Like many competitive trail riders, I find the walk to be my horses’ most important gait. It is an area that Sebastian and I have found challenging. I would like 4-6 mph at the walk. Sebastian, after the initial excitement of the ride dies down, would prefer a pace more suited to sightseeing and frequent stops to sample the local flora. Maybe 1 mph. In the video below, Sue Corrie will give you some tips on influencing your horse’s walk correctly. Much of Sue’s teachings is based on the work of Mary Wanless- very good stuff. The video focuses on the way the rider’s seat connects to the horse’s hind end in order to control the tempo of the walk. It allows for a bigger walk that comes from stronger engagement from the horse’s hind end, rather than dumping the horse onto his forehand.
Before thinking about the concepts from the video, be sure your basic body alignment follows the classic shoulder-hips-heels rule: if a plumb line were dropped down from the heavens, it should pass through all those body parts. A way to check this is to imagine if the horse were whisked out from under the rider; the rider should always land on her feet. This is a good image to have in mind in order to stay balanced on ascents and descents, as well.
Sue talks about your seat bones in the video. If you are having a hard time knowing where they are pointing, you can sit on your hands to get a feel for them. Alternately hollow and round your low back to feel how those “flashlights” shine backward and forward. Find the spot where they point straight down. In this position you have the best chances of “plugging in” to your horse’s back and influencing his movement properly.
A final thing to keep in mind is that the movements that Sue describes are probably not as big as you might imagine. Big movements with your seat are very uncomfortable for your horse. Imagine moving at some speed down a trail with a big, sloppy backpack moving all over your back. Ouch. Now instead imagine a tightly packed backpack that is well secured to your back. Ahhhh. Be the tight backpack! Riders who *look* relaxed on a horse are riders with very active core muscles that hold them still in relationship to the horse. They can influence their horses easily because they are not sending a million extra signals to the horse through meaningless floppy body movements. Pay attention to the change in Sebastian when Sue uses her seat to make bigger movements and shove him forward- not a happy boy.
Initially you may need a helper on the ground so you can figure out how to coordinate your seatbone going down and back when your horse’s hind leg on the same side is in motion. In order to speed up the walk you will actually feel like you are opposing the motion of the horse to some extent as you take the lead and tell the horse to put his hind leg down at a faster pace. Instead of letting the horse’s movement carry your seatbone at the current speed, think about your seat bone being connected directly to your horse’s hind hoof. Tell that hoof to come down sooner with a faster down and back motion with your corresponding seat bone. Change the speed your seatbones are moving at but keep the movements small- no floppy backpacks! This feels opposite to what lots of us do instinctually to try to get our horses to walk bigger- exaggerate the way our hips move naturally at the walk. This exaggeration may cause your horse to take faster steps but it will also shove him onto the forehand, hollow his back and make his back end trail out behind him. Done correctly, Sue’s method will have your horse reaching farther under himself with his hind end. The increase in speed will be powerful and correct.
Good luck! Find the Big Walk!