Written collaboratively by Lindsey McNeill and Rebecca Bott.
In many horse show patterns, the judge will challenge the competitors by asking for an extension of a walk, trot, or canter. Extending a gait involves engaging the hind end of the horse so they can lengthen their stride while still being supple through their body. This should not cause the rhythm or speed of the gait to change in any way. Extension is the lengthening of a stride, not the quickening of the stride.
Before really understanding the concept of extending, one must understand pace, or cadence. Controlling the pace of the horse will help any rider with a collected, working, or extended gait. The pace of each gait is altered to speed up, slow down, or stop. However, the pace or cadence should remain even when extending a gait, only changing if a horse is asked to transition to a greater or lesser speed. Once understood, extending the gait will be an easy skill to master.
Extension is always the lengthening of the stride of any gait. Because more ground is covered with each individual stride, some riders may think extending a gait becomes a race. This is never the case. A rider should extend the horse’s stride allowing the horse to stretch their stride. The extension at a trot or walk can help a rider warm-up their horse, but this all depends on the disposition of the animal. This maneuver can help riders have the option of lengthening strides when necessary, such as between fences.
The basic steps for extending the horse’s stride are moving the rein hand forward one to two inches, applying more pressure with the legs and increasing the rider’s rhythm in the saddle. The amount of pressure and movement depends on the gait and horse. In a show setting, these movements should be subtle and smooth.
When preparing for a show, practicing the extension is a very useful skill. Performing this before a show can help the rider gauge how much pace and control they will need during a pattern or on the rail. Using the straight sides in an arena or out in the pasture is more ideal for practicing; this allows the horse to stretch out without needing to turn a corner. Along with practicing moving into extension, collecting the stride back to a typical length from the extension is a great skill to practice for shows. An extension is a very common maneuver asked by judges, so mastering this could help create success in the arena.