Exercises to Help with the Walk

Hi guys,

I am a hunter rider but a frequent lurker on this board because I like to read and learn.
I was hoping you could please give me some exercises to help me learn to ride the walk better.

I have large but reasonably well proportioned tb, who understands forward, straight, give to pressure, etc. I find our trot and our canter can be really lovely and round, but I cannot figure out the walk.
I can get a lovely free walk, head bobbing, overtracking by a whole hoof, but as soon as I pick up contact he wants to shorten his stride.

I watched a Jane Savoie video about following through with the elbows and I practiced that, and with driving reins, and with and without stirrups AND with eyes closed (to feel the movement) and I still get the same reaction: collecting the reins = shortening the stride, only at the walk.

Leg on hard results in one or two better strides, only to either shorten again or break into a shuffle trot. My usual reaction when he shortens is to soften my hands completely and move him up again, establish a nice free walk, and try again.

After much experimentation, I believe it may be my seat, that when I collect the reins I stop moving my hips and he reacts to that.

If anyone has exercises or videos, I would very much appreciate it.

Thank you!

Think step left-right-left into your stirrups as you shorten your reins - stepping right as the right hind comes forward and left as the left hind comes forward.
That keeps your hips loose and not locked.

Does he trail ride? Does he have any buddies that he likes to ride with? I’d put him behind a friend who walks faster than he does (in the ring or on the trail), shorten your reins, and let him try to catch up to the other horse at the walk. I did that for about a year to help me stop nagging my horse and my horse learn a bigger walk than his funeral march walk.

This would work great for me if my horse cared about catching up to his buddy whom he loves. Despite his little brother love, he is also just fine with being on his own. Getting left behind is not enough motivation for him.

Coming home will motivate him.

Sorry, IMHO stepping in the right stirrup when the right hind is up will encourage the hind to go down sooner. If you step into the right stirrup when the right hind is down you will increase the horse’s contact with the ground and increase his push. This is more what you want, but you do NOT want to do it all of the time. That would deaden him to this aid.

Poles :slight_smile:

Fun exercise; put poles on fig-8/diagonal… free walk 1/2 loop, pick up reins and walk over poles… rinse repeat. Don’t forget to send them forward. I usually find that the ones with proclivities to get short are usually lacking in impulsion.

I set my poles a little bit wider for the ones who like to condense too much.

That’s all too complicated for me - I use the leg in time with the belly swing,
alternately. She will never trot with that.

OP Your thoughts on the use of your seat are correct. Your horse will, unless you are very abrupt with the rein, pay more attention to your relaxed following seat in conjunction with your alternating legs.

Good article:


Guys this is awesome, thank you so much! I have tonnes to experiment with and try out!
And yes, I have access to trails (woohoo!) and he definitely is more forward towards home - I will begin using that to my advantage, I honestly never though of that.
The poles idea sounds perfect too - I have access to a lot of poles in the H/J world!

I have always used the alternating legs too but I find he will walk forward with that cue and no rein contact, but still shortens (even maintaining the leg aid) when I establish very light contact. Perhaps the trails/poles with the alternating leg aid will help establish the cue better.

Merrygoround, do you have any exercises or ideas for loosening through the hips and seat at the walk? I feel like I clench my cheeks when I try to egg him forward and it works against me. So far, the most effective thing I’ve tried is no stirrups/eyes closed to really feel the movement. But that’s not particularly practical in a large schooling barn, hehe.

Badger, thank you for the morning read! I just finished it and not only did it help to know I’m not the only one that has this issue (she describes it SO WELL), but I’m excited to go try it out!

We are going to have to agree to disagree on this. Just as in leg yield, you increase inside leg pressure as inside hind is in the air to increase scope of the stride. Horse cant answer when leg is grounded.

When you say your horse is slowing down, what do you mean?

And what is your goal for the walk on contact? I think you are saying that you want him to do his nice free forward walk, not a collected walk yet?

If he slows as soon as you pick up contact, part of the puzzle is in teaching him about contact, teaching him to stretch to the bit, hold it in his mouth, and not just think that it is a signal to stop.

You can do this through various exercises in hand, and things in the saddle like flexions.

My guess is that if you get this response at the walk, his contact at the trot and canter is not fully developed, but is just there because his momentum carries him through.

So educating the mouth is a bit part of the puzzle.

dot, I was taught that the aid to move sideways is given when the leg is off the ground, with the spur. The aid to move forward/push is given with the rider’s weight when the leg is ON the ground. Two different aids, two different desired results. Horse CAN push with the leg on the ground, CANNOT push when the leg is off the ground because it is off the ground and has nothing to push against.

Interesting. It is the bending of the joint that increases push - try standing on one leg with knee locked. No matter how hard you ‘push’ off, your ability to jump higher wont improve much. To jump higher, you need to bend your knee.
Increasing your leg while your horse has his leg on the ground wont make him bend his joint more, but increasing your pressure while the leg is in the air can make him reach bigger. THEN, a slight restriction in the rein increases bend in joints (think engagement and collection)
And no to the spur increasing the sideways reach. Yes to the calf.
Another way to Rome, I suppose.

I find that my horses walk increases when I alternate leg squeezes. Squeeze on right as right hind is about to leave the group squeeze on left as left hing is about to leave the ground. Is this the right idea? I don’t do this to often but if she is poking along it seems to help.

Here’s another description of the same technique, excerpted from Training Tree for Riders (Alpine Publications):

"As the horse’s rib cage swings from side to side, the rider’s legs push alternately encouraging that rhythmic swing. As the ribs swing to the right, the rider’s left leg squeezes, and as the rigs swing to the left, the rider’s right leg squeezes. It’s so gentle that I often describe it as “breathing in and out with the horse’s sides,” although it can become stronger with a horse who is having difficulty maintaining a desirable tempo.
“This benefits the rider in many ways. It assists the horse in maintaining a consistent tempo, stride length, and energy level in the walk all of which make for an easier ride…”

It starts with following the horse’s rhythm (which may necessitate closing your eyes at first, but pretty soon you’ll feel it with eyes open) but then it quickly becomes the rider setting the rhythm and the horse following. Long slow squeezes for a long slow walk, short quick squeezes for a short, quick walk, etc.