Yeehaw and away we go! That is what many people think of when they see a horse on TV or in a movie. For some reason, horses are almost always running or at the very least cantering on screen. This can lead people to think that all you have to do is slap the reins, kick them in the belly and yell, "Giddyup!" Well my friends, I can tell you, there is much much more to it than just that.
Before you even try cantering, you must first master the other gaits like walking, and trotting. You should have good balance, proper equitation and be able to turn, stop and back up on your horse. It is essential to have a basics down so that you aren't just bouncing around in the saddle or accidently kicking your horse to go faster and faster because you cannot control your lower leg. Knowing what you're doing will also make the horse much happier.
The canter is a three-beat gait which means the sequence of foot-falls is: a hind leg, the other front and hind diagonals hit at once, followed by the inside foreleg or leading leg. To canter correctly, you must make sure your horse is on the correct lead. For example, if you are on the rail, you should see the horse's inside leg stretch forward. If your horse is not on the right lead you will feel it immediately as it is not smooth. Being on the correct lead is not only what judges demand, it is also for balance and safely, especially for making turns. An experienced rider can tell if a horse picks up the correct lead when they lift their shoulder to canter, it is a skill that comes with time.
When you ask your horse to canter, you must be sitting in a balanced positon. If you sit too far forward, you may cue your horse onto the wrong lead. Sit with your seat bones into the saddle and apply pressure with your outside heel- do not kick. The leg cue can be accompanied by a verbal cue if it helps, but you won't be able to do that at a show. Many times a horse will simply trot faster and faster, if this happens, simply come back to the walk, re-group and try again. The horse needs to have an energetic walk and be responsive.
Cantering is one of my favorite gaits, it is very smooth and fun. The canter is a great way to cover some ground on a trail or to jump a course from. It takes some practice to get your leads down, but once you do, you'll be cantering like a pro in no time.