The walk is the first impression for the judges when entering the show ring, yet quite often riders forget to practice the walk when riding on a day to day basis. Because it’s so important, the walk should be practiced before and after faster work or a schooling session, not only for warming up and cooling down, but to perfect the gait itself.
Practice makes perfect. If you can perfect the walk at home, it should follow at a competition as it becomes habit for the horse. The best time to practice the walk is out hacking. I like the horses to naturally step out and stretch for the contact without the pressures of the manege. When the horse relaxes through the neck and shoulders and stretches through the back, it's good to give them an encouraging and rewarding pat.
Exercises in the school with poles can also help the horse and encourage him to take bigger strides and reach.
To develop and improve the walking technique, firstly, ride a circle of about 20m, but slowly reduce the size of the circle down to 8-10m. You will manage this from the strength in your outside leg, encouraging the quarters to follow the shoulders, together with an inside rein to guide the front of the horse round.
Next, encourage the horse back out into larger 20m circles again. To do this successfully, use your inside rein across the withers with an open outside rein, keeping your inside leg on the horse to push the quarters out. A useful tip at this point is to make sure you can see the horse’s inside eye. This shows he is not falling out through the shoulder and encourages the horse to push through from the inside hind leg.
Once you are comfortable at this level, practise going around the outside track, riding each corner as an individual circle. As you exit each corner, give with your hand slightly. This will create impulsion behind, encouraging the horse to push through from the shoulder and take a bigger walk step. In turn, this will open up the stride and improve your horse’s strength in the walk.
As the horse gains more confidence, the poles can gradually be spaced out a little wider. The rider should always have the leg on, pushing the horse into the gait. Quite often, as the walk is the slowest pace, people ride it negatively, which can cause the horse to be behind the bridle. For the purposes of showing, what we really want is the horse to move forwards into the contact, using the hind quarters and showing long, sweeping strides in front.
Often horses and riders can be tense on entering the ring. You often see riders fiddling with the reins, restricting the walk and sometimes just trying too hard. It's best to leave the horse alone and let them onto a slightly longer, looser rein and let them poke their nose. You want the walk to be purposeful, active and free of tension. The tail should be swinging and relaxed and the horse ideally should overtrack equally behind.
I often find the best walk is achieved when the rider can relax and allow the horse to move out naturally without restrictions. A looser rein and a positive leg aid will allow the horse to achieve a true free walk. If your horse feels tense, drop the hand a little and give them a reassuring pat.
If horses aren't sufficiently warmed up, or have been stood around, they will typically show short strides. Mostly, horses will benefit from a trot and a canter just before going in the ring to warm up the muscles and help relax the horse. I often find opening a horse up before a class can really help the horse take a bigger stride.
If you think about creating those all-important first and last impressions, the walk is the judge’s first impression as you enter the ring, and the final impression as you exit the ring, so will play an important part in the judges’ overall decisions. But if you’ve done your homework, you and are our horse will both feel confident as you stride in and out of the show ring with your best foot forward!
All the horses at Team Reynolds are fed on Fibre-Beet to help maintain good condition throughout while training and during the busy showing season. A Super Fibre conditioning feed, Fibre-Beet is a formulated blend containing all the benefits of the original Speedi-Beet product, with added high quality Alfalfa for optimum condition and to provide quality protein for muscle tone and function.
Alfalfa can help with topline and that extra finishing touch for competition horses, or simply in maintaining weight and a healthy, shiny coat.
Unlike some cereal-based feeds, Fibre-Beet offers an excellent source of highly digestible fibre in a soaked form and provides slow release energy without the ‘fizz’.
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