I’m going to give you a peek into my Equestrian Masterclass on Strategic Riding. If you’re a rider who does any type of jumping, one of the biggest areas of development, which is not always emphasized strongly enough, is developing an athletic, engaged, connected canter.
Let me explain.
There’s no way for me to talk about strategic riding without talking about the canter. The canter is the basis for everything we do on course, and while a lot of enthusiastic riders like to focus on training the jumps, we have to remember that jumping truly is simply an extension of the canter. Even when we’re jumping a course, you spend more time in the canter than you do in the air. You can be the best at walking your course, the best plan-maker, have amazing trot work… but none of it really matters if you can’t canter well.
A good canter is the canter you need in order to execute what you need to execute. So, a good canter for a tight line is different than a good canter for a forward line. A good canter for a careful line is different than a good canter for a powerful line. A good canter for the first round is different than a good canter for the jump off. So when we say “good”, we really mean appropriate for what you’re about to do.
However, there are some aspects of the canter that are pretty much consistent no matter what you’re trying to execute. The common denominator is connection. Think of the canter as an infinity sign; if you watch a horse canter from the side, the hind end comes under the horse, the withers lift, the front legs land, and the hind end comes under again. And on it goes. The energy is fluid and what allows the wither to come up is the hind legs stepping under the horse.
There’s a common misconception that a connected canter makes the horse’s frame look a certain way, but that’s not accurate. A connected horse has nothing to do with bending the neck, arching the poll, and holding the head. Instead, it’s all about the hind end sending the energy forward and up, so that you can harness that energy to do what you want. The hind end delivers the power that allows the rest of the body to move and we can compress, extend, turn, and mold that energy as we need to.
Finally, a disconnected canter is quite hard on your horse’s body. While all horses move differently and their connected canter will look unique to them, when those base biomechanics are not correct we can see more soundness issues crop up, improper or uneven musculature develop, and it’s a heck of a lot harder to get your horse fit.
Next week, I’ll break down some exercises that I use at home to develop the connected canter.
Find the complete Karl Cook lesson library and more at Equestrian Masterclass.