Understand more about what your horse is doing in canter and how you can help him improve with these tips!

  • Canter is a three-time pace with the sequence of footfalls being:
  • On the right rein - near hind, followed by the diagonal pair of off hind and near fore together, then the off fore followed by a moment of suspension before the sequence starts again. 
  • In this case, on the right rein, the off fore is known as the leading leg.
  • You've probably felt a rocking sensation when cantering, this is because the horse lowers and raises his head throughout the sequence of footfalls. 

HA1940Bob AtkinsImage: Here you can see the moment of suspension in the canter.

Types of canter

There are four types of canter ie working canter, which is the initial schooling pace where the horse should go forwards in balance with the hindquarters providing the propulsive force. The strides should be even.

A medium canter is the next step up from working canter and the horse's strides should be longer and show greater impulsion. From medium canter the horse lengthens his stride to cover as much ground as possible ie he moves into extended canter but he should not lose any rhythm or balance and he should remain on the bit.

In collected canter the horse's hindquarters are engaged and his forehand is light, the canter strides are the shortest of any of the canter types but the whole appearance is of lightness.
You probably realise that there is also counter canter, but we'll look at that in a separate article.

Aids for canter - To achieve a strike-off into canter remember that:
  • your inside rein flexes the horse's head to the inside a little
  • your outside rein is used to control the gait
  • use your outside leg to ask for the canter strike-off - your leg should be just behind the girth
  • use your inside leg on the girth - as you use your outside leg you should also give an inwards nudge with your inside leg to send the horse forward.
You need to think about your horse's outline all the time as you ride - if your horse resists a canter strike-off by throwing up his head you need to return to trot, re-establish your outline and try again. Don't give up if your horse isn't behaving too well - remember that if you let him get away with being evasive he'll continue to try doing things his own way.

Improving the canter

  1.  Use lunge sessions to help your horse gain his balance in canter before asking for too much under saddle - remember that young or unschooled horses often lack the correct musculature and you can help to build this up through lunge sessions.
  2. When lungeing or riding be aware that you do not want to ask for too much bend in the horse's neck, otherwise you'll be encouraging crookedness in your horse.
  3. If your horse's canter beat isn't three-time use lungeing with plenty of transitions, lengthening and shortening of the stride, to lighten the horse's forehand and engage his hindquarters.
  4. If you find it difficult to get your horse to canter on the bit it's probably worth having him checked by a chiropractor or EMRT therapist. Any stiffness or discomfort in his back, neck or hindquarters could be making it difficult for him to move properly.
  5. It's worth getting someone to video you in canter - then you can see whether or not your horse is straight (his shoulders should be directly in front of his quarters), you can pick up on any issues in your position and hopefully, over time, you'll be able to see your horse's canter improve.