Training Your Horse to Canter

“A canter is the cure for every evil.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

This lovely buckskin is cantering on the right lead. This horse is in beat 2 of the 3-beat canter. The diagonal pair of legs – left front and right hind, are on the ground together. Beat 3 will be the right foreleg striking the ground.

The canter is indeed high on the list as one of the thrills while riding a horse. The three-beat rocking horse canter with a brief moment of being airborne can be one of those memorable feel-good experiences, logged in the brain for life.

A calm canter depart is the start of developing this dreamy gait. When working with a young horse, or one that is reluctant to break into the canter, be sure to approach the subject in an unhurried fashion and have a plan.

In a western or English saddle, an easy way to get a canter depart is from a very active forward posting trot without rushing your steed off his feet. Establish your forward trot and choosing the direction that your horse prefers, head for a corner of your arena and make a gentle curving line. At some point, the horse will want to break into canter; it’s less work than a butt-busting trot. Don’t stop posting and take advantage of that moment by applying your cue for the canter. If your horse just trots faster slow him back down and ask again. Sometimes, if you ask for a strong forward trot, then slow down the trot slightly and sit to apply the cue for the canter, it will encourage your horse to strike off into the canter.

The canter is a 3-beat gait. If you are making a circle to the right, the inside is the right side of the horse, and the outside is the left side of the horse. Beat 1 is the left hind leg, or outside hind, striking off. Beat 2 is the diagonal pair of legs that move together – the inside right hind and the outside left foreleg. Beat 3 is the right foreleg – the inside foreleg – and when going to the right, the horse will be in better balance especially while on a circle to the right. We say the horse is on the correct lead, because the inside or right foreleg is the leading leg that goes more forward than the other foreleg in this gait. Beat 3 is followed by a moment of suspension when all four feet are off the ground.

Most riders ask for the canter by slightly moving the outside leg back and squeezing it against the horse’s side. This is because you are asking for the outside hind leg to strike off to begin the canter, resulting in the horse’s leading leg to be on the inside to be in better balance.

If you ask your horse to canter, and he strikes off on the wrong lead – do nothing – you’re cantering! The horse obliged with the correct gait. Let him canter for a bit. Then you can break back to trot, rev-up the engine again if necessary, and try the canter again until you get the correct lead. When you do, tell him what a genius he is! You’ll find that your horse progressively begins to pick up the correct lead more often, until right and left leads are firmly established.

After you have established a smooth canter depart from the trot and you are sure your horse understands the canter aid; you can try asking for it from a walk. Without hurrying, establish a forward-marching balanced walk that feels like it has a bit of bounce to it. You will probably experience some trot strides before getting the canter, but with repetition, the number of trot strides will diminish until your horse can strike off into the canter directly from the walk.

When you train the canter in this fashion, and all is going to plan, the horse seamlessly slides into it without rushing. If you establish the forward energetic trot or walk before asking for canter, you won’t have to kick, use a crop or spur, and all will be well. If things don’t go to plan – no worries. Take a break, re-organize yourself, establish that wonderful walk or trot and try again. Your confidence will make it happen.

Going Forward – It’s Everything!

BarefootArizonaRobinWhite500Training your horse to move forward willing and dependably is the most important element to having a responsive and well-behaved horse. Most behavior problems begin with your horse’s resistance to the forward aids – your legs and seat. Severe resistance to the forward aids can result in bucking, rearing, shying, balking, and being unwilling to leave other horses or leave the barn. These are serious issues, but the cure is to go back to square one – your horse’s response to the go forward aids.

Going forward dependably is also a safety issue. If there is a scary monster in the bushes, your horse still has to listen to your go forward command to get past it. He might not like it, he might be tense and wild eyed, but if he continues to obey the forward aids, you can still make it past the obstacle. Going forward when asked is not a suggestion, or a guideline. It’s a hard and fast rule. It effects how your horse steers as well. Like a sail boat, you can’t steer a horse if he’s not in motion. I like to turn my horse’s head slightly away from the monster in the bushes, but continue it a straight line until we’re in the clear.

If you have trained a young horse, or started him under saddle, you have experienced that the green horse is so difficult to ride because his gas pedal is sticky. He goes forward, then the motor cuts out, then he doesn’t steer. Repeat. It’s rarely a problem that you cannot slow down or stop your young horse, he gets that pretty quickly. An experienced rider can get the horse moving forward with their aids, their energy and their mind. Everything about their attitude in the saddle says let’s go forward with consistency without blocking the way forward with hands or a body that cannot follow the forward motion smoothly. After many rides, the young horse learns that it’s fun to go forward in harmony with a rider, and through repetition and reward, and perhaps backed up with a crop on occasion, he learns that going forward is a way of life. Only then can you start bending and flexing, and introduce side way movements, because there is forward energy and motion to work with.

Every successful training moment that you make it past the barking dog, the plastic bag, and the parked car, builds your horse’s confidence in you. You are in charge and if you say go – it is safe. He learns to trust your leadership until finally; there is no resistance to anything. You are a team that can go anywhere! That is what we call a well-broke or fully trained horse. It does take time to get there – but it is so worth it.

It’s a good idea to revisit your horse’s response to the forward aids in the arena throughout his lifetime. I like to get on a big circle and go from trot to walk to trot to walk. Those transitions reinforce the go forward command, and sharpen his response with immediate compliance. Then I do the same thing with trot to canter to trot to canter – reviewing the response to the canter aid. Then really mix it up with a halt to trot to canter to walk to trot and back to halt. Gas pedal, steering wheel and brakes all functioning properly? Then you’re ready to go hit the trail again.

Studies Show the Barefoot Surcingle is Essential for Proper Training

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Barefoot Surcingle is made with quality leather and plenty of D rings.

In an article written by Christa Leste-Lasserre for The Horse she relates studies done by Russell Guire, a PhD candidate at the Royal Veterinary College and a researcher at Centaur Biomechanics in the UK. The article titled, Training Aids: How Their Fit Could Help or Hinder Longeing Horses, discusses lungeing your horse for training using a surcingle, side reins, and other training aids. Leste-Lasserre writes “While science has already confirmed the usefulness of training aids…, improperly fitted training rollers [surcingles] could be squelching any benefit these systems offer.”

“ ‘We’ve noted significant pressure under the training roller that’s close to the pressure found during a sitting trot,’ Guire said. ‘Most rollers don’t have trees, so when they’re tightened up, they put that pressure directly onto the horse’s spine at about the level of T12-T13 (thoracic vertebrae). We believe that this pressure could reduce any benefits the horse could have from the training aids. Previous studies by the same team have already indicated that pressure at T12-T13 inhibits locomotion.’”

The Barefoot  Surcingle imported from Germany solves this issue of pressure on the back and withers. The pommel of the surcingle protects the horse’s withers and spine. Underneath the Barefoot Surcingle pommel the withers remain unrestricted and there is no pressure – neither on the withers nor along the sides. The supports on both sides are padded softly and extra wide, so that muscles can develop without being squeezed.

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Barefoot Surcingle in use with Barefoot Super Grip Long Lines

Lungeing and ground driving is a great training tool that can be used to introduce young horses to the bit, and to tune up and advance older horses. Working properly with a surcingle and side reins or long lines, the horse is encouraged to flex to the pressure of the bit at the pole and lift and round his back. Developing the horse’s top line in this manner helps the horse to carry the weight of the rider in balance and comfort. Using the Barefoot Surcingle will insure you are building muscle properly without impeding the forward motion and stride of your horse.