Work at walk
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 09:12 PM
Many dressage riders do not value enough work at the walk. The most walk riding I see either diagonal on a loose or long rein, or practicing turns on the haunches or pirouettes. I have already wrote a blog about walk warm-up. Click here to read it. However, I want to revisit the walk subject in a broader spectrum. I want to point out a lot of benefits for working your horse at walk.
One of the reasons many dressage riders shy from working at walk, especially, with young or green horses because there is a lot of talk about ruining the horse's walk if collecting too soon. First of all to work at walk you do not need to collect it. The reins can be some what long with soft contact focusing more on suppling, straightness and fluidity of the movement then collection. European masters of Romanic origin (French, Portuguese, Spain) value walk enormously and can spend the whole session working their horse only at walk. One great example was Nuno Oliveira. I have a student with arthritic horse and our lessons are mostly walk. This student is discovering shoulder-ins, travers, proper balance, bend her own asymmetries and ability to put it all together.
Walk is slow and does not have a suspension phase. That makes it very stable and easy to ride for the rider and very calm and low intensity work for the horse. All new exercises must be shown to the horse in walk to give him time to separate and understand aids, to be able to keep his balance with ease and eliminate excitement of faster gaits. Young, green or incorrectly trained horses will benefit enormously from quiet and thorough work at walk. It teaches them discipline and focus without physical fatigue. Schooled horses can be warmed up and suppled doing exercises at walk. Horses recovering from an injury can be safely worked at walk. Older horses usually require longer warm up, you can derive great benefits working them at walk. If the footing is not perfect you can have an interesting ride working only at walk if you know what to do. You can give yourself and your horse many valuable lessons working only at walk:
  • Teach yourself to stay quiet and do not create "noise" with your seat or your legs. You will be able to "hear" your horse much better if you stop too much swinging or pushing, or banging, or pulling. Try to find the solution by "listening" to your horse and not by cranking his neck or kicking his ribs. You may be surprised at your discoveries.
  • Teach yourself to recognize when your horse is tense, short strided, pacing, irregular and have dancing like steps. Stay focused and in the moment to catch undesirable developments. Remember walk is a four-beat gait, fluid and supple, forward enough to give impression of purpose without rushing and steady enough to feel grounded without dragging.
  • Teach him to respond to your leg better. If he is lazy to pick up trot or canter, he is lazy to make a bigger step in walk. Work on yourself to stay quiet and listen and only ask when needed and always with very light aids in the first attempt.
  • Teach him to bend and soften his jaw on a circle line. Ride lots of different size circles, figure-8s, serpentines, spirals, etc. Stay really focused and make sure you follow the line, your horse walking forward with good rhythm and regularity, attentive, there is a "conversation" going between you two. With more advanced horse: turns on the forehands/haunches, leg-yields, shoulder-ins, travers, renvers, half-passes on different lines, incorporate circles in between. You can create an unlimited number of combinations addressing your horse's issues and crookedness.
  • Teach him to halt properly and then start walking calmly. Halt at different locations around the ring - on the wall, on quarterlines, centerline, during serpentine every time you cross the centerline, or not every time to keep him focused.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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