Walking is one of the first things you do when you learn to ride, so it’s easy to overlook it. A good walk gives you a foundation for the rest of your paces, so as well as boosting dressage scores, it’ll help with everything else you do, too.
Walk is a four-beat gait, with each leg moving individually. The order your pony’s legs move in is left hindleg, left foreleg, right hindleg, right foreleg. In a balanced walk, he should track up, which means his hind hooves should fall into the hoofprints made by his front hooves. A rushed or lazy walk will feel unbalanced, but there are plenty of things you can work on to help improve these problems.
TOP TIP – Try not to nag a lazy pony with your legs – lots of kicks will encourage him to switch off and ignore your aids. Instead, think about squeezing your legs alternately – you want to apply pressure with your leg as his hindleg moves forward on the corresponding side.
Did you know? Impulsion is your pony’s energy, not his speed. Produce impulsion with your legs and use your hands to stop it being lost out the front. When your pony has impulsion, he should feel a bit like a bouncy ball.
Troubleshooting: lazy walk
A lazy walk is one that doesn’t have enough impulsion. If your pony has a lazy walk, he won’t be tracking up and it can feel a bit like he’s dragging his feet along rather than striding out.
To improve your pony’s walk and encourage him to become more active, you should…
- think about your position and aids Stretch your legs down and around his sides to support him and push him on, while keeping your reins soft to encourage him to stretch forwards
- ride plenty of transitions These keep your pony focused and responsive to your aids, as well as helping him balance and push through his hindquarters. Ride walk–halt–walk as well as walk–trot–walk transitions
Troubleshooting: rushed walk
A pony who rushes in walk feels tense and stiff, which makes it difficult to bend him and keep him supple. It’s common to want to use more rein contact when your pony rushes to try to slow him down, but this often has the opposite effect. Pulling on your reins makes him more tense, which encourages him to pull back and carry on rushing.
The aim with ponies who rush is to try to encourage them to relax. Here are some things you can work on to achieve this…
- relax your body You might find you’ve stiffened up, too, without realising it. Give your shoulders a shake to release any tension and soften your arms and contact
- ride circles This helps keep your pony focused and gives him somewhere to direct his energy. A good exercise to practise is riding a 10m circle at every other letter along the arena. As well as encouraging him to soften and bend, it’ll help him stay balanced and in a rhythm rather than rushing off
TOP TIP – Remember to ride equally on each rein when you’re schooling to make sure your pony doesn’t favour one rein over the other and become wonky in his walk.