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How to Improve the Free Walk on a Long Rein

dressage free walk on a long rein

The ‘free walk’ is a movement that’s included in all dressage tests up to medium level (British Dressage).

It’s something that’s often neglected by riders in their home schooling sessions; a costly omission, given that the free walk is often worth double marks!

Even if your horse doesn’t naturally have the best walk in the world, there are things you can do to improve the free walk and to maximize your marks.

Here are some tips on how to improve your horse’s free walk.

Free walk on a long rein – what the judge is looking for

The free walk should show the horse in a relaxed state, being allowed total freedom to lower and stretch out his head and neck.

The walk rhythm should remain in a clear four beat, correct sequence, and the horse should clearly over-track, covering maximum ground, and demonstrating complete freedom of his shoulder.

He should follow the contact round and down, stretching his neck and head to show relaxation and suppleness over his back.

Although the horse is relaxed, he should march purposefully forward and look as though he is ‘going somewhere’.

The transition back to medium walk should be smooth, with no loss of rhythm or signs of tension.

How to ride a good free walk

When riding the free walk, remember to ride your horse forward into the contact; the exercise should be ridden on a long rein, not a loose one.

Let the reins slide through your fingers gradually to allow the horse to take the rein forwards, round and down.

It can be helpful to allow the inside rein to lengthen slightly before the outside rein.  This can prevent the horse from hollowing and coming off the aids as you begin to ride the free walk, and will encourage him to remain into the contact.

Maximize the stride length by riding forward with your leg and seat.

To ride a good transition back to medium walk, shorten your reins gradually.  Keep your leg on to maintain the impulsion and engagement and to encourage the horse’s hind leg to remain active.

Use the inside rein to soften your horse onto the bit if you think he might bring his head up into the transition.

Common faults with free walk

The rider ‘throws’ away the reins

The leaves the horse with no contact to seek and the usual result is that the horse either raises his head and doesn’t stretch at all, or stretches out in front of him, not round and down.

The horse immediately throws his head up and does not stretch

This is usually because he is not working forward into the rider’s hand, or the rider has not maintained the contact correctly.

The horse loses energy

The horse dawdles along behind the rider’s leg, failing to over-track or use his shoulders.

The horse comes against the hand into medium walk

This is generally because the horse was not working into a genuinely elastic contact to begin with.

Therefore, when the rider attempts to shorten the reins and put the horse back into the contact, he resists.

The horse becomes tense and jogs

This can happen with tense horses that are not truly relaxed, or with those who are anticipating a forthcoming trot or canter transition immediately following the free walk.

You can avoid this by not practicing the test too much at home – horses are good at learning dressage tests too!

In conclusion

The free walk on a long rein is often worth double marks in dressage tests.

Make the most of your horse’s walk by learning how to ride the free walk correctly, and don’t forget to include it during your daily schooling sessions.

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  1. Hi!

    So I have an issue both in dressage tests and in training that when I encourage the long rein on a free walk my horse wants to scratch his face, so he is walking while pawing both fronts up to have a quick scratch, which I am finding very difficult to correct.

    So what I do is I push forward when he does this and then he hollows and pushed his head up, I get the contact again and boom he lowers and tries to scratch again.

    Any ideas on how I can improve this please?

    1. Hi Sabrina,
      Thank you for visiting our website.

      First, double-check the fit of your bridle and make sure there’s nothing that could be rubbing or making him uncomfortable. Also, check for any loose straps (such as a flash strap) that could be irritating him. Check the fit of the bit, make sure it’s not pinching him, and that he has no dental issues. Finally, depending on the climate you are riding in, if there are any flies that could be bothering him, make sure he has adequate fly repellant and protection.

      Secondly, once you have ruled out all physical reasons, you need to work on keeping his attention during the free walk and maintaining the connection and contact. In training, regularly practice the free walk but keep it short so your horse doesn’t think that he’s having a break or that he’s done for the day. So, allow a small amount with the rein and allow him to stretch (whist still keeping your leg on and maintaining a contact with the bit) and then shorten the reins and continue with his work. Do this several times, and once he starts to stay through to the contact then you can ask for a little more stretch and a few more steps. The goal is to keep his attention, keep him working into the contact, and to get a few good walks steps. Over time, you should be able to build it up gradually so you can eventually ask for a whole diagonal line of free walk without him coming off the aids.

      Hope that helps.
      HTD x

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