How to get a powerful canter, without speed?

Sometimes I feel like my horse has just two canters. One is slow and puttering, the other is powerful but fast. The first is easy to sit, but with no steering and no lead change. The second is like going into war, and it’s fun, but we aren’t doing the jumpers. With the first canter, we tend to chip and break gait to a trot. With the second, we nail it sometimes but also leave long very often, and break gait into a hand gallop, especially going into corners to ask for a lead change.

When I try to slow down the powerful canter with half halts, my horse drops his head and I guess “gets round.” I still have contact, so I wouldn’t say he’s behind the bit, but it feels like he’s more likely to do a half pass than canter a course. There is a lot of lift and bounce in his stride but his head is too low.

He isn’t a traditional hunter and is small. His stride is not 12 ft. But we are only jumping 2ft courses. We have our first rated show coming up and I want him to do well. I feel like there is a special perfect canter I haven’t unlocked and don’t know how to ask for.

When you feel your horse get round and too low, are you adding leg to push him forward up into the bridle?

What does your coach think of this second canter?

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I just figured out how to do this in a hot horse after about 20 years of riding. Obviously we all know leg to hand, but the thing that clicked with me was to lift them up in front while encouraging with my inside leg into the outside rein at the same time. If that makes sense…I’ll try to PM you a video of my friend showing and she does it incredibly well.


Sounds like a quarter horse type with a ginormous (for the horse) 11’ gallop stride? Or? Square peg round hole for hunters where most horses have a long flowing canter stride exceeding 12’.

Unfortunately, you will probably be best off either adding a stride or better yet doing fun jumpers were the added strides don’t count against you. In the Long Stirrup type starter hunter divisions adding a stride smoothly and safely; trumps missed jump distances. At least, that’s my impression.

Do you have a trainer or coach to help you?

He’s a morgan, but that sounds about right. Smoother than a QH and it feels like a big stride, but it just isn’t. I do have a trainer. She says that I need to work on my feel and rhythm.

We did the “wheel of death” exercise with ground poles, cantering a circle, and I was okay at keeping my strides consistent. I thought my rhythm was just fine. We’ve also practiced cantering lines and doing it in a slow 6 or 7, then in 5, then a fast 4. He is adjustable.

Maybe I just have trouble translating those exercises to actual courses. I guess there is always something. We’re at least capable of riding into corners now and doing rollbacks. Even if it’s happening too fast, at least it’s happening.

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I keep getting suggestions for Karl Cook’s masterclass on; the reason I mention it is that the topic is specifically developing/getting a good canter. I don’t know what the cost it, but it might be worth a look.

power comes from behind, and while you might cover more ground, it’s because of a bigger stride, not faster-moving legs.

The canter that is slow but breaks easily isn’t an engaged canter, so that’s one of the issues.

The lazy horse with a naturally correct stride, can benefit from gallops to teach him that when you say go, he GOES, and goes NOW. But the exercise isn’t to simply keep galloping. Once he’s in the gallop, quietly bring him back to a canter, and repeat the transition. If he starts falling on his forehand at the gallop, he needs to come back - he’s moving his legs too fast for his balance.

It is repeated transitions between and within all gaits (don’t do transitions within the walk without supervision, that’s easy to mess up), that teaches engagement

It has to come from a supple front end - supple front to back, so you can ride back to front. You can’t ride into a resistant mouth/jaw/poll/neck/shoulder.


I do too. NF is all up in my Instagram!! It got my attention, but I feel like NF puts out a lot of dubious content. I watch it for the production value and not the substance. And Karl Cook… He just gives me “your best friend’s annoying older brother” vibes. Nothing against him as an equestrian, I just can’t watch him :see_no_evil: Now… if it were my horse world crush Richard Spooner, NF could have my money.


Just because it FEELS fast doesn’t mean that it IS fast. The slow is nice because it probably doesn’t ‘go anywhere’, but you’re used to it. The ‘fast’ may because you’re not as used to it.

Try doing lots of changes within the gait - lengthen/shorten/lengthen. And yes, all those exercises that you do on the flat you can still do when jumping. If doing a circle, count the number of strides in a quarter. Then increase by one or decrease by one in the next quarter. Think of cantering uphill. His head might be down, but it doesn’t mean his hind end is down. Just cuz the front got compacted doesn’t mean he’s sitting on his hind end and really using it.

She thinks it is too fast and I need to regulate the pace. She thought that about the slow canter too—that I needed to be able to ask for the canter I want and not just the one he gives me.

It feels like a video game where I am progressively “unlocking” new canters, but not the Goldilocks canter I want. I have 3 right now: the putter, the jumper ring “callop,” and the dressage ring battle march.


And what happens why you add leg and allow your horse’s body to lengthen slightly in the dressage ring march?

Do you have someone to video you? (Or a robot, since it’s 2021 and we have technology!)

Then you can do all your canters, watch it back and see what is really going on. As someone else said above, sometimes what feels fast isn’t really. And I suspect that although you feel the “dressage march” has contact, he’s probably ducking behind the vertical and definitely not forward into the hand.

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I don’t know that I’ve tried it, stupid as that sounds. When my horse is already in a marching canter, he can become resentful of added leg. But I can think of maybe a couple times I tried to use a driving seat and less hand to get out of that curled up canter. I guess I have experienced that riding with a deeper seat gets that strong but slower canter I would want on a course. But it is hard to canter a course in a deep seat. For one, it is fatiguing lol. But for another, it’s hard to reestablish that contact between jumps, it just feels more natural to stay in a half seat.

I do, I even have a Pivo that I got for Christmas (do NOT recommend, for what it’s worth). The fast canter isn’t out of control, but it looks rushed. The dressage march is definitely the one you screenshot for social media :joy: It’s pretty, maybe not really on the vertical, his nose is still poking out but more bent at the poll than a normal jumper. He does duck behind sometimes when I squeeze on the reins but comes right back up.

Well ok then, your PIVO has the reality vs. perception thing covered for you then. Lol. The other posters have probably given you better specific advise than me. I’ll say keep experimenting, and the answer is probably (always?) more leg. :joy:

Reality vs perception on the Pivo is that it will perfectly capture a half lap of you posting on the wrong diagonal but is inevitably pointing in the wrong direction when you get the guts to jump an intimidating oxer :scream:

I appreciate all the outside perspectives though, because I blank IRL and never say these things to my trainer. I’m really intrigued by the advice of one poster about lifting “up” the front end and adding inside leg. I would never have thought of it but recently found that lifting up on the reins helped us in a bounce we kept crashing through. I have always hated bounces and was told to just get in two point and not interfere. But I found that pulling up on the reins cued my horse to pick up his front end and it helped him navigate it so much better. I wonder if it could help me on the approach to jumps to get more “up” and less “forward and flat” to a jump so he leaves and the right spot instead of too long.

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It sounds like you could benefit from a good Dressage trainer who can teach you the half-halt.

It sounds like you just haven’t gotten good instruction of riding leg to hand, back to front. Just thinking about pulling up on reins is hand riding, and if the horse doesn’t have the hind end function to do things well, you may just end up with a horse still on his forehand but with a raised head and neck


And once you’ve learned how to ride leg to hand, setting a line of ground poles and trying to ride the same line but adding or removing a stride each time around can really help to give you a feel for your stride lengths.


Is your horse just dropping its head or is he rooting? If you keep half halting a horse that is rooting it won’t be effective. You have to use leg when you half halt to move them forward and keep them engaged from their hindquarters. Dropping the head is an evasion, and it’s making it hard for you to establish balance and rhythm. Without balance, the horse will scramble.

As soon as you feel the head drop, you have to apply leg. Keep your hands up and in front of you. On the circle, keep that outside rein up and maintain contact - don’t pull, but soft continuous contact, and use inside leg to bend the horse around you, stabilizing with that outside rein. Then make the circle bigger, and bigger and bigger. As you get bigger, increase the stride length - not speed but length. As you get smaller, decrease. You need to make your horse’s stride length adjustable - not the speed.

The charged up bunny hop canter is not the right rhythm to go to a jump. You need to let the horse move forward in a relaxed way. I suspect there is maybe too much contact and not enough leg. Riding smaller horses at rated shows over 2’3" is tremendously challenging. You can get away with the add through 2’3" but thereafter you have to get the step. The only way to get the step with these horses is to get them to RELAX into the open canter stride. It takes some time and patience to accomplish this. Also, riding in a half seat will allow them to better open up the stride to make it down the line. The driving seat can compact the stride on a sensitive horse, making the charging canter.

Have fun at the show!


To be clear, from my perspective, lifting them up in front should theoretically rock them back to their hind. So, when I’m aiming for a bouncy, powerful canter, all I do (now that both my horse and I know how to do this), is lift my hand and then activate my inside leg into outside rein while keeping my arms flexible and hands lifted. It really, really works and it seems so simple yet my horse was so responsive to it like we’ve always cantered like this (we have not).

I tried to find the video of my friend, but now that the circuit is over the videos are no longer free ($75 now!!). But I’ll ask her to send me a video.

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