The Leading Hoof

Riding Level 2 – Identifying the Canter Lead

Although we don’t ask you to ride the canter on a particular lead at Level 2, we do want you to be visually able to identify the lead on which a horse is cantering .

12. Identify canter leads while watching another horse.

What is a canter lead?

The canter is a three beat gait.  When the horse is cantering on a circle the order of footfalls in the true canter is as follows:

  1. Outside hind
  2. Inside hind and outside fore together
  3. Inside fore
  4. Moment of suspension, when all four feet are off the ground.

So if a horse is cantering on the left lead (going anti-clockwise on a circle) the right hind hoof will strike the ground first, followed by the left hind and right fore, and lastly the left fore will strike the ground.  When the left fore strikes last, we say the horse is on the left canter lead.

Canter sequence by Eadward Muybridge

Another way to think of this, is that the left front leg appears to be reaching farther, and leading the way.

Take a look at the canter sequence by Muybridge and see how there seems to be a larger space between the front legs when the left leg is striking.  This is the easiest visual clue for identifying a canter lead.

What is the ‘correct’ canter lead?

In the true canter a horse will tend to lead with the inside leg when travelling on a circle.  This is the easiest, most balanced and efficient way for him to travel at the canter with a rider on his back.   At more advanced levels of training we sometimes ask a horse to counter-canter or lead with the outside foreleg.  This tests both the horse’s balance and his obedience to our aids, but should not be introduced until both the rider and the horse can consistently and deliberately pick up the true canter in both directions.

In your level two test the examiner will ask another rider to canter and may ask you ‘what lead is the horse on?’, ‘is it the correct lead?’, and ‘how can you tell?’

The only way to get good at this is to watch horses cantering and ask yourself those same questions.  If you have limited access to live horses, there are at least plenty you can find on the internet.  I leave you with a video from Ali and Noah, with more advice on sitting the canter:

Sitting the Canter



Jennifer Landels Jennifer Landels heads up Academie Duello's Cavaliere Program. She has been swordfighting since 2008, and riding since before she could walk. She started the program as an excuse to combine those passions.
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