Starting to Lose That Steady Cadence in the Gait

by Dana Hokana | September 22nd, 2011 11:17 AM | No Comments

Q. Hi Dana,

My horse and I are excelling within our region, and having a terrific year! But…I am starting to feel and notice that we are starting to lose that “steady cadence” in our gait.  More specifically, I can feel him being lazy at the jog.  When I ask him to stay true he ends up getting quicker, then slower, and it seems to effect our steering sometimes too.  As we are wrapping up the end of our show year, and looking forward to entering our Junior show year, I was hoping that you could give me some tips and tricks on how we can find and carry that “true gait.”

Thanks A LOT!


A. Dear Luke,

Thank you for your question.  It is a great question and a common problem that many people have and more often towards the end of the show season.

The first thing I would recommend to you is to carefully evaluate your horse and make sure that he is sound and comfortable.  Often as we show heavily our horses develop soreness and we don’t realize it.  Sometimes it comes on so slowly we just don’t recognize the problem as unsoundness.  It can appear as just a deterioration of movement.  Many people will get very focused trying to determine if there is an unsoundness and where the unsoundness is when in fact they have gotten weak and need to be ridden differently.

If you have out ruled unsoundness as the cause for the deterioration of movement, then I would look to your training and conditioning routines.  Many times as you ride on the rail and practice your focus or attention is on “the class,” or getting your horse consistent and slow.  Often the very maneuvers that we perform in our class can contribute to the deterioration of our horse’s quality of movement.   The reason this can happen is that we practice only the event, rather than maintaining the quality of movement needed to excel in the event.

When I ride my horse I think of my ride as a workout.  In my mind, I think of all the areas that need work, not forgetting that the horse is an athlete and to perform beautifully he needs to be strong and conditioned to be at his best.

When I hear that he is getting lazy or sloppy my recommendation is that you need to drive him and work on exercises that demand collection in order to refresh or regain his good natural movement.

Many older horses (and people) lose their natural reach and drive.  Even young horses can lose their natural reach if the rider is always slowing the horse and shortening their stride.  One very good tip that will help your horse stay jogging good and true is to count in your mind with his rhythm as you are riding or training him.  The jog should be a definite one-two beat and you should be able to find that rhythm.  By counting with him you increase your level of awareness as to whether or not he is maintaining that sharp, true gait.  It will also put you in rhythm with him.  Often when we show horses our focus goes to the class itself, or the speed of the horse, his transitions, etc.  By learning to quiet your mind and working toward feeling your horse you will learn to slow with him.  This will make you and your horse a more pleasing picture as you are riding him every stride.  You will also find that you will start unconsciously correcting laziness by becoming very tuned in to his movement and rhythm.  Re-focus your thoughts to becoming one with your horse and some of your problems will take care of themselves.

I would also recommend becoming aware of where his body weight is.  Often we find that we have allowed our horses to get on their forehand, thus making them move heavy and uncollected.  A great diagnosis and correction exercise is to trot him forward and stop him, discerning if he is heavy in your hands and on his front end.  If he is, then back him, roll him back on his haunches and trot off.  Then stop again.  Repeat the maneuver until he becomes agile and lighter on his feet.  When you roll him back you are requiring that he shift his body weight to his hindquarters.  As you ride, try to become mindful of where his body weight is.  If I feel his weight go to his front end I don’t punish the horse, I just correct him.  Its usually not willful disobedience but rather laziness and habit.  My correction is to make him work harder when I feel laziness rather than punishment.  I want his work ethic to be better.  If you train at a higher level of difficulty than his class, then the class won’t seem so hard.

So to recap -

  1. Change your mindset about your horse’s schooling sessions.  Make it a work out rather than just a ride
  2. Assess your horse’s soundness and make sure that he is comfortable and able to do his job.
  3. Go back to exercises that reinforce collection.  Drive him forward if need be.
  4. Learn to feel your horse’s rhythm, strive to be a mindful rider becoming one with your horses gaits and stride.  Count with the rhythm!
  5. Become aware of where your horse’s body weight is and require that he move collected with his weight over his hindquarters.

Good luck to you and your horse.  My hopes are that you and he have a long, great career!


About the Author

Dana Hokana is one of the top female trainers in the Quarter Horse industry, and currently operates Dana Hokana Quarter Horses in Temecula, California. Raised in Southern California, she has had a lifelong love for horses. Dana has trained multiple Western Pleasure circuit champions, winners at major futurities, and horses who have placed in the top ten in Western Pleasure at both the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the AQHA World Championship Show. Riding her own stallion, Invested Dimension, she captured an AQHA Reserve World Championship title in Senior Western Pleasure.

Dana’s DVD series entitled “The Winning Strides Series,” is designed to educate horse owners and riders from the basics of horse handling and horsemanship, to competing at high levels in the show arena. Skilled at teaching in an encouraging, relaxed, non-intimidating way, she carries these traits into the instruction in her video series. Dana will be a featured clinician at the Mane Event in Red Deer, Alberta, and has spoken at the Equine Affaire in Pomona, California and was a clinician at the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts and Columbus, Ohio, focusing on topics from grooming to western pleasure.

Now is your chance to have your questions answered by Dana! Just submit your question using the comment section below or the email link, and she will respond to select questions in future posts.

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