The Never-Ending Quest To Develop The Canter

A great Jumping Canter!

Cantering is hard.

You'd think that after nearly 20 years of riding horses, I'd have this whole canter thing down by now. But the more I learn and grow as a rider, the more I realize that there's so much more to learn about the canter!

Lately in my flatwork I've really been working on developing more straightness and self-carriage in the canter. Those things go hand-in-hand: the straighter Dino is, the better he can carry himself, and the better he's carrying himself, the straighter he is. To get there, I've zeroed in on a couple tools that seem to be working for us:

Remembering to hold my outside rein and not flail my upper body around in the canter depart. This may seem like a basic concept, but my history of Crappy Canter Departs makes this a key 'tool' for me. When I sit up, hold my core, hold the outside rein, and stay centered, we start the canter out in a round and balanced manner, making it easier to use things like...

Counter-Canter. This has seriously been the magic bullet for Dino's canter lately! Having to work hard to balance himself in counter-canter really gets him to focus on where his hind legs are, stand upright, and helps prevent him from leaning to one side or the other. On Sunday we did some dressage work in my favorite field, and Dino was ON IT in the canter. I used a lot of counter-canter loops to capitalize on it, and the result was a light, self-sustaining canter that I could just sit without pushing. It was glorious!

barely-contained dressage canter from that time we played hunters
However, this super-packaged dressage canter is not the same canter we need for jumping. The ideal jumping canter requires Dino's head to be higher, his step to be longer, and a little more pace overall. The good thing is that I can identify this canter when I feel it - as soon as Dino starts powering forward with his shoulders up I know we've got the Jumping Canter - the straightness of his body in this canter also gives me power steering and adjustability. But it's GETTING THERE that's tricky! Transitions within the canter definitely help - zooming forward on a straight line and then bringing everything down a notch on a circle creates impulsion, and then channels that impulsion into a useful Jumping Canter.  And within that Jumping Canter are the Long & Quick and Short & Quick canters. Nevermind the Canter Lengthening or Medium Canter that we'd need for higher-level dressage... that's a whole 'nother topic for a different day!

Going back and forth between these canters, and understanding which is needed in each individual situation, is such a learning process. I'm looking forward to developing and finessing it all after show season is over for the year!

What's helped you in the Quest for the Canter?


  1. lol this is pretty much the story of my life haha, and my approach has mostly just been never-ending lessons ;)

  2. For us, building the walk has really helped with the canter.
    A lot of walk-canter transitions has helped re-balance Suzie as well as utilizing 15m circles. It's all about balance in a lot of cases, as without balance you have a horse that will speed up/slow down to "catch" himself.

  3. I feel like I can create every different canter imaginable so long as I'm out in the open. When I'm in a ring, I'm like, "We picked up our lead! Whoops, nope. We couldn't even do that."

  4. Cantering has recently become the bane of my existence! With Moe, I do a lot of small (~15m) circles to help him balance and step under himself. Gina's canter has become a disaster lately for reasons that are beyond me- lots of walk-canter transitions have helped improved the gait itself, but have also made her SUPER ANGRY!

  5. This is going to sound dumb, but the biggest things that are helping my canter are sit down and sit up. I've been doing perchy two point canter for so long, that it's hard to retrain my muscles... but really helping!

  6. I try to alternate what I do each ride since Val is too smart and tries to anticipate what we're doing and also gets bored and frustrated. So the three types of flat rides I do are usually a flat ride with a ton of lateral work alternating between leg yielding, turn on the forehand, and turn on the haunches, at all 3 gaits (well only walking for turn on the forehand) along with counter canter. I keep the canter compact on these days and really make him use his hind end and be flexible. Number 2 is a flat that focuses on moving up and coming back to keep the canter really elastic and adjustable without getting tight. I'll still do some lateral work at the walk and trot to limber him up, but if it's not perfect I don't make a big deal and I don't do nearly as much. Number 3 is just an easy ride. The first canter lap I stand in my stirrups and get out of his way. As long as he bends in his corners and doesn't run away with me, I let him do his thing. Then I sit down and compact a little, but still stay out of his way as much as possible and ask him to carry himself. My warm up is usually just trot poles that are set a little long to ask him to stretch out and down, and I keep everything else pretty simple. It's kind of our new regimen and it's working quite nicely so far for a horse that is normally really tight and upside down.

  7. Canter is really hard for me, too. I can relate. I learned to ride hunter-jumper and now that I am doing dressage, it is like learning to canter all over again. Not to mention, being afraid of the canter because of spills and Onyx used to be so anxious and wouldn't stop, would fall onto his forehand, and be impossible to handle. My big trick lately to help is before my canter departure, I look up towards the ceiling/sky to make sure I don't pike forward. I am also learning to keep my hands quiet and I try to canter with my hands touching the withers and only half halt when necessary. I try to keep my outside leg back the whole time and encourage forwardness and roundness through my seat.


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