Perfecting the Canter
All of the things you've learned so far in this book come together in this lesson.  You've been
working hard to establish your seat.  Once you've done that and also learned to reasonably
collect your horse between your hands and your legs, you'll be far more able to control the horse,
and you'll find the canter very comfortable.
Your horse for this lesson is a special one.
Justin is regal and gorgeous.  He knows it, too, striking a pose as if to say, "Just look at how great I
am.  I'm above all the ordinary school horses in this field."  He prefers Red Delicious apples and
will turn up his nose at a sour Granny Smith any day of the week.  He even rolls in mud elegantly.  
Justin has one little problem.  He overreaches, that is, his back feet hit his front heels, so he has to
wear bell boots to protect his front feet.
Justin isn't a full-blooded Morgan.  He's a mutt.  That's just as well, because many Morgans can be
a bit more than a beginning rider can handle.  Whatever other breed Justin has in him has made
him a good, well-rounded school horse.
Justin's also very smart.  We're talking brilliant.  He waits for you to give him the aids, and they'd
better be clear directions.  He wants you to be the leader and will test you to see if you can meet
his standards.  Think ahead with this horse.  If you panic and grip, Justin won't stop, he'll move on
and out.
Breakdown of the Aids
To prepare for your cantering lesson, you should begin by reviewing the aids to the canter.  Like all
gaits, the canter requires that you position your body in various ways to get the horse to move as
you want.  To make this easier, let me break down the aids to the canter so they really make sense.

Aids to the Canter


1.  Half halt.  You give a half halt to let the horse rebalance and know you're going to tell him to do
something different.

2.  Pick a point.  This is a physical spot on the ground.  It's an inch.  It's a centimeter.  It's very
specific, because to initiate the canter the horse has to change the way he moves, and so do you.  If
you don't time this correctly, Justin may run into the canter (trot faster), or he may have a
delayed reaction to the canter, which could unseat you.

3.  Sit down.  You have to sit fully down in the saddle because the horse is going to gather his body
underneath you and change how he's moving, and you need to follow with your back.

Bending the Horse

4.  Position your legs.  Position your inside leg at the girth and you outside leg behind the girth.  
(Remember, "girth" in this context refers to where you sit in proper balance, directly on your seat
bones).  At this point, you just position your legs, which remain passive.

5.   Position your hands.  Shorten your inside rein, but both reins should still have equal contact with
the horse's mouth.  What does this mean?  You're turning the horse's head to the inside, but
because the contact remains equal he doesn't turn his body.  (Of course, if you pulled on just
the inside rein, he'd turn).  This establishes a bend, which will help Justin pick up the correct lead.  
More on that later.


6.  Squeeze with your outside leg.  You actually squeeze with both legs, but make your outside leg
the active one.

7.  Push with your back.  Do you recall the swing analogy from way back in lesson 1?  Imagine sitting
on a swing with your feet off the ground.  You want the swing to move forward, so you push forward
with your back.

8.  Give with your hands.  I don't mean throw your reins away.  I mean release the pressure that
your leg and back have created.

The sequence of the aids is critical.  The motion must be initiated from the rear toward the front:
legs, back, hands.

Clues to Successful Cantering

You cannot build impulsion or energy and pick up the canter
simultaneously.  The energy must already be present and
contained, and then released into the canter.  When you squeeze
with your outside leg behind the girth, you aren't trying to go faster,
you're trying to release the already contained energy.

If you manage to contain your horse's energy and he still
doesn't canter when you ask him to, you probably didn't give the
sequence of aids precisely enough.
Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156          fax: 301-421-9049