How The Walk Changed My Ride

Valonia Stonleigh-Burnham 2013, taken by the Horse Pesterer Valonia Stonleigh-Burnham 2013, taken by the Horse Pesterer

Hands down, the best piece of advice any teacher ever gave me was to review my notes from class that same day, and every day until the end of the semester. Did I swear by this code, and never veer off the tracks towards perfect grades? Of course not. I am human after all. And yet, this advice, as simple as it may seem, holds tremendous value.

I’m guessing thousands of students at one time or another found themselves cramming to study material in one evening that essentially covered an entire semesters worth of information. I’m only guessing this, because I experienced this agony first hand.  I’m also guessing at one time or another that thousands of students had wished they had studied that semester’s material all along, so that the information was readily accessible. Setting aside a little bit of time every day to practice and learn does pay off. Similarly, if you go through life skipping steps and never filling in the holes, life has a way of biting you in the rear.

I got to thinking about skipping steps recently and how it applies to riding horses. So many of us want to gallop and jump huge obstacles, or work on flying changes, but there’s a great deal of skill and practice that must go into this formula before you can start reaping the benefits. I would argue that I have skipped some steps that are starting to haunt my riding. Fortunately, for me, the winter months are solely dedicated to practice and awareness. Not a soul sets foot on the farm from December through April, therefore I have myself and my horses to think and worry about. These months may have been tiring, and trying, but they always teach me something when all is said and done.

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This winter has revolved around my mare. Fast forward through Valonia’s sassy teenage years, and I’m left with a horse I truly cannot wait to ride every day. Even though she has been a treat to ride, she still has her issues. Some of her favorite games to play are as follows: the wiggle out of connection game; the I don’t need to be THAT straight game; and the Please hold me up, Im huge, therefore Im tired game. Believe it or not, the hardest gait for Valonia is the walk. We struggle in this department, and therefore have skirted around this intolerable process. When things start getting difficult in the walk, I immediately abandoned ship and go to trot, or canter, ultimately thinking our issues have disappeared.

Well, all of a sudden this winter our issues started piling up and overflowing. The problems I never faced in the walk were hurting us in the trot and the canter. Maybe if some random person came and watched me ride Valonia, they might not see such transparent issues. Like I said, my mare is sneaky and has mastered manipulating our rides on a minute level. At some point I knew the walk had to be addressed…so, here’s what I did.

A little over a month ago I dedicated an entire ride to the walk. It was challenging for both of us and took a serious amount of time and patience. I let her walk around on a loose rein, but then we got down to business. I asked that she be soft, connected, through and straight…ALL AT ONCE. Did she take this session like a champ? Heck no. She’s a large opinionated mare…duh! She tried wiggling and squirming her way out. She tried cantering when I asked for her to walk. She tried walking backwards. She did everything she could think of, until she realized I wouldn’t go away. At that point she gave in.

Dedicating that afternoon to the obvious hole that desperately needed to be filled in, ultimately changed my ride for the better. Everything I asked for in the walk, translated into the trot and the canter. Every challenging ride I had last summer seems like ancient history now. At times, skipping steps may seem like a good idea, but with horses, glossing over holes in our training is never a good idea. Approaching the issues head on seems like a much better option. So…what issues do you gloss over, or need to address?

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