Methodology: The Walk

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Talk the talk only if you can walk the walk…  

Often times, riders rather ignore the walk.  There are many reasons… perhaps it is cold (oh, yeah… I prefer galloping around at those moments!!)  or perhaps the rider is in a hurry to get the exercise finished or perhaps the rider has been “read the riot act” about not messing around at the walk because is causes the horse to jig or pace… Whatever the reason, it is a huge training mistake.

Unfortunately, the horse is too frequently allowed to just wallow about at the walk as if some rudderless vesicle on the ocean (remember Tom Hanks –and WILSON- on the raft in the movie Cast Away…  Didn’t work so well for Wilson, did it??)   Or… equally as bad, the horse’s stiff little “I haven’t been ridden/supple for 23 hours” body is allowed to carry the rider for a grand total of 50 walk steps before having to start trucking right along at marathon pace…  There isn’t a Personal Trainer alive who would have any clients if this were considered a warm-up!

So… what to do?

First of all, the walk is a foundation of your warm up!  When first mounted, unless the horse is so fresh it is determined to catapult you into cyberspace, the rider should plan to walk long enough to encourage the horse to stretch its neck forward, to relax its back somewhat (swinging walk like Marilyn Monroe… not like Bette Midler in high heels – who is hysterical by the way,)  and hopefully to snort a little and breathe more deeply.  The walk shouldn’t saunter but should have a determination as if the horse is happily coming into the barn for its supper.  Usually, the rider needs to encourage this enthusiasm by keeping things as interesting as possible (the trail perhaps… walking over poles… adding a turn on the forehand here and there… a tap with the whip… a pat… etc… )  The walk warm up should consist of loose, long walks interspersed with a little lateral work, some transitions walk/halt/walk (and perhaps rein back for the more trained horse,) some turns or circles, and some work on shortening and lengthening the frame at walk.  This work is low key… just by being in the walk… but should not be sloppy or inadequately planned out.  Just remember what the walk warm up is supposed to do for your horse.  When the horse is stretched, moving forward (steerable!),  and relaxed then it is ready for work.  

The second huge benefit at the walk is that it is a slower, less intimidating gait for the horse and rider to practice movements in.  While there is no impulsion (period of suspension) at the walk, it is still the best gait to test whether the riders aids are correct enough for the horse to understand them.  It is much easier for the rider to feel the horses haunches swing out in the shoulder-in at the walk than when one is bouncing along (and I mean that most respectfully) at the trot.  Walk affords the horse and rider more thinking (detail) time. 

The walk should also be used as “praise” time or rest time during your training sessions to allow the horse to catch its breath after an aerobic effort.  That way, the horse is conditioned properly by keeping it more fresh between work sessions.  If instead, the horse is not allowed to rest frequently, it becomes sour and/or over stressed and subject to an over use injury.  Again, the walk must remain active during this time as the rider is still training the horse if the rider is still mounted…

An easy way to think of things is that the walk is for relaxation and attention to detail, the trot is for tempo and symmetry, and the canter is for impulsion and engagement.  Work on suppleness in ALL three gaits makes for a pretty well rounded (mentally and physically) horse…

So, don’t just stand there - walk that walk!

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