Last Updated on March 8, 2022 by Allison Price


This is not how it should be. Cantering is as natural to someone who does it a lot as breathing. This is the most enjoyable part of riding, and the horse’s most comfortable gait. It takes practice for both the horse and the rider to be able to go for a slow, relaxed lope or do any of Clinton’s riding exercises at a canter. Clinton likes to say that cantering requires a lot of practice. Someone must be riding the horse to achieve that. If it is your horse, this person will most likely be you.

Clinton claims that when he repeats the same advice to a new audience, they look at him and nod and seem to get it. When it’s time to canter, excuses begin to flow. Many horses are reluctant to canter, and there are a few that won’t canter. He began to wonder what the problem was, and he kept asking himself the same question every time the white knuckles showed up at his clinic stop. He began to ask questions.

Clinton states, “It is fear, plain and simply, the more honest ones tell us.” Clinton says, “So that got to me wondering, ‘How can I help people get over that fear and just ride it through?'” I have seen many people do it in my clinics. It is hard to describe the feeling of total exhilaration that they experience. This is actually one of my most rewarding parts of my job.

Many people find that the best way to overcome their fear of cantering, is to just have the courage to do it. Clinton says that this can be done by shouting from the crowd, “just canter the horse, woman spank the donkey and get him moving.” Clinton smiles and says that this is a common tactic that works well. He adds, “That’s why it keeps me doing it.” “It generally makes people laugh, and it lightens their mood. But that’s just an added bonus.”


There are also others who will come up to him and say, “Clinton! I just can’t do it.” Although I realize you are right, I have to move on. However, I am afraid that I will be unable to canter my horse.

Clinton often asks the question, “What do we think will happen?” in an effort to find the root cause of fear.

“I don’t know” is often the answer. He says that the truth is more honest than his words. “I’m afraid that my horse will do something stupid and I’ll fall of it,” he said.

Clinton often has one of his Professional Clinicians canter his horse to ensure that he is safe and able to canter. A horse who is not used to cantering may be resistant at first. This resistance may take many forms depending on the horse’s personality and temperament. It could be as simple as refusing to canter, or even kicking up, crow-hopping, or outright bucking.

Anyone who has ever asked their horse to canter but been put off by these behavior, and especially if they have been bucked off during an episode, may find it difficult to ask them again. Some people find that seeing their horse cantering with someone on his back is enough for them to want to try it. Clinton said that Clinton often tells people to ask for help if they aren’t comfortable cantering their horse. It will be easier to canter your horse once you’ve gotten used to it.

Sometimes it is not. Sometimes, people can’t overcome their fear and just “Just Do It.” Other times, they get so scared of cantering that they give up and call themselves “walk-trot folks.” In other cases, they start to fear walking or trotting and become terrified of horses. If fear of any thing is not controlled, it can spread to other things. Confidence works in the same way.

Clinton invited Matt Johnson, a consultant and sports psychologist to the Texas Christian University equestrian team, and other performance athletes to help us understand the fear of cantering. This will allow us to get people back on the horse, and reduce those white knuckles.

Clinton states, “It’s certainly not like I have never been afraid.” Clinton says that the first time I experienced cantering it was terrifying. My grandfather was the one leading the horse. I was at my grandparents’ farm.

Clinton also recalls a personal experience with dealing with fear. He was in Australia back then when a mare he was trying to train made her bluff on him. He was so scared that he almost gave up riding horses. [More on that later.] Clinton will tell you that healthy fear is what keeps you safe when working with a 1,000-pound animal. When fear becomes too big, stops you from doing the things you can do, and begins to affect your confidence, it’s time to get rid of it. Clinton states, “That’s exactly what Dr. Johnson is here for us to do.” Get a notepad and let’s get started!


Dr. Matt Johnson is a Certified Sports Psychology Consultant, licensed professional counselor, and licensed in Fort Worth, Texas. Johnson often works with TCU’s equestrian team as well as other athletes on anxiety- and fear-based issues. Our job is to distinguish between the productive fear that keeps us safe and the non-productive fear that hampers our performance.

Johnson explained that fear is a powerful emotion. Fear can cause anxiety to affect our perception of our knowledge and skills, making everything seem worse than it really is.

Johnson developed a process to help people overcome these distortions. It has been successful at all levels. You will need a piece of paper, a willingness and ability to dig deeply, as well as some time with your horse.


Johnson states, “First, I ask people why they want to ride and what are the goals?” Sometimes, this can get lost in fear. I tell them to write down any thoughts or ideas they have about riding horses or the sport that interests them. They should remember why they love it.


What would you do with a horse if fear weren’t an issue? Trail ride? Show? Compete? Johnson requests that the next list contain specific goals — a list of dreams about what they would like to do with horses if they had the chance.

Once you have completed the list, rank them and then go to a quiet spot and try to imagine doing these things. What would that feel like? Is it possible to feel the NRHA Futurity’s sliding stop? Can you hear the cheers and whistles from the crowd?

Can you feel the movement of a cutting horse as he chases a cow? Can you feel the breeze in your face while you race down a fence line during a cowhorse competition. Imagine the feelings you’ll feel after completing a flawless dressage pattern, clearing the hazard or winning the showmanship ribbon. Imagine yourself riding along a spring trail, camping with your horse, or swimming in a lake with your horse.


Johnson would suggest Johnson ask someone to create a list of all things they can do for the horse. This could be from the moment they arrive at the barn or pasture to Clinton’s Cruising Lesson to canter.

Fear is part of human nature. Dr. Matt Johnson says that our job is to distinguish the productive fear that keeps us safe and the non-productive fear which hinders performance.

Are you able to catch the horse?
Do you have the right to pet the horse?
Can you guide the horse?
Can you tie your horse ?
Do you have the ability to groom horses?
Are you able to saddle and bridle your horse?
Do you have the ability to do some basic pre-ride work with your horse?
Are you able to get on the horse?
Are you able to flex the horse?
Can you ride a horse?
Do you think you can do a One Reinstop during the walk?
Can you ride the horse?
Can you do a One Rein Stop at a trot?
Can you canter for a few steps, and then do a One Rein Stop.
Can you canter with a loose rein in a roundpen?
Can you canter in the arena with a loose rein?
Can you canter with a loose rein and 19 other riders in a clinic setting?


Johnson then asks his clients to rate their level of comfort with each skill. One is “No way Jose!” and ten is “Piece cake!”

Johnson states that he is often surprised by how much people know and how confident they feel about their abilities. He also says that they are usually amazed at the small portion of the bigger picture that fearful tasks occupy. He adds that fear can make a lack in confidence in cantering a horse feel like it’s 80 percent. It’s only when we break it down that we can put fear in its proper context.

Johnson explains that the next step is to examine any number on the rating scale and consider why it’s the right number, and what it would take for you to move up to the next number.

You might think that this is all great, but it doesn’t really help when it comes time to get on the horse.

Johnson then asks the following question:

What are you afraid of?

Johnson advises clients to take as many details as possible about the fear they are afraid of. Next, list everything you can do to address that fear.

Use specific strategies and exercises that are key to Clinton’s method as a guide to help you identify the fear. What would Clinton say to you if your horse starts bucking when asked to canter? How do you rate your ability to do this? What cues would you look for in a horse to let you know if he is about bucking?


Johnson says this is a powerful strategy. This allows you to mentally picture yourself reacting to your horse’s actions. You can also imagine the sound of his hoofbeats and the horse’s smell. Next, imagine the hump disappearing while you spank your horse to get him moving forward. You can also imagine him turning in tight circles, bending in a tight circle, and doing a One Rein Stop. Johnson states that the brain and subconscious can’t tell the difference between a real event and one they have vividly imagined. Johnson adds that the more you use your imagination to engage all of your senses, the stronger your visualization will become. Tune in to your senses and experience the realness of your imagination.

Johnson suggests another way to visualize success: Find a model who is as close to you as possible, and then watch them canter a horse, solve any problems, and navigate through any obstacles with ease. Johnson says that although this does not replace your own visualisations of these tasks, it can enhance them.

Johnson also says that visualization is not easy because you don’t have control over the images. Johnson states that this refers to how realistically you can see yourself doing these tasks. It is important to go back down the list and identify something that you can imagine yourself doing.


Johnson states that this is where the individuality of the process begins. Johnson says that each person should determine their starting point and the steps to get to where they want to be.

Once you have found your starting point, the place where your confidence begins to wear away and your fear starts to gain momentum, you can go back to Clinton’s Method and find the exercises that will help you improve your competency to 10.


1. Make sure your stirrups are the right length. The way to know that you’ve got your stirrups right is if you can put four fingers’ width between you and the seat of the saddle when you stand up in the stirrups, as this picture indicates. With stirrups that are too long, you can’t get your heels down very well, and if they’re too short, you can’t sit back well. Both of these things are key to good balance when cantering.

If your stirrups measure the correct length, four fingers should be between you and the saddle’s seat when you stand in them.

2a. Improper foot positioning is a sign that you are unbalanced. If your toes are down like this, you will have a tilted forward body that is off balance.

2b. 2b. This can be done at home by stretching your Achilles tendon. Once you are in the saddle, it will be easier to keep your heels down.

3. Choose a horse that will help you build confidence, not destroy it. How can you learn to ride your bike? You just ride it. You don’t just need to ride it, you also need some training wheels. You can get training wheels for cantering if you find a horse who already knows how to lope.

4. Another secret is riding on a loose rein. It teaches you how to ride your horse without the use of the reins or your legs.

5. Posting a lot is another big secret because it trains your body to move in rhythm with the horse. People make posting sound like a complicated thing, but it’s really not that hard. Just push your body up using the balls of your feet, saying “Up!” and then sit down, saying “Down.” Pretty soon your up and down motion will find its way into the rhythm of the horse. You’ll know this when you feel it because it will suddenly become much easier. Post as much as you can for two or three weeks — or until moving in rhythm with him is automatic.

Posting to the trot can help you improve your balance and confidence. It also helps to train your body to move in the right rhythm with your horse. You can simply push up from your heels and say “Up!” Then, sit down and repeat the same thing. Soon, your body will find the right rhythm.

6. Your One Rein Stops can be practiced at the trot and walk. Ask the horse to lope when you are ready to do One Rein Stops at a canter. However, only allow him to go two strides before you stop him. This shows that even though the horse may be able to canter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to take him somewhere. The horse is reminded that even though he cantering starts, he must still check in with his rider.

7. If you are still uncertain about your horse’s temperament, let someone else lope him for a few more days to get the new information. This is what we do at clinics, and it’s what everyone should do at home. You can ensure everything is in order and you are able to canter your horse for the first few rides. Make sure your horse is not overfed, cooped-up or stuffed with too much energy.

8. After that, just get on that horse and lope. Just lope and lope and lope. There is really no substitute for putting your butt in the saddle and riding as often as you can for as long as you can to put some steady miles under your feet.

Clinton says, “If you are afraid to do a certain exercise, like the Cruising Lesson At a Canter,” Clinton suggests that you first try it at a trot or walk. Balance is what you are most concerned about, so practice the trot. Remember that posting is key to balance. So trot and post until your legs are tired of trotting. For now, put cantering aside and just trot and then post until you feel comfortable moving with your horse. Do not try to guess where he is going. Instead, feel the horse’s movement and follow it with your body. Trot until your rating list has a “Cruising Lesson at a Trot”.


Clinton says that one of the greatest problems is trying to learn how to canter with a horse who doesn’t know how. He says that it doesn’t matter if the horse does something stupid. This brings us to his favorite saying, “Green horse + green rider = disaster!” Although it is a general rule for novice riders of young horses, it can also be used for learning on a horse who is just starting to learn. Another favorite saying is “Horses are able to teach people and horses can teach people.”

Try cantering on your “safe horse” first. Clinton says this is a technique that English instructors have used for many years. It helps to build confidence because the rider knows exactly where the horse is going. Also, it allows the horse to be controlled if anything goes wrong.

After practicing your One Rein Stops at the walk or trot in the roundpen, you can start to feel comfortable posting while learning the Cruising Lesson at trot. After you feel comfortable with the feeling, which may take a few days or weeks, canter your horses for a few steps, then do a one rein stop. Once you feel comfortable, you can continue this process until your horse is able to canter around the roundpen with a loose rein. After you feel comfortable cantering in the roundpen on a loose rein — which can take anywhere from a few rides up to several weeks — you can move on to the arena. You can then repeat the entire process there, starting with the three gaits on the lunge line. After you are comfortable with unclipping, you can start your One Rein Stops at trot. One Rein Stops at the canter without the safety net of a roundpen can be scary for some people. You will soon feel more confident in the process. Although it may take a bit longer to slow down and come to a halt at slower speeds, it is exactly the same.

Spend plenty of time loping your “safe-horse”. Lope him until he is completely relaxed and confident. Then, you will be able to move freely around him. Lean back, pat his butt, rub his neck, and move around as if you were drinking. This relaxed, balanced confidence will get you a 10 on the “Cantering with a Safe-Horse” item and prepare you to teach the horse how to canter.


You might be able to do the same exercises with your “training horse” horse but have a stomach knot when you think about trying them on your horse. Johnson states that even if you can demonstrate your competence as a rider, cantering your horse on your own horse can still be scary because of past bad behavior. Johnson suggests that you reexamine your motivations and goals for cantering that horse. This will allow you to look back at the beginning of your relationship with your horse and determine your goals.

He says that if you find that riding this horse is still important, then you can continue the process of determining where you are now and building your plan to conquer that fear.


Johnson states that facing your fears of cantering and dissecting them is a way to overcome them. Johnson says that you might find the benefits of working through this process go far beyond cantering your horse. He says that fears can be clues about our own self-understanding. Fear is not something that stands in the way of our progress, but an opportunity to harness the power of a fear over us to empower ourselves to make positive changes.”

Johnson states that fear can be overcome by practicing these steps. Coaching is helpful but it comes down to an individual’s ability identify their goals and strengths, their challenges, visualize success, and follow a step by step plan. Johnson states that the most important thing he does to help people overcome fear and anxiety that gets in the way performance, is to help them identify their strengths, skills, and resources, and create a plan that will help them get back to their passions and goals.

The One Rein Stop at the Canter can be a bit more frightening for some people as you go faster and the horse takes longer to stop. However, the process is the same: slide your hand down on the rein…

  • img alt=”Horse slows down until it stops.” src=”https://downunderhorsemanship.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/spiral-down-stop.jpg”/>Let the horse slow down, and keep the pressure constant. Pull back towards your hips…
  • img alt=”Touch horse’s nose to stirrup, or boot.” src=”https://downunderhorsemanship.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/touch-nose-stirrup-boot.jpg”/>


Keep your horse cantering by using a squeeze, cluck, and spank.

If your horse falls to a trot when you are starting to do the Cruising Leson at the canter, grab your legs first. Cluck if he doesn’t pick up his speed while still squeezing. If he doesn’t pick it up, continue squeezing and clicking, then spank him from side to side using the end of your mecate. To warn him, start slowly and gently, with your legs in front. This is enough for most horses. If the gentle spank doesn’t suffice, increase the heat gradually. You can ride your horse at a steady pace for five minutes at a time without correcting him.

If your horse is having trouble cantering because his feet are sticky, you can help him move by spanking him side to side using the end of your mecate. This will keep his mind sharp and help him maintain his momentum. Keep in mind: If he wants a trot, let it happen. Then, immediately squeeze, cluck and spank him if necessary to get him cantering.


If your horse is kicking up when you ask him for a canter, or when you spank him using your mecate, you should do a One Rein Stop. Disengage his hindquarters and get off him. Get his feet moving from the ground. You can do Stage Two of Lunging for Respect with many changes of direction. The more you do this, the more respect your horse will show and the more he’ll start to use his thinking side. My mecate reins are like a halter, and that’s why I love riding in them. I can easily get off my horse, and he will start moving his feet. Let your horse get on the ground and then let him rest. Then rub him like nothing happened and then get back up and do it again. He will usually realize two things after a few times of this. He might as well canter when you squeeze, because it will only get worse for him if he does not. He won’t be able to complain if he kicks up and does a lot of crow jumping to show his discontent. He’ll be looking for ways to avoid you from kicking up and crow hopping. Cantering a bit longer is the best way to prevent that. You’re now free to go. You can add more time to each ride and you’ll soon be free from those white knuckles.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!