I have had my Missouri Fox Trotter almost two years, but the first year she was pregnant and then nursing a foal, so even though I rode her, I couldn't get much riding in that first year. Not like I am now anyway.
So this summer I've been really riding and enjoying her. I have read a bunch of stuff on the internet since I am sorta new to gaited horses, and they suggest that the best way to find your horse's natural gait is to really "work" the flat walk. Condition the horse by riding the flat walk and eventually if you keep working at it, the horse will eventually start slipping into it's natural intermediate gait. Okay, so we've been doing that. Flat walking and sort of pushing it at the flat walk, followed by some regular walking to let her rest, then working the flat walk again.
So my question is this. How am I supposed to keep pressure on her to flat walk and encourage a slight amount of speed and collection at the flat walk? Going away from home I have to keep squeezing my calves on her constantly (because she's a little barn sour). I can really feel it in my buns! I wear spurs, but I don't want to keep spur pressure on her constantly, I just use them for a little pressure and release. So I have been riding mainly with calf pressure, and I feel like I am going to get a knot in my buttocks! Is that the right way to push the walk, or am I missing something? As soon as I release the leg pressure, she drops down to a dog walk, so it's like I have to keep pushing to keep the flat walk going.
Will I just devolope buns of steel, or am I going about things wrong? What is the best way to encourage and keep her at a flat walk?
And do you think if we practice this, it will help develope her intermediate gait? She has all sorts of gaits, but I have trouble holding her at any of them for any length of time. So I don't really care if she developes a Fox Trot, running walk, stepping pace or what, but I would like to eventually be able to hold her to one of them when I want to ride an intermediate gait. Is practicing/pushing the flat walk the best game plan for finding her intermediate gait?
Really the flat walk is one of my favorite gaits anyway, and I'm used to trotting horses so I'm not really picky on which gaits she does, they all make me giggle! But it would be cool to slip into something faster without going into a hard trot or hard pace if you know what I mean.
My mare is 3, and now that she is over the initial excitement of the 'new' she decided she wants to be a push horse lol. I have been riding with a crop or spurs, she she slows I squeeze her up, and the longer it takes for her to respond the harder I squeeze, eventually giving her some spur. The second she speeds up to where I want her, I release.
For awhile the spurs weren't working so I carried a crop as well and when she didnt respond to the spurs I would give her a tap. She now knows the what is coming when I squeeze her up and reacts before the spur or crop. It isnt about deadening their sides -if it is done right they become more sensitive to your legs.
Also be sure your stirrups are long enough that you can drive the rhose forward from the rear as well as that is the best way to get stride and speed.
I just was at a clinic a few days ago and actually instead of pushing the flat walk, she said to slow them down and collect them, then let them relax and walk normally. When you force them to take each step more carefully you are working the muscles they need for the run-walk. When you force them to walk a little faster but not break gait, they aren't conditioning the same muscles, usually because they aren't collected as well.
Does that make sense? It's really hard to explain, but it really made a difference in the horses that were there that day.
Momo makes a good point -that is what we do with our horses here, as we train them for show we want their natural animation to come through so whatever speed it is that they carry themselves and walk well is the speed you train at. The crop or spurs help to maintain the speed with a horse that has decided to take advantage of the strength of leg vs their barrel and helps restore rider authority, but at the end of the day you want them to be walking properly and consistently and like my mare, I started with just a flat walk for 4 months before I went to run walk as I wanted those musclkes strong.
Basically, I should work on a bit of collection. She really goes with her head up and nose out. For a while I thought that's how gaited horses are supposed to travel, but I have since read that Fox Trotter can travel a bit collected- more so than breeds that are aiming for a lateral gait. So we will try that.
I know she is just slower/reluctant going out because she is still a bit barn sour. I think most horses are slower going out, at least mine always have been. Ha ha! I haven't tried a crop. I could always do that, but I don't know if it's needed at the moment. Mainly I was getting a knot in my buns from all the squeezing!
So we will just try for more collection, at all gaits, but mainly the walk (because that's what I mainly travel at anyway). And not worry so much about speeding her up. I imagine that comes when the horse is more conditioned anyway.
Here is a photo from this spring of us riding. Not the most flattering (ugh my hands are high) but you can see the way she travels most of the time at the walk.
I think I want her to be breaking at the poll some, correct? And a lower hand position too. Basically, I should pretend she is a "normal" horse, right? Go for a touch of collection and a slightly more vertical head position? (But not quite as much as a trotting horse?) Someone told me one time Fox Trotters should travel with their nose out. Is that incorrect?
I think you need to decide what your intermediate gait is going to be. If your not showing, it seems to me it would be up to your preference, but if you want to go faster then a flat walk, you need to choose. I know you said your horse does all sorts of gaits, that's great, but what do you want? Do you like the stepping pace, the run walk, or the fox trot? Once you have made that decision, then you can work on consistently performing said gait.
As for holding her in a flat walk, I agree with Kstinson, sometimes you need a motivator, a crop can be great, you may never even need to use it. That said, there is nothing wrong with buns of steel, other then they are a lot of work!
There is a lot to be said for the benefit of slowing down and working the gait but I also believe it works the other way around as well. Slowing my mare down wasn't working so my coach suggested I push her up, and that's exactly what she needed. She had no idea she could gait so fast until I pushed her up, and asked for a run walk. Still a work in progress, but it made the difference.
Are you a classical rider who routinely uses lots of leg or are you a saddle seat rider who doesn't?
If you normaly ride with lots of leg then use the leg to move the horse forward. Use your hand to "meter" that forward impulsion. Just where your horse will end up on the continuum of gait will depend on their breeding. If you've got a natural "stepping pacer" then that's where the horse will want to be. You can move some on the continuum with riding technique, shoeing/trimming practices, tack useage, etc.
You can increase the precision, effectiveness, and authority of the leg with a spur. You can increase the reach of your hand with a crop. Either can be useful.
The running walk and flat walk have the same sequence of footfall with the RW having a faster cadence (and maybe a bit more reach). Both are a centered gait.
Her gait preference seems to be towards the fox trot. That is what she does most often. I only get a running walk when she is very excited, or a stepping pace when I am doing figure 8's around trees. (The turns seem to encourage it for some reason).
I would be happy with whatever gait my horse wants to do consistently. The fox trot would be fine. I'm not showing, so I don't really want to alter her natural way of going. I just want to get whatever gait she does naturally to be more consistent.
I have video in an earlier post I did called "Is This a Fox Trot?" Is this a Fox Trot? But a lot of people can't view it. Maybe I can get a sequence of still photos off the video to show you how we typically "gait." I'm pretty sure after going through it frame-by-frame that when I keep her slow I have a fox trot. And if I let her speed up too much, I get a hard trot. But I think I let her travel too hollow and uncollected.
I trail ride western and really don't use my legs much. I only use my legs for communicating that I want a turn or sideways movement. Or to encourage forward movement with some nudging or squeezing, but I am not used to keeping pressure on the horse with my legs. I ride with my legs sort of draped there. I think that's why I really feel it in my muscles when I have to keep squeezing.
I'm not worried about that too much at the moment because it is more of a barn-sour issue we need to work on and I am comfortable working on that (by pushing her going out and containing her enthusiasm going home).
I guess my main question now is how much should I be collecting her and do I want her to break at the poll? Do I want my hands low or high? There was a while there where I thought she gaited better with my hands higher, but I wasn't going for collection at that point and now that I am, I would think I want my hands lower. As low as for a non-gaited horse though? With a non-gaited horse I normally have my hands even with or slightly below the saddle horn.
Anyway, let me see if I can get a small photo sequence of us "gaiting" so maybe you guys can offer suggestions based on how we look in action.
Photos of our "fox trot." (At least I hope it's a fox trot, lol!). It's not exactly frame-by-frame, because I knew I could only post so-many photos, so I skipped a couple frames here and there, but they are in sequence.
Hey trailhorserider, I wont be of much help in the foxtrot area, but I can say this, the best collection does derive from driving the horse forward by engaging the rear, you can use additional ques (such as lifting on rein so they learn that whn you drive them forward to collect that you also wont them to drop their nose to allow for rounding) but at the base of it you need to get your legs back and drive them up.
Picture 3 she's walking, picture 4 she is step pacing and the second last picture she is walking again. You do hit the walk here and there! :) if you're happy with whatever gait she is comfortable in then I'd say when she gets moving consistently in her chosen gait work to keep her there. It will help a lot in collection to have a consistent gait as switching gaits makes it hard for the horse to stay collected. Whichever it is that you choose and to collect her push her into the bit.