Help me understand a true 4-beat walk?

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Help me understand a true 4-beat walk?

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  • Horse riding doing extended walk
  • Getting correct 4 beat walk on a horse

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    12-13-2011, 03:26 PM
Help me understand a true 4-beat walk?

It's been really cold here so I've been doing long warm-ups and cool-downs, and have been reflecting a lot on what a good walk really is. I've read on here numerous times that when you're looking for a quality horse, you want a "true, 4-beat walk" but I'll be honest I'm not sure that I can really feel it. We have a few mirrors in the arena so I can occasionally get a glimpse of how Isabel's moving, but that doesn't really clear things up for me.

Can you help me understand this? And any other general suggestions for making the warm-up/cool-down a useful walk rather than just dragging around and around the arena for a few minutes?
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    12-13-2011, 03:32 PM
A "true 4-beat walk" is almost an oxymoron bc every walk has four beats. What you are looking for is a relaxed walk that has a consistant rhythm and your horse has a consistant swing as he walks. ALSO, if you can ride your horse at an extended walk, that is, the fast walk that you horse will perform right before he breaks into a trot, this will stretch, strengthen and relax him at the same time. IF you have a riding buddy with a gaited horse it's a good incentive to get him to extend his walk.
This is NOT the Dressage extended walk. In Dressage the performance looks the same on the bottom, but the horse has great flexion and is on the bit during the extended walk, and it is a transition WITHIN the gait, along with a collected walk.
Hope this helps you! =D
    12-13-2011, 08:58 PM
Corporal, a good walk will have a very clear 4 beat - a bad walk, will become lateral or similar, and often can change to a 'shuffle' and become nearly 2 beat.

In a good, strong, correct walk, the horse will be marching actively forward, and the rider should feel the topline stretching and contracting. If the horse is behind the leg or has a poor walk, often the head will bob up and down rather than forward and back.
You should be able to feel when each hoof hits the ground. This is part of being a good rider, until you develop a sense of where each hoof is at any given moment, you will not be able to positively influence the horse's way of going. In walk, you need to be able to count '1-2-3-4' as each hoof hits the ground. Watching from the ground, you should be able to very clearly distinguish these 4 beats, they should not be 'kind of 4 beat'.

It gets harder to maintain this clear 4 beat walk as we start demanding more collection from a horse. Many horses will start to get tense, and tension leads to problems in the walk. That is why I try to do as little work adjusting the walk as possible, and most of my walk work is done out on a trail or on roads as the horse is more inclined to walk freely forward and maintain that lovely clear 4 beat.

I will have to upload a video of my thoroughbred walking. He's just come back into work after an 18month injury spell, but his walk is of such good quality that he would walk for at least an 8 and more likely a 9 in a dressage test with more work on his 'buttons'.
He is very free through his back, swings his hind legs right under his centre of gravity and overtracks well. You can set a metronome to the beats in his walk. That is how a walk should be!
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    12-13-2011, 09:17 PM
Originally Posted by Kayty    
In a good, strong, correct walk, the horse will be marching actively forward, and the rider should feel the topline stretching and contracting. If the horse is behind the leg or has a poor walk, often the head will bob up and down rather than forward and back.
Interesting piece if info about the head Kayty. I recently took some dressage lessons where the woman was absolutely obsessed with the walk. She had my horse slowed down to the point where he was no longer marching. It felt dead to me, and we were nailed for a lateral walk at our subsequent dressage test. I was sooooo mad! I've since stopped doing anything she taught me to try to correct it. Much like you, lots of trail riding so he can walk as naturally as possible. I then try to put it together with as little input as possible from me the rider. Now I know to look to the head for how we're doing. I can feel the beats, but can't feel the difference between collected and dead.
    12-13-2011, 09:40 PM
Yep MBP, as you've found out, it is SO easy to destroy a walk. The trot and canter you can get away with faking a little (not so much the canter - you can turn that 4-beat pretty easily if you hang off the reins and kick a few times :P ) but the walk is very delicate.
If I am doing any work on the walk, say walk pirouettes, the second I feel the walk starting to lose its regularity, I'll go straight into trot for a few minutes and re-establish the forward and connection, then try for a few more minutes with the walk. Never setting aside a particular lesson to work on walk, just sprinkle it through your rides here and there.
    12-13-2011, 09:48 PM
As for the difference between collected and dead, its the same feeling as in other gaits. You should feel as though you have connection to your hands, the horse is actively lifting the feet off the ground with each stride, that you can put your leg on and get an immediate reaction from the hind legs, that you could ask for canter and the horse would push straight off the hind legs etc.
Where as a 'dead' walk, it will feel like you are nagging for each step, you won't have a good connection to the bridle, if you put your leg on the hind legs won't go with a light touch, and you it'll be very unlikely that you will pick up a canter from the walk, and if you do, it will be flat and against the hand.
    12-13-2011, 09:59 PM
Well that's the rub. I was easily able to bring my horse into the trot from this extremely slow walk by simply releasing my hips. It was actually very cool. It's just so confusing. I'm used to a marching walk, but this dead version worked just as well where hot off the leg is concerned. There just seem to be too many interpretations of what constitutes a good walk at least where trainers in my area are concerned. One tells me A and the next B. I'm to the point where I've pretty much stopped taking regular lessons. I'll try to get video of the two versions I've been taught. Maybe you can tell me which one is correct.
    12-13-2011, 10:02 PM
If the slow walk was still in front of your leg, in your hand and tracking then that is good, as long as it doesn't go lateral. However in a test, particularly the lower levels, they're looking for an active, marching, forward walk and that is why you would have scored low in the slower walk.
Slowing the walk has its place, but I wouldn't be using it on a regular basis.
    12-14-2011, 09:40 AM
Thanks Kayty. The shuffling-type of lateral walk is what I think I feel, and what got me thinking that we have a lot of work to do. Isabel is a pretty forward-type Morgan mare but doesn't necessarily use her body correctly. I also found your tip on the head bopping helpful and I will pay attention to that.

Since the weather is heading towards winter here, I don't think we'll have the opportunity to ride out any time soon, so we'll be working on this in the arena .I would love any additional tips, and would definitely enjoy seeing the video of your horse really walking out. Thanks!
    12-14-2011, 10:01 AM
Slow walking is important.. for my horse with a naturally very big gait, especially in the walk, he scored very well in the lower levels and gets 8 on his extended walks but has trouble collecting enough. The forelegs walk too fast and "flutter" before hitting the ground (notable in all walks - mostly the collected).
Sometimes my coach has me walking so slow I feel like I am in a death march but watching the video after you can see that in order to maintain correctness in the walk he has to be going that slow - he can't maintain it faster.

So slow walking has its place - especially lateral walks. The horse should not be pushed fast as that just gets them more and more out of balance. Slow like molasses is the name of the game, and lots of lateral work (shoulder in mainly).

So while a big walk is pretty and gets high marks at the lower levels it is a heck of a lot of work to collect properly. It is important to do forward work only in the beginning of the ride to stretch the back. The main problem I see with tension in the walk is the rider letting the horse, or asking him to, walk far too big and then he can't possibly carry himself and perform a turn on the haunches.
Walk-halt transitions are your friend and until you really have clear collection in the trot and canter, the walk should not be overly messed with.

Good luck!
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