Horsemanship - Canter And Gallop
( Originally Published 1962 )
AT THE CANTER THE RIDER'S ACTIVE SUPPLENESS IS EVEN MORE essential and more closely connected with the action of his aids than in the other gaits. The horse's balance and smoothness of action depend on the rider's ability to follow his motions without friction. The seat must have no tendency whatever to leave the saddle. If it cannot be kept absolutely stationary a slight glide back and forth is the only motion permitted. A glance at the horseman's seat at a canter will always tell the whole story about his ability and skill.
It is quite true that passive relaxation will enable the rider to keep his seat from bouncing, but in such cases its active use as the most effective of the aids will be sacrificed. In order to develop a driving seat, the horseman's back and loin muscles cannot remain slack. They must be in constant, vigorous, supple animation not unlike the play in a fencer's wrist. Only in this way can the momentum given the rider by the horse be adjusted into impulses and the direction of these impulses regulated.
In view of the fact that the horse at slow canter balances himself strongly on his hind legs it is obvious that the rider must place his own weight correspondingly. By leaning for-ward he will disturb his horse's attempts to balance him-self correctly. By leaning too far back he will hamper the action of the hindquarters and become a dead weight. He is properly balanced only when he has found and is able to maintain the position in which the heaviest pressure possible bears down on his seat knuckles. Although his position then is slightly behind the perpendicular it will to the casual observer appear straight. The correct distribution of weight is a matter of feel, not of geometrical angles.
With the correct position of the rider, in connection with the supple action of his back muscles, the seat as an aid becomes effective, driving down and forward.
This push forward with the seat comes simultaneously with the application of the rhythmical boots at the exact moment when the forehand is down and the hind legs are moving forward. An irresistible impulse is in this way created to drive the hind legs forward and to keep them in the supporting position necessary to maintain the canter without increase of tempo.
The preservation of the horse's balance is, of course, not possible if the sensitive co-ordination of the reins is missing. The checking with the reins can be executed in the manner previously explained, with short pulls followed by equally short loosenings of the reins, the main objective being to prevent the horse from leaning on the bit. An even better result is obtained by applying these pulls at the exact moment when the forehand is off the ground and starting to reach forward. The checking at this moment will discourage the forward movement of the front legs and prevent the horse from throwing his weight too heavily in that direction.
It is of the utmost importance to avoid a frozen hand at canter. The bit must continuously be kept alive by gentle play with the fingers and the horse's neck must be kept flexed. As soon as he is given a chance to lean on the bit he will be thrown off balance, become front-heavy, and unable to keep the canter without increasing the tempo.
At the free canter the horse must be allowed to transfer more of his weight forward. His head is carried somewhat lower and his neck is a trifle more stretched; but he is still required to be light in the hand and balanced in such a way that he can easily and quickly be turned, pulled in, or let out at a full gallop. The rider transfers his weight slightly more forward off his seat knuckles and over on his crotch, thighs, and knees. Besides following the simple laws of equilibrium, he will in this position be able to avoid hampering the increased action in the horse's back and hindquarters. Since the seat no longer remains as an aid the boots must become increasingly active and the support of the reins more pronounced.
By increasing the speed the canter will develop into a gallop, the race-track gait.
It is a regrettable fact that the full gallop seems to have been adopted as the standard gait by our least experienced riders. It is the only gait they see demonstrated in the Holly-wood "horse operas" from which most of them get their education in equitation. To ride at a dead run is the only way to get a kick out of it. The very serious danger to themselves is beyond their power of reasoning, and the horrible abuse of horses matters not at all. Once upon a time it was generally recognized as true that "any fool can ride fast but it takes a horseman to ride slow." But then the flivvers arrived and bred a passion for speed, and flaming youth can obviously not be expected to differentiate between the endurance of a mechanical contraption and a live creature.
At a full gallop the horse is almost entirely balanced on his forehand, the head and neck low and stretched out, the hind legs driving rather than carrying. The position of the rider must be adjusted accordingly, and the forward seat, as previously described, is used.
To obtain the utmost speed from the horse the boots must be kept vigorously active. Their rhythmic application each time the forehand is on the ground and the hind legs are reaching forward will give better results than whip or spurs used indiscriminately. Proper action of the boots will lengthen the stride and the auxiliary aids will mainly tend to accelerate the beat.
At a full gallop the horse will give his best only when he has a steady and firm support on the bit. A jockey gets his best results with a tight rein skillfully handled. A tight rein also helps the horse to keep his feet and prevents him from stumbling.