What is it that makes for a good lope? Well..... let's start wth the basics, a lope is a three beat gait and it's sequence should go like this: first beat = outside hind leg; second = inside hind and outside front moving together and third = inside front.
A lope has a "lead" and the "leading" legs are the inside front and inside hind. Now ideally the inside back and front legs should move equal distances. The outside hind is what I always call the "push off" leg - the leg providing the initial impulsion for the gait.
(And a reminder for those of you who are just starting out: Unless the rider has deliberately asked for a counter-canter which is rare, a horse is on the correct lead when leading with his inside front and back legs or, another way of putting it: when loping to the right, the horse should be on his right lead with his right legs leading. We'll talk about counter-canters in a whole other blog!)
Often, you will see some horses that appear to be "trotting" behind when loping but actually, what is happening is the horse is short striding behind to the extent that there is no longer a leading hind leg. Of course this is not correct but you may see it in some novice horses as they learn to properly push off and reach up under themselves with their hind legs (and unfortunately, you also see it in some of today's Western Pleasure horses when they lack proper impulsion). When horses are loping correctly the lope should be an even, flowing stride, exhibiting the same cadence and same speed all around the arena.
A horse that is loping well does not drop his shoulder when going through a corner but rather pushes deep with his outside hind and then takes a longer stride with his inside hind because of the arc of the corner - or line - the horse is traveling. If a horse must pass another horse at a lope, he also should not drop his shoulder but should almost move over laterally. When horses drop their shoulders they pick up speed and generally just look a little sloppy because they cannot be collected when traveling with a dropped shoulder. Remember that a horse must always be balanced from back to front and also side to side. The operative word here is balance. No "leaning Towers of Pisa"! No pushing on your leg or rein!
In short, a good lope has a "distinct gait, an easy pleasant way of going, nicely bridled, soft on the rein, carrying his back and shoulders up, engaged with the hip". The horse should not pick up speed but stay in the same frame, at the same speed and with the same cadence all around the arena or obstacle.
I hope this helps you fine tune your lope or perhaps just learn to see or feel your leads better. Talk to you next week and, Merry Christmas to all! JD.