Many riders assume that a medium canter simply means a faster canter, but this is not the case.
Here’s an overview of what is required in a medium canter, together with some helpful advice on how to teach your horse to do it.
What is medium canter?
The experienced dressage rider knows that the most important gait is the canter.
It is important to be aware of the natural quality of the canter, as unlike the trot, which can be improved if necessary, the canter belongs to the horse.
The rider will train the horse to ‘change gear within the canter,’ that is, between working canter, medium canter, extended canter, and as the weight-bearing capacity of the hindquarters develops, the collected canter.
The medium canter is a longer version of the working canter. It covers more ground because the horse’s frame and strides lengthen.
The degree of lengthening should be more than the working canter but less than the extended canter.
The important thing to remember is, how much quality does the canter have to start with?
To determine this, consideration should be given to the following points:
- Does the canter have the correct 3-beat sequence?
- Is there a clear and expressive moment of suspension?
- Has the training to date taught the horse to transfer his weight back onto well-flexed joints in the hindquarters and hind legs, thus enabling more height to the front leg reaction through a well-bent knee joint?
- Is the horse able to go forward from the rider’s aids with clearly lengthened strides and ground cover, and impulsion transmitted from the hindquarters to the mouth via quiet seat and rein aids?
If the rider can identify these points in the horse’s way of going, then actually riding the medium canter is merely a question of riding forwards and allowing the horse to find his rhythm and balance on an appropriately chosen line, for example, a circle line, a straight line on the long side, or eventually a diagonal line.
The judge will want to see the regularity and lightness of the strides, clearly demonstrating an uphill tendency.
The hind legs must be able to come further under the body and appear to ‘push’ the horse forwards, with the rider still in full control through light and supple seat and rein aids.
Problems in the medium canter
1 – Losing the correct rhythm
Disruption in the natural rhythm, producing a four-beat canter, can sometimes occur. This can happen if the horse has been ridden too much from the hands and reins initially.
It is a big mistake to ride the younger horses in a slower canter. Some riders do this with the intention of helping their horse find a better balance, but slowing the canter is always counter-productive and very often ends with a disruption in the gait sequence, which is very difficult and time-consuming to improve.
Related Read: How to Correct a Four-Beat Canter
2 – On the forehand
Some horses are built with straighter hind legs and longer backs than others, which will result in the starting point of the canter being more on the shoulders.
The rider has to learn to ride many transitions to carefully teach the horse to bring the weight more towards the hindquarters and away from the shoulders.
Related Read: How to Get Your Horse off His Forehand
3 – Crookedness
All young horses will have a certain amount of crookedness. This must not be overlooked in the training as only a supple horse can move straight, and only a straight horse can be supple.
If the horse is prompt and reactive to the rider’s forwards seat aids and responsive to the restraining rein and hand aids, riding a medium canter, even on a big moving horse, is a matter of just sitting deeper in the saddle, looking up and to the line you wish to ride along, and remembering to sit down again and apply a rein aid to come back.
What is the judge looking for?
Medium canter first appears in British Dressage Novice level dressage tests where the exercise is ridden down the long side of the arena.
In the more challenging tests, medium canter is also ridden on a 20-meter circle.
At novice level, clear transitions in and out of medium canter are not required, but you will get better marks if you can show them.
In a good medium canter, the judge is looking for the following qualities:
- Transitions into and out of medium canter
- The tempo of the rhythm and the rhythm itself should not change
- The horse’s stride and frame should lengthen, and he covers more ground than he does in working canter
- The horse’s balance is uphill
- The rider remains in balance without leaning backward
- The horse works through a supple, swinging back to seek an elastic contact without hollowing
- The horse remains straight without bringing his hindquarters to the inside
From Elementary level, the judge expects to see clear transitions in and out of the medium canter.
Rider requirements for teaching medium canter
Before you can teach your horse medium canter, you need to address several key aspects of your riding:
1 – An independent seat
Your seat must be independent. That means you can sit in balance with your horse, following the horse’s movement with a supple seat and without bouncing on his back.
It’s actually easier to ride the medium canter than the medium trot. In a medium trot, the tendency to grip with your lower leg is greater, whereas it’s usually easier to sit quietly to the canter, especially if the horse is relaxed through his back.
Related Read: How to Get an Independent Seat
2 – Elastic rein contact
Your horse must accept a soft, elastic rein contact. If the contact is fixed and blocking, the horse won’t be able to work through his back to seek the contact. So, if you ease your hand forward, the horse will most likely hollow, rather than following the bit.
Related Read: How Much Contact Should You Have?
3 – Ride a good half-halt
You must be able to ride a half-halt.
The half-halt is crucial for smooth transitions and to keep the horse balanced as he lengthens his stride to cover more ground.
Related Read: How to Ride a Half-Halt
4 – Engage the hindquarters
To produce medium canter strides, you’ll need to engage the horse’s hindquarters.
Engagement is essential if you’re going to produce the power that’s needed to propel the horse forward and uphill in the medium canter while remaining straight and balanced.
Related Read: How to Develop Your Horse’s Engagement in the Canter
Tips for riding the medium canter
When riding medium canter, your aids should be discreet, and you should concentrate on sitting still.
The judge doesn’t want to see you prodding your horse with your spurs or kicking him every stride! Nor is “rowing” or driving with your seat attractive or necessary.
When you first start teaching your horse the medium canter, don’t ask for transitions into and out of the pace.
Once your horse is better balanced, you can then start to introduce the transitions in preparation for your first attempt at the medium canter in a dressage test.
Create the impulsion that you need gradually, rather than firing your horse down the long side of the arena!
Firing your horse abruptly will probably result in him bringing his quarters in or throwing his head up to balance himself.
Instead, keep your contact soft and elastic as you receive the energy you’ve created, and use half-halts to balance your horse.
Ease your hands forward slightly, and ask the horse to cover the ground without speeding up.
Don’t ask for too much in the early stages of the horse’s training, as that will push the horse onto his forehand. If the horse becomes unbalanced, he will probably break into a trot.
Keep the tempo and rhythm the same and allow the horse to gradually increase the length of his stride.
Don’t lean back and adopt a driving seat position. That will simply cause the horse to hollow his back against the discomfort you’re causing him.
Don’t use your reins to balance the horse. That will simply cause the horse to lean on your hands and either come hollow or bear down on your contact.
You should be able to ease your hand forward slightly without the horse losing his balance.
Remember to keep your legs on and close your hand slightly to capture the impulsion and maintain the connection and engagement.
How to teach your horse medium canter
To teach your horse medium canter, you’ll need to have the horse working forward through his back to a light, elastic contact while remaining balanced and attentive to your aids.
Ride down the long side of the arena in a working canter.
As you approach the corner, ride a half-halt to ask the horse to “sit” on his hindquarters. Shorten the reins slightly so that you have a secure connection through the horse’s back to your hand.
To create more engagement and carrying power, and keep the horse straight, ride him in a slight shoulder-fore position as you exit the corner before the long side.
On the long side, ease your hands forward slightly while keeping your legs on the girth.
The horse should stretch his head and neck forward to seek the contact while lengthening his stride to cover more ground.
The key to a good medium canter is taking the teaching process slowly. Don’t demand too much lengthening too soon. Gradually increase the number of medium canter steps, concentrating on maintaining the horse’s balance and rhythm.
When the horse is stronger and more established, you can demand more from him.
Riding medium canter on a 20-meter circle encourages the horse to use his inside hind leg more, which in turn improves his balance and strength and helps to lighten his forehand.
Ask for just a few steps of medium canter at a time, and don’t get carried away! The main problem with riding the exercise on a circle is that the horse may try to lean inward to balance himself, resulting in him motorbiking around the curve.
Again, you can use a slight shoulder-fore positioning to help keep the horse on one track and ensure that he doesn’t start using his inside shoulder as a prop.
A fun way to teach medium canter is to ride it when out hacking. Always ride the exercise up hills to develop the horse’s strength and build muscle on his hindquarters. Just take care that the medium canter doesn’t morph into a flat-out gallop!
Use transitions in and out of medium canter to keep the horse attentive and under control.
As your horse learns to perform the medium canter, it can be used as one of many transitions to help with suppleness, straightness, and balance, enabling you to build a good quality base from which to teach the horse the higher level movements.
As with any new work, it’s important to resist the urge to practice too much medium canter, especially if the horse is young or unfit. Overdoing this exercise can easily result in the horse coming onto his forehand as he tires.
Build up the work gradually over many months; as the horse becomes stronger, he will be able to maintain the medium canter for longer periods.