Riding, just like life, is about enjoying the journey rather than just the destination. However, when you’re transitioning from the trot into the canter – and your horse seems determined to show you just how fast he can actually trot beforehand; well, the journey is not all that enjoyable!
I don’t know of a single rider who enjoys the ‘rush’ of a horse running from trot to canter. It is bouncy, unbalancing, and, sometimes, scary. Also, it more often than not sets up a canter that feels like all of the above as well.
The good news is that there are a few things you can do, starting today, to begin re-schooling this behavior; for you and your horse.
1. Improve Your Suppleness, Coordination, and Balance
This can seem pretty obvious. However, for many riders, the struggle to transition from the trot into the canter is down to their lack of suppleness. The suppleness required for a mediocre trot is not the same as what is required for a forward-thinking and moving canter.
And as you begin to set up the canter, the increased energy and intention inside both you and your horse can become blocked by your lack of suppleness
This shows up as excess tension in the rider’s body; the more energy they feel, the more than ‘hunker down’ and try to ‘control’ both themselves and their horse. This will naturally lead to more bouncing, less balance, and a breakdown in the coordination of your aids.
Devote some time to practicing how you respond when you create more energy within just the trot. Work on channeling that energy, rather than ‘holding it’.
2. Spend Time Developing the Trot
This leads me to the next point. Developing a more rhythmic, spacious, and forward trot will really help you transition from the trot into the canter with greater ease and balance. The trot is the gait where we often simply accept what we have been given with regard to our horse’s way of going.
Most horses will have a natural rhythm in the trot, and it is important to keep in mind that you can positively influence this further.
Work on forwardness (both thinking and going), responsiveness, lightness, and creating more space inside of each stride. From here, you can then begin to ‘test’ yourself using the sitting trot. If you are struggling to remain balanced, relaxed (correct tension), and coordinated inside of a better-quality trot, revisit the first point again!
Working between walk and trot will also help you here as you can practice what you are doing before, during, and after the upward and downward transitions. More on that in point number 4.
3. Get Clear on EXACTLY What You Want
Yes, you want to get from the trot into the canter. And, if that is all you want, that is probably what you will get; and any way possible! Not ideal and often not enjoyable either. Okay, so if you were to rethink this, what do you actually want regarding this transition?
Where do you want it to happen? How would you like it to feel? What type of canter are you looking to create when there? And what is the focus for the actual transition as training for you or your horse?
When you are working with a younger horse or a green horse, you can be a little more relaxed with regards to getting things ‘exactly’ as you want them. However, the longer you are working together, the more specific you should become on what you want and how you want it.
I feel that ‘balanced’ is always a good outcome to work towards. So too is accuracy. Lightness really does help it all feel better. As well as straightness throughout…
4. Transition From Trot into the Canter
When you know what you want, you can now go and make it happen. Start by modeling everything you expect your horse and the transition to be, through your own body and actions. Ride the transition exactly as you want it to happen.
Straighten yourself in the saddle. Carry yourself and remain ‘light’, especially with your upper body. Be accurate and timely with your aids. And respond in a way that allows your horse to do what you ask him to do.
When you feel the trot beginning to deteriorate, change the focus. Rather go back to balancing the trot again. Once you have it back to a quality you are happy with, set it all up and ask again. Pushing on through for the sake of pushing on through is rarely the right way to develop a better transition from the trot into the canter.
When you feel the quality of the trot, and therefore the transition begins to deteriorate; rather focus on improving that first. From this reestablished place, try again.
5. Allow the Canter to Flow
The more attention to detail you devote to what happens in the lead-up to the transition, and through the transition, the better each transition will become over time. However, getting from a trot into the canter is a 3 part process.
- Establish a good quality trot
- Ask for a clean, timely, balanced, and light transition
- Allow the canter to go forwards
As riders, we can often become confused with our role in each of the questions we ask when riding. The canter is no different. So many riders think that they have to ‘do’ canter in order to canter!
Your job is to ask your horse to canter, and then get out of the way and allow him to canter. You do not canter; he does.
This means that leaning forward, especially with the shoulders to the inside, is not helping your horse. In fact, it’s probably doing the exact opposite and blocking his inside shoulder. Similarly, collapsing into the back of the saddle to stop bouncing is equally unhelpful. It blocks the flow of energy from back to front. This prevents any connection, lightness, and self-carriage from happening.
The canter is a gait that you can see an almost instant improvement in when you know what to look for and do. All it takes is some dedication, focus, and the right guidance.
Improving Your Canter
If you are keen to develop your canter more, I would love to help you. YOU CAN FIND ALL THE DETAILS HERE for a 4-week program on the canter. Using a blend of audio horse riding lessons, and video, you will receive step-by-step guidance on how to improve your canter.
Created with riders who are working alone without a trainer or coach, you will learn how to improve both yourself and your horse. Getting into, riding the actual canter, and transitioning out of it too.
The course is self-study, and you get lifetime access to all of the materials, meaning you can go back and refine things over and over again. Created with the goal of 3 focused rides a week to work on your canter, this program can transform how you think about, ride, and develop the canter. For you and your horse. CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAILS