- The walk rhythm can easily be destroyed by incorrect training and the steps can lose the four-beat rhythm and become lateral. This is a very serious fault.
- Irregularity in the rhythm.
- The frame can become behind the bit, curling or up and above the bridle, rather than stretching; this will all attract poor marks.
- The inability to relax and take ground-covering steps.
- Tension creating short, jogging steps.
- Irregular strides.
- Coming above the bit.
- Dropping the poll.
- Tension and quick steps with no overtrack.
- Losing the balance and leaning in the hand (coming on the forehand).
- High hindlegs not pushing.
- Hurried steps.
- Leaning in the bridle and losing the balance.
- Above the bit, curling and becoming deep and rolled over.
- Not taking the neck a little forward.
- Behind the vertical.
- Climbing strides and not ground-covering.
As with any dressage movement in any test, it’s important for the judges to assess the movement quickly, and to do this it must always be an educated overall impression. Of course, there are problems in frames, steps, contact, engagement, resistance, straightness, tempo, rhythm, attitude, balance, tail swishing, grinding teeth, submission issues, lack of forward, on the forehand, above the bit or hollow… to simply mention a few. What is important is that it’s the overall impression that counts. If judges started trying to weigh up all the minor glitches, they would never come to a mark. There is not time to get obsessed by minor problems, but to realise that — for example — despite perhaps being a little behind the vertical when everything else is very good, it still can get a quite good mark, as if the nose was 5cm more forward, then it could be a 10. Always look at the balance and the freedom and ease.
Of course, the one thing that is the hardest to see and then explain in words is “over the back”. This term is used a lot and often not really understood. When a horse is said to be “through” and “over the back” it is when, from a well-developed understanding of being round, the horse is able to switch on the core and lift the back. This pushing up under the saddle produces a bridge-like attitude and can then bring the hind legs more under the body. The opposite is a hollow horse where the neck is usually up and the stomach falling down towards the ground. With his attitude, the hindlegs cannot step under but go out the back, the shoulders fall down, and the neck is high and termed hollow. A hollow horse can never do good extended paces. This “over the back” feeling needs to come from the early training through good postural frames that produce a strong topline.
Everyone loves to watch a horse with great extended paces, especially the extended trot where even the average horse person gets excited with the expression and flamboyant steps. Extended paces need time and patience and strength to develop. It’s a steady process but an interesting, exciting and progressive journey. EQ
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Training the Halt – Equestrian Life, June 2022
Going in Circles Learning the Pirouette – Equestrian Life, March 2022
Training the Rein-Back – Equestrian Life, February 2022