Title: Riding the free walk
Subtitle: My horse anticipates the cue for trot during walk.

Case: An amateur dressage rider preparing for a schooling show.

Question: My horse tends to want to always "be ready" for that cue to go forward and when she anticipates it at all she won't stretch out at the walk. When she knows for sure that she's done working then she has a great free walk.

Think about the differences in your mental attitude and physical state between the schooling time when you are training for the free walk and the time when you are done with your training for the day. Be honest. When you are schooling for your dressage test, at what point in your free walk are you already thinking about taking up the reins and making the transition to working walk? Do you ever really relax at all? Compare that to the end of your ride. When you are finished riding for the day, do your hips and legs relax as you let out the reins? What are you thinking about? How are you rewarding the mare?

The problem isn't so much that the mare is anticipating the aid to go forward as it is that she is "reading" your body language during the test! If you are able to ride a free walk across the diagonal of the arena as if it is the end of your daily ride, she'll do a perfect free walk every time!!

Try to be the rider you are at the end of your school DURING your test. You will get your horse to free walk properly because you will be giving the right mental/physical aids. The walk is dependent on the rider. Soft hips and legs allow the horse to stretch down through her neck and back, and to walk with a swinging spine and free hips. If the rider is tense, the horse is tense. It is up to you, the rider, to melt your tension away into relaxation. This will make all the difference in how the horse goes. As you work on free walk be certain that your hips are fluid and that you are not gripping anywhere. Try to remember the feel you have at the end of you workout and duplicate it. Breathe evenly and at the pace you want her to walk. You'll be surprised how much the steady breathing will "cue" the mare to the walk.

When you ride a dressage test or a pattern, mentally break it into individual parts. Ride each individual movement as if it were the only one in the test/pattern. Concentrate on it, execute it, forget it and go on to the next. During your practice sessions, ride all the figures/patterns but not always in the order they are written in the test. Ride calmly and deliberately with great, great care to be consistent with your aids. Do this in your daily rides and in your shows. Although there is a natural increase in adrenaline during a show, it is important to ride consistently, as if you were at home in the practice arena. Consistency is the end all and be all of getting the horse to understand. When she understands she can comply with your light aids.