Maintaining a balanced, consistent, and controlled canter on the correct lead presents enough challenges. But what if your horse has trouble holding his canter? If your horse starts off fine but repeatedly breaks to the trot, then you need to consider what’s causing the problem before you can fix it. Here are three primary reasons why a horse falls apart at the canter.
- The horse is unbalanced. Many horses naturally tend to travel downhill, with their weight mostly on their front end. Others travel crooked, so they careen around turns counter-bent. When you climb on the back of an unbalanced horse and ask for a reasonably straight, comfortable canter, the horse resists these adjustments and trots instead.
- The horse doesn’t understand your cues or aids. A horse that lacks the fundamentals of arena work usually breaks into a rough gallop rather than a composed canter. As soon as you try to slow the horse down, either by increasing rein pressure or attempting to circle, the unschooled horse gets confused and breaks into a hurried trot.
- You’re the problem. Did your horse originally canter but now he’s stuck at the trot? Can someone else canter him easily, but your efforts are ineffective? Then your riding may be at fault. Without realizing it, you could be leaning forward (which upsets your horse’s balance), holding onto the reins for support (essentially applying the brakes) or using too little leg pressure (weak legs often translate into a dull horse).
Always keep in mind that a horse has to be taught to canter (or lope) by building on fundamentals. Teach your horse to become supple through his head and neck so he’s soft and flexible in the mouth. School him to move laterally, away from leg pressure. Also, work on collecting and shortening his stride by walking and trotting in large circles before asking him to collect and slow at the canter. With patience and consistency, your horse’s broken canter can be fixed.
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