Help! My horse and I are restricted to walking only!
Do not despair! There is so much that you and your horse can work on at the walk. Try to see this period of time as an opportunity to revisit the basic building blocks and you will find yourself & your horse the better for it!
Be sure not to drill your horse with any one thing. Keep yourself tuned in to prevent your horse from getting bored or frustrated. Mix up the exercises to keep working towards a horse who is supple, straight, forward & through. This is a chance for you to work through the fluency of your aids. Take the time for effective, smooth and, eventually, subtle aids, and don’t forget the walk is a good time to practice correct geometry!
First off, have you been thoughtful about mounting & dismounting? Does your horse “pick you up & drop you off”? Take a few extra minutes at the beginning and end of each ride to make sure that your horse stands square, straight & balanced, as well as parallel to whatever you mount from/dismount on to. And while you are at it, can you adjust your stirrups by feel (no peeking) without removing your feet?
Next up, lets continue to work on square halts, remembering that the number one requirement of a halt is immobility. You may have to start with standing for just a few seconds and then build to longer periods of time. Be conscientious. Halting doesn’t mean that you check out. Try to maintain a state of readiness.
While working on those halts, you will also be working on transitions. The options for transitions are endless, but to begin with focus on halt to walk/walk to halt and halt to back/back to halt. Then you can work on walk/halt/back/halt/walk or vis versa and eventually to walk/back/walk/back/walk.
Start working to improve your horse’s turn on the forehand and turn on the haunches. As those progress, you can introduce a fun exercise of serpentines while executing 90 degrees turns of either TOF or TOH. Think zig-zags with quarter turns in the corners moving only the front or hind legs. You can do this with a halt at the corners and work up to walking turns.
Of course, you can work on all of the lateral work, and the walk is a great time to practice transitioning from one lateral exercise to another, such as leg yield to shoulder in or shoulder in to travers.
Additionally, all horses benefit from working through their collected, medium, extended and free walks, as well as hill work. Try riding from collected to medium to collected again or medium to free to medium again. Hills can help develop your horses balance and pushing power.
As for the rider, you can utilize this time to improve the clarity & consistency of your aids and leadership & your ability to ride adhesively and integrated. Some questions to ask yourself as you ride might be:
Do I know which foot is in the air or which is pushing right now?
Am I sitting in the middle of my horse? Can I feel both of my seat bones?
Am I using my reins instead of my seat?
How softly can I ask?
If you find yourself getting stuck in a rut, try this game:
Create a set of index cards that include all of the gaits, shapes, movements you and your horse are currently working on and those you are ready to introduce. Then draw cards to create an exercise for yourself. For example, you might draw a spiral in at medium walk in shoulder in, or shallow loop in free walk. Keep it simple and always take it down a notch if you feel yourself or your horse getting frustrated, but look for ways to tie one exercise into another, building flow into your work.
Most of all, get in the saddle and have FUN with your horse!
This is the WORD in the HERD!