Sampson has an especially humorous personality. He like to lick the back of the farrier's head
when getting trimmed and reshod. He likes to rough-and-tumble with other horses in the field and
to box with them while standing on his hind legs. That's why he's in a pasture reserved for the
"bad boys." These horses aren't really bad, they're just a very silly, especially rambunctious
group, so we keep them together instead of with other horses that might not be able to tolerate
Sampson is perhaps best known for his love of watermelon. If you're picnicking with watermelon
and he's free-grazing nearby, watch out. He'll knock over the table, and you, to get to it.
Under saddle, Sampson has an unusual habit. He squeals like a pig, which is his way of
complaining when you ask him to do something. But he's very safe and actually a bit lazy, despite
his size. You'll definitely need the mounting block. But remember, you can't judge a horse's
temperament by his size, and it's clear that, like Toby, Sampson is another gentle giant.
Cantering is one of the most exciting, most exhilarating, and scariest gaits to learn. It is a three
beat gait. It's smoother than the trot but there is a lot more motion, and it's twice as fast. You're
going to be traveling at a whopping 13 miles an hour or so. But right now, you must listen to my
directions. I say this because once you start the canter, you won't hear a word I say.
Leave your crop behind, and begin by asking Sampson to trot. You should be in half seat. Keep
your heels down and get Sampson going straight. Look ahead, right between Sampson's ears,
and decide exactly where you intend to ask him to canter. Picking a spot will help you give
Sampson a clearer, correctly timed message. Otherwide, Sampson is likely to stretch into a faster
trot, which creates a bumpy ride and could very well unseat you. Now, half halt, and then apply
Aids to the Canter
1. Sit down.
2. Position your inside leg at the girth.
3. Position your outside leg behind the girth.
4. Hold the inside rein shorter than the outside rein, but both with equal contact.
5. Squeeze with your outside leg.
6. Push with your back.
7. Give with your hands.
Use these aids exactly in sequence, and all within about one-tenth of a second.
Okay, let's try it this way: Hold onto the mane and kick until Sampson canters. (Also, be advised
that "Whoa" can sound an awful lot like "Go!")
The truth of the matter is that I don't want you worrying at this point about using the aids to the
canter. I'll return to them in lesson 9. For now, I want you to concentrate on controlling the horse
and your position at this new, faster gait. Grab the mane and kick as you trot, and Sampson will
pick up the canter.
Once you get Sampson going, canter for about 10 or 15 strides, and then come back down to the
trot. Let go of the mane and gently pull back on the reins. Practice over and over and over until
you can smoothly enter the canter and maintain a straight trajectory.
Eventually, you'll learn to use the proper aids to the canter, which will give you more control over
your horse, and enable you to canter with finesse and in greater comfort. But right now, there are
other fundamentals to learn about this gait.
If you don't pick a spot and give a clear, correctly timed message, your horse in likely to stretch
into a faster trot. You'll have a bumpy ride and could very well become unseated. So plan ahead.
The Canter Seat
To understand the canter seat, you need to realize what's happening underneath you. As I
explained before, the horse is moving in a three-beat gait. As a result, he's going to move your
body in a very unique way.
First, work toward sitting down at the canter. Begin by trying not to hold onto the mane. When
you're comfortable, try to hold yourself increasingly upright while you canter, until you're
actually sitting in the saddle. Now you can really learn to canter.
Your body is being moved forward one hip at a time, in a twisting motion. It's natural to feel a
need to "scrub," or slide across, the saddle in response, but don't. Remember that weight and
its distribution has a large effect on the horse. You want to stay centered and avoid getting
your teeth rattled.
As with the sitting trot, tension at the canter works against you. However, now you have to learn
a different way of using your back. Instead of adopting a forward and backward motion, as with
the sitting trot, you have to roll your hips in time with the motion of the canter. Collapse your
spinal column and go down with the saddle, and then straighten your back as the saddle rises.
This is when most students want to shorten their stirrups. They think this will give them better
balance, but instead they lose that nice low base and center of gravity, which they really need
to sit to the canter. If you feel a need to shorten your stirrups, you're probably trying to stand
up in them. This is incorrect. So resist the temptation and refocus on maintaining that correct
What to do if...you horse trots faster instead of cantering.
This usually occurs because your aids were ill timed or because you didn't have enough
contained energy when giving the aids to initiate the canter.
On timing: The most important thing to do is remember the sequence of the aids. Then always
pick a specific spot where you'll initiate the canter. This is very, very important. But don't focus
on the spot. Instead, just pick one and then look at where you're going.
Contained energy means the horse is between your legs and your hands. Remember this
simple test? If you ever cease using your hands and they go loose, the horse should
immediately and minutely go forward (faster), and should you ever cease using your legs, the
horse should immediately and minutely slow down. At all times when you're school riding (but
not necessarily when you're trail riding), the horse should be balanced between your legs and
What to do if...the horse canters too fast.
You may be gripping with your legs to hold yourself in the saddle. If you close your legs, the
horse goes faster, so don't start that boulder rolling. You must ride on balance. Don't grip.
An outside influence, such as cantering toward the barn or toward other horses, can also cause
your horse to speed up. Change this by cantering away from such influences.
What to do if...the bounce is uncontrollable and you can't sit down.
You're probably tense and 180 degrees out of sync with the horse. You're going down as he's
coming up. First, relax. This is supposed to be fun.
Observing more experienced riders can prove invaluable. You will naturally emulate their
motions. Consider having yourself videotaped so you can see what you're doing wrong. Sit
down and talk to your instructor. If you just aren't getting the hang of it, maybe now is the time
for that private lesson or two.
What to do if...the horse runs away in the ring.
Usually the horse isn't actually running away, you're just having trouble stopping him. The first
thing you must do is listen, even though this is really hard to do, especially if you're panicked.
But listen. Your instructor will be telling you what to do.
Get your horse turned and circle him toward your instructor. Keep reducing the size of the
circle until the instructor is in the center. At that point the horse will stop at the instructor or the
instructor can stop the horse for you, or at least give you directions.
As you advance your riding, you'll be asked to make sure your horse picks up the right lead. In
other words, when Sampson canters on right rein, or clockwise, he leads the canter with his
right front leg -- it goes forward slightly more than the other front leg -- and when he canters on
left rein, he leads with his left. This helps his balance.
At this stage of cantering, however, I do not work on leads. It's just too much for you to absorb
while you're still trying to find your canter seat. But this is something you need to be aware of
and that you'll learn soon.
Cantering a calm horse -- the kind you should be mounted on for these lessons -- is somewhat
like burning rubber at a stoplight.
Just in case you didn't do this in high school, here's how: You put the car in neutral, rev the
engine, wait for the green light, at which point you slip the transmission into drive and jam the
gas pedal down as far as it will go.
How does this apply to cantering? Just before you canter, you have to rev the horse's engine.
That doesn't mean you'll go faster, but that the contained energy will increase. The horse
should be struggling to go faster, but you're containing that energy by restraining him. When
you reach the point that you picked out to start the canter, you put him into drive. That is, you
use your legs, push with your back, and give with your hands.
You're on track if you can:
as he picks up the canter.
- Control the horse and keep your half seat position
lap around the ring.
- Maintain the half seat position comfortably for a full
or trying to stand in your stirrups.
- Sit through a few strides of the canter without gripping
|Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156 fax: 301-421-9049