Well, you could do this exercise at the trot and canter too, if you like, but there’s nothing nicer than having a structured exercise to use when you just. want. to. walk.
Have you ever gotten on and just felt like walking – only? But then, you really had nothing to do, so you and your horse just sauntered around the ring, or on the trail, and really didn’t “practice” anything? Well, this exercise is perfect for you if you want to do that walk, but also want to do something with that walk.
You’ll work on moving the shoulders, then the haunches, and there’s a nice little 10-meter circle thrown into the mix. It’s actually not a particularly fancy pattern, but it does get you and your horse working on a little bit of every kind of suppleness – all in a leisurely low-impact walk, which will make it easier for both of you to communicate, develop good timing, and evaluate how well you’re doing the movements.
OK, here is the pattern:
2) Circle left 10-meters.
3) Haunches-in left. Straighten before M.
4) Medium walk the corners and the short side of the ring.
5) Free (stretchy) walk all the way across the diagonal. Collect reins before F.
Now, you’re walking in the opposite direction and you can start the whole thing again. Do a medium walk on the short side of the ring and set up for a shoulder-in right as you pass K. Repeat all the steps, but now on the right rein.
How about some details?
1) The Shoulder-In
If you have never really worked on the shoulder-in, well, this is your excuse to start! We all have to start somewhere, and it’s best to work on this at the walk at first, anyway. If you like, you can reduce the angle of the shoulder-in and make it more of a shoulder-fore, but do see if you can get some control over your horse’s shoulders and move them off the rail.
Remember that the shoulder-fore is a 4-track movement, where the outside front leg is lined up so that it’s on its own track, in between the track of the hind legs. In contrast, the shoulder-in requires more angle and is actually a 3-track movement, meaning that the outside front leg lines up on the same track as the inside hind leg.
The shoulders come off the rail while the haunches stay on the rail.
2) The 10-m Circle
The circle helps to distinguish between the shoulders and the haunches for the horse. It also helps you to re-establish and develop the required bend as you leave the circle and head into the haunches-in. Remember to straighten before you go into the circle (after the shoulder-in), just to show that you can, in fact, come out of the shoulder-in and re-establish straightness.
However, stay in the 10-m bend as you leave the circle and use this bend to help establish the haunches-in immediately coming out of the circle.
3) The Haunches-In
The haunches-in is also a 4-track movement, but it’s different because now it’s the haunches that have to come off the rail while the shoulders move straight. Each leg has its own track for the haunches-in, and the bend is so deep that the hind legs come to the inside far enough that they do not line up with the front legs at all.
In the beginning, you might find that you can only get the horse to move the haunches just a tiny bit to the inside. That’s fine. Just stick with it and the horse will be able to bend deeper over time.
Straighten before you get to M.
4) The Medium Walk
Now, continue along the rail at the medium walk. This walk requires quite a bit of “activity” – which means that the horse should march along at a relatively brisk pace. Maintain a steady tempo (don’t slow down into and out of the corners!) and maintain contact and the same outline you finished with in the haunches-in.
While it looks like nothing is going on, a good, “forward” (not fast) medium walk is quite an accomplishment in itself.
5) The Free Walk
Finish the last corner and as you pass H, send your horse on a nice, long, swinging free walk all the way across the diagonal – and pick up the reins before you reach F. I’ve written so much about the “stretchy” walk (a.k.a. the Free Walk) that I won’t duplicate it all here. Again, look at the links below for all about the aids and strategies for the free walk.
The two most important things to keep in mind for the stretchy walk is that a) the horse takes the reins from your fingers and reaches low with the neck while taking the nose forward and out (not tucking in behind the vertical), and b) he maintains a steady tempo the whole time he’s in the stretch. Many horses tend to slow down as they relax through the stretch, but a good stretch is one where the activity is kept up even while the horse releases and relaxes.
And there you have it!
There’s so much going on in this little pattern that I’m sure you’ll have plenty to work on. As with all patterns, the benefit might not be seen until you’ve run through it many times. I recommend that you do this pattern 4 times on each side in one go, which could take you up to 15 minutes or so of steady movement. This is good – we want the movement, the flexes and bends, the stretch, and the medium walk. In this way, we influence the inside hind leg, we change “outlines” (from the more upright medium walk to the longer and lower free walk) and work on the 10-m bend.
And when you want, do it in the trot. Then in the canter. And if you get really good, throw in transitions. There’s so much that can be done with this one pattern!
And most importantly, have fun!
Disclaimer: Use this as a guideline but you might need your instructor to respond to your individual needs. By using information on this site, you agree and understand that you are fully responsible for your progress, results and safety. We offer no representations, warranties or guarantees verbally or in writing regarding your improvement or your horse’s response or results of any kind. Always use the information on this site with a view toward safety for both you and your horse. Use your common sense when around horses.