“Keep the diagonal holy.”
That was great advice given to me by a friend years ago. He meant to venerate the diagonal, of course, not that it might have been infiltrated by groundhogs, as in holey. And, he was just talking about the free walk on the diagonal.
What my friend meant was to always walk across the diagonal in the ring at home with a sense of purpose, with a swinging energetic stride. If I was just walking on a long rein in a resting phase, then I should change direction by turning directly across to the other side, such as from B to E, or through a half circle. That way, when I got to the free walk or extended walk across the diagonal in an actual test situation, my horse would be looking for a long, loose marching stride without my even having to ask for it.
I have turned this advice into habit, so much so that when I’m even just tack-walking on a rehab, I never walk across the diagonal. It really does work. The extended walk is one movement when I show that I never have to even think about. When I turn onto a diagonal my mare just automatically perks her ears and stretches through her topline. I can feel her asking: “Do I swing more? Huh, Mom?” “Yep, go for the 8,” my softer elbow responds. I can feel her thinking: Cool!