December 18, 2017

Are you ready to canter?

            As my students progress through our lesson program they always want to know when they can canter or lope. At the first interview, they usually ask when they get to run or gallop, which shows their lack of experience. As their instructor I have to give them an answer. When is a student ready to canter or lope? What skill set do they need to possess in order to safely and effectively begin learning canter?  How do you know if you are ready to make this all important leap into the next gait? Here are the skills I require of my students before I allow them to begin learning how to canter.

1. Students must have a basic understanding of the nature of the horse. That is- prey vs. predator animal.  Why- Because this will help them watch for situations that could put them in danger, such as a plastic bag blowing around the arena. I expect my students to always be in the position to protect themselves.

2. Students must be at least 6 years old and able to follow instructions given to them in a timely manner.   Why- This has to do with a riders strength, size and basic ability to ride the horse. I am not certified nor insured to teach less than able-bodied and able-minded  riders and therefore; don’t teach them. My insurance also limits me to riders 6 years old and up.

3. Students must be able to groom and saddle their horse. Why- I’m happy to help lift the saddle or bridle for the little ones, but otherwise they have to handle these tasks on their own.  If a student doesn’t take care of their horse, they miss out on the opportunity to master the horse from the ground. This will greatly reduce their mastery of the horse from the saddle.

4. Students must be able to ride proactively at walk and trot. Why- I insist that the students make the switch from reactive rider to proactive rider before they speed things up. This means they are actively steering and cueing the horse, not just responding to whatever the horse does or does not do. Once they make this change, they will progress quickly and have more control. Increased control will give them additional confidence. You must have a great deal of confidence in order to convince most school horses to canter. Without it you are doomed to failure before you start.

5. Students must be able to ride the extended trot, sitting, with control, balance and without holding on to the saddle or mane. Why- Many school horses don’t like to canter. Most will, at some time, get into an extended trot, either while attempting the upward transition or coming down from the canter. If the rider isn’t confident in the extended trot, they will be unable to safely get past it to a more manageable speed. They will grab the saddle and no longer be in control of the horse. While a rider is trying those first, early attempts to get the horse to canter, the gait is often obtained from the extended trot. While this is far from the ideal scenario, it happens all the same. The rider must be able to deal with it. And, of course, a rider must never post into the canter. Ever. Posting in of itself is a trot cue. You can’t cue for trot and canter at the same time and expect a good result.

6. Students must be able to stop the horse from any gait, at any time, with control and without hurting the horse. Why- If the rider is not confident that they can stop the horse, they won’t be willing to go faster. Without that confidence, they won’t get the canter in the first place. Often, horses will fall out of canter before the rider asks for it, therefore; the rider must be able to control the situation by stopping the horse. Confidence in their skills is what helps riders not be fearful.

7. All students must be able to post the trot. Knowing diagonals is good, but not necessary for canter.  This applies to Western riders as well as English ones. Why- If you never post into the canter, why do riders need to know this skill? Well, first of all, it helps the rider get in tune with their horse. It also helps with their timing for cues. Most important, if the horse fall out of canter into some crazy, horrible, bouncy, fast trot, the rider can simply post until they are able to slow the horse down and get things back into control.

8. Students must be able to ride all gaits up to an extended trot, in control, without stirrups, at least one entire lap of the arena. Why- Because riders lose stirrups. We don’t really plan it, but it happens. You certainly don’t want your student to panic, quit riding and grab the saddle just because they lost a stirrup. If the horse is already in canter, you could very quickly have a run-away on your hands. Riders who aren’t comfortable with no-stirrup riding will grab with their legs in their quest to hang on. This new “cue” tells the horse to go faster and most are happy to oblige. This will quickly escalate to a run-away situation that will, at best, cause your student to never want to attempt canter again, or at worst, cause a fall or injury. Hardly the desired outcome for the lesson.

9. Students must be able to regain lost stirrups while at the extended trot. Why- See number 8.

10. The rider must truly want to canter and not be overly fearful. Why- If the rider does not want to canter, they will do their best to not make it happen. They will cue wrong, they won’t cue firmly enough, or they just won’t cue at all. They say they are trying because they don’t want to admit the truth- that they are just not ready, emotionally. I always tell my students in advance that next lesson they can begin cantering. This gives them time to prepare mentally. I also give them a choice to attempt it or not. Some riders need encouragement, but you should never push a rider who is not ready.

            How far into your riding career were you before you cantered? Was it on purpose? Was it successful? What advice do you have for others out there who are beginning their equestrian journey? We welcome your tips, stories and advice.

Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg is a Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor and Clinic Instructor. Cheryl graduated from Rawhide Vocational College and Fullerton College. She is also an AQHA Professional Horsewoman. Cheryl has been teaching riding and horsemanship for over 30 years, training students from beginner up to world level competition. Currently she and her husband own and operate CRK Training Stable in Yorba Linda, CA. We welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to share this article with your friends, but rights to publish this article are restricted. For more interesting articles from Cheryl go to


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