Horse-Riding: The Development of the Basic Gaits

The natural gaits include the walk, trot, canter, backing, and the halt. The halt is included in spite of its essence being immobility because it must show a willingness to move forward. The most prolonged training use is given to the trot. Based on the length of strides, there are the extended, medium, working, collected, and school trot, plus passage and piaffe.

Once the collected and medium trots have been established, the working trot becomes useful only during warmup periods.

All two-track movements should be ridden in a suitable level of collection. While the shoulder-in and shoulder-out increase the ability to perform a brilliant collected trot, the half-pass helps the development of a brilliant extended trot, by developing hip and stifle flexibility and freeing the shoulders. Development of collection, for most riders, is easiest in the trot, and it is by far the most difficult at the walk. The highest degree of collection in the different gaits is demonstrated at:

Collected walk—for walk. Piaffe—for trot. Pirouette—for canter.

Extensions in all three gaits are best developed by riding the extensions on a straight line, rather than through figures and turns. Extensions depend on even loading and striding legs used with maximum stretching.

When the natural walk of the horse is poor, in most cases his canter will also be poor. When purchasing a dressage prospect, the walk should be scrutinized most carefully, for the improvement of that gait is the most difficult and sometimes impossible. The trot is the gait most easily improved by schooling.

While there are periods of suspension in the canter and the trot, there is none in the walk. In both walk and canter, we ask for pirouettes, but we do not perform the same at the trot. The flying changes are unique to the canter and there are not analogous movements in the other two gaits. While in trot we may ride a piaffe, a movement lacking in ground-gaining advancement by the horse, we always gain ground and advance in the other two gaits. While we perform shoulder-in and shoulder-out at both walk and trot, we do not perform the movement in canter. However, one may ride a shoulder-fore in canter, which is an increase in the lateral bending of the cantering horse and invites his inside shoulder to track positioned slightly inward, in front of the inside hip. This canter exercise omits the crossing of the legs, but it does promote suppling, straightening, and liberation of the shoulders.

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