I took my daughter for her first canter the other day. It was perfect! That was my Christmas miracle, the fact that there are perfect ponies, ponies that can give a child their first canter, ponies that will slow down if the rider is losing their balance, ponies that are simply perfect for the job they do.
We ask horses and ponies to do a range of different jobs. From riding school ponies, to racehorses, from para-dressage horses to showjumpers. They are endlessly obliging to our strange whims and desires. They are patient and tolerant, and when we decide that they should doing one thing and start doing another, they simply adapt.
It is simply astonishing when you think about it that they put up with us! They are far stronger than us, they could simply decide not to co-operate, but they don’t.
The pony that took my daughter for a canter, was incredible. The first time it simply went for a few strides. By the fifth canter, when the pony was more confident in the little rider, it went off happily and carried on cantering along the tracks.
Ponies like that are priceless, giving people good experiences builds confidence. Teaching children to ride by putting them on naughty ponies doesn’t help anyone. The children learn that ponies can be dangerous, the pony learns that it is in charge. Learning through positive experiences creates a better result, it creates harmony, and enjoyment. Lots of my childhood riding experiences were based around fear. Children don’t learn when they are scared, they learn when they are happy.
My Christmas miracle is a little pony called Dolly, and watching my daughter on that wonderful first canter. That was better than any fancily wrapped gift sat under the tree.
Your horse can only communicate his distress or discomfort to you via his behaviour. It is very unlikely that he is being “naughty” by not cantering on the left lead when he will do so on the right lead. Horses, in general, do not wake up in the morning thinking of ways to wind you up.
If your horse cannot canter on either leg, then he is most likely confused about the canter aid, and will need more training in order to help him to understand. But if he can canter on one leg but not the other, the problem is most likely to be physical.
Our horses, like us, can be stronger on one side than the other, so it is easier to pick up one canter than the other. Or there could be weakness or pain that is preventing him from picking up the correct lead.
Equally, it is worth checking with yourself that you are asking for the canter aid in the correct way on both reins and are not inadvertently confusing him.
Start by watching your horse walk and trot away and towards you in hand, and see if you can see any difference in movement between the right and the left side. Carrot stretches to both the left and right are a good way to see any imbalance between the two sides, making sure you stay safe while performing them. It can be advisable to seek professional advice, either a physiotherapist or similar, will be able to assess and treat your horse. They should be able to offer exercises to help you and your horse.
Once you are confidence that your horse is physically able to carry out what you are asking, you should find that he is happy to canter on both leads. There may be some initial reluctance as your horse may remember that it used to be uncomfortable, but this should soon pass, as he realises that he is now capable of cantering on the left and the right.