Spanish Walk. Part I.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, January 12, 2012 08:46 PM
After I have done preliminary stretching work with Santo for about two weeks it was time to introduce the next step. I stopped touching his legs with the whip for stretching. However, I continued to stretch front legs before riding. The next step in Santo's education is striking with the front leg from the tap/touch of the whip. Here is what to do:
  • Position your horse on the left rein along an arena wall or a fence line. Position yourself in front and to the side of his left shoulder. Caution:Be very aware how your horse's shoulders aligned in relation to where you are standing. When he strikes with his leg the leg comes forward in front of his nose and if you are standing there he can accidentally strike you. You must never put yourself and your horse in such situation. The striking with front leg is a natural offensive reaction in horses, hitting a human with front leg is a very dangerous behavior that must be punished immediately and strongly. If you cannot position your horse straight along the wall and he keeps turning his shoulders toward you put him in side reins.
  • Your left hand holds the reins very close to your horse's chin. You use your left hand to position his head straight and somewhat elevated. Your left arm will be almost straight so you are not standing close to your horse's head. See above point. As with any rein action you want your horse to be light in contact and listen to half-halts. You may find it necessary not just to elevate your horse's head but also to push his weight more onto outside shoulder. This will help to lighten the near shoulder for more dramatic striking. Your right hand holds the ends of the reins and a whip.
  • Now that your horse is straight and standing quietly start tapping on his left leg in a similar way you did for stretching. Only this time do not be satisfied with just small lifting of the leg or easing of the weight. Keep tapping until your horse makes a small strike or paw with his leg. Many horses strike quite quickly because they feel annoyed.. It is OK to annoy your horse a bit in the beginning until he gets it.
  • After he struck or pawed pet him generously and ask him for couple steps forward. Halt again and ask for a strike. Be patient and keep tapping different parts of his legs until he strikes again. Pet him and walk forward. Keep him straight in halts and during walk steps.
  • Repeat it only a few times and quit for the first session. Horses need time to become OK with the exercise and understand it. You will see when it happens. Until then do not work for long. You can give him a treat at the end or for an especially good effort. Just be careful with treats. Do not give them all the time for every little thing.
Work only on the left leg for a few sessions. When you start to see that your horse is grasping the idea and striking with his leg almost with anticipation change direction, position him along the wall on the right rein and ask his right leg to strike. As soon as he does pet him and walk forward. Do not be tempted to repeat striking over and over again without walking forward. These couple steps forward are important introduction of forward movement. After all you want Spanish walk and not simply pawing at halt. If a horse keeps standing in one spot he gets stretched out because the front leg lands a bit forward after each strike and if not asked to move forward the horse forgets to rebalance himself and leaves hind legs behind. The only time you repeat striking if your horse after doing this exercise for a while strikes very low and without effort. Repeat striking immediately asking for more action. Pay attention that your horse stays straight during walking and halts.
This type of work will take a while. The goal for a horse to strike from just one touch, strike high with enthusiasm, move off into walk, halt promptly and strike again. It takes time for them to learn to balance themselves, be attentive and start to anticipate the next move. Do not correct your horse if he starts striking with his outside leg on his own. Simply ignore it and keep asking the inside leg to strike. Later you will start asking both legs to strike, one at a time, and you do not want to confuse your horse with unnecessary corrections.
After you have done this work for a while and your horse became more consistent start touching him higher closer to his shoulders or/and chest. It is important to get away from low parts of his legs because from the saddle you will tap on the shoulders and not legs. If he understands the new location of the touch you can ask him to strike with either leg on both reins. Do not do it all the time though. Keep coming back to striking with inside leg only and asking for a high strong action.
I have been doing this work with Santo for about a month now. I feel that he is ready for the next step. I will start working on it and later will write a blog on how to do it and on our progress. Remember 5-10 minutes of this work is plenty for your horse. The slower you start the faster you will progress without many drawbacks. Watch how your horse learns, adjust your teaching accordingly. Do not work on it every single time you ride your horse. Trust me, drilling this exercises will not create a Spanish walk in shorter time it only makes your horse sour to such work.
Happy riding...
Comment by Nithaiah on Sunday, June 8, 2014 10:27 AM
"If he understands the new location of the touch you can ask him to strike with either leg on both reins." I do not get this part exacly. Can you please explain it?
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, June 9, 2014 05:45 PM
It means that you can touch your horse either on the near or far shoulder and expect him to strike with that particular leg. So it is not related to direction of travel.
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