Some more information. I am comfortable in the canter, as in I am no longer scared. I know I can stop my horse, even in a halter. He can not run away with me. The canter is actually my favorite gait now. Our issue is only in the arena, where it gets choppy, and I hold up with my legs, and kill my back. I feel relaxed, but just don't want to pop right off the side of him because of how... horrible he is.. hehe. I understand he's gaited though, so I'm not looking for a beautiful rocking horse canter.
I think that cantering for some gaited horses can be difficult. I rode a friend's RMH for a bit, and his canter was atrocious. very choppy. I felt bad making him canter, and soon gave up. Cantering a non-gaited hrose is much easier, and if you want to work on just yourself becoming more relaxed at the canter, maybe you can take a few lessons on a non-gaited horse.
Two things that have helped me (and I am still not super comfy at canter on the flat), are :
remember that your horse knows how to canter, and let him do his job and carry you. So, trust him to carry you, ok?
think about the down beat of the canter. if you focus on following the horse at the down beat, the other beats seem to fall into place better. do you know what I mean about the "down" beat? this is when the leading front leg hits the ground. it's the "3" in the 1,2, 3 way of counting the canter.
(which btw, is really more of "1, 2, 3 and, 1, 2, 3 , and, 1 . . .) becuae the "and" is the moment of suspension when all 4 feet are off the ground for a brief part-second before the strike off leg (outside hind) goes to ground and bears weight.
I agree that gaited horse canters are... icky. That's why I don't worry too much about cantering, if I can canter on the trail, I'm not too worried about the arena. I would just like to be able to do it if I chose.
I will try to focus on the down beat. We have been working a lot on leads, so I know how to hear and feel the down beat. I will try to think of it more than the split second it takes to make sure he is on the right lead.
in theory, Sky, I'd agree, but a lot of TWH's find tight circles really hard to manuaver. they are not as laterally flexible as non-gaited.
she might enjoy such a lesson on a non-gaited horse, as I need myself!
I would definitely enjoy a lesson on a non-gaited horse to feel out a canter when I have a chance (life of a poor college student..) If I tried on my horse, he can barely canter on the lounge as it is without his legs getting all wonky.
OP, are you the only one that rides this horse? From the sound of it, he is picking up on your stiffness and tense body, and mirroring it. This will be harder for you, as you need to loosen up, so he will learn to relax in to the canter and make it more comfortable. At the moment, you are both as tense as each other!
Any chance a more experienced person can get on, and try and get him to chill out? Or a chiro? I can imagine he'd have some bunched muscles if he holds himself..
I am his primary rider, but a trainer has jumped on him about 6 times after he was started under saddle with one. This trainer told me not to worry about it because a gaited horse shouldn't canter as it is. I think that is false, because his running walk actually tends to feel even better after a canter (that might be more out of relief!)
As for the chiro, I've had the vet check him out a few months ago and said he was the most loose, flexible horse he'd ever checked. He is typically extremely loosey goosey, it's only cantering in the arena where he stiffens up.