Episode 44: How Can I Improve My Horse’s Lope or Canter?


One of the top issues that I get questions about is improving a lope or canter and doing it safely.

In this episode, I use the four square model of the horse’s mind, the horse’s body, rider’s mind, and rider’s body to illustrate some safety precautions for improving your lope and canter. I kick the show off with a call from one of my past clinic participants named Bob. I asked Bob if he’d be willing to share his experience with everyone, and he agreed. 

After my conversation with Bob, I have another guest named Michelle that had a horse with very serious metabolic issues and laminitis. I remember things better when they are wrapped in a story, and I’ve never had a horse with these issues. Michelle shares her story of trying to get a diagnosis for her horse, and the treatment that finally helped her recover. Michelle hopes that her story will help others be advocates for their horses. 

“You may need to improve your horses physical conditioning to improve his lope or canter. You can do this by lunging more on a lunge line or in a round pen” Stacy Westfall Click To Tweet

Show Notes:

[01:53] Bob came to one of our clinics, and he lives close enough to us that he’s been able to take lessons with Jesse. 

[02:13] His question was about getting a controlled rhythmic lope that he’s seen a lot of other people accomplish. Bob’s lopes were frantic and even scary at times. 

[02:35] Bob’s main assignment was to lope more for longer periods of time. 

[03:01] After increasing his time, his horse will now rhythmically canter.

[03:41] Bob thinks that the horse was thinking that if he went fast he would get the stop.

[06:10] Bob’s question is one of the most common questions. 

[07:19] The improvement has really made a difference in Bob’s mounted shooting. He rides about three to four days a week. He works his horse for an hour.

[08:26] He works on things in the outdoor arena and on trail rides.

[09:26] Let’s use the four square model and begin with the horse’s body to talk about safety when working up to your lope or canter. 

[09:36] You may need to improve your horses physical conditioning to improve his lope or canter. You can do this by lunging more on a lunge line or in a round pen.

[10:03] You could also lunge over poles at a canter.

[10:37] You also need to take a look at your horses mind. If you’re unclear about your horse’s body or mind, get a professional opinion to put you at ease.

[11:39] Another square in the model is the rider’s body. What is making you physically uncomfortable about writing more?

[12:23] You should work on your trot to improve your confidence before you work into the lope.

[13:47] You can also improve your physical strength outside of riding a horse.

[14:06] When you go to the fourth quadrant of the rider’s mind, a great exercise to do is write down all of your fears on a piece of paper. Then find a solution for each thing that is holding you back.

[16:45] I believe in analyzing what is going on with the fear rather than just forcing yourself to work through it.

[19:54] Michelle bought her horse when it had just turned three. Her horse was a healthy Tennessee Walking Horse.

[20:35] When Michelle’s horse was seven, she began having acute lameness. It took awhile to diagnose it as laminitis.

[21:25] Some symptoms that the horse had included breaking out in hives then becoming acutely lame. She acted like her front feet were sore, but there was no visible injury.

[23:47] With x-rays at the veterinarian, they were able to see the rotation and the sinking in her feet.

[24:48] After treatment, every six weeks for a year. The horse fully recovered. She still wears special shoes and goes to the vet once a year. 

[26:13] She also started medication to boost her metabolism. The lab work did indicate a metabolic issue. 

[27:58] The horse is also on a special diet and takes supplements. She is 11 years old now, and she has fully recovered. 

[30:23] Michelle followed up with lab work, because the numbers tell you what is working.

[33:34] The horse is now on Metabarol and vitamin E. 

“If you're unclear about your horse's body or mind, get a professional opinion to put you at ease.” Stacy Westfall Click To Tweet

Links and Resources:

Stacy Westfall’s Video Vault

Episode 1: Fear vs Danger: Riders Can Improve If They Know the Difference

Rood & Riddle Equine Podiatry

Equithrive Metabarol 

$50 Rebate Program



  1. Jennifer O’Connor on December 17, 2020 at 12:45 pm

    It was great listening to you and Bob discuss how to get the rhythmical lope by increasing the amount of time it’s done. Despite working both of my guys on the ground over logs at the extended trot and canter for at least 20 minutes a day, I need to increase my time in the saddle at the lope. I don’t really have a fear of the lope, it’s just I need to get myself more physically fit to keep up.

    Three years ago, I purchased a beautiful QH that had an underlying condition that was not disclosed. He had laminitis, Between my veterinarian and farrier, we came up with a plan for rehab. I changed over to a low sugar/low starch food, added a hoof supplement and he received regular Farrrier visits. After a year, he had enough solid hoof growth to support and hold a shoe. We have regular farrier visits for trimmings and after 3 years, he has no visible signs of the laminitis. His diet still remains one with no extra sugar/starch and the hoof supplement has been a constant.

  2. Monica Huettl on September 19, 2019 at 5:47 pm

    Hi Stacy,

    Thank you for discussing insulin resistance and laminitis. I have been battling this for years with one of my quarter horses, Jose Cuervo. He’s not on meds, and through research I have stopped the laminitis by feeding low carb grass hay and using a supplement formulated for California horses called CA Trace Plus. It has minerals that are lacking in the hay grown in Calif.

    My horses are in turnout 24-7 in a Paddock Paradise lifestyle (you can google that if you’re not familiar). So I thought I was home free with my low carb hay.

    The dentist told me that Cuervo has no cartilage on one side of his TMJ and that it’s probably painful for him to open his mouth. He is also a glutton and bolts his food, barely chewing. The low carb hay that I have access to is thick and stemmy. Well this summer during 100 degree weather, this led to a severe impaction colic. Yes, he had plenty of cold water to drink, but for some reason he colicked, probably from not chewing the thick hay well enough. The IR community recommends using slow feed hay nets, so that the horses are forced to nibble small bites, but Cuervo is super destructive and I didn’t use slow feeders because I figured he would tear it apart quickly and possibly get tangled up and injure himself.

    After paying for a week of colic treatment at UC Davis, I decided to start using slow feeders. I found some made by Weaver that really stand up to abuse. Cuervo plays with these like a tether ball, but after 6 weeks of use they still look new. And they come in pretty colors!

    Also with winter coming up, I don’t know if people realize that short, frost covered grass is the most dangerously high in sugar. It looks like there is nothing to graze on, and people don’t realize how dangerous it is to graze on. The roots of the frozen grass are desperately pumping sugar up to the stalks. Dr. Elleanor Kellen has a website explaining about hay, grazing, and laminitis, filled with tons of information. ecirhorse.org , or just type her name in google.

    Thanks for bringing awareness to IR and laminitis, as many quarter horses suffer from this.


  3. Martina Brown on September 18, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    Hi Stacy and Hi Bob if you happen to see this comment. Not sure if you remember me but I was at the clinic with you last year. Congratulations on getting the lope you want!!!! That is so awesome.

    So glad you made a podcast on this topic! So I have a question. What would be better
    1. Do you keep riding even though she is going fast? When she goes fast I have a hard time sitting correctly then I feel like she gets more out of balance which makes me out of balance too.
    2. Should I start on the ground and get the lope for 5 minutes then ride her once I get to that time limit. To me option 2 seems to make more sense.

    Is a 60 ft round pen sufficient enough to ride in. That is my comfort zone. Our arena is not fenced and I just feel the most comfortable in a fenced area.

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