If stand still isn't a gait, then what is it? We consider backing up to be a gait. Walking, trotting, and cantering, are gaits. Gallop is a gait. So, in the experience of masterful horsemen and horsewomen I know, and in my own experience, stand still is also a gait. The reason that is important is two-fold.
Most importantly, if the stand still is a gait, then you'll put attention toward improving the gait. At least most riders will. I've never met a rider who walk, trots, and canters regularly, not value the quality of each of those gaits and occasionally work to improve them. For instance a trail rider will notice how poorly their horse maintains the walk down the trail and spends a day or two improving that gait for the benefit of not having to fight it the next time they go out with friends. Another example is a performance rider who notices how their horse struggles to hold the canter. Inevitably, if they want to improve, they find the time and resources to fix the canter and make it better. (article coming soon about fixing the canter)
The odd thing is however, that most riders don't consider the stand still to be a gait, and therefore don't work on it. But if it is a gait, then you'll have to notice how poorly your horse does in certain situations and make the time to remedy the response you get. For instance, if your horse can't hold still while other riders are warming up, you have a horse that sucks at the stand still. Don't you think you should work on that? Or do you fall prey to the common techniques of avoiding the real problem and just getting into motion because that's what the horse's anxiety wants? Think of it like a gait. Think of how you need to improve that gait with exercises and experiences tailored to teaching the horse to stand still.
Be patient, of course. The stand still practice, like any other gait, can take a few days, up to a few weeks to master. Like the canter, it will take years to master in every single situation. But it's a goal worth working on. Work on it while you're saddling. Work on it while you're mounting. Work on it while you're riding and resting. But don't avoid it, because if you expect it to just work out. You clearly don't understand horses. Canter work is hard for the body, but stand still work is hard for the brain. That is until the horse starts to experience balance, both mentally and physically. Then it becomes easy!
The second reason it's important to consider stand still as a gait is simple. Stand still practice calms the mind and builds to the next gait, just like walking for a distance calms the mind and builds to a nice slow trot. And trotting for a distance calms the mind and builds to a nice slow canter. Most riders know that if you bypass that mental warm up you could get fireworks. I've just spent about two weeks rehabilitating an eleven year old ranch horse who clearly sucked at standing still. Now he's a champ. And guess what....? He doesn't display the problems that he showed up with, such as... hard to catch, cross-firing while cantering, and more.
So if two weeks of stand still practice can influence my horses, it will work for yours too. Grade your own horse on how well they stand still. Use this simple grading tool to check.
Take this quiz and use the simple grading tool to see where you and your horse are.