Introduction to Spanish walk
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, November 21, 2011 07:43 PM
Winter came! The footing in my arena quickly deteriorated and I am riding in hay fields. Santo is excited and it takes him a while to settle down and start working in a field. As long as snow is not too deep and it is not frigid cold we can have quite productive sessions in the fields. However, this blog is about how to start teaching your horse the Spanish walk. My goal for this winter is to teach it to Santo. In 4 months I expect him to do several decent steps in hand. And I will share with you the progress and problems I will encounter. Plus I will tell you exactly what I am doing so you can try to teach the Spanish walk to your horse. There is no age limit for this exercise and Spanish walk is not just for Spanish horses. Any horse of any breed can learn it. Yes, Andalusians usually have more expressive Spanish walks. However, it more depends on conformation and natural freedom of the shoulders. I taught it to 14-year-old Appendix Quarter horse and he showed surprising talent for it.
If you are a serious dressage rider you may ask a question - Why it is a good idea to teach my horse something that is considered a circus trick?
Spanish walk is a wonderful stretching, strengthening and coordination exercise. All horses paw the ground on their own accord. However, they usually do it with favorite leg and they do not move forward at the same time. In Spanish walk the horse must keep its balance toward the haunches in order to free shoulders so it can lift and stretch front legs equally, and develop coordination to walk forward in regular and steady tempo. This is not an easy task. When your horse knows Spanish walk it becomes a tool to teach your horse more expressive passage and extensions.
Before you start teaching your horse the Spanish walk it is a good idea to do shoulder stretching exercise for couple weeks. However, you want to approach this exercise in a certain way. If you already stretch your horses legs forward after tightening the girth continue doing so only add a touch with the whip before picking up the leg. Very lightly tap with the whip on the back of the front leg either above or below the knee, move the whip up and down to find the spot where your horse reacts to it by lifting the leg slightly off the ground. Pick up the leg with your hands and stretch forward while verbally praising your horse. Do the same with the other leg. If you didn't stretch your horse's legs before mounting start stretching either before or after tightening the girth. At first just pick up the leg yourself, after couple days introduce the touch with the whip. Stretch your horse's legs before and after work while you are still in arena. Always touch with the whip first. If your horse does not pick up his leg after several taps with the whip, pick it up yourself. In a few sessions he will start to anticipate and lift them himself.
This preparatory exercise introduces your horse to the idea of lifting front legs from the touch of the whip. You are not demanding an actual lift, just easing off the weight and small bent in the knee is sufficient. Plus by stretching legs you will improve shoulder mobility. You will learn about your horse's asymmetries, one shoulder is always heavier than the other. Ask to lift the leg of a heavy side couple more times. It will teach your horse to trust his other leg with the load and build muscle memory.
In couple weeks I will introduce the next step to Santo's Spanish walk education and then I will write another blog about it. Meanwhile, start working on stretching exercises.
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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