Should you canter a driving horse – yes or no?
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Should you canter a driving horse – yes or no?

October 18, 2019

The debate about cantering in harness has been ongoing for years and
in this film we are going to discuss our viewpoint on the subject. In our opinion we
think that horses should be taught to work happily at all paces in harness which includes
the canter and gallop. We believe that a horse should be safe,
confident and happy in any sphere of harness work and the more your horse can do in harness the more confident it will be and the
wider both of your horizons will be. Whether you want to compete in driving
trials where faster paces can make the
difference between winning or losing, use the canter to aid interval training for
fitness on a pleasure drive, or give your coaching team a helping hand
by letting them spring a hill, canter should be treated as a valuable
additional not to mention natural gait just like
the walk and trot. So why do some people say not to canter
in harness? One reason they state is that the horse
will then start breaking to canter at the trot which is frowned upon in the show ring and or in a harness race. A ground covering extended trot can indeed be faster than a bouncy canter, however breaking pace is in the hands of
the driver. The fine line between pushing your horse forwards to get it to extend to
show the judges what they want to see yet asking it to remain at the trot before it thinks about changing gait should be able to be felt by the driver
and corrected before the horse actually changes pace.
Just as you should be able to get an active walk out of your horse without him
breaking to trot, the same logic applies when focusing on
the trot to canter transition. In harness racing hobbles are often used to keep the horses at a trot – you would
not expect to see these in the showring however. If your horse will work happily
at all paces, if it does break to a canter it is no big
deal; you simply ask it to come back to a trot and do some more work on discipline and transitions. If your
horse has never experienced a canter then if it ever does break to a canter
from a trot as you’re trying to extend for example, it could panic and bolt. You could then be
left with reschooling a runaway; a terrified horse who has physical and
mental scars from the incident who requires complete retraining long
before you can start working on your basic trot transitions again – if indeed it is even happy to go back
in harness. Some people argue that by teaching a
horse to canter it is more likely to run away because it
encourages the horse to utilize its faster gaits. Notwithstanding the fact that a horse is
a flight animal and therefore faster gaits are instinctive
to use, by that logic if the driver was to only
ever walk the horse one would assume that their horse would never run. Yet how many carriage drivers have experienced a horse breaking into a trot
when it is walking for example if it gets startled by a bird
jumping out of a hedge? How many have experienced a horse
attempting to walk off when it has been asked to stand still for example at a road junction. If we never
walked the horse in harness we would assume that it should always
remain at a perfect halt between the shafts. This would be highly impractical yet
people are happy to apply the same reasoning to canter when really it should be nothing to be
afraid of. As drivers should we really advocate that our horses should only work at the walk in case any faster gait encourages them to bolt? In our opinion it is the schooling and training of the horses and the control of his paces through
the driver and confidence both in the driver and himself that is key. We believe in training the
horse at every pace and then the driver can
choose which pace to work at. If you are worried about your horse
breaking into a canter then consider why you are worried; perhaps it is your own fear of the horse getting out of control due to a lack of training or confidence,
or concerns about how the horse will react indicating a lack of training for
example. Problems with transitions are a training matter and should not be resolved by
eliminating one pace from the horse’s driving. You should deal with the root cause of
the problem not mask it, a principle which is further explained
in our video about the use of kicking straps. To use a different analogy, if you are
driving a car with five gears you should be capable of controlling
that car in all five gears. We do not take our driving test solely in
first gear and then assume that this will
eliminate us from having an accident. Whether you choose to drive everywhere in first gear is your choice but at least you know if you do want to
use the other four higher gears you can do so. A car that only has one
gear would not be safe to take on a motorway for example where every other car might be traveling
in 5th gear, yet cars that have five gears can go everywhere a car with one gear can. So why do we canter on the roads as well
as on grass? Some people state concussion as a factor
in why they only walk on the roads; this point is discussed in more detail
in our the film about roadwork. We ensure every horse we train has
cantered both on the road and on grass. People often say that their horse gets
excited when worked on grass so we want to ensure we can work the
horses at a fast pace on a surface that they usually associate
with play in a wide open space so there are no
visual barriers such as a fence to restrain them. Asking the horse to come back from a gallop to a halt in a rubber bit while heading towards home shows that the horse is listening to the driver and has been trained properly. In our
opinion this is better than being faced with an overexcited horse pulling on the
bit and possibly becoming uncontrollable and
the driver being unable or unwilling therefore to take
them on grass. We also canter horses on the roads because the noise of the carriage behind the horse is somewhat muted on a grass or sand surface. On the roads any rattling noises from the
vehicle can be heard clearly as well as the noise of the horses’ own hooves. If your horse has only cantered on grass, the increased noise of the carriage at a fast pace behind the horse out on a
road can startle it. The horse thinks there is a scary monster
chasing it and then bolts. Therefore we ensure that horses have experienced the canter on a solid surface out on the roads. We canter them both on the flat and while going up hill showing that they are controllable when they have no weight behind them on the flat just the same as they are controllable
when they’re going up hill and have to pull the full load of the
carriage. This further enhances the point that
the horse is under the driver’s control in a variety of different situations both on and off-road and that the driver can
control them at every pace both on and off road. Even
if owners choose to only canter their horses off road once they take them home as trainers our job is to give horses
the best possible start to their education and that means exposing them to situations that they could encounter so that they’re less likely to be
frightened should it ever happen in the future. If a horse is trotting down the road and
slips, breaking into a canter, we think the driver should simply be
able to ask the horse back to a trot and continue on their drive rather than
be faced with a bolting horse on the public highway and potentially a
major disaster all because canter work was not included
during the horse’s initial training.

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  1. I drive with the RDA and they have a firm rule about no cantering in harness, however the riding section allow cantering under saddle! Its ridiculous rule.

  2. Awesome video! With my driving pony I allow her to canter in harness outside the ring, in the forest and on the roads. But when she enters the arena she is no longer permitted by me to canter because I do show her and want her to understand that the ring means a different type of driving unlike the road, and trail driving :)!

  3. I am so glad you did canter work with Sheraqui because I was always afraid to let my horses canter in harness, thinking they might run away with me.  But after you worked with Sheraqui I am happy to canter her knowing I have control.  Thank you

  4. Surely Edwardian, Victorian and earlier horses since they were domesticated have cantered in harness..if the doctor had to get somewhere quickly, for example, or because a train had to be caught.Love the Driving a car in 5th gear analogy. Makes massive sense to ask a horse to canter, as a controlled canter is way better than a sudden panicked breakaway. Great videos as usual.

  5. I used to drive Shires, they loved to canter, especially when pulling a meadowbrook cart….no effort at all and I never had any children go blind or fires start as a result of cantering in harness.  I currently drive a Fjord…she also loves to canter.  I'm an ex-3-day rider…cantering isn't dramatic or scary…just another fun jaunt down the trail.

  6. I find that cantering on our clay soiled,rutted field margins or tracks either shakes your teeth out or launches you into orbit, depending on the vehicle springs. On roads I find slipping is a big problem for the shetland and the ton+ cart horse, I've tried road nails but they made little difference. Any ideas?

  7. I wish someone would have done that to my quarter pony….. The first time he was driven in years, he spooked at my moms horse coming up from behind him, he was wearing blinders which he was not used to. He broke from a trot to a canter, went off the road, dumped me from from the cart, and took off. We found him down the road a ways. A farmer found him all hung up and got him free. He completely ruined the cart and couldn't be riden or driven in months due to a sprained ankle. We since then only driven him once. He no longer feels comfortable driving. He ground drives fine, just hooking him to the cart is scary for him. I hope he will be able to be driven again before he retires.

  8. hello , i enjoy your videos very much , and hear you mention a video about roadwork , i can't seem to find it ?
    could you share a link ?

  9. its makes more sense to have had the horse canter in harness in control if for nothing else than to have him experience it before the horse gets scared and finds himself cantering

  10. I love every video you make you are a superb asset to the driving world and the horse world. I tell everyone to watch your videos. Especially this one. The best explanation I've heard yet. Keep making awesome videos and training the no non sense ways that you do. You're great!

  11. The 3rd shot of the 2 bays that are trotting in sync is amazing they are paired up so well! I love your videos and the things your teaching. I may never do any driving but a lot of what your talking about applies for under saddle as well.

  12. I just don't get the "they will get too excited" nonsense. If they are getting too excitable because they cantered, then you have missed much in their training in the first place and should go back to basics. Any properly trained horse should be able to calmly execute any pace, and I feel this is especially true in the driven horse. Cantering is a regular part of my Fjord's driving repertoire. Thanks for the great videos.

  13. I agree it’s really important to train at all paces – it’s key to ensure that the horse remains calm no matter what you’re asking of it. However, as a former farrier, I’ve seen too many horses who’ve sustained injuries from working on hard surfaces in unforgiving steel shoes.

  14. they dont show any horses slipping on asphalt…I would worry about that alot! we were told to never trot or canter on asphalt

  15. I always understood it was because of the violent swaying of the vehicle, which in the coaching days was uncomfortable for the passengers, and that is why they bred special trotting horses – for their smooth gait. The vehicles used by Mr Hook are state of the art and vastly superior to the old vehicles with their iron tyres. I've mostly only had horrible, home made jogging carts which did not even have a swingle tree, only hooks on the shafts. No springs either and they certainly did get up a sway which sometimes caused rubbing at the breastplate. I also had an original vintage gig which had iron tyres and it was deafening on the road. However i loved to gallop – still do. When i was younger would race my quarter pony mare – funny enough in a rubber snaffle – against her half sister, both in trotting sulkies. Flat out on the mud flats. Inspired by watching a showman who used to do chariot racing at agricultural shows. I have slipped on the road – riding not driving – no helmet and fractured my skull. Ah the good old days.

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