Series – How Horses Move Their Bodies and How Riders Can Help Them – PART 3 – Foofalls of the Horse’s Canter

Hello Everyone,

This month in the series we are going to talk about the canter foot falls and right and left leads.

So let us first start with how many beats in a canter. The Canter has 3 beats. There are 4 legs and only 3 beats, so this means that 2 legs move together at the same time and then the other 2 legs move independently of each other. Now, as we talked about the walk there is always 3 feet on the ground at any given time and there is no moment of suspension. In the trot however there is a moment of suspension, there is also a moment of suspension in the Canter.

We will start with a right lead canter. What leg do you think might start the right lead? It is the Left Hind (LH). The LH pushes forward and puts the horse into the right lead. The feet that go next is the diagonal pair which is the Right Hind (RH) and the Left Front (LF), they move together at the same time. Then the final foot is the Right Front (RF). That completes the canter foot falls, there is a moment of suspension when there are no feet on the ground and then it just starts all over again. So a Right Lead goes like this: LH, RH and LF together, RF, suspension.

Now for the Left Lead. What leg starts the Left Lead? Well, if you said the Right Hind you would be correct. So the RH starts the Left Lead.
The Foot falls go like this: RH, LH and RF together, LF, suspension.
The reason it is called a Lead is because when you watch a horse cantering in a right lead you will plainly see the right legs leading. The right legs will be reaching farther forward than the left legs. And the same in the Left lead, the left legs will be leading and reaching farther forward than the right legs.
Why are knowing the canter leads important? Well, if you are going in the arena to the left (meaning your left hand is to the inside of the arena) you want to be in the left lead. It is much harder for our horses to be in the right lead going left. Their balance will be off and shoulder will drop and legs will be stressed. There are some sports that after you have gone up the levels and your horse is really balanced you may be asked to do a counter canter, which is a right lead going left or a left lead going right. But this is a very hard move and should be done with the upmost care of being balanced as possible. So again you want to be in the left lead going left and the right lead going right. If you are in a straight line it does not matter what lead you are on but one thing to remember is, do not just canter your horse in one lead all the time. You will get improper muscle development and an unbalanced horse. And the point of horsemanship is to improve as much as possible, not hinder our horses movements.

So knowing all of this and knowing that the Right Hind pushes the horse into a Left Lead, when we are riding our horses does it not make sense that when we want them to go into a canter to the left should we not put our right leg back and on our horse to tell his right hind to push up forward into a left lead canter.

This is why knowing the foot falls is so important. Because now we can talk clearer to our horses so that they understand what we want from them. Now we can start picking what lead we want to go into by pushing with the correct leg. So for a right lead push with your left leg and for a left lead push with your right leg!!! Neat and fun, right! Can you tell that I am passionate about things like this! 🙂

How can you feel the leads in the saddle? When the horse is in the left lead you should feel your left hip and shoulder kind of in front of the right. This is how your horse's body is positioned and their position will put you in the same position. If you are going left and you feel that your right shoulder and hip is forward then you are in a right lead going left. So just ask your horse back down to a trot and then try again to get that left lead. Then repeat on the right lead.

Home Work:
Now I want you to start being able to see what lead a horse is in. So either have a friend come over and canter her horse around and learn how to see what lead they are on or turn your horse loose in an arena and watch to see what leads they are in.
Then get on your horse and try to get the canter to the left in a left lead and then the canter to the right in a right lead.

Have a friend or instructor come over and watch you ride. Ask your horse to go into a left lead going left and have them tell you if you are on the left lead or not. Do the same to the right.

Next month we will talk more about how knowing the foot falls of the gaits can help us in our horsemanship.

But here is a small brain teaser:
Is the gallop a different gait than the canter or just a faster canter????

Next month I will answer this question. You can also email me with your answers if you would like.

I want to thank you all for reading my series! And I especially want to thank everyone for their wonderful emails and questions!!! It is always great to hear from readers. If you would like to ask a question or write to me, email me at:

Chelsie Kallestad

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