What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-
- Understand why correct flexion is everything
- Get clear on the role of your seat
- Use your legs to ‘ask’ the question
- Actually allowing the horse to actually canter
Do you find that canter leads end up getting you and your horse in a bit of a muddle sometimes? You’ve perhaps noticed that if you ask in the corner you are usually okay… But, if and when you ask on the straight, well, it seems to be down to chance! A fifty / fifty chance, but a chance all the same!
In this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast I am focusing about cantering, and the correct leads in canter. I want to help you to strike the correct canter lead 100% of the time, regardless of if you are on a bend or on the straight.
For many riders, the transition to canter is one that is initially mastered on a corner or bend. This is because the bend will naturally help ‘set you up’ for success through the transition itself. However, it is when the same transition is asked while riding a straight line, muddled communication becomes apparent very quickly!
If you have experienced this, firstly don’t worry. It is a common issue for many riders and one that is easily ‘straightened out’ when you understand the mechanics behind it all.
Correct Flexion is Everything
I cannot stress enough the importance of correct flexion in cantering. I find that often riders are so busy trying to get the horse to go forward and into the canter – that they completely forget about the flexion. The flexion that really must be there if the transition is going to be a successful one.
I believe that correct flexion is one of the foundational pieces necessary for the correct transition to occur
With canter you want to have a slight flexion to the inside. Remember that flexion is not a bend. Bending is when the horse’s nose and tail get closer together on the one side of their body, as they bend that way.
Flexion and Suppleness
Flexion is more like a slight ‘give’ to one side. What is really important about flexion is that there must be a certain degree of suppleness present in horse and rider.
If you are fixing or forcing the flexion, then it is not flexion.
If you do this then the horse cannot move through the transition into whatever you want him to do. It is important to understand that for flexion there has to be movement. There has to be suppleness and it has to be ‘loosey goosey’.
Flexion is not dictated by which rein you are on, it is dictated by whichever canter lead you are asking for. It is important to decide which is your inside and which is your outside and make that clear to your horse before the transition
Let’s say you were to ask for a little flexion to the left, then you are going to be setting the horse up to canter on the left lead. It doesn’t mean that you horse veers off to the left, because we are riding a straight line. That is why I said that flexion is not bend, it is just a little ‘give’ – it is an indicator, or a ‘nod’ in that direction.
Understanding the Role of Your Seat
Your seat… We could go deep into what your seat should and should not be doing. However I have covered it in detail in past episodes HERE & HERE. There is also a complete list complementary episodes on this topic at the bottom of this blog post.
I see so frequently with riders, that their seat is actually incorrect. It often shows up in that they are not sitting straight; meaning that there is more of their body on the one side of the saddle than the other side.
If you are riding on the straight, make sure you are straight in the saddle! Otherwise you are giving conflicting directions, or asking questions that don’t make sense, to your horse
How is Your ‘Scoop’?
The second common mistake I see when it comes to the seat is riders confusing a ‘scoop’ with a ‘dig’. You can ask for the transition, and the correct canter lead, with your seat. Very often the term used is to ‘scoop’.
Unfortunately, what very often happens is that riders will ‘dig’ instead of scoop. Trust me, your horse will not enjoy the feeling of having a hole dug in his back! He will try to move his back away from you. This usually results in him either go crooked through his body, or hollow through his back. Neither are good when it comes to successful transitions, especially canter transitions.
Think of your ‘scoop’ as being light, almost like an indicator. You are subtly asking for something ‘more’ or bigger to happen. And remember, you and your horse must be ‘fluent’ in the seat in order for the ‘scoop’ to work :)
Using Your Legs to ‘Ask’ the Question
If you and your horse are not quite proficient in the language of the seat just yet, don’t worry. The easier way ask for the correct canter lead it to use your legs to ask the question.
In a previous episode HERE we spoke about the ‘legs first or the seat first’ combination. The egg and chicken of horse riding for many riders. I believe that they are both usually influential on each other.
This is good news for you as it means that you can use your legs to influence your seat, and your horse, when asking for the canter transition initially
The simple canter aids are that your inside leg is ‘on’ and your outside leg is slightly back. However, instead of your outside leg remaining too far back, it is almost as though it plays tag
Where you ‘tag’ your horse is important. You don’t want to touch him too far back, closer to his flank (you would be surprised what I have seen riders try and do in an effort to get into canter!).
I am going to suggest that you be more subtle and let the ‘back’ be just an inch or two behind your usual outside leg position. Most horses will understand.
Both Your Legs Have Important Roles in the Transition
After touching him (tagging) your outside leg will stay a little more back when compared with your inside leg. This is because your outside seat bone is a little back and your inside seat bone a little more forward as your horse canters.
It is equally important to realise that it is not just your outside leg doing all the work. When your outside leg is ‘tagging’ your horse, your inside leg will be asking for ‘more’ energy. This can be with your inside seat bone, and this is where the scoop comes in.
Allowing the Horse to Actually Canter
Once you have asked the question, you now have to actually allow your horse to canter! We spoke about straightness through your body at the beginning of this post, and this is where it is really key to remain ‘straight. Equal amounts of your body and weight on both sides of your saddle.
It is also really important to make sure that you haven’t allowed your body to tip forward as your horse took that first step into the canter. Your correct position is essential to allowing your horse to canter
When it comes to ‘allowing’, I personally believe that it is all about your seat. If you are shut down the energy through your seat, your horse can no longer go forward
A simple way to imagine this is to imagine yourself sitting up and allow your seat to lead. Your body must simply follow through from your seat.
I believe there is an invisible connection between your seat and your hands, and by allowing through your seat, you allow through the hand. This, in turn, allows your horse to move into the canter.
Practicing the Correct Canter Lead While on the Straight
Like all things in horse riding, this too is going to require practice. I would strongly suggest schooling on this using the centre line or a quarter line.
A simple exercise you can do which will allow you to keep moving forward in your riding is to work on the quarter line. Ask for the canter while on the quarter line. Then change rein across the long diagonal. As you change rein, transition down to trot and use the time to rebalance and establish your trot. Then simply ride down the opposite quarter line ask for the other canter lead.
Of course, there are many different schooling exercises and movements you can use to practice this. What is important is to remember the flexion and ‘how’ you are asking your horse for the canter transition.
Links mentioned in the episode:-
- www.RiderMindset.com – Free 5 Day Mini-Course
- Setting Up Better Canter Transitions
- 4 Steps to a More Comfortable Canter
- Using Your Body to Effectively Influence the Canter
- Straightness in the Canter
- A Simple Exercise for Straightness
- Learning to Stop Driving with Your Seat
- Asking Your Horse to Lengthen the Stride in Canter