Canter Departures

Is outside rein, outside foot a fairly standard cue for a canter? I know this isn’t always how a horse is trained (for my mare it’s outside rein, inside foot) but it seems to be for many show horses. Is there a reason for this? It almost always makes the horse take off at an angle and it just seems like we’re “tripping” them into the correct lead rather than asking. Does this bug anyone else?

18 Responses to Canter Departures

  1. ChillyOne says:

    Technically speaking, you’re not “pulling” on the outside rein, you should be pushing the horse to the outside rein which has the effect of “blocking” that (outside) shoulder, thereby allowing the inside foreleg to take the longer stride. The use of the outside leg is the correct, classic aid for canter. By applying that leg, you’re signaling the horse to engage his outside hind leg, which is the first step of a correct canter departure.

    If you are applying the aids correctly (leg then hand), the horse should step from back to front into the canter, and in a straight line.

  2. RaeOfLight says:

    Thanks for the explanation. I had meant to put in a “what are the mechanics behind this” question, but got caught up in a rant :) The funny thing is though, I’ve heard the same reasoning behind using the inside foot, pushing up into the outside rein. “In a proper canter transition, the horse should step off with the inside hind leg so that’s the leg I cue.” I respect the person who said this to me, and I feel like I’ve heard it elsewhere, but I don’t see how both could be true.

    Regardless, it seems like a lot of horses do get angled out toward the rail on their departures, which could either be incorrect training or incorrect riding.

  3. ChillyOne says:

    You happen to hit on one of my peeves :) That and pleasure horses need to actually walk – it’s a gait, not a break in the action.

    I’ve ridden way too many horses that want to fall into the canter because they simply weren’t taught correctly. It’s ugly to watch, it’s uncomfortable to ride, you don’t have much speed or form control until you get the horse back on it’s hindquarters and getting the correct lead this way is a gift from the horse. Isn’t it much simpler to START from the hind than to try to get there on a horse that’s plowing the front?

    If it feels as if the horse is tripping or falling into the canter, that’s because it is. This is what you get when trying to engage the incorrect hind leg (the inside hind is the incorrect leg). This isn’t a matter of opinion or a matter of “this works for me” – it’s a fact of simple mechanics and physics.

    If you really look at a frame-by-frame closely, you’ll see what I’m talking about. The horse should lift into the canter, and it can only do that starting from the outside hind. You get that right and canter transitions will be easy (on you and the horse) and quite beautiful.

    That business where horses throw their hip towards the center IS incorrect training/riding. When ammy’s do it, I assume an over-cue. When trainers do it (on a presumably finished horse), I think I won’t be sending a horse there.

    For some people just getting the correct lead is enough for them. I want more than that.

  4. jns767 says:

    I think this is a great question and something I’ve wondered about too. I was trained by my Morgan instructor to use the same cues as ChillyOne spoke of. I never really thought about the mechanics of it though, that’s just how I was taught and how it worked. That’s how all but one Morgan I’ve ever ridden was trained to respond, as well…it seems universal in the Morgan world. I wonder if most all other breeds train with that same cue?

    Recently I’ve started up taking Dressage lessons, and the way my instructor teaches the horses to respond is by using the inside leg. I have ridden one dressage trained Morgan who responded to the same cues…is this a Dressage thing? My instructor had a very good explanation for it as well, however I can’t do it justice and will sound like an idiot trying, so I won’t go there. It sounded similar to Chilly’s explanation though.

    Anyway, it is very interesting….I’m anxious to learn more about it.

  5. RaeOfLight says:

    I was wondering if anyone would catch on that my mare does have a history in dressage basics. So it sounds like the inside leg is a dressage thing. I went back to my source on the inside leg, and she had this to say:

    “The horse in the canter, even though they are traveling straight, curves slightly in the direction of the lead. The center of balance (if the horse is rocked back correctly and carrying himself) is over that inside hind leg. This is the reason that the actual cue comes from the inside leg– to ask that inside hind leg to step way under himself to give a light and balanced departure.”

    So it sounds like cuing with the outside leg is to push the step, cuing with the inside leg is to initiate the bend.

  6. Chris Nerland says:

    I am reading the above w/interest, as i have just come in from cantering my hunter. I am still at the point of bending him into the lead, but I realize long term I must have him move straight. At least we are cantering on the straight now-last year we were still in the corners! I am definitely an amateur, who wants to become educated, and you all cannot even agree on the theory behind the cues! Who are we supposed to listen to! My wife Sue studied w/H.L.M. VanSchaik and he taught her to cue the outside hind leg as that is the leg that powers the stride forward into the canter. I agree that many horses I see in the ring, particularly Western trained, seem to “fall” forward into the canter. That might be the physiology of the horse as much as the training.
    I understand what Rae’s source is telling her, but would not that inside hind leg come into play once you are in the canter and the lead is established? It still makes sense to me that the outside hind is the leg that powers the body into the lead. Slow motion studies of horses at liberty should help us all understand what the animal does naturally.
    Incidentally, I was told once that the cue for the canter on the outside hind is because the Judge in the centerring cannot see the cue that way. From a pure show-riding point of view, that makes sense.

  7. Chris Nerland says:

    One more thing: of course the inside hind leg is going to follow the outside hind leg as you canter, but it ain’t necessarily doing it correctly-reference Waldemar Seunig’s Horsemanship text (a book hardly ever read anymore and too bad).

  8. snerland says:

    It seems there are a lot of opinions here. The horse has a “rear engine” and moves off the hind legs. When the horse’s rear engine is not engaged, then you do not have a horse firing off all cylinders.

    Not bragging, but I was taught by H.L.M. van Shaik and Porlock Vale in England; one was the German approach and one was the British approach. Surprisingly both aids were the same.

    First and foremost, the head must be perfectly still and the horse must be up in the bridle. When the canter cue is given, the rider’s outside leg is positioned behind the girth while the inside leg is placed on the girth. The outside rein remains the same tension while the inside rein’s tension is slightly eased. One the canter has commenced, the inside leg returns to behind the girth and the inside rein assumes the same tension as the outside rein.

    In dressage and in all divisions, the aids are to be given invisibly. Over the years showing horses, I have realized that the rider who gives invisible cues and keeps the head still while engaging the hind end wins. The horse should be able to do this without a wall or fence.

    I know what everyone is talking about, but at the end of the day, what is important is a good ride on a good horse and wowing your friends and judges with invisible aids and a perfect head set with the horse foaming at the bit (and I don’t mean saline solution squirted into the mouth). Not many horses are ready for a double bridle unless they are perfectly balanced. Just watch next time, you’ll see what I am talking about. Sometimes we yield to fad; sometimes we push a horse who is not ready for the double bridle because everyone else is doing it.

    The Germans and Europeons do not put their horses into double bridles until they have been trained many years; it can be done, but again, the indications to all gaits must be subtle, forward, and definite. In the end, whatever bit you use should not make a difference in the overall performance of the horse. I would love to see a park horse class in a snaffle (I won a class doing this in 1973 because my horse was not ready for the double bridle). I’d love to see a western and hunt seat horse ridden in a halter. If the horse is trained correctly, there should be no difference; the bridle is like a steering wheel, it simply steers the horse.

    As you can tell, this has also become a concern of mine. Let’s see what others say about not only the canter BUT the transitions between gaits.

  9. Chris Nerland says:

    Since we are talking about riding, cues etc. I would like to start a thread covering how trainers put a “head-set” on a horse. How do they train them to keep so still and to set their heads at a particular angle? I know some bloodlines are “hingey” and that makes things easier, but you still have to put them in position. I know about (and use) a LaSalle dumb-jockey, and also use a surcingle w/draw reins so I know some of the tricks, but I would really like to hear from others how they do this. I am particularly speaking of 2 and 3 year olds. You can put a classical head set on a horse through dressage, but that takes years (as I am finding out!) So how do you get a still head/neck in 2 year old harness classes?

  10. Vintage_Rider says:

    For what it is worth, having had many instructors and breeds under my belt for past 35 plus years, it always has been the outside leg, but “timed” to ask at appropriate time and not in mid stride.

  11. jns767 says:

    I did some online research and came across this article that I found very interesting. I have to say that I kind of agree. Does it REALLY matter which leg is used to cue? If the horse is light in the bridle and…well, just read the article :)

  12. Jrchloe says:

    Everyone is explaining the outside legs and hands cue but no one has hit the inside aids yet. Using your inside leg asks the horse to lift his inside shoulder to go into the correct lead. The inside hand controls the head and neck to supplement the legs. This can be really simple or you can go down the rabbit hole to get really in depth, haha.

    Chris Nerland you should start a new thread.

  13. ChillyOne says:

    As was stated above, the horse is a rear-drive vehicle. The power comes from behind. By attempting to influence the front leg with the inside aids, you’re literally taking your foot off the gas while asking for an upward transition that requires the horse to coil in order to make that transition. In other words, you’re setting your horse up to throw himself forward to try and scramble and crawl into the gait as opposed to setting him up to simply step into it from behind. And yes, timing is important, but so is the quality of the walk so as to be able to feel for the timing – which definately is getting into the weeds!

    In plain English – influencing the front leg tells the horse to use the front for power (which is most definately incorrect), influencing the hind leg tells the horse to power from behind. You can ride the bend all you want, but by doing that you are pusing the rib cage to the outside, which pushes the outside front leg slightly in front of the inside front – not what you want to do if you’re going for a correct lead. Like I said before, you can get the correct lead this way, but it’s a gift from the horse and the quality of the departure will suffer.

    As is stated just above: “Using your inside leg asks the horse to lift his inside shoulder to go into the correct lead”. You can say that this is true, but physics don’t bear it out. The shoulders are lifted because the hindquarter drops and pushes the animal forward. Riding the front of the horse is never correct. Ride the back and the front takes care of itself.

    This isn’t a Morgan thing or a horse show thing, it’s a correct riding thing. From Xenophen on up (which is what I meant by “Classic” training – modern dressage of French, German or Martian origin is a big old mess), and if you watch carefully this bears true – the first step of a canter comes from the outside hind leg. Have control over this leg and you’ll never miss a lead, there will be no crawling into the canter.

  14. Chris Nerland says:

    So, when did dressage become a mess? I think it was post-war when the German riders and those hulking heavy-cavalry horses (aka Trakheners) took over the ring. Podhajsky/Seunig/vanSchaik were of the old classical school and it still exists in Vienna and a few other venues.

  15. Chris Nerland says:

    Oops. Spelling…Trakehners-nothin’ against Traks, but they were heavy-cavalry and were used for plowing fields in East Prussia. Modern dressage sometimes looks like a contest of who can be the smallest woman on the biggest horse and who can spur frantically enough to drive these monsters forward-invisible aids-ha! Lippos look like midget body builders alongside these giants, yet they can do it all. The Morgan as an embodiment of the Baroque horse coulda/shoulda filled the same niche now being crowded with Andalusians. A missed opportunity. So glad we didn’t screw up on the carriage driving opportunity.

  16. ChillyOne says:

    Chris Nerland asked: “So, when did dressage become a mess?”

    Yeah, probably post-war was the beginning, when horses were no longer a necessity. Can you see Podhajsky doing endless 20 meter circles, or rollkur? Or that ridiculous head bobbing at the sitting trot? I can’t.

    As far as Morgans and dressage, my bet is that because they are simply not built for the lower levels, they really aren’t a horse for everyone, and a Morgan asked to do those endless 20 meter circles WILL find some other way to entertain himself and at your expense – they just won’t catch on with the lower level or do-it-youself rider. Then once you’re ready for the upper levels, you move on to a traditional upper level dressage breed, i.e. Lipps and Lusitanos.

    It’s not really in a correctly made Morgan to go long and low for any amount of time – which is an excercise designed to build forward that a Morgan has quite naturally, which is what confounds the do-it-yourselfers.

  17. Chris Nerland says:

    Thank you for the interesting comment-you sound like you have given this thought. I am a naif in all this despite having been around Morgans a long time. I have only in the past several years gotten a chance to ride extensively and to apply some of the training methods I have seen over the years. Theory and practice are yet far apart in me! I have just finished reading through Theresa Sandin’s entertaining web site.
    I am fortunate enough to have over 1000 acres of cropland and grassy gallops to switch over to after I do ring work with my two Morgans so i am trying to give them a chance to move out and use their hind end in a variety of situations. I agree about the 20 meter circles and the Morgan low threshold for boredom!

  18. Jrchloe says:

    In saddleseat you should be able to just use your weight and a slight touch of your outside leg to get the horse to shift his weight onto the outside hide. Thats it. If the horse steps once to the side before he moves forward you have asked to much for a side step instead of moving him “off” balance and forward. This is very evident in cantering figure 8s and serpentines.

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