Walk this way
By Jenny Richardson BHSAI
There may be times throughout your riding life when you are restricted to a quieter pace. Weather conditions may restrict normal activities; or perhaps you are returning to work after a lay-off of horse or rider, pregnancy or any other restrictive prospect? Don’t underestimate the amount of work that can be achieved at walk, and the muscle tone, confidence and obedience that can result from stretching ligaments slowly and gently.
It is much harder than you’d think to walk a perfect straight line – horses notoriously drift one way or the other, and will prefer one side, which you will quickly learn. It can be harder in walk than any other pace, as there is likely to be a lack of rhythm when moving more slowly. Practise your initial straight walk along the centre or three-quarter line of your arena, removing the ‘safety net’ of the perimeter fence. Poles may be placed lengthways on the side your horse may tend to drift, as a guide, and to help your judgement. As skill improves, these can be removed. Vary your practise by performing serpentines across the width of the arena, paying special attention to the straight lines between the curves, and correct bends on the turns.
Lateral work is excellent for flexibility and control, and practise in walk is the best grounding for when you wish to perform these movements in trot. For Shoulder-in, the aim is to keep the horse’s quarters on the outside track and for his shoulders to be slightly inwards. You will need a lot of inside bend and inside leg to encourage him to curl around your leg. Allow a little with your outside rein to cater for the stretch of his neck; his back legs will continue straight, and his front legs should slightly cross. Leg-yielding is a similar exercise where you start on the three-quarter line and sideways step either towards the outside or the inside of the arena. Going leftm you would apply right leg pressure, encouraging the horse to move sideways and forwards, but not at a faster pace. Open out your left rein to give a clear sign of your requirement. The opposite of Shoulder-in is Quarters-in, and here you want the shoulders on the track and the horse’s back-end on an inside line. Going left, you would put your right leg further back, pushing your horse’s quarters towards the inside. Keep him relatively straight in front with the tiniest inside rein flexion.
Utilise ground poles – if you space them 9-12 feet apart, they can be walked over (three strides between each pole), but can also be used afterwards for trotting (two strides) or cantering (one stride) over. The poles will help him lift and flex his shoulders; an ideal exercise to improve technique for any discipline. A raised pole or poles for him to step over takes this to the next stage; 20-30 cm heights are all you need, using the feet of wings, low bricks, rubber potties or plastic supports that are now made specifically for this purpose.
The above ideas, together with quiet walking hacks, will keep your horse well schooled, supple and ready for when you are able to resume trot and canter work.
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