The length of the rein/contact are no longer specified. At one point tr#1/#2 where are loose rein, and #3/#4 were are long rein. Now the choice is the riders as long as the walk is active and the horse is seeking the hand. So, there should be the best walk sustained. There are some judges who will look for huge stretch, being on the buckle, etc. But the question is whether the rider can 're-take' the reins w/o the horse becoming tense/slowing/hollowing as well. Remember you are not just riding a test, but training the horse. So, choose the quality of the contacts carefully.
Why does the horse 'seek the hand'/chew the reins from the hand/lengthen the neck? Because ideally the horse is up/open/active and 'accepting the bit' (in training level) or 'on the bit' (from first level on). When that is the case, whem the rider releases contact the horse should relax/drape itself into a longer posture/etc. If the horse does not, then there is a problem with the working posture of the other two gaits. Likely if the horse has a western background they are too long/too low and rather posed, hence not much willingness to trust the hand to seek it.
What is the energy/posture of the horse in all three gaits? Is the horse active in the walk before you ask for the free walk? Is the horse bending through the corner? Do you ask the horse to chew (inside aids) and then allow the horse to stretch as it goes straight?
Last edited by equitate; 04-11-2013 at 12:21 PM.