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Training a better walk--was Re: RC: walk trot time

>Personally, I think that the walk is the most neglected gait on most 
>endurance horses.  We try to select naturally good walkers, but we also work 
>and work on it in their early training.  (You can put on a lot of LSD miles 
>at a walk with a young horse and teach them to MARCH.) 

What Heidi says here is VERY important.  A good walker is hard to find and
the walk is the hardest gait to improve.  We do a LOT of walk training with
our horses here.  One of the things we do is a lot of work on compressing
and extending the walk without changing the walk tempo...10 steps of normal
walk, 10 steps of an "energized" walk (same tempo -- relax your hands and
arms, make your following seat more emphatic, and follow the sway of their
belly with a firm, long leg when the barrel swings to the opposite side),
and then 10 steps of a compressed walk (slow down your movements, tighten
you torso a bit, shorten their strides...but, again, don't change your
one-two-three-four even tempo.)  Repeat ad nauseam. ;-)

Another thing to help your walk is to train the horse to warm up on a long,
loose rein in a very relaxed frame...gently bump them up to an energized
walk (if they're being a slug)...but try to allow them maximum freedom of
movement and INSIST they remain at a walk -- and it may take a while to be
able to do this on the buckle at a walk when they're full of energy.  (If
you do it that way ALL of the time, pretty soon they think that that's the
only way the *can* start out a warm-up ;-))  They should ALWAYS, when
they're initially being trained and conditioned, (even during the warm-up
and cool-down) look and feel as if they are pulling a cart or marching!  If
they learn to walk like that all of the time that they're being ridden,
even the slug with the worst walk will improve tremendously.  It may also
involve learning to use a dressage whip (or emphatic leg) correctly to get
them to respond to one brief bilateral leg cue by energizing rather than
continuing in poor walk (wherein the rider starts nagging, the horse
ignores, the rider gets frustrated) or picking up the trot because it's
easier.  (That's that Whisper, Insist, Demand stuff again. ;-))  Once the
horse is warmed up, get off and put them thru some slow, precise, horsey
yoga stretches...then do it again.

Another way to improve their walk (and *this*, we've found, improves it the
best) is to play the leap frog game out on the trail.  One rider halts
their horse and makes him stand while the others walk off and out of sight
(if possible.  In Washington, that's not much of a problem with all of the
trees and winding trails.)  After the horse is done piaffe-ing <g> and
you've gotten the message thru that "they're going NO WHERE" until they
stand quietly...and THEN (this is where the horse will probably think
you're being incredibly cruel and inhumane <g>) they can ONLY go forward
(to catch up with their buddies) at A WALK!!!  If they *trot*, they have to
go back to STANDING!!!  This is the most important part.  They must do the
"stop and *stand STILL*" part all over again...and then they get to try the
walk again.  If they trot...go back to stand.  Expect a bit of protest, but
be firm.  Pretty quickly they figure out that walking beats the heck out of
standing so they learn to S-T-R-E-T-C-H those legs out and get as far as
they can and as quickly as they can without trotting.  We practice this
every time we go out and our worst walkers now have very decent, ground
covering walks.  

This also works well for an over-energized, slightly brain-dead,
I-haven't-been-out-in-weeks horse.  <g>  If they're being a knot-head and
WON'T walk (and insist on jigging, which I detest!), you go thru the stop
and stand and then WALK scenario.  Do this until they get the message that
they are going no where until they decide to walk -- and then they're
*much* more enjoyable to ride.  After my 6 weeks injury sabbatical, Blaze's
first outing was about half piaffe -- he went from no "Toad" episodes the
last time out to one, giant CONTINUOUS Toad moment for about 3 hours!  He
wanted to go-go-GO (he had been thru 2-3 arena lessons per week during the
weeks I was not going out, but being out in the woods was pretty energizing
-- and brain-killing, apparently ;-))...and I wanted to come home alive and
sound!  I knew I wouldn't have the strength for a lot of very active, fast
speeds along with all of the ups and downs of the foothills, and that we
needed to do mostly marching walk and easy trot.  Don't know that the
piaffe-ing hissies are a whole lot easier, but he got the message.  The
next time out, he was a marching fool!! ;-)

Tyee Farm
Marysville, Wa.

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