Tips to Improve Your Seat at the Canter
A balanced, independent seat is the key to be able to follow your horse's movement. One of the challenges many riders face is developing a good seat at the canter. Having an independent seat is a pre-requisite to being able to sit the canter well and being able to follow the horse's movement and rhythm. In the canter, you have to follow the horse's motion by keeping your hips relaxed and allowing your hips to move with the horse's hips. All while keeping your seat in contact with the saddle. You need strong core muscles to keep your upper body neutral. However, be mindful that core strength should not equate to tension or stiffness. You want to develop strong core muscles that can hold your upper body in a neutral position while allowing your hips and thighs to stay relaxed.
The Canter is a 3-Beat Gait:
Beat One - The outside hind leg hits the ground. At this time, the other three legs are off the ground. This is the most uphill motion of the canter. Your shoulders, hips, and heels should be in alignment, and you should feel a slightly closed hip angle.
Beat Two – The inside hind leg and outside foreleg hit the ground simultaneously. The outside hind leg (beat one) is still touching the ground. In this phase (along with the suspension phase), your body should be in a vertically aligned, neutral hip position.
Beat Three – The inside foreleg hits the ground. The outside hind leg is now off the ground. The inside hind leg and outside foreleg are still touching the ground but are about to lift up. At this step, your hip angles should be the most open, and your body should feel slightly behind the vertical.
Suspension Phase – First, the inside hind leg and outside foreleg lift off the ground. The inside foreleg is the only foot supporting the horses' weight. Finally, the inside foreleg lifts off the ground, and all four of the horse's legs are in suspension.
· Stiff hips – Your hip joints need to flex in the canter. If you don't allow your hips to stay relaxed, your seat will slap down in the seat of the saddle.
· Cantering with your shoulders and upper body instead of hips – Your upper body and hands should remain still while your hips move with the motion of the horse's back.
· Gripping with your knees, thighs, or calves – This restricts your ability to follow your horse with your hips and creates tension throughout the rider's body.
· A weak core – When you don't engage your core during the canter, your upper body moves with the motion of the horse instead of your hips. You have to think naval to spine, keep your core strong and engaged.
Exercises to Improve Your Canter Seat:
The best way to improve your canter seat is to work toward an independent seat. This is best accomplished by lunge lessons that include "no reins & no stirrups" exercises. Of course, safety is most important. SAFETY FIRST - Lunge lessons are best suited for well-trained, reliable horses with steady gaits and an experienced handler on the ground.
Arm Exercises on the Lunge Line
Perform arm exercises with one or both arms. You can do arm stretches, circles, raise one or both arms over your head, reach forward, backward, or sideways with one or both arms. The exercises require balance, but it also helps in learning how to isolate different parts of your body. You can do the same exercises at the walk, trot, or canter based upon the rider's experience level.
No Stirrup Balance Exercises
Working without stirrups is a great way to work on your independent seat. Perform these exercises while on a lunge line or in a regular training session. Exercises examples include:
1. Picking up and dropping your stirrups while riding.
2. Transitions within the gaits – Going from collected trot - to medium trot - to extended trot.
3. Doing 30 seconds of sitting trot - 30 seconds of posting trot - and 30 seconds of two-point.
4. Legs Away – At the walk, lift your legs up and off the saddle out to the side. Keep your alignment, holding for a determined number of seconds then relax.
5. Ankle Circles – Twirl your toes clockwise for five to 10 circles, then counterclockwise, working both ankles at the same time.
6. The Bicycle Exercise – At the halt or walk, raise and lower each leg as if you were pedaling a bike. Concentrate maintaining good poster and not leaning or using the reins for balance as you pedal.
7. If you are feeling confident and safe, try riding walk, trot, and canter on the lunge with no stirrups and no reins.