Horse-Riding: Improving the Walk

Two major dressage principles contribute to the improvement of the walk. The horse develops in his totality. While a broken-down piece of machinery may be repaired by fixing the malfunctioning part, a horse can never be improved by attempting to work on the faulty part alone. Therefore, appropriate gymnastic work at the trot and canter contributes remarkably to the development of the walk.

It is never the quantity but rather the quality of aids that improves the gait. Therefore, a sluggish walk will not be improved by vigorous kicking. Aids too strong for comfort or too rapid for the rhythm of the footfalls will fail to create improvement. The most effective aids are comfortably gentle, exquisitely coordinated with the horse’s movements, and given when the hind legs leave the ground. No gait requires more “feel” than the walk!

The rider can improve the walk through correct aiding and also by logical gymnasticizing. The rider’s legs should be adhesive but should not tightly pinch the horse’s sides. To an observer, they should appear as if they were painted there with heels down to increase the strength of the calves by stretching without stiffening. Invisible pressures with these legs are always in rhythm and harmony with the horse’s movement, coordinated with seat activities, and have proper strength without inhibiting measures. A deep knee position and well-elevated toes maintain quiet legs. With draped legs, the rider should insist on keeping his horse’s spine parallel with the path of progression (while working on single track exercises). Often the walk fails to develop properly because the horse evades the rider’s leg aids for straightening. Only well-attached legs can ensure that the horse does not step off the line of progression with one of his hind legs and that he progresses with equally long strides with both hind legs.

The rider should always be aware of the activities of the horse’s hind legs, otherwise he cannot influence and control their activities. Only steadily adhesive legs can increase the feel of the seat in knowing where the horse’s hind legs are and what they are doing. When the left hind leg is striding under the rider’s weight, the rider’s left leg is pushed out on the expanded left side of the horse’s rib cage, while his right leg sinks in on the other, hollowed side of the rib cage. Simultaneously, on the horse’s stretched side, the rider’s seat bone is elevated, while on the contracted side, his seat bone sinks. Riders should train themselves to feel the horse’s strides by closing their eyes periodically and calling out “right” and “left” to indicate the side on which the horse’s hind leg is leaving the ground to stride under the center of gravity.

Both the direction and impulsive activity of the horse’s hind legs can be influenced only when they are leaving the ground. A rider can redirect the left hind leg of the horse back to the straight or send it forward in a longer stride only when the left hind leg is leaving the ground. Should the rider fail to detect the instant of elevation or should his legs be too distant from the horse’s side to give pressure at the required instant, the window of opportunity for improvement will be lost. Dangling legs, loosely banging, or kicking legs are meaningless annoyances that may disrupt the horse’s rhythm. Even worse, they cannot synchronize with the horse’s activities in his hindquarters and they can never be on time for aiding.

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