Are you already thinking about skipping this post, because what’s there to explain about the walk? It’s the slow gait, the one you choose before you know how to jog and lope. The gait you choose when you’re tired of going faster or just want to enjoy the scenery, right? Well, that’s all true, but there’s so much more to it. Do you know how to tell a good walk from a bad walk? Do you appreciate and actively ride it like the other gaits, or is it just a means to an end?
The walk is a 4 beat gait with no suspension, meaning there are always feet on the ground. The picture above shows the actual footfalls. As with all gaits there are individual and breed differences, but a good walk should be rhythmic and flowing, with the horse using his hips in almost a rolling motion. Think of a model strutting her stuff! Watch your horse walk in pasture when he comes up to eat. Do you see Marilyn Monroe? Now watch him under saddle? Is Marilyn still there? Like all the other gaits, the walk is influenced by the rider and if it is shortened consistently the quality can suffer. Always make sure you lengthen periodically, when working in a shortened frame for an extended period of time, in any gait! See my prior post on the free jog for training tips on lengthening the gaits.
If you look at the picture above you can see that the walk footfalls are not alternating left-right-left-right, but that the left hind is followed by the left front and the right hind is followed by the right front. One of the common deteriorations of the walk is that the walk becomes lateral. When pronounced, this is quite easy to recognize as both legs on one side of the horse move almost in unison. This time think Camel! Some horses have a genetic tendency for a lateral walk, but this is also something that can be caused by the rider! Because of the way the natural footfalls are set-up, you can see why this is an easily acquired problem. Once developed it can be very hard to fix, so don’t treat the walk like an ugly step child. Be aware how you ride it and appreciate the beauty of a good quality walk.
So now that we have talked about the good, the bad and the ugly, let’s address the actual riding part. The easiest way to destroy a good walk is to restrict your horse too tightly with the reins. Again observe your horse walking in the pasture. This time don’t look at his hind-end, instead look at this head and neck. You will notice that they move with every step. Now imagine a rider on the horse’s back that is holding the reins too tight, keeping the head and neck from moving. This will in effect cause the hind legs not to be able to step under and will stifle the swinging, rhythmic flow that you are looking for. An easy thing to check as you are riding, just look down and if the head isn’t moving, give your horse some slack! Maybe not as obvious as the tightly held reins, but a restrictive seat can have a similar effect on the horse. A rider with a tense, unforgiving seat will cause the horse’s back to tighten and again will result in the loss of forward flow of the hind legs. This is true for all gaits, but I hope I have raised your awareness of the walk and your appreciation of the beauty of a good one. If you just imaged Marilyn again, my work here is done!