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So - I said I was an advocate for walking...here is why!

Walk is said to be the hardest gait to get ‘right’ and often in our dressage tests we will be surprised to see that we have been marked down in the walk. That is because walk is hard work and it is not given the time it requires. It is a four time gait with no moment of suspension and consists of eight different movements (1) Firstly, let’s look at the qualities of a ‘good’ walk;


· A regular and even 4 time beat

· The hind hooves are placed in the tracks of the front hooves

· The legs should lift and not drag

· The pace should be purposeful and have impulsion

· The head should be free to move





We all know that feeling all too well of a sluggish, disconnected and very slow walk. A good warm up and some exercises to get the muscles and brain engaged can go a long way. Firstly, simply walking on a long rein allows the horse to stretch through their back, over their top line and take in their surroundings. Walking also recruits the multifidous muscles – a number of small muscles that stabilise the spine, highly important and often not talked about!


Due to the lack of a collar bone, the horse’s front legs are connected to their body by a group of very strong and very efficient muscles – the thoracic sling. This needs to be well developed and strong in order for your horse to develop good posture and move themselves forward whilst carrying a rider. The thoracic sling is an incredible design, which I will go on to talk in detail about another time.


Walking has many benefits, including;

· Lower ground reaction force

· A large number of muscles are used without being put under much stress

· The muscles contract and relax regularly

· Improving stride length and range of movement

· Walk requires muscular control and strength

· Mental benefits

· Releasing tension and stretching through the topline


All these benefits mean that even though you are ‘just walking’ you are actually giving your horse a great work out physically and it also allows you to ride and practise exercises for a bit longer without exhorting the horse too much. Those of us who live in hot countries will be familiar with the times when it is just too hot to do much more than a walk!

I mention mental benefits, and this applies to all horses but in particular young horses or those learning something new. Processing time is vital and allows them to take in their environment. As mentioned previously, you and your horse need to be relaxed in order to get an active and engaged walk, and if your horse is on edge or being rushed this will not happen.


So, we have talked about the why’s but now we need to look at the how’s – below are some exercises which will help you work on and achieve a better walk.



Walk down the centre line and the three quarter line in the arena

This is a basic exercise, but again harder than it seems. If you and your horse cannot walk down the centre line or three quarter line in the arena in a straight line then it needs addressing. Straightness is an important basic for you and your horse for balance, engagement and soundness.


Turn on the forehand

This can be done either static or moving. My favourite time for a turn on the forehand for training is using it on the corners of my square ( I try to avoid circles). An active walk on the sides, followed by a half halt and collection to prepare for a turn on the forehand. It is advisable to establish this static first before attempting when moving.


Leg yield

This can be done either on a straight line or on a circle. Spiralling in and out of the circle


5 meter loop

This is a great exercise for some flexion and gentle bending. Down the longside, come off the track at one of the quarter markers, ride towards the inside track 5 meters and once you reach it, curve back and join the track just before the quarter marker.


Pole work

There are a variety of different layouts you can use for pole work. As always when warming up start with the poles on the ground and move on to raised poles.


Hacking

This is probably one of my favourites. Taking your horse out over different terrains, up hills and down hills is the best thing you can do for them, providing they have a basic level of fitness and musculature! Mentally, it is brilliant and you will often find your school sour horse gains a new lease of life when taken out. If you find your self hacking more than you are in the area, that’s great – you can practise most exercises whilst out hacking. This will also instil manners and


The list can go on, and there are plenty of ways to improve your horse’s walk, whilst helping them strengthen their posture and core muscles. If you need more ideas or help in performing the exercises, then get in touch!








Sources:

1. 2002 Pillner, S. Elmhurst, S. Davies, Z (2002) The Horse in Motion, Walking, ch 8 pg 82.

2. https://www.horsejournals.com/riding-training/english/dressage/walking-workouts-your-horse

3. https://howtodressage.com/dressage-movements/how-to-ride-a-5-meter-loop/

4. Higgins, G. (2015) Posture and Performance. Principles of training horses from the Anatomical perspective

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