When is a canter not a canter?
When it’s a trollop.
That’s the name I’ve jokingly given to the sad, four-beat excuse for a canter so many people seem to think is the same as collection. Most people think of canter as the gait that comes between trot and gallop. When you add a fourth beat to the normally three beat gait, it’s something of a trot-gallop; in other words, a trollop. Slow like a trot, four beat like a gallop, but definitely doesn’t qualify as a proper canter.
You see, by definition, canter has three beats and three beats only. When what you are seeing no longer has three beats, it can no longer be a canter. So what else is it, besides very, very wrong?
And yet you see many riders, especially in hunter/jumpers and disturbing disciplines like western pleasure, where people seem to strive for this monstrous hybrid on purpose. I know! Why would anyone do such a thing? I have to think (and this may be giving them too much credit) that they honestly believe this is some form of collection.
Of course, what makes true collection difficult -- and therefore suitable only for more advanced riders and properly prepared horses -- is that, by definition, it is supposed to preserve the purity and integrity of the gait in question. That certainly isn’t happening here. For one thing, the moment of suspension is obliterated by the fourth beat. For another, when the footfalls of canter normally require that the inside hind and outside fore strike the ground simultaneously, that can’t happen. But perhaps more disturbingly, no sound horse does this at liberty because it is unnatural and inefficient movement. This is a man-made gait, if it can even be called a gait.
If I looked out in the field and saw my horse moving like this, I’d call the vet:
But it’s not only western pleasure morons who think this is a good thing. (And no, I don’t think all western pleasure people are morons; there is good and bad in all disciplines – but like dressage morons who use rollkur, a lot of them are disgusting and should take up a sport that doesn’t involve direct interaction with other living beings.) Hunter riders think this is the same thing as a "long and low" canter (I even had one "top" hunter trainer tell me that my large warmblood's natural canter stride was too long to appeal to a hunter judge, so I should do a "slow four beat canter" in my under saddle classes,) while jumper and equitation morons in particular seem to think this passes for some bastardized form of collection. They’re wrong. I give you Exhibit B, a clip audaciously (optimistically? ironically?) entitled “Canter:”
It seems to imply that some people believe a lack of impulsion is the road to collection. Aided of course by some tight draw reins and a generally restrictive hand. This effect, similar to the one achieved by rollkur, is often the only possible result of confining the horse’s head and neck with the reins, which in turn inverts and stiffens his back and breaks his stride down to such a weak and disjointed state that it must lose its natural rhythm. Here’s a tip: you can’t first break the canter and then expect to later add impulsion and somehow magically get real collection. And you’re not developing anything useful in your horse by sustaining the trollop, unless you consider back lameness, a goose rump and a total lack of suspension useful for something….
Is this really a desirable effect? Is it ethical to completely dismantle the natural gait of a horse and force it to sustain something artificial, inefficient and possibly damaging to its health out of ignorance or some twisted personal preference? What end could it possibly serve? These are the questions I want answered by the trainers, the judges and riders who promote, condone and practice this embarrassment to horsemanship.
For those who need a refresher course on what actually constitutes a real canter, visit here.