It is vital when developing the
green horse's canter to keep your weight off its back while cantering. Thus, in a two-point or jumping position, the horse's
back has the opportunity to round, provided the rider is not shortening the horse's neck with a tight rein contact (photo
In order for the horse to use
itself properly during the canter, its topline needs to move longitudinally from tail to poll. The rider has to allow for
this movement either by riding without contact to the horse's mouth, or by learning how to give through the rein's contact
back and forth with the horse's longitudinal motion. When a rider is learning to feel for the horse's longitudinal movement
at the canter, he must be sure to allow the horse enough neck room through the rein to move correctly. Often, reins are held
too short and tight at the canter, and the horse cannot naturally stretch back and forth with every stride.
Watch a Videotape of Yourself
Watching a video of yourself riding could be a tremendous help in seeing how your individual
contact is maintained and whether or not you constrain the horse.
In allowing the elbow to flex
forward and backward in rhythm with the horse's strides, the rider maintains the contact at the canter. Watching a jockey
on a race horse will give you an exaggerated vision of this motion, or an open jumper rider who follows the horse's forward
neck stretch in order to bascule over the fence. The straight line from the elbow to the bit is maintained whether racing,
jumping, or cantering 20-meter circles.
For the basic canter, the elbows
forward and backward absorption of the motion is slight, perhaps one to six inches; the longer the stride, the more movement.
This following motion may be slight, but its importance cannot be underestimated. If the rider does not allow for the horse's
longitudinal movement through the rein contact, its gait will be constrained and stiffen. Often a horse ridden consistently
constrained at the canter will begin a four-beat instead of a three-beat canter.
When to Sit the Canter
When the rider is capable of keeping the horse's topline round at a canter, the rider
begins to sit the canter in a full seat. (Photo 3.) Usually, it takes time in a half seat, allowing the muscles to develop
the supple strength needed to carry the rider, before he can sit the gait. This may take from two to six weeks to three months.
Similarly, the rider should not
be in a sitting trot until the horse stays consistently on the bit. If he sits the trot and/or canter, and the horse's topline
does not stay rounded into the bit, the horse is not ready to carry the rider's full weight. The horse could be gymnastically
ready, but the rider may be interfering with the horse's gait either with a stiff back, seat, or rigid rein contact. Actually,
any stiffness in the rider's position could interfere with the horse's gymnastic development.
Canter to Trot:
When going from a canter to a
trot, immediately resume the working trot. Once trotting, the horse should be kept rhythmically forward and rounded throughout
the topline. When the horse has settled into the trot after the canter, then let it walk. If the horse is allowed to walk
immediately after cantering, the rider will probably jeopardize its training for fluent and active (engaged) downward transitions.
Trot work after the canter also
helps to balance and relax any back muscles in the horse that may become cramped or constrained during the canter.