Last month I discussed the importance of developing your horse’s fast walk with impulsion from behind. This exercise cannot be overdone, if you want to teach your horse how to do a smooth 4-beat gait in good form. It’s much more difficult for your horse to maintain an active, correct walk, where every leg moves independently of every other leg, and the horse remains relaxed and rounded through the top-line, than it is to stiffen up and fall into a rhythmic 2-beat, or uneven 4-beat (stepping pace) gait. Unfortunately the 2-beat gaits aren’t smooth for the rider, and a stepping pace usually causes the horse to hollow out so much that it’s detrimental to its long term soundness. Those hock and stifle problems that plague so many of our wonderful animals can often be attributed to the pace or stepping pace.
To break the "2-beat habit," we need to reprogram a horse from the simple 2-beat rhythm to the more complex and physically demanding 4-beat. We do this simply by walking, walking, and walking some more. The training walk is focused, and energetic. Over time, the horse begins to automatically move to the "1-2-3-4" rhythm he’s being conditioned to, rather than to the simpler, "1-2, 1-2" rhythm of the trot or pace. Try this yourself: count out your steps in four beats as you walk around one whole morning. You'll see that, by the afternoon, you're still doing so without giving it conscious thought or effort. If you had four legs, you'd be keeping time to that beat with your strides-as will your horse. As the horse becomes more programmed and conditioned to this 4-beat rhythm, he is able to maintain it at greater speed. This speed, combined with more collection, results in. . .gaiting.
And herein is the primary secret to a correct 4-beat gait: Walk. . .Walk faster. . .Walk into gait. If you practice this simple exercise with consistency, you will have your horse gaiting in a surprisingly short period of time.
Is there more to it than this? Well. . .yes. Learning how to collect your horse’s forward energy on the bridle will help you to develop more speed and greater smoothness. However, properly collecting a horse doesn’t mean riding with our feet on the accelerator and our hands on the brakes. To do so encourages stiff, high-headed and hollow backed action. Many gaited horses do require a very strong rein–but we should avoid rein pressure until we’ve generated plenty of impulsion, and balanced the horse over its haunches.