Improve Your Ride: Sitting the Canter or Lope

by Wendy Murdoch

Do you have trouble sitting to your horse's canter or lope? Do your buttocks slap the saddle? Do you brace against the stirrups in order to sit down? Here's a quick tip to get you going with the flow and staying in the saddle at canter.

Next time you ride notice what happens when you canter. Do you stiffen and brace your heels down? Do you push your feet forward? Do you have air space between you and the saddle? Does your horse object to cantering by tossing his head in the air and hollowing his back? The problem with your horse may be that you are hitting the saddle hard with each stride, slapping the saddle or simply not following the motion of canter.

When a horse canters he needs to be able to lift his withers. If for some reason he can’t do this due to poor saddle fit, pain in his back or improper shoeing you will find it difficult to sit the canter. He needs to be able to lift the back and round to lope or canter comfortably. It is important to address any pain issues.

A major reason for most riders have difficulty sitting the canter is that they do not follow the motion of the horse. In the canter the horse’s back has a swinging motion similar to the forward portion of a child’s swing. Be careful not to emulate the backward part of the swing motion, as this will get you sticking your legs out in front of you.

If you follow the forward motion of the swing the pelvis goes with the motion of the horse’s back. If your hips are tight, you are bracing against the stirrups or you hollow your back it will be difficult to follow that swing motion. Here’s a way to improve the situation.

Make sure you are on a horse you trust who has a good canter. Work in an enclosed arena for safety. Begin to canter and after you have departed place both reins in your outside hand. Place the back of the free inside hand on your lower back. Fill into your hand so that your back is full and flat instead of hollow. Then while cantering place your hand on the cantle of the saddle palm side down. Press against the cantle with your hand. You might feel like you have to lean back a bit to reach, this is OK as long as your horse continues to canter.

Next place your hand underneath your bottom palm side down and connect your hand to your bottom so that they move together. Use your hand to encourage the under-forward-up motion of the canter swing towards the horse’s ears. Finally place your hand on the seat of the saddle so that your pelvis rides over your hand still in that swing motion.

Continue cantering and return your hand to your lower back repeating the cycle of lower back, cantle, buttocks, seat of saddle moving your hand after several strides. Do not move on to the next position to quickly. Take some time to feel your hand helping you find the swing motion in each position.

Change direction and canter the other way again repeating the cycle of lower back, cantle, buttocks, seat of saddle with the free hand. Then reverse the cycle of hand contacts. Finally go through the cycle and include holding your reins i.e. lower back, cantle, buttocks, seat of saddle, reins. Or you might find that one place doesn’t matter as much but another hand placement makes a big difference. Keep your hand in that spot for a few more strides and see if you can get the swing motion a bit more clearly before moving your hand.

Use this Murdoch Minute to sit to the canter. You might notice that holding the reins in one hand begins the process of freeing up the stiff parts of your body right from the beginning. Using your free hand helps you find the rhythm of the swing and will make both you and your horse happier in the canter. And always remember to Enjoy the ride!

Wendy Murdoch resides in Washington, VA and is an international riding instructor/clinician. She travels worldwide teaching riders of all levels and disciplines how to improve the horse’s performance by improving their body position. Visit to learn more.