I’ve been remembering my first experience in Walk Detention. It was the dark ages and I was a training level rider on a young horse. I was so excited to ride in my first clinic with an Olympian- my enthusiasm sizzled audibly. I handed over a fat check, my horse was spit polished and I was in the arena with A Famous Trainer, ready for enlightenment.

My horse and I entered at a walk, 50 minutes later we left at a walk, and in between- we walked.  At first it felt normal to walk, but in a few minutes, I got self-conscious. Still walking? Was I so bad?

The clinician didn’t call it Walk Detention- that’s my pet name for it.

Walking felt dull, like an interim gait, a means to an end. It’s easy for a rider to be in a hurry to somewhere else and ignore the present. Being in Walk Detention gave me a chance to be/here/now with my horse. Once I got there, sadly, I had to admit it was new territory.

So I swallowed my humiliation and pried my mind open. Soon, I was mesmerized with our walking meditation. My horse was responding to every movement of my seat, in a fluid, forward way. There was a peaceful rhythm that felt like effortless perpetual motion. No rush and no drag, just flow- and both of our minds met there. I had a conscious awareness of movement and partnership that felt brand new: walk euphoria!

Awk! This gait best suited to watching paint dry was the passageway to an alternate universe- one with better balance.

“Going slow does not prevent arriving.” Nigerian Proverb

And I felt like an idiot… The lesson ended and I dismounted and thanked the Olympic rider, humble with my expanded reality. The Olympian asked if my horse was for sale, but I was certain she felt sorry for us, so I ducked my head and left the arena.

I un-tacked, gave my horse an apologetic lunch, and shuffled back to the arena to watch the upper level riders. No one got out of the walk that day-regardless of the level of the horse or rider. My bruised ego took a small fluff from that.

In dressage we agree: the walk is the most difficult gait, it’s primary and elite all at once. It’s the easiest gait to mess up and the hardest one to inspire.

It’s decades later, and Walk Detention is still my very favorite place to be with a horse.  Even now, each ride, every lesson begins with that walk where breath, rhythm and intention reconnect horse and rider. Because without that walk, there won’t be that trot…

Learning to go slow is an acquired skill, especially with horses. All my clients reading this are smiling- they all know Walk Detention and some even ask for it- the miracle cure for all sorts of irregularities. The walk is the place we all fell in love, and it is the place all good things come together.

Looking for a spring riding tip? How about some time in Walk Detention, where you have no place to be but with each other.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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Comment by vickie lawson on April 9, 2012 at 10:39pm

Lovely read! I was sitting in at a dressage show yesterday, and the number of level3 horses/riders who couldn't walk properly was very evident.

Comment by Marlene Thoms on March 26, 2012 at 10:29am

Thanks a bunch Jackie. You give a good description. If he does it again I will have to listen as to whether it's a steady beat or slightly irregular. Just being more aware of what I am doing when he does it naturally might help. Sometimes letting the horse teach me works.

Comment by Jackie Cochran on March 26, 2012 at 8:24am

Okay, this is a detailed explanation.  These aids do no work with every horse.  I figured these out to get my pacing Paso Fino mare into a 4-beat gait, and to easy gait the trotting Arabs.

Feel the horse's barrel swinging between your legs.  When the barrel swings out to the side, the rider's leg on that side gives a tap.  Alternating legs, meeting the barrel.  This is the OPPOSITE of alternating legs to lengthen the stride of the walk, and it is a TAP, with immediate release instead of a squeeze.

AT THE SAME TIME the rider gently does a light direct rein of opposition with the hand on the same side as the leg.  These aids are LATERAL, leg and hand on the same side acting when the horse's barrel is the furthest out to the side.  Release is IMMEDIATE of both hand and leg aid.

Saddlebred people get the horse's head up at the trot and "shake" the head from side to side.  Before they try this they shorten the front hooves, sometimes leaving the shoes off altogether.  Saddlebred people also believe that if the horse is going downhill he will get the idea and break up the diagonals.

One time, on the 7/8 Arab mare, when I would not let her run away with me from a trot, broke out into this super smooth gait, just about as fast as SHE wanted to go, her head was way up, face toward the horizontal.  I sat this comfortable and fast gait, and realized that she was racking!  That was the only time I've racked.  This mare was 1/8 American Saddlebred so she had some genes for this.  Later when I easy gaited her she always gave me a fox trot, slightly syncopated broken up diagonal trot.

Many horses on their own, hold their necks slightly underslung while in an easy gait.  Since your horse does the going home easy gait just let him swing along with a light or loose rein.

I hope this helps.  I do not easy gait any horse I think might end up doing dressage, but if he is doing it anyway going home, it probably won't do any harm to the purity of the gaits in the dressage arena.

Comment by Marlene Thoms on March 25, 2012 at 9:43pm

Cool, thanks jackie. He does it more often on the way home when he wants to go fast but I won't let him trot because he gets excited and wants to bounce a lot.  So I make him walk, but I know it's not a  norma walk and it's not a trot. Is there a way to teach him when I want him to do it?

Comment by Jackie Cochran on March 25, 2012 at 8:12pm

I had absolutely no trouble gaiting 2 Arab mares and an Arab gelding and a 7/8 Arab mare.  Several Arabian lines have been known to produce easy gaited horses, not surprising since the Bedouin did not use stirrups, saddles or bits.  *Raseyn (imp. from Crabbet Park in Eng.) was trained as a 5 gaited horse for the Kellogg Ranch shows.

What I got out of these horses was sort of a fox trot.  There are so many ways for the horse's legs can go on an easy gaited horse and one horse can come up with variations of their own.  Very smooth, the back goes from side to side pretty fast instead of up and down, and it is often faster than the walk or a slow job trot.

Enjoy your horse's trail gait.  Do not be surprised if he starts clicking with his teeth in rhythm with his stride, many gaited horses do this when they really get into their easy gait.  Throughout the ages these horses have been prized riding horses!


Comment by Marlene Thoms on March 25, 2012 at 7:51pm

Sort of on the Walk Topic: If anyone know Arabian gaits, sometimes my guy does a walk that is not the swinging relaxed, not a tense-naughty walk, but is very fast and smooth. If almost feels like a gaited horse looks, but I've never ridden a gaited horse, so I can't compare. It feels kind of like a shuffle? Any idea what he's doing?

Comment by Anna Blake on March 25, 2012 at 7:27pm

I love these comments... and yes, these are the reasons that the walk is such a challenging gait. Thanks, you all affirm that! Not too quick, not too slow- Walk on!

Comment by Marlene Thoms on March 25, 2012 at 12:36pm

Hey, right now I would give away my least favorite saddle if my horse would do a pokey quarter-horse drag instead of the Arabian celtic jig (see "my horse has an idiot for an owner" if you don't believe me).

Comment by B. G. Hearns on March 25, 2012 at 11:07am

But an energetic walk, not the pokey quarter-horse drag. :-)

Comment by Marlene Thoms on March 23, 2012 at 4:58pm

My horse and I are on Walk Detention. Actually it's me walking on the ground Detention, but hey, you have to start somewhere. I love to ride my horse at a walk *when he walks*. He does not want to walk nicely currently when I ride, so that will be our project till he "get's it". I know he likes walking once we get on the same wavelength. I just have to work patiently with him, and that's what it is about as you say, just getting into the moment. The hurrier you go the behinder you get.

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