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Horses - Riding At The Lope, Canter, Gallop, And Run

( Originally Published 1940 )

THE LOPE is constantly used by riders of the cattle ranges and, having a horse good at this easy gait, distance is covered and time saved with a minimum of fatigue to both horse and rider. It is an all-day gait for western cow-horses and the average speed is about eight or even ten miles an hour.

The horse travels freely, reins swinging loosely, and his head is carried either rather low or about as he would carry it when loping along without a rider or saddle or bridle. The rider sits rather loosely in his saddle, feels no jar, and can maintain balance easily, with little need for any strong friction ( gripping with his thighs) .

The rider should sit erect but without stiffness and he should sway with the movements of the horse, being careful to allow the small of his back to keep flexible.

The lope is one that seems to be natural to many western horses of small size, yet it is believed that, most of the time, it is a gait so often adopted by cowboys that we should rather conclude the horse becomes trained to this gait.

THE CANTER is a far more trained gait, and will average about the same hourly speed. In the canter the horse is what we call "collected"; that is, he has been trained to move at this gait, well in hand. It differs from the loose lope in that the horse's head is always carried much higher, and the hind legs of the horse are far more under him. The canter is the gait seen in park riding, in horse shows, etc. The horse is held more firmly between the bit and between the rider's legs, than when loping. If is always a pretty sight to watch a fine saddler canter around a track under a skilled rider, and it is easy on the rider if the horse does no jerking in the gait.


The rider, at the canter, sits erectly, loosely, and maintains a rather stiffer feel of the horse's mouth, but never should this be a hard pull. The rider's legs are more firmly clinched against the horse's sides, calves touching the horse firmly but heels turned out-ward so that rider's feet are parallel to the horse's sides. The spurs are only lightly used, if at all. The purpose of this is to force the horse to carry his hind legs farther forward and under him than when at a lope or gallop.

When cantering, the horse is very graceful. It is a show gait- and a thoroughly-trained horse will canter with very well-regulated, ac-curate movements.

The horse, at this gait, is always "in hand"—that is, ready for instant action in stopping, turning about or in turning to the right or left.


There is a special point to be brought out regarding the correct canter. A good canterer should "lead" with the proper front foot. And we mean by this, that the horse should lead with his right forefoot when traveling to the right, or with the left forefoot when traveling to the left. By observing a trained horse at the canter, it can quickly be understood whether or not the correct lead is being taken.

To teach a horse to canter with the correct lead, canter him on a circle. He will often lead with the wrong (outside) front foot. This is called "cantering false" as against the correct lead which we call "cantering true." If the horse leads with the wrong forefoot, the rider should come down to a trot on the circle, press his outside spur against the horse's flank lightly, which will cause the horse to swing his hind quarters away from the spur and inward toward the circle's center.

At the same instant, slightly lift the reins and carry them toward the direction, over the horse's neck, in which the rider desires to circle and force the horse, by pressure of both legs, into the canter again. The horse should now take up the canter with the proper forefoot leading.

A rider should always try to make his horse use the proper lead when cantering or galloping, as it is easier on both horse and rider, and far safer. When the "false" lead is taken, the horse's action is never so smooth, and he is apt to cross his front legs and fall. The cowboy's trained horse, accustomed always to swift dashes and turns in various directions after cattle, soon learns to use the proper lead at canter or gallop or run, and becomes very safe—sure-footed.


To train a horse to take the correct lead and to change the lead on signal from the rider, is always very pretty work. In this training, the rider should move his horse on a "Figure of Eight" and give the spur and rein signals just as the horse, at the center of the "Figure of Eight," is about to change his direction from right to left or from left to right, according to which way the course is being ridden around the "Figure of Eight."

As the rider becomes more and more expert and secure in his saddle, he will find that he can train almost any horse to finally change leads on the "straightaway"—that is, while riding along to the front on a straight line instead of around a circle.

The gallop is at the rate of about twelve miles an hour and is extremely easy on the rider. Here, too, it is important that the horse be held to the proper "lead" as explained for the canter.


As the gallop. is a much faster gait than the canter, though the same in the way the horse moves his legs, a false lead at the gallop is more apt to cause the horse, if turned quickly to right or left, to cross his front legs and stumble or even fall. When galloping on the straightaway, of course it does not matter with which front foot the horse leads. The horse, at the gallop, carries his head rather high, the reins are somewhat looser than at the canter, and the rider sits firmly in the saddle, but never stiffly, using balance and friction (leg grip from waist to knee), and stirrups, without poking his feet forward like a greenhorn rider.

The rider's lower legs should hang vertically, without any swinging motion backward and forward, and the feet of the rider should never be thrust out sideways or forward. When the rider thus stiffens his legs and knees and shoves his feet forward, he has a very insecure seat and this is known as the "tongs across the wall" seat—a poor one. It is used at times by riders who wish to pose. A good rule to remember and to follow as to the lower legs and feet of the rider is that, when the rider (sitting normally erect) looks down at his knees, he should NOT see his toes sticking forward beyond them. The toes should be on the same vertical line as the knees.

Some horses will gallop faster than twelve miles an hour, but the same rules apply. This is not a gait that should be kept up for more than a short while, of course, unless in emergencies, as it winds the animal. The rider's judgment in this must govern, as well as the necessity for the use of this very rapid gait. The tendency of green riders is to do far too much galloping, to escape the pounding of the trot.


The run is, of course, merely the extended gallop, and as a rule is at the rate of about sixteen miles an hour. Some horses will go faster than this. When increased to the horse's limit it is of course to be used only for short bursts of speed for short periods of time and under necessity, or for practice.

The run is frequently required in working with cattle, in polo, in cross-country riding and in track racing. It is, too, the speed of cavalry charges, always so spectacular.

The rider should sit rather loosely, his thigh grip held securely, his lower legs vertical, the balls of his feet firmly placed on the treads of his stirrups and his heels shoved down slightly lower than his toes.


The reins at the run are held so that the rider has a fair "feel" of the horse's mouth, though, oftentimes, as with cattle herding, the reins are allowed to swing loosely in the rider's hands. At the run, the rider should lean slightly forward in the saddle, instead of sitting erect as in the lope and canter and gallop. The point to re-member while riding at these rapid gaits is never to stiffen the rider's body and become taut, rigid. The rider's whole torso should be flexible, while his grip comes from his waist to his knees against the horse's sides.

There is a material difference in the fast-riding seat and in the "Jockey" seat. This seat shows the bridle and bit generally used on race tracks, and the extremely short, elevated position of the jockey's legs. The average jockey weighs about a hundred pounds, as every ounce on a racing horse's back counts. The rider and horse shown herein won three races, each a mile, on the same day, in 1939. The saddle is the lightest possible and often does not exceed around six pounds. During a race, the rider leans very far forward, crouching low, so as to take the weight off the horse's hind quarters and hind legs, from which all the horse's driving power of propulsion springs.

A well-trained saddle' horse and one pleasant to ride should stop from the lope, canter, gallop or even from the run, almost within his own length by sliding his hind feet forward, being ready to respond to the rider's signals of reins and legs instantly, and, these given, to move off without a second's delay, in the new direction or to stop and stand still without excitement. Cowboys' top-horses are expert at this, and so are top polo ponies. Otherwise, they would be useless and dangerous to others riding about, and the rider's usefulness would be badly interfered with while he went on trying to control his horse.


When well accustomed to riding in a saddle and using stirrups to assist in maintaining balance, we reach the time when one must learn bareback riding, a thoroughly essential thing if one would become a really strong rider.

The horse is mounted the same way as when using a saddle, except, of course, there are now no stirrups and the rider must spring from the ground, from BOTH feet, and he should spring so high that, using his arm strength, he holds himself up on them (without either elbow ever touching the horse's back) .

From this position on stiffened arms, he throws his right leg over the horse's croup (rear part of horse's back) and quietly sits down on the center of the horse's back, without jar. Begin this practice first at a halt, until thoroughly able to do it, then practice such mounting while the horse is at a walk, and when able to do that, practice this mounting bareback at a trot, then at a canter, and finally while the horse is at a gallop, always being sure to hold the reins in your left hand so the horse cannot "bolt" with you. He must always be under the rider's control. In this bareback mounting, the rider's left hand grasps a lock of the horse's mane and the right hand is placed on the horse's withers (top of shoulders), and the rider faces the horse's "near" (left) side, before springing up.

Too much stress cannot be laid upon this riding bareback. The self-confidence it gives is wonderful and very essential and very lasting.

When practicing mounting bareback at the trot, canter, gallop, or run, the rider faces about half way to the front, beside the horse's left shoulder, takes a springy step that we term the "galloping step" and, springing from both feet, lands on the horse's back. The left hand grasps the mane as before and the right hand is on the horse's withers (shoulders).

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