The only way to teach your horse how to is knowing how many beats are in the canter. This natural movement needs a little adjusting when you’re prepping for shows.
Cantering is a natural movement your horse makes when they’re moving faster than a walk but not running yet. If you’d like your horse to participate in competitions, they’ll need to perfect the canter. Because horses naturally canter, it’s a simple movement to teach. The only challenge is keeping your horse on the beat.
In this article, I explain the canter gait and how to teach your horse this movement. I also summarise other gaits that horses can learn.
The Canter Gait Explained
Horses use different patterns to move across solid ground. These leg movements are known as gaits, one of which is the canter gait.
The canter gait is a three-beat movement faster than a trot but slower than a gallop. Depending on your horse’s stride, their canter can be anything between 10 and 17 miles per hour.
A canter sounds like a drum being struck three times. Horses touch down on the ground three times, resulting in this sound. One of your horse’s rear legs will propel them forward in the canter. Your horse will support one of their legs during the first beat while the others move forward.
During the second beat, your horse will catch themselves on one rear and one front leg while they have a supporting leg momentarily on the ground.
How Many Beats Are In The Canter?
The canter consists of three beats. It sounds like a drum being beaten quickly three times.
You should be able to count 1-2-3 and 1-2-3 when cantering. Your horse usually has a leading foot, meaning it favors either the right or left foreleg.
Teaching Your Horse The Canter
Watching a horse cantering around pasture might let you think it will easily canter under the saddle. This isn’t the case, though. Before teaching these movements under the saddle, you’ll have to observe your horse cantering freely. You can do this while they’re in the pasture or training arena.
Identify The Lead Side
Horses always have one side they prefer. This is their lead side. Start strengthening your horse’s canter using a lunge lead. Build on their natural strength, musculature, and endurance on their weaker lead. When your horse’s canter is balanced, they will pick up both leads easily.
Once your horse responds to your voice cues, you can place them under the saddle to attempt the canter.
Begin by walking, slowly transitioning into the canter as your horse progresses. Always teach the canter under the saddle by starting with your horse’s lead side. Teaching a horse to canter under the saddle is challenging, so you always need patience.
When you’re teaching your horse to canter under the saddle, they’re learning something completely new. Always be patient and reward the slightest success. Praising and positive reinforcement are the biggest indicators of what you want them to do.
Don’t exhaust your horse trying to teach them. Always rest and end your ride on a positive note.
Other Popular Horse Gaits
Horses have five natural gaits. These are the walk, trot, canter, gallop, and back.
The walk is a natural 4 beat gait, while the trot consists of a two-beat diagonal gait. The canter is a three-beat gait, and the gallop is a four-beat gait. The back includes a two-beat gait if the horse does it without being prompted by the rider.
Learned gaits that are popular include the running walk, slow gait, pace, rack, and ambling gait.
Running Gait: The running walk consists of a four-beat gait. It’s similar to a walk, but faster. This gait gives a horse a gliding motion, with a nodding and bobbing head and flapping ears keeping rhythm with their hoofbeats.
Slow Gait: The slow gait is a four-beat lateral gait performed by the five-gaited Saddlebred. This horse performs a broken pace in this gait, with their feet leaving the ground and landing back down at slightly different times.
Pace Gait: The pace consists of a fast two-beat lateral gait. The front and back feet of one side leave the ground simultaneously, causing a side-to-side motion.
Rack Gait: The rack is flashier than the normal walk. It’s a faster four-beat walk. Each foot is independently lifted from the ground and placed back the same.
Ambling Gait: The ambling gait is a four-beat intermediate gait and mainly differs in speed and footfall patterns. Ambling gaits are faster than a walk but slower than a canter. Many horse breeds can be taught to produce an ambling gait, though many horses cannot amble naturally. Ambling is further characterized by the rhythm of their footfalls. An isochronous beat is a 1-2-3-4 beat, while a 1-2, 3-4 rhythm is a non-isochronous beat.
Before Galloping Off
Horses need to walk before they can canter. The best age to start canter training is once your horse starts their formal saddle training.
Cantering is a natural movement, but horses must be on the beat to perfect it. Teaching them this will require patience and consistency, but all horses can learn how to canter.
I hope this article was helpful and that you’re ready to get your horse treats lined up and start training! If you have more questions about cantering or horse training, ask them in the comments.
Is a canter 3 or 4 beats?
A typical canter gait is three beats, but some horses have a four-beat canter.
Why does my horse have a 4-beat canter?
If your horse has a four-beat canter, it's possible that they aren't stepping through the rein and moving forward.
What are the 4 gaits of a horse?
Horses have four natural gaits, and each has a distinctive pattern. These are the canter, gallop, trot, and walk.
How many beats is a walk?
The walk is a gait with only four beats and averages 4 miles per hour.