How to Ride a Horse in Canter
As with everything in learning how to ride a horse, correct preparation is necessary before transitioning up to canter.
Cantering a horse is not about kicking him while trotting and jolting around in the saddle once he goes up a gear. When you learn horse riding only attempt the canter when you have a secure seat in the saddle in trot, and independent hands which don’t pull on the horse’s mouth.
Develop a Good Trot
You won’t have a balanced, comfortable canter if you don’t transition into it from a good trot. The horse must be moving energetically forwards (but not rushing) and accepting a firm but elastic contact with your hands.
Work the horse on circles in both directions and change rein frequently to make sure he’s balanced and listening to you. If the horse is ‘on your aids’ i.e. paying attention to everything you ask, he’ll be ready to transition up or down a gait.
A horse which shuffles along in trot is not on the aids. He’ll only slop along in a faster trot when you ask for the upwards transition and if you do get him to canter it will be strung out, unbalanced and hard to ride.
Aids for Canter
Once you’ve developed a good working trot, prepare to ask for canter in a corner or on a circle. It’s easier to get the correct lead if you do this.
The ‘correct lead’ is when the horse finishes each three-beat canter stride on his inside foreleg. If you’re cantering to the left, he should end each stride on his left foreleg. This way he stays balanced round corners.
Sit out a few trot strides and apply half-halts with the outside rein to rebalance your horse and get his attention. With your inside leg on the girth, ask for canter by applying your outside leg about one hand’s width behind the girth. This asks the horse to start the canter with his outside hind leg, and ensures he picks up the correct lead.
If the horse runs on in trot instead of cantering, don’t worry. Get him back to his nice trot before asking again. Be sure to keep a steady hold on the outside rein, and don’t pull back with the inside rein. As he goes into canter, ease that inside rein forwards a tiny bit to allow him to stretch into the new stride.
Note: you may find your horse responds better when you put your outside leg back as described then apply pressure with the inside leg.
Once you learn to make a smooth transition from trot to canter, you’ll ensure a controlled and pleasant gait for both you and your horse and will have mastered how to ride a horse in all three gaits.