The Difference Between Canter and Gallop

horse riding for beginners

In horse riding, for beginners the distinction between cantering and galloping is often thought of as being simply a matter of speed. In actual fact the two gaits are very different.

The Canter

In Riding the Canter: Some Basic Terms we saw that the canter is a three-beat pace. There are four distinct ‘types’ of canter.

The working canter is the pace you’ll learn when you’re given horseback riding instructions for cantering. It covers roughly one horse’s length in each stride.

In the medium canter the horse covers more ground in each stride than in the working canter, without changing his rhythm.

The extended canter is used in the highest levels of dressage. Again the horse should not break his rhythm but covers a huge amount of ground with every stride compared to the working canter.

The final pace is the collected canter in which the horse shortens his stride instead of lengthening it. This is also for more advanced horses: the hind quarters are lowered and they carry more weight resulting in a lighter forehand. This frees the horse’s shoulders to move easily with more fluency.

The Gallop

This is a fast, fluid four-time pace, which has a moment of suspension i.e. when all four legs are in the air. The horse moves with lightness and speed and each stride covers a large ground distance.

This is not to be confused with a four-beat canter, which is a faulty canter resulting from regulating the speed with the hands only, instead of keeping the impulsion with the leg and seat aids.

Interestingly the Germans, who are masters of dressage and have a word for canter, usually call it the ‘Galopp.’

So next someone confuses the two English terms ‘canter’ and ‘gallop’ you can educate them on the differences!

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