Free walk on a long rein is a really common dressage movement. It’s often worth double marks in a test, so getting it right is a really easy way to boost your score!
What is a free walk?
A good free walk on a long rein is when your pony stretches down through his neck, so his poll is lower than his withers. He should keep marching on in an active walk and lengthen his stride slightly, rather than dawdling.
Long or loose?
There’s a big difference between free walk on a long rein and free walk on a loose rein. You won’t be asked to perform free walk on a loose rein in a test, but it’s a useful way to cool your pony down after work.
For free walk on a long rein, you should maintain a soft contact so you can feel your pony’s mouth, whereas on a loose rein, you give your reins completely, so you no longer have a contact with his mouth.
The right aids for the job
Tests normally ask you to show free walk on a long rein along a diagonal. To ride it you need to…
- have an active medium walk, first. Maintain your contact and push him on with your legs to keep the impulsion
- look around the corner across the diagonal, then straighten your pony’s body once you’re on the correct line
- gradually lengthen your reins and keep your hands soft to allow your pony to stretch down into the contact
- keep your legs wrapped around his sides to encourage him forwards and straight across the diagonal
- remain light in your seat to prevent him hollowing through his back and lifting his head up
TOP TIP – You’ll always ride a free walk after medium walk, so use this as a chance to prepare.
TOP TIP – Your pony shouldn’t snatch the reins as you lengthen the contact – this is normally a sign that he’s been too restricted by your reins before the transition.
Slowly does it
A really common mistake riders make is to completely drop the contact and throw their reins forward to ask for a free walk. Instead of encouraging your horse to stretch down, this normally makes him lift his head up to find out what’s going on around him!
If you find yourself doing this, try to remember to let the reins out a little bit at a time. It’s better not to rush the transition and encourage stretch, than to lose marks for not stretching at all.
TOP TIP – Try not to push your pony out of his natural rhythm in the free walk. You want him to go forwards with purpose, but not rush.
Take it back
Just as important as the free walk itself is the transition to medium walk afterwards. Pick up the reins gently to avoid catching him in the mouth, and push him into the contact with your legs.
Perfect your skills
Free walk on a long rein can take a while to perfect, so make sure to practise it at home. It can take time for your pony to learn to relax and stretch down into the contact, and he might try to jog or lift his head until he understands what you’re asking.
Plus, once you’ve got it mastered at home, you’re more likely to get it right when there’s lots going on in a competition environment.