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The Canter

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Video of Saddle Seat Equitation Riders riding the canter (starts at 0:49)

"The canter is a 3 beat gait. This means that there are three hoof beats heard per stride. Each footfall is the "grounding" phase of a leg. The three footfalls are evenly spaced, and followed by the "suspension" phase of the gait, which is when all four legs are off the ground. The three beats and suspension are considered one stride. The movement for one stride is as follows:

Beat One: the grounding phase of the outside hind leg. There are many riders who think a front leg is the first beat of the canter, which is incorrect. At this time, the other three legs are off the ground.

Beat Two: the simultaneous grounding phase of the inside hind leg and outside fore leg. The inside fore leg is still off the ground. The outside hind leg (beat one), is still touching the ground, but is about to be lifted off.

Beat Three: The grounding phase of the inside foreleg. The outside hind leg (beat one), is off the ground. The inside hind leg and outside foreleg are still touching the ground, but are about to be lifted up.

The inside hindleg and outside foreleg (beat two) are lifted off the ground. The inside foreleg is the only foot supporting the horse's weight.

The inside foreleg is lifted off the ground.

Suspension: The horse has all four legs off the ground." (Wikipedia)

"The "lead" of a canter refers to which leg the horse places farther forward. So when the horse is cantering on the left lead his left front shoulder is angled farther forward than his right front shoulder.

The Left Lead Canter

off (right) hind

near (left) hind and off (right) fore

near (left) fore

The Right Lead Canter

near (left) hind

off (right) hind and near (left) fore

off (right) fore" (

Saddle Seat Canter

"The proper Canter for a Saddle Seat horse is the collected canter. Any other type of Canter movement will make sitting deeply difficult for the Saddle Seat Rider. If the horse`s frame and gait become flat, the Rider will automatically come forward and up out of the saddle. The canter should be very collected and slow, with the appearance of a rocking horse.

Riding The Canter

The Saddle Seat Cantering position is the same as in the walk. When the rider asks her horse to canter the lower leg and ankle should not twist inward. The movement is from the knee like a windshield wiper to the side of the horse.

Seat: the rider's seat bones remain in contact with the saddle at all times. The rider "rolls" with the canter, allowing free movement in the hips and relaxation in the thighs. The hips move from a backward position, to an upright position aligned with the body, to a slightly forward position, in relation to the gait. So when the 1-2-3 of the footfalls occur, the seat is moving forward. During the suspension phase, it moves back. The rider should focus on making a sweeping motion with the hips. A good visualization technique is for a rider to imagine sweeping or polishing the saddle with one's seat, or to visualize sitting in a swing, using the seat muscles to gently move it going back and forth. The rider’s lower back absorbs the movement of the canter.

Upper body: The upper body remains still while sitting, allowing the hips to move underneath the upper body. The shoulders should not "pump", or go forward and back. If the upper body moves, it is usually a sign that the rider is tense. However, the shoulders should still remain back and still.

Legs: Stretch the legs down the saddle to aid in a deep seat. Relax the thighs and knees (remember any "grip" comes from the foot position).The lower leg should remain still when sitting the canter. If it moves, the rider is tense, or gripping with the thighs or knees. The heel will sink down slightly. The force of gravity and sense of balance keep the rider on a horse.

Hands and Elbows: Similar to the walk, a horse will nod its head in the canter. Visually the rider keeps a straight line between the elbow and the mouth of the horse, which requires a relaxed arm that can follow the motion of the horse's neck. The rider must account for that movement by allowing the fingers to open and close: opening during the footfalls, and closing during the suspension phase after the footfalls. To do this, the rider needs a steady, elastic contact, rather than mechanically pushing the hands forward or back.

It is for the Rider to keep upright and elevated in order to keep the horse cantering in an upright and elevated frame and therefore produce both a picture of harmony, but also one of esthetic beauty." (


Crisp, neat and collected transitions will make or break you in Saddle Seat Equitation.