Right active indirect rein;
• Left passive rein to allow the action of the right rein;
• Right active leg at the girth;
• Left passive leg behind the girth;
• The rider, sitting straight and centered, with slightly more weight on the left seat bone, if necessary.
• Nota Bene •
If the horse is inexperienced, the rider should support and maintain the lead with her legs. When the horse is confirmed and more capable in maintaining the counter-canter, the rider will act tactfully with the leg at the girth and only when necessary.
How to prepare the horse for the counter-canter.
1. At the trot follow the patterns of “counter changes” with gradually smaller angles. (Counter changes are two oblique lines going in opposite directions.) To become more flexible, the horse must learn to change direction with ease.
2. At the canter follow the same progression as the preparatory trot work,
3. From the correct canter lead, reverse direction and maintain the counter canter on a straight line and follow the track of the arena.
4. Maintain the horse at the counter-canter on a circle, and with practice gradually maintain the counter-canter on smaller circles.
5. Maintain the counter-canter while riding a figure eight,
6. Maintain the counter-canter on a serpentine.
7. Teach the horse to begin the counter-canter from the opposite direction, i.e., begin with the right lead while traveling left.
• Nota Bene •
To avoid difficulties when studying the counter-canter, the rider should always look in the direction that she is going, which will place her body in the correct position and support the canter lead with her leg acting at the girth. If a horse has a poor balance at the canter, the counter-canter should be taught as soon as the horse is able to maintain the canter on both leads. If the horse has a good balance, the counter-canter will be less necessary and should be taught after the horse has learned the flying changes of lead.
Problem: The horse cannot maintain the counter-canter lead in either one or the other direction or both.
1. The rider should maintain fixity and steadiness of her aids because when the horse is not confirmed, the rider’s slightest unnecessary movement may disrupt the horse’s equilibrium causing him to change lead or break to a trot on his weak side.
2. The rider should need to re-visit the rotation of the shoulders around the haunches and the rotation of the haunches around the shoulders. These rotations will supple the horse laterally and remedy any weakness.
The rider should also work on a larger counter change angle. Time and practice will allow both horse and rider to become more familiar with the aids and the turns. When the horse is more agile, the horse should be able to maintain the counter-canter in either directions.
• Nota Bene •
To improve the jump and the amplification of the canter strides when the horse is confirmed in performing the counter-canter, the rider should place the horse’s head in a counter bend, (to the left for the right lead and vice-versa to the left lead). Then solicit the horse to lower his neck and head before demanding for an increase of the speed.
The counter-canter is also a wonderful test for the rider to determine her fixity in the saddle, i.e., the absence of all unnecessary body movement."
Copyright 2015 Francois Lemaire de Ruffieu
Francois Lemaire de Ruffieu grew up in France. He was first trained by Master Jean Couillaud and graduated in 1967 from the Cadre Noir, one of the oldest and most prestigious riding academies in Europe. During his 6 years in the cavalry at Saumur and Fontainebleau, he studied and showed extensively in dressage, stadium jumping, three day eventing and steeplechase. He taught riding in Paris at the Military School of War. Since 1978, he has given clinic throughout United States of America and Europe. His students have won year-end high-score awards in equitation, hunter classes, stadium jumping, dressage, and combined training. Since 1988, he has been a panel member of the American Riding Instructor Certification Program and in 1996 he was awarded the title of Master Instructor. He currently lives in Florida.
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