How to Canter a Horse

One of the natural gaits possessed by horses is the canter. The canter is normally faster than a trot but slower than the gallop. This gait is used by all horse riders. The canter gait's speed could reach more or less 22 kph or 14 mph. The speed heavily depends on the horse. Longer strides would cover more ground and therefore, faster canters are executed.

A lope, on the other hand, is a slower but somewhat similar to a canter. The lope gait has a speed of around 16 kph or 10 mph. It is a collected movement and it is primarily used in western form of riding. Both the canter and lope are 3-beat gaits that are both functional and aesthetically beautiful to watch.

The canter and the lope usually come after teaching the horse how to trot. The animal will gradually learn how to execute these natural movements with the weight of the rider. Horses will eventually be comfortable with the trot gait and that will be the perfect time to canter or lope the horse. As you progress, you will learn how to rate the horse for collection, extension and ultimately feel confident enough for a full gallop.

It is best to start working the horse on the long line and with the reins out of way. This will help the animal to recognize commands before the horse must deal with the additional weight of a rider.

Here are some tips and techniques on how to canter a horse:

1. Let the horse trot calmly to help warm him up. Do not surprise the horse with the new instructions, make sure he knows the command on the ground before you attempt to try the shift in gate from his back.

2.From the trot, bring your outside leg back but your inside leg should stay on the girth.

3. Keep the horse normally bending to the inside and when you apply the leg cues, the horse will start to lift his shoulders and continue to drive with the hindquarters.

4. When you start to canter, be loose in the hips, move with the animal. Just follow the horse's movement. Be fluid not stiff. Maintain a slight pressure on the inside leg if necessary so that the animal's forward motion is sustained.

5. It is very important have gentle contact with the horse's reins. Make sure he has comfort in the mouth, but enough pressure so he knows you are in control. NEVER jerk on an animals mouth. Many riders prefer to ride without putting any pressure on the reins.

6. Always try to check if your horse is on the correct lead. You can actually feel this but if you are still inexperienced with this, you will just have to observe with your peripheral vision. Do not tip your head to look; it may cause you to get out of correct position.

7. Come back to the trot by softening all the pressure. Just light apply a bump with the rein aid and if you need to, you can use your voice as a command.

8. You can mix things up. You can cue for the canter or lope again if you want. Eventually the horse will effortlessly get the cues and aids. Keep it fresh to prevent boredom with your mount.

9. Practice cantering in both directions. Sometimes, a particular side is more difficult for your horse but with constant practice, the animal will understand and be able to shift in no time.

10. Remember, safety first. Use a helmet, know your mount and be educated on proper cues and etiquette.

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