Originally Posted by princessfluffybritches
Yes, I had developed a habit of the reins being too long. Now that I've shortened them up, I get better consistency , but how do I know I have the right length? Should I feel a contact? I don't want to ride her with her nose tucked in.
Like so many things, "it depends."
IMO the vast majority of gaited horses gait better while riding in contact. Some do OK on a loose rein but they are a clear minority.
One crucial question, of course, is "what are you doing with the horse?" If you're working stock then the loose rein is pretty much essential. Of course if you're working stock you're not worrying about "gait quality." If you're doing any sort of "ring work" where gait is likely being judged then riding in contact will be the rule of the day. On the trail you can actually move between contact and loose rein, as dictated by the terrain, activity, etc. Again, in times where you are loose rein due to local circumstance it's unlikely that "gait quality" will be a high priority.
How much contact do you want? The amount you need
. Here the style in which you ride will be the determining factor. In the style I use mostly, preparing for the National Cavalry Competition, a sharp and quick response to input for any aid is essential (I may be in front of a column or part of a column and when you ride in a disciplined group of 60 horses you can't "screw around" or somebody will get hurt). Riding in a "gaggle" along the trail will also require a higher level of responsiveness from the horse but not so much as in the disciplined formation. Small group or solo riding will require the least.
So the answer to your question is "it depends."