The Walk: An often over looked gait

So I was eating pie after work, yes pie. Delicious concord grape pie with ice cream I might add, Trying to center,  relax and calm myself. Work was a long day. I spent the majority of the day at the vets with my soon to be retired working dog (nothing serious I promise just a dental) and she had decided she’d rather sleep all day in the warm blankets then wake up and go back into the vehicle to go home.

The rest of the day I spent trying really hard not to let my tongue do the talking around my boss…I mean some days I do great and other days it’s all I can do to save myself a lot of grief for no real improvement one way or another. I was frustrated and frazzled when I got home.

That wonderful rich, handsome, loving, wanna be husband can show up ANY TIME so I can stop working to support my addicting horsey habits….ok back to the pie.

While I was eating my delicious and somewhat nutritious homemade pie, my mom messaged me a link about Walking: The queen of gaits from Dressage Today and as I was reading I was struck by a massive unavoidable thought…..I have been neglecting the walk. REALLY neglecting it and a lot of the issues I have, especially with Cash, could EASILY be avoided if I worked more at the walk.

Now why would I avoid the walk you might ask. Well first and foremost I apparently believe it is boring. If I’m walking it’s usually on the trail and having fun enjoying the sights but in the arena… ummmmmm well it never crossed my mind. I always walk for warm up and then immediately go into the trot. Many times I will work on walk-trot transitions or such but I never stay in the walk.

I also thought my horses would see it as boring. They are highly intelligent and I thought that maybe walking would get their pesky little mischievous brains working on not so happy ideals.

Oh how wrong I am! I jumped on Cash eager to test a theory. Was I just assuming I had good basics or were they actually there AND was Cash listening to them or just guessing at what I wanted and hoping it was right?

So I ask for walk (I’m bareback but with his bitless bridle on) and he starts down his normal path and I use my legs and seat for a turn to the left. He thinks about it a second and keeps going the direction HE wants to go. Not surprising he wants to go where he ‘knows’ he will get a treat and so I gave a tiny half halt on the left rein and I gave him the leg aids again. This time he turned his head and shoulders but decided he’d still rather go in the straight line towards his stall.(shoulder-in anyone?)  So I give a bump with my outside leg near his shoulder (I prefer Buck Brannaman’s way of turning instead of classical dressage style), I shift my weight slightly to the inside suddenly he turns and goes where I want. Hummmmm…..OK…. Was it me or was it him or a combination of both. What did I do differently the third time I didn’t do the first two?

To figure this out,  the rest of the lesson was us walking big figure 8’s around my “jumping” area.  Cash  kept trying to go over my experimental jump (post on that later) because he had gotten a treat for it earlier and just knew if he went over it he’d get another one. But over all as I began to ask again and again switching directions it became as if I could think what I wanted and he would start to turn.

What I found kind of eye-opening about working exclusively on the walk and truly focusing on it was how well I could time my aids. I could give the turning aid with my legs and then realized that my weight was being thrown to the outside and I could easily shift it and that would be the little push he needed to go the correct way. In fact most of the time I was asking for turns I was forgetting to give the seat aid and only giving the leg aid! The seat aid was the key to him turning and not just bending or completely ignoring it. It was in the subtitles like that we seemed to refine and I believe we started creating muscle memory. It wasn’t long before he truly understood exactly what was asking of him and if I was asking it correctly that he got the impression the first time instead of the second or third.

By working at the walk I was able to detect where I, as the rider, was going wrong and clarify exactly what I wanted. He’s a boy. His intuition is not the best (sorry to all the men reading this). How could I expect him to understand my aids in the trot or even in the canter when I wasn’t even giving them correctly in the walk?!

I think part of my mistakes with giving aids has been laziness and not really working on the refinement of the aids at all times. I have been more focused on my horse and not myself when it’s myself that has been causing some of the confusion. Could Cash have understood what I wanted without the refinement? Yes. Was he being a bit stubborn about it? Yes. But Cash is and probably always will be my teacher in many ways.  And for our walking session he was teaching me that I need to get my crap together in order for him to do it properly or he’d just blow me off.

I feel several more walking lessons in our future before we graduate back to trot and maybe even canter. If I can get him going 100% at the walk and I can get myself asking correctly the first time then I think our experiences in the faster gates are greatly going to improve! Now I gotta test it on Jack muh hahahahaha.

So if you have issues with the aids, your horses just are not listening or you’re getting an opposite reaction maybe try going back to the walk and seeing if it’s you who is giving the wrong aids or not enough of parts of the aids (like the seat). You can do almost every exercise at the walk! You and your horse will greatly improve in many aspects I do say so. I know we did here 😀

Until next time

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