I don’t know about you but for me the canter is the most comfortable and enjoyable gait when riding your horse. I just love the feeling of rolling along, wind in my hair… The three beat rhythm so different from the other three paces.
But I also realize that so many riders never really get to appreciate how enjoyable the canter can be, either through fear or trying too hard.
Let me explain…
When your horse canters, it is almost like a dance. He will lead and you will follow. As anyone who dances knows, if the follower tries to lead, the dance loses its flow and grace. The same applies if the follower won’t allow the leader to lead! These two scenarios are so often the case when people experience a choppy, uncomfortable, rhythm-less canter; they just won’t allow their horse to lead them!
The truth is that horse riding is one of those things in life that you really do get out what you are willing and prepared to put in. So often, people want to have wonderful paces and an enjoyable ride, without doing the downright hard slog that it takes to really understand how your body works with your horse as you ride.
So if you are willing to put the work in, here are a few different points you can begin to do today that will, hopefully, allow you to experience the canter in all its glory.
1. Practice the sitting trot, without your stirrups
2. Prepare and ride the trot to canter transition correctly
3. Sit up through your upper body
4. Become the ‘Jelly’!
So let’s have a look at each of these points in a little more detail.
1. Practice the sitting trot, without your stirrups
The sitting trot is a wonderful way of improving the canter. This is because in order to really ride it correctly, you need to allow your hips to move with your horse. Not against him. Just like in canter. To do this you must let your legs stretch down; no drawing them up!
The sitting trot also, over time, gives you a more secure seat. It will also improve your balance. Both of these ‘benefits’ are essential for a good canter.
Spend 10 to 15 minutes every time you ride without your stirrups. Begin only riding straight lines at trot if you are initially skeptical about your abilities to say on your horse! Just make sure you are slowly building it up, both time and energy.
2. Prepare and Ride the Trot to Canter Transition Correctly
Preparation is key to most, if not all, success. A vast majority of riders, especially nervous ones, literally throw their horse into canter and then hang on. Their faces turning purple with exertion. Knuckles white from clinging on to the reins or saddle for dear life…
Rather take the time to understand what your horse does in the canter transition. This allows you to prepare your body for the shift in momentum that you will inevitably feel as the gear change happens.
Watch others ride transitions; notice what is good and what isn’t. Most of all, remember that your horse must canter – not you! Sit up through your body. Allow your horse to canter by being ready to follow with your hips and hands. Not your upper body!
Throwing yourself towards or onto your horse’s neck during the transition is a surefire way of unbalancing you both and maybe even leading to a fall… Sit Up!
3. Sit Up Through Your Upper Body
So we mentioned it already, however it is so important that I have dedicated a whole point to it! You must make a conscious effort to sit up through your diaphragm and upper body. Why? Well, if you are slouched you are, basically, heavy through your torso and body.
This causes you to firstly become very heavy on your horse’s back. Imagine a child that does not want to be lifted up, versus one who does.
Secondly, this heaviness creates a jarring for you and your horse because your pelvis cannot properly move. This is essential to allow the energy created in your horse’s back-end to efficiently and correctly connect through to the front end.
Your pelvic area must follow your horse in the canter and it is a whole lot easier to do this if you carry your upper body yourself. You need a strong core to do this, which I cover in the FREE Equestrian Fitness Challenge which you can join HERE
4. Be ‘The Jelly’
Hmmm, this may initially sound confusing but bear with me while I explain. Imagine you have a dinner plate in your hand and you slowly begin to move your arm up and down, bouncing the plate. Now imagine on that plate there were two items, a stone and a lump of jelly…
Which do you think will bounce off your ‘plate’ first, the rigid, hard stone or the soft, flexible piece of jelly? Of course you are going to lose the stone first! Your job when cantering is ‘Be the Jelly’!
Allow your body to relax and be taken by your horse in the canter… Remember the dance; you must follow. In order to follow, you again must be pliable enough for your partner, which in this case is your horse, to lead you.
However, very important, don’t collapse your upper body. ‘Being the Jelly’ basically means being flexible through your body, not collapsing on top of yourself and your horse and just being carried around.
Suppleness is Essential for Riders…
Riding requires your horse to carry you, yes, but it also requires you to carry yourself. Remember that always, but allow your body to be led, especially in the beginning when learning.
Once you have begun to relax and enjoy the experience of canter, you can then begin working on actually riding it… and that is a whole other ball game :-)
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