Friday, April 13, 2012

Let's Ride! Correct Canter Leads

The third of the three main speeds of the horse, is the canter. After learning how to walk, the horse learns how to run, which is what riders must also learn to accomplish.  It is a rudimentary element before learning to do anything more difficult on the horse.  Learning to correctly ride at the walk, trot, and canter improves balance, coordination, and strength.

The canter, which is forward moving, is a "three beat" gait. In the canter the horse will be moving two diagonal legs in unison, with the other two independent.  When cantering, the horse's legs follow this sequence: right hind leg, left hind leg with right front leg, left front leg.  When moving, the horse's head and neck will be moving up and down slightly to maintain balance. If you have ever had the pleasure of sitting in a rocking chair, the feeling of rocking back and forth is how the canter feels. The horse will lift with his front end and push with the back end, thus creating the rocking motion. You will see it more readily in Saddle Seat, and less so in Western Pleasure.

The canter has two leads, the right lead and the left lead. The more extended foreleg is matched by a slightly more extended hind leg on the same side. It is preferable, except during a counter-canter, for the horse to be leading with the leg that is closest to the inside of the arena/ circle. A horse that begins cantering with the right rear leg will have the left front and the hind legs each land farther forward. This would be referred to as being on the left lead.

So, after you pick up the canter, if perchance you look down, you will see the extended leg and shoulder moving more forward than the opposite leg. However it is preferable to not look down when you are riding as you will offset the balance of the horse and yourself. So, in order to know which lead you are on, you will have to feel it through your seat (or have your instructor tell you until you CAN feel it). That is, when the horse is reaching forward with one leg, you will feel a pull in your seat toward that leg.  If you are having trouble still feeling that pull, a quick glance at the horse's shoulder will tell you which lead you are on.

If you realize that your horse is on the wrong lead, ask for the halt, wait for him to stop completely, and then ask for the correct lead again. For the left lead, you will be asking more with your right leg, and for the right lead, you will be asking more with your left leg.

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