You have spent the past few months diligently improving your young horse’s standard of education. A lot of time invested on the basics of moving forward in a balanced rhythmic way. He is happy, you are happy and the next natural progression is to ask for the canter.
However, it seems all those carefully cultivated hours in the arena fly out the door as soon as you ask for the upward transition.
Your horse begins running on his forehand, each trot stride becoming longer and faster… He eventually breaks into a canter of sorts, but nothing like what you imagined it to be! Unbalanced, uncoordinated, and no rhythm whatsoever!
Introducing ‘New’ To Your Young Horse
Often it seems that no matter how much preparation we put into preparing our young horse for his first departure from a trot into a canter, the canter falls a little flat and well below our expectations. But rather than becoming frustrated and demoralized with your horse’s apparent lack of understanding, see this as being the next step of the ladder with regards to your horse’s education. And one that, if he graduates from, will see him in a great position to really begin working from.
Just like when you first began riding your young horse in walk and trot, your horse is going to feel very unbalanced and unsure of himself when you do ask for the canter when in the saddle.
This is due to the canter having a three-timed beat which depends on your horse’s outside back leg starting and propelling the rest of his footfalls and body forward in each stride. In the trot, it is far easier to remain balanced. This is due to the effect the diagonals have on balancing him with each stride. However, the canter is almost one-sided and extra strength and development are required of your horse in order to really ‘power’ into. Power into it and then remain balanced through each stride.
Preparing the Transition
As with most things concerning riding, the preparation that leads up to the transition will have a massive outcome on the success of the transition itself
See the trot as now being the foundation for setting up the canter. Not only from a rhythm and balance point of view. But also with regards to developing strength through his body. Use your half halts in the trot to begin asking for his hind legs to engage a little more. This may only be for a stride or two each time. However, it will allow him to begin building the muscles necessary for a good canter later.
Be Patient Through the Transition
When you feel that you have prepared the trot enough, you can start thinking about the canter transition itself. It is tempting to ‘push’ your horse into the canter at first. Using your upper body in particular. However, throwing your upper body forward will only serve to unbalance him even further.
Rather think of sitting up tall.
Then asking with the correct aids. Including, perhaps most importantly, your voice and seat. And, from here, allowing him to break into the canter himself.
He may run for the first few strides of trot before then almost falling into the canter, but this is to be expected initially. Your job is to remain balanced and ‘quiet’ throughout. This will help to build his confidence in his ability to actually move into the canter under the saddle.
Make sure you follow through your body and also your hands and arms. Catching him in the mouth or bouncing on his back, particularly in the first few transitions, will only serve to punish him. It may also cause him to associate the canter with anxiety and tension
Once in the Canter
Once he has actually transitioned into the canter, remain quiet but keep him moving forward. Very often with a young horse, the canter may be a little ‘fast’ at first if forwardness is to be maintained. This, again, is to be expected and rather allow him this. It will help him to begin to settle into this new gait and find his balance and rhythm himself.
The canter requires quite a bit more effort from him than the trot, so he will probably tire quickly.
Try to ask for the downward transition into a trot before he naturally breaks into trot himself.
You will usually feel the lack of energy in the canter, it will seem to become more strung out, rather than bounding forward. Again, make sure you are balanced and quiet through the transition, using your voice and seat first.
Re-Establish, Rinse & Repeat!
As soon as he has come back into trot, begin the work of re-establishing a balanced rhythmic trot. It may take quite a few strides initially, particularly after the first few canter to trot transitions… However, keep in mind that working forward in a balanced and rhythmic trot is something that your young horse knows how to do. So insist on it!
Working in and out of the canter initially is a great way to begin developing your young horse for more prolonged and balanced canters.
Be sure that the trot is balanced and working before asking for the canter again each time. Also, try to be consistent and regular with your aids both into the canter, while cantering, and then back into the trot.
Developing Over Time
Over time, your horse will begin to strengthen up and carry himself for longer periods, in a more balanced and rhythmic canter. The lenght of time will depend on many things.
However, how mature your horse is and/or how much time you have spent working on the more foundational aspects of his schooling, will play a big role in how quickly he progresses, both physically, mentally & emotionally
Continue to use the walk, trot, and halt to reinforce the aids and responsiveness. Only when he has truly mastered the canter for longer periods can you then begin thinking about making adjustments within the canter itself.
Initially, you will only ask for short canter periods each time, perhaps 5 or 6 strides of a better quality canter rather than laps of ‘racing’ and running around the arena, which will only serve to teach him how to incorrectly maintain the canter when being ridden. Then slowly you can begin to apply the half halt in the canter itself, so to shorten the canter strides.
Remember that forwardness is the foundation to all his gaits, so make sure that you keep him moving actively and with energy regardless of what you are asking.
Schooling your young horse in the canter takes time and consistency. However, all the initial investment will pay off handsomely when your horse is able to maintain a balanced, forward-moving canter from which you can begin to make adjustments.
Additional Resources for Equestrians
- Exercises for starting your young horse
- Starting a Young or Green Horse – Part 1
- The Basics when Working a Young Or Green Horse
- FREE OTTB Checklist & Healthcare Journal
- Trainings:- The Starting Series
- Join the free Facebook group HERE
- The Daily Strides Podcast on iTunes
- Daily Strides Podcast on Google Play
- The Daily Strides Podcast on Stitcher Radio
- Join Connection; The Online Membership for Equestrians
Are you looking for step by step instructions to listen to as you ride your young horse? I have created 5 audio horse riding programs specifically focusing on this topic. To find out how you can get these lessons (and hundreds more) visit https://stridesforsuccess.com/join/