Canter transitions

Okay, Dressage HiveMind. Recovering H/J rider coming to you, seeking wisdom.

I’ve been riding again for about 9 months following a 20 year break. I’ve taken h/j lessons, but have found that I love the eventing and dressage scenes where I live (the DMV). Have been taking regular jumping lessons at an eventing barn and just started leasing a LOVELY horse at a dressage barn.

Here’s the problem. My lease horse is much more sensitive to correct aids than most of the lesson horses that I’ve ridden this year. She - like my dressage instructor’s school masters before her - has identified a very basic hole in my riding - asking for the canter.

In my jumping lessons, I just swing my outside leg back, shout Yee-haw! (a joke) and off we go. But it turns out that I actually let my inside leg swing forward as well, and pitch my body forward, throwing the contact away.

I’m working on it. I find that if I consciously look to the outside, that helps me hold my body in place to use my aids more correctly. And I’m working with an excellent, patient trainer. And, I’m regularly riding without stirrups to get a better seat.

But I thought COTH may have some wisdom as well - training videos to watch? Books to read? Things that you have found helpful?

Inside leg forward to girth brings inside hip forward. Slightly weight inside stirrup. Outside leg slightly back, slightly on. Sit up. Cue with inside leg.


My mind was blown when I realized I didn’t have to swing my leg all the way back to ask for canter. It wasn’t until I rode a schoolmaster, who wouldn’t accept my “hunter style” aid as an actual aid (just wouldn’t canter), which was also helpful as my horse had a tendency to explode into canter when I asked hunter style. Our world was radically changed by me figuring out that all I needed was a subtle shift in weight to the inside, my outside leg back just enough to be different, sitting up, and the inside leg to cue.

Dressage schoolmasters are sensitive creatures. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. You don’t need big aids at all. Really, less is more. With most schoolmasters I’ve ridden, you really just have to think it, your body starts going to the place it knows to cue the aid, and the horse already knows what you want. It’s such a cool feeling!


@initiate1987 thank you for articulating what I’ve been experiencing. And for your clear explanation of aids.

That Winning Feeling by Jane Savoie
I had a canter departs issue back in the day
I read her book, used the activity of imagining myself riding that canter depart accurately and correctly and it seriously helped.
You can often find her book at Thrift Books dot Com

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This may be a bit simple/obvious, but if you are posting the trot on the correct diagonal, sitting two beats and asking on the second beat means the horse’s outside hind will always be in the correct position to push off from the ground and canter. This made my transitions a lot smoother and more prompt because I can ask at the correct time without having to think too hard.


@malriis I will try that!

The problem with using outside leg back is that in the changes you might cause the rump to swing side to side.

I use my inside thigh “grabbing up” (at the girth) as a primary aid for the canter. The idea is that I use my inside thigh to ask for bend and direct my horse to work within the bend. With my current horse, I have to put the outside leg a bit behind the girth for him to really understand the aids but he is prone to moving his haunches with this request. Going to the right, he’ll tend to throw his haunches in with these aids but not going to the left, and we’re working on this. This is exactly why I like to train a horse to my inside thigh if I can…the outside legs can create swinging haunches in tempis and regular canter and changes. My horse can’t seem to differentiate my seat bones between haunches in or half-pass, and asking for the collected canter. He anticipated. We’re working on this.


Postion is so important, the ability to get it, and hold it.

The reason for the inside leg to be at the girth is to continue the forward impulsion, the reason for the outside leg to go slightly back is to encourage the outside hind ro reach more strongly under for that all important first stride. As you get that first stride, you must sit in in the rhythm and encourage the canter to continue. If you lose the rhythm, or stop following ,you will lose the canter.

Never forget that in the beginning you need the all important half halt.

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Agree with this. Inside leg and hip also makes the pirouettes a bit easier/more achievable (helps maintain the bend through the body during the half-halts, which are basically just re-cuing canter departs).

I had a trainer that separated inside and outside aids at the canter: inside is for increasing energy/jump in the canter, outside is for lengthening stride in canter. As with everything in this sport, none of the aids operate in complete isolation, but that mental framework helped me be more deliberate and clear in my aids.


:woozy_face: While this may work well for you, I would caution others to do this very subtly, lest you do your medium and extended canters in a haunches-in position. Because that is exactly what would happen to me on any of the horses I’ve ever shown (especially in the FEI horses). I think most people would recommend inside leg and seat to lengthen/extend the stride in canter, outside leg subtle positioned behind the girth (not even on the horse) to maintain the lead.


Fair enough. For me-- it’s more of a feeling in the outside hip/thigh rather than the lower leg/calf, and typically I try to keep slight shoulder-fore positioning in the lengthenings, especially early on.

But there’s definitely not just one right way to ride, for sure.

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That’s more or less what I’ve always heard too, though for lengthenings I’ve always been told both legs. But definitely separating the inside leg for adding energy/jump.

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Ah, that makes more sense! I guess I think of that as more of a seat rather than a leg aid, but yes, the upper thigh and lower leg do very different things :slight_smile: And whatever works for you and your horse - many roads lead to Rome :slight_smile:

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I’ve never really thought of it this way. We’re schooling working pirouettes, thank for this!

I tend to use my seat to push forward for lengthened strides, which my horse is apt to follow. Where he thinks lengthened stride should occur. :roll_eyes: In those places, (either long side or diagonal going left to right) he can really bust out medium and extended gaits. I’m trying to get his to understand that I can ask him to bust out those gaits elsewhere in the ring. He’s understanding this these days. I tend to use my seat and equal leg pressure within the gait to produce the medium/extended gait. He’s good with coming back on my weight and closed thighs (a cue to collect or stop, depending on what my lower leg is doing). I guess that’s why I don’t regularly get mediums on a circle. Hmmmmm. I’ll think about re-cueing the canter as we work on working pirouettes. THANKS!! Much to think about here!

That all said, he gives tremendous jump in the canter depart from the walk. Even his failed changes right to left. I want to encourage that attitude and I try to.

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You have to be a little bit careful with the re-cuing canter departs way of thinking. A pirouette, is basically haunches in on a circle. When you think of re-cuing the canter it can make your pirouettes a bit too slow and segmented instead of fluid. It also depends a bit on how your brain and body works though.

I do think the horse should obey any command anywhere, so it’s good to recognize that/not always school extensions on the diagonal for example. I also think that people overlook counter canter a bit too. You should be able to extend and collect in counter canter just as good as you can in true canter. When you can do this, it really boosts the quality of the canter and your aids.

Although, riding with a good instructor is really the best tip :wink: