By Jenny Richardson BHSAI
Are you focusing on flatwork this winter, to improve your scores in the dressage arena, or hone your showjumping rounds? If so, then getting your canter right is key, especially if you are jumping and needing to gain double clear rounds or excel in the jump off.
Canter is the third fastest gait in which you work your horse, and is probably the hardest to master to perfection; it is also the ideal pace to use in any jumping discipline. It needs to be well established and correct to be able to used comfortably any time you ride. As with all gaits, canter can be altered from collected, to medium, to extended; there are also counter canter, disunited, wrong lead and flying changes that fit within the canter remit!
As we know, canter is a three time pace. In order to achieve a good canter, start from the basis of a good medium trot; as you approach a corner of your school, sit for a few strides and indicate with your inside hand (with a subtle take and give) the direction of the canter lead you require. Put your inside leg on the girth, and your outside leg behind the girth, giving an extra nudge if needed. As the horse strikes off into canter, it is important to remain sitting, absorbing the movement into your seat, staying relaxed and supple in time with the rhythm. Your hands must allow the horse’s head freedom to perform the transition, and be independent of your seat. You will soon learn to feel which canter lead your horse is on, and not have to look down to check.
A united front
Horses should always canter ‘united’; a horse cantering disunited would be moving out of sequence and balance, and it is very obvious and uncomfortable for the rider. A horse cantering on the left rein but leading with the right leg would be on the wrong canter lead and vice versa, which is also incorrect and uncomfortable for both horse and rider, particularly on a bend. (However, advanced dressage does include a movement known as counter canter, whereby the horse is on the opposite lead, but in perfect balance and obedience). If your horse is on the wrong canter lead or disunited, it is best to remedy the situation by coming back to trot and trying again.
Different canter gaits
Medium or working canter is the most usual type of canter, and is widely used in most disciplines. Once this is well established, try to achieve a collected canter, whereby the horse’s stride becomes shorter and the pace a little slower. The hindquarters become more engaged and active, lightening the forehand, allowing the shoulders more freedom. The aids to ask for a collected canter call for depth of seat, an increase in leg pressure, and subtle use of the rein – overdo it and you may drop down to trot. Extended canter will show an extension of stride, covering the ground more quickly, without losing calmness and control. The horse’s outline will lengthen and his head will be lower, however he should continue to accept a contact and remain in balance. From a medium canter, the rider quietly asks for more impulsion from the horse and allows him to lengthen.
Once you have established a canter that is balanced and can ‘move up and down the gears’ at will, to achieve different paces, you will find that your showjumping prowess improves greatly!
If you want to hone your flatwork, consider a training break at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, where Jenny Richardson BHSAI is Equestrian Centre Business Manager. This venue offers luxurious equestrian riding holidays and training breaks in the heart of Ireland. Visit www.castleleslie.com