Use the Pirouette Canter for Better Self-Carriage

Courtney King-Dye explains how to use the pirouette canter to improve self-carriage.


The pirouette canter (a collected canter almost on the spot) requires uphill balance and an active, carrying hind leg. We want to maintain what the pirouette canter has created to better the regular canter, and, in order to do so, the horse needs to push out with his hind legs instead of being allowed to fall out. What often happens is that people think, Whew, I did it, I’m finished. And then they just give the reins and let the horse fall out, which invites downhill balance and doesn’t necessitate carrying hind legs. 

You should need very little contact in the actual pirouette canter but the horse should push into the contact when he canters forward. Test yourself: Give you hands all the way in pirouette canter and then take contact when you come out of the pirouette. This won’t work if you haven’t been practicing it this way; you’re horse will think no contact means go foreword. It’s not his fault but you need to reeducate him. If this is the case, give your hand away in the pirouette canter and if he canters forward, ride a strong half halt and then give the hands away again. You may need to do this several times for him to understand. As you are coming out of the pirouette, take contact and with your leg, push him out step by step. He may need a little kick to tell him he needs to go into your hand, but don’t give away the contact. Keep in mind that you’re reeducating him. 

To keep the push, make the exit gradual. I often see is people taking about 15 strides to get into the pirouette canter and only about two strides to get out of it. This also invites the horse to fall on his forehand. I love what Scott Hassler (national young horse coach) says about this: “Take as many strides to get out of it as you take to get into it.” Count. If it takes seven strides to get into it, take seven to get out. 

Courtney King-Dye represented the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games and at two World Cups. She is a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Certified Instructor through Fourth Level and USDF gold medalist (






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