Ah, the walk...such an overlooked gait. Simple and yet the level of difficulty in achieving and maintaining a good walk for an entire movement can often seem ridiculously hard. I, like many grew up knowing that one should warm up in walk for at least a good ten minutes and then make sure to cool down in walk for the same amount of time. But, as time goes on and life and work gets in the way sometimes it seems that we don't have time to actually spend on the walk. There is an urgency in our lives and a pressure to perform at the trot and canter in every ride. The hard part can be to ignore that outside influence, the pressure to be working harder. So much can be done at the walk and it is not easy.
Let us first think about the rider's biomechanics in the walk. Our ischial tuberosities (seat bones) are wide because we are in the seated position as is the sacrum. As the horse walks, the hind legs step forward alternately and as they do so, the ribcage swings to the opposite side making a bit more space for that hind leg to come under the body. Our own ischial tuberosities follow this natural movement sliding forwards and slightly downwards on one side and then the other. If you struggle to feel this, watch the horses' shoulders. As the left shoulder steps forwards, your left ischial tuberosity will glide forwards. As the right shoulder swings forwards your right ischial tuberosity will glide forwards. This is a functional movement pattern and whilst you are moving as such you are completely "with" your horse not against them. This is a really nice exercise to begin a session off with, bringing awareness of your seat, the movement and the relaxation and swing through the back of the horse.
Once you are able to easily do this exercise it can be fun to play with collecting the walk by sitting up a little taller and slowing that glide in your seat. Ask for a few strides and then increase the glide of your ischial tuberosities to move forward into a medium walk once again. The same can be achieved for a free walk or extended walk. In conjunction with a light leg aid, glide those ischial tuberosities into a bigger arc. If you struggle with a horse that jogs or anticipates during the walk tour, focus on your ischial tuberosities. You can influence the horse and keep tension at bay this way. I have had several horses in training that were difficult in the walk. We worked entirely on the rider's awareness of the pelvis, the ischial tuberosities in particular and the functional movement patterns. In every case we have improved the walk from a score of 4 in tests to a 7 or 8. It can be done!
This is your basic walk work that should be done on every ride in order for it to become part of the familiar. To add more to your walk work include transitions and lateral work. All lateral work (leg yield, shoulders-in/out, travers, renvers, half pass and pirouette's) should initially be done at the walk. This gives you and your horse the time to understand and organise your aids. I'll include more on our biomechanics in lateral work in another post, but for now thank you! Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read these posts. My aim is to help educate and share my knowledge so I thank you for listening.