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.