How to Ask Your Horse to Canter: Step-by-Step Guide

How Do You Make a Horse Canter?

I remember taking riding lessons and cantering on a horse for the first time. Understanding canter leads and how to ask the horse to canter was overwhelming and confusing. In this article, I’m going to break down everything you need to know to ask your horse for the canter!

How do you ask your horse to canter? To send your horse into the canter on the correct lead, follow these steps:

  • Make sure your reins are gathered so you have control of your horse
  • Start to sit trot to let your horse know they’re going to change gaits
  • Move your outside leg slightly behind the girth to ask for the right canter lead
  • Squeeze your legs simultaneously to ask your horse to canter
  • Ask your horse to canter as the outside hind leg or inside front leg is coming down


When asking for the canter, a few things need to happen simultaneously. I’ve always said that horse riders make great multi-taskers…but we don’t start out that way! By clearly understanding the steps of asking your horse to canter, it can make multi-tasking and doing it all at once a bit easier. Keep reading to get a complete explanation of all the steps listed above!

Asking a Horse to Canter Step #1: Canter Leads


Before learning how to ask a horse to canter, you first need to understand the end goal. When it comes to asking for the canter, not only is your end goal actually to canter, but it’s also to be cantering on the correct lead.

Leads refer to the leading leg during the canter. Since the canter is a three-beat gait, one of the horse’s front legs will extend farther than the other one depending on what lead they are on. The correct canter lead is when the front leg toward the inside of the arena is extending further than the outside leg.

The incorrect canter lead is when the front leg toward the outside of the arena extends further than the inside leg. You have to be able to tell whether you’re on the correct lead by either glancing down at the horse’s shoulders or simply by feeling the canter stride. This is something you’re only going to learn by doing.

The way you ask your horse to canter can determine whether or not they end up on the correct lead; this makes asking for the canter very technical and can only be mastered through practice.

Asking a Horse to Canter Step #2: Rein Length 

When it comes time to ask your horse to canter, the first thing you want to take into account is your rein length. The canter is a much bigger and faster stride compared to the trot, and if you’re not prepared, you may feel like your horse is out of control. 

Make sure you have good rein contact to where you can easily ask your horse to slow down or collect themselves in the canter. You don’t want your reins to be flopping by the horse’s neck. You also don’t want to hang on your horse’s mouth, or you may confuse the horse when you ask them to canter.

Have your reins short enough so you can gently feel the horse’s mouth through the reins. If you were to put your hands forward, you should be able to no longer feel the horse’s mouth.

Asking a Horse to Canter Step #3: Start Sit Trotting

The easiest way to learn to ask a horse for the canter is to go from the trot to the canter. When asking the horse for the canter from the trot, it’s important that you ask for the canter from a sitting trot rather than a posting trot.

Sitting the trot tells your horse that you’re ready to make a change from what you’re doing. Think about it; when you ask your horse to walk from the trot, you’ll stop posting and sit to ask the horse to slow down. It’s the same thing with the canter; when you want the horse to canter, you’ll first sit so they can expect the change.

You sit trot before asking your horse to change gaits because posting the trot actually tells your horse to keep trotting. Posting helps maintain the trot’s rhythm; you can confuse your horse if you’re posting and telling them to maintain that rhythm, but then you’re also giving them other aids, asking them to canter.

If you’ve tried to canter before, but your horse wouldn’t stop trotting, one reason may be that you were still posting when you ask them for the canter. Be sure to sit trot and then ask them to change gaits.

Asking a Horse to Canter Step #4: Leg Positions

The aid that will ensure your horse picks up the correct canter lead comes from your leg positions. Your inside leg (the leg toward the inside of the arena) can stay in its normal position at the girth. Your outside leg (the leg toward the outside of the arena) should go back slightly behind the girth.

Your outside leg position is the biggest factor here. By moving your outside leg behind the girth and squeezing, you’re encouraging the horse to step its outside back leg under itself, which will help the horse propel itself into the canter.

You can squeeze your legs at the same time when asking for the canter. Ensure the outside leg is slightly behind the girth and your inside leg stays in its normal position.

Your leg position plays a vital role in communicating with your horse. To learn more about riding aids and what they communicate to your horse, visit my article, Horse Commands: Top Horse Training & Riding Commands.

Asking a Horse to Canter Step #5: Timing Your Aids

Another aspect of ensuring your horse picks up the correct canter lead is timing when you ask the horse to canter. If you ask your horse to canter at the wrong time, it may take the horse a few more trotting steps before it can go into the canter. If you ask your horse at the right time, the horse will be able to jump right into the canter for a smoother transition.

The best time to ask your horse for the canter is when its inside front leg is coming down to the ground. Since the trot is a two-beat pattern, that also means that the outside hind leg would be coming down at the same time. The outside hind leg will propel the horse into the canter on the correct canter lead.

If you can signal to your horse that you want to canter as that leg is coming toward the ground, the horse should be able to push off the ground and into the canter right away. 

Practice Makes Perfect When Asking for the Canter

Asking your horse to canter requires you to be doing a few things at once. The only way you’re going to master asking your horse for the canter and picking up the correct canter lead is to practice. Understanding each aid’s role can also make you more effective in communicating with your horse.

If you’re more of a visual learner, check out this Youtube Video I made on the subject:


Asking your horse to canter is just one piece of the puzzle. Once you’re cantering, then you need to know how to sit the canter! To learn more, visit my article How to Ride the Canter (Step-by-Step Guide).

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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