Crystal Clear About Canter Leads and a Quick Fix

By Kathy Farrokhzad. Are you crystal clear

on your canter leads? Do you know which one is which and when you need to change leads? It happens to everyone

at some point in their riding journey, horse and human alike.

The whole idea of stay-

ing on the “correct”, or true, lead is important in riding development. The main rea- son we worry about leads is to maintain balance, espe- cially on turns and circles. If the horse is on the “incor- rect” lead going around a

turn, he has to work extra hard to bring his canter stride through each step of the way. What happens if the

horse is on the “incorrect” lead? Some horses break to a trot because they simply can’t maintain the gait while on the outside lead. Some horses have an

easier time and just keep going, getting more strung out and unbalanced, but somehow sticking with the canter gait despite the imbal- ance. If your horse is one of these, you might have a harder time figuring out if he’s in the correct lead or


What Is A Canter Lead? Simply put, the horse

will always “lead” with one hip and shoulder ahead of the other while in canter. So if he is on the “right” lead, his right hip and shoulder will be ahead of the left. We often teach beginner riders to look down at the shoul- ders to identify which shoul- der is leading. Over time, you can learn to feel without looking at all. Of course, the lead is

caused not by the front legs, but by the hind legs. If you break down the canter stride,

the outside hind leg is the first strike off leg. So, the left hind leg starts off the se- quence of footfalls that allow the right hind leg and the right shoulder to lead. This is why we use our out- side leg as the initiator of the canter gait.

Which Lead Is The “Cor- rect” Lead? If you are going right,

the right lead is the “correct” lead. If you’re going left, the left lead is “correct”. But here’s the thing.

I’ve used quotations on “correct” and “incorrect” be- cause really, those are just

definitions of sorts. We de- fine the left lead as “incor- rect” when the horse is going right. But it’s “cor- rect” when the horse is going left. So it’s easy to see that the horse may choose either lead, depending on his balance mostly, unless he is well versed in responding to your aids. Also, as you both

progress, you might one day purposely ask for the “incor- rect” lead to get a counter canter. The counter canter is a great exercise in supple- ness which helps develop hind end strength and flexi- bility. It also is a way to demonstrate that both the horse and rider can in fact pick up whichever lead in whichever direction - show- ing that the horse’s balance and responsiveness is good enough to allow for either lead at any time. So really, the “correct”

lead might change meaning over time. But for the pur- poses of this article, we’ll stick with “correct” meaning the same lead as the direc- tion of movement.

What If Things Go

Wrong? As previously men-

tioned, “incorrect” leads happen all the time, espe- cially during the developing stages of the horse or rider. The gait might be asked for at the wrong moment in time by the rider, and the edu- cated horse will just follow by taking the opposite lead. In this case, the rider has to learn the correct timing of

the aid to get the desired canter lead. Alternately, the horse

might be in the learning phases and might not know to respond promptly even if the rider’s timing and aids are correct. In this case, he might not recognize the rider’s outside leg as asking for the strikeoff, trot through the aid and strike off with the inside hind leg, again causing the counter canter.

Fix The Lead What can you do if

your horse picks up the wrong lead? There is a golden rule to stick to when things get discombobulated.

Secret: Slow down that trot!

Chances are, after you

got the wrong lead, your horse eventually broke into an unbalanced trot (or you asked him to go back to the trot). In either case, this trot will likely be fast, on the forehand, and difficult to ride.

Your job at that mo-

ment is to be the creator of balance. Keep asking the horse to slow down in that trot. Wait for him to “come back under you” - so that he isn’t running out while you just try to hang on. There is no point in asking the horse to try to canter on even while he’s barely keeping balance in the trot. So wait for him. Take

your time. Teach him that there’s no panic even after that uncomfortable canter thing just happened. It’s all

good! But here’s the clincher.

As soon as he’s balanced, calm and ready - go! Be sure your aids are crystal clear - exaggerate the “windshield wiper” action of your out- side leg. If he only speeds up

again in the trot, bring him back to that nice, slower tempo. Under all circum- stances, don’t kick him faster faster and “hope” he canters off. (There is one ex- ception: while training the young horse, you should ac- cept whatever he offers at the very beginning.) Some horses can in fact

canter out of an awkward trot, but invariably, that can- ter will be similarly hard to maintain. Always balance the trot before asking for the canter again.

Still Taking The Incorrect Lead? There are several other

ways to work on getting the correct lead. We’ll look at those ideas in next month’s article.

Bio: Kathy Farrokhzad is an EC coach and author of the Horse Listening book col- lection, Goal Setting For The Equestrian: A Personal Workbook, and the creator of the Practice Sessions on- line program. If you liked what you read here, check out her blog at HorseListen- for many more arti- cles about horses, riding and life in general.

Don’t miss our next issue. Deadline is March 22nd!

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46