After trotting and cantering in your warmup, you’ve earned a free walk! It’s a lovely moment in the training ride and important in your dressage test to congratulate both you and your horse on a job well done in the first half of the test, and to remind yourself to breathe! Breathe! Breathe! It’s great to give the horse a long stretch and to quickly evaluate your position and get ready for the next part of the test.
The free walk tells the judge a lot about your horse’s back and its stage of development. Is it stiff and hollow, or is it flexible and moving? Does the horse over-track and stretch from nose to tail, or does she hold her head up stiffly or anxiously? In training rides, it’s important to practice the free walk thinking about the directives in the test and what you as the rider can create in the free walk even as you give the horse a break. Ride the free walk well and remember it’s a test movement – not a check-out moment for you or the horse. Take the free walk time to do an evaluation of your seat, starting with your head, and go through down your body to your toes. Are you relaxed in the body? Are you swinging with the horse? Is your head stacked over your spine and your jaw relaxed? Are the arms following the horse's head from the shoulders so the front door is open and the horse can walk through the body?
The free walk also tells you a lot about the level of training of you and your horse. First, the free walk should be a release of the reins all the way to the buckle, more or less, depending on your horse. You want to see the stretch, but you can also tell when a horse is going to leave the arena at any given opportunity, so you might have to keep just a little connection and build your way up to riding at the buckle. You need to relax through the hips, back, and thighs so you can enable the horse to swing through the back as much as the horse is able to with their conformation and at their current stage of training. A gentle following motion with the calves and looking at the letter or point you are riding towards should enable the walk to have straightness, purpose, and ground cover without slowing nearly to a stop or meandering. Remember, as you cross the quarter line a few strides before the long side, practice swiveling your seat first to begin to bend your horse, and then gather your reins for the next movement. It’s important to keep the free walk an active training moment in your ride, even if it’s relaxing for your horse. It’s important for you to keep the training session going to create a better free walk.
Stay tuned for next week’s Two-minute Training Tip! If you need help building a training plan, you can always email me questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out revelationfarm.com for upcoming events and information. Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RevelationFm!