When I started to write this article, it was completely different than how it ended up. I was going to talk about the how and why of the walk, but then it occurred to me that the real issue most of my students have is actually understanding the biomechanics of the walk and how our bodies have to follow the needed movement of the walk (and the canter for that matter) before we have any business trying to influence the walk.
Everything starts with rhythm and the walk is no exception!Ruth Hogan Poulsen
After doing a bit of digging through the usual hoofprint diagrams to demonstrate the walk pattern – which doesn’t really show the extension and compression of the body and head and neck – I found a great animator’s view of the walk, trot, and canter. I’m sharing the entire YouTube video here, but today I am only going to talk about the walk.
What’s interesting is that the artist probably doesn’t know horses actually, but by having studied videos of actual horses walking, and then having to make realistic animation of a horse’s gait, he had to study not just the footfall but the entire body. What’s going up, down, forward, or backward, as well as the actual footfall pattern of the legs and feet.
When you watch your horse or the animated horse, it becomes very clear that the head and neck must go up and down and forward and back to actually propel the next front leg to go forward.
This is why our seat and hands must be completely independent as well as following the needed “undulation” of the head and neck. Once we stop following with seat or arms, most horses try to adapt to that and alter their gait. This is when the pacing and jigging or lateral pattern begins. It’s a trained thing. By accident.
The walk is the easiest gait to ruin because there is no impulsion. Impulsion has thrust. You can only refer to impulsion in the trot and canter, because they have air time. It’s the releasing of the energy stored by engagement.
For example: think of doing a squat – when you bend down at your hips and knees, then you can jump up.
There are always more than two feet on the ground. A lateral or a “pacy” walk is very hard to correct.
The moral of the story? You MUST be sure that even when you’re giving an aid, half halt, bending or rounding aid, your seat and arms continue to follow the natural and necessary movement of the horse’s back and neck to maintain the quality and rhythm of the walk.
Everything starts with rhythm and the walk is no exception!