Walk ~ 3 – 5 mph, 1-2-3-4 Beat
Trot ~ 8 – 9 pmh
Canter ~ 11 – 17 mph
When riders are first introduced to horse riding, they are taught three simple gaits at which the horse may move: walk, trot, and canter. However, many never perfect them, in large part because of a common misconception about how to shift the horse between each.
Many riders today believe that when switching between gaits, there needs to be a transfer of energy to the horse, almost as if the rider is stepping on the accelerator pedal and injecting more energy into the horse. However, this sudden injection of energy makes the transition awkward and abrupt, the opposite of what we want to achieve in dressage.
When competing in such a precise environment like dressage, it is crucial to make each movement as fluid as possible, with little to no excess movement. Rather than abruptly communicating a change in pace to the horse, speed should be increased gradually in order to give the movement a smooth and effortless appearance. You should be using your posture, which should be relaxed yet firm, to communicate these changes, not a sudden charge in energy.
Do not let too much energy flow into the horse when increasing speed, but rather maintain energy and simply let the speed increase gradually. Implementing a firm body position on the horse will need to be practiced, as it will take some getting used to. The horse must learn from the rider and must also have time to adapt to the new changes.
A second area to work on when perfecting the different gaits of a horse involves the transitioning positions when increasing speed. Be sure to practice consistent transitions as the horse will be primed when making the next move. Be sure to allow the horse to gradually pick up in speed, slowly altering the steps. It is crucial to avoid hurried steps in the gait because this may look unbalanced and will also cause stress on the horse.
Also, keep in mind that when halting, transitions are key as well. Slowing the horse with an outflow of energy is crucial to make the movement fluid and precise. Maintaining consistent power on the decrease is going to be a bit tougher than controlling it on the increase.
Overall, the key to perfecting the different gaits of riding lies in the body positioning and the perfection of key transitions. These two aspects of riding and performing are fairly simple, but can make a lasting impression on judges when done correctly.Dressage is a sport of controlled power, so understanding where these movements come from will be key in understanding how to control them. In every aspect, fluidity is key.