Question of the Week: Out-of-Control Canter


Advice on a horse who gallops unnecessarilyQ: I have a great little all-around horse: he goes English and western and even jumps well. Everything about him is smooth and flowing except for his canter/lope. If he’s working in the center of the arena or jumping a course, he’s slow and under control. But if he’s on the rail, he bursts into a gallop. Why does this happen and how can I fix it?

A: Without observing the problem, it’s hard to make a sure-fire analysis, but chances are your horse is staying under control in the center of the arena or while on course because he’s focused on a job. Also, the bending lines and turns of a jumping course as well as the tighter confines in the middle of the arena force him to collect and shorten his stride, essentially slowing him down. He’s also more balanced (off his front end) under those circumstances, so he’s physically less able to lean on the bit and gallop off. Once he’s on the straightaway of the arena rail, however, he can open up his stride, grab the bit, flatten out and go. Here’s what you can try to fix this problem.

Break up your flatwork routine so that you aren’t making laps around the outside of the arena. For example, as you approach each corner, start the bend and then turn it into a large circle, about the diameter of a longe line. That means each lap of the arena, at every gait, will include four large, perfectly round circles. Really concentrate on keeping your horse on that pre-determined track, too. Don’t allow him to fall in or drift out or otherwise evade your aids and ignore you. If he begins to lean on your hands, halt, back a few steps, and then carry on with your circle. This will constantly remind him to remain balanced and collected. Just be sure you don’t resort to yanking on the reins in frustration.

Eventually you can graduate to fewer corner circles. Perhaps make circles only in every other corner. As you go down the long sides of the arena, pay attention to the “feel” of your horse. The very moment he starts to lean on the bit or increase his pace, steady him back with your hands and create another large, structured circle. You can also halt, make him wait, and then resume. Stick to your plan. Since your horse has developed this habit, you’ll have to be persistent. In fact, the only time he may be allowed to cruise around an arena without circling in a corner or halting on the rail may be in the show ring. But that’s what it takes sometimes to outwit a crafty little horse.

–Cindy Hale

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  1. Do LOTS of cantering! My horse used to be terrible about that. I have been using Clinton Anderson’s Method and on of his exercises it to put your horse at a canter and make them keep that gait up for 10 minutes! If they break into a gallop, shut them down with a one rein stop, and if they slow to a trot, push them back into a canter.

  2. I love circles. My mare hates them because they make her work. LOL. I tell everyone circles are your best friend.

  3. thanks for the article! im leasing a western/english mare and i have that problem of her going faster along the long side of the rail. and i dint want to be yanking on her mouth to slow her down. so i did alot of jogging circles and trotting circles. ive heard extending the jog works too.. anyone know if it does help?


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