So last time we talked, we were starting to think about cantering. We discussed if you thought you were ready or not. I emphasized that it is no rush…horsemanship is a journey. Not a weekend trip or day trip!
Your Instructor Says You Are Ready!
Your instructor says you are ready to canter. You have a solid position and are developing independent seat and hands. Most likely by now, you have cantered a few strides here or there by accident. Honestly, I sometimes think that is the best way to canter for the first time, unintentionally! Why is that? If your horse just breaks into a canter, you won’t have time to think about it. You will just ride, half halt and slow your horse back to a trot. Maybe you were going up or down a hill and your horse took a few canter strides. Maybe you popped over a cross rail and your horse landed and took a canter stride or two.
Don’t Make It A “Thing”
We don’t want to make it a big deal, something to worry about. I want you to be so confident in the trot that trying a canter is something new and exciting. Not a “thing” that you worry about. As you know, being tense never helps us or our horses. We want to be as relaxed as possible!
How To Ask For The Canter
Your horse is going to push with his inside hind leg first as he transitions to canter. That being said, we are going to use our outside leg to ask our horse to canter. That way you are pushing him to the inside. Then he should easily take the correct lead. What does that mean? What is the correct lead? Don’t even worry about it right now. I want you to get comfortable with the canter first. For now, your instructor can tell you if you are on the wrong lead, and you can come back to trot to fix it.
So, we are going to be trotting with a lot of energy. Our horse should be in front of our leg, meaning he is moving out easily. Taking you forward promptly when you put your leg on to ask him to go forward. If he isn’t moving out in the trot, he isn’t going to want to move out in the canter either.
Outside Leg At The Girth Or A Little Behind, Inside Leg At The Girth
You are going to use your outside leg, some horses respond better to it if it is slightly back from the girth. You can check with your instructor to find out the exact cue that your horse is trained to. Generally, it is inside leg at the girth and then giving a little more pressure on the outside leg. Some horses just take a squeeze other horses you may need to kick with the outside leg. When I say kick, I mean using the lightest pressure first, and only kicking harder if your horse doesn’t respond.
A Big Push
When your horse goes from trot to canter as he pushes off into it, you will feel that push. It is important to remember to sit nice and deep and try not to pull on the reins accidentally as they are going into canter. The more you do it, the more easily you will be able to use your seat and leg independently in the transition. It is important that you know about the push your horse takes as he transitions to canter. That way you can follow his motion, which encourages him to keep moving forward.
How Does It Feel?
When your horse gets into a canter, I think you will be surprised how much smoother it is than trotting. Since the horse pushes under more with his haunches to canter, it tends to push us riders up off the saddle. As you practice you will learn to sit deep during the transition and keep your seat more solid in the saddle.
Don’t Think Of Cantering As Going Faster
Yes, of course, canter is faster than a trot. In your mind, it won’t be as daunting if you just think of it as a change in gait. You ask for the canter, your horse goes forward in a different gait, moving differently than at the trot.
Focus on it as a change of rhythm not so much a change of speed. It is less scary that way.
Your Horse Canters All The Time!
Remember, your horse canters all the time! He was born knowing how to. He cantered next to his momma when he was a foal. Now, he canters around the field with his herd mates.
You aren’t asking your horse to do anything that is unfamiliar to them. Learning to canter is more about how to ask them and how to keep your seat as you canter, than about how the horse is doing it.
Eventually, you will learn about collection and more advanced skills to use at the canter to control how the horse carries himself. That is down the road though. Not something that you need to think about as you are learning the basics of the transition to canter and your seat in the canter.
A Few Steps At A Time, Maybe On The Lunge Line
Depending on your lesson horse, or your instructor, they may start you cantering on the lunge line. Some instructors prefer to teach the canter coming out of the corner and up the long side. It is just a matter of preference.
If you are still a little nervous, ask your instructor to be on the lunge line the first couple times. That way you can concentrate fully on your cues to your horse and your balance. Your instructor can help with steering your horse in a circle on the lunge line.
You will learn to canter a few strides at a time. You will ask your horse for the canter, sit back and try to stay balanced in the transition, and then work on deepening your seat and sitting up tall.
You can do that all in a few strides. Get a nice trot, ask for the canter, canter a half a circle, or long side, whichever your instructor recommends. Then ask your horse to come back to trot. Reorganize your trot, until it is back to the familiar trot you are used to. Then ask for the canter again.
The Transition Is The Hardest Part
Learning to canter a few steps at a time is great because the transition from trot to canter is the hardest part of cantering. By cantering a few strides and then coming back to the trot, you are getting used to being balanced in the transition. Learning to ride the canter and improving your seat at the canter will feel easy compared to learning how to be able to sit the transition from trot to canter.
Knowledge Is Confidence
Hopefully, I just told you a lot more about cantering than you already knew! Having a better idea of exactly what to expect should hopefully make you feel more confident to give it a try.
Just like everything else with horses, it just takes time and practice. Everyone learns and gains confidence at a different pace, and that is okay! You will get it! Remember when trotting seemed scary and now it’s no big deal? It won’t be long until cantering isn’t scary either!