Have you had the comment ‘lateral walk’ on your dressage sheets?
Do you listen to your horse walk along the road and notice that there is a gap in the sound of his footfalls, instead of four evenly spaced beats?
If so, read on to discover more.
What is a lateral walk?
A lateral walk is one in which the natural sequence of footfalls is disrupted.
There should be four evenly spaced steps, not two steps, a gap and then two more steps.
Listen as you ride down the road – you should hear clip-clop-clip-clop, and not clip-clop (gap) clip-clop.
One of the other terms for this type of walk is a ‘camel walk’. If you watch camels move you will see the two legs on one side of the body move almost simultaneously, followed by the same on the opposite side.
It is also (for the musically minded) called a ‘syncopated walk’.
What causes a lateral walk?
Physically, a lateral walk is caused by tension in the horse’s back muscles.
To move in the correct sequence, each of the long back muscles (longissimus dorsi) must alternately contract and relax. If they are held tensely, without the ability to relax, the correct neuro-muscular sequence cannot take place, causing the broken rhythm.
Tension may be general, especially in an excitable or anxious horse, or it may be caused by the rider using a too strong and restrictive rein contact, often in an effort to put the horse on the bit, or to collect the walk, or to control jogging.
Some horses have the tendency towards a lateral walk by nature, and just the tiniest bit of tension can cause the problem to come to the fore.
How do I fix it?
This is an extremely difficult, and sadly sometimes impossible, problem to correct. The best answer is not to allow it to occur in the first place.
However, if you do have this issue, things you can try which may either help or possibly correct it are:
Relaxation whilst working
Anything that helps your horse to relax – hacking, turnout, natural calming products etc.
The goal is to release the tension in your horse’s back muscles.
If possible, do lots of walking in water – deep puddles, or on a water treadmill, or in the sea.
The drag of the water against the legs makes it almost impossible for the horse to walk laterally, so you may be able to resurrect the correct neuro-muscular sequence in his body.
Walk over ground poles placed close together so he has to lift his legs higher rather than stretch for length.
Use heavy wooden poles that are hard to move, or raised poles with secure supports.
Always have someone present when you do pole work – horses can trip over even at walk!
Stretch his back
Ride him with a deeper neck frame and do lots of bending exercises in walk in this outline to encourage him to stretch his back muscles.
Choose the correct speed
Take care not to hurry the walk as this will make it worse – but also don’t allow dawdling, which can have the same effect.
The use of lateral movements can help, particularly shoulder-in.
If you can gain sufficient relaxation combined with the sideways steps, once again you can re-instill the correct sequence.
This is also a technique that may help in competition, as you can put the horse into mild shoulder fore almost anywhere in a test without upsetting the judge!
Best of all, try to avoid a lateral walk from developing by targeting relaxation in all your walk work.
If you hear the dreaded broken rhythm whilst out hacking, immediately try to lower his neck and encourage him to relax – prevention is the best measure.
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