How to Properly Canter on a Horse

How to Properly Canter on a Horse

When you are learning how to canter on a horse, there are many problems that the movement of cantering can cause. These tips will minimise those problems so you can enjoy cantering a horse.

How To Canter

Cantering a horse is much the same as sitting trot, the seat (pelvis, thighs and hip joints) will be required to follow the canter movement. The seat should flow and remain in contact with the saddle forming a series of arcs (which may form an outline simular to that of the lower side of an egg which is laid on its side).

It can be described that there are 3 sensations to be felt at canter:

  • First, a lowering or sinking of the seat. This coincides with the first hind-leg in the canter sequence coming down to touch the ground.
  • Then, sliding or floating forward in the saddle. The upper body remains upright and tall. This corresponds with the horse shifting weight forward onto the next legs in the canter sequence.
  • Finally a slight and gentle rise upward without the seat separating from the saddle. The sensations then start over again. This feeling comes from the moment of suspension in the canter from when the horse has pushed off the ground with the final leg in the sequence and prepares to start it over again.

At no point in the canter should the riders seat come away from the saddle This is the main fault in the canter that the rider is almost rising as in the trot but is rather thrown upwards out of the saddle then falls back into the saddle which potentially can cause the horse and rider some discomfort.

Lunging Exercises when Cantering

It is helpful if you can be lunged on a suitable horse with a good, regular, slow canter. A fast canter will make it more difficult to find you seat (we will look at positions for faster paces in future workbooks). Some causes of being up, out of the saddle are leaning or bringing the shoulders forward, gripping with the knee or thigh, uneven weight in the saddle, stiff pelvis or hips and the rider trying to sit still.

Once you are more experienced in riding a cantering horse, a good way to strengthen your seat, balance and position is to be lunged on a quiet horse (by an experienced person) riding without stirrups and reins.

Following the Movement of the Canter

Ideally when you are first learning how to canter a horse, you can be lunged. If you can be lunged so that you don’t have to worry about directing your horse, a useful technique for getting your seat into the saddle is to hold the front of the saddle with your inside hand and the back of the saddle with your outside hand. That means that if you a being lunged to the left your left hand will hold the front and your right hand the back. This technique will enable you to pull yourself into the saddle and help to put your body into the correct position for the direction you are travelling while you are following the movement of the canter.

Bumping on the Horses Back in the Canter

Another common problem is riders can follow the movement of the canter without bumping on the horses’ back but their seat is still such that daylight can be seen between them and the saddle. This is usually because the rider’s shoulders move forward and back with the canter rather than the hips and seat. Often times these riders just need to bring the shoulders further back to get their seat into the saddle and then allow the hips to move forward and back and the seat to slide in the saddle.

Losing Stirrups While Cantering

Another problem is the loss of stirrups while cantering. This is commonly caused by the rider gripping with the leg in an upwards motion which brings the weight out of the stirrup. Sometimes the toes of the rider also point out to the sides. A dilemma associated with this is the bottom half of the rider’s leg from the knee down appears to swivel forward and back with each canter stride. To rectify these problems the rider needs to allow the leg to stretch down with each canter stride and ensure the leg and knee are not gripping to the horse. It can be useful to check the length of the stirrups too. Stirrups which are too long will be difficult to keep and too short can cause the toe to swivel.

Rein Contact for the Canter

If the rein contact is too strong the horse may find your aids conflicting in that your legs and seat are saying ‘go’ but your hands are saying ‘whoa’. The opposite to this is that if the forward driving aids are too strong and rein contact too little you wont have much control when the horse picks up canter.

Horse Cantering Too Fast

Circling is a good way of progressively slowing a horse down into a slower pace. Circle sizes can be made smaller and smaller until the horse slows to the speed you want. This exercise can also help improve rough and difficult transitions to trot and slowing the trot down after canter. This is because the smaller circles can help encourage the horse to use their hind legs more to carry themselves from canter to trot which helps to develop smooth transitions. It is important to remember that when you ride the circles that they be consistent in size and shape and that they are ridden gradually from a larger to smaller circle. Sharp turns or spinning a horse onto a small circle can lead to injury and lameness.

Should you be having difficulty maintaining balance from canter to trot as for the upwards transition you can hold onto the saddle with one hand whilst using the other to guide the horse. Remember to sit deeply into the saddle with your shoulders back. Dropping the shoulders forward or rising out of the saddle in anticipation of trot makes your position vulnerable should the horse trip, stumble or shy.

Remember that when you are learning how to canter on a horse, that the cantering movement causes problems that are different to walk and trot. The tips for cantering on a horse above should minimise those problems so you can enjoy your ride!




    I am new to canter and I tend to lean forward onto the horses neck to keep my balance. when I do sit properly, I bounce all over the place which isn’t comfortable for me or the horse… ANY ADVICE !!!!

  2. hey i need help to keep my hands still in the canter if anyone has any advice XD

    • Catie Beth Stejskal says:

      Try to flow with the movements of your horse. It will help you to become more relaxed and calm

  3. I need some help with my cantering. I can’t remember if you kick with the right leg on the left side or kick with the left foot on the right side. I need some advice 🙂

    • Jennifer B. says:

      I take lessons presently and have just started to learn how to canter. I’ve been taught to press in (not kick) with my right heel to start the canter.

    • My instructor usually tells me to kick with the outside leg. I haven’t been cantering very long though.

    • Try inside leg on the girth to maintain the forward movement and then the outside leg signals to the horse’s outside hind leg to commence the canter sequence 🙂

  4. What does it mean to lunge?
    I feel rally out of control when I canter on my horse and sometimes I feel like I could fall off. What could I do to fix that? What I the “rhythm: to cantering?

    • Hey Ella. Lunging is when someone moves your horse in a circle around them, by use of a lunge line attached to the horse, so that they have control of your horse and you can focus on your position/exercises. Try and relax and sit deep with your shoulders back, keeping your leg long. The canter is a three beat gait, so when you ride count 123, 123, 123, with an emphasis on the one. It helps you follow the movement. Also try and push your heel down and get your leg long on the now emphasised one, as this helps encourage correct position. Try being lunged as well, on a good schoolmaster horse until you feel comfortable. Good luck! 🙂

  5. I get really scared in canter and I go to ISEC(ian starks equestrian centre) and they have tried every thing to make me feel relaxed but I just feel scared but the thing is I am not scared jumping

    • Well, to be fair. That happens to me. But just count your horses strides. One two one two. On one, take a deep breath. On two let it out. Look in front of you.

  6. Maggie's my Baby says:

    This wasn’t accurate at all. I have been riding for 9 years, and I’m pretty sure that it is ok for A LITTLE space to be between the rider and the saddle. Your butt isn’t supposed to be glued, just heavy. Also, holding onto the saddle while cantering is the worst thing to do. It disrupts your balance, causing you to be thrown forward which you are trying NOT TO DO. I’m really disappointed with this article.

    • I think it means so that the saddle isn’t coming up off of the horses back and it might be of cause of a loose girth

  7. Horse Racer says:

    It’s such a helpful article for horse lovers.

  8. Rider Track says:

    i like it.good blog and good article

  9. Horse Mirror says:

    good articles

  10. Kerrits Man says:

    many many thanks to admin for this useful post

  11. Winter Riding says:

    It is useful for horse lover.

  12. Bag Balm says:

    This is a very simple and good blog.I like this blog and i hope evrybody like this blog.thnks Glenys.

  13. Horseriding 4eva says:

    good tips

  14. Horse Lover says:

    Thanks Glenys for the tips.

  15. I have been looking at various information sites on the correct motions for cantering. Is it correct to say that the motion is like a sweep from front to back not back to front? Sometimes when I am looking at videos online the motions looks like back to front – I’m confused!

    • Hi Anne,

      The sequence of legs in the canter commences with the back legs, and most of the thrust/ impulsion comes from the back legs.

      Hope that clears things up for you,

      Glenys 🙂

  16. A friend of mine rides in that Troxel Cheyenne. She’s a lliofeng western rider and had never worn a helmet until very recently, but she actually really likes the look of the Cheyenne, so it’s a win all around. Of course, at age four, your son is going to outgrow whatever you get for him in about five seconds, isn’t he? I know the rule book states that any rider in any division can wear a helmet without penalty. I think a lot of saddle seat and western riders think that judges will still penalize them (maybe subconsciously). I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I would think you could plop a schooling helmet on your leadliner in any seat and the judge wouldn’t hold it against you. They might even appreciate that you put safety first. I’d be curious to hear a judge’s feedback on this one.


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