Once you are used to the rhythm, cantering is more comfortable than trotting. Not many people can run fast enough to lead you for your first canter, which also makes it much more exciting than the first trot!
The change of pace
By now you are used to the difference in feel between the walk and the trot. There is just as big a change in feel from trot to canter. Because the canter is faster, everything happens more quickly. So you need to be that bit better balanced and more confident than for the slower paces.
The walk gives you a gentle rolling feel from side to side as well as forward; the trot is a faster and bouncier gait. The canter is less bouncy but more rocking. With each step the pony takes you feel a stronger push from the hind-legs. This rocks your body backward and forward slightly but in rhythm.
Where to canter
No matter how much you enjoy cantering, remember the horse’s well-being.
The canter should only be attempted on suitable ground, otherwise the pony’s legs will be jarred.
Soft ground is best, and you must never canter on a road surface.
The aids for canter
To prepare for canter, ride your pony forward in rising trot, making full use of all four corners of the arena. Change to sitting trot, and steady just a little. Sitting to the trot lets your pony know that a change is coming. Rising trot emphasizes the two-time rhythm, making it harder for him to change into the three-time action of canter. And from your point of view, it is easier to remain seated in canter if you are already sitting firmly in the saddle for the trot.
As you come to the second corner of the short side of the arena, give the aids for canter. Sit back and put your inside leg in the forward position (on the girth). Return your outside leg to behind the girth.
As the pony breaks into canter, keep sitting back. Push your heels down and try not to tighten up too much. Let yourself rock gently in rhythm with the movement. One long straight side of the arena is enough for the first canter. At this stage, too, it is better to hold the saddle or neck strap with one hand while you get used to the new movement.
Position in the saddle
The position in the saddle for canter is the same as for sitting trot. So, before cantering, think about any weaknesses you have in your position for trot. These are shown up to an even greater extent in canter.
If you tend to lean forward and move your legs too far back, you’ll be bounced forward even more in canter. If you tend to lean back and push your legs forward, then you will find yourself hanging on hard to the saddle.
Keep the best position you can, but don’t tense your muscles. Sit up straight, push your knees down the saddle and your heels down lower than your toes. Always remember to look up and in the direction you are going. When you’ve managed your first canter in a straight line, try cantering right round the arena. Just push a little more weight into your inside knee and heel as you come to the corners so that the pony keeps going.
Don’t lean back, with your legs forward in an effort to relax. This weak position gives no control.
Bumping around in the saddle, because of an insecure seat unbalances the pony too.
The transition to trot
To make the transition to trot, relax your legs into the normal position on the pony’s sides, and use the outside rein to slow down. The transition from canter to trot feels more bumpy than trot to canter. You can make it much smoother by riding into rising trot first to stop you jolting around in the saddle.
How to sit
The position you should be in for canter is much the same as for the sitting trot. However, because the canter is a faster movement, you have to be more careful about getting your position right. Any mistakes are accentuated.
How the canter works
Using your inside leg on the girth keeps the pony active and working toward the outside of the arena. The outside leg, in moving back, asks the pony to strike off on the correct leading leg.
Remember the sequence of footfalls for the canter. The horse’s outside hind-leg strikes off first. It is followed by the outside diagonal pair of legs and lastly, the inside foreleg. This is known as the leading leg.
It is important for the pony’s balance that the inside fore is the leading leg. If the pony is made to canter on the wrong leg in a turn he may lose his balance and stumble. Asking for canter on a corner helps him to lead correctly, even if your aids are unclear to start with.
You can spot the leading leg while you are in canter. From the saddle, glance down at the pony’s shoulders. Check whether the inside shoulder is slightly in advance of the outside shoulder. If it is, you can safely ride round on a corner. But if the outside shoulder appears to be forward, return to trot and start again.
Left and right canter
Canter left means the pony leads with his left foreleg. The full sequence is then off hind, right diagonal (a fare and near hind together) and lastly the near fore. This is followed by a moment of suspension in which all four legs are off the ground at once.
Canter right is exactly the apposite, with the right foreleg leading. Although the leading leg is the last leg down in the sequence, it is called the leading leg because it appears to be out in front.
Practise changing from one leg to the other. Go into sitting trot, put your right leg on the girth and your left leg behind. Then repeat this exercise, reversing your leg aids. It helps to have the pony looking in the direction of the turn. Your outside rein is steadying the pony, so open and close the fingers of your inside hand to ask for the bend.
Cantering on the wrong leg can make the pony stumble on a turn.