How To Time Your Canter Depart

Most horses will understand your canter aid whenever it is given and be willing to depart into canter as soon as they can.  But if you’re having trouble; if your horse is sensitive; if you truly want your horse to progress through the levels or if you’re riding a horse that’s trained to a higher level than you, you will want to give your aids at the right moment.

Do you …

  • Know which leg is doing what through your seat?
  • Time your canter depart aids in conjunction with your horse’s footfalls?
  • Time your aid to coincide with the exact moment that the outside hind is about to come to the ground?

The canter is a three beat pace, where in the canter to the right, for example, the footfall is as follows:

  1. left (outside) hind
  2. simultaneous diagonal pair – left (outside) fore and right (inside) hind
  3. right (inside) fore
  4. moment of suspension with all four feet in the air – then the next stride begins


It’s the outside hind leg that begins the canter depart.  When in trot, it’s when the outside hind leg is coming through that you need to give the aid for canter depart.

If you read my recent post on feeling the correct diagonal and you have been working on recognising and feeling it, the outside hind coming through would be during the sit phase of the trot.  However, as you do not ask for the canter depart directly from rising trot, you will need to be in sitting trot for at least a couple of strides before you ask for canter.  You really must work on being able to feel when the outside hind is coming through in the trot (more specifically as it’s getting ready to push-off).  This is when your horse’s hip lowers on that side.

From rising trot, take sitting trot, if you sit for two beats you should ask on the second beat, or the fourth beat or the sixth beat.

An easier way to think about this would be – rise, sit, rise, sit, sit, ask for canter.

Crystal System DressageCrystal’s Tip : Yet another ‘Eureka’ moment for me – ask and wait.  There will be a very slight delay from the point at which you give the canter aid to the point at which your horse responds.  This is particularly true if you have not timed your aid for when the outside hind is coming through.  Give the aid and be patient.  Have faith.  It will happen.  Do not be tempted to start pushing and shoving and tapping and clicking.

The simple things matter.  Being able to feel your horse’s gait under you is not difficult, complicated or arduous.  Take a few minutes each session to master this skill.

Simply give the aid and allow your horse to respond, sit up and enjoy.

Have fun!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster



Novice Test – Counter Canter

You are the proud rider of a horse that you have trained to strike off on the correct canter lead; you can maintain the canter and balance and now it’s time to begin thinking about counter canter.

Counter canter is found in Novice dressage tests upwards and it’s a tricky one  because if your horse is anything like mine she just did not want to stay in counter canter, preferring to change legs (not yet my sweet another couple of levels until we get to that) or drop into trot (we worked hard to eliminate that some time ago!)

Counter canter is when your horse is cantering on the opposite lead to the direction it is going in.  So the horse will be on the left leg whilst cantering on the right rein. Continue reading Novice Test – Counter Canter

Rising Trot Diagonal – Feel It

Recognising the influence we have with our seat early in our dressage career is essential.  Only then can we begin to appreciate how very generous our horses are for allowing us to ride them at all.  We owe it to them to try and be ‘at one’ with them for this honour.

How many riders are able to feel the movement of their horse’s hind leg through their seat and really understand what is happening underneath them?

In the Trot …

  • Do you need to visually check your diagonal when rising?
  • Is it automatic to you and always correct?
  • Can you feel when you take the wrong diagonal?
  • Do you think about the hind legs as you go into trot so that you are absolutely clear which diagonal you are rising on?

If you do not you are not alone.  Often riders have a tendency to think about the front of the horse to help achieve the correct diagonal.  We are told that as the outside shoulder comes back we should sit and if it is incorrect, sit for one beat and rise again.

Continue reading Rising Trot Diagonal – Feel It

Q11 – Are You Head Bobbing?

The head is essentially a 10 to 15 pound bowling ball at the top of your neck. Good head alignment means that you use a minimum amount of muscular effort to hold up your head, allowing the skeleton to do most of the work. When your head is well-aligned front to back, you can lengthen through your spine all the way through the top of your head.  This counters the downward force of gravity.

Whenever there is tension in the core of a rider’s body be that pelvis, lower back, abs, lats, you will notice it at the extremities of the body in the form of moving hands, jiggly feet, unstable lower leg or most noticeably bobbing head. Continue reading Q11 – Are You Head Bobbing?

Q12 – Are Your Legs Under Control?

“Nag, nag, nag, nag, nag, nag, nag, … why not give your horse a break and see whether he’ll keep moving if your legs stop flapping – it’s worth a try!”

Legs Artist – Zella Strickland

I am a big believer in putting the leg on and then always immediately off – a squeeze and release.  This assumes that your legs are hanging gently at your horse’s side and only being used when needed and not clamped on for dear life or bump, bump, bumping with every stride.

The mechanics, when your horse is not responding are as follows:

  • The leg is on and immediately off
  • No response? Try again – same pressure – click with the tongue.
  • No response? Leg again – more pressure
  • No response? Leg again – with same pressure as second time and a tap of the whip behind the leg at the same time as you are applying the leg pressure, in order to reinforce what you are asking.
  • No response? Small, gentle, slightly irritating taps behind the leg until you get the response.
  • As soon as you get a response release all pressure, stop tapping and clicking and GO!

However to get your horse sensitive you have to work towards the point where your horse actually will go from just a click of the tongue or the slightest pressure with the calf.

Where Are You On The Evolutionary Scale For Dressage Riders?

When you reduce what you do to its very essence you could not take away anything more without it becoming ineffective.  Likewise, anything you would add is unnecessary and would only really create clutter and confusion.

Usually everything we aspire to do goes through an evolution; a cycle of development until the process comes to rest at the ‘essential state’.  This is where it nears perfection for its purpose.   When you try to learn something new there is usually some seemingly chaotic input.  It’s hard to separate the relevant or even essential elements from the irrelevant but as you learn more you start to set the pieces of the puzzle together for yourself.

In time, you arrive at the mastery stage, where it is just right.  If you apply this principle to something as straightforward as applying your leg aid, it is beautifully demonstrated.  As with all things, it does not come naturally to your horse to make an amazing transition without being trained to do so.  The way you introduce the training will not be the way you do it forever.  You will refine it over time as you should consider thinking about refining everything you do.

Less (Legs) Is MoreLegs

Some time ago I wrote a blog entitled Less is More where I described my experience with being told to ‘use more leg’.

I have had a succession of instructors that have screamed “MORE LEG”, “PUT YOUR LEG ON” to the point where I had convinced myself that I did not have strong enough legs for the job.  Imagine then what a relief it was to me discover that the better way is “Leg On, then immediately off.  If you do not get the response, on again and immediately OFF. 

When you get the response you want, keep the leg OFF”.  If you don’t, back it up with a tap from the whip, but be persistent in the on/off approach.  Not more leg, less leg but more often and just to re-iterate, when you get the response you want – KEEP THE LEG OFF.

In this example, the use of the leg aid gets stripped back to its heart.  My horse is sharp to the aids and I am less tired.

Aiming For Mastery

Once you establish your horse’s way of going and /or a particular movement when you give the aids, half the applied pressure, quite simply to test if you can get the required result.  If the answer is yes, next time half the pressure again, until you strip the aid back to its ‘essential state’ .  In time you will ‘think’ trot, your body will automatically react by doing the absolute minimum required and you will lift effortlessly into the transition.

In dressage the aim is to seem to do as little as possible.  Clearly this is the ultimate goal but whilst you are en-route you should continually work towards this goal in ‘baby steps’ by reducing pressure gradually.  By doing so you are teaching your horse sensitivity to the aids.

This may sound overly simplistic, but it works. Sometimes, just doing what you have always done or what someone else expects of you muddies the waters and overly complicates things.


Do what you do and see if you get the same results when you halve the pressure.

See what kind of magic you can create.  Have a go, it will surprise you.

Have fun, as always

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


Q10 – Are your arms relaxed?

As humans we depend greatly on our hands. Our arms and hands are our first line of defense for balancing ourselves in everyday life. Instinct can take over and force you to use your hands for balance.  Hanging onto the reins for balance is not entirely the fault of your hands because the hands only come into play as other balance mechanisms fail.  The problem is inevitably elsewhere. You will not be able to develop good hands if you are experiencing balance problems elsewhere because as a human you will use your hands for balance.

ArmsStop for a minute and think about what you are doing with your hands. The reins are an extension of your arms, the bit runs through your horse’s mouth.  Next time you are on board make a conscious decision to be aware of your arms.

Give Yourself a Cuddle

Continue reading Q10 – Are your arms relaxed?

Q8 – Are You Bouncing In The Saddle?

I guess most of you would say no to self-assessment question # 8 : Are you bouncing in the saddle? but I am specifically thinking about sitting trot.  Now if I ask again, what would your answer be?  For many of you the answer will still be no, but for many more I’m sure it’s a resounding yes.

Whilst you are learning sitting trot, absorbing the shock waves created by the horse’s movement means you get ‘out of phase’ with movement and begin to feel the bounce.  In the trot, here’s what is happening … Continue reading Q8 – Are You Bouncing In The Saddle?

Q7 – Are You Blocking With Your Seat?

Hi Guys.  Today’s topic is a great one and one I’ve worked really hard to achieve, it’s a work in progress for me but worth the effort.

So many riders don’t realise they are actually working against their horses movement by just sitting on the saddle and by not utilising the hips to follow the natural motion of the horse.  So ask yourself …

Self-Assessment Question #7 : Are You Blocking With Your Seat?

Your seat must follow the horse’s motion in a rhythmical way in order to allow the horse to move forward. If you say ‘go’ with your leg aids but your seat does not immediately follow the forward swing of the horse’s hips as he picks up a hind foot, you WILL restrict forward motion – guaranteed!

There are a number of common symptoms of tense hips that would inhibit your ability to correctly follow your horse’s motion and block his movement. You may be …

  • Collapsing at the belly button in an effort to absorb the motion.
  • Pumping with your upper body at the canter.
  • Leaning back and driving with your seat.

Tense hips will cause bouncing, head bobbing, flying elbows and lower leg flapping.  However, do not despair, there’s plenty that can be done about it.

You will need to work on thinking tall and elegant and transferring any rocking/blocking to the pelvis instead of the upper body. Continue reading Q7 – Are You Blocking With Your Seat?

Q6 – Can You Influence Your Horse’s Paces

Self Assessment Question #6 in the ’99 Questions’ series of blogs.  A series looking a little more closely at those insightful questions in the report that I give you completely free of charge when you sign up for to get the Crystal System blogs into your inbox.   There is something for everyone; beginners, trainers, novice and Grand Prix riders.Influence

  • Do you fully understand the influence your body is having on your horse’s way of going?
  • Are you able to influence the paces, lengthen and shorten the stride?
  • Are you able to straighten a horse that is going off-line?

Of course, everything we do influences our horse’s way of going.  It is worth taking on board the primary message I have for you –

‘If you get the right response when you ask correctly, it surely follows that if you get the wrong response, you may not be asking correctly”. 

Continue reading Q6 – Can You Influence Your Horse’s Paces

Q9 – Are You Pumping With Your Upper Body?

You have seen them haven’t you? Even at the highest level!!!!! Check out some of the Olympic riders!  In an attempt to follow the horse’s movement you see extravagant rocking back and forth of the upper body in the canter.

To a lesser extent at the lower levels you will also see this ‘pumping’ action of the upper body.  The efforts involved are actually putting the rider constantly behind the movement.

  • A tell-tale sign that the seat is not so secure.
  • It disrupts the balance of the canter
  • Makes both horse and rider’s back tense.

Continue reading Q9 – Are You Pumping With Your Upper Body?

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