Where Did it all go Wrong?

Posted by in Blog, canter, canter execises, canter exercise, canter exercises for a fast horse, canter to trot, canter to trot transitions, canter transition strong pulling, canter transitions, canter transitions. centre line exercise. leg aids for canter., dropping the contact, energy, equestrian, get your horse going, get your horse listening., hocks on Jul 14, 2012

Are you struggling to keep your horse in canter? It’s a common problem but often the thing you’re doing to stop it is actually making it worse.


If your horse keeps falling out of canter you probably push on harder – especially as you turn onto the long side. The trouble is if he’s unbalanced at the start the more you push him the worse he’ll get. By the time you’ve passed E/B he’ll be so unbalanced he’ll break into trot.


If your horse puts his head down and leans on your hands as he canters you probably try to pull his head up to help him stay balanced on the corners. The trouble with that is every time you pull at his mouth he’ll tighten his back. If he does that he’ll get more unbalanced and need to lean on your hands even more!


If your horse is struggling in any pace look at the transition. An unbalanced transition creates an unbalanced canter. If he runs into canter his back flattens and his quarters and shoulders move apart. When they do that his hocks can’t step under his body to support his weight. His weight falls forward onto his shoulders and eventually he’ll have to break into trot.


Many riders try too hard. It’s a common fault and it rarely helps. If you decide to tackle the problem you probably warm up and get your horse going nicely in trot. Then you think “Right, here we go.” and you take up your reins and get your legs on. Why? If your horse was going nicely before why do you need to change anything?


Suddenly changing your contact from relaxed to tight and restrictive can only have the same effect on your horse. As he feels the tension he’ll tighten and flatten his back. Add to that the increase in pressure from your legs and can you blame him for rushing?


The key to a balanced canter is keeping your horse’s weight off his shoulders and back on his hocks. Whatever you do with your body he’ll do with his. Pull up through your back and look straight ahead so you carry your own weight. Keep your hands up and level to keep his shoulders up and his weight back on his quarters.


Where you ask for canter can make a big difference. Ask as you’re heading towards an open long side and your horse is likely to rush forward and flatten. Ask as you’re heading back to the track and the fence and the corner will help to keep him steady.


How you ask for canter is crucial to a good transition. You need to start from a steady trot. Keep your contact even in both hands and use both legs so you keep his weight even on both sides. (He can’t fall in or out) Take sitting trot for at least five strides before you ask so you don’t just sit, kick and go. Give him time to feel what you’re asking him to do and he stands half a chance of doing it well.


Be clear with your aids. Your outside leg tells him which leg you want him to take but it’s your inside leg that should tell him exactly when to go. Practise by riding sitting trot, moving your outside leg back and closing your fingers around your reins so he knows to stay in trot. Relax your fingers and use your inside leg to tell him to canter.


Many riders make the mistake of dropping their contact as they ask for canter to ‘encourage’ their horse to canter but all it really does is allow him to rush forward and fall onto his shoulders. He may fall into canter but it won’t be long before he falls back into trot.


How long you canter for can also affect your horse’s balance. If you’ve ridden a good transition and moved into a steady canter don’t think “This is better.” and go round and round until it gets worse! Quit while you’re ahead. Canter half a circle – a full circle at most – and trot. He needs to learn he can stay balanced between trot and canter and return to a steady trot. Once he understands you can increase the distance.


Canter further by circling up and down the school. Don’t allow yourself more than two or three strides on a straight line. On a long side it’s easy to allow your horse to get longer and flatter. A curve keeps you riding forward and his hocks underneath him.


Even with the best preparation things go wrong. If you feel your horse is about to break don’t panic! Keep your legs on and your contact steady so he doesn’t tighten his back against your hand. Turn onto a circle to put his weight back onto his hocks and then ask him to trot. Get him settled in trot and try again.


Often if you take the pressure off things improve dramatically. If canter is your problem try doing less of it. Short canters between clear, steady transitions can only improve your horse’s balance and his canter.


Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

If you have a question on riding or training your horse get in touch on Facebook (Lorraine Jennings or School Your Horse) or Twitter (@pollson)


For more detailed exercises that will improve your canter why not check out Teach Yourself 2 – canter problems and solutions. At 99p it’s affordable and it’s instantly downloadable. 





  1. Jul 17, 2012

    Well worth the read! It really made me rethink how important the transitions are.


    • Lorraine Jul 18, 2012

      Thanks, Tanya. Where would we be without them?! Hollow and tense probably! 🙂

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