Does your horse just go faster faster when you ask for the canter? It happens often - the legs speed up, maybe the head goes higher, and it becomes more difficult to stay with the horse. Sometimes he falls to the forehand and maybe "roots" on the reins (pulls downward) instead of cantering at all.
There are many circumstances when this can happen - it's not reserved just for the beginner rider or novice horse. There can be miscommunication, confusion and/or imbalance between even the more advanced horse and rider combination. Don't worry if it happens. Just know what to do, and work through the situation to improve the transition in the long term.
What To Do
1. Slow the horse's legs down.
If you aid for the canter, and the horse just rushes faster, half-halt and re-establish a nice relaxed trot tempo. Chances are that your horse is excited and a little wound up, so just abort the canter mission for the moment. You won't give up on the canter, but you will first calm the horse, slow the legs and rebalance.
As soon as you feel you've contained the forward energy, and your horse seems more settled, go right back to asking for the canter. Often, you can get a great canter transition just after "bringing back" the trot energy.
2. Check your aids.
Make sure that you are using the correct aids for canter. Do a quick self-check:
- inside leg at the girth?
- weight on the inside seat bone?
- outside leg "swishing" behind the girth (I think of it like a windshield wiper)?
- reins short enough to help the horse balanced but not too tight?
- upper body toned and strong so that you don't collapse during the transition?
- are you using an established voice cue for canter?
3. Ride the canter yourself.
Many riders tend to freeze during and after the transition to canter. It is very important for your seat to actually change from the trot to the canter as the horse changes gait. If you stiffen your back or tighten your knees, you might be interfering with the horse's ability to take the canter step.
If your seat continues in the same manner as it was in the trot, it can also negate the canter aids. Although you can't actually canter in your seat until the horse takes that first step, you must be ready to change immediately as it happens. In fact, better trained horses may not take that transition if your seat feels tight or tense.
If one or more of these strategies works and you get the canter, ride in canter for a little while to let your horse know he's on the right track. Then take a walk break. Pet the horse. But don't stop there. Get a few more trot-canter transitions before you go on to something else. Make sure your horse has a chance to fully understand what you are asking for. Soon enough, you'll eliminate the trot faster routine and just go from a nice swinging trot straight to canter.
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