Horse have their own rhythms. Run them off their feet and they look like a sewing machine. Ride them in the right tempo and you enhance their natural suspension.
Years ago when I was trying to teach one of my horses to lengthen at the trot, my trainer gave me a technique that really helped me differentiate between running my horse off his feet (fast) and making him forward.
She had me mark off two standards along the side of the ring. The first time we went through at a working trot she asked me to count the number of strides that my horse took between those standards. They should be a reasonable distance apart, say 15 to 18 strides.
The next time through she asked me to reduce the number of strides by one. Trotting faster doesn’t work. It’s amazing how many short, running strides you can fit into a set distance. Instead, you need to ask your horse to lengthen his stride.
Once I was able to consistently reduce the number of strides by one, she asked me to cut another. Then later, a third. How much you are able to lengthen your horse’s stride depends on his strength, his elasticity and his suspension. However, you are able to achieve more over time with sufficient practice.
Once you have reached the minimum number of strides between the standards, then start to add strides back in. Now you’re asking your horse to stay in an active trot but with shorter, more collected strides. Try to get back to your original “working” trot count and then add even more. Remember that “active” is a key word here.
Once you’ve mastered the trot, try it at the canter.
I still do this exercise from time to time when I’m schooling my horse. It’s an excellent way to evaluate how well you’re able to lengthen and collect your horse’s stride. Plus, it helps strengthen your horse’s hind end, work his back and improve his top line!