What is it About Canter?
Posted by Lorraine on Mar 10, 2012
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Do you spend most of your schooling sessions in trot? Most riders do. Whether you’re trying to get your horse on the bit, straight or sitting back on his hocks it seems trot is the pace to use. So why is canter the pace to finish with rather than work with?
The easy answer is canter causes more problems than trot. It’s often more exciting for the horse, unsettling for a novice rider and exhausting for those with a horse that is less than energetic! There’s only one solution – use it! After your warm up this week spend the rest of your time in canter. Why not? It’s just a pace. The more you do of it the easier it will become. Every horse is different. Your horse’s temperament will affect how you tackle it and the exercises you need to use.
If your horse is sharp cantering for long periods can make matters worse. You’ll get a build up of adrenalin that means he won’t be able to concentrate. You need to engage his brain more than his hocks. Ride 10m circles at every marker, ride a 20m circle at E/B with 10m circles at each tangent point or ride a spiral into the middle of the circle and back out again. Join these ideas together so you stay in canter (without changing the rein or making too many transitions) and he’ll soon find it less exciting.
If your horse is young use 12-15m circles but follow the same idea. Young horses have active imaginations. Boredom causes problems. Fill his head with constant changes within the same pace and you’ll stop him filling it with ideas of his own.
A lazy horse can be more challenging but persevere. Your approach to cantering will affect your horse. Try to look at it as the most exciting thing you’ve ever done and stay inspired after the first few circuits! Going large is demoralising. Try riding a 15m circle at A, E, C and B on one rein. It gives you something to aim for. Keeping them small makes them feel more achievable. The more you do the fitter he gets and the easier it will become. Take a breather in walk and do the same on the other rein.
The transition to canter can be an event in itself. So why not use walk to canter instead of trot to canter? It’s great for your horse’s balance and it can avoid excitable issues such as bucking. Even a young horse can do walk to canter. It’s the rider that has the problem with these transitions.
Why should it be more difficult for your horse to change from walk to canter than walk to trot? Watch him in the field. How often do you see him turn away from the gate, do ten strides of trot and then pop himself into canter? When you’re out hacking and you turn him up a hill is it ever a problem? Treat it as you would a walk to trot transition and your horse will do the same. Really.
Repetition is the perfect way to teach your horse anything. Spend a whole session riding walk to canter transitions. Don’t use trot to canter at all. Don’t panic and think it will teach him to jog or get tense in the walk. Your canter aids are the most obvious of all your aids. Until you ask him to go he has no reason to anticipate. If he gets excited ignore it. The more you use canter the less exciting it becomes.
Riding from walk to canter is simple. Think about how you ride from walk to trot. It’s effortless, isn’t it? Approach walk to canter in the same way and it will have a huge effect on your horse. Your aids for trot and canter couldn’t be more different. He knows them! Trust him to understand. Many riders just don’t expect to get it.
Walk large and concentrate on getting your horse to walk forward into your contact. Your thumb should point towards the bit. This keeps the straight line from your elbow down your arm to the bit. It means your contact stays steady and relaxed and he won’t tighten his back and jog. The more leg you use the more he’ll use his hocks.
The important thing in the transition is for you to be positive. Expect to get it. In a corner before the long side put your outside leg back. Now your horse knows canter is coming. Sit up and look up. Leaning forward won’t encourage him to canter but it will tip him onto his shoulders and make it impossible. Just before the corner marker use a sharp nudge with your heel to ask him to go.
The speed you ride forward or correct is important. You don’t allow two or three steps of jog when you ask your horse to trot so don’t accept anything but walk – canter. If nothing happens tap him up with your whip and circle 10m. Ask again in the corner but as you put your outside leg back tap him up with your whip to get his attention. Be sharper with your heel the second time too. It’s what you’d do if he was slow to trot, isn’t it? It can easily take four or five attempts to get your first strike off. Don’t panic and throw your reins at him, lean forward or start flapping. Stay calm, circle and ask again.
When your horse does canter use your voice to praise him but ride forward. Canter a circuit before you go back to walk and ask again. Stop too soon and he’ll get confused and start to back off the transition. Don’t just accept one good one and call it a day either. Spend the whole time moving from walk to canter.
Walk to canter transitions aren’t there for the elite! Use them and enjoy using them. They’re good for your confidence, give your horse something new to focus on and they’ll improve the quality of his canter too. Raise your expectations. Believe in yourself and your horse’s ability to understand your aids. If you can ride from halt to trot you can ride from walk to canter. And so can your horse.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.