Riding canter
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Tuesday, February 26, 2008 10:23 PM
Lately I I have been working a lot with my students on correct biomechanics of a rider's seat in canter. A lot of people find canter much easier to ride than trot. However, it is not necessarily easy to do it properly.
The most common problems with riding canter that I see are:
  • Scooping/Sliding seat - Rider slides his/her seat from back to front of the saddle with every canter stride. The rider may add an active push at the end of the slide, or may not.
  • Hip angle is constant which makes upper body rocks. This is less evil than previous one because usually rider stays off the horses back in a light seat. The rider will not be able to collect his/her horse but at least horse's back will not suffer. There are some exceptions in this category who can rock the upper body and drive with their seats at the same time. Locked hip angle makes rider's buttocks fly up away from the saddle with every canter stride.
  • Driving seat - Rider adds an active push with his/her seatbones down and forward on the third beat of a canter stride thinking that this will collect the horse. What it does - it squashes the horse down like a bug. It is impossible for him to round his back and stretch into the bridle. Usually such rider must hold a lot with his/her hands to keep the horse together.
  • Thighs are floppy and knees roll away from the saddle at every stride. This will encourage the sliding seat because thighs cannot stabilize the pelvis in the saddle.
  • Torso is moving too much - not enough core stability in the middle. Some riders consciously try to relax and induce this wave thinking that if they move so much they are following the movement of their horse and they are not stiff.
As you can see one mistake can lead to another and usually there is a whole cluster of them that should be untangled carefully before a better seat will emerge. The main areas that most riders need to improve are core stability, position and use of their thighs, especially upper front, more freedom and flexibility in the hips joints and forget about driving seat. Forget about the idea that you can push your horse with your hips and/or with your seatbones.
Lets see what we can do to improve our canter seat:
  • Do not try to relax completely, especially in the middle of your torso. This usually leads to too much floppiness and unbalance. For your horse you must be as quiet and together with him as possible. If you have unnecessary stiffness in your body, trying to relax everything without much understanding of what you are doing will not help. You can damage your and your horse's spine.
  • Learn two-point position with good balance, stable leg and upper body. This will train your thigh muscles and naturally rotates your thighs in. You cannot stay in balanced two-point position if your thighs rotated out and your knees roll off the saddle. Two-point will teach you to be quiet and feel the rhythm of a canter stride. Seat very close to the saddle, almost touching it but not sliding or pushing on it. You will start to realize that you can use your upper-front thigh muscles to control the length of the stride. Use your shoulders to half-halt your horse not your hands.
  • When you gain some core stability off the horse and can easily ride rising trot and two-point canter for longer periods of time you can try sitting the canter. Keep your shoulders open and your torso vertical. Keep your hips quiet. Your thighs lie flat because they learned to stay rotated in. During the second half of a canter stride when your horse rocks down on the forehand fight the temptation to slide down there and add a push into it. Instead, use your knees to give your thigh more support and let the hip joint open so your pelvis will go up and forward. Do not confuse light support from your knees with pinching with the knees. You achieve it with extra rotation of your thighs in and down. In this way you counteract the natural forces of a canter stride that try to pull your thighs away from the saddle and rotate them out. All these motions are minuscule. They are not visible to the naked eye. However, they create quietness and sense of ease. Your pelvis rides up on a wave of a canter stride because of your soft hip joints that let the movement happen and because of your thighs that support and stabilize the movement. Horse's back can come up under you, he can round and stretch into the bridle, relax mentally and produce much better balanced and almost effortless canter strides. Do not try to open your hip angle using your glutes (buttock muscles). It is very tempting because glutes are primary hip extensors and they naturally want to "help".
  • Someone can argue:"What about supple lower back, absorbing the horse's movement?" Lower back can only be supple if it has a support of "Abdominal Push". Suppleness doesn't mean complete relaxation all the time. It means the ability to engage and let go when needed and as much as needed. Riders who look relaxed and supple have good core stability, deep seat with flat thighs (when thighs are rotated in and lie flat it feels like you have enormous base of support under you) and unimpeded hip joints. They have enough core stability and suppleness that they can take their thighs away from the saddle and still balance their torso through the canter stride without grabbing the reins or falling off. Taking your thighs away from a horse is an exercise not the method of riding. You can use it to check your ability to balance your torso on a moving horse. You need your thighs to ride canter properly and to control it.
  • If you start using your thighs properly you will feel burning sensation in front where leg meets the body. You will feel it after the ride. This sensation comes from tendons of Rectus Femoris, muscle that lies on top of your thigh right in the middle and runs from the pelvis all the way down under the knee.
One of my student's hot and nervous mare instantly changed her canter from fast and rushing one to slow and steady as soon as the rider let her hips rise up. The change was so dramatic that my mouth fell open. All these wonderful changes that I see in horses only prove to me that I'm on a right track.
Happy riding...
 
Comment by 13 on Sunday, August 18, 2013 08:35 PM
Hi! I have been cantering for a while now and I absolutely love it! I have a pretty good seat and manage to stay in the saddle pretty well the only thing is I round my shoulders (in the sitting trot too) and for some reason I can't get my shoulders to stay back. I only ride once a week so is there any exercises I can do while I'm not riding to improve my position and shoulders? I also jump and my 2 point is good but my shoulders once again round, please help as I have to fix this be4 I raise the jump height. Sorry about the long post.. Thanks! :)
 
Comment by IrinaYastrebova on Monday, August 19, 2013 12:00 PM
Round shoulders is not just an issue in the saddle. I am sure you have round shoulders in your regular posture on the ground or when you sit. You need to start developing a sense of awareness about your body. How you move? How you walk? How you turn? etc. This will help you catch yourself wanting to slouch and round your shoulders.
Exercises you can do are anything to develop your core stability, shoulder blade stability and upper torso strength. For example:
- Sit on a physioball, best if you can have a tall mirror to the side of you so you can watch your upper body alignment.
- Make sure your feet is flat on the ground and parallel to each other
- Have a stretch band secured around something strurdy. Take the band in your hands like reins
- Position physioball far enough so band is slightly stretched and gives you a sense of resistance
- Make sure your upper arms are vertical, pull your shoulderblades down and push your shoulders away from each other
- Now hold that position from 30 sec to 1 min. Repeat after rest
- Variation 1: lean slightly back and come back to a vertical position keeping your elbows by your sides. You will feel more resistance while leaning back. You can do 2 series of 10 repetitions. Variation 2: rotate your torso left and right, keep hips stil and shoulders level
Good luck!
 
Comment by Aiden on Sunday, March 23, 2014 06:29 PM
Hi! I have been cantering for a while now and no matter what i do i can NOT sit the canter. I always feel like I am going to fall off and grab the saddle or mane. I really want to break this habit.I have tried sitting back and imagining my legs are weights, pulling me down. I've also tried pretending that I have a string attached to my helmet, but nothing seems to work. Also, I watched a video of myself and my torso is rocking and it seems I am leaning to far back, but to me I feel like I am completely vertical and still. I know you said in the article to use your abs, and I do have strong abs, I'm just not sure how to successfully apply them to the canter and keep my torso straight and still. I have done so much research and everyone says to "sit deep". But I don't know exactly how to do that. I just really want to get the canter mastered so I can move forward. Please help!
 
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 07:50 PM
It is very hard to help you, Aiden, without seeing you ride. Even though you are trying to describe how it feels to you or what you saw on the video you may not feel or see what is important to notice in order to improve. I am very good at analyzing videos and giving riders specific instructions on how to improve. Please check the Video Lesson page. Although, you want to improve canter seeing you ride other gaits will be very helpful too.
 
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