The extended walk is an exercise that appears in dressage tests from British Dressage Medium level upward.
In some dressage tests, the mark for the extended walk has a coefficient of two. Therefore, if you produce a good extended walk, you will get a really high mark. However, the extended walk is also a movement that is often ridden incorrectly, costing many riders valuable marks.
In this article, we explain how to ride a good extended walk to squeeze the most marks possible from the movement; and what dressage rider doesn’t want to do that?!
What is extended walk?
In dressage tests, riders are asked to show four variants of the walk:
In the extended walk, the horse should move forward, swinging through his back, and using his shoulders to cover the maximum ground possible.
The horse’s hind feet should clearly over-track the prints left by his front feet. He should reach forward for the contact, extending his neck as he reaches forward for the bit.
The rhythm should remain regular and consistent with no variation in tempo and no signs of tension.
Common problems that are seen when judging extended walk
There are several common problems that judges encounter when judging the extended walk:
- Lack of activity
- Tension and jogging
- Contact is given away by the rider
- Poll coming too low
- Loss of rhythm
- Hollowing through the back
If the horse loses activity, he won’t work through his back properly, and the thoroughness will be lost. Rather than constantly nudging the horse with your leg, give him a sharp kick to wake him up. Be sure to give with your hand when the horse reacts so that you don’t accidentally jab him in the mouth, and reward the horse’s response with praise.
Try not to grind your seat to encourage the horse to go forward. That will probably make him hollow away from your seat. Instead, open your hips and lighten your seat to allow the horse to move forward and swing through his back.
A loss of activity often happens when the rider gives away the contact, rather than allowing the horse to take the contact forward. Keep your leg on and allow the rein to slide gradually through your fingers so that the horse can extend through his topline and maintain the forward connection from behind, through his back, to the bit.
If the horse tends to jog when you use your leg, ride 10-meter circles at either end of the arena and in the middle of the diagonal line. That provides the horse with something else to focus on and is often very effective at curing the jig-jogging habit.
How to encourage the horse to lengthen his stride
There are several techniques that you can use to encourage the horse to lengthen his stride in the extended walk:
For the horse to be able to lengthen his strides to the max, you need to make him supple through his back, and the technique of “pedaling” is an excellent way to achieve that.
When the horse walks, his ribcage swings from side to side each time he takes a stride. To maximize the stride length, allow a little bit of energy to bounce from your hip down into your heel on the side that is swinging away from you.
For example, when the horse’s left shoulder is the furthest back, his left hind leg pushes off, and his ribcage swings to the right at the same moment. So, as you see the horse’s left shoulder coming back, bounce some energy into your left heel, and in the next stride, allow your other leg to “step down” as though you were pedaling a bike.
Be careful not to grind your seat against the saddle as you “pedal.” Your seat should remain still, as you allow the energy to bounce through your legs, and you should not rock from side to side.
Pedaling is also a very useful technique for helping a tense horse to relax and loosen his back.
2. The panther walk
The “panther walk” exercise helps to develop a good, stretching extended walk. It’s also a great way to begin a schooling session. Your horse should be stretching forward into the contact, using his back, just like a panther stalking through the jungle.
Work toward achieving big, long strides but not hurrying your horse. Keep your legs still, and allow your hands to follow the horse’s head movement without restricting him.
3. Pole stretches
If the horse is reluctant to stretch forward in the walk, placing poles on the ground can be helpful. Polework also helps to keep your schooling sessions varied, encourages concentration, and makes the horse think.
Place three poles in a straight line 2ft 6in apart to start with. You can gradually make the distance between the poles wider to encourage even more lengthening once the horse gets the hang of things.
4. Developing over-track
In extended walk, the judge wants to see the horse showing maximum over-track.
Over-track is the distance that the horse’s hind foot steps beyond his forefoot. Some horses naturally have a limited stride length, but you can improve the amount of over-track that your horse has by using the pedaling technique described above and this simple exercise.
Track right in medium walk and turn down the centerline at C. Begin a shallow leg-yield to F. The aim of this exercise is not to get the horse’s legs to cross in the leg-yield but to bring his hind leg more underneath his body. That encourages the reach of the horse’s right hind, which will, in turn, cause the horse’s back to lift as he reaches for a longer stride.
Repeat the exercise in both directions, remembering to allow the horse to lengthen his frame, as well as his stride, keeping a light contact with the horse’s mouth.
The extended walk is a deceptively difficult movement to ride, and it does take practice to get it right.
You can use the exercises and techniques we’ve described in this guide to help make the most of your horse’s walk and get you those valuable extra marks!
What’s the best mark you’ve ever been awarded for an extended walk? Tell us your story in the comments box below.