During our training sessions we focus most of the time on the trot and canter work, and usually only walk when we give the horse a break or if we have to practice the walk pirouettes a couple of times, for example. But is that enough?
From lower levels up the the Grand Prix most of the walk tour of dressage tests has coefficient 2. That means the score you get for it counts double. So that’s a good reason to really pay attention to the walk during your training sessions. The score doesn’t depend only on the quality of the walk itself, but the way the rider performs it.
The 3 Walks
Before we actually start working on the walk, we must know which kind of walk we are doing. The most important ones walks are the collected, medium and extended. The three of them have something in common; there must be regularity of the steps, suppleness of the back and activity. But there must also be a clear difference between them.
– Extended walk: We should work on the overtrack, stretching to the bit, letting the horse have a long and low frame, and freedom of the shoulders. This doesn’t mean letting your reins loose! You should always keep the contact with the bit.
– Collected walk: Think of the shortening and heightening of the steps, self-carriage and search for a collected frame by shortening your reins and make the whole horse a bit more compact, also from behind. It’s important that he finds his own balance and that we don’t force him into a too closed and tight position.
– Medium walk: I would say it’s in between the extended and the collected walk. There should be a moderate lengthening of the steps and frame, and freedom of the shoulder.
When you work on the walk at home or at competitions, you should always think about the following things to perform a really good walk tour:
1. Contact: Always keep the contact with the bit, it doesn’t matter if you’re actually working on the walk, just warming up or giving the horse a break; even with long reins you can still work on a correct contact and frame.
2. Straightness: A good contact and good control of your legs creating some activity from behind will help you get your horse straight.
3. Activity and rhythm: These are important! Without good activity and rhythm you will never score high. The more active your horse is, the more ground cover and more engagement of the hind legs. The tempo and the tact of the walk must be clear, 4 beat. The rider is the one who must create the activity.
4. Relaxation and suppleness of the back: It’s important that the whole body of the horse remains supple and relaxed. When there’s tension in the horse, we can’t perform a good walk, and of course we would notice it directly on its topline and body. The tension blocks the flow of the movement, the ground cover and it can provoke lateral walk especially in the collection.
5. Regularity: It has a lot to do with the relaxation and tension. A tense horse is more likely to show uneven steps. But unevenness may also appear if the horse is not fit. Therefore regularity is probably one of the most important aspects of the walk. With no regularity, we can never achieve a good mark, and if unevenness is very clear, we can even be disqualified.
6. Transitions: The marks you get for each exercise not only depend on the correctness of the exercise itself. Think very much on the transitions TO and FROM the gait or from one walk to the other. The transitions affect directly the mark of your exercise, positively and negatively.
Everything is connected. If some of these things are missing or we fail to ride them properly, it would most likely affect the rest of the exercise and therefore, the mark. At a show, performing a good or a bad walk tour can really make a difference on the final score. So don’t just walk, ride every step of the walk!
Till the next post!