“I’d really like to have more confidence to canter. Can you help me?” After being on a horse’s back, enjoying the four-beat of a walk, and having experiencing the two-beat of a trot safely, your confidence builds. This is so much fun! The desire to canter comes alive, and for some (not all), there are some concerns or uncertainties that need to be addressed.
The canter is a three-beat dance, whereas the four-beat walk is where your body is relaxed, you’re receiving a chiropractic adjustment whether you are aware of that or not, and more than likely you’re enjoying your ride with a friend and nature. The two-beat trot is where two feet of your horse are up and two are down. Your body responds to this movement in your hips. ‘One-Two-One-Two’ is the rhythm in which you move. You have just moved from your spinal column (walk) to your hips (trot). If you tend to be stiff in your hips, get a hoola-hoop and play around with that. This will help you loosen up and more likely enjoy your horse’s trot, and your horse will enjoy partnering, with you in this two-beat dance.
The canter is a three-beat movement/dance. Your pelvis is engaged in this movement. My Morgan mare, Annie, had the most delightful canter ever! I felt like I was sitting in a glider chair, simply gliding! As your pelvis moves in this three-beat rhythm, your body definitely does experience a gliding/sliding/forward/backward movement. This is where “collect” comes in. What does it mean to “collect” a horse? Collection and balance are closely related. An instructor may say to you, “Gather your horse” or “Put your horse together.” Commonly, what is being asked here is to set your horse up to be balanced under you. This allows energy to flow and moves your horse from the position where the hind leg is pushing off the ground, energizing the loins, flowing through the back, onto the whole front end of your horse. Yes! Horses are like Volkswagens. The engine is in the back.
The angles in the joints of the hind legs, connected with the angle of the horse’s neck and head, provide better balance for your horse. In simplicity, this is what it means to collect your horse. When the hind legs are jointed under your horse (meaning the angle where the hind hooves are slightly tucked under the barrel [belly] of your horse) your horse’s neck and head are stretched forward. Your horse is in a ‘natural’ balance that works safely for your horse, without someone on its back wanting to increase movement. It is from this position that you move into another position to enhance a balanced level, one where your horse is not abused or injured when asked to push forward with you on its back.
More lowering of hind leg joints and setting the hind legs under your horse will change the angle of your horse’s neck and head. When the neck is high, the horse’s head then takes on a vertical position. This is collection. I do want to point out that higher neck is different than a stretched neck. Angle(s) is a key word in understanding collection. When the hind leg joint is lowered and angled under, and the neck is elevated with the head vertical, your horse is balanced and energized to carry you and it safely. At this point you “connect” (hook up), with your horse. You’re ready to canter. YOOOHOO! Without going into explanation, there is a right lead and a left lead in your canter. If you want left lead, that simply means you want to lead out with your horse’s left front leg in your three-beat rhythm. Using your right rein, tip your horse’s head gently to the right. In doing so, the left front leg will come forward. Apply your heel to the barrel of your horse as a cue to begin the canter. It’s a one-two set up. One: tip head. Two: cue horse. Relax. Enjoy. Have Fun.
I hope this helps.