Galearites SSF keur (Totilas x Jazz x Roemer)
How often have you seen me post a video of me riding? Like, never. Before you get overly critical, I fully realize I’m not an Olympic-caliber rider, nor am I of a particular body type that is conducive to looking especially elegant on a horse. I haven’t worked legs in over six months, still my calves and thighs have the kind of bulk more suited to a 400-pound Russian powerlifter than to a guy bopping around on one of the best mares in the world. Nonetheless, my thighs and I are having a blast, and Mazey and I have deep-seated affection for each other. We’re both pretty happy with ourselves right now. I’m posting this video because I want to talk about the walk.
In addition to his comments about “scope” in the movement, another of my take-aways from the Annual Meeting was Henk Dirksen’s comments about the walk and the need for us to be aware of what a good walk looks like in our breeding decisions. He didn’t spend much time discussing it, other than to answer one or two questions, but he made an important distinction about power in the walk that clicked for me, so I thought I’d expand upon that from my own riding and breeding; hence, again, my reason for posting a video of me on a horse from our program.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the walk in both training and competing. All walk scores get a coefficient at every level of dressage, don’t they? Many trainers I’ve watched or studied stress the importance of training and practicing many, if not most, lateral movements and exercises in the walk first. Given that it’s the easiest of the gates to be screwed up by training and the most difficult to fix, it makes sense that if we start with the best walk possible, we’re going to end up with a better walk in the competition arena.
So, what is a good walk? I’ve heard many German breeders, in particular, criticize the walks on Dutch horses. They like the “loose, swingy, sexy walks” they see on more of the German horses. The walk has been an issue in Dutch breeding, and it may tie in with the suppleness and use of the body that lead to more scope in the movement in general, as I talked about in my last journal entry. I’m not sure some of the “loose, sexy” walks are what we’re looking for either, however. For me, as it is with all of the gaits, it’s the placement of the hoof and power of the hind leg that I look at first. A loose, swingy walk isn’t going to transition easily or naturally into medium and collected walks if there isn’t power in the hind leg and correct placement of the hindfoot under the point of gravity.
Power in the walk is a little harder to evaluate than power in the trot and canter. In the trot and canter, we get to see an uphill tendency and a moment of suspension as initial measuring sticks. In the walk, although the horse needs to be in self-carriage, there’s a much more horizontal tendency and no moment of suspension. What we can see is that “march” quality that is described in dressage test guidelines, a forward activity generated from power in the hindlegs and an active, “strong” placement of the hoof under the point of gravity. Yes, we still need suppleness and swing in the back, but not necessarily “loose and sexy.”
The question asked of Henk Dirksen at the Annual Meeting was generated because Henk had used the term “big walk” as desirable earlier in the IBOP discussions. Later, when we were watching the free movement of yearlings on up, Henk remarked about one horse with a really big walk as not having enough power. He then briefly went on to describe what he meant by power in the walk and the difference between a big walk and a good big walk.
Back to the video of Mazey and me. We’re taking this whole “getting back to work” thing slowly. Probably more slowly than Mazey thinks is justified, but I want everything we do to be stress free and correct. She was a little sore in her hamstrings yesterday when we shot this. We’ve recently had a break-through on the whole concept of stretching forward and down in all movements. She’s been quite enthusiastic about it for a couple of days…she has today off. Still, although the walk isn’t as consistent as I want it to be eventually, Mazey naturally has great placement of the hind leg and really good energy and power that lead to that “march” quality. At the same time, when you’re sitting up there, it feels like a HUGE, swingy walk, as well. It’s genetic.
Orchis had a fine walk. It was very active, with good power of the hind leg, but it could have been a little more supple. Totilas, however, has an incredible walk. It’s one of my favorite things about him. He has the whole walk package: power, placement, suppleness, and swing. His is a walk I’d call sexy.
I hope these thoughts are helpful. Next, I want to talk about some general breeding selection thoughts. As always, hit me up via FB, email, or text if you have questions or want to chat about something. Always happy to talk horses.