Half Dozen Farm says -"My mare can canter in a 70' round pen, but she's too fast and falls in. She has a big, long stride and is unbalanced and on her forehand. However, I feel safest in the round pen. In an arena, she's flat scary to canter. She switches leads willynilly, breaks to a bone jarring trot, drops her shoulder, staggers around and just basically tries to jolt me out of the saddle any way she can."
Let's start here. A 70' round pen is not big enough for her. A round pen has plenty of uses, but I seldom use them to lope my horses. I have found the horse will always lean in, unless it's the kind that slants outward at the top.
I want Half Dozen to really think here. Where is she safer? In a round pen where she's tripping and falling? Or in an arena where she can have room to move......
Half Dozen said -"She's terribly lazy in the round pen, a bit better in the arena, and really nice out in an open area."
My guess is she is unable to move comfortably in the round pen, has a slightly easier time in the arena and feels comfortable and safe in the open. Your mare deserves a big hug for being "pluggy" in order to tell you she's struggling. Many horses will let you know they're having a problem by bucking or bolting. She really is being a good girl.
I know I insist you need to have your horse comfortable at the WTC before anything else. Well there's a big old BUT that shows up in every theory.
This mare knows how to lope. Her issue now is learning to pack a rider in her new life as a saddle horse. So I would be trotting this horse a lot in order to help her.
We have a couple of issues here. The mare is stiff and uncomfortable and Half Dozen doesn't feel safe enough to just "go." I am on your side here, BTW, if you don't feel safe you need to listen to your gut.
My suggestion would be to take this mare to the arena. I would set up some drills for her to help her get her body under control. The lead swapping and death trot tell me she isn't in control of herself on the turns and she's stiff through her body. The knee surgery might come into play, but she should limp if it's a big problem.
The drills I would use would be fairly simple. I would trot her on the rail (posting on the correct diagonal) and sit deep about 6-10 strides before the corner. My outside leg would push her hindquarters in towards the center, my inside leg would support at the cinch and I would guide with a soft leading rein on the inside and a stronger supporting rein on the outside.
When I felt her hindquarters move toward the center I would relax for a few strides then set up for the next corner.
On the long sides of the arena I would deepen me seat, slow my horse,then relax my aids and just post until I am setting up for the end again.
When she can comfortably handle this I would start doing serpentines. I would use the whole arena, post and hold her straight through the middle, then sit my trot and wrap her around my inside leg through my turns. Practice picking up your diagonal first step out of the turn, it's a great rider exercise too.
I would start doing LOTS of transitions between the walk the trot and the extend trot. I would mix them up, sometimes extend through the turns, sometimes go way slow.
Out on the trail I would keep up the transition work. Except I would add the lope. I would expect her to learn to lope off my kiss and trot off my cluck. I would practice picking up my leads on the trail. I would try to bring her down to a trot before she thought of breaking gait.
That's what I'd do. I would lope in the arena when I felt she could do it.....get back to me when you think your ready.
Horses and Turbos - when you finally ask for the change by pushing out their hind legs, do they have to make the change because they become unbalanced and physically have to change? I can't see them at first thinking "Oh, so she wants me to change me lead now, she's pushing my hind end over."
I don't initiate lead changes off a counter canter. That doesn't mean I'm saying your trainer is wrong-it's just not how I do it. But I still think I can answer your question.
When a horse lopes he pushes off with his outside hind leg.
It goes 1. outside hind
2. inside hind and outside front
3. inside front
When you cue by pushing your horses hip in the other direction, in order to comply, he will have to change the push off leg, or the outside hind, once the hind foot changes the rest should follow.
That's why we're judged on when the hind changes, not the front. If a horse is "cross-firing" or going on one lead in the front and another in the back that will be judged as out of lead....
But it's a matter of obedience to a cue more than throwing them off balance.
Nancy C said- In my mind I am thinking I need to just cue her into it while MAKING myself leave the reins alone, let her canter a bit, then bring her down and do it again. My fear is that she bucks, but somehow has learned how to really buck.... so I would have to really work on letting her have her head. A kinda grab the horn and let her go sort of thing? Or do you have a better idea?
Nancy has the same feeling Half Dozen does. Her gut is telling her she might get pasted. We can get this lope thing taken care of without getting thrown.
I would start this mare along the fence of an arena. Just leave her alone and only guide her if she leaves the rail. Then steer her back with just the outside rein. Just pull her nose to the fence and let her go again.
When she learns to stick to the rail on her own, you can ask her to lope. By guiding with only one hand and then only if she leaves the rail you have freed up your other hand enough to hang onto the horn if you want.
Let her long trot into the lope. She will be a little strung out and less inclined to buck. Only lope a few steps at first and then let her trot again.
I would do a lot of limbering and W/T transitions. When she lopes without bucking, even a few steps, I would quit for the day. So save the lope for the end of the ride. Try to relax and don't pull, then be done.