Free walk - tension
I have made a lot of progress is the last couple of months with settling down my new little wb's tension. He is no longer terribly cold backed to the point of bucking everytime I did the girth up to even the first hole, and bucking when I got on (no not sore, had him checked out and the saddle), and I am no longer having so much of an issue with his mouthiness. I have removed the flash strap from his bridle and he is a lot happier in the mouth, and I have started to feel a connection coming to my hand now. He is finally in front of the leg, I have established shoulder in and travers on him and he is far more relaxed in general. However, the tension is still there. I make a big effort not to baby him through everything, I allow him to make the mistake and then correct him and when the tension comes, I put him in shoulder in until he gives over the back and comes through again.
My problem now, is the free walk while test riding. Shoulder in has helped me hugely with his tension in medium walk, trot and shoulder fore in canter, but in free walk he loses it.
He will gently chew the reins through my hands coming around the corner from medium walk into free walk, and will come back up to meet the contact and connection from free walk to medium walk on the other side of the diagonal, but during the free walk itself he starts to panic, falls behind my leg, the back stiffens and he comes behind the bridle. If I put leg on, he panics and breaks.
I have been trying to ride my free walks by riding really forward towards my hands, but he continues to break. I have also tried opening my reins to give him a connection to come to, when he comes behind the bridle, and putting leg on, but he ducks back further and breaks.
He is certainly not behind the bridle in all his other work, it's been a tough habit to break but now he very rarely sucks back, only in the free walk. He was previously ridden with draw reins and/or side reins every ride, so it is not surprising that his evasion is to come behind the bridle now and taken a lot of patience to get him out of that habit.
I try to take him out through the forest and roads as much as I can, to get him out of an arena setting, and he will walk out fine into the bridle when out, but as soon as he gets into an arena the tension comes in.
Are there any suggestions for trying to get him to allow a contact in his free walk, and remain ahead of my aids?
Sounds like he's still a little stiff and tightened up.
For a little while, only do a free walk for a minute or two before you get off. Go on the buckle, and sit up there and pat him and say GOOOOOOD BOY! Then hop off and stand there and pet him.
Then start putting a free walk break in the middle of your ride, where you go on the buckle and do a lot of praise. NOT working it in the test pattern, not thinking about corners or transitions, just after a trot or canter, just do exactly like you would at the end of the ride, free walk on easy lines, preferably a large circle, no going from med walk to free walk, just easy peasy.
Stay away from the test pattern and the diagonal for a little while.
Yeah I trot and then walk him out to the buckle for a good 5-10minutes after my ride to warm him down. He will stretch and take the contact in trot no problems, but even just walking him totally relaxed, on the buckle, feet out of the stirrups he attempts to suck back. Not as badly as he does across the diagonal, but it's still very much there.
He is certainly a naturally tense horse so it makes it hard to solve this as he does get quite looky and nervous in the arena. He's the sort of horse that I've had to take very slowly and gently so I'm not looking for a quick fix.
I'll add a few more free walk sessions into his rides though and see what happens, he's not as fit as I'd like him to be yet, so I usually give him at least 2 - 3 solid walk breaks through a ride anyway.
Walk is a fickle thing. As much as we would like to improve it - really you can't. It seems easy enough, but it is so easy to ruin a walk.
The walk will be affected by the rest of the horse's work - this is why the walk still exists in the GP test - to show that the work is not making the horse tense. And also why it is said that very few GP horses can walk!!!
As I think I have said about this horse before - give him time. Working in the walk will most likely just make it worse. I used to own a mare whom I would hand walk for 10 minutes before I rode and then hop on and do only trot and canter - with stretch breaks. She only walked under saddle at shows and maybe for a few strides to practice transitions at home - the walk was that delicate on the mare.
ETA: Walking out in the field is a great way to work the walk though - hill work!! I would really limit the amount of in arena walk work though.
If they are sucking back in the walk it usually means they aren't taking enough contact at other times as well and are tightening up and stiffening up through the neck and so also the back. Leg yield at the walk can help break up the stiffness, so can using your leg to urge the horse to stretch out more to the bit.
In general, using your leg should cause your horse to stretch out his neck and reach to the bit, when you stretch, if you can work very hard to be sure that your legs stretch your horse out - many make the mistake of teaching sort of a cue to get the horse to stretch, rather than stretching them out by using their legs. If he isn't doing that at the walk, he's probably deficient in that area in other gaits too.
A lot of tense, eager horses are actually very stiff, not just in the back but all over, and need a lot of bending and suppling work. A lot of very active working gaits, stretching in hand, and getting very creative with leg yield and even getting them to stretch over cavalletti can help them loosen up, a lot of these horses really need a lot of very forward work that also emphasizes suppling right at the same time.
That at least, is what worked with mine that was like that.
Well, I can't give you the very useful and extremely educated response, as slc & Anebel, but i'll give you my personal experience~
The free walk seems to be the only walk my horse can do, that being said, he'll only relax if I do as well. I find that when I need to free walk, I really have to concentrate on my movement. If I'm tense, my hips won't move with him, and he'll respond accordingly. Another thing I try to do is get the ' we're done for the day' type of feeling, I take a deep breath, calm myself, pretend ( emotionally, not necessarily physically) that the this is our cool out, and near the end, I pretend i'm re-starting, any tension i had before the walk has been released, and a lot of times having a walk in a test helps to clear my head. I then get my 'lets do this!' energy back and continue with the test. =) hope that helps!
slc, thats exactly what I would say to others that were having walk issues, however it does not seem to be the case with this guy. In trot and canter I can put my leg on and almost every time he will now reach into the bridle and the hind leg will come. His natural tendency is to drop behind the bridle and this has come I assume from his previous owner riding him in draw reins every day. But he is starting to come over the back in trot and canter with no problems. Granted I'm still having to work a lot of gaining more flexibility in his hind legs and giving him the strength to take a little more weight behind, but the back is there, the swing is there, the stretch is there.
Only in the walk does the tension REALLY show. Sure there's tension in the other work, he is a naturally tense horse, but he works through it. In the walk, he goes back to grinding the bit, curling, and tightening the back.
As I said, I've been taking him out on trails a fair bit and he'll walk out fine there, but as soon as he comes into an arena the tension returns.
He's certainly not being rushed or pushed too hard, he has been a very difficult horse to get through to and with a lot of nervousness so I've been taking it slow and steady and not pushing too far beyond his comfort zone, giving him a lot of rides where he can just breathe and relax etc.
He has a fantastic 4, a very definite 4 beat march so I'm not hugely worried about ruining it at this stage, it is very strong, but will be careful with it. However thus far I have not seem him go anywhere near lateral - and that was with draw reins swinging off his face pulling him right back in walk... the walk stayed clear even then.
Isn't that something? I have one that just walks like a rock, like that, you couldn't wreck it if you dropped a grand piano on him, the other horse is more complicated, like yours.
I get what you mean that the horse really doesn't feel like it won't go to the bridle in trot and canter.
There is a super super small 'sweet spot' where I feel like the more complicated ones walk the best, I had to just kind of chill and kind of let it happen. And I really did find doing suppling work at the walk was very, very effective with both of them. Lots and lots and lots. In a really stretched out posture.
I didn't use a collected walk though. Medium and medium plus, marching along. Lots of leg yields. I really would stop doing the figure that he gets tight in though, the corner and diagonal. Just go along and walk alot.
I've been doing some walk leg yield on a long rein with him, sometimes he will relax into it, other times he will stiffen even more. The best way to leg yield him in walk I have found is to do it spiralling on a 20m circle with inside bend, he relaxes a little more often doing it in that form rather than on a straight line, so I guess I'll play a little more with that. And as you said, avoid the diagonals coming out of the corner.
I don't want to even ask for the beginning of collected walk as yet, if he's already tense in the free and medium, I feel that he will dop back even further if I try to start asking for some collection.
Again though, trot and canter are fine and I've started to ask for a little more 'sit' behind in both gaits.
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