Simple Exercise to Nail the Adjustable Canter

©Tamarack Hill Farm

I never canter randomly.

Whether on an event horse or a Morgan, in a jumping saddle or dressage saddle, I constantly work to improve my eye for a distance. I’ll see a hoofprint, a leaf, or a dandelion out in front of me and when I think I’m 3-5 strides out I count them out. I’ll either be just right, too close or too long.

By doing this simple exercise thousands and thousands of times I get so that I rarely miss. It’s super low stress on the horse and it helps me not only recognize the distance, but gives me a feel for the canter that’s adjustable; that, as Le Goff always said, combines balance and impulsion.

© Tamarack Hill Farm

You can develop your feel for an adjustable canter and your eye for a distance over tiny jumps, rails on the ground, leaves, hoofprints—heck, you could snake a garden hose around your ring, and jump that.

Denny Emerson. © Tamarack Hill Farm

If you want to be able to regulate your horse at the canter or gallop then you will need to be secure and balanced up there, so that you have control of your own body, if you expect to control your horse’s body.

Shorten those stirrups, get those heels down, stay in the middle, look the hell up, get fit and tough, and do your homework.

Denny Emerson. © Tamarack Hill Farm
Young OTTB Tense has “the” canter

Having a good canter makes getting to a decent take-off spot so much easier then trying to regulate some lumbering Brontosaurus toward a fence.

I think lots of horses that we say have “a jumping problem” actually have “a cantering problem.”

Denny Emerson. © Tamarack Hill Farm

Something Le Goff harped on endlessly was the need to create that elusive “adjustable canter” that simultaneously contained enough impulsion that would allow you to move forward to a distance, while retaining sufficient balance that would let you shorten.

Too much impulsion, the horse will go forward just fine, but he will probably go forward and down, thus losing balance. Now you can lengthen his stride, but you can’t shorten it. Too much “check, check” for balance and the horse is up and light, but you have snuffed out the impulsion. Now you can shorten, but you can’t lengthen.

Either one by itself—not so hard to get. The perfect blend of both? AHH! That’s the artistry! That’s the Rodney Jenkinsification of your dreams—to feel that blend, and to be able to create it, horse after horse.

Some horses bring car loads of impulsion. They “seek” the jump and you have to add balance through the half halt.

Others are “under-powered”, and you first must create impulsion, then balance the impulsion that you created. In some ways these are harder to see a distance on, the la-di-da canterers, because you have a double job—first go, then whoa, repeat, repeat.

If you don’t understand the nuances of what Le Goff preached, the “incompatibility” of balance and impulsion and the need for instant availability of both in the same canter, ask your instructor to explain it or get on your horse and show it to you.


About the Author

Named “One of the 50 most influential horsemen of the Twentieth Century” byThe Chronicle of the Horse, Denny Emerson was elected to the USEA Hall of Fame in 2005. He is the only rider to have ever won both a gold medal in eventing and a Tevis Buckle in endurance. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and author of How Good Riders Get Good, and continues to ride and train from his Tamarack Hill Farm in Vermont and Southern Pines, NC.

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