The first of the three main speeds of the horse, is the walk. Just like any other land mammal, horses learn how to walk before they learn how to run. It is the rudimentary element, and all riders must learn how to ride at the walk (and stop) before learning any of the other gaits as it enhances coordination and balance.
The walk, which is forward moving, is a "four step gait". This means that the horse moves each leg in turn and places all four legs on the ground individually. When walking, the horse's legs follow this sequence: right hind leg, right front leg, left hind leg, left front leg, in an even and steady 4 beat motion. The advancing rear hoof oversteps the spot where the previously advancing front hoof touched the ground. One foot will always be in the air, with the other four on the ground, while the horse's neck and head move slightly to maintain balance. The horse's weight will move side to side, or sway slightly, as the legs move.
Before getting on the horse and starting to ride, riders must wear a helmet and protective footwear. Safety is paramount when combining horses and individuals in activities. Riding horses is an inherently dangerous activity and participants in the activities assume the risk of being injured. You, as the rider, may not always be in control of the horse, but can help to prevent injury by wearing an ASTM/SEI certified helmet and protective footwear (along with clothes, obviously!!). If at all possible, have an equine professional (preferrably an instructor) with you during your first ride.
1. First things first, maintain your posture!!
- When you are sitting on the horse, do not slouch or tense up, as there will be more of a propensity for you to fall off. Maintaining good posture will also help communicate your cues to the horse.
- Make sure you are sitting square in the saddle and that your balance has not shifted to one side.
- Keep your legs under you (with feet preferably in the stirrups), not too far forward but not too far back. Do not let your legs move forward as if you are sitting in a chair, and do not allow them to swing. Keep your legs still and "quiet".
- About a third of your boot should be in the stirrup, with the balls of your feet on the bar of the stirrup. Your feet should be parallel to the horse with your heels down. And toes should not point outward.
- There should be an imaginary straight line from your shoulders, down to your hips and through your feet, but you shouldn't be able to see your toes if you look down.
- Arms, wrists, and fingers need to be relaxed but steady. Your hands should maintain steady contact (or tightness) with the reins, meaning you should feel contact between your hands and the bit (the big metal thing in the horse's mouth).
2. Pick up the reins (if you haven't already) and maintain even and steady but light contact with the bit. You should be able to feel the horse's mouth through the bit, but you shouldn't be pulling on it. If english, there should be little to no slack in the reins. If western, you should have contact but more slack than in english.
3. To ask for the walk, gently squeeze with the lower leg on both sides of the horse, behind the girth. Your leg above the knee should remain motionless. As the lower leg is squeezing, push your hips slightly forward. Once the horse starts moving, release the leg and move your hands forward slightly to prevent giving the horse mixed cues. If the horse does not move off of the lower leg cue, nudge with your lower leg. If the horse still does not respond to your cues, urge the horse forward with your heels. If the horse still does not move, check your cues, your body language, and try again. If the horse is not cooperating, make sure that you are also moving your hand forward when asking for the walk.
4. Once the horse starts moving, keep your arms relaxed so that you can allow your hands to move forwards and back with the movement of the horse's head. Allow your body to relax (while still maintaining posture!) with the motion of the horse. If you feel that your horse is starting to slow and possibly stop, nudge him or her again until you get the same rhythm as before.
5. Congratulations, you have asked your horse to walk, and succeeded!!