Get Your Horse Straight in the Canter

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Raise your hand if your horse is crooked! It’s so hard to get them to bend in one direction, and then when you change directions they overbend and drift out through your outside aids! Straightness is something we’re always working on in Dressage, and as we move up the levels, straightness requirements only get more and more specific.

Did you know? When we first start training, when we talk about straightness, we’re actually referring to suppleness. If you look at the Training Scale, suppleness is one of the lower levels, while straightness is nearly at the top! Before we can expect our horses to align their bodies and have the strength to maintain straightness in their body, they first need to be supple both laterally (bending evenly left and right) and longitudinally (soft and adjustable over the topline). When we use the Training Scale as a guide, and first achieve suppleness, then connection, impulsion, – all those components will make getting your horse straight so much easier. It’s all about having the basics in place. If you need help getting your horse more supple and straight, check out my Free Plan Your Ride PDF to help you utilize the Training Scale in your rides.

Once we are ready to work on straightening our horses, the canter is where most riders struggle. This is because the canter is a naturally asymmetrical gait, meaning there is a left and a right lead. Plus, your horse’s hips are wider than their front legs, which often leads to the horse carrying their hips to the inside of the arena because it is easier. So how can we work on straightness in the canter? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

·       Shoulder-Fore – Riding shoulder-fore is a great way to help straighten your horse in the canter. When you ride in shoulder-fore, this brings your horse’s inside hind leg more underneath their body, aligning their hips in a better position. One great exercise that I love to do is to turn up the quarterline at the canter, ride a gradual leg yield to the rail with a shoulder-fore feeling, and then focus on maintaining that feeling once you get to the rail. You can also ride shoulder-fore on a circle or slightly off the rail.

·       Easier Gait – Getting straightness at the walk or trot is easier because they are symmetrical gaits, and they are slower. If you’re having trouble getting your horse straight in the canter, try an easier exercise at the trot or the walk. Ride shoulder-in at the trot, or go back to suppling exercises like spiral circles, or the Snowman exercise. Remember, suppleness equals straightness!!

·       Rider Position – One common mistake that riders make is collapsing off to one side as they use their inside leg to try to straighten and move their horse over. This only makes it harder for your horse to be straight because your weight is uneven in the saddle. Focusing on keeping even weight on both seat bones will help your horse straighten their body more easily.

Straightness is a process! Work on straightness a little each ride and change directions frequently between the hard and easy sides.

Remember to give your horse breaks and go back to easier exercises before you or your horse gets tense or frustrated. I hope these tips help you and your horse! Let me know in the comments below which canter lead is harder for you to get straight!

Happy Riding!

Amelia

P.S. Remember, a supple horse is a straight horse. When we work on getting our horses rhythmic and supple that’s the first step towards straightness. If your horse is stiff and strong in one direction, and overbending in the other direction, then you need to work on suppleness! Check out my Free Plan Your Ride PDF to help you structure your rides using the Training Scale so you can make maximum progress every ride.

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