Relaxing during the upward transition to canter can be a difficult thing for many riders to master. Couple the anxiety of the surge with a horse that anticipates a tense, uncomfortable rider and too often the result is a missed transition, a horse falling in or stopping, or even a rider falling.
But the canter transition doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Anyone can learn to relax, supple their body, and ride the powerful surge of asking for a canter.
The best exercise to help a rider relax when asking for a canter is to ride on a lunge line. Ask your instructor or an experienced horse person to allow you to ride a well-behaved lesson horse on the lunge line. With this method, the trainer can control the horse while you ride and focus on your seat. With loose reins or no reins at all ride through as many transitions up and down as you can handle. At first you may need to stabilize your body by gripping the saddle or your horse’s mane, but you should aim for being able to do it without gripping anything- as you certainly do not want to yank your reins and hurt the horse’s mouth when you begin cantering off the lunge line.
Experience is the only way to relax and overcome the anxiety of riding a horse through a canter transition. Repeating the unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and unseating action multiple times in a short period helps make it familiar and expected and trains your body how to respond and ride the movement of the canter.
Over time and practice you will eventually learn to relax while asking for and riding the canter, and as you relax, your horse will also. A relaxed horse will pick up the canter more fluidly, and as a result will actually make the canter transition less intimidating to ride.
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