Timing Your Transition into Canter

Timing Your Transition into Canter

Timing Your Transition into Canter

Timing is something we all understand.  When it is working for us, it feels good.  If it’s a little off, things tend to feel rushed or stressed. I think our horses feel the same mixed bag of emotions and tension when the timing is off.  In fact, bad timing often is the very thing that causes a ‘hop, skip, and jump’ into the canter.

So, if timing the ask of your canter transitions is so important, why can it often feel so hard?!  And why, is it that what so many people say is ‘easy’ to feel, seems like a mystery to most riders?

Excess Tension

The first suggestion I am going to give you when it comes to timing your canter aids is to give your physical body a quick scan.  There is one reoccurring theme I see with novice riders, the world over when it comes to the canter.  Really; this one issue really trips so many riders up!

When they begin to think about canter, they allow excess tension to creep into their body as they overthink the upcoming transition. 

It can be subtle or it can be more obvious, depending on the situation and the rider.  However, it is very often there and present.  My suggestion for you when beginning to prepare your transition into the canter is to pay attention to your body.

Tension is neither good nor bad.  It just is.  And, in fact, it is essential to keep you upright on the horse!  It is when there is too much tension present for the task at hand, that the challenges show up.

One way to tell if this is happening to you is when your horse seems to either understand English (so when someone tells you to canter, he changes what he’s doing). Or if he seems to read your mind. It’s probably neither.  He’s simply responding to you…

Feeling the Movement

From here, begin working on identifying what you are feeling.  It’s all well and good to say ‘my horse is walking’ or ‘my horse is trotting’.  However, you need to begin going a little deeper.  You need to know what is moving when and where underneath you.  And, preferably, without having to look or glance.  Pure feel.

Start with the rhythm.  Identify the beat.  Then begin imagining in your mind the sequence of hoof falls that make that beat in the gait you are in.  Apply this to your horse.

Regardless of where you are in your riding journey, you will be able to either feel or hear the hoofbeats of your horse.  Especially in the walk. Feel into that 1,2,3,4, 1,2,3,4, 1,2,3,4…  Do the same in the trot.  Don’t overthink it.  Just simply allow it to happen and be mindful of it.  ‘Oh, there’s the 1’.  Or ‘interesting, that was different between the 2, and 3, than the previous stride’.

If you are not completely sure of the sequence of your horse’s feet as he walks or trots, learn!  Make it your mission to understand each gait, so you can begin merging the rhythm to what is happening underneath you.

Noticing the Swing

From here, I suggest starting to develop your seat by noticing that there is both a ‘forwards and back’ movement happening in the walk and trot and, also, lifting and lowering.

Notice how, when in the walk, as your left seat bone slides forward, it also lowers a little.  And, as this is happening, your right seat bone will be sliding back and it will be lifted slightly higher.

Often, when explaining or teaching the transition into the canter, instructors will talk about a scoop of your seat.  This is setting things up for the scoop.  And it is one of the keys to knowing ‘when’ to ask for the transition into the canter.

Your Horses Barrel

Okay, this is where you can begin seeing little signals from your horse that this is the right place to ask.  Pay attention to your horse’s barrel as he walks.  As your left seat bone slides forward and dips down, his barrel will swing to the right.

Now, let’s pretend that you are on the left rein, so moving around the arena anticlockwise.  If you were to ask for a canter, we can assume you will ask for the left lead, right?  So, your aids for the transition itself will include your inside leg being ‘on’ and your outside leg playing ‘tag’ and sliding back to ask for the transition… Okay?

Well, notice how, when your horse is standing on his outside hind leg (your outside seatbone will be sliding back, and up and over it), his barrel literally pushes into your outside leg.  It ‘prompts’ it to take action. 

Now, obviously, your horse is not doing this on purpose.  He is simply making space for the inside back leg to move into as it travels forward.  However, if you have done your homework, you will know that to ‘strike’ the canter, he will start with his outside back leg.  So it makes sense to ask when this is on the ground and ready to ‘push off’ into the canter.

Another way you can look at this, is from the scoop persepective.  If your outside seatbone is travelling backand is higher, it makes sense that your inside seatbone is travelling foward and is… Lower.  Which helps with that ‘scoop’ aid. 

Transition into Canter From Trot

I always suggest that riders, if possible, work on perfecting their timing for the transition into canter using the walk to canter.  There is time for them to really settle into it and be mindful and present to all of it.  However, I also know that, at some point, you will want to begin practicing the transition from trot to canter.  This is a little different and, in my opinion, requires a little more coordination and feel.

One of the best ways of getting clear about what is moving when underneath you as you trot is to pay attention to your diagonals.

Rise and fall with the shoulder by the wall is how the saying goes.  And because your horse moves his legs in diagonal pairs when he trots, once you know what his outside shoulder is doing, you automatically know that his inside hind leg is doing the same thing.

Which allows you to figure out where his outside hind leg is at any given time in the stride.  You can tell this, again, by understanding how your horse moves.

From here, simply apply your aids at the time when your horse will find it easiest to take action on them.

Happy Riding

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