Baucher radically changed the art of classical dressage in the 1800s with his new techniques promoting lightness. Baucher was driven to change his own method after a terrible accident had left him with very limited use of his legs.
He recognised that the walk was a very good pace for training obedient reactions to the aids, and developing the suppleness, strength and balance required for the higher movements. At walk the horse is calm – even an unstable rider can sit with more stability – so it is easier to explain to a horse what is required of him.
We should not underestimate the importance of the walk and should learn to ride it well. Sometimes people will avoid training the walk because they’re afraid to make the quality of the walk worse. I would like to help you learn how to ride the walk well. When I was a kid doing picnic racing, we had two races with walk. The “Walk, Trot and Gallop” required a furlong at each pace. A big extended walk gave you a head start. If the horse jogged, you were penalised with a circle. In the “Bang and Go Back”, you walked as slowly as possible, so you were closer to the start when the starting pistol went off the second time, and you spun around and galloped back to the start. These races really helped you develop feel in the walk, but I think they have gone by the wayside.
In dressage tests, the walk marks are doubled, and then counted again in the mark for paces. The EA rules describe the walk as “a marching pace in a regular four-time beat (left hind, left fore, right hind, right fore) with equal intervals between each beat. This regularity, combined with full relaxation, must be maintained throughout all walk movements.”
A CLEAR ‘V’ SHAPE
Generally, the horse will have three feet on the ground and be moving one leg at a time. Correct rhythm is always paramount. A horse walking with the correct rhythm when observed from the side will show a clear ‘V’ shape as the hind leg steps up towards where the front leg is about to push off. Sometimes a horse will lose the rhythm in such a way as the front and hind leg on the same side almost move together, almost on the same beat (a ‘lateral walk’). The walk starts to look bit like an amble or a pacing stride. The clear ‘V’ shape is lost, and the quality of the walk is lost. This may happen because of tension, or rushing, the tempo getting too fast, or can happen when a horse with a naturally very big walk is having difficulty developing a collected walk. It can also be a problem when the horse is anticipating the passage or piaffe. More about what to do about this later.
So the walk is not just something we allow the horse to do just to take a break. In fact, Rozzie Ryan says the horse should never be allowed to think that the walk is just a rest. The horse should still be working, walking purposefully, having the right connection with the bit even in a free walk. Of course, we use the walk as a break and to allow the horse to cool off after a period of more intense work. It is important to walk to cool down tendons and allow lactic acid to drain away to prevent injuries – but the horse is still working.