When schooling, the majority of western riders focus their attention on establishing consistently slow and steady gaits, which are essential for competition in many western events. However, there is a downside to reducing a horse’s speed—he can lose the smoothness and fluidity of a normal stride.
A restricted stride can cause a horse to emphasize action in both the knees and the hocks. This is due to the lack of impulsion coming from the hindquarters at reduced speed. This style of movement is also frowned upon in the show arena.
In addition to the physical benefits gained by a longer stride, a horse’s gaits will also improve. When a horse is asked to engage his hind end and drive under his body with his hocks, he will naturally increase the length of his stride. The longer stride will reduce the unwanted lifting motion of the knees and hocks, because the legs will have the freedom to move forward with full range of motion. When the horse is brought back to the slower speeds, the work at the extended jog will make him more physically capable of traveling with a flatter and more sweeping stride.
Though underutilized by many western riders, incorporating the extended jog and working trot can significantly enhance the gaits of the western performance horse.
Dale Rudin has trained various breeds and competed in western performance events in Southern California. Her philospohy emphasizes a willing attitude while developing a high level of physical performance.