Defending the “Working Walk Ride”

Photo by Adam Hill.

BY April Bilodeau

We’ve all heard the expression “you need to learn to walk before you can run.”

While we may not be “running” on horseback, in a way, the same sentiment applies to our horses.

Think back on your daily rides. When was the last time you spent time really working at the walk? Feeling your horse’s body, asking them to carry themselves at the walk for an extended period of time rather than just a loose rein, 5-10 minute warm up?

I’m here to defend the “Working Walk Ride”.

Truth be told, depending on a horse’s schedule for the week, my schooling rides are sometimes a solid 30 minutes of walking. While that might sound boring, there’s a whole array of things you can do at the walk to really evaluate where your horse is at in their fitness.

My “Working Walk Ride” routine looks a little like this:

  • Walking off the rail or up the quarter line to check in with the horse’s straightness. Where does their shoulder fall? How about their hip?
  • Bending in both directions, checking in with their comfortability and willingness to both bend to the inside and counter bend both ways.
  • Leg yielding on and off the rail
  • Plenty of circles. Do they fall in one way and not the other? Are they listening to my leg as I ask them to keep momentum through the top of the circle?
  • Halting and moving forward off the leg. How quickly do they respond?
  • Backing up. Are they straight? If not, which way do they fall?
  • Turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches. Is one way easier than the other? Can they keep moving through the rotation or do they stop to reset?
  • Walking over pole patterns and smalls jumps, asking them to stay engaged and focused.
  • Finishing the ride by walking up and down hills, if available, to engage and strengthen their hind end.

These are all instrumental check-ins for you and your horse that we often forget about in our routine of “walk-trot-canter-change direction-do it all over again.” While spending 30 minutes just walking your horse may seem mundane, I can confidently say I’ve seen significant improvement in both the fitness of the horse and how I’m able to feel and help them at other gaits by focusing on these often overlooked pieces, without adding speed. These are also all things you can do on your own, without a trainer, and on long days when you just don’t feel like riding after work. Even getting on to walk for 15 minutes to incorporate some of the above can be helpful.

These exercises are also all low-impact work for your horse, making it perfect for the athlete in a typically intense or show heavy program.

I challenge you to give the ‘Working Walk Ride” a try. Take your findings to your trainer and ask them to work with you on the details you discover so your horse can be fit, balanced, and responsive.

Let us know what you think!