Monday, December 9, 2013

Canter leads

The canter is a controlled, three-beat gait that is natural to all horses regardless of breed or training.  Since most performance classes include the canter, it is the gait of choice for many performance showers.  However, not all canters are the same.  Before you take that cantering model to a show, it's important to fully understand canter leads.

The "lead" refers to the order in which the legs are placed on the ground.  When travelling on the left lead, the right hind leg will land first (beat one), followed by the left hind and right foreleg (beat two) and finally the left foreleg (beat three).  There is a moment of suspension (all four feet off the ground), and then the pattern repeats.
Left lead canter, Image from
The footfalls are reversed in a right lead canter.  The left hind touches down first, then the right hind and left fore and lastly the right fore.
Same image as above, but flipped to show right lead
Generally speaking, a horse is on the correct lead when the lead matches the direction of travel.  That is, a horse turning to the left will be on the left lead, while a horse turning to the right will be on the the right lead.  
Right turn, right lead
When cantering inside an arena,  the horse should lead with its inside leg.  This means that a horse travelling on its left lead will have the fence on its right side.
Cantering correctly on the left lead, fence is on the right side
Cantering on the outside lead (except in the case of a dressage counter-canter) is a serious fault and will usually result in a bottom placing.
Wrong lead, mule is cantering on the right lead, fence is on the right side
Most people can easily identify a horse's lead during the second beat of the canter.
left lead
At this stage, the leading foreleg is extended forward.  It is, in fact, "leading" the other legs.
right lead
Unfortunately, the other beats, and especially the moment of suspension, can be a bit trickier.
Instead of trying to pick out the "leading leg", I look for the diagonal pair.  Again, this is most obvious in beat two, when the non-leading foreleg and the opposite hind leg are both in contact with the ground.
However, even during the other phases of the canter... 
it's fairly easy to discern which diagonal pair of legs is moving in unison. 
These two legs come into contact with and leave the ground simultaneously, so the angle of the bottom of the hooves should be nearly identical at all points in time.
I've marked those angles to help better illustrate this concept.  
Just remember, the leading leg is the foreleg that is not part of the diagonal pair!
Still confused?  If so, please post your questions in the comment section!


  1. I have never had trouble with leads, but this post is very explanatory and helpful!

  2. Thanks! This is a great trick for identifying leads in those more difficult in-between frames.

  3. Thank you soooo much for this post Jenn! It really helped me out with those in-between posed models, as opposed to those obvious ones. (Breyer's Flash, some of my favorite resins, etc.)

    Thanks again!

  4. FLUFFY! :D

    Sorry ...

    Very good description!

  5. Forget model showing... every walk/trot kid who shows at real shows should read this! And horse husbands :)

  6. Thanks, Lauren!

    Unfortunately, this information doesn't always carry over from real horses to the models. Imperfect biomechanics are a common failing in the model horse world. There are lots of models whose gaits are incorrect to varying degrees. Most of the time, however, it's fairly easy to sort out assuming you know what to look for.

  7. Thanks so much. This helps a lot on those in-between stages I struggle with.

  8. This is totally unrelated but I really need help finding a Breyer that could pass as a Connemara. It has to be traditional, and it has to be available from utterly horses though. If you feel like helping and find anything, email me at

  9. Very helpful! Marking those angles really brings the point home and makes it easy to see.
    Thank you so much, Lauren!

    1. Um... Jennifer?

      Just teasing. I don't really mind being confused with Lauren!