Top riders make riding the canter, a three-beat pace with a moment of suspension, look effortless. With barely perceptible movements of their upper body, they go with the movement — a harmonious partnership of horse and rider.
As we progress with our riding, we all try and emulate the professionals. However, the thought of pushing a horse into canter can cause tension in some riders, or may make them try too hard during the pace. Instead of achieving a soft, harmonious position, they over-work their upper body in a rowing movement or they over-emphasise moving their seat backwards and forwards in the saddle. If so, a few tips can help you improve your canter.
Before you ask your horse for canter ensure that he is in an active trot, to which you will be softly sitting not rising.
Tell the horse which leg you want him to lead on by keeping your inside leg on the girth and your outside leg just behind it.
Keep rein contact as the horse makes the transition into canter.
Once the horse is cantering your upper body needs to be erect, but not to the point of stiffness and don’t let any tension creep in. Nor should you allow yourself to collapse at the waist, thus slouching. Also be careful not to arch your lower back. This is where strong core muscles will pay dividends. In fact, working on your core stability goes hand in hand with improving your canter. If you have a weak core you will find achieving a good technique at this pace particularly difficult.
Keep your seat in contact with the saddle but at the same time swing your hips in time with the canter motion. Remember that basic position we looked at in an earlier article — the one where you can draw an imaginary line from your ear, through your shoulder, hip and heel? You will maintain this position through the canter provided the hips are swinging.
Keep your leg long, the knee soft and the heel deep. If you allow any part of the leg to tense and grip your heels will rise and you will find yourself out of balance and probably minus a stirrup.
Keep your head up and look where you are going.
Once you have developed a good canter technique you will find that you will be able to ride using your seat with less reliance on the reins, with your hip swing either slowing or speeding up the pace or maintaining it at a consistent rhythm.
That said, good technique isn’t all down to the rider. Sitting correctly to the canter will be infinitely easier on a well-schooled horse and much harder on one that’s ‘on the forehand’ (meaning that the horse’s weight is on his shoulders) because his high back end will push the rider out of the saddle, making sitting to the movement particularly tricky. If this is the case, work with your instructor to get your horse off the forehand.