The walk is probably the most difficult pace to present in a dressage test, largely because there is so much that can go wrong. Also, because the purity of the gait is so important in dressage, certain walk exercises are worth a double mark. So, knowing how to ride the walk well is crucial.
In dressage, there are four distinct variants of the walk; medium, free, collected, and extended walk. In this guide, we’re going to focus on how to ride the medium walk.
What is a medium walk?
The medium walk is the first kind of walk that you will be asked to produce in dressage tests, beginning at training level. The pace should be regular, energetic, and relaxed, with a distinct four-time rhythm.
The sequence of the medium walk is:
- Left hind
- Left fore
- Right hind
- Right fore
There is no moment of suspension, and the horse should stride forward with a purpose as if he is marching.
What is the dressage judge looking for?
The most important thing when judging medium walk is that the rhythm and sequence of footfalls are correct. Few horses have a naturally incorrect walk; irregularity is usually caused by physical or mental tension, which is most obvious in the walk.
Irregularity usually manifests itself as a pacing, two-time rhythm. The horse’s legs on each side appear to swing forward together, rather like a camel. A lateral or pacing walk is a serious fault that will be awarded a very low mark.
Related Read: How to Correct a Lateral Walk
A tense horse tightens through his back. That prevents the all-important freedom and swing that the judge looks for in a medium walk. If the horse is tight behind the saddle, he will most likely step short behind, so his strides won’t cover the ground. In extreme cases, the horse won’t track-up at all.
Freedom of the shoulder is also very important. The horse should reach forward with his forelegs to cover the ground. However, tension usually prevents that, leaving the steps short and the rhythm choppy or uneven.
So, the horse must be relaxed, striding forward to seek the contact through a swinging back and free shoulder, covering the ground, tracking up or preferably over-tracking if the quality of the walk is good.
Many horses drop behind the rider’s leg in the walk, and that’s a serious fault. The walk steps should be active, and the horse should march forward with purpose.
Finally, the horse must be straight. Often, the horse pushes his quarters to one side, which is especially noticeable on the centerline. That usually happens when the horse is not soft in the contact, coming against the rider’s hand.
What can go wrong?
There are several guaranteed mark-losers in the medium walk:
- The rhythm is incorrect, i.e., two-time (lateral or pacing)
- Uneven tempo
- Tension through the back
- Short steps, not tracking up
- Drawing back from the contact, shortening the neck, and falling behind the vertical
- Lacking activity and purpose
- Tempo is too quick, and steps appear hurried
Another common fault in the walk is that it can become crooked. That is usually a contact issue, rather than a problem with the pace itself.
How to ride a good medium walk
So, how do you ride a good medium walk?
As with all the paces, the dressage Scales of Training must be foremost in your mind. Unlike the other paces, too much rider interference in the walk can disrupt the horse’s correct rhythm, so less is more.
Suppleness through the back is crucial to maximizing ground cover and the freedom of the steps, and that’s where a technique that’s sometimes referred to as “pedaling” is helpful.
As the horse walks, his rib cage swings from side-to-side with every stride. When the horse’s rib cage swings away from your leg, allow a small pulse of energy to bounce down from your hip and down into your heel on that side. In the next step, your other leg should do the same, as it would if you were pedaling on a bike.
With practice, pedaling becomes second nature, just like following the horse’s movement with your seat and hands. You should sit still without pushing or driving the horse with your seat or kicking him every step with your legs. So, effectively, your whole body is working in harmony with your horse and following his movement.
Pedaling not only helps to encourage your horse to swing through his back but is also a great tool for getting your horse to relax. If your horse tends to become tense when you first get on board or at competitions, focus on pedaling to help him relax.
Although over-tracking is not crucial in a medium walk, you will get a higher mark if your horse does over-track.
Over-tracking refers to the degree by which the horse’s hind foot steps into or beyond the print that’s left by his forefoot. Even if your horse has an average natural walk stride, you can maximize that by developing your horse’s reach, and pedaling can help with that.
Try this exercise to develop your horse’s stride length and suppleness in the medium walk:
- On the right rein, proceed in medium walk
- At C, turn down the centerline
- Make the horse straight, and shallow leg yield left to F
- Use your right leg to “pedal” each stride to encourage the reach of the horse’s right hind
- As your horse takes a longer stride, he will lift his back, improving longitudinal suppleness
- Repeat the exercise on the left rein
Again, this is a very useful exercise for loosening the horse and helping him to relax before a schooling session or when warming up for a competition.
You can make the most of your horse’s medium walk by helping him to relax and become more supple through his back. The walk should form a large part of your schooling regimen, and so it should, as in many dressage tests, the walk is worth a double-mark!
Do you have any tips that helped to improve your horse’s medium walk? Or are you having problems with the medium walk that you would like some help with? Share with us in the comments section below!