I focus a lot on the walk... whether it is in the ring or out on a hack. It's not to say that I believe in constantly nagging as I am very happy for the horses to be able to walk on a long rein in a nice relaxed manner. Just like my work on the ground I believe in asking questions and working to achieve consistent correct responses. To me, the walk is the best gait at assessing how correct the response to your aids really is
- walk - halt - walk
- shorten the walk - or baby steps as I like to say - until you can control each foot fall
- lengthen the walk - extending the whole frame
- create a square with a 1/4 turn on the forehand to produce each corner
- create a square with a 1/4 turn on the haunches to produce each corner
- leg yield straight sideways (side pass)
- combine any of the above
With every exercise I focus on the following qualities and repeat until all are consistently achieved:
- straightness - alignment from tail to poll - keeping the haunches and shoulders on the same path
- rhythm - this becomes really obvious at the walk so don't dismiss it!
- relaxation - if the horse becomes frustrated find a way to slow it down or go back to something they find easier to achieve then represent the question later
- consistent frame - some horses need to work on staying stretching while some need to work on staying up and out so the exact frame is not of concern to me rather that they maintain that frame by staying between the leg and hand throughout.
If you focus on these aspects you'll find that the horse is miraculously in front of your leg... because these are all the pieces that matter...not just kicking them forward. I incorporate these ideas into my work every day and even have days with some horses that are spent entirely at the walk so don't be surprised if it seems quite challenging at the start. It's about being aware of the weak areas and gradually working to improve them...