My 7 Secrets to Canter Without Bouncing,
Even if You’re a Nervous Adult Newbie (like I was!)!

You CAN Do This. And I’m Here to Help.

“If you persevere long enough, if you do the right things long enough, the right things will happen.”

— Ian Millar

Who Am I?

I’m just a middle-aged average hunter/jumper rider, but I didn’t start riding until I was 35. Once I started though, I didn’t look back. I’ve now taken English hunter/jumper lessons for going on 14 years, volunteered at a therapeutic riding center for over 10 years as both a program coordinator and horse handler, and have obtained my Equine Canada Rider Level 6. I’ve also competed in hunter/jumper shows both locally and regionally, and have taken numerous courses and clinics on riding, horsemanship, and to help deal with my riding and showing fears.

More important though, I am ridiculously passionate about all things horses (just ask my husband who *gets* to hear about all my horse stories, lol).

How I got here

After years, yes years, I can finally say that I can, with relative ease, sit the canter, but I was awful forever. I’m not kidding.

I tried everything, bought every book, watched every video, and took (and am still taking!) endless lessons. Bit by bit, I got better, but geesh, it was not easy.

I’ll admit it’s still not always easy and some days are harder than others, but, if I’m having an off day, I think through these things I’ve learned over the years to see if I’ve gone back to any old habits. Then, once I loosen up a bit and remember how to ride again 🤣, I can finally sit without bouncing.

Maybe it’s just me who took so long to figure it out, though there are sure enough videos on how to sit the canter without bouncing that tell me otherwise! Either way, now my goal is to pass on what I’ve learned to hopefully cut down the learning curve of fellow adult newbies.

I know there are great resources out there and great coaches, but I’ve always been on the lookout for someone I can relate to, that’s been where I’ve been of starting as an adult, someone who can understand what it feels like to have all the adult baggage. It’s not easy to learn as an adult and I get it!

My Best 7 Tips

Now enough talking, right?! Here are my 7 best tips to sit the canter without bouncing that I discovered on my own journey as an adult learning to ride. I’ve made countless mistakes and now, hopefully don’t have to. Let’s get to it!

Secret #1: Set Your Intention

You may have been expecting a “practical” first tip, but before we get to that, there are two things you have to do.

First you have to believe it is possible for you to sit the canter without bouncing, and second, you have to intend that you will.

This is true about anything in life. If you don’t believe something is possible for you, and you don’t intend to do what it takes to get there, it won’t matter how many books you read, videos you watch, or lessons you take. If you don’t have faith in yourself that you can achieve your goal (with the taking the right action) and make a consistent effort, even when things are uncomfortable or scary, nothing will change.

Ask me how I know. I spent years “trying” to do things to improve my riding and frustrated with myself, sometimes frustrated with my coach, and sometimes, I admit, frustrated with whatever horse I was riding, because I felt like I was getting nowhere.

But it wasn’t until I addressed the internal dialogue and limiting beliefs that were both so subtle and almost sneaky, and then take action even when I didn’t want to, that I was able to make changes to my riding, including allowing me to sit the canter.

The mind can be very crafty in its efforts to keep things at the “status quo” and keep us in our comfort zones, even if we say we want things to be different. But, if we set a firm intention to do what we want to do and take daily action in the direction of our goals, we can overcome the limiting beliefs and fears that are keeping us stuck. And yes, I firmly believe that a lot of our riding issues, even though they may be manifesting as physical problems, come from not truly believing that we can be the rider that we want to be.

How to do it:

Set your intention to be able to sit the canter without bouncing and to carry through on the action you need to take to make it happen until. Until when? Until you’ve achieved your goal. You keep going, putting one foot in front of the other, and don’t give up when things aren’t going well. If you fall off the wagon, brush yourself off and get back on. Perseverance, belief that it’s possible, and time in the saddle will get you to your goal.

Action Step: Set the intention – I can and I will sit the canter in harmony with my horse – and commit to taking action.

woman doing yoga meditation on brown parquet flooring

Secret #2: Visualize and Affirm Daily

So many of us who come to riding as older adults have a tremendous amount of baggage we’re dragging along with us. Fears of getting hurt and fears of humiliating myself when showing were top contenders for me. Luckily my love of horses and riding beat out my fears and I never threw in the towel, but I did unknowingly self-sabotage for years due to not believing in myself and being scared.

Where I finally found success was through consistent, daily use of visualization and affirmations. I’m not 100% “cured” of my insecurities and find that if I “fall off the wagon” for too long, I can revert to my old habits of self-doubt, but without fail, getting back to a regular practice gets me back on track.

How to do it:

To visualize, spend time every day imagining yourself sitting the canter perfectly, in complete harmony with your horse. Feel what you imagine it would feel like, using all of your senses, as if you are sitting on the back of your horse doing it. If you can’t picture yourself, imagine you’re a rider you admire. Pretend you are them and feel what they’re feeling. Do this whenever you have free time and can relax into it. Even better is to visualize when you’re falling asleep and first waking up as those times are when your subconscious is most open to suggestion, before your analytical mind has kicked in.

I also find affirmations work well. In the case of sitting the canter, write affirmations every day like:

  • I love how easy it is to sit the canter
  • It’s so easy for me to sit the canter
  • I move in harmony with my horse so easily

If your mind is like, “Yeah right, my butt will not stay in the saddle”, try something called “askformations” where you turn your affirmation into a question. For some reason, our brains like to find answers to questions we pose, so strangely enough, this works. And you don’t need to come up with an answer, just pose the question.

Here are some examples:

  • Why is it so easy for me to sit the canter?
  • Why do I feel so in harmony with my horse?
  • Why do I love sitting the canter so much?

Writing down your affirmations/askformations is best, but only if you stay in the feeling of it. If you’re just robotically writing them down, it’s a waste of time. Aim for 20 times per day. They can be the same affirmation or different ones, they just need to convey the same feeling of what your goal is. If you’d rather not write them, saying them to yourself also works well – and you should do that anyway whenever you think of it. If the opposite thought pops in your head, counteract it with your new positive affirmation.

Visualizing and affirmations/askformations work because we get what we focus on. If we focus on being able to do what we want, then over time, we’ll reprogram ourselves to actually believe it. The opposite is also true – the more we focus on “not” being able to sit the canter, the more we will experience it. That’s just how life works. What we focus on expands. So, if we keep dwelling on the fact that our butt bounces in the saddle, we’ll keep experiencing it over and over. Believe it or not, despite all the things clamouring for our attention, including our negative self-talk, we are in charge of what we focus on, so we need to use that power wisely.

Action Step: Visualize and/or affirm daily, and be aware of your self-talk and change as needed. Have zero tolerance for negative self-talk.

girl standing near plants

Secret #3: Accept Never Sitting the Canter

What kind of crazy talk is this, right? We’re supposed to believe in ourselves!!

Yes, I know it sounds counterintuitive, especially after the last tip of visualizing and affirming that we can, in fact, sit the canter beautifully. However, it’s also very important that we completely accept the idea that we may never have what we want, and in this case, we may never sit the canter without bouncing.

Why would I say to accept never sitting the canter?

Because as the saying goes, “what we resist persists”.

Have you ever had a panic attack and as you start to feel it coming on, you get scared and try to push the feeling down. And then it just gets worse?

As someone who has dealt with anxiety for years and has had my share of panic attacks, the one thing that helped me has been to literally welcome the feeling of a panic attack coming on. I would actually say to myself, almost in a goading manner, “Bring it on!”, and by doing this, it would actually start to dissipate. I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence or not, but since I started doing that, it’s been very rare that I’ve had even an inkling of the beginning of a panic attack. On the rare occasion it’s happened, it’s gone almost as soon as I challenge it.

The principle is the same for our riding goals. Welcome the idea of never reaching your goal of sitting the canter well. Imagine it. Imagine bouncing along like a sack of potatoes, and be completely, 100% okay with it. Enjoy the feeling, laugh about it, and don’t take it too seriously.

The key to this is to not get so hung up on our need to have the result we want. We need to be relaxed about it, and the only way to do that is to be okay with not having it.

As adult newbies, many of us have spent years working very hard at things, and we have a tendency to “try” very hard. We have all these expectations of ourselves and, of course, want to do well, but all this trying is also what is causing an enormous amount of tension.

And one of the biggest keys to letting go of the tension is to drop the importance on needing to reach your goal. Don’t care. Intend to have it, but don’t care. Strange I know, but try it. It absolutely works.

Action Step: Be okay with never sitting the canter.

woman in blue shirt riding brown horse during daytime

Secret #4: Do Not Push Your Heels Down

Now onto the “practical” tips.

Yes, I know “do not push your heels down” goes against what we constantly hear, but as an adult, it’s safe to say you may be an overachiever/perfectionist who tries to do everything “right”, and this tip may be a gamechanger for you.

If you’re anything like me, not only am I a “try to do everything right” kind of person, but I also had almost paralyzing fear when I first started, so I jammed those suckers down to the best of my ability to keep me “safe”. Now, truly, that wasn’t very far, and to my coach, I’m sure it didn’t look like they were really down much at all (hence the “heels down” I kept hearing), but there was major effort going on despite appearances.

Can you guess the result of my constant effort to be a “good rider” and keep my heels down like I was told?

Well, of course, I was constantly behind the motion, and my heels would swing forward on the third beat of the canter. This, of course, put me into something akin to a chair seat, albeit is it a chair seat when you’re also bouncing out of the saddle on every stride? 🤣 I’m not sure I can call it a chair seat when my butt wasn’t in the saddle long enough for it to be considered sitting in a chair!

Ugh, I cringe when I see videos where I’m doing this knowing all the while I was trying so, so hard to do well. I just could not figure out what was causing the bouncing butt, not to mention the swinging legs. This also inevitably led to bouncing hands too. It was such a mess and I was frustrated for soooo long.

While I knew, in theory, that it’s just not possible to move with the horse when your leg is tense, whether it’s from jamming your heels down or gripping for all your worth, I could not figure out how to keep my heels down any other way and I truly thought I was doing what I was supposed to – following the instructions like a good student.

My coach incessantly tried to help me, but she couldn’t feel what I was feeling and she couldn’t change my personality of trying too hard. I think a lot of us adults are guilty of this. Can you relate?

So I scoured the internet, videos, and books for answers. I looked for someone with a body type like me, a horse who moved like my horse (a school horse who constantly needed leg – maybe that was the problem I thought…), anything that would help.

Until I FINALLY discovered one of the keys. Not the only key, but one that made a huge difference. I needed to not push my heels down!

At least not the way I did. I finally realized I misinterpreted the “put your weight in your heels” by not putting it anywhere else. In my mind, my weight should go straight to my heels. I know my coach elaborated more than that many a time, and I thought I was doing what she said, but in hindsight, it’s like it went from my butt down an imaginary line straight to my heels, completely bypassing the rest of my leg.

Not only that but have you ever heard to “stamp” on the third beat with your heels? I’d heard that at one point, not from my coach but from a video of a respected dressage coach, and so that’s what I thought I was doing – stamping my heels down like a good girl. The result? My heel shot forward on the third beat of every stride. Not a little bit forward, but a LOT. Forward and back it went like a boomerang. Just ugh.

This is what I also did for years in the 2-point as well, resulting in an even worse swinging lower leg in 2-point than sitting, and even more cringe-worthy videos.

But hey, if I hadn’t struggled and been mortified for so long, I wouldn’t be here now.


So now, how do we fix this if this is your problem too?

Imagine your weight going from your seat, down your thighs, through your BENT knees (yes, keep them bent and knees soft!), calves, and then, yes, to your heels, but for the love of everything, do not jam those heels down. Truthfully, they do not even have to look like they’re down, they can be neutral, it is just important that your weight is flowing into your heels rather than your toe.

Then, with your weight flowing down to your heels, imagine your heels are going towards your horse’s hind legs. This not only helps not jam those heels down, but it also stops them from shooting forward.

I’d also suggest lengthening your stirrups. This is particularly helpful if you’ve gotten into the habit of bracing against them as I did. I find it’s actually better than dropping your stirrups because that often makes you tense up everywhere and grip more. Lengthening your stirrups still gives you a feeling of security, but forces you to not put weight on them. And yes, I did mean that – don’t put weight in your stirrups. You’d be amazed at how this really does help loosen up the tightening you’re probably doing inadvertently by trying to get your heels down out of habit.

Once you’re not shoving those heels down, you will have released a lot of tension in your legs. This alone may be the fix for you.

Action Step: This exercise helped me be more mindful of where my heels were and didn’t allow me to jam them forward. In posting trot, stay in the “up” position for two beats, then down for one, while imagining your heels pointing towards your horse’s hind legs. This will ensure your heel and leg are in the correct position as you won’t be able to push your heels forward and stay in the “up” position (you’ll fall backward).

man in white polo shirt riding brown horse during daytime

Secret #5: Relax Your Legs & Knees

Easier said than done, I know, and I’m sure you’ve been told this before, but read on as I may say it in a way that might be the ticket for you.

The thing with me was that I truly had no idea I wasn’t relaxing my legs and knees, or at least I didn’t think I was doing it any more than was necessary.

What I came to realize was that I always had some extra tension in my legs which caused me to hover in pretty much a half-seat or 2-point. Of course I had trouble sitting in the tack!

This was one of those habits that I’m sure started because of tension and nervousness, plus I didn’t want to hurt my horse with all my bouncing around as a newbie. Eventually, it became muscle memory and habit, and I didn’t even realize I was doing it.


As much as I’d tell myself otherwise to relax my legs and bend my knees, I still couldn’t figure out how to actually do it, the habit was so ingrained, but posting the canter for some reason was the lightbulb that gave me the feeling I needed. Once I figured that out, I just added more and more time doing the sitting part until eventually I could stay seated as long as I wanted. See secret #6 for more details on posting the canter.

If that doesn’t work for you, but you’re leaning forward like I was, try leaning your shoulders back a tad while keeping your legs underneath you (don’t let them shoot forward) while keeping a soft back with a slight arch to allow your hip joints to open and close. By doing this, you’re less likely to keep tension in your legs as you’re no longer in the half-seat position.

One way I would do this automatically was by cantering on a circle. To get the slightly slower, more collected pace and to get the proper bend, I would lean back just a tad, which would result in me sitting my butt in the saddle and get me out of my hovering 2-point seat, which also resulted in me bending my knees more and relaxing my legs. One thing leads to the other…

If your issue is more gripping with your thighs, tell yourself to ride with your thighs open, and knees pointing down. Sometimes awareness of this is all it takes. You still want to have contact with the saddle, but keeping your thighs open will stop the gripping. Overall, think thighs open and down, knees low and soft. Let your knees and ankles be soft and absorb the motion.

Also, don’t forget to breathe! Deep calm breaths help to release tension everywhere. I find it helpful to breathe in rhythm with my horse’s strides. For example, breathe in for three strides and then breathe out for three strides. Horses just want to feel safe and secure and breathing in this manner will calm, relax, and release tension in both of you.

Bonus: I recently came across another fantastic resource that talks about this – Equestrian Masterclass – Karl Cook Teaches the Fundamentals of a Functional Position. It’s very short, maybe a half hour of video, and they usually have a week’s free trial. Definitely worth the watch.

Action Step: To help release the tension and develop an awareness for it, while either on or off the horse, deliberately tighten your legs as tight as you can, from your hips to your toes, and then let the tension go.

man in black leather jacket riding brown horse during daytime

Secret #6: Allow Your Hips to Fold

This is yet another “secret” that isn’t really a secret but rather a skill that eluded me for years. I “knew” this was key and but I just could not figure out how to do it. The more I tried the things I read and was told (like scoop, swing or rock your pelvis), the more I bounced.

Now, you’ve also probably heard it said a lot that if you’re bouncing it’s because you’re tight in the hips, but that was not the case for me. Even as an “older adult” I’ve done plenty of yoga for years and am fairly fit and flexible so it wasn’t that, but instead my darned hips stayed locked in place and I didn’t even realize it. My best guess is that it was because, like always, I was trying so hard to do it “right” and to sit “still”, and in that effort, I was locking myself in place. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and we know that’s the exact opposite thing to do.

So the answer finally came to me one day when I was watching a dressage video and the instructor said something that was an absolute lightbulb moment for me. This is the actual video (it’s actually just a clip for an ad for an online course – but what she said rocked my world, no pun intended! 🤣) and while I’ll try to explain it below, the video will probably demonstrate it better than I can say. Basically, she said that on the first beat of the canter (when the outside hind is striking off), to fold at the hips. While I’d heard seemingly every variation of this, none of it worked for me. This, however, was an absolute lightbulb moment!!

This video here is another fantastic resource. The instructor very clearly talks about how a horse’s back moves in the canter, which really helps to understand how we should then be moving to stay with our horses. She then demonstrates it while riding. Take a look. Her YouTube channel overall seems very helpful for learning to ride as well.


So, how I think of it now is on the first beat of the canter to think “fold at the hips”. You could even do it like a mantra in rhythm with each stride – “fold at the hips”, “fold at the hips”, “fold at the hips”. Bonus – keeping a mantra in time with the rhythm of the horse, regardless of what you say (as long as it’s positive and not something like, “I’m going to die”, I’m going to die!”, “I’m going to die!” 😆), will also help keep you and your horse relaxed.

Keep in mind with this that you’ll probably feel like you’re moving a ton! And that’s probably what your problem may be – resisting that movement, thinking it’s wrong. But it’s when we allow the movement of our butt to go towards the cantle and then swing back towards the pommel in rhythm with the horse that we can stay in the saddle rather than bounce out of it because of our resistance to the movement. The movement is what you want and it’s by allowing it that you will look like you’re sitting still even though your hips are swinging.

Another way to get this is by posting the canter. If you’re not sure what I mean, posting the canter is just like posting the trot, but you go into a 2-point for one stride of the canter and then sit down for one stride.

This is helpful for people like me who have trouble recognizing when they’re stiff through their legs and knees and are holding themselves up and can’t seem to let that go. If you deliberately sit down for a beat, you have to let your seat go back and down and your legs have to relax and your knees soften to let you do it. You can’t help but feel the difference.

To do this, start off with sitting one stride, then back to 2-point for one stride, back and forth, down-up, down-up. Then, as you get comfortable with that, try sitting for two strides, up for one – the opposite of the “up-up-down” posting trot exercise – go down-down-up, down-down-up, and eventually down-down-down-up, etc., etc.

Eventually, you’ll be able to just stay down as long as you want, and voila, you’re sitting the canter without bouncing!

Action Step: This one is simple, just practice, practice, practice, the “fold at the hips” on beat one of the canter. Alternatively, try posting the canter, starting with one stride down, one stride up, and adding more strides as you get better. You’ve got this!

woman in white shirt riding brown horse during daytime

Secret #7: Look Up

It may surprise you to find that you’re inadvertently looking at your horse’s head like in this picture, or at the very least, you’re still looking too low. It also may surprise you how much that slight change can affect your ability to sit the canter.

As for me, I definitely didn’t think I was looking down as I “knew” we weren’t supposed to stare at our horse’s head, but what I didn’t realize was that I was still holding my head down rather stiffly and not looking very far ahead. I also had been spending years obsessed with my swinging legs and butt hitting the saddle that I didn’t give this nearly the attention it deserved. I mean I was sitting tall and looking up-ish, so that wasn’t the problem, right?! Wrong!

Then, one day while I was attempting yet again to sit the canter, I had a thought to just look up into the trees a bit higher than I normally did, even though I didn’t think there was anything wrong with where I was looking. Even my coach, the week before said to not look at my horse’s head and I was like (in my head 😉), I’m not, I’m just looking in front of him/where I want to go. Bad student, lol.

So for some reason, this thought popped in my head to look up into the trees and I decided to try it. Surprise, surprise, all of a sudden that little adjustment changed my posture completely. My ribcage was more open, I was breathing easier, and my back was freed up and moving more easily with my horse’s movement!

Ack, all these years and that was what I missing?! Geesh. Here I was, thinking I was doing things correctly, yet again, but just a little adjustment changed everything.


If you’ve ever read Centered Riding by Sally Swift (which I highly recommend, by the way), you’ll have heard her analogy of imagining you have a string coming out the top of your head pulling your head upwards. This is all fine and well and what I thought I was doing; however, what you have to be careful of is where you’re picturing this string coming from. If you are imagining it from more towards the back portion of your head, where I was (I think because I imagined that as directly above my spine so was the natural process of “stretching tall”…), then you inadvertently stretch up leading with that part of your head. Even as I try this now in my office chair, it results in me tucking my chin in and the back of my neck getting long, and the underside, under my chin, getting short, compressed, and a bit tense.

If instead though I literally touch the top, middle of my head with my fingers and then imagine this string pulling me up from there, my chin raises, and the front of my neck lengthens. This is the position you want your head to be in, not with your chin tucked in.

Once you do that, there is a trickle-down effect as it frees up your ribcage and then your lower back/abdomen. It even makes it easier to breathe. You can really see how all these little seemingly innocuous bad habits of tension or slightly off posture can have such an effect – they all build on each other, both positively and negatively.

One added benefit of looking up also is that it sends the signal to your horse that you’re being the leader – you’re the one “looking for the danger” so they don’t have to. They are more in tune with us than we can possibly imagine, so every sign we can send them that we’re aware and keeping them safe helps them relax, and a relaxed horse is much easier to canter on than a tight, nervous one!

Action Step: As you are riding at the walk, imagine the string coming out the top of your head in the “wrong” place where it causes your chin to tuck in, then find the actual top of your head and imagine lifting up from there. Notice the difference.

And that’s it! I hope this was helpful for you! I know there is plenty other of advice out there from people with far more experience than me, but in my journey, these are things that I’ve found worked for me.

I have many more tips and ideas that may be helpful to you as an adult beginner, but I tend to be wordy enough as it is, so wanted to stick with these seven. 😉 More tips on all things related to horses, dealing with fears, and learning to ride as an adult are to come in my future newsletters though!

Above all else though, remember to be patient and kind to yourself. Baby steps. There is no rush. We do this because we love horses – keep it fun!

And make sure you love on your horse (or lesson horse!) as well. They are absolutely amazing to let us do what we do. ❤️

You Can Do This!

Get in touch with me any time at

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