Loud and Clear?

Posted by in attention, Blog, canter transition strong pulling, canter transitions, canter when to use your legs, correct leads on Oct 27, 2012


Are you struggling with your canter transitions? You’re not alone! There are three common problems that regularly occur

  1. your horse is slow to react
  2. your horse is too quick to react
  3. your horse doesn’t react at all!


All three of those things can be improved if you sharpen up your aids. Canter aids are often misunderstood – and used. Do you think “sitting trot in a corner and outside leg back”? Despite what many riders think moving your outside leg back isn’t the aid to canter. It’s the leg that tells your horse which lead you want.  Energy comes from your inside leg. He should wait until you use it – but if you didn’t know that how would he? Using your aids in this way makes your transitions more accurate.


Practise asking for canter from an inside leg aid by putting your outside leg back three strides before a marker. Tighten your fingers around your reins to make it clear to your horse that he should stay in trot. On the marker use a clear, sharp nudge with your inside heel – relax your fingers on the reins – and allow him to go. It takes patience and practise but once you get it right you’ll find it not only improves your transitions – it also improves the quality of your canter.


If your horse is slow to respond to your leg it isn’t that you need to use more leg – it’s because you’re using too much! If you’re constantly banging against his sides how can he really understand the difference between keep going and canter now? Check out this post for more ideas on sharpening him up. 


Sharper horses benefit from your lower leg staying against their side to reassure them. Take it off and they worry about when it’s going to come back on again. They also react the second you take sitting trot. There’s only one thing to do about that – do more of it.


Work on a 20m circle so you’re on a constant curve. This eliminates the tension and anticipation of a canter transition as you approach a corner. Take sitting trot and stay in it. Relax your seat and breathe. When you hold your breath every muscle in your body goes rigid which means you bounce against your horse’s movement. When your seat and back are soft you’ll bounce with him.


Once your horse has settled and is accepting the fact you’re staying in sitting trot you can start to alternate between walk and canter transitions. An over-excited horse will often calm down if you fill his head with your ideas rather than allowing him to invent ideas of his own so keep the transitions varied and sometimes go large for half a circuit just to keep him thinking.


If your horse is always one step ahead of you and yet always gets the wrong leg try asking on the centre line. The fact he’s on a straight line will completely throw him! He won’t expect you to ask for canter so you’ll have time to use your aids correctly.


Initially make it easier for him by asking for the leg of the rein you’ve turned onto the centre line from. He’ll still be thinking that way. It’s important when you ask on a straight line you have his head and neck straight in front of him. That way his weight will be spread equally between all four legs.


If your horse is going nicely before the transition then there’s a strong chance it’s the way you’re asking that’s causing the trouble. Do you anticipate a problem and try to sneak up on him?! Adopting the ‘sit-kick-go’ method won’t take him by surprise but it will make him tighten up and shoot off.


However sharp your horse is he’ll be far less likely to tense up if you don’t throw sudden directions at him. Make sure you take sitting trot well ahead of the corner you’re going to ask in and give him plenty of time to hear what you’re asking. Put your outside leg back for two or three strides before you use your inside leg to tell him to go. You’ll need to stay calm; keep your hands still and have plenty of patience but it will pay off in the end.


Patience and consistency are key requirements with any horse whether he’s lazy or excitable. Just remember that more often than not it’s not what you’re asking him to do but the way you’re asking!


Good luck and enjoy your schooling.

Get Started 2 is full of ideas on sharpening up your aids. Teach Yourself 2 has 5 great exercises to help you improve you canter.

My new 121 training has started week. If you want video training with me all you need is a YouTube link to film of you schooling your horse – of competing. There’s are two huge benefits to this form of training – I have a rewind button and YOU get to print it out and keep it. Never forget a word you’ve been told again!



  1. Oct 28, 2012

    Hi Lorraine, I love reading your posts and putting your ideas and advice into practice 🙂 One of the horses I am lucky enough to ride regularly is a PRE stallion who is very ‘wiggly’ and sensitive to the leg. If I put my outside leg back he will pretty instantly go haunches-in so when I ask for canter I have been trying to just use inside leg and seat bone. While this achieves a canter transition (from walk or trot) we don’t always get the correct lead… any ideas??



    • Lorraine Oct 30, 2012

      Hi Kirsten – and thank you 🙂 It can be tricky with highly schooled or sensitive horses. I’ve always found the seat bone aids work well if you can keep your horse relaxed before the transition. In this situation there is less preparation because ‘one aid does all’ but it can be very effective if his back is relaxed and he’s not anticipating. Work on a constant circle so you can get him settled in sitting trot. Make absolutely sure that your seat and hips are lined up with the curve of the circle.
      Ride forward from even leg pressure to an even contact. When you ask for canter just push your inside hip/seat bone forward and use more inside leg.
      Your horse will treat the inside leg aid as the aid to go – and the fact you’ve moved your inside hip forward will mean he’ll step up with his inside hind and take the correct lead.
      This works on a straight line too once they understand it. Make sure that you stay balanced on both sides of your seat as you move your hip forward.
      Problems come if your weight tips onto the inside seat bone – this makes your horse feel as if he’s falling to the inside – he puts out his outside front leg and takes the wrong leg. Check the distance between your bottom rib and the top of each hip too. Pull up through your body and make sure you’re even. When a horse is this sensitive it can be the slightest thing that sends them off on a tangent.
      Whatever you do don’t play too much with flexions and bends. Straightness in the head and shoulders will make you aids clear. It’s easier for your horse to understand and your aids will be the same every time.
      I’d also spend a lot of time in trot and canter getting him really straight between your legs and your contact. Riding on the inside track can be really helpful. It makes you focus and use your legs to squeeze him forward to your hand.
      I hope this helps? If not shout 🙂

      • Oct 31, 2012

        Hi Lorraine, thanks for the great advice… I tried it out this evening and IT WORKED!! Grinning like a cheshire cat now! Obvs it wasn’t perfect and we need a lot more practice, but he was straight and struck off on the correct lead every time 😀 Working on the inside track was v useful too, and we even threw in a bit of medium trot and your tip about thinking of an L shape (lifting hands and holding them a couple of inches forward) had an ASTOUNDING effect: I have never covered the ground like that in trot! Thanks again!


        • Lorraine Nov 1, 2012

          And now I’m the one grinning! I’m really happy that we’ve managed to find an answer. Now you’ll be so much more confident about it too so he can only improve.
          Thanks so much for your comment. Keep me posted 🙂

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