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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.
Before getting on the horse and starting to ride, riders must wear a helmet and protective footwear. Safety is paramount when combining horses and individuals in activities. Riding horses is an inherently dangerous activity and participants in the activities assume the risk of being injured. You, as the rider, may not always be in control of the horse, but can help to prevent injury by wearing an ASTM/SEI certified helmet and protective footwear (along with clothes, obviously!!). If at all possible, have an equine professional (preferably an instructor) with you during your first ride.
1. First things first, maintain your posture!!
- When you are sitting on the horse, do not slouch or tense up, as there will be more of a propensity for you to fall off. Maintaining good posture will also help communicate your cues to the horse.
- Make sure you are sitting square in the saddle and that your balance has not shifted to one side.
- Keep your legs under you (with feet preferably in the stirrups), not too far forward but not too far back. Do not let your legs move forward as if you are sitting in a chair, and do not allow them to swing. Keep your legs still and "quiet".
- About a third of your boot should be in the stirrup, with the balls of your feet on the bar of the stirrup. Your feet should be parallel to the horse with your heels down. And toes should not point outward.
- There should be an imaginary straight line from your shoulders, down to your hips and through your feet, but you shouldn't be able to see your toes if you look down.
- Arms, wrists, and fingers need to be relaxed but steady. Your hands should maintain steady contact (or tightness) with the reins, meaning you should feel contact between your hands and the bit (the big metal thing in the horse's mouth).
- And finally look ahead of you or where you are going to be moving to.
2. Pick up the reins (if you haven't already) and maintain even and steady but light contact with the bit. You should be able to feel the horse's mouth through the bit, but you shouldn't be pulling on it. If english, there should be little to no slack in the reins. If western, you should have contact but more slack than in english.
3. Ask your horse to pick up the walk. Make sure the walk is at a good, forward moving pace. If you do not know how to do this, please re-read, understand, and complete the steps in the How to Walk post.
4. Ask your horse to pick up the trot. When you pick up the trot, make sure that it is a good forward moving, but calm trot. If you do not know how to do this, please re-read, understand, and complete the steps in the How to Trot post.
5. Before even beginning to position your horse for the canter, work on some transitions in order to warm the horse up. This means working on walk to trot, trot to walk, walk to halt, trot to halt, halt to trot, halt to walk, and maybe doing some circles at the walk and trot, so that you are comfortable with those gaits before moving into the canter.
6. Position yourself on the horse in order to prepare for the canter. This means bringing your outside leg back behind the girth and leaving your inside leg against the girth. Keep steady contact with the reins, with a little more bend to the inside. Although, you do not want to turn your horse's head to the inside, as you will become frustrated and it will confused your horse. Now, using both legs, with more pressure from the outside leg than the inside, GENTLY, squeeze the horse's sides. When squeezing, make sure that only a small amount of pressure is being used. Your leg above the knee should remain motionless. As the lower leg is squeezing, push your hips slightly forward. Once the horse starts moving, release the leg and move your hands forward slightly to prevent giving the horse mixed cues. If the horse does not move off of the lower leg cue, nudge with your lower leg. If the horse still does not respond to your cues, urge the horse forward with your heels. If the horse still does not move, check your cues, your body language, and try again. If the horse is not cooperating, make sure that you are also moving your hand forward when asking for the trot.
7. Once the horse starts moving, keep your arms relaxed so that you can allow your hands to move forwards and back with the movement of the horse's head. Allow your body to relax (while still maintaining posture!) with the motion of the horse. This is where you are going to feel that lovely rocking motion. If you feel that your horse is starting to slow and possibly stop or walk again, nudge him or her again until you get the same rhythm as before.
8. Congratulations, you have asked your horse to canter, and succeeded!!