Unpopular opinion: if you can’t do it at the walk you shouldn’t be trying at another gait.
Firstly, so many horse riders have learned to walk, trot, then canter your horse in schooling. Myself included before I had more information at my disposal. I learned the traditional way as a child and carried it over to adulthood until I learned why the alternative was better.
Both my horses were cute and won classes but both braced at the neck, dropped their weaker shoulders on turns, and couldn’t back up unless you yanked on their mouths. Frankly, I just decided to take them back to basics and teach them these things. But that isn’t why I am the biggest fan of walking.
- Walking is a horse’s most common gait. In the wild and in the fields, horses will walk more often than anything else. It’s only ridden horses that are expected to trot/jog/lope/canter for extended periods.
- The rider adds weight and their own asymmetry and balance issues. Our horses mirror us. Riders tend to fall in one hip, hunch, or tense on their horses. The faster the gait, the easier it is to be unbalanced.
- Walking strengthens tendons and ligaments in the legs. A horse that is ridden 3 times a week at the walk will be stronger and less prone to injury than a horse that is ridden in the other gaits more often.
- Change things up- take your walk out of the arena in the beautifully-groomed footing, and take it to the woods, the beach, or even the fields. Walking over tree roots, balancing on gravel, walking in deep sand- all these strengthen the tendons, ligaments, and muscles and create better proprioception (or biofeedback) in your horse so they know where their body is in space.
I love a good canter, it’s my favorite gait. But when working my horses or recommending exercises to my clients, I always focus on the walk. If your horse can walk well over various terrains, with impulsion from behind and carrying themselves in a balanced manner- then move on to finessing the trot. Trust me, your horse and your credit card will thank you, because there will be a lot less injury or stall rest in their future.