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Work the walk: Three tips to boost your dressage scores – Sponsored by MD Barnmaster
Walking is a judged gait in every dressage test, starting from Beginner Novice all the way up to the four-star level. As you move up the levels, the walk work becomes more challenging. From Beginner Novice to the Preliminary level you will only have to execute a free walk and a medium walk. However, once you reach the one-star level you will be required to show an extended walk. By the two-star level, you need to be able to execute a turn on the haunches (pirouette) at the walk. The walk counts for a minimum of two movements in every dressage test. I know that I am guilty of neglecting to practice my horses’ walk work and I am sure that I am not alone.
When you work on your dressage schooling it is easy to fall into the routine of warming your horse up by walking around on a loose rein, then working it in the trot and canter, followed by cooling out by walking again on a loose rein. Neglecting to school your horse’s walk at home means you are throwing away precious dressage marks. Working your horse’s walk is not tricky; you just need to spend the time and effort to incorporate it into your training. Here are some tips and exercises for you to add to your training arsenal to improve your walk scores in the dressage ring:
1) Quality control – Every moment you are in the saddle, you are training your horse and should be working your horse correctly. Warming up or cooling down is not an excuse to let your horse walk as though it is heading to its mother’s funeral. Ask your horse march like a soldier when walking because in the ring the dressage judge will be scoring the quality of your horse’s walk. A poor quality walk will also drag down your mark in the “Gaits” portion of the collective marks. Do not slack off as a rider by letting your horse meander about like a drunken sailor. Every walk step your horse takes should be the best quality it can produce. Learn to feel a quality walk and RIDE every single step.
2) Transitions within the walk – A significant portion of the walk mark comes from the transition from the medium walk to the free or extended walk and vice versa. Practice walking across the diagonal in a nice swinging free/extended walk, then tidily gather your reins and slightly shorten your horse’s frame as you transition into a medium walk. Then lengthen your horse’s frame and go back into a free/extended walk. You can never do too many transitions!
3) Add variety to counteract anticipation – Practicing the walk pattern that you need to ride in your dressage test is important, but you do not want your horse to think it knows the test better than you. If you always practice transitioning from a free/extended walk to a medium walk and then transition into a trot or canter, your horse will start to anticipate an upward transition when you gather your reins. Throw in some halts after you gather your reins to counteract your horse’s anticipation of an upward transition. It will be significantly easier to keep your horse moving forward as you gather your reins, rather than try to keep it from jigging off into the trot. Keep plenty of variety in the patterns and transitions you ride to keep anticipation at bay.
Make 2018 the year of the walk. By honing this boring gait, your dressage marks will certainly improve.