Explaining How to Canter - The Horse Forum
  • 3 Post By DressageCowgirl
  • 3 Post By bsms
  • 1 Post By Gossalyn
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post #1 of 8 Old 04-30-2014, 02:18 AM Thread Starter
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Question Explaining How to Canter

The other day I let this woman from my barn ride my horse. She has a young daughter that rides and leases a horse at my barn. She is always doing everything for her daughter to ride, and I know that she would really like to get more into riding too. She's ridden a bunch in the past, but has taken a hiatus recently. Anyways, I told her I would give her a mini lesson on my horse just so she could get some ride time in. Now, I've never given a lesson before in my life, but I've ridden my horse for 10 years so I figure I know him well enough to tell her what to do to get an expected result. Blazer was amazing and the lesson actually went pretty well (she said I helped her -- yay! ). The only problem we were having was with the canter. So this leads me to my question. How do you explain to somebody how to canter? She was bouncing on his back at the canter. It was a far stretch from horrible (and I'm sure it felt much worse than it actually looked), but I couldn't figure out a way to explain how to help her. I told her she needed to relax her lower back and thinking of sinking into the saddle with her seat, rather than bracing against her stirrups. I also told her to relax and open up her up angle a little bit more to go with him. Neither of those things really helped her all that much and I was really frustrated with myself for not being able to explain it properly. I mean I ride horses 5-7 days a week now, have been riding for 10+ years, and I can't explain to somebody how to canter?!

Anyways....does anybody know another way to describe to a person to stay with the horse at a canter? I'd love to give her another mini-lesson - it was a lot of fun to look at her and see what she was doing wrong with her body so I could help her fix it - but I want to make sure I can help her before offering again!

On a bright note, my horse used to have a TERRIBLE time with his right lead. He was used as a beginner lesson horse for a long time and got away with murder. He's been ridden by only me (well, I guess with only a handful of other riders) for the past year and his right lead has improved loads, but I wasn't sure if the problem had been mostly fixed or if he was just used to the way I was asking or what. When the women asked him to canter right he wasn't travelling properly from behind and was on his forehand/a little strung out, but he still took the correct lead. Proud mom moment
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post #2 of 8 Old 04-30-2014, 08:28 AM
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could you put her on the lunge line for a bit and let her ride the horse at the canter without having to control him at the same time, maybe hold on to the pommel or mane to help balance at first, just make sure the circle isn't too small
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post #3 of 8 Old 04-30-2014, 09:09 AM
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I appreciate your kindness. But I think I wouldn't.

Does she already know how to canter because if she's doesn't, you're kind of taking on a lot "teaching" her especially the first time. If you're going to continue helping her, take it slow....maybe get a book out of the library. There are exercises and progressions in learning and lots to learn before a canter.

She was bouncing on his back at the canter.

That's why I would encourage her to take a couple of lessons with an instructor.

it's one thing to let her ride your horse...but this is a little more than that, imo.

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post #4 of 8 Old 04-30-2014, 09:53 AM
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Do you have a grab strap or neck strap she can hold onto? You might want to stick with the trot for a few lessons if only so that she feels comfortable enough that she is able to relax, but otherwise I agree with putting her on the lunge line and having her hold the pommel or a grab strap. If we never let anyone who bounces at the canter ride a horse at that gait then 99% of people would never have learned to canter. You have to fail before you succeed, and thankfully horses are kind enough to put up with our mistakes.

A little more on topic, the way I EXPLAIN how to canter is this:

Imagine you are riding a GINORMOUS rocking horse. If you don't move when that rocking horse rocks and just sit up ramrod straight, it isn't going to work right, is it? On a rocking horse it would stop rocking, and on a real horse you will bounce terribly, since it rocks on its own power. You have to move your hips back and forth with the rocking motion of a rocking horse for the combo to work. You have to do the same thing in the canter.

You need to stop tying to sit still; that is the key. It may look like riders are sitting still, but that's just our viewpoint: In fact they are moving their hips with the horse. If they DIDN'T move, then they would look like they were all over the place. It's sort of like being on the planet Earth. I look like I am standing still, but really I am moving at thousands of miles per hour since I am standing on a moving planet. I am moving WITH it. If I was REALLY still, I would seem to be moving backward at thousands of miles per hour to someone else who was "standing still" on Earth--when really, I was the one who was still and they were moving! Moving WITH the Earth makes us seem still and secure, and it is the same when it comes to moving WITH the horse. So imagine you are riding that rocking horse, and you have to swing your hips to keep it rocking!
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post #5 of 8 Old 04-30-2014, 10:12 AM
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"I mean I ride horses 5-7 days a week now, have been riding for 10+ years, and I can't explain to somebody how to canter?!"

Homework assignment: Write 3 paragraphs on how, exactly, you walk across a room. Discuss how you walk straight, turn, avoid someone's shoes, and not fall down. Discuss how you maintain your balance at all times.

Good luck!

Riding a horse and walking across a room are done at the subconscious level. You cannot think fast enough nor receive the inputs you need with your conscious mind. At best, your conscious mind can help with the gross outer movements...but your body needs to learn the muscle movements at the subconscious level. If you started riding as an old person, like I did, you will soon find you can recognize faults in what you & others do, but cannot make your body stop doing them. As with many physical skills, all you can often do is try not to screw up too badly while hoping your body someday catches on and starts doing it right.

An instructor can help with setting priorities. For example, IMHO, an instructor can help by encouraging a student to keep a relaxed leg, and then worry about the position of heels & toes later on because a stiff leg will cause more problems than toes that look like a bird's wings. An instructor can also build a series or progressive movements, which is why most would start with a walk, then trot, then canter and then gallop. It is why some use a lunge line to work on a good seat before progressing to some other step.

Thus teaching becomes an entirely different level than riding, just as breaking a young horse is quite different than riding an experienced school horse. For some, it can become a passion that gives purpose and joy to their riding and time with horses and people. However, teaching riding well is as much a skill and art as riding well.

Even at the rational level: I'm volunteering tutoring math. Doing math is one thing (for me, at least). Explaining it in a way a young student can understand it is an entirely different beast! But when something clicks, it can be very satisfying.

BTW - you might also try showing her or recommending some videos. My favorite on cantering is this western one:

"Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing...well, ignore it mostly."
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post #6 of 8 Old 04-30-2014, 11:03 AM
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Originally Posted by bsms View Post
"I mean I ride horses 5-7 days a week now, have been riding for 10+ years, and I can't explain to somebody how to canter?!"

Homework assignment: Write 3 paragraphs on how, exactly, you walk across a room. Discuss how you walk straight, turn, avoid someone's shoes, and not fall down. Discuss how you maintain your balance at all times.
Love this! So very true...
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post #7 of 8 Old 04-30-2014, 12:05 PM
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I've heard the sack of potatoes reference and the belly dancer reference as far as getting your hips to go w/ the horse and both have helped a little. getting good at my sit trot helped because it's a similar concept of hips moving with the horse - Sometimes instructors had me lean back (not back but like, straight up on the vertical) so that my weight would go down and i would be forced to really mesh with the motion. and the few times I have stirrup-less cantered are really helpful (although not everyone can do that at first). One instructor had me two point the canter until I got used to the motion a bit more.

but ultimately what really really helped was doing it a zillion times.

now I'm really working on my upper half and keeping that engaged/tall/flat/open while my bottom half giggles with the horse.

I don't think it's bad if you give her a few rides & starter tips. Your both adults and know the liability issues, so it's your call as the horse owner. and as far as the training, it's just the basics... Eventually if she wants to pursue it more she should go to a trainer.
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Re: any of my advice - Happy to give my two cents, but not an expert... just a girl who loves riding horses!
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post #8 of 8 Old 04-30-2014, 10:55 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you all for your advice and explanation tips. The rocking horse analogy was great!

I think I should have made a disclaimer that said I'm not advertising, nor will I probably ever, advertise myself as a "trainer" or "coach". Definitely don't want anybody thinking that! Also, the woman has had a lot of prior experience riding, just not recently. She said when she was younger she used to do a lot of vaulting. She had to take a break from riding due to having kids and life getting in the way and such. She DOES take lessons from my trainer actually, I was just trying to give her a little bit more time back in the saddle. She wasn't bouncing terribly, just having a hard time staying with him. Frankly I wouldn't feel comfortable letting her ride my horse without me present and helping her a bit.
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