As the footing deteriorates with winter’s mud and snow, you’ll be spending more of your riding time at the walk. You’ll be tempted to use that down time to school walk movements, but you should keep such schooling to a minimum. Prolonged schooling on contact at the walk often causes the quality of the walk stride to quickly deteriorate.
In the meantime, you can improve the reach and swing in your horse’s walk stride by coordinating your leg aids with his hind legs, even riding on a long rein. You should use a single leg aid timed to when the hind leg on the same side starts to swing forward. However, most riders can’t tell which hind leg is reaching under at the walk by feel.
The solution is to glance down at the outside shoulder. As the outside shoulder slides back, the inside hind leg swings forward. Here’s the timing to use:
• Pick one shoulder to watch, the outside shoulder if you’re on a curved line, or either shoulder if on a straight line. Each time that shoulder swings back, say to yourself “now, now, now.”
• Start nudging with your opposite leg at the same time you say “now.” You should feel more energy and swing through your horse’s back.
• Practice using just one shoulder and one opposite leg aid. When you have the timing down, add the other leg aid alternately. You’ll nudge with your left leg as the right shoulder comes back and your right leg as the left shoulder comes back.
If your horse has a tendency to do a lateral (two-beat) walk, the diagonal leg aid will also help restore a four-beat rhythm when leg-yielding on a curved line. If your horse hasn’t been trained to leg-yield, start teaching him this exercise on a circle in brief sessions, praising the horse for any tendency he shows to step slightly sideways and forward at the same time.
Often, a lateral walk is caused when the rider pumps her hips to make the walk more energetic or else doesn’t follow with the hips at all. The movement of the rider’s hip won’t create more energy. The hips follow the energy and swing of the stride, they create it.
Another problem is when the rider’s hands don’t follow the motion of the horse’s head. The horse’s nose goes forward and back as he walks. When the rider picks up the contact, the hands should go forward and back the same amount that the nose moves. The rider should keep a steady and equal feel on both corners of the mouth any time he has a direct contact with the mouth.