5 Easy Steps to Canter On a Horse (Mistakes to Avoid)

Cantering is one of the most rewarding riding skills that any horse owner should familiarize themselves with. It is a majestic, rhythmic stride that showcases your horse’s grace, and perhaps the most enjoyable.

However, to be able to safely pull off that beautiful, slow, and relaxed lope, it does take some practice. But don’t you worry. This article has got everything you need to learn how to canter on a horse, and could be all you require to become an expert. Give it a glance.

What is Cantering in Horse Riding?

What is Cantering in Horse Riding

Cantering is a medium-speed, three-beat gait that lies between a trot and a gallop. In other words, if you accelerate a canter it turns into a gallop and if you bring its speed down, it becomes a trot. As such, you should only learn the skill after you feel comfortable walking and trotting your horse.

The gait is described as a three-beat stride because the horse’s hooves hit the ground three times in every stride, unlike in trotting and galloping where the hooves hit the ground two and four times respectively. In the saddle, cantering feels very much like a strong rocking motion.

For your horse to be able to effectively execute a canter, they must have a well-developed center of balance. Taking your time to understand the horse before doing the canter can help you find out how good they are at cantering and how long they can last through it. However, through conditioning and strength training, you can improve the animal’s cantering over time.

5 Easy Steps to Properly Canter On a Horse

Achieving the perfect canter will take more than one attempt. The following steps will show you how to canter from a trot but the majority of the tips we have shared here can still come in handy when transitioning from a walk to a canter.

Step 1: Think About What You Are About to Do

Think About What You Are About to Do

Like any riding gait, cantering has to start in your mind. Having a clear picture of how a successful canter looks like helps you control the horse properly so they can execute the stride effectively.

It also guides your emotions toward the best possible results. Remember, horses are intuitive creatures and will often sense and project a positive vibe if you offer it first.

So, take some time and imagine you and your horse going out on a beautiful, canter ride. Even if you have not tried this stride before, chances are you have seen someone execute it in your riding sessions.

Envision what that perfect stride would feel like, how your body will respond, and how enjoyable the whole experience would be for you and your horse when the movement is just right.

Picturing the moment before you go will not only make you more confident in your ride but also give you the right amount of optimism. This is what will make it possible for the both of you to pull off that graceful rock and rhythm.

Step 2: Get Into a Nice Trot

Get Into a Nice Trot

Successful canters start from relaxed, rhythmic trots. If your equine is trotting at an extremely low or high speed, encourage them to be in a more relaxed trot.

If they are sluggish, use your legs and seat to give them some energy boost. If they are moving too fast, keep your body relaxed and sink a little deeper into the saddle.

A horse that is trotting at an unpredictable speed is not ready to canter yet. Make sure your equine’s steps are supple, consistent, and energetic. It is the only way you will be able to execute a winning canter.

Step 3: Get Into a Cantering Position

Get Into a Cantering Position

Begin by taking a deep breath, sitting deep into the saddle, and positioning your feet properly on the stirrups. Keep your lower body nice and straight so you can feel secure as you match the movement of your hips to that of your equine’s stride.

If you are riding the horse in an arena, place the leg facing the inside of the play area right at the girth and the outside leg behind the girth. Doing this enables the equine not only to pick up the appropriate lead but also supports them when they start to canter.

Also, make sure you are sitting in an upright position and your elbows are relaxed. All this while, hold on to your reins, ensuring that you are not actively pulling on the animal’s mouth.

Step 4: Signal the Horse to Canter

Signal the Horse to Canter

After you have achieved the right position for cantering, you can go ahead and ask your horse to take the canter stride.

Simply apply some pressure from your legs and seat and your horse will move right into a canter. Some horses, however, may not budge until you say the word ‘canter’. Go with what works with your horse. Assuming that you will be working with a horse that has already been trained to canter, it should be easy to figure out what works for them.

Once the equine starts to canter, release the pressure you are exerting on their sides and pick up the new rocking motion with your hips.

Your back should remain tall and straight, your shoulders should be open and pulled back, and your head should stay up and alert.

Even if you are feeling a little nervous (which is normal for first-timers), do not look down or try to lower your upper body; maintain the upright position at all times and you will feel more confident.

Step 5: Enjoy the Ride

Enjoy the Ride

Now that you have achieved a beautiful canter stride, relax and soak in the moment. Try as much as you can to stay in position, as this is what gives your horse the support they need to keep cantering.

If you start to feel like the equine is falling back into a trot, bring them back to the canter by applying some pressure with your legs. If they try to move faster, sink a little deeper into the saddle, use your pelvic motion to slow them down, and apply a bit of pressure to the bit.

Mistakes to Avoid When Cantering on a Horse

Mistakes to Avoid When Cantering on a Horse

Rocking Your Shoulders

Even though some Western movies will show cowboys cantering on their equines with every part of their body following the movement of the horse, this is not the correct way to canter.

When cantering on a horse, you should only move your hips; your upper body should not sway in sync with the horse’s motion. Rocking your torso can throw both you and your equine off balance, making it difficult for you to achieve the perfect canter.

Moving Your Hands

When a horse is cantering beneath you, it can be very difficult to keep your hands from moving, especially if you are just learning to canter. However, if you move your hands too much, you can yank the reins, and this may confuse the horse.

If you must move your hands, try to have them follow the natural rocking motion of the horse. But don’t worry; hands movement is only a problem in the initial stages of learning to canter. Once you’ve gained some experience, you will be able to keep your hands motion in control.

Swinging Your Legs

As we stated, your hips should naturally rock with each of the strides made by the horse. For the best outcome, do not let this motion move your legs as well. Excessive leg movements can get the horse confused. Keep your leg in the proper cantering position so you can have maximum control of your horse.

Leaning Forward

Lowering the upper body and leaning forward is a common mistake made by beginner riders when they get nervous. They do this in hopes of keeping balance and preventing themselves from falling off, but sadly it doesn’t work. Instead, it throws the rider off balance and makes the horse run faster.

Staying upright is very important when cantering, as it gives you control over your horse. One of the most effective ways of preventing nervousness is preparing adequately before the exercise. Take a moment to think about the activity and what it entails, and importantly, go with a positive mind.

If you get nervous, signal your equine to slow down, loosen your legs a bit, and lean back. Do not hunker down no matter what, as this will do you more harm than good.

The Takeaway

Cantering is one of the skills that make many people enjoy horse riding. But it also requires quite an amount of training both for the rider and the horse.

To succeed in cantering, go mentally prepared, maintain an upright posture, keep your legs straight, and rock your hips in sync with the natural movement of the horse. Also, try as much as you can not lean forward, as this could cause you to lose balance and fall off.

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