How to Canter Like a Pro in Five Steps April 20 2015 8 Comments

The five steps that will help you canter a horse like a pro

The expression goes that you should learn to walk before you try to run. And unless something has gone horribly wrong, you’re just as unlikely to see a toddler in a marathon as you are to see a beginner rider starting out at a canter. Instead, beginners will start out in riding lessons that are meant to help master the trot before starting on the canter.

But whether you’re a beginner or an advanced rider, we’ve all got room to improve when it comes to any gait, canter included. Here are some tips to help you reach the next level.

1. Compose Yourself

A big one for beginners, make sure you organize yourself and your horse before you even ask your horse to canter. If you just SURPRISE your horse by yelling “CANTER” at them soon as your teacher asks you to go for it, he or she will be incredibly confused (maybe even alarmed) and have a hard time giving you what you want. When it’s finally time to step into that canter, take a moment to walk yourself through the steps of what comes next as if it were a little mantra (outside hand, outside leg, and then ask), and ensure you have your horse’s attention by sliding your bridle around and asking them to walk right up to it.

Then if you insist, you can yell “canter”. But it’s probably better to just ask nicely…

2. Follow Through

And follow through for longer than you think you need to. Many of the school horse whizzes that we learn to canter on are captains of quitting. In fact, your lesson on them has likely disturbed their afternoon of sleeping in the round bale outside so…. ya know…in their minds, you deserve to be quit on. Following through means continuing the “asking” stages of the canter queue past the point of your horse stepping into it. If you remove that leg and discontinue use of that outside hand when you feel the first step of that lovely rocking canter, Buster-round-bales will say “uh uh, honey” and drop right into a nice little trot for you.

Now this doesn’t mean you should kick your horse and jam the outside rein down their throat. Rather, it gently but firmly reminds your horse that you are seriously, well and truly asking them to canter and that you will keep asking until they give you that canter!

3. Collection is Key

Maintaining your horse’s carriage by using that bridle and pushing their back legs up to it is key to keeping them from quitting on you.  The second your horse stretches out like a piece of putty, the easier it is for them to drop into the trot. Use your core to sit back and down so that you can effectively use your bridle to keep them together and don’t forget to get the push from their back end that will allow you to ask for more carriage.

4. Hula Hoop Those Hips

Just like when you swing a hula hoop around in the yard, those loose whirling hips are essentially what you end up doing during the canter to get a smooth, effortless canter.  Relaxing your hip flexors and sitting down in that saddle will keep your canter from traveling up your back and from giving you the appearance that you’re riding a bucking bronco.

5. Relax

This is a big next step in your equestrian training.  You’ve probably been counting down the days till this moment, but here’s the thing: the first time you canter, a big, silly smile will creep across your face and all your nerves about being perfect on the first go will drip away because, above all else, it’s REALLY fun. You will make mistakes and you will probably feel stupid more than once, but that is a necessary part of learning and growing, so just relax and enjoy!

Have any ‘first canter’ stories?  Share the with us in the comments down below!