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Why does my horse hop in the can­ter?

When I trot, my horse al­ways wants to break into a slow, hop­ping can­ter. He just doesn’t like to trot. How can I re­solve it? The vet can’t find any prob­lems with my horse and she thinks the prob­lem is caused by the rider. Lori

Keller Prescott,



This is a com­mon prob­lem that can have dif­fer­ent causes. For­tu­nately, it ap­pears that your horse is healthy and your vet has given you the green light to work him through the is­sue.

Some­times horses do fa­vor one gait over an­other. Some horses find it eas­ier to trot. Th­ese horses tend to have long, swing­ing strides with hind legs that step well un­der­neath the body. Some horses pre­fer the can­ter. Th­ese horses tend to be more short-cou­pled and en­joy the bouncy jump as­so­ci­ated with this gait. Even if that is the case, your horse should per­form the gait and speed that cor­re­spond to the aids you ap­ply.

Let’s start with the eas­i­est an­swer to this ques­tion. It could sim­ply be that your horse is con­fused be­cause your aids are not clear. In post­ing trot be sure to rise up and down in the two-beat rhythm of the trot when you put your legs on and re­main bal­anced in your post­ing. Your horse may be can­ter­ing in an at­tempt to bring him­self and you into bal­ance. If you are try­ing to do this sit­ting, try post­ing. In your sit­ting you could be driv­ing too much with your seat, caus­ing con­fu­sion and in­ad­ver­tently sig­nal­ing your horse to can­ter.

There could be a weak­ness in the hindquar­ters that causes your horse to want to can­ter. In this case, tran­si­tions up and down be­tween the gaits, such as halt–walk, walk–trot and halt–trot tran­si­tions, could be use­ful. Th­ese tran­si­tions will build mus­cle in the hindquar­ters ca­pa­ble of sus­tain­ing a trot with en­gage­ment be­cause the horse will carry more weight in the hindquar­ters.

My last so­lu­tion to your ques­tion as­sumes that your horse is not en­gaged and may be a bit dull or be­hind your leg. This is the rea­son it is eas­ier for him to per­form the slow, hop­ping can­ter in­stead of a for­ward, en­gaged trot.

Us­ing this as­sump­tion, when your horse breaks into this slow can­ter, add your seat and legs and ask him for a for­ward work­ing can­ter. Con­tinue this can­ter for a few 20-meter cir­cles, then qui­etly ask him to come back to the trot. Close your legs on him and per­form your bal­anced post­ing trot. If he picks up the slow, hop­ping can­ter again, re­peat the above se­quence. Be pa­tient. Re­peat this se­quence a hand­ful of times un­til your horse ap­pre­ci­ates the op­por­tu­nity to trot, in­stead of this for­ward work­ing can­ter and he will soon re­al­ize that the slow, hoppy non­sense is not al­lowed.

An­other ben­e­fit of this ex­er­cise is that you will have to be em­pha­siz­ing your “can­ter seat” to achieve the for­ward work­ing can­ter, and your “trot seat” to per­form the tran­si­tion down to trot. As you con­tinue your post­ing trot, im­me­di­ately after your down tran­si­tion, your horse should start to iden­tify th­ese two to­tally dif­fer­ent aids and con­tinue trot­ting.

Us­ing th­ese dif­fer­ent tools should help solve your prob­lem and your horse will start en­joy­ing his new­found trot.

John Zopatti is a USDF gold medal­ist, win­ner of sev­eral USDF Re­gional Cham­pi­onships at the FEI lev­els and a four-time Gold Coast Dres­sage As­so­ci­a­tion Trainer of the Year. He grad­u­ated from the USDF Judges “L” Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram with dis­tinc­tion and also coaches even­ters in dres­sage.

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