When you have one of those rides that feels bumpy, disjointed, or unbalanced, it may not be that you weren’t riding well. How a horse moves is a big part of how comfortable (or not) they are to ride.

The canter is a gait that can be super comfortable and easy, with a flowing rhythm and a sense of floating. Or – the canter on some horses can feel as though you are being flung in 5 directions at once. Or it feels like the horse is going to just run off. Not so fun if both of these feelings happen at once. 

A canter is supposed to be a 3 beat gait. In today’s video, I want to show you one of our school horses that has a 4 beat canter. When he is cantering like this, he is uncomfortable to ride, and nothing the rider does with their position – if he is in this bumpy canter – will make it more comfortable. 

As riders, when our skills progress, we can help any horse move better. One of the hallmark traits of great riders is the ability to ride any horse and immediately improve how that horse moves. In this same video, I will also demonstrate how I help Amiano out of his 4 beat canter and into a canter rhythm that is more comfortable – for both of us!

p.s. This fall, I will be offering an all new Balanced Riding Course. What we will be learning together is effective, balanced riding. Riding in a way that allows us to not only be more comfortable for the horse to carry, but to influence them in a positive way as well. To use our weight and movement so that our communication of where we want to go is clear. 

But the Balanced Riding Course is about more than just riding. It is about becoming a horse person, and developing your own sense of connection to yourself, your horse, and your confidence in exactly where you are. 

Stay tuned for more about the course + a Free Workshop beginning Oct 11!

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

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23 Responses

  1. My quarter horse will get lazy and take the shortcut of a 4 beat canter. We do a lot of counter-canters and half-passes to get that hind end engaged. Sometimes we just gallop to get the energy up. My issue is that sometimes I know the canter is “off” but think it’s me or something else. My trainer, vet and farrier all just tell me to make him go, he has no lameness issues. So I’ll have to work on me being the one to hold that 3 beat feel, which can be hard. Thanks for showing yours and the tip.

  2. I have an Arab Quarter cross. He does not like to canter especially to the left. I can really push him and he will canter. What can I do to improve this. SOmetimes he acts out, slight buck, if I push him to canter. Is he just lazy? thanks

    1. Hi Joree, it is not uncommon for horses to be stronger to one side, making the canter lead that direction much easier for them. I would work on exercises for bending that direction as well as strengthening his inside left leg. Circles, figure 8s, and even big canters out on the trail, especially up a gradual incline can be very beneficial for this.

  3. I have a 17.2H Thoroughbred who will 4 beat when he is tired or I let him get on the forehand after a jump. My trainer always has me pick up the pace and collect or has me lift him by asking with a tweak of my middle finger on the reins. I have also rode a school horse that was a washing machine with the canter. I found if I was relaxed in my hips it helped with him although I don’t think he ever did a 3 beat canter. I loved this video and all your videos. Thank you for helping me and my horse have better communication.

  4. I have a standardbred cross and he 4 beat canters, especially on the left rein. Unfortunately I find this canter (4 beat) to be really smooth while the right rein 3 beat canter is much choppier and throws me around in the saddle. I have always been told it is because he is lazy, I’m so glad you said that sometimes the gaited breed may be the issue. I will try to hold the 3 beat rhythm myself.

    Thanks for the video, very timely. Love all your videos!

  5. My Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse canters beautifully in the field, but I can’t get him to canter with me on his back. I have ridden for years and canter has only been a problem with gaited horses for me. Some gaited horses canter for a stride or two, but most gaited horses don’t seem to want to canter with me as a rider at all. I have been studying the process of these guys cantering for years, in addition to asking the pros about this and am still not figuring it out. One time a very good rider got her to canter but her back leg next to the wall of the arena appeared to become dislodged from the rest. Very weird. This was a few years ago and I have not attempted it since.

  6. Loved riding Amniano last year and can’t wait to ride him again! I learned how to canter on him, and had no idea his ‘extra’ step was considered a 4-beat canter, but was able to ride it as well. It’s good to understand why he falls into that step and how to help him move past it. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that as well as you did in November when I come. Thanks for the video, Callie!

  7. Thank you so much for this video! My trainer recently got a horse that I rode on her first day at the barn and she had a beautiful canter. Now, her canter feels like an off-kilter washing machine. This explains everything!!!

  8. My horse is long and croup high. She can have a lovely canter, but she can also have a canter that is really hard to sit. I don’t know if it’s 4 best. She goes disunited a lot. I also can not canter her downhill without falling off! It’s just impossible to sit!

  9. My mare, Dolly, is an opinionated quarter horse. She is also has uncomfortable and awkward gaits. I can only describe riding her as riding in a truck with no springs. Despite that she has helped me learn to sit deeper and develop softer hands.

    Question. How do I get her to give me more impulsion from her hindquarters?

  10. I ride a friend’s lovely Gypsy Vanner out on the trails, and has a nice trot but the canter is bumpy!!! I’m riding on Monday and will see if it is a 4 beat. I think that she is cross-cantering but maybe it’s not that. When I make sure she is on the left lead and move her forward it feels better. I may try it in the arena. Thanks!! I love your videos and want to come out to PA for training.

  11. What make of saddle are you using, it look Very comfortable, and it looks like it holds you in your seat so well, I am looking for something like that. MY mare gets disunited and find it hard on my back. please can you help

  12. I have a 19 year old standardbred. I have worked on getting his canter to a 3 beat canter and now 90% of the time it is 3 beat. I found teaching him to bend and getting him supple helps with this. A lot of inside leg to outside reign. It also takes time for them to build the strength they need to balance in a 3 beat canter. I am thrilled with the progress he has made in getting a more consistent 3 beat canter.

  13. I first rode a horse with a four beat canter last year on a teen gelding who was nervous about being ridden and was reluctant to canter, which ended up in a weird up and down feeling four beat canter. As he became more confident, the canter became three beats on it’s own. It felt like he went from holding back to relaxing into the flow. It feels great to feel a horse progress!

    Thank you for your videos! I love the simple way you break-down ideas.

  14. That was so interesting Callie! My Icelandic gelding Tyr can have a really uncomfortable, bumpy canter and now I understand why. I’ll work on getting him to go more three beat thanks.

  15. So glad I found this. My horse also has some gaited ancestry and has always struggled with a 4 beat canter. His 4 beat canter is actually smooth and very comfortable to ride. If I didn’t have a trainer watching and yelling at me, I’d think he has a lovely canter!

    It’s good to hear that his gaited ancestry may be the cause. I thought it was something in my riding that caused it. After 2 years of dressage training we have lovely canter transitions but by a couple strides into the canter I’m always getting yelled at to start over because he’s gone 4 beat again. My trainer has me do a million walk-canter-walk transitions but it never works. I think I’m going to try your suggestion of going more forward instead.

  16. My mare had the most beautiful canter when I got her 12yrs ago, but she now feels ‘disjointed’ so possibly changed to a 4 beat canter. She is now 19 so I had put it down to age and stiffness, but she has also got very much on the forehand and I’m finding it hard to work to get her back. We don’t have a school to work in, we have to use our grazing field and she is very lazy working in the field. She is a very forward going mare when out hacking etc, just not in our fields.

  17. Thank for video. This explains the wierd bumpy canter my Tennessee Walker does. Though I noticed if we do small jumps or ground poles she will a nice smooth three beat canter. We will keep working on it.

  18. My Missouri Fox Trotter gaited Mare will Canter in a circle fairly well however if I straighten her out to go down the fence line she will cross canter and or flip her leads back and forth. It feels like you’re about to be launched out of the saddle. I have recently developed a little better seat for the Canter and I’m now making larger circles and then coming back to the small circles eventually hoping to be able to go straight in a nice canter. Love your lessons! Thank you.

  19. If they are doing a 4 beat canter is it less comfortable for them as well? The reason I ask is my Jasper prefers to canter to the right and is smoother to the right. I have not had a chance to videotape him yet to see if we can figure out what’s going on. He also is a little toed in in the front, and a little more on his left. The vet and farrier are not concerned. I specifically asked if being tied in could affect his canter and the vet said no, but I’m not sure if I agree. Just wondering if you’ve dealt with any tied in horses and if the horse would also be uncomfortable if he is in a 4 beat canter.

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