WORKING the WALK!

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Classics 10-WALK-Most Valuable yet most overlooked!

How many times have you heard someone say “I will just walk him for a bit first and then I’ll start the work.”

There is a reason why the walk movements are given a coefficient x2, and that is of course because it is the basis for EVERYTHING else.

The trouble is the walk is not only overlooked, it is the most difficult pace to ride, teach, and GET RIGHT!

A lot of riders think of the walk as the means in which to get to and from the arena, but the walk isn’t something that just happens, and just as we need to WORK the trot and the canter, we must also WORK the walk.

If you have a horse with a good walk, the goal is to maintain his natural stride and rhythm, and not allow the other work, particularly the collection, to cause tension in the walk.

On a horse without a naturally good walk, the aim is to teach him to lengthen the stride, which comes by first establishing relaxation and Rhythm.

First important footnote on walk is try not to do too much. The walk is the purest gait, and therefore we must try not to interfere. The more we RIDE the walk, the more tense and out of rhythm it will become… WORK the walk, but don’t RIDE the walk!

“The secret in riding is to do few things right. The more one does, the less one succeeds. The less one does, the more one succeeds.” (N.Oliviera)

The second thing is the delicacy of the contact. The contact in the walk must be far more subtle than in the trot and canter, and really we should just feel the slightest edge of the horses mouth as we move our hands and our hips freely and openly in unison with his stride.

The minute the horse loses the rhythm in the walk or becomes tense, you must either STOP or turn in a small circle of shoulder in.

This tells the horse, that this is NOT want you want, and the longer you go straight in a bunched up hip hop, the worse it will become.

Then once you have stopped, or completed the small circle, walk off again, letting the walk out slowly and softly!

Again the minute you feel him back off, pull you forward, lose the rhythm or lose the balance, REPEAT- stop or small circle.

Eventually he will realise what you want, and learn that the tension will not be allowed to continue.

If he remains tense in the halt, and wants to move off again…WAIT!

Edward Gal said that the most important thing is to have the horse WAITING for you, and if he is not waiting for you when he is STOPPED, then he will not be waiting for you in any other work, making the half-halt a useless piece of riding.

To test the quality of the walk, try to count the beats..There should be FOUR EVEN BEATS, and the horse should remain straight without your constant need to pull his shoulders into line.

Second is the quality of the transitions to and from the walk, and the better the transitions are, the more likely the walk is also good.

“If your horse goes from walk to trot without changing the head and neck position, the walk had good impulsion.”

N.Oliveira (1998, 57).

I still have a lot of trouble finding the right walk, and sometimes I will think I have it, and then my horse relaxes that little bit more, and I feel his back start to really swing with my hips, and I realise what I had before was crap!

I find I just have to think, RELAX my body, legs, hips, and back, and walk with him, and gradually he too can relax and find the rhythm.

“If you want to accompany the young horse’s walk, do it with the lumbar back and not with the hand.”

N.Oliveira (1998, 35).

Another useful exercise in the walk is the BOX, which not only helps to engage the horse and control the shoulders, but is also great preparation for the walk pirouettes.

As you move down the long side in walk, making sure you have a solid contact on the outside rein, but that the horse is straight, gently press your outside calf on the horses side, and maintaining the outside rein slowly turn the horse,s shoulders 90 degrees but continue walking.

Once you are facing the centre of the arena, walk on in a balanced and forward walk.

Then approaching the centreline, again move the horses shoulders around 90 degrees, keeping the walk even, and once you are straight on the centreline, walk forward.

Continue this creating a box, with around 7 walk strides on each side, ensuring these strides are relaxed and straight!

This will prepare for the Pirouettes by teaching the horse to move away from your outside leg while maintaining the walk, but it will also improve the quality of the walk by engaging the horses hind legs, and his MIND, at the same time!

Young rider/trainer Joao Moreira says the most important thing in the walk pirouettes is to think about bringing the shoulders around!

This worked really well for me, as everytime I thought about what the hind legs were doing I would tense up and get all tangled.

By thinking only about the shoulders I was more able to sit up tall and relaxed, and just gradually bring the front around.

To begin, you should do big circles, with not too much bend, and with as little contact as possible, while still maintaining the collection.

However collection and tension, are not related! And when you go to collect the horse,s walk you should try not to take too much contact, that may cause him to shorten the walk and become tense…

Take the rein up gradually, and ease him back into the more collected walk.

Often the walk also becomes tense because the horse is impatient, so allowing him to think about something else can improve his mentality, making him also see the walk as SOMETHING, rather than just that bit you do at the start.

Really the best thing to do at the start of each lesson, to improve the walk, is free walk on a loose rein, but 8 days out of 10, on a young horse, this may prove a challenge, or even a danger!

On these days begin with a contact, and if you feel he is still tense immediately get his attention…

Flex him to the left for eight strides, and then counter flex him for the next eight strides, do a small circle, halt, flex again,get his mind focusing on you, and not on what is going on around him.

Don’t just take up the reins and hold on , hoping he won’t leap about!

Get him TO FOCUS, and typically the minute he starts to think “what does she want?” he will begin to relax naturally, no longer distracted by his own tension.

On the days when you couldn’t begin in free walk, the aim of the entire lesson should be to make sure you can END with it!

If you can’t, then you haven’t achieved the relaxation through the work, and so you have allowed him to get away with staying tense and unsubmissive…

The next time you come out, don’t expect anything different!

If by the end of the lesson you can calmly let him out on a loose rein, and feel that he is swinging through the back, then gradually each day you should see that the time it takes to gain that feeling is a little less!

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Photos by

Coudelaria Correia de Mendonça