There are three ways to ask for the canter depart while on the flat, which may be used according to the horse’s level of training. The rider may ask for a canter depart (aids for the horse to step into the canter) on the flat from trot, walk, or halt. Additionally, the rider may ask for the canter as the horse jumps a fence (if the fence was taken at the walk, trot, or halt) or may ask for the horse to switch leads over the fence.
Outside lateral aids
Aids: The rider applies the outside leg slightly further back from its normal position, which activates the outside hind (the first beat of the intended lead). At the same time, he or she uses the outside rein to flex the horse’s head toward the outside, which frees up the animal’s inside shoulder, encouraging it to fall into that lead.
If the rider were to ask for the left lead, for example, he or she would apply the right leg behind the girth and use the right rein to turn the horse’s head to the right.
To make the rider’s intent even clearer, the horse may be angled slightly toward the outside rail of the arena, which will guide it into taking the correct lead as it goes towards the unobstructed inside, and also discourages the horse from simply running onto the forehand.
Purpose and Drawbacks: These aids are preferred for green horses, as they are clear and simple. However, they bend the horse in the direction opposite of the turn, resulting in a crooked canter.
Aids: The rider applies the outside leg slightly further back from its neutral position, thereby activating the horse’s outside hind leg, while adding the inside rein aid to indicate the direction of travel.
This technique is later refined, first asking with the outside leg aid before adding the inside rein and a push with the inside seat bone. The refined sequence usually makes for a quicker and more balanced depart, and prepares the horse for use of the inside lateral aids.
Purpose and Drawbacks: An intermediate step, this is the most commonly used sequence of aids by amateur riders, and is usually the one taught to beginners. The canter is generally straighter when asked in this way than when asked with the outside lateral aids, but still may not have the correct bend throughout the body.
Inside lateral aids
Preparation and Timing: The rider prepares for the transition by using half-halts to balance the horse, and bends him slightly in the intended direction.
Since the first footfall of the canter is the outside hind leg, the rider times the aids to ask for the canter when the outside hind leg is engaged (i.e. under the body). So, at the trot the rider would ask when the inside front leg touches the ground (its shoulder will be forward). At the walk, the rider will ask when the outside shoulder starts to move back.
Aids:To ask for the depart, the rider adds the inside leg near the girth, pushes slightly with the inside seat bone, and uses inside direct rein to indicate the direction of travel.
The outside leg (slightly behind the girth) and outside rein passively support the inside aids. The combination of aids asks the horse to bend to the inside, directing it to pick up the correct lead.
Purpose: This is the most advanced sequence, used for simple- and flying-changes as well as counter-canter, and requires the horse to be properly “on the aids.” These aids result in a prompt response from the horse and a balanced, engaged canter. It is appropriate for more advanced riders with independent seats, and for horses that have a good base of training.
Asking for the canter over fences
Purpose: The rider may need a specific lead after landing from a fence, especially useful for show jumping. A rider may also trot a fence (and even walk or jump a fence from a standstill), and wish to cue the horse to canter on after the fence. Asking the horse for a specific lead can also be used as a training technique for horses who anticipate turning a certain direction.
Aids: To ask for a specific lead while in the air, the rider should look in the intended direction of travel, not down. The rider should lead the horse in the direction of the turn by applying the opening rein aid without pulling backward, while the other hand releases as usual.
The outside leg is moved slightly back, and the rider adds slightly more weight to the inside knee. However, the rider should not shift weight so much that he or she becomes unbalanced or has the heels come up.
Exercises: In general, horses tend to switch their leads from the one on which they approached as they go over an obstacle. So if they approached on the right lead, they will land on the left. This is because of how they line up their hind legs as they push on take off.
A rider can practice asking for a certain lead by trotting a small vertical, and asking for the canter over the fence.