Canter is a 3-beat pace with a moment of suspension between each stride. The canter should be as smooth as possible, without an excessive up and down movement in the fore hand and should be straight. Straightness is difficult to achieve because the sequence of legs tends to move the horse into a crooked position, haunches slightly to the inside or to the outside.
There are many different ways of giving the canter aid, and each has their own merit. However, Nuno Oliveira said that the use of the outside leg to give the canter aid would result in straighter flying changes, whilst the inside leg maintains the impulsion and bend. In the transition, it is important that the rider sits in a well-balanced position, with their shoulders facing forward. If the rider’s balance changes or they turn their body, it will result in the horse’s haunches deviating from the line of travel, making the canter crooked.
Looking at the writings of the classical masters, they did not canter a horse in the school before the horse has been suppled, balanced, strengthened in trot, some even waiting for the horse to piaffe before cantering! By waiting for the trot work to become established, the horse is then better able to canter straight and balanced. If a horse is encouraged to canter in the school out of balance, he learns the canter with a crooked body which can be difficult to correct.
When you canter your horse, make the transition when he is not resisting, and only canter for a short time, the quality of the stride and balance is more important than how long you canter for. The transition to and from trot should be ridden frequently and in balance without weight in the reins. These transitions are important for the development of flying changes.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer
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