It seems that folks are asking for a review of some basics on this forum, so now's my chance: what is the best way to encourage a forward, straight walk, esp on a youngster that throws his shoulders around? Any advice on "feel" in particular would be helpful, or things that a rider might do to cause crookedness inadvertently.
My last trainer was always about NOT overly working the walk in a young horse.
My new trainer is all about doing some stretching (always connection) and gentle half halts while stretched to do tempo changes, and then shortening the reins inch by inch all the while doing tempo changes up and down until the horse is really walking up into the bridle and then back to longer reins again slowly letting the horse go down.
SO its like have my reins at medium length with just normal walk a little bending (hair of leg yeild), horse follows the rein down. Then I ask half halt in the long stretch until the horse goes slower and slower until I get that lazy feeling, and then leg on asking for steps bigger and bigger, and then when I ask for slower again and get a good nice response to half halt I slowly take up the reins asking for more forward and more connection with the outside. Again half halt = good response take up the reins, and after a couple of steps more forward with my leg, and then half halt ... well you get it.
As SOON as the horse marches a step or two in the shorter frame I soften with the inside and let them go down again and start all over.
This is just for babies mind you. Once they actually understand connection I do this at a much quicker rate like a test of how they come back into the shorter rein.
This takes a long time and I only do it here and there, if I get tension I go onto trot or something else.
I edit to add that I posted this as a response because most of the straightness IMO at the walk in a youngster is them not being through one or either rein so
The walk is the easiest gait to ruin and the most difficult to *master*. It is a four beat gait where the head movement/oscillation goes 1) up, 2) to one side, 3) down, and 4) to the other side. That is very hard to follow with your hands unless you have developed you seat first.
It also is a gait that some define technically as having no true impulsion (I don't exactly agree with that, but for all intents and purposes, it is more or less true). Tha makes it extremely easy for the horse to fall behind the bit and then behind your leg .
Best practiced on the trail to keep as much forward movement as possible.
Should not truly be *worked* unitl the rider has developed an Independent Seat. So, work on having your hips following the horse's hips first. Then gently begin to ask the horse to work up into a following hand.
what is the best way to encourage a forward, straight walk, esp on a youngster that throws his shoulders around? Any advice on "feel" in particular would be helpful, or things that a rider might do to cause crookedness inadvertently.
So feel first: there are a couple of ways to do this-
a) walk beside the horse and put your hands on his back where your seatbones would go - feel the movement of the back exactly where your seat would be.
b)while on the horse - sit on one or both of your hands - feel the seatbone on your hand AND the movement of the horse's back underneath you. - here's also the question:"does the seatbone feel glued to your hand and moves only as much as the horse's back, or is it sliding over your hand?"
Simply put, your seatbones need to be making the same movement as what the horse's back does! It is the best way to guide the horse - you "plug in"/glue yourself to the saddle - then any slight change in the movement of your seatbones will be noticed by the horse (- ex: halt: you stop one seatbone (the one ahead), then "march up" the other to get an instant/square halt.) Just a note on this: if you try to get a change and it doesn't happen - do not continue to try for it (ex: stopped seatbones - horse still walking on) - either regroup and try again, or re-enforce with your other aids - you really don't want to spend time riding "unplugged" - with the saddle moving underneath still seatbones, or seatbones forcefully being shoved around on a saddle that doesn't move that much!
For encouraging/allowing a more forward gait - it is not a shove, rather an allowing feeling in your seat - you don't want to be so loose you start sliding over the saddle, yet you need to have enough freedom in your pelvis to not-block a bigger gait.
Feel is a learned skill - -practice feeling where the individual limbs of the horse are and where his barrel is, even how his back moves - feel - then look to check whether or not you've got it...
Same with feeling straightness - my favorite is to halt (as long as it's instant and doesn't "wobble" the horse) - and look exactly how the horse is positioned - is he on the line of my circle? on the angle I started on in lateral work? etc...
Horses are wider in their hips then shoulders - keep that in mind for "straightness" if you ride close to a wall.
Just being really aware of his back/sides and your underneath/thighs will change your riding dramatically.
You can also think of your thighs as guiding the horse - "framing" his sides and channeling the direction of travel. Also important is to have a clear intention of where you are going - not just the next step or two... like on the centre line, the feeling like you are being pulled towards A (or C) and can only go in a perfectly straight line to get there...
Yes, there are many, many ways rider may cause crookedness in a horse.
Start by getting rid of the hands - loose rein - is he straighter?
other (very basic) questions - is your midline (where your zipper on your shirt would be) over the horse's midline (his spine)- look, don't go by feel, most of us like to lean one way or the other...
Are your stirrup leathers even (take off of the saddle and check) and do you have equal weight on both stirrups?
How even do your seatbones feel?
And where do you sit in the saddle - again, look - are you closer to one side or the other? are your seatbones equal distance from the middle of the saddle (horse's spine)?
yeah, there are lots of ways to screw up our horses
ok, the forward part - is he too slow because he is lazy? sore? tired? bored out of his mind? not understanding you? too much interference in the mouth?
Love the trail for therapy
So give it some thought - make sure your horse understands you and you are not boring him to death by walking around in circles (maybe he thinks you are lost ).
About sending him forward: you have a choice about how you aid him, you can treat him as a pedal bike or a car - you need to keep pedaling (pushing the gas pedal) in order to keep him going - aid with every step or so - OR you can decide to ask him for a pace/tempo and then just harmonize with him until a change is required - my preferred way .
This latter way takes discipline ON THE PART OF THE RIDER! You cannot use your aids unless you mean it, and when the horse is doing what you asked, you cannot nag!
Hard change for the rider, but it transforms the relationship dramatically.
My suggestion for you would be to practice awareness - without judgment please - just feel, happy to gain the knowledge. Feel your body, feel the horse's body.
Sometimes we work a little too hard to keep our horses straight (or collected or balanced or whatever). Try leaving him alone - think self-carriage - use your body to momentarily disturb his balance(like a leg aid for more forward) - he will change - you harmonize and enjoy!
Have fun with this
One of the most helpful tips I've ever read was in Centered Riding regarding riding the walk. Sally Swift suggested riding the walk as if you were pedaling a bicycle backwards. Start flat footed on the ground and pretend you're pedaling a bike, then pretend pedaling backwards. Get a feel for that motion then do it in the saddle.
Pedaling backwards is one of the greatest tricks for me ever... not only does it unlock my lower back which I tend to brace and hollow (so I can achieve "lady above and whore below"), but it instantly puts my seat in time with the horse's hinds without even thinking of it. Anytime I loose the timing and placement of the feet I can pick it up from dropping back to walk and pedaling backwards.
The really big gift for me was the realization on how profoundly a riders seat can block a horse's forward movement, and the importance, for me, of creating places for the feet to go rather than trying to shove them there. Really really was an eye opener for down transitions for me too, releasing the horse so his legs can be arranged for the down gait so the transition can be soft and still forward thinking, rather than trying to grind him down with my seat bones.
Combining pedaling backwards with one arm held stretched above, pinky to the heavens, was the killer combo for me to open my hips, relax my thighs and really feel connected and loose.
Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.
buck22, that's exactly what I was going to post. The pedaling backwards really does help... it's a very subtle motion, and it's really the horse making it happen if you can get subtle enough.
I'd also encourage another Centered Riding concept, "soft eyes" at the walk. Don't focus on your horse's ears or some other set point; open your field of vision as much as possible (while still staying aimed where you want to go!) "Hard eyes" means tension; my horse will slow down or even stop during the walk if I am not soft in the eyes.
I also have a friend whose little pony has a wicked fast walk, and sometimes we play follow-the-leader trying to keep up to the pony's speed, to develop a "marching" walk. My mare, who can be lazy at the walk, likes the pony and will really step out to keep up with her, which gives me a feeling of what a good marching walk should feel like. That 12.2 hand pony has the fastest walk in the barn, even faster than a few of the big horses whose legs are nearly twice as long as hers. And it's a ground-covering walk, not just a pony pitter-pat.
One of the questions I have about the seat at any gait is, how much weight do you carry in your seat vs. dropping down through your legs?
There are a few different schools of thought on this - jumping vs flat work etc.
For flat work, I recommend carrying the weight in your seat/thighs - very little (like a few ounces) in the stirrups. There is a reason for that - it is the fact that the downward pushing force into your stirrups will lock your pelvis. - try it sitting in a chair - just push your foot down, while being aware of your seatbones... try it in the saddle too.
But like I said, try everyone's approach and make up your own mind
I was always told you have to do bending first before you do straight and do it well. The reason is, doing the bending/lateral work/serpentines/circles, etc will BUILD the muscles required to get the horse to move straight, and you will have better control over the shoulders/hips while doing this.
I tried the "pedaling backwards" method last night and tonight and found my horse really was able to swing through her back more in our warm up. I think whenever we lose the rhythm and she gets to creeping, it's easy for me to get too busy with my legs versus really focusing on freeing up my seat. I do tend to lock through my back and hips, so this visualization was really helpful for me. Thanks for posting this thread!
Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.