How Counter Canter Strengthens Movements

German Licensed Trainer Volker Brommann explains why you need counter canter in your training.

The official U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) and FEI definition of counter canter: “This is a movement where the rider, for instance on a circle to the left, deliberately makes his horse canter with the right canter lead…The counter canter is a balancing movement. The horse maintains his natural flexion at the poll to the outside of the circle and the horse is positioned to the side of the leading leg. His conformation does not permit his spine to be bent to the line of the circle. The rider, avoiding any contortion causing contraction and disorder, should especially endeavor to limit the deviation of the quarters to the outside of the circle and restrict his demands according to the degree of suppleness of the horse.”

German trainer Volker Brommann rides New Holland (by Holland), a 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood owned by Charmayne Harrah. | Photo by Julie Wentscher

We do counter canter because it makes our horses agile, straight and strong.

In counter canter, when the rider tracks right in left lead canter or vice versa, the aids must become more precise and the feel for half halts more sophisticated. Counter canter teaches the rider to control her horse, and it teaches the horse to be controlled by the rider. If you can do a counter canter with quality, then you have significant control of your horse. It is a springboard for the high-level canter movements in the horse’s future training. Here are three specific examples:

1. Pirouettes. Counter canter improves the horse’s ability to move the forehand left or right. It makes the dressage horse handy.

2. Half pass. The counter canter gives the horse an enhanced acceptance of the rider’s outside leg, which improves his willingness to go forward and sideways in the half pass.

3. Flying changes. The counter canter adds power and expression to the flying change (and to the canter itself) because the horse learns a higher degree of acceptance of the rider’s outside leg. He learns that when his rider’s outside leg gives a little squeeze, he needs to engage his outside leg. Then when the rider’s other leg comes back, he needs to engage that leg. This concept becomes part of preparation for the flying changes. If a horse is lazy in the flying change, I often make him more active in the counter canter, and I will almost always get improvement in the flying change. On the other hand, horses that are over-controlled in the counter canter will often have trouble in the flying changes.

Volker Brommann rides counter canter to build strength, agility and straightness. | Photo by Julie Wentscher

Volker Brommann began coming to the United States in 1981. He apprenticed with Walter Christensen and became a licensed professional trainer (Pferdewietschaftsmeister) in 1988. He trains, competes and coaches riders through the FEI level and translates for U.S. dressage team coach Klaus Balkenhol at U.S. clinics.

Read Volker Brommann’s in-depth article on counter canter in the June 2007 issue of Dressage Today magazine.