The canter is considered by a number of horse riders as one of the most fun strides to ride. Yet many other riders find it very hard to get their horse into a canter. So let’s have a review on why the canter might not be working for you.
Your horse isn’t fit enough to hold you in a canter
Like any athlete, horses require training to develop and hold riders in their chosen sport. It involves them coordinating 4 legs, balancing a human on their back, engaging their core, and trying to listen to what you are telling them. Imagine trying to hold 3 plates, walk in high heels, suck in your belly and smiling at the same time – then up that walk to a run! While it doesn’t look pretty, and probably isn’t feasible, with practice it becomes easier.
Same for our horse. We can help them build it up by ensuring they have their core engaged, a working pace and balance in the lower paces before introducing it in the canter. We can also help them by working on their canter transitions on the lunge.
You are getting in the way of your horse’s canter
If you lack balance, or lack confidence, you may be clenching down on your horse with your knees, and/or gripping the mouth to tight, and essentially providing a set of mixed signals for your horse.
If your canter isn’t established, you can’t help your horse coordinate theirs under saddle. Hop off, work on some canter on the lunge, and look for a riding school horse with a balanced canter to help you learn.
The working area is too small for the horse to canter
If you are trying to canter in 15 meter circles and your horse is unable to do so, the area is too small. The horse lacks the capability of maintaining that amount of bend at the canter pace, regardless if it can while at the lower paces.
The advice here is to go big! Bigger circles, bigger arena! Allow your horse to build up their ability to bend in the canter before trying to work in smaller circles or corners.
The horse just goes into a faster trot, and doesn’t pop into a canter
This may happen for several reasons:
Your horse can physically hold you in the canter
Your horse doesn’t understand the aids
You are giving your horse the wrong instructions
Your horse is trying but isn’t quite there yet
Your horse is purposely avoiding the canter
Firstly, make sure you are providing the correct cues to pop them into canter. You may need to hire an instructor to get you through this phase. I would also suggest reading the 4 reasons why a horse evades to establish what to do in the case of the other reasons.