Anyone who has ridden atop a walking horse either will fear for their life or want to go faster. Those with a need for speed can do so by learning the trot, canter or gallop. Knowing the difference between these gaits and how to cue the horse will allow you ride safely.
Novice riders first must feel comfortable riding at a walk and maintain control over a familiar horse. This includes a balanced seat, a light hand on the reins and possessing control over your body, from head to heels. Wearing a helmet and closed-toe, hard-sole shoes are essential components for safe riding. Never attempt a new gait without supervision from an experienced rider.
Learning the Trot
Though the horse's movements are the same, there are two versions of the trot, sitting and rising, in which the rider's movements differ. The horse's feet will move in a two-beat diagonal pattern, with the left fore leg moving in conjunction with the right rear leg, followed by the right fore leg with the left rear leg. To cue this gait, squeeze your thighs and tap the horse's belly gently with your heels. Shorten the reins slightly, keeping your elbows in toward your body, and maintain a straight posture. When performing a sitting trot, relax rather than tense up to avoid the bounciness of the ride. In the rising trot, you will use the balls of your feet and move your hips forward to push up out of the saddle, and gently sit back down to the seat in succession. Rise when the horse's front outside leg, or the one closest to the arena fence, is forward and sit down when it is back.
Canter to Transition
Like learning to crawl before you walk, a rider must know how to canter before galloping. This three-beat gait begins with the left rear leg, for example, followed by the right rear leg along with the left fore leg, and finally the right fore leg. There will be a moment's pause before the pattern repeats, when all of the horse's legs are not touching the ground. Cue the horse into this gait from the trot by sitting back down. Touch your heels to the horse's belly just behind the girth and put your weight into your legs and stirrups while remaining seated. Allow your arms to move with the horse's head while maintaining a firm hold on the reins.
The gallop is a much faster gait than the canter and should not be performed in an arena as the horse needs room to get up to speed or slow down. A rider will need to perfect a balanced and controlled ride in the other gaits before attempting this. The gallop is a four-beat movement, beginning with either of the rear legs. If the gait begins with the left rear leg, the right rear leg will follow, then the right fore leg, then the left fore leg and the gait continues in a circular pattern. Likewise, the right rear leg will be followed by the left rear leg. From the canter, you will move out of the seat, holding your own weight in your legs and stirrups to allow the horse to move faster. Lean forward with your hands on a shortened rein, moving back and forth with the horse's head. Remember to relax and enjoy the ride.
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Pam Smith has been writing since 2005. In addition to her work for Demand Media, her articles have been published online at CBS Local. She also wrote for the Pennsylvania Center for the Book's Literary Map while earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at the Pennsylvania State University. She is currently an editorial assistant for Circulation Research.