How to Ride the Canter (Step-By-Step Guide)

Learning How to Canter on a Horse

If you’re just starting to learn how to ride a horse, sitting with each new gait can be a completely new challenge. The gait I personally found the most difficult to learn how to ride was the canter. I felt like I was being thrown around and that I had no control. Well, now I’m older and wiser and would like to share a simple hack I learned that made learning how to ride the canter much easier.

How do you ride a canter on a horse? The best way to learn how to ride the canter is to initially start cantering in your 2-point position. This position enables you to be securely over your horse without having to worry about how you need to sit in the saddle. Once you master this position, you can start working in the canter in a light seat or a full seat.

If you don’t have knowledge of the different riding positions, what I just said probably makes no sense! Keep reading to get an overview of riding positions and how they can help you learn to canter!

The Different Riding Positions For the Canter

The way you position yourself in the saddle can have a great impact on how you initially ride the canter, especially if you’ve never ridden it before. Read through the different riding positions to get a better idea of each definition and how they stabilize you in the saddle:

Two-Point Position

What is two-point? When you are sitting on your horse’s back at a standstill, you have three points of contact with your horse: your seat and each of your legs. All these areas are touching your horse. So a two-point is when you take away one of those points of contact, which will be your seat.

In a two-point position, you are standing in your stirrups to get your bottom up and out of the saddle. Your feet should still be directly under your waist to maintain balance over the horse. Another aspect that is going to help you feel more secure in the two-point is that you will bend at your waist and bring your hands up the horse’s neck.

If you’re having a hard time visualizing this, the two-point is also known as your jump position. When you see riders jumping, you’ll notice how they get their bottoms out of the saddle and bend their waist to move with the horse. This enables them to move with the horse while remaining securely on their back.

Light Seat Position

The next riding position you’ll need to know is the light seat. While this may seem very similar to the two-point, there is a difference between the two.

The light seat is the in-between position of the two-point and riding with your bottom glued to the saddle. In the light seat, you’re going to bring your bottom closer to the saddle by sitting more lightly or more on your crotch. You will maintain a slight bend through your hips to provide flexibility and security. 

If you watch riders in the hunter ring, you will notice that just about all of them ride in a light seat both on the flat and through jump courses. Besides being more comfortable and easier to ride, the light seat can also make a ride look flawless and effortless. You may hear the term “half-seat” used interchangeably when talking about the light seat.

Full Seat Position

The full seat riding position engages the three points of contact when riding; each of your legs and also your seat. When you see people cantering in a full seat, their bottoms will look glued to the saddle and you won’t be able to see any space between their seat and the saddle. 

A full seat is also known as the “driving seat,” as it is used to drive a horse forward into its movements. You’ll often see riders riding in a full seat while doing dressage. Western riders also canter mostly in a full seat. Other times you may use it is if you need to encourage your horse forward at a canter to get over a scary jump or to help them feel more confident. 

In a full seat position, you are using your seat as one of your main aids to set the pace of your horse’s canter.

Where to Start When Learning to Canter on a Horse

Now that you know the three different positions you can ride the canter in, let’s talk about where to start. While you can start cantering any way you want, I want to share with you a tip I learned while working as an assistant to a riding instructor.

For this first few times you canter, ride in a two-point position. The reason for this is that the two-point position gets your bottom out of the saddle so you don’t have to worry about getting jostled in the new gait. Secondly, the two-point position enables you to remain in a secure and balanced position while learning something new. 

Once you feel comfortable and confident cantering in the two-point position, you can add more contact to your seat and ride more in a light seat. Once you are secure in a light seat and have control of your movements, you can learn how to ride in a full seat canter. 

Riding in a light seat or a full seat canter requires much more work for the rider and much more muscle engagement. Cantering in the different riding positions is almost like working out; you have to gradually increase your workout so you are able to ride properly. Believe it or not, but it takes a lot of muscle to keep your bottom in the saddle while riding in a full seat!

To learn more about the muscles you use most for riding, check out my article Muscles Used For Horseback Riding: Complete Guide.

Things to Know When Learning to Canter

Here are some things you should be aware of before you try cantering in your two-point on your own:

Practice Your Two-Point Before Cantering

While the two-point position can make cantering more comfortable, it’s important your practice this position before going straight into the canter. The two-point requires balance on your end; you must be able to keep your hip over your toes even when standing in the stirrups. If you’re not able to do this, you may pitch frontwards or backward and risk falling off.

Practice your two-point at a standstill, walk, and trot for a few sessions before trying to canter. This will help give you a better feel for what to expect when you do go and canter.

Canter The Straight Sides of the Arena

When first learning to canter, it can be difficult to remain balanced when your horse has to go off a straight line and into a turn. The first few times you canter, practice just cantering the straight sides of the arena and stopping before you hit the turn. If you have to ask your significant other or another rider to go stand at the turn so you can stop, do so.

Initially, cantering a straight line for a short amount of time will give you the experience of getting the rhythm of the canter while also not overwhelming you with having to worry about maneuvering the horse. 

Canter For Long Periods of Time to Help Build Endurance 

Once you feel a little more confident in cantering and maneuvering your horse at the same time, one of the best things you can do to improve riding the canter is by…cantering! This is where I like to bring in long stretches of canter, whether you’re going around the arena five times or simply cantering through a massive field for a few minutes. This will help you build muscle and security with the feel of the canter.


Maybe you want to canter but you don’t feel confident with your riding abilities quite yet. One part of riding is recognizing where you need to improve and addressing it head-on. Here’s an article that may help you: Horseback Riding Mistakes: 11 Common Mistakes to Avoid.


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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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