How to Canter or Lope on Your Horse or Pony

Step-by-Step Instructions for Cueing and Riding

Learn to canter
Learn to canter/lope safely in any situation.

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Learning to ride involves learning to control your horse at all three gaits: walk, trot and canter or lope. After you feel comfortable trotting, the next step is cantering or loping. As your skills progress you'll learn how to ask your horse for collection, extension, and eventually feel confident enough for a "hand gallop."

What You Need

To begin, start riding with your horse on the lunge line with the reins tied out of the way. Your coach will be in control. That way you can concentrate on your seat, without affecting the horse's head. Once you feel secure on the lunge line, you can try on your own.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Begin with your horse or pony calmly trotting.
  2. Sit a few beats.
  3. Slide your outside leg (leg facing the wall or fence) behind the girth and apply pressure with both legs (or heels if the horse is reluctant). Your inside leg stays on the girth. This encourages your horse to begin the canter with the hindquarters and correct lead, and bend around your inside leg.
  4. You will feel your horse lift its shoulders, and drive with its hindquarters. Keep slight pressure on the inside leg to maintain the horse’s forward motion. If the reins are in your hands, shorten your reins slightly to maintain gentle but steady contact as the horse lifts its head.
  5. Allow your hands to follow the motion of the horse’s head and neck always keeping gentle contact with the reins, as the horse strides into the canter or lope. Western riders will not ride with contact but follow the motion without pulling on the reins.
  6. Sit deep in the saddle, keeping your hips loose and following the rocking motion of the horse. Keep your shoulders back and sit upright. Don’t allow your upper body to sway.
  7. Check that your horse is on the correct lead. As you become more experienced you’ll be able to feel the motion of the lead foreleg pulling your hip slightly forward. But in the beginning, it will be easier to use your peripheral vision to check the shoulder and foreleg. Tipping your head down to look will pull you out of the correct position.
  8. To correct the lead, sit deeply into the saddle, apply slight leg pressure, closing down on the horse and resist the forward motion of the horse’s head. Continue to squeeze back on the reins until the horse is again trotting. Ask the horse again to canter, starting at step one.
  9. To go from a canter back to a trot, follow step 7, but instead of cueing for the canter soften your hand and leg aids and begin to post.
  10. Always practice cantering (and all other gaits) going in both directions of the ring or arena. You’ll probably find one side more difficult and so may your horse.

Tips for Cantering

To canter correctly, use these guidelines:

  • Increase the likelihood of starting on the correct lead by cueing for the canter as you are trotting into a corner.
  • Keep your back and hips flexible. Don’t stiffen up.
  • Look where you are going.
  • Don’t forget to breathe.
  • Learn to identify the correct lead by feel by riding your horse while it is being lunged.
  • Remember to have fun! This is many riders' favorite gait as it is faster and smoother than the trot.