I have a 17 yr old Missouri Fox Trotter, not set in her gaits. She does all sorts of things. We just trail ride, so we aren't concerned about looks, but naturally if I am going to ride her, I would like to improve on her fox trot if possible.
Her tendency is for her to want to gait with her head up and her nose out. She will do a nice slow, smooth-ish trot this way (I assume a fox trot, but I have no one to watch me when I ride) and of course the faster she goes, the bumpier it gets (I assume she moves into a hard trot).
Now I have experimented with asking her to break at the poll the way I would ride a non-gaited horse. And not lean into the bit the way I would want a non-gaited horse to. And she will do the same slow trot that way, but if I don't keep her in that position she put her head and nose back in the air again.
My question is this- do I want to ask her to break at the poll and squeeze a bit with my legs like I would a non-gaited horse (sort of collected like) or should I just let her travel with a little bit contact, squeeze a touch with my legs, but let her nose point out?
A friend who used to ride with me who has Fox Trotters has said that they should travel with their nose out. And that they can lean on the bit a little. But some of the reading I have done on the internet says it is bad for them to travel hollow and they can be collected up a bit like any other horse.
It doesn't seem to make a difference to her gait (or lack thereof?)from what I can tell. The main difference is I have to work to keep her more collected, and we can just cruise down the trail with her nose out doing the same thing. So what should I do? Will collecting her just encourage the hard trot? When I say "collect" I don't mean anything extreme, but I will give a little leg pressure and back her off the bit and ask her to tuck her head. Sometimes she will really arc her neck like an Arabian western pleasure horse.
So do I want her breaking at the poll and not putting pressure on the bit like a regular horse, or do I want more contact and let her nose travel out?