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I Am Afraid to Canter with My Horse, Can You Help?
- By Alicia Harper

Yes, I can. Without actually seeing you ride it is hard to determine why you are afraid - but I will touch on all the common reasons horse riders can sometimes be afraid to canter. There are many reasons why riders might be a little afraid and this problem is more common than many people may think.

You may be afraid to canter because you have had a previous fall. How often have you heard you are not a rider until you have fallen ten times? I have heard this saying many times. Many riders are quite lucky and have no serious injuries from falling. Others have had serious falls and it does require some time to build up their confidence again.

You are not alone. The first thing you must know is that canter is not necessarily faster than trot. It is just a different way the horse's feet hit the ground. Canter is actually easier to sit to than the trot. If you can trot you can by all means stay on during the canter. First, I would recommend a few lessons at the trot by a qualified instructor. Once you begin feeling comfortable at the trot, put your horse on a lunge line at the trot and drop your reins. Your instructor will obviously be at the other end of the lunge line. Start to feel your horse's rhythm and start concentrating on yourself.

Now that you have feel comfortable at the trot without reins, pick up your reins staying at the trot and on the lunge line, then ask your horse to canter. Canter a couple of circles around - both directions and stop your lesson or continue with something else that does not require the canter. For your next couple of lessons, I would do a regular warm up at trot and then back on the lunge line at canter. Spend at least 20 minutes on the lunge line per lesson working at the canter and at your upward and down ward transitions. Now that you feel comfortable on the lunge line - go back on the rail off the lunge line and canter one full round - each direction at canter. Before you know it - you'll be cantering up a storm.

If working on the lunge line is not working for you, ask your for instructor to provide a lesson horse, a nice slow school horse who would be more suitable to canter on. Take a few lessons on the lesson horse and start to feel comfortable. Once you are comfortable - go back to lessons on the lunge line with your own horse.

Another idea, if the two ideas above do not seem to work for your situation, then start to learn some emergency dismounts. Emergency dismounts can be very helpful and many riders learn them when they start to canter, in their lesson programs. An emergency dismount if practiced will become automatic when things are gong wrong. On the other side of the spectrum, some instructors do not teach them simply because they do not want their riders bailing every time one little thing goes wrong.

An emergency dismount works like this. Keep your horse on the rail and ask him/her to trot, once your horse has a steady rhythmic trot, kick your outside leg out of the stirrup, lean forward and swing your outside leg back and over the saddle - the opposite of when you would get on. Then push yourself away from the horse and grab the reins to stop the horse. Another option is just to loop reins through your arm so when you land you still have a hold of them. The emergency dismount is quick and you should be ready to fully commit to it when you begin.

Alicia Harper has been an equestrian rider for 20 years. She has studied various disciplines and also does some training her in spare time, view her website at: Hylee Training, she is a full time Web Designer and specializes in Equine Web Design.

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