Leg Aid in Canter

Second Year Student

I keep on learning new skills!  Today, my instructor decided to focus on my leg aid in canter for my longe line lesson.  Technically, I know that the time to drive with my leg in canter is when my hip closes during the horse’s canter stride, which is when the horse’s outside hind leg comes under his body and lands, see Simon Battram's article: The Purity of the Gaits for a description of a canter stride and Nancy Wesolek's detailed description of the rider's seat throughout one complete canter stride:  "Timing Canter Aids".   However, for me, once again, learning a new skill was not easy or natural.   

We started by working on my seat.  I worked on using my upper body to exaggerate the open and close of my hip.  I had to lean forward on the close phase and lean back on the open phase of the canter stride.  I felt like an idiot trying to lean back and forth in time with my horse’s canter stride, but the act of making my body move actually made me allow my body to move with the horse vs. against the horse, which is my natural inclination. 

Then we focused on my legs.  I had to also get them moving with the horse in the motion of the canter stride.  My instructor and I figured out a series of steps for me to go through.  First, I have to get my legs relaxed.  The fastest way for me to do this is to drop my stirrups while holding onto my grab strap and let my legs bounce around wherever and however.  Second, I start to direct the motion and from the hips I make my legs spring up and down with the canter stride; they drop down when my hip opens and spring up when my hip closes.  Again, the act of making my legs move up and down in an exaggerated manner allows them to move with the horse. 

Next I had to put the pieces together.  Upper body back and legs drop down as hips open; upper body leans forward and legs spring up as hip closes.  After all of my body parts were moving in concert with each other and following my horse’s motion, I could concentrate on closing my legs for a canter leg aid.  For me, it helps to feel like I wrap my legs around my horse’s barrel and pick him up under my seat using my legs.  Now I feel like I am making the canter happen with some control over the length of stride and activity vs simply following the canter.  I have leg aids in canter!