California, 6 year old Standardbred - Pacer. Ridden in mild snaffle and English Saddle in ring and on trails by experienced rider.

Question: Do you have any advise on getting a retired pacer to canter under saddle?  I have been lunging him and he will canter in response to my voice command of "Canter up",  but under saddle,  he will just trot faster and faster in response to my legs.  I have tried 'racing' while out the trail w/ another horse coming up from behind at a full gallop
and he can keep up no problem at the trot!  I've tried to sit back and get his head tucked,  but he just goes faster at the trot - and boy is he fast!!!  He will canter and gallop when turned out on his own, and also on the lunge line.  He's a smart horse and a quick learner,  so I know it's just a matter of me giving him the proper cue. 

He is six years of age and a very smart, eager and willing horse.  He is has been very easy to train and is very calm.  My nine year old son uses him for Pony Club.  My son is a begining rider.  He only does walk/trot thus far.  

We are now trying to get Buck into a canter under saddle and are having a difficult time.  He will canter on the lunge line in response to the voice command, "Canter up Buck". 
Under saddle,  he just goes faster and faster at the trot in response to my cues.  Can you offer any advise for me?  He is a very sweet, smart and willing horse.  I have been very
soft in his training as he has responded so quickly.  This is the first thing he's had a hard time with.  He also gallops freely in pasture and in turn out. 

Thanks for your advise!  


From Panelist Nancy

I will try to help you out.  This might prove to be a bit of a problem, as this horse has been schooled to run races at a trot and not to break gait.

When they are racing the harness horses at a trot, it is very important that they keep them very straight and balanced in order to prevent them from breaking.  So that is your clue to getting him into a canter!  To canter any horse, the rider must put the horse into a "canter left position" or a "canter right position", depending on what lead you want.  If you just try to go faster and faster, he is going to trot faster and faster. 

In order to put your horse into the canter left position, for example, you will allow him more room on the left and a slightly restraining or straightening rein on the right, and you will use your right leg strongly to cause him to shift his weight to the left.  In conjunction with the use of your right leg, touch him lightly with the left rein in order to flex him slightly to the left.  Then be sure and give him room on the left to canter.  You say that he will canter on the longe line.  That would help him. 

If you longe him at a canter and he does it very easily and promptly, you might try putting a rider up and have the rider give the cues for the canter while you "back him up" with the longe line and whip.  When he can canter with and without a rider on the longe, then try the straightaways.  Ask for the canter from the walk, not from the trot, expecially with this horse as you don't want to encourage him to just trot faster and faster.

Good luck.

Nancy Cade 

From Panelists Lukka

An idea worth trying is to put a passenger on him when you're lunging him.
This horse has propably learned that he should not canter when working at the races, so he's just trying to do what he thinks he's supposed to do.  But you can try using the fact that he canters on clue when lunged.  Try to change only a tiny thing at a time.

I guess you lunge him without a saddle.  First, put a saddle on him and get him to canter when lunged with a saddle.  Next, when he canters well that way, put a rider on him, that just sits there in a very light seat, trying to interfere as little as possible with the horse.  You control the horse when lunging him, ask him repeatedly to canter untill you get him to  canter consistently with the rider in the saddle.

Later, get the rider to take more and more of the control, first by sitting less light in the saddle, later by taking the reins and start giving more clues, untill in the end you when you're lunging are not doing anything, and the rider is the one asking for the canter.
This way you should be able to let him understand what you are asking for. Use the voice clue during the whole process, it will help him understand. 


From Panelists Lee
This can be a real problem -- my one thought is to try longeing him with a
person in the saddle and get him used to cantering under the weight.  The
person must sit very still and centered and not try to aid the horse in any
way with legs or seat.  Then, if and when he will canter this way, try it
again on his back.  It might also help to canter him going up hills ...
weight in a forward seat.

Good luck -- this is not an easy problem to overcome.  Most racing
Standardbreds have been so discouraged from cantering that they are very,
very reluctant to try the gait.

Lee Ziegler

From Panelsit Laura

Your very nice horse was probably punished for breaking into a canter during his track days so this is going to be a hard thing to teach him.  How badly do you want to canter?  Is it worth the stress it will probably take to teach it to him?  If you absolutely have to have him canter (I am being difficult about this since it is going to be tough to overcome his early training/conditioning), then you may need to spend a lot more time working it from the ground and try to transition it over to his under saddle work.  

It might help to have one person give him the cue from the ground on a longe line while a second person is being a passive passenger to show him that nothing bad will happen if he canters with a person up.  

Give this lots of time & patience.



Back to main page
Ask a Trainer