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!
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.
- About The Horse’s Walk Gait
- How to Keep a Consistent Rein Contact
- How Much Contact Should You Have?
- How to Encourage Your Horse to Stretch