It is a mental game. With that said, there are many ways to slow a horse from a canter to a nice slow lope. By going back and doing more ground work, transitions, roll-backs, or changes of direction, it is sometimes possible to slow down a horse. To some extent, these do work. I want to help you understand a fundamental truth. “A change of gait is not a change of speed.” I have trained many horses to depart into a canter from a standstill or from a walk without their going any faster than a working trot - because I ‘expected’ it. The funny thing about this is that sometimes when I put the owner back on their horse, the horse is several degrees faster because the owner does not understand it is not about a change of speed, but about a change of gait. So sometimes this is a mental game between you and your horse.
Now for a solid, physical way to fix a fast canter. As I said earlier, your horse may need more miles under him at the canter to slow down. In most cases it really doesn’t matter how much trot work you do, it comes right down to how much canter work you do. At the canter, the horse may think differently, because of his built in ‘flight response’ to run from fear. In his mind he sees you as the leader and you have told him to run. Also, you need to assess your level of riding skill. Can you feel leads? How is your seat? How is your sense of timing and feel? To fix this, you need to have a good seat and be able to detect if your horse is off lead. Most of all, you need to be able to work through this. It is obvious that this type of horse is not comfortable at the canter. This is a perfect opportunity to work on exercises you have done at other gaits. First make sure you have a consistent, solid cue for the departure. I like to apply more pressure to the outside rein and leg, then hold him with the inside leg and kiss.
Once you are in the canter, check to make sure he is on the correct lead. If not, he will be more uncomfortable, causing more anxiety. Get on the correct lead first, in both the front and back. If you are able to control his shoulder with your leg at the walk and trot, you should be able to do it at a canter. So now you will apply outside rein and leg to get a counter-bend (nose pointed outside the circle), just as you did at the walk and trot. Make sure you apply enough leg pressure to keep him from changing directions; it is better to do this in a 60’ round pen. A word of caution here - Most horses are taught to go with leg pressure. When applying leg pressure, he may speed up at first until he understands that you are putting up a barrier to keep them in the circle. Use that outside rein as a parking break. The more you pull back, the more his nose will be going outside the circle. Make sure you counter-balance the rein with your leg. This will help move his hip to the inside, further making him uncomfortable. The more the bend, the more uncomfortable he will be.
Horses are looking to be straight and in balance. What you are trying to do is make your horse out of balance and uncomfortable. If he wants to be comfortable, he will look for the answer. As soon as you feel the slightest reduction in speed, put him back to straight. Only work on one side at a time. You may work a few days or a week just on one side. Once you feel a good change of speed, quit him for that day. Don’t worry about being in his mouth. When teaching a new maneuver, you need to teach it with the bridle until they know what you want. You don’t need to worry about making him hard in the mouth, because once you have him soft in the feet, he will be soft in the mouth. Most importantly, don’t allow the fear of speed and uncertainty train the horse. Remember this - Most reputable trainers spend more than 50% of their training time with a horse at the canter. If you have not ridden him at a canter 50% of the time, he has not had enough. Also, don’t overestimate how broke your horse is by how well he walks and trots. It is at the canter that determines how broke you horse really is. By Randy Byers horsemanship