• VOLUME 46 • © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine
There always comes the point where we face introducing the first canter stride either to the human or to the horse.
“The canter is the horse’s most complicated pace, and it is far more difficult to obtain correct results at this than at any other pace.” Wynmalen
For many riders the change from the now comfortable trot to canter can be emotionally overwhelming. Many riders know that it may not make sense, but nonetheless quite naturally feel a certain amount of tension and even fear when faced with taking that very first canter stride. It somehow just does not feel the same to go from walk to trot as it does from walk to canter or trot to canter. The canter feels like the gallop and the natural fear of the runaway horse and a loss of control can quickly overcome us.
“In order to ride well at the canter our aids must be adapted to and synchronised with the horse’s movements, and it follows therefore that we must begin by studying and understanding the mechanism of the pace, so that we shall know what is going on beneath us.” Wynmalen
We can help prepare the rider with what to expect in canter, how to position their body, how the feel will change from moment to moment once they begin the actual canter sequence. It can of course help, if we first do this with the rider with an experienced horse, one who we can cue to the canter so that the rider can focus on themselves.
“Another fault that most riders have is that, in the beginning, they do not apply themselves at all to feeling their canter, which is nevertheless essential.” Gueriniere
This is where our abilities to help describe the canter, what to expect, the patterning of the rider’s body, can be so extremely helpful to help overcome the natural trepidation felt by the rider in the preparation for the first canter stride.
Different masters through the ages have come up with different suggestions of what you can expect to feel in the canter. Most often the feeling is described as if one was sitting in a rocking chair.
This has led some riders to bend forward with their torso from the hips as the horse raises up and back, worrying the onlooker as to whether a collision between the horse and the rider’s nose is about to happen, and then sitting back upright when the horse goes down. This has led other instructors to emphasize that the rocking motion instead is one of the rider sitting back and up, not forward and up.
While this can work well sometimes, especially on a horse that springs well into canter and has some natural balance, it will not necessarily work well for all horses at all times through all levels of work and all levels of balance, although concentrating on bending almost exclusively from the hip joint can end up being inefficient and ineffectual.
We can through observation see masters such as Nuno Oliveira, whose body never appears to rock no matter the level of balance of the horse. It is especially noticeable with
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