Michael Eilberg explains the different types of walk in Dressage tests
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WALK THIS WAY…
Courtesy of retailer Shadow Horse, international dressage rider Michael Eilberg explains the differences in walk movements found in dressage tests as you move up the levels and how to ride them correctly…
Firstly you need to understand what makes a good walk. It should be a clear even four beat rhythm, however if your horse is tense, this can affect his walk and make it uneven or hurried, so you need to ensure that you do not try and ‘create’ a walk pattern, rather you need to work on improving the paces your horse already has.
If your horse lacks energy in the walk, then you can create more power by working on his walk out hacking, especially up and down hills, where he or she will probably be more forward thinking. Think about riding the hindquarters up into the contact and the horse stretching over his back and into a soft steady contact. This type of walk would be classed as a ‘Medium’ walk in the dressage arena and the judge would be looking for the horse to over track and really cover the ground, marching purposely forward. If your horse is still lazy, then a sharp kick with the leg to wake him up is better than constant nudging. When he reacts be careful to give with the hand, so you don’t jab him in the mouth and be quick to reward his response.
One of the biggest mistakes riders make with the ‘Free’ walk is to throw the reins away completely and the horse then does an emu impression! A correct free walk should be where the horse takes the longer rein contact that the rider is offering and lowers and stretches (Not snatches) down into the contact. Gently ‘feed’ the reins through your fingers and think about sitting up and riding the hind legs forward. You should practice this movement at home, so that when you pick up the reins at the required marker in the test, the horse doesn’t fight your contact or become tense over his back and fussy in his mouth. Riding a good free walk takes practice, so don’t neglect it! Another mistake riders make is grinding into their seat to encourage the horse forward, this will make the horse hollow and uncomfortable so think about using a light seat aid and opening up your hips to allow the horse to move forward.
Some horses also jog when you put your leg on in the walk, so a good exercise to practice at home is to ride 10 metre circles at either end and also in the middle of the diagonal line. This gives the horse something else to focus on and should nip this habit in the bud in preparation for your test riding.
In the more advanced tests you will be asked to ride ‘Extended’ walk, which is not quicker in rhythm but possesses more power and covers more ground. The rider should allow the horse to stretch the head and neck, whilst keeping a soft contact. Again make sure that your horse stays soft and off your leg during this movement without tension creeping in.
‘Collected’ walk is seen at Medium level and above and the reason for this is that the horse needs to be able to show a higher level of cadence, and engagement within this movement. The collected walk shows higher steps, with the horse in a light self-carriage.
Finally, make sure you allow your horse’s walk to develop natural. Trying to create bigger steps on a naturally short striding horse will ruin the rhythm and quality of paces, so take your time.
If your horse really doesn’t possess a great walk, then don’t despair, not all horses were born with super paces, but do the best you can and make sure you ride your test correctly and accurately and show off his better pace to gain higher marks overall.