Basics of Riding

How To Ride || The Canter

Dear Newb,

The expression goes that you should learn to walk before you try to run. Cantering is fun, it is the gait that comes after the trot. It’s faster than the trot and can be difficult to sit. As a newb to riding you will first master the trot before you begin learning to canter. Your instructor should have a good idea when you are ready.
I suggest you not only get good at the posting trot before you begin cantering but also the sitting trot and two point position at the trot.

The canter is a three beat gait, with a set of diagonal pairs, a leading front leg and a moment of suspension. Footfalls for cantering to the right should be 1) left hind, 2)right hind and left front are the diagonal pair and 3) right front (leads in front of the other legs). The opposite for cantering to the left.

In this post I will share with you what a good canter looks like, how to ask the horse to canter, how to ride the canter, how to ask the lazy horse to get into the canter and keep cantering, and how to ask the horse to trot from the canter.

What does a good canter sitting look like?

In a good canter sitting the horse is on the correct lead, moving forward with a steady three beat rhythm. The horse is relaxed and supple over his back. The riders leg remains stable but supple. The rider is relaxed, seat rocks with the motion of the canter without coming out of the saddle. That is unless the rider is in two point. Head remains over shoulders , the shoulders over the hips and the hips over the rider heels. The rider’s arms are elastic with the contact and follows the motion of the horse’s head.

Common Errors In The Canter

The horse requires multiple attempts to achieve the canter.

The horse picks up the incorrect lead.

The horse is leaning on the rider’s hand

The horse is tense throughout the neck and back

The horse is on the forehand.

The horse speeds in the trot unbalanced.

The horse is crooked.

The horse kicks out as an objection to the rider’s leg

The rider timing of the aids is off.

The rider’s upper body falls forward.

The rider’s bouncing in the saddle resembling the posting trot.

The rider is tense.

The rider’s legs rising up with toes pointing down

The rider is not following with hands and jerks horse in the mouth

KEEP IN MIND: Each horse is trained a bit different. Riding is more of an art than a science. Ask the owner or trainer what signals the horse recognizes for whatever you are wanting to ask the horse. I am just telling you the signals I use on my own horses.


How To Ask The Horse To Canter

1) Preparation:
First get the horse into a forward posting trot. Make sure the horse is balanced and listening to your aids. You will want to do a couple half halts to prepare the horse. Sit the trot a few strides before you ask for the canter.
Make sure your horse is properly warmed up before asking for a canter.

2) Timing:
Make sure you ask for the canter at the right time to make it easier on you and the horse. The easiest place for a horse to transition into the canter is just before you reach a corner or when you’re rounding the corner of a circle. This helps the horse get the correct lead.

3) Aids to ask horse to canter:
Sit the trot a few strides before asking.
Sit up tall and back slightly, though not too much.
Put a little weight on your inside seat bone and bring it slightly forward.
Position your inside leg at the girth
Bend your horse slightly to the inside
Slide your outside leg back and squeeze
Push with your back
Give with your hands
These steps are all within one-tenth of a second.

3) Release
After a couple strides soften your aids and follow your horses movement. Read below about riding the canter.

TIP: Breathing in lightens your seat. Breathing out deepens your seat. So for upward transition think breathing in and getting lighter.


Incorrect Aids:

Beginning riders often block their horses until they learn to balance over the center of the horse and are able to apply their aids independently. If the rider’s hips lock or the rider grips with the thighs, they restrict the horse’s forward movement. The reaction to this may range from a horse that uses it as an excuse to stop to the sensitive type of horse who runs away from the gripping. Clamping with the legs or bracing against the stirrups also restricts the horse. Stiff elbows that do not ‘give’ forward as the horse strikes off can block the horse’s forward momentum or cause the horse to ‘pop’ into the canter awkwardly or not canter at all.

Many riders inadvertently draw their inside leg up when they apply it. When the calf or thigh muscles of the inside leg tighten they push the rider’s weight from the inside to the outside seat bone causing the horse to take the wrong lead. Gripping with both thighs or tipping forward lifts both of the rider’s seat bones off the saddle. If you are gripping, think of being bow legged and taking your thigh away from the saddle when you stretch down your leg and lift with your calf.
-Stop Struggling with Canter Departs

by Nancy Wesolek-Sterrett
Head of Dressage Department, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre

Riding The Canter


Your ear, shoulder, hip and heel should line up. Your back should straight but remain soft and supple to allow your hips to rock with the horse’s movement when cantering. A stiff back will make the canter uncomfortable for both horse and rider.


As in the walk, the horse nods it’s head in canter and so you should keep your elbows relaxed allowing your hands to move forward and back with the movement of the horse’s head.


You should roll your hips forward and back in time with the horses two beat footfalls. As the outside front leg comes forward you should rise and as it goes back you should sit. As you rise squeeze your thighs and knees a bit instead of standing in the stirrups, which causes your knee to brace and your lower leg to move out of place. You will see if you take your feet out of the stirrups and try to post you use your thighs to do so. Also as you ride and come forward let your weight drop into your thighs.


How To Get The Lazy Horse To Canter

Like I have said in other posts, beginner riders tend to get put on lazier horses that are a bit dull to the aids. A lot of times these lazy horses will just speed up in the trot and not go right into the canter. The horse is testing you and trying to get away with minimum effort. You have to be clear, consistent and patient.

First make sure the horse is responsive to walk trot transitions. Then get your horse into a forward trot.  Set the horse up for success ask for the canter going into a corner, be clear with your aids, and if you have a lazy horse it may help to use voice command. If the horse is not responding you may have to squeeze harder, if that doesn’t working use your heels, and if that doesn’t work give him a kick or several good kicks. The main thing is that you ask until the horse responds.

Your signals should get progressively stronger and be clear to the horse that you want him to move forward. Once the horse responds and transitions into the canter relax and move with your horse. If the horse slows down and breaks into the trot reorganize and ask for the canter again always start with the lightest signal first, but be as strong as you need to in order to get the job done. Once you get the horse cantering, give some quick squeezes to remind the horse to keep going. When he responds relax. If you feel the horse slow down in the canter like he might break into the trot catch him before that happens send him forward  and when he responds relax again. Repeat the process, until the horse maintains the speed on his own.


How To Ask The Horse To Come Back To Trot From The Canter

1) Preparation:
So your horse is cantering at this point. Just like anytime you are going to ask the horse something new you want to prepare and signal subtly to your horse that you are going to ask for a transition. Give a couple squeezes on the reins to let the horse know your about to ask something.

2) Signal horse To Come Down To The Trot:
Sit into the saddle closing both of your calves on the horse’s sides. Take contact with both reins and apply light pressure until the horse comes down to a walk. Progressively apply more pressure until the horse responds.

3) Release
As soon as the horse comes down to the trot immediately release the rein pressure and post with the trot.

TIP: Usually coming down into the trot may not be pretty. The horse may be quick in the trot and you may be a little unbalanced. Think about staying tall and slow down your posting to help you horse slow down his trot.


Cheers and God Bless!


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