How do you pick up the correct canter lead?

How do you pick up the correct canter lead?

Isn’t the canter such a joyful gait!?

The rocking motion and three-time rhythm are both elating and soothing!

It just feels RIGHT, am I right?😝

Except of course, when it’s WRONG. You think you’ve given the aids for the correct lead but lo-and-behold, your horse strikes off on the incorrect one and your aspirations for balance and smoothness hit the dirt.

Striking off on the wrong lead can feel like an inversion of all the loveliness that the cantering on the correct lead brings. It’s like looking at photo negatives, wearing your sweater backwards, or putting your shoes on the wrong feet.

The canter is the only non-symmetrical or “bent” gait – there is a left lead and a right lead. All horses usually prefer one lead (usually the left lead), so many horses find it difficult to pick up the right lead!

There’s ALWAYS a reason your horse is picking up the incorrect lead, and it’s really simple to fix by making sure to set the horse up correctly! In this week’s video, we break the canter-lead issue down into bite-sized pieces. Here are some tips on how to analyze your canter aids to pick up the correct lead!

  1. Is your position ok? Are you giving the correct aids? Most of the time, this is the root cause of why our horses are striking off incorrectly. Your inside leg should be On The Girth and your outside leg Behind The Girth. The inside leg creates impulsion and stops your horse falling in, and the outside leg indicates the correct lead. Get someone on the ground to check that when you think your leg is “behind the girth” it actually is! If it’s not working, put the leg further back to emphasize the point to the horse. Also sit a little on your inside seat bone. This helps the horse bend by putting the rider’s weight over the side you want the horse to lead.
  2. Be clever about where you ask! DO NOT ask you horse to pick up the canter on the straight away. Our horses want to canter on the correct lead, we just need to create the right conditions. Put them on the circle and use the rail to indicate the lead. (check out the video if this sounds confusing in print!)
  3. Leg yield into the canter. The leg yield gets them off the inside leg and fills up the outside rein and helps to set the horse up for the correct canter lead.
  4. Green horses might not have even established the concept of the correct lead in their mind yet… Believe it or not, horses have a left and right trot lead. This is seen when they are slightly over flexed to the inside and they’re throwing their outside front leg with more emphasis than the inside. We want to subvert this, so (and this is a little counter-intuitive, but it’s great for teaching the youngsters!) ask for a little counter-flexion to put them back on the correct trot lead and then ask for the canter from there.

If any of the above is confusing, be sure to watch the video for extra visualization and clarification.

Let me know in the comments if this helps you with your canter leads! Also, sign up for Amelia’s Dressage Club on Facebook, it’s a super engaged community of equestrians and every query gets so much help and advice.


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