Cantering the Gaited Horse Q&A
I have an up and coming 4 year old TWH who has a beautiful gait, but when I ask for a canter or more speed, he only picks up his gait until he
Canter is flying, and getting hot. Then he doesn't listen to what I want. He also does this when I ask for the trot, but is the trot as important as a canter? I hope to do some showing this season. I ride in a western roping saddle, with a curb bit, I don't use the strap. Should I? I don't have shoes on him, should I? Or to show him? Any advice would be great!
Your horse is still very young, and there are a number of things you need to do to prepare him to canter properly. Riding him fast until he breaks into a gallop--if ever--is not the way to proceed. As you're beginning to see, you'll end up with a horse that's out of control. You'll also be confusing him as to whether you want gait, or canter. There needs to be very specific, and different, riding cues.
First: get a curb chain, and put it on the ring under where the headstall is attached. Second, get your horse properly shod by a good farrier. Not necessarily one who specializes in gaited horses. . .you just want a well balanced hoof with a simple keg shoe. Heels or toes should not be exaggeratedly long, or short.
I would recommend either getting a lighter, more flexible tree like that in our Imus 4-Beat Gaited Saddle.
Now, as to the canter: the easiest way to start is on a slight incline, or hill, as this encourages the horse's weight to fall back over his haunches. Ask him to move actively--not gaiting, but fast walking--up the hill. Then, collect his energy on the bridle (shorten the rein), move your right foot behind the girth, lean forward, and at the same time you give him a strong nudge with your right foot, release the reins and say, "Canter!" If he tarts to gait, bring him back to walk, and start over. DON'T ALLOW HIM TO GAIT WHEN YOU ASK FOR CANTER, AND DON'T ALLOW HIM TO CANTER WHEN YOU ASK FOR GAIT! Once he's cantering, just let him go for a few steps, then bring him back to a walk and praise him. Repeat this several times.
If he just won't canter, try going behind another more experienced horse on the hill, and have the other rider start to canter exactly when you ask your horse for the canter. One cantering horse generally will encourage another to canter, as well.
If this doesn't work (and it might not), you need to buy my book The Gaited Horse Bible, and go through the exercises in it.
I wish you many happy-and smooth-trails!