Reality check: fixing the lateral canter

I have a new youth student who lessoned on a school horse initially and then brought in her horse. I suspect her grade mount has some gaited blood (could be incorrect) in that the canter is extremely lateral. The horse and rider are both struggling just to canter around. I have worked with a couple of horses with lateral tendencies, and have found them to be difficult to ride even as they improved for the average rider. They had tendencies to fall back into it if not ridden just so and/or not kept in condition. In this case, this is a young teen rider who didn’t even realize there was an issue. Do others find this issue easy to fix and I am missing something? What are the realities that I can fix this with this student? Note that this student does not have dressage dreams with this horse, but I felt this would be the best place to post to address the issue.

I had a little Appy mare with a horrible canter. She would get tight in the back and just kind of “proing” along when I bought and started her at 3. By the time I sold her at five she had a pure, fairly cute canter. The keys were I took her out in the hills once a week for a gallop (luckily she was the world’s safest baby horse), and also jumped her through grids and cantered through cavalletti. I’ve never worked with gaited horses though, so YMMV.


I rode a little Paint mare that did it. It improved as she got fitter and stronger but I never really felt that it went away completely. She was pretty successful at very low level events despite it but eventually developed soundness issues that I’m guessing were brewing all along.

Depends. How old is the horse? If he’s gaited, this might be an actual gait impurity. I have a friend who has an in with some standardbred people. She’s gotten a number of standardbred pacers off the track and resold them as pleasure horses or LL dressage horses and they did have a pure canter. I do know that she could tell when they were cantering laterally and didn’t allow them to go on cantering incorrectly. She restarts them like babies and starts the canter on the longe line so they can find their balance on their own. One thing that really helped her was getting them out in a field to open up and really canter, but I’m not sure I would recommend doing that with a young student.

IME, sometimes a lateral canter is tension and sometimes it’s lameness. If it’s lameness, it can come and go with the horse’s fitness, like you mentioned, . If it’s tension, it might remain their go-to whenever they’re feeling pressured. If this is a fixable problem, I think the hardest part will be getting your student to recognize and correct it on her own. IMO if it’s not corrected consistently, it’s not going to get much better.


For those of us (well me) with nothing to offer so just here to learn – can you describe “lateral canter”?

Is this a canter where the horse moves as if it is pacing, one side at a time? Or more of a 4-beat canter, the flat kind?

Thank you. :slight_smile:


Go sideways. Zig zag on and off the rail.

A few ideas, canter Cavaletti. Gradually raising the Cavaletti a little bit so the horse essentially has to do very tiny tiny jumps.
If the horse is ready for it, counter canter can help a bit. It’s really not the easiest thing to fix, especially if it’s ingrained habit or if the horse has some gaited tendencies.


Good advice…I have also seen the “fan” approach to setting the cavaletti.

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Inexpensive esterone injections and square the hind toes for quicker breakover, just to eliminate overly tight ligaments as a concern.

Cavaletti on the longe line, make it manageable and don’t scare the horse with too much roo soon.


In a lateral canter, the outside hind and front land together, followed by the inside hind and front landing together. This is rather than the correct cadence of outside hind, inside hind and outside front together, then inside front.


My young standardbred is a natural pacer. His pace is his answer to ‘trot’, he has a nice 3-pt canter. And he also can trot, but it’s his trot that is inconsistent and kinda like riding a boat over waves.

I had a young warmblood that would fall into a lateral canter on occasion. Turned out he had sore SI joints. I suggest a thorough check for pain maybe?

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Lots and lots of transitions and lateral work in the canter, like leg yield, shoulder in, etc.

The first one is very obvious once you see it. The second is a lateral tendency that I think could be improved with training and a lameness eval. I think there are videos of this horse breaking up the canter, or of her greatly improved.

ETA: So yes, both the pacing kind and the flat kind. The flat kind can be improved with forward motion and fitness. Sometimes you see it when riders ride the horse backward into collection and don’t keep the “up,” and the rhythm of the gait is disrupted.

ETAA: Multiple posters also pointed out that in the first video, the walk is lateral, too. I don’t know why I neglected to mention that, but they’re right. Personally I wouldn’t put money on fixing the first horse’s canter.


Thank you! I’ve never seen this before.


How’s the horse’s walk? Canter issues are often right in the walk, just maybe at a level that’s not very obvious.

Any chance he some type of PSSM2 which easily makes the canter a struggle?

I agree that this doesn’t have to be about “dressage dreams”, but simply about improving how a horse moves so his body is better for it.

If there’s enough foot to square toes, there’s enough foot to bring the whole breakover back where it belongs and shape the foot like it’s supposed to be which is fairly spade-shaped. They need that bit of a “point” at the toe to help push off, and need the roundness to the foot to be able to break over in the various directions that changing direction requires


I had a MFT that did this. i fixe it by teaching him to go over the back and stretch into the contact properly. It actually didn’t take him long, maybe 60 days, to go from a hot mess canter that felt like riding a washing machine to a very nice 3 beat gait. For the first month I didn’t even canter, just fixed the contact and back issues at the walk and trot/gait. By the time I was cantering again it was already a dozen times better.

They won’t have the strength to go long periods so I kept his sessions short so he could build up gradually and not get sore. You will be asking him to use muscles he has never used.


I disagree on the hind toes always being overly long, as my horses weren’t long behind at all, squaring help this pacey horse, and layering in esterone was a cheap, safe way to see if that was an issue as well.
Original Chip

Chip after a lot of work and teaching him that he could selectively manage each limb and his parts. Leg yielding, shoulder in, shoulder fore. etc

He is a tight minded TWH that is very pacey by breeding and his default setting.


What a GOOD JOB!


Thank you! He taught me how much I didn’t know. My very western, not very refined background, coupled with a previously sored young, brilliant TWH meant we were in a bad way. We got into dressage to teach me how to help him.

He’s 21 now and the very best horse ever :wink: