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Whether it was the dawdling pony, ignoring our short, five-year-old legs ricocheting off his sides, or the experienced schoolmaster who knew enough to make us earn a forward ride, we have all struggled to put a horse in front of our leg at one point or another. A common mistake when your walk leaves much to be desired, it would seem, is to actually spend time working on the walk. The short of the long is: Don’t do that.

Christoph Hess, FEI “I” judge in both dressage and eventing, gives us these alternatives to developing a good walk in his book BETTER RIDING WITH CHRISTOPH HESS:

 

A good walk is developed by the rider through correct riding in the basic gaits of trot and canter. This sounds paradoxical at first, but practice shows that a good walk cannot be achieved by always “working” the horse in this gait exclusively. Rather, a good walk is developed by having the horse securely on the rider’s aids, allowing himself to be ridden “through” while stretching and in balance at the basic gaits of trot and canter.

TrainingaGoodWalk-horseandriderbooks

Photo by Peter Prohn

At the walk, the rider can check how rideable her horse really is. She can determine if the horse is supple and relaxed, responding to the driving aids—without the horse being lazy and lethargic—and “seeking” the bit, meaning he is stretching toward the rider’s hand. The rider must always be able to ride forward, and also sideways, at any time. The better and, above all, more responsively the horse accepts the rider’s driving aids, the better the results on the walk will be.

 

HowtoGetaGoodWalkpin-horseandriderbooksRide It Correctly

In dressage tests, the walk scores are given a coefficient of two, which means the walk counts twice. For one, the crucial rhythm, fluidity, and ground cover are scored. For another, the judges pay attention to ensure the rider actually rides the walk and does not just go along as a “passive passenger.” This active riding of the walk is an important criterion for assessing whether or not the rider is on the correct path to training her horse. To accomplish this, the rider applies her driving leg aids at the moment the hind leg on the same side is striking off. This is a process during which the horse ideally “picks up” the driving aid himself. The prerequisite for this is a supple hip joint. At the same time, the rider should follow the nodding of the horse’s head and neck with her hands and have the feeling that the horse is framed between her aids. As this takes place, the horse will stretch forward and downward, opening the angle at his throatlatch, and through this, the line from forehead to nose should come just slightly ahead of the vertical. This is the prerequisite for the horse to establish an even rhythm and achieve ground-covering strides.

Though this sounds easy when put into words, it is really not easy to achieve in practice. In the course of her education, every rider must discover for herself the right feel for riding the walk. On the one hand, she needs to allow the horse to walk on without driving him excessively; on the other hand, she cannot become really passive, which can lead to a considerably worse walk.

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An even walk with a clearly recognizable “V.” This is a visual aid for a clear four-beat rhythm. Under no circumstances should the foreleg and hind leg on the same side come close to moving concurrently. This would indicate a pacing walk. Illustration by Cornelia Koller

 

Trot-Canter Transitions

Doing transitions from trot to canter and canter back to trot is one of the most valuable exercises for effectively improving a horse’s “throughness,” willing cooperation, obedience, and responsiveness to his rider—all necessary for a good walk. I recommend you incorporate these transitions very deliberately into the content of every daily training session. Practice these on a big circle, making sure your horse stays on your driving aids, even as he “shifts up a gear” from trot into canter and then “shifts down a gear” from canter back to trot. On the “downshift,” it is especially important that you maintain the impulsion from the canter as you return to trot, without the trot becoming rushed. You should visualize yourself “cantering into the trot” as you begin to trot. This is only possible when you are supple through your hip joint, following the movement of the new gait, allowing it to carry you along. In order to further optimize your horse’s “throughness,” you should just slightly lengthen the canter strides just before the downward transition to trot, then after the successful transition, just slightly lengthen the first trot strides. As this takes place, the horse must maintain a forward tendency. Under no circumstance, should the transition be from an extended canter into an extended trot (which has a tendency to be a “passage-like” gait). As the actual transition takes place, you must always have the feeling that you could offer a release, typically by moving one or both hands forward along the horse’s neck, or allow the horse to “chew” the reins from your hand.

If you ride the transition from a backward orientation, meaning from short canter strides and/or into short trot strides that lack impulsion, you will not be able to ride a rhythmic, fluid, and efficient walk. At the moment of the transition, take more feel of the horse’s side with your inside calf, which will make the transition so much easier; with a well-trained horse, you will then be able to complete the transition without application of rein aids. You’ll feel, respectively, as if you’re only “listening in closely” to the horse’s mouth with your hands (through your reins). In this way, you will avoid applying inside rein. Doing so blocks the horse’s strikeoff from the inside hind, which leads to a failed transition. The canter-to-trot transition, in particular, has a pivotal significance to harmonious and, thereby, sensitive riding in all three basic gaits.

One more useful tip: a few canter strides before your transition to trot, think leg-yield; if you’re more advanced then think shoulder-fore or shoulder-in. The same applies to the transition from trot to walk.

Ride Better with Christoph Hess REV-horseandriderbooksFor more riding and training tips from Christoph Hess, check out RIDE BETTER WITH CHRISTOPH HESS, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

 

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Dr. Beth Glosten is the author of THE RIDING DOCTOR.

Dr. Beth Glosten is the author of THE RIDING DOCTOR.

Dr. Beth Glosten no longer practices medicine but has turned her attention and precise knowledge of anatomy to riding (she’s a USDF bronze, silver, and gold medalist) and teaching riders, both in the saddle and on the ground (she’s also a licensed Pilates instructor).

In her fabulous new book THE RIDING DOCTOR: A PRESCRIPTION FOR HEALTHY, BALANCED, BEAUTIFUL RIDING, NOW AND FOR YEARS TO COME, Dr. Glosten provides a remarkably clear look at what our bodies “do” on horseback. Here’s how she boils down the attainability of “feel” (it IS attainable!), beginning with what she describes as “what moves and what shouldn’t move much” when you are riding at each gait.

 

You CAN Develop “Feel”

Consideration of how the horse moves opens the door to riding in harmony. Without considering the character of the horse’s gaits, you have no basis from which to improve the horse’s way of going. The horse’s character of movement is his raw material for you to work with. You must understand how you interact with this material before expecting it to change.

The ability to move in harmonious communication with your horse is the same as riding with “feel.” Some say feel is a skill you either have or you don’t: If you are lucky to be a rider with feel, you are admired. If, however, you are told you lack this skill, it seems you are doomed to a riding career of struggles. I strongly disagree with this sentiment. While some riders do seem to have a knack for moving naturally with their horse, I wholeheartedly believe you can develop feel in your riding if your position and balance are solid as guided by the Rider Fundamentals.

A rider with feel predicts and interacts with the horse’s movements and behaviors as if she can read the horse’s mind and body. A rider with feel always appears with the horse despite challenges or evasions from the horse. This rider seems to always know just the right amount and timing of encouraging or correcting rein or leg aids, and seems to be sitting inside the horse, rather than on top. The resulting picture, to the uneducated eye, looks as if the rider is doing nothing (but we know otherwise!).

 

Dr. Glosten on her mare "DG" at sitting trot: She keeps spine stability with her "abdominal seat belt" while allowing her legs to swing at the hip joint with DG's back.

Dr. Glosten on her mare “DG” at sitting trot: She keeps spine stability with her “abdominal seat belt” while her hip joints allow her legs to swing with the side-to-side movement of DG’s barrel.

 

Young riders have a particular knack for feel. With relatively little guidance, a skilled young rider develops the ability to move with the horse and influence him in a positive way. This is not surprising, as learning new movement skills comes naturally at a young age. As we get older, it becomes harder and harder for the brain and body to learn new tasks and make logical choices for balance and coordination. It is not that we can’t learn something new; it just takes longer and requires a greater commitment. If you are an older rider and think you lack feel, don’t give up. I strongly believe it can be learned and developed.

Learning and understanding your horse’s rhythm and movement at each gait, and how you, the rider, should move with them, puts you and your horse on the same page, and the door is open to ride with feel.

 

Walk: What Moves and What Shouldn’t Move Much

• Your shoulder and elbow joints move to stay with your horse’s head and neck.

• Your legs alternately swing slightly in and out at the hip joint, staying with your horse’s rib cage as it rocks side to side with each step.

• Your pelvis and spine move somewhat forward and back (but this is often exaggerated). The amount of movement of your pelvis when you ride a walking horse is similar to the amount of movement of your pelvis when you walk.

 

Posting Trot: What Moves and What Shouldn’t Move Much

• Your hands stay in a stable position.                                                           

• Your legs stay stable underneath your body.                             

• Your torso is in stable alignment, slightly inclined forward, while it moves up and forward over the pommel of the saddle, and then back down. 

 

Sitting Trot: What Moves and What Shouldn’t Move Much

• Your hands stay in a stable position.

• Your legs stay stable underneath your body.

• Your torso is in stable alignment.

• Your hip joints allow the side-to-side swing of your legs with your horse’s barrel.

• Your ankle joints move to absorb the up-and-down motion.

 

Canter: What Moves and What Shouldn’t Move Much

• Your arms follow the motion of your horse’s head and neck.

• Your legs are stable.

• Your hip joints allow the rolling back-to-front motion of your horse’s body, especially your inside hip joint.

• Your torso stays in correct alignment, without excess rocking forward and back. The more collected the canter, the less your torso rocks; it adopts a more up-and-down motion with your horse.

 

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

CLICK IMAGE TO ORDER

 

Learn more from Dr. Beth Glosten, plus get over 50 step-by-step exercises geared toward developing the riding skills we need to be balanced, effective, healthy riders, now and for years to come in THE RIDING DOCTOR, available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE

 

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