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Understanding & Assessing Your Horse's Movement: Part 3 - The Biomechanics of Canter

In this third and final part, this blog looks at canter. Discover training tips and the benefits of using canter to improve your horse's musculoskeletal health.

gillian higgins horses inside out  canter, horse canter, gallop, asymmetrical gait, joint movement, back flexion

Canter is an asymmetrical three-beat gait with a moment of suspension. A good canter is rhythmical, balanced, energetic and powerful. Riding exercises in canter helps to improve strength, elasticity, balance, expression - and mobility of the musculoskeletal system.

The benefits of canter

Whatever discipline or activity you do with your horse, canter work

  1. Improves posture, strength, back mobility and flexibility

  2. Helps mobilise and warm up anatomical structures

  3. Tones the abdominal muscles

  4. Encourages active flexion and extension both within the back and at the lumbosacral junction - making this gait excellent for mobilising the back

  5. Encourages positive forward motion

  6. Improves muscular strength and power

  7. Conditions the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems

More benefits.....

Canter is the only gait where the abdominal muscles on both the left and the right sides contract at the same time within the stride cycle.

This makes it great for toning the abdominal muscles. It's similar to performing sit-ups!

If your horse has long weak abdominal muscles one of the simplest way to tone them is to do more canter work. Canter is the only gait where the horse rocks from the hindquarters to the forehand.

This rocking movement helps to strengthen the thoracic sling muscles - important for supporting the forehand between the front legs.

Gillian's Tip

To give your horse a more complete abdominal workout and to encourage more movement and greater symmetry at the lumbosacral junction vary the speed and stride length in both true canter and counter canter.

Assessing Your Horse's Canter

Watch the diagonal pair of limbs - they should land together exactly.

If they are not landing together the horse is either disunited, showing a lateral canter or going four-time. This could be due to difficulties with balance, impulsion, range of movement or comfort. The video below gives you the opportunity to compare and assess different horses cantering, both with and without a rider, both in slow motion and at normal speed.

With the skeleton painted on the sides of the horse it helps to visualise what is happening from the biomechanical perspective.

If you'd like to learn more about the biomechanics of canter join our webinar on Wednesday 5 April 2023. We’ll study this pace in detail and analyse the gait and movement through the horse’s whole body. Gillian will also suggest techniques and exercises to improve the quality of the canter, and top tips for upping your scores in the dressage arena.

To learn more about the points covered in this blog and more look at Posture and Performance and the online video: Movement from the Anatomical Perspective and in the horse movement video course Anatomy in Action.

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