Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Let's Ride! How to Ride a Horse at the Walk

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!!

Any questions?


  1. From stationary, a horse leads with its rear leg? Or is that just where you pick up the rhythm?

    So the often-seen 'wrap the reins around the pommel' move would be an English technique, to keep the horse's head in the exact same position at all times?

    Are the cues for Eastern riding styles very different? And how would a broken but untrained horse typically respond to your basic cues?

    1. The horse does lead with its rear legs as the momentum comes from the hind end to push the horse forward.

      I have not heard of this "wrapping of the reins around the pommel" technique. One can wrap the reins around the horn of the western saddle, but I would not recommend it. You should not restrict the movement of the horse's head and neck as it influences balance and stride.

      Eastern riding styles? I'm confused. What do you mean by "eastern"?

      Untrained as in it has never been ridden before? That depends on how the horse owner trains the horse. The natural gaits for almost all horses (except those that are gaited) are walk, trot, and canter/gallop. The trick with training is getting the horse to understand your cues with whichever natural gait you want the horse to perform.

    2. The pommel is the area that the western saddle's horn is attached to (i.e. between your legs in front of you), right? I think I meant 'horn' to begin with if so.

      Looping the reins around it once so you have less chance of sudden movement yanking the reins from your hands would be the point, I think... I've seen it done in various media but never in person, so this is why these blog posts are good! You learn real stuff. =D

    3. I really want to know this media source that says that is okay...

    4. If I remember where I've seen any of them I'll definitely let you know... But I'm not above occasionally convincing myself I've seen something and be misremembering something similar, so if it's that bad of an idea that might also be the case. >_> Is there another thing other than a tie post in a Western that you'd ever loop your reins around?