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Your Back-to-Basics Canter Cues

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  • Your Back-to-Basics Canter Cues

    First- I love my been there done that gelding.

    Second- I also believe that my horse's behavior is a mirror of my own, and whatever results I am giving are because of my own convoluted signals.

    So clearly, I am messing up when asking for the canter. I need your help. I have gone back to the books, (which I have, literally,) I take 2-3 lessons a week, and I can get a GREAT canter out of him often, but when I ride alone, it's definitely not as good, especially tracking right.

    My question: do you remember your own go-to step 1-2-3-(4?) cues for cantering? I'm wondering if you had some steps/cues/visualizations that could help me.

    Also, I do know that when I get frustrated/tired/frightened, I tend to curl up in a "ball" meaning my feet come up and my shoulders hunch forward- does anyone have exercises or such that have been successful for that?

    Thank you all so much in advance, I feel very sheepish asking, but I'd rather put this out there here instead of confusing the gelding further.
    Sit up and kick on! ~Phoebe Buckley

  • #2
    What exactly is the issue when picking up the canter?


    • #3
      My steps that have helped me are.

      1)get a forward trot going
      2)sit back!
      2)half halt outside rein
      3)hold inside rein steady
      4)put outside leg on with steady inside leg
      FYI these are more dressage cues so this is what my horse is used to with other gaits.
      Going through these steps in my mind has created a cue for my horse and me. So he now knows when I do this all in a row he is going to be cantering. It also helps me keep track of what I am asking for when my trainer isn't around.

      When I got frustrated I did the same thing as you. That is why I came up with a system because the frustration happened when the cantering wasn't coming.

      I am sure that you will come up with a system for you and your horse. Maybe talk to your trainer about a step by step process that you can think about when you are alone riding.


      • #4
        My go to canter cue is a step or two of leg yield, then ask for the canter.

        Puts your horsie from inside leg to outside rein. Every time I do those few steps of leg yield - I get a great canter depart! When I don't, well, it's not so great or it doesn't happen.

        The leg yield is our friend
        ~* Be kind to one another *~


        • #5
          Sit right in the middle of the saddle, make sure your horse is straight and walking forward and use your outside leg. Keep it simple and correct.

          If he does not pick up the correct lead, quietly (calmly) bring him back to a walk and ask again.


          • #6
            You are not alone at all...don't be ashamed. I think the canter cue is a particularly tough one to struggle with because when it doesn't work out, the result is typically some disastrously unbalanced carriage horse trot or equally disastrous canter quality....which then unbalanced and frustrates rider even more. Can you tell I have been there, done that (still doing sometimes...)?

            One thing I really had to learn to do was sit up to ask...since you said you tend to hunch....it's going to feel like you are waaaay back, laying on the cantle....but, that's actually the right place.

            The other visualization that really helps me is to think of reaching my legs as long as possible and picking up or squeezing up his barrel into the canter....rather than kicking him into it.


            • #7
              Keep the horse ahead of your leg by sitting deep with shoulders back, pick him up/balance him in the bridle (half halt) and use the inside leg at or slightly ahead of the girth with the to outside leg slightly behind the girth and push him up and forward into the outside as rein suggested above.

              If you are having problems, work on some leg yields and be sure you have him in the bridle/collected. SIT that trot-no horse gets much of anything out of a posting trot until they, and the rider, get real good. Keep him ahead of your leg and uphill-not downhill and don't throw the reins away.

              When you "go fetal" and hunch up or look down immediately for that lead? You are overweighting his forehand and he can't do it.

              Don't be afraid to exaggerate your position-if you need a visual, look at a Saddlebred picture-hands up with contact and reins even, deep seat driving the horse forward and shoulder back-that all rocks them back and frees the front end which you need to do to get the canter.

              Don't worry about what you look like or what lead you are on-don't pick about speed, just let him go on at the canter when you ask for the canter, polish it later when you can get it regularly. They get all backed off and confused when they canter but you don't like how they cantered, they can quit trying.

              And don't feel bad, it's the thing that gets most riders as they start out at some point. Really helps to go out of the ring or at least into a nice big ring, smaller rings with sharper corners are hard for greenies.
              When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

              The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


              • #8
                Originally posted by clairified View Post
                Also, I do know that when I get frustrated/tired/frightened, I tend to curl up in a "ball" meaning my feet come up and my shoulders hunch forward- does anyone have exercises or such that have been successful for that?
                I was going to ask if your posture disappears when there's not someone telling you to sit up straight OR not someone there making you feel more confident.

                It's a very, very common problem!

                My current horse is the only one I've had trouble getting canter with at all, and he's a dressage horse, not hunter. (In his case it has been a progression where I had to keep changing cues as he learned more. Now he will only canter off my seat, and he's pretty much the one who decided that was what he understood w/ other cues for lateral coming in.) I never even really had to half halt prior to asking for canter on my hunters, but they were always on the aids. I tend to think my last horse was the most in front of the aids hunter ever. With him it was more a matter of not accidentally touching with the outside leg or he'd canter!

                But with all the advice here, you have good tips, and I'd just think about showing off when you ask for it or whatever helps you have good posture. For me thinking "pretend someone you REALLY want to impress is watching!" get the kind of attitude that makes me sit up when I'm in a slouchy, hunching into the forward gaits kind of mood.
                Originally posted by Silverbridge
                If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.


                • #9
                  I recently revisited this with my young hunter. I sent him to a BNT for 60 days of training and then got on to take some lessons from her. I was making the canter cue more complicated than necessary and confusing him. Assuming you are starting from a good walk / trot, the cue is relatively simple - raise the inside rein slightly, outside leg back behind the girth, and ask only with the outside leg.

                  If you asked me this 6 months ago, I'd have had a way more complicated answer. Now, my canter transitions on ALL of my horses (not just the one she trained) are 10x better than they were.

                  Oh, and I do agree with those who are also saying "sit up" and don't collapse or curl up.


                  • #10
                    is it the actual depart that you're having trouble with? Is your horse responsive to your leg? Does he just pick up the wrong lead when you ask?

                    Ruling out any physical issues (my horse for a couple weeks was hesitant to pick up her left lead when I needed to get her hocks done) sometimes it helps to ask on a circle or in a corner. You're already getting that slight bend around your inside leg, so all you should have to do is slide the outside leg back for the canter cue. If I'm on the straightaway, I will often do a step or two of a leg yield. I also always prepare her for the canter with a half halt (close leg slightly, close hand on outside rein) just so she knows *something* is coming, so she starts to pay attention to me.

                    As for the curl in fetal position when the going gets tough, no tips other than have someone yelling at you when you do it! LOL. That is one of my go-to positions when I get tense too. It helps to remember to take some deep breaths when you feel yourself get tense (automatically makes me sink down and relax a bit) but the biggest help has just been my trainer yelling at me to get my boobs to the sky The muscle memory will eventually develop...right?


                    • #11
                      What really helped me work on my walk-canter transitions was something my coach told me: "It's like sitting in the water, feeling that wave building and then cresting into the canter". You have to allow your horse to crest into that canter, allow it to go forward along with keeping your contact, with soft hands
                      Watch that when you're working from a trot that the trot is not strong forward, but is good quality. The quality of the gait previous to the canter will generally dictate the quality of the canter.

                      An exercise I would do would be to sit on a 20 m and do a transition between canter-trot-canter or walk-trot-canter-trot-halt-walk-canter (mix it up) on each quarter of the circle, so four transitions per circle. Really helped me keep my position putting in the other transitions because you ride those transitions the same as a canter, just keep those hands soft and inside leg to outside rein!

                      Sorry if this doesn't make sense, I can clarifiy if you like
                      All that is gold does not glitter;
                      Not all those who wander are lost.
                      ~J.R.R. Tolkien


                      • Original Poster

                        Originally posted by Pally View Post
                        You are not alone at all...don't be ashamed. I think the canter cue is a particularly tough one to struggle with because when it doesn't work out, the result is typically some disastrously unbalanced carriage horse trot or equally disastrous canter quality....which then unbalanced and frustrates rider even more. Can you tell I have been there, done that (still doing sometimes...)?
                        Pally you called it. Thank you EVERYONE for your tips, and keep them coming if you have more! I am getting the out of control racing trot, which leads me to believe that I am a) not getting the leg yield into outside rein set up properly, and b) squeezing the heck out of the poor guy with both legs. No wonder he chose to stay in the trot and go racing around. :L

                        As for the hunching, I am going to try and "show off" and almost over-exaggerate my lengthening and posture. I find it so ironic that my instinct when I get freaked out is to curl into a ball which stops me from getting balance and weight distribution, and will ultimately make me do like a ball and roll off the back of my horse! Strange. Hahaha.

                        Oh boy, I can't wait to get out to the barn tonight and put this to practice. Thank you!
                        Sit up and kick on! ~Phoebe Buckley


                        • #13
                          "I find it so ironic that my instinct when I get freaked out is to curl into a ball which stops me from getting balance and weight distribution,"

                          This is what I refer to as reverting to the fetal position. It happens to a lot of us!

                          There is a fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness". - Dave Barry


                          • #14
                            Everyone does it differently and every horse responds differently. My trainer recommends a strong inside leg at the girth (and I've picked up that habit). Recently did a clinic with a BNT who said to use only the outside leg. Some people use inside rein, some don't.

                            I find it easiest to canter from a walk. That way, you can usually keep your body under control and avoid the really fast, super bouncy trot.

                            For me - and my horse - here's what works. Slight bend to the inside with a direct inside rein. Inside leg at the girth. Outside leg behind the girth. Tight stomach muscles to avoid slouching forward.

                            If you're running into the canter with a very fast trot, you may want to try holding a bit tighter with your reins. Works for some horses. Other horses need little to no contact.

                            Keep experimenting with different techniques to see what works for you and your horse.
                            ~ Citizens for a Kinder, Gentler COTH...our mantra: Be nice. ~


                            • #15
                              I was always taught "inside rein, outside leg" (in a basic sense), which always worked for me... but for whatever reason, with current horse (an OTTB, but not my first OTTB) it involves a lot more inside aids, particularly to the right. He'll generally pick it up on a corner without a problem, but on a straight stretch, it's a toss-up.

                              With this horse, I have to use A LOT of inside leg-- he tends to want to go haunches-in to the right, so if I ask in the usual way (with outside leg), he picks up the left lead. To reliably get our lead to the right, I have to do these things in order:

                              1.) SIT BACK
                              2.) Inside leg to push the haunches back out and encourage straightness
                              3.) when he's straight, shift my weight to my OUTSIDE seat bone, while lifting the inside seat bone
                              4.) Tick with inside rein to keep him from counter-bending back out
                              5.) "Ask" with the outside leg (while keeping inside leg on, see #4)

                              If I assume the fetal position (guilty of that one, often!) and/or my weight is on my inside seat bone, correct lead to the right ain't happening.
                              *friend of bar.ka

                              "Evidently, I am an unrepentant b*tch, possible trouble maker, and all around super villian"


                              • #16
                                Interesting to see all the different cues people use. I was having trouble with the depart, which he didn't rush into, but lurched/took a flying leap into while thrusting his head in the air. It was really pretty, and got us some interesting comments on dressage tests.

                                To help correct the depart, my trainer had me bend my gelding to the inside while sponging the rein and keeping him light in the bridle, hold a friendly but firm outside rein, close my inside leg at the girth, and slide my outside leg back (SLIGHTLY!) while sitting BACK - which I think will help you a lot! I felt like I was practically laying on my horse's back when my trainer first adjusted my position! Also, as a few others said, the quality of the gait you are departing from will dictate the quality of the canter.

                                Some really good advice I got that others have shared here is to just focus on getting the desired gait you are asking for before picking on speed, lead, collection, etc. Lots of praise when he gets the correct answer! I like to start at the bottom of the training scale with each gait. Good luck!


                                • #17
                                  I have found that everyone cues the canter differently, so all the horses under the same trainer tend to work with the same set of aids. Generally, its either the outside leg back or the inside leg at the girth, with other subtle variations. Usually when I try a horse I just ask "What is your aid for the canter?" If this horse is fairly new to you, you might want to contact the previous rider/trainer.


                                  • #18
                                    Outside leg behind the girth squeeze inside leg on the girth just "there", slight lift/squeeze to inside rein, outside rein steady. Voila canter on the correct lead. We just joined a drill team (western) so I practiced with one hand today for a bit today and she was great!