Have you ever fallen into the trap of trying to actually get your horse to canter? It’s a sneaky one that hides in plain sight. And it is an exhausting one as well. The good news is that you’re not alone! Over the years, I have seen so many riders make this mistake.
Because trying to make your horse canter, and asking your horse to canter are two completely different things…
And the latter, asking your horse, is so much easier, balanced, and enjoyable for all involved. It also has a much higher success rate as well ;)
Tipping Forward while You Transition into Canter
There are lots of reasons why riders find themselves tipping forward when getting into the canter. Lack of balance, coordination, self-awareness, position, and correct aids, to just name a few. And, as already mentioned, believing it’s your job to ‘make’ your horse canter also causes many challenges.
Whatever the reason for it, finding yourself tipping forward on entry into canter is often not the best place to be, for the transition and for the canter itself
And tipping forward not only makes things more difficult for you, but it also really can become a hindrance for your horse as well. It can negatively impact your horse’s ability actually to complete the transition. Just like us, our horses need to try and remain balanced, coordinated, and ‘forward thinking’ during the transition. And on the off chance that he does indeed make it into the canter, the rider tipping forward can make it difficult to establish a good quality, forward-moving, and engaged canter.
The transition into the canter is an ‘upward’ transition, both between gaits and physically as well. If you throw your weight forward, you are blocking the horse with your body
The Transition into Canter for Your Horse
As your horse prepares to move into the canter, whether it is from walk or trot, he has to ‘reorganize’ his body a little. This is due to the canter being completely different from the walk or trot. The footfalls, the energy, the rhythm… All of it changes.
In an ideal situation, your horse would maintain balance, engage the hindquarters, lighten the front end, and literally ‘step’ into the canter from the previous gait
If the rider has tipped forward, this becomes close to impossible. The rider’s weight will have shifted onto, usually, their knees and inner thighs. This prevents the seat from connecting through the transition. The rider’s hands will also be affected. Either they will run forwards, up the mane. Or drop downwards, further leaning weight on the withers and shoulders.
Often you will see horses responding to the rider tipping forward by ‘running’ through the transition. Or failing to transition at all into the canter
Focus on Your Seat & Posture
So, let’s say that you have identified that you do, indeed, have a bit of a habit of tipping forward through the transition. The first two things I would suggest to work on this is to try to remain engaged through your seat and aware of your posture.
Work on trying to keep your shoulders above your hips, not in front or behind, both before, during, and after the transition; this will require self-carriage and engagement of your core
As your horse ‘steps into’ the canter, notice how your belly button (your seat) will lead the rest of your body into the canter. If your shoulders are ahead of your hips, your seat cannot move with the horse into the canter.
If you can maintain your posture before, during, and after the transition, it will allow your aids to work freely, independently, and with clarity to communicate with your horse
Pay More Attention to Timing & Accuracy
Rather than just seeing the transition into a canter as being random, become more specific. When and where do you want it to happen? From what type of trot or walk? And on which lead are you asking your horse to ‘strike’?
By investing time and effort to better prepare your transition, you can then also decide when is the best place inside of the stride to ask…
Asking for the transition at the wrong time in the stride of the current gait can often result in your horse becoming too tense. Losing relaxation will cause both rhythm and balance to also be lost. Also, horses usually want to please, and your horse may feel like he adds a ‘hop, skip, and jump’ just before the transition to get there!
Any tipping forward of your body can make all of these things worse and cause an even greater loss of balance – for both of you!
Focus on Your Hands and Legs
A practical piece of advice is to focus on your hands and legs throughout the transition. Notice if you tend to ‘drop’ one of your hands… Or maybe lift a hand. Also, pay attention to how you move your hands through the transition.
Your hands are the aids you can actually ‘see’ when you ride, so use them as indicators or guides as to how well you are maintaining your posture and seat before, during, and after the transition
Remember, all of your aids are connected, so tipping forward will have a domino effect on all of the ways you use to communicate with your horse. Once you have your hands pretty independent through the transition, focus on your legs. Are your heels and lower legs coming up? Maybe just one is due to you tipping to one side – a very common issue, especially to the ‘inside’.
By noticing if you can maintain the weight into your heels, you can begin to assess what your lower body is doing through the transition
Your legs are there to both help ‘ask’ for the canter, but also to support your horse, especially if he’s green, into the canter and in the canter itself. This means they need to be in the right place and independent both before and when you ask. They also need to assist with establishing the canter after the transition as well. They cannot do any of this when you are tipping forward through the transition.
Ask and then Allow
My final suggestion is the one that I use all the time with riders. I want to simply remind you that it’s your job to ask the question. It is NOT your job to canter!
Get really clear asking the question, and then get out of your horse’s way and let him respond
Getting out of the way means positioning yourself in the best possible place for your horse to answer the question. You can do this by maintaining your posture, your own independence, and balance.
The more you can begin to focus on setting the transition up as best you can, and then creating as much clarity as possible with your aids, the better your transitions into canter will become
If tipping forward as you transition into canter is a habit that you have had for a long time, it may take a little work to replace. However, I also know that the key to doing this is to become mindful of your body and actions.
- Using Transitions to Improve Your Posture
- Step Up Your Riding with the Walk to Canter Transition
- Could Poor Posture be Ruining Your Transitions into Canter?
- Riding Smooth and Balanced Upwards Transitions with Your Horse
- Timing Your Transitions into Canter