Rhythm; Learning to Identify and Develop it in Canter

Rhythm; Learning to Identify and Develop it in Canter

Rhythm; Learning to Identify and Develop it in Canter

It can often sound like a jackhammer… Rrrrrrrrrrrrrr.  Instead of the 1,2,3…1,2,3…1,2,3… that the canter should produce when you listen for the rhythm.  And once either a horse or a rider has become ‘used’ to a different way, it can be a real challenge to get things back on track.  Or on beat, as the case is when the rhythm is lost in the canter.

Some things are taken for granted when we ride horses.  Rhythm is very often one of those things.  And many riders think that, if there is a regular enough repeating sound, rhythm is good.  But sometimes, the rhythm itself is not right.  And when this happens, no further development can happen within the gait until this is corrected.

The Rhythm in Canter

I am sure that you are well aware of the fact that your canter should have a 3 beat rhythm.  I am going to also assume here that you understand what causes this gait to have 3 beats (as opposed to 4 or 2 like walk or trot).

However, what many riders fail to realize is that rhythm in the canter can be lost without your horse becoming disunited behind!  I mention the disunited behind because this is one of the most talked-about and common ways for the canter to develop a 4-time beat.  However, let’s assume here that your horse is indeed united in the canter.

All feet are moving where they should be.  And yet, you’re just not hearing that distinctive 3-time beat…  Now what? 

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Canter Lacking Forwardness

One of the most common challenges when it comes to maintaining a rhythm in the canter is to do it while keeping things, well, slow, and steady!  Horse riding and equestrian sport, like all things, have trends and fashions.  The popular or ‘cool’ thing to be able to do with your horse at that point in the game.

A slow canter is one of these… Whether it is because of a nervous rider, or just to get that s l o w canter, I don’t know.  However, the challenge comes when riders slow things to the point where each foot is moving individually and separately from the others.

The diagonal pair of hooves that the inside hind foot and outside front foot make up, are no longer in sync with each other.  One, usually the inside hind, is touching down before the other.  

This creates a 4 time beat in the canter.  Many riders won’t want to hear this. However, I believe that this is caused by a rider not asking for enough energy.  And then, at the same time,  ‘holding on’ too much to the energy that is being created.

Recreating the 3 Time Beat

The remedy for this type of loss of rhythm is often to simply put ‘more’ into the container.  Asking for and allowing more forwardness in the canter itself.  Many riders feel that if they do this, they will lose everything they have worked for.  Maybe this is the horse traveling in a certain ‘frame’.  Or it could be losing ‘on the bit’.

It’s good to realise and remember that if your horse is creating 4 beats in the canter due to a lack of forwardness, he won’t progress from there!  

The reason collection is at the top of the training scale is that it requires everything else to be balanced and developed in order for it to happen.  Rhythm is at the bottom of the training scale.  By removing the rhythm, there cannot be collection.  It is a false outcome and one that will cap both horse and rider going forward.

The Jackhammer Canter

On the other side of the coin, is the canter where all legs appear to be moving at the same time!  It is quite the sight to behold and, often, it is also a little more difficult to work on.

The ‘jackhammer’ canter usually happens when the horse learns to move his legs REALLY quickly.  And yet, is not actually covering a whole lot of ground!

Rrrr…Rrrr…Rrrr…Rrrr…Rrrr.  On and on it goes.  No real indication of what hoof is ‘starting’ to each stride.  And, no real ‘ending’ hoof falls to each stride. In this canter the horse often becomes disunited.  However, this can be just as hard to identify when riding.  None of it feels particularly balanced. Rrrr…Rrrr…Rrrr…Rrrr…Rrrr!

Begin By Identifying Hoof Sequence

The important thing to remember is the connection between your seat and your horse’s hind feet.  By directly using your seat to ask your horse to ‘wait’, you can influence the canter itself. 

This can be a tricky one to correct.  The natural tendency for riders is to pull the reins and resist more with their seat to ‘slow’ the horse down.  However, it is not so much that the horse is traveling fast, as it ‘sounds’ like the horse is traveling fast!

Start by identifying when the outside hind leg is on the ground.  The ‘1’ of the canter stride.  When it is there, use your outside seat bone to ask your horse to keep it there a fraction longer.  ‘WAIT’ by weighting. More on that HERE

As this happens (and this is where rider suppleness becomes essential), continue to allow your inside seat bone to move with the canter. This allows the diagonal pair of legs to move for the 2 beats of the canter.  Finally, make sure you create space for your horse’s inside shoulder to move and create the 3 beats. You can do this by softening or opening your inside hand and rein a fraction.

Developing the Rhythm in Canter

Once you can begin to hear a more distinctive 1,2,3..1,2,3..1.2.3.. you can begin to play with making each beat more singular.  Like you want to identify each individual beat within the canter rhythm itself.  This is where the real work begins.

When a horse has become a master of the 4 time canter or the ‘jackhammer’ canter, he will find it quite tiring to stay in a more ‘true’ canter for any length of time.

He must develop more in order to hold this.  Start with asking for 3 to 5 strides. Pay attention to the quality of the strides.  Also, pay attention that you are not ‘holding’ him there.  You will know when you are if there’s a lot of shoulder movement happening in your body!  Or if you are twisting yourself in order to ‘hold’.

Your job is to set everything up for him to the canter.  When (not if) he begins to revert to his ‘old’ ways, correct and then set things up again.

Holding him or doing it for him will not help him in the long run…

Happy Riding

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