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The walk, the underestimated gait of the Icelandic horse

Pferfekter Schritt bei Islandpferden

Thoughts and tips on the subject of stride riding by Silvia Ochsenreiter-Egli

In the walk, numerous deficiencies of the training become very visible. It reflects the quality of the riding/ training very clearly. Problems in the horse's rhythm and looseness are difficult to hide in the walk. For example, a lack of pitching movement and a pushed away back with accompanying faults in rhythm are clearly visible faults in influence. When not forced to move quickly, the horse spends most of its time at a walk in the wild in search of food. The walk is the horse's comfort gait. This knowledge can be used for a healthy and horse-friendly training

How can I recognise a good walk?

The eight phases of the walk 1st phase: rear left takes off, three-legged support 2nd phase: front left takes off, right bipod support 3rd phase: rear left foot lifts up, three-legged support 4th phase: right rear lifts off, diagonal bipod support 5th phase: front left lifts up, three-legged support 6th phase: front right lifts off, left bipod support 7th phase: right rear lifts up, three-legged support 8th phase: rear left lifts off, diagonal bipod support
Heljar der Schritt-Professor
Background knowledge from horse evaluation

The quality of the stride can be recognised relatively easily by the following criteria: A good stride has sufficient overstride and ground cover. The reach of the forehand is limited by the angle of the shoulder blade to the upper arm bone. Overstride is the reaching out of the hindquarters. In a good stride, the horse's hindquarters are about one to three hoofbreadths above the track of the equilateral foreleg. The span of the overstride also depends on whether the horse stands more in a rectangular or square format. In addition, various other conformation characteristics are decisive for the stride length. Therefore, the stride cannot be judged purely on the basis of the stride and the ground cover. Even horses with strong faults in the beat can have good stride lengths.

At the walk the horse should go forward diligently without hurrying. For a fraction of a second the lateral pair of legs then forms a "V!" The more clearly this V can be seen, the better the stride. This occurs when the front leg stays on the ground long enough. It may only leave the ground when the hind leg of the same side arrives. The hind hoof then steps over the impression of the front hoof. A good walk is characterised by a clear four-beat rhythm and does not show any pass-like or "jagged" (shifted to trot) hoof sequences. This is only possible if the horse can take up enough weight on the hindquarter.

Different tempi in walk

Different tempi can also be ridden in walk. A distinction is made between medium stride - strong stride - collected stride. Walk is not ridden at working pace, as in this gait the clear impulse forward and frame extension is always desired.

At the beginning of the horse's training, it is mainly the Medium Walk that is ridden, as both the strong stride and the collected stride require many years of training on the part of horse and rider. The collection is also the last point on the scale of training. At medium speed, reinforcement is already required. This means that the thrust of the hindquarters outweighs the carrying power. The horse should broaden its frame, i.e. stretch its neck and back more and show a clear impulse forward.

In the strong walk there should be maximum frame extension. This means that the hind hoof must clearly step over the track of the front hoof and thus the strides become more ground covering but not more hurried. The pitching movements of the horse's head also become more pronounced.

In the collected walk the horse should clearly take more load on the hindquarters. The strides become shorter and loftier, but not slower. No more pitching movement is visible. The horse is proudly erect and goes clearly through the neck. Under no circumstances is it allowed to overstride any more.

Who could serve as a better example for walk training than Heljar frá Stóra-Hófi?

Heljar is known beyond the country's borders for his outstanding walk: The 18 year old Aron son received the mark 10 at the FIZO in Wurz 2011 for this gait and also many other times at the show. Using Heljar as an example, we wanted to take a closer look at stride and some possible variations.

Islandpferd im Schritt

Free Walk

Here we see free walk on the long rein. The horse is not in contact, but steps very far under and stretches the neck. The hindquarters stay on the ground for a long time and push more than they carry. Heljar is relaxed and loose, the shoulders reach out. Free walk should only be ridden as a short reward. Riding too long in this position can cause the horse to stumble and overload the forehand.

Many riders have the feeling that their horse is perfectly balanced when riding free at the reins. But if the horse is to carry the rider without being damaged, a good and even rein connection (contact) is essential. Only in this way does the back arch up correctly through the mobilisation of the so-called flexor chain * (driving aids on the girth!) and we can promote the horse's carrying capacity and balance through our influence. Shorter sequences on the reins do no harm at all and strengthen mutual trust. The horse may perceive this as a reward, but must be solidly balanced by the rider's seat at that moment.

Medium Walk

Now we look at correctly ridden medium stride in good contact with a clear arching of the back and flowing energy through the whole body of the horse. The horse is at the aids, the topline is round and long and the nose is slightly in front of the vertical. The hindquarters are still very clearly undercut, but no longer stay so far behind the body on the ground and the hocks are slightly more bent.

The rider must follow the movements of the horse's neck elastically from the loose arms/shoulders without losing the connection to the horse's mouth. The leg resting on the girth supports the respective hind leg on the same side at the moment of the footing. The attentive rider can feel this very well, as the horse's trunk swings to the opposite side of the forward-footing hind leg. Thus the rider's calf is taken along by the horse's belly at exactly the right moment. The horse picks up the driving aids itself, so to speak.

Tip: Do not actively knock on the horse's belly or apply too much pressure. This inhibits the horse's forward motion and blocks the flow. Pulling on the reins, which slows down the equilateral hind leg and makes the movements stagnate, is just as faulty. Last but not least, the rider should be flexible enough in the pelvis (the middle pose) to allow himself to be carried along by the horse's back. The source of error here is an exaggerated pushing back and forth with both ischial tuberosities. A rider sitting in such a way takes away the impulse of every horse to step loosely forward to the hand and to close from the back to the front.

Collected Walk

Here we see a first approach (!) to the so-called collected walk. Here the horse is only allowed to seal, i.e. the hocks are increasingly bent. This allows the pelvis to lower and the hindquarters to take up more weight, enabling the horse to rise proudly from the withers. The horse strides with a steady four beat gait, set and raised. The maintenance of diligence is very important. The collected walk is energetic and light-footed. Not slow, dragging and without energy. The strides are shorter, but higher.

Attention: Very few riders and horses are able to ride/walk at a correctly executed collected walk. In Icelandic horse riding, the so-called "shortened walk" is mainly used. Riding at a shortened walk, i.e. with a minimal gain in space but not necessarily collected, is very good for oiling horses or preparing them for a halt parade. Please do not "experiment" with the assembled step without expert guidance, because There are numerous sources of error with sometimes negative consequences for the horse.

Some riders try to pull the horse's head up for collection in order to straighten it. In doing so, the withers drop and the horse goes in absolute (false) uprightness with its back pushed away on the forehand without being able to bend the hocks and take up the load. With this type of influence, the rhythm is often lost and the horses become extremely tense, lateral, uneven in the hindquarters and come to a standstill. When the horse loses the forward thought at the collected walk and starts to creep behind the rein, we see that although at first glance the topline appears round, it is a horse that walks without active hindquarters with short movements and not arched back. If this curling is reinforced by a rider's hand acting backwards, this type of "pulling behind the reins" in its extreme form is known as Rollkur . Both types are detrimental to the horse's health and psyche in the short and long term.

Extended Walk

In the strong stride, wide, ground covering strides of the horse are desired. In addition, the horse should step further forward and over than in the medium stride. The length of the stride depends on the horse's natural disposition and build. The rider lengthens the reins without giving up the contact in order to achieve the necessary extension. The horse's natural pitching movement is allowed by the rider's hand. In dressage competitions from Level M upwards, the strong stride is a criterion. This is very strenuous for the horse and should therefore only be ridden for short distances, always in conjunction with a subsequent relaxation of the movement and stretching of the neck.

The strong walk as well as the collected walk are not explicitly required in the usual Icelandic horse competitions. Only in the so-called "Gæðingafími", the Icelandic dressage freestyle, a mixture of demanding lessons and the riding of all gaits in the arena, is attention paid to these types of stride. However, Heljar likes to take strong steps. It is, so to speak, his parade discipline.

Conclusion

In my experience, every horse is able to walk in time with good energy and clean contact if the rider actively uses walk as a gait in which the horse is not only relaxed on the long rein or on the reins, but is also worked correctly. What cannot be worked out in walk will be even more difficult to achieve in all other gaits.

In the next issue we will deal with two different lessons in walk, which can be ridden both in the field and in the riding arena. The permeability and muscling/health of your horse will noticeably improve through good and clever step work and you will feel how positively this can also influence the other gaits! For those who are curious, here is a link to a step video made by Heljar in February 2021. You can also find it on www.hafnersholt.de

https://vimeo.com/519854067

* In the horse there is on the one hand the extensor chain, the so-called dorsal chain or topline. These are all the muscles that stretch from the head to the entire spine. On the other hand, there is the flexor chain, the so-called ventral chain or lower line. All these muscles curve or flex the spine, starting at the head. Only through an active flexor chain can the horse's back arch up and carry the rider without damage. However, if there are weak points in the muscle function chains, then coordinative emergency programmes run in the organism, so to speak, and individual links of the chain become overloaded. What starts with muscle cramps can have fatal consequences for the horse in the long run.

Heljar im Tölt

Silvia Ochsenreiter-Egli has been enthusiastic about animals and horses in particular since childhood. After several internships in Iceland, Austria and Switzerland, she has been working full-time with Icelandic horses since 1999. Silvia is passionate about teaching, training, breeding and sales at Hafnersholt. Born in Allgäu in 1976, she was a member of the IPZV’s Young Rider squad and, with her stallion Blivar von Birkenlund, a member of the IPZV’s federal squad (B-squad). Bavarian, German, Swiss and Central European championship titles adorn her riding career.

Heljar frá Stóra-Hofi is the most successful horse in the stable. Among other things, he became three-time Swiss champion, six-time runner-up, twice bronze medal winner at Central European championships (everything in five-gait and five-gait combination). In 2018, Silvia and Heljar were able to win the Central European Championship title in five-speed and five-speed combination at the high point of their careers so far. His step is legendary and has been rated 10 several times.

Silvia has been a member of the Swiss national team since 2013 and started for Switzerland in Berlin, Herning, Oirschot and Berlin again.

Silvia is IPZV Trainer B and IPVCH Trainer B (recognized in Switzerland).

Silvia is part of #teamsportsfreund and is sponsored by us. Here is her interview.

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