Re-Defining the Rhythm in the Canter When Riding

Re-Defining the Rhythm in the Canter When Riding

Re-Defining the Rhythm in the Canter When Riding

There are some things that many of us simply accept in life.  Rainy days. Horsehair is everywhere in Spring. The rhythm in the canter.  And yet, while we cannot change the weather (okay, debatable) and we definitely cannot get around the necessary loss of the winter coat…

The Rhythm in the canter is definitely something we can have a more positive influence over when we ride – rather than simply accepting what is. 

And yet, it can seem daunting! Many riders find that when they attempt to begin doing this, they tend to lose the canter altogether.  They quickly find themselves back in the trot.  Or the canter has lost its 3 beat sequence – so it’s technically no longer a canter!

Why Redefining?

I think that in order to really make your time in canter count towards the overall training of your horse, we need to first define what is already there.  Most riders know that rhythm in the canter consists of a repetitive 1,2,3..1,2,3..1,2,3..

And yet, many riders almost see each stride in the canter as being the rhythm, instead of each individual beat that truly makes up the rhythm. 

By redefining the rhythm in the canter, I would love for you to stop seeing the rhythm as being stride for stride.  But rather being noticing the individual beats that, together, create the rhythm of each stride inside of the canter itself.

Noticing Each Individual Beat

Once you have committed to really separating things out regarding what happens within each stride, the challenge becomes making this happen when you’re riding.  In canter, the strides can feel fast!  They seem to come flying along and so fast and furious that really being able to identify individual beats inside of the stride can seem daunting!

Start with the first beat of each stride.  Start with 1.  Each stride, after the break that the ‘roll’ (suspension) creates, notice the 1 in each new stride. 

Once you have identified the 1 of each stride, begin creating a connection between that beat and your outside seat bone.  1 is your horse’s outside back leg stepping down on the ground. Your horse’s back leg and your outside seat bone are connected.

Let your awareness of the first beat inside of each stride, and its connection to your outside seat bone help you to begin to ‘define’ rhythm in the canter.

Finding the Second Beat

Once you have identified the first beat, it simply becomes a matter of mindfulness and awareness to begin identifying the second and third beats of each individual canter stride. I feel that one of the best ways to do this is to begin using 1 as an opportunity to half halt.

Half halt is only really held for a beat, so using the beat from the 1 inside of the canter stride as a timer, will allow you to begin clearly identifying the 2 in each stride. 

The second beat, 2 is when the horses inside back leg and outside front leg move forwards together.  It will feel like activation of your inside seat bone.  A swinging forward feeling.  Some riders describe it as a ‘scoop’.

If you can begin to identify the 2nd beat within each stride, and then tie that in with the movement of your inside seat bone, it will allow you to start truly defining the rhythm in the canter itself.

Third Beat and the Roll…

The third beat, beat 3 happens when your inside seat bone has swung or scooped as far forward as it is going to go inside of that particular stride.  The 3 is the culmination of the stride.  However, the horse’s body now has to move forward over the inside front leg in order to start the process again.

This ‘gap’ between the 3rd and last beat of the old stride and the 1st beat of the new stride is marked by a moment of suspension.  It feels like a rolling feeling when you are in the saddle. 

This allows. your body to reset itself and be ready for 1 (or the first beat) again.  Any resisting, excessive tension or lack of balance from the rider will become amplified here.  This is where many riders can become a little ‘airborne’!  It is also where riders can tend to override with their shoulders and upper body.

The key to riding the canter is suppleness and if is in this ‘roll’ part of each stride that a lack of suppleness in the rider will become very clear!

Re-Defining the Rhythm in the Canter

Once you can clearly identify each individual beat inside of the canter itself, you can begin to intentionally use your aids to have more influence.  Each individual stride is an opportunity to connect with your horse and help him to create more space within that stride.

By consistently connecting your individual aids to each individual element of the canter stride, you can begin to intentionally ask different questions of your horse

Questions like “Wait a fraction longer here please” using your outside seat bone on beat 1 of the canter stride. Or “A little longer please” using your inside seat bone on beat 2.  Or “A little shorter here please”!

What is important is to remember that no one aid will be applied in isolation.  I am just mentioning the two above to help you gain connection to the individual beats within the stride itself.

When you can easily identify each beat of the stride, you can begin to measure your influence as a rider.  You can be creating more space within each stride.  Defining each beat more so that they are ‘stand out’ and easy to spot (or hear).

This is how you can then begin to improve the rhythm inside of the canter – for you and your horse.

Happy Riding

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