The Aids – How to “Talk to your Horse”

A LOT of riders struggle with the canter. In the canter, your seat, legs, shoulders, and elbows all have to be doing something different!  Here are some tips to help you figure out exactly what each part of your body should be doing in the canter!

About the canter:

The canter is a 3 beat gait. Beat one is the outside hind leg, beat two is the inside hind leg and outside front leg, and beat three is the inside front leg.

This sequence of footfalls creates a rocking motion where there is an up phase, a level phase and a down beat in the canter stride. It is important to note that the canter is the only naturally bent gait: there is a left lead and a right lead canter!


In the canter your seat goes from the back to the front of the saddle and your hip angle opens and closes. On the up beat of the canter, your seat is at the back of the saddle and your hip angle is closed. On the down beat of the canter, your hip angle is open and your seat slides towards the front of the saddle.  If you don’t move your hips and waist in the canter, you end up “posting” the canter and bumping into the saddle.

Leg position:

In the canter you must keep your leg in position for the lead.  The inside leg should stay at the girth and outside leg should stay behind the girth in guarding position. Keeping your legs in this position indicates which lead you want and it also helps to keep the rider’s weight over the inside seat bone. It is very important to keep your legs in the correct position particularly if you have a horse that knows the flying changes.  If your outside leg comes forward, the horse will break to the trot or may do a flying change!


“Keep your shoulders still and more your hips” for the canter. You do not want to shimmy your shoulders side to side sway back and forth.


In order to establish a steady contact in the canter your elbows bend and straighten as you canter to follow the nodding motion of the horse’s head and neck.

This is a LOT to think about! Your hips, legs, shoulders, and elbows all have to be doing something different!! Remember to breath and smile and enjoy your ride!!


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