How to overcome a fear of cantering your horse

For some riders cantering their horse can be pretty nerve-wracking. It can cause much stress and anxiety at just the thought of your horse changing pace from a trot to a canter. This mindset can be frustrating for riders and can often hold them back from achieving their true potential and progressing.

So, why do some riders struggle with cantering?

There are a few key reasons why some riders may struggle with cantering. This is usually a combination of ability and mindset. Some of the most common reasons for struggling with canter includes:

  • Speed
  • A loss of control
  • ‘What if’ thoughts
  • A previous bad experience
  • Never cantered before & not sure what to expect
  • Doubting ability

You may have other examples yourself of why you struggle with cantering either from a mindset or ability point of view.

As an example; a ‘What If’ thought might include ‘What if I fall off?’, What if my horse bolts off with me’ or ‘What if I lose control and can’t recover’. If you have never cantered before and don’t know what to expect this may be an ability issue that requires training and knowledge to overcome. A fear of the unknown.

Ways to feel confident cantering

There are many ways in which we can help ourselves feel more comfortable cantering. Check out some of these helpful hints below to help you build on your confidence and change your mindset about cantering.

Security

Security whilst riding is very important and riders should work on their balance and security regularly. This will help you build your confidence and leave you feeling far more secure when cantering or dealing with situations that may arise. Develop a balanced & secure position, independent of the reins, by riding without your stirrups in walk and trot.

Upping the pace within the pace

You can be sure that if you are not comfortable riding a fast trot then it is unlikely you will feel any better at a canter. Try to get comfortable with a more powerful trot first before you start cantering. Practice riding in working trot rising, then a more powerful medium trot, then back to working trot again. Build confidence in your horse moving more actively.

Ride transitions

Transitions, transitions, transitions! Quite possibly the holy grail of riding. Working on direct and indirect transitions between walk, trot and halt can be very helpful in preparing and getting you to feel more confident transitioning into canter. Work on achieving active, engaged transitions between halt-walk-trot and vice versa, so that your horse is on the aids and listening to you.

Learn the aids to canter

If you haven’t cantered before or you haven’t done much canter work then learning the correct aids is highly recommended. This will ensure you are feeding the right information through to your horse and clearly communicating what you want to happen. 

The correct aids for canter are as follows: 

  • Ride positively forwards in working trot rising
  • As you enter a corner of the arena, take sitting trot to prepare and engage your horse
  • Use your inside leg at the girth to increase impulsion (energy in the stride)
  • Bring your outside leg a little behind the girth (just a couple of inches) which asks for the strike off into the canter transition

Try to watch other more experienced riders as they make transitions between trot and canter.

Watch someone else cantering your horse

Watching other, more experienced riders cantering can be very helpful for your learning. It will allow you to sit back, visualise and fully grasp the concept and the horse’s footfalls whilst in canter. It gives you the time to really look at what is happening when your horse transitions into the canter without the pressure of being in the saddle. Ask them to talk through how they are achieving the transitions, what they feel through their seat in the canter, and how the horse feels to them.

Get some lunge lessons

Lunging lessons can be very helpful for riders struggling with the canter. Lunge lessons may seem like a beginners tool, but this far from true. Many top riders still take lunging lessons to improve balance and security. Cantering on the lunge can help you focus purely on your position, balance and aids, while your coach stays in control of the horse (one less thing for you to worry about).

Start small

If you are struggling with canter and your initial goal is to canter a whole circuit of the arena, change rein and perfect a 20m circle then you are likely pushing yourself way too hard with an unrealistic expectation. Aim for just 1, 2 or 3 strides of canter to start with

Set your expectations to just experiencing the canter to start with. Get familiar with how it feels and comfortable with staying secure, balanced and in control. As you become more confident, you can start to keep the horse cantering for longer.

Breathe!

When riders are nervous and concentrating, they often hold their breath! This isn’t very helpful for you (since you will be very out of breath and not functioning properly). This also isn’t very helpful for your horse. When your horse feels you have stopped breathing they often feel like something is wrong which in turn can make them feel uneasy. Try breathing out through your mouth as you make the transition to canter; it will help you relax.

Train your horse

If your horse is green, inexperienced or has simply never been trained to make a good transition to canter from the correct aids, then ask an experienced rider to help school him/her. An inexperienced horse and rider are a bad combination and you could say it is a bit like the blind leading the blind. An experienced rider will be able to train your horse to accept the aids for canter which will, in turn, be much more helpful for you whilst you are still learning.

Get fit

Keeping fit is very beneficial for riders and a lack of fitness can often be the cause of setbacks with your riding. Work on your own fitness away from riding; practice yoga, pilates, stretching, cardiovascular work, and strength training, so that you are in the best possible position to ride well and help your horse to carry you, and respond to you easily. Riders often see a vast improvement with their riding after taking up a regular exercise regime.

Visualise

Visualisation can often work wonders for improving your confidence for cantering. Visualise in lots of detail, exactly how you would love to feel, see and hear when you’re cantering. Remove any negatives in your visualisation and create a really positive story. Your mind loves imagery, so close your eyes and practice cantering your horse even when you’re not riding! But please don’t do this while you’re driving!

Go at your own pace

Don’t feel like you ‘should’ be cantering by any given point in time! It takes as long as it takes, and it’s way more important that you are confident, prepared and almost bursting with excitement to canter! Focus on small, positive steps towards your goal each and every day.

As you become more confident, you can begin to develop your horse’s way of going in canter and really start enjoying it!

If you’ve found this useful, please feel free to share on your social media profiles, using the links on this page 🙂

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