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The canter is a big stepping stone in learning to ride, especially as adults.

On most horses, the canter is a different and bigger movement than walk or trot, and it’s faster too! When you are learning, riding the canter requires both figuring out the canter movement plus feeling the added adrenaline of the faster gait.

To add to the canter challenge, there are many conflicting stories about how canter should be ridden and what the movement feels like.

In this video, I will explain how I teach the canter movement – as a “swing”, not a “scoop”, and demonstrate the difference in how these two are often interpreted.

p.s. Learn from my mentor in this Free Online Workshop happening now with Wendy Murdoch. Discover the unconscious habits that may hold you back, plus a simple exercise you can do anywhere that will give you the “swing” feeling I describe!  

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Better riding in 7 days (FREE Mini Course)

Daily exercises for an immovable seat, steady hands, and a happier horse

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Comments

68 Responses

  1. Thank you Callie, getting into sitting canter is still something I struggle with. (As an endurance rider I am usually in 2 point seat outdoors). What has helped me to keep in canter in the saddle is riding with one arm behind the saddle to avoid leaning too far forward.

  2. Wow!!! Thank you so much! Not only does it make so much sense, but it immediately made me feel more balanced on my horse, and my horse seemed to be thinking, “finally, you get it!”.

    I love your training! Please keep it up!

  3. Your Ellie looks and moves very much like a couple of my Nokota’s. Thank you for your most helpful insight. I’d always been told to wax the saddle with my butt bones…

    1. Hi Kathryn, be careful with the waxing visual because that can incorporate some side to side movement which we don’t want!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  4. Love this one. Something that helped me ride the canter better is imagining cantering with my inside thigh and allowing that thigh to very minimally do a canter motion.

  5. Callie, This is very helpful. I can’t wait to try it. I have a tendency to arch my lower back which often aches after my ride. It will take time to re-train my canter position but I aim to try.

  6. Thank you Callie for once again a very
    Helpful riding hint. I find that keeping my abdominal muscles slightly engaged helps to keep my back from rounding during canter and helps with balance as well!

  7. I did better when relaxed so my back was not stiff and opening my hips. But I need to work on a neutral spine and not leaning forward. I’ll try what you demonstrated here—very helpful

  8. Thanks for the Tips. What has helped me is to not stiffens my hip joint and let it roll a little. I still find it difficult when challenged with a horse taking up speed (the place i ride pretty much only have race horses) I find it hard to relax and end up tensing up the upper body which usually gives me sore shoulder muscles. Im sure I’d be better off relaxing and going with it. I guess it’s because I get stressed so my body don’t listen anymore to my head.

  9. Thanks! I find this video very helpful. First of all, cantering really scares me and I have a difficult time finding the rhythm so I am going to try this. I know I CAN canter, but I want to enjoy the canter.

    1. I hope the tips in this video get you back to enjoying the canter Lisa!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

    1. Hi Jane, do you have a lot of tension in your buttock muscles? That can cause bouncing!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  10. As a young mom at the time, with very little time to trail ride and no lessons available nearby, the best advice I ever got was to ride bareback. Over time I developed a nice seat and a deeper bond with my horse. When I felt ready to try a canter I immediately slipped into old habits I didn’t know I had… leaning forward and pinching with my knees. Maybe even tightening the reins in fear. My horse bucked in protest, but not his normal blowout. I got the message immediately and my faults became suddenly clear as day. After that we were able to canter for the first time ever without my horse turning into a bronc and me tight with fear. I had to read up and envision what riding in partnership with my horse looked like and listen to my horse above all. It was because of that I discovered my horse who a trainer said had a jigging problem actually was gaited and had the most powerful and springy trote. He was a rangerbred Appaloosa and my spirit pony.

  11. Thank you for the training session, it is helpful. Hopefully this Spring I can try this. We have been ankle-deep mud in SE Ohio. First day of sub zero cold for weeks. My guys can walk without slurping!

  12. I am struggling with the canter ! Just had a lesson this morning and I’m bouncing up and down , sooo frustrating. Going to keep at it and give this a try. Thank you for the pointer and video !

    1. Polly, another helpful tip is to make sure that your butt muscles do not have excess tension in them! Hard muscle tends to bounce 🙂

      Hope this helps!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  13. Hi all-A contented “singles’ awareness day” as my son calls it! 😉 Anyhow-Mark Rashid and Chrissi McDonald (Oh -I hope I have the name spelling correct) have a nice dvd out on the “sitting trot”-which also goes right into the “sitting canter”. I’ve been riding horses bareback since a child-so the canter isn’t challenging to me unless I have an unbalanced or really rough horse-but-the dvd “picture” was this:
    Take a birds eye view of your pelvis in the saddle…as the horses body goes forward with the leading leg in either a trot or a canter-your pelvis makes a “figure eight” to roll forward and return with each stride. In a trot this will be even-in a canter it will be more -or a “bigger circle” with the lead side. Sally Swift too-has some marvelous illustrations to think about the circularity of motion of both the horse and rider-which breaks up that mind set of “being still”. It doesn’t need to be obvious-but you are moving and you are moving in circles-even by the very fact that you area starting in one spot and ending down the road a bit with each stride, circling back under with the lift of the horses hips and shoulders and going down and forward again.
    This visual-like yours-makes it clear that the seat bones actually always have that gentle, flexible connection to the saddle or horses back, and the riders femur/sacral lumbar region are what do most of the “absorption/rotations”.

  14. I am a bit confused because it seems that your seat comes out of the saddle more with the swinging method you propose than it does with the scooping motion you advise against. Perhaps it’s the angle of the video for the scooping sequence, but I would appreciate a better apples to apples comparison. Is the real answer that we should use a little combination of both hips and back? I can see practicing “hips only” to get the feel, then add some back movement once the hips are working well. Thanks for your help.

    1. The key here Janet is to pay close attention to the low back, the low back must be stable for us to be secure and balanced in the saddle. Plus our eye is drawn to movement so in the scooping action your eye is drawn to the movement of the back rather than the seat 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  15. I have often wondered about the new way accomplished riders are cantering. Can you please tell me how this will not result in my bottom banging down on the horse’s back, because that is what it looks like I would be doing? Thank you.

    1. Hi Constance, the difference between the canter swing versus scoop is that by allowing the swing motion of the hip we are allowing the horse’s movement to move us. However, it is important to retain relaxed muscle tone in the butt muscles because tight muscles do bounce!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  16. Callie, I can not thank you enough for all the help you are giving so many of us. Eventho I do take lessons, and have from various instructors, I constantly refer to your videos or guidance.

    On another note your vest made me smile. Wearing a fanny pack to put my phone and threats into did not feel comfortable while riding. Kind of bouncy.

    I found in Europe at a swap meet a couple of men’s vests. They look like the type a fisher man would wear. They were well made and had exactly what I needed. A zillion pockets. I altered them by taking some of the material at the waist.
    I now wear these vests all the time. Pockets for everything! I make sure I put same amount of weight on left and right side. No interference while I am riding.

    I am glad that I can now tell women who ask me where on earth I found my vests, that actually you had a similar one on, therefore they must be available somewhere!

    Thanks for all your help always
    I saw your vest and thought: finally a practical elegant design! I am going to add a belt to my vests! It did not occur to me to do that.

  17. Hi Callie, I just watched your video on sitting the canter – it being a swing motion rather than a scoop motion. I am really trying to improve how I sit the canter and wanted to understand a little more. I noticed when watching u ride both ways that the the swing motion has u coming out of the saddle more, there is actually some air time. With this amount of movement how do u use your seat aids? Why is it more comfortable for the horse than the scoop motion which has the rider more connected to the horse? Thanks

    1. Hi Philippa, that is a great question! The scoop can cause the rider to get heavy and push down into the saddle and therefore push the horses back down. In the swing motion, the forward motion of the horse’s back is absorbed by the rider!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  18. I am still working on the canter. My horse was dealing with an abscess so I rode lesson horses. But overall this was a good thing. My anxiety was high and confidence was lacking. So I did a lot of cantering on lesson horses without the anxiety and it helped to build my confidence. I then returned to lessons on my horse doing some cantering. He has a big canter, heavy on the forehand and needs a lot of encouragement to canter. So now once again we have not cantered due to him having a strained hind muscle. So after just simple walk/trot I am ready to give it a go. This swing motion is something I will practice. long term I also want to help my boy be less heavy on the forehand. I will be looking for videos to help with that. Thank you Callie!

    1. Lisa, cantering on different horses is a great way to get your confidence back! Hope this video gave you the tools to be confident to canter your guy again soon!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  19. Thank you! I am new to riding, so I absorb everything. I appreciate your input and will try those techniques. I was taught to scoop like you describe, this seems too exaggerated. I am going to try your tips to find that right balance. Thanks again!

  20. I finally got the “feel” for the canter when I was out on a trail ride a couple of winters ago using a bareback pad. My friend asked if I wanted trot, I said yes, but she took off in a slow canter. So there I was, and what do you know, because I wasn’t try to brace in the stirrups, it was a lovely canter- so smooth and pleasant!

  21. Callie I hope to come catch a masterclass with you next time I visit ‘home’ as being here in dressage central mean I have all kinds of problems with my canter and it is frustrating. But fun :)! Keep up the great videos

  22. What helped me learn to sit quietly is imagining my back pockets sticking to the saddle. I try not to let my seat leave the saddle. It took a while but now it feels easy.

    1. Hi Laura, make sure you aren’t tightening in your butt muscles when you do that! Tight muscles cause bouncing 🙂

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

    1. That makes sense. I can picture that. I will have to try that next time. I have a hard time finding the rhythm in cantering and it’s quite scary to me.

  23. I find that working without the stirrups…. initially walking, then sitting trot and then finally going into a canter, has meant that I have much better adherence to the saddle in the canter and that my ‘seat’ moves more naturally with the horse after this exercise, known as ‘mise en selle’ (placing in the saddle) here in France. Thank you for this tip, Callie. I will be sure to try and put it into practice in my lesson this week. Your videos are so helpful!

  24. Thanks for this great tip. I find my canter seat is pretty slppy at the best of times and feel that I am slamming down into the saddle rather than flowing with my horse. I watched another of your videos to see the canter seat in action (it’s from 2014), but in that one you said you would use the “scoop”. Do you plan to make a video showing the “swing” in action? I’d love to see it if so!

  25. I have been finding my lower back bothering me lately. When I ride my horse on the trails in the snow I have to get off the saddle and ride a two point or half seat to protect my lower back. I will definitely try this swing motion. Thanks, Callie!

  26. Thank you for the exercise. I tend to tighten my arms when I am unsure of my seat. That makes my upper body stiff and that goes all the way down. When I allow my arms to go with the motion, too, my body relaxes more and I can roll with the gate. Although, right now I’m riding a Cobb and her canter is much like riding a small avalanche (not that I’ve ridden avalanches often). She rushes and cuts corners and doesn’t collect her hind quarters. Makes it difficult to feel the rhythm and have a good seat. I just started riding again a few months ago after several years away and my memory says I ride a certain way, but my body has a definite different opinion. That effects everything, especially, the canter. I really appreciate everyone’s experiences.

  27. Thank you for the clear explanation between the scoop and the swing motion in the canter. I need to relearn from earlier scoop training. I’m also taking the yoga for riders which is a great class with the “horsework” to apply the principles. Would you say that the swing motion is more like the movement in riding a rocking horse when we were kids?

    1. Hi Sky, the one movement you have to be careful with about that movement is that we don’t want to be pushing the horse’s back down. Oftentimes, the rocking horse can sometimes invite a downward initiation!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  28. I found it helpful to ride without the saddle (or at least without stirrups) so that you are obliged to follow the movement. A very easy pony at the beginning!

  29. I was told to try and imagine having been on a trail ride for hours so that you’re too tired to get tight. Stay soft and go with your horse. Also you should not be working harder than your horse, it should feel like they are taking you somewhere. I still get tight in transitions and have to remind myself to relax my seat and thighs so my knees don’t inch up or I loose my stirrups.

    1. Awesome Lainey! Maintaining the correct muscle tone is an important part of the puzzle!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

  30. The term I’ve been taught in learning the canter is ‘swish’ rather than ‘swing’, but it’s the exact same movement of the hips while maintaining a neutral back that you described (my teacher calls the neutral back the ‘elegant’ back. She calls a stiff back the ‘robot’ back, lol). The exercise that you demonstrated is very helpful, and I will be incorporating this into my daily pre-ride and pre-lesson warm up routine. Thank you so much! I need all the reminders that I can get:-)

  31. This was so needed. I did my first canter the other day and my trainer explained the scoop and swing. This was really helpful in demonstrating how i should be doing it. Thank you!!

  32. You’re amazing I’m watching from the uk and it’s like you’re reading my mind!
    I suffer with social anxiety and adore my horse so much. You have an incredible way about you and your videos are wonderfully informative and enjoyable to watch.
    Thank you so much for taking the time to do them and share them for free. Xo

  33. Thank you for breaking this down in an easy way to understand it. I do the scoop. I always end up crooked. I am definitely going to try the to sqing next time. Thank you!

  34. I have a question on cantering. Should we be using our feet (legs) to absorb some of the impact that arises from the cantering movement? Or should we try to cushion all the impact using the thighs?

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