The Dressage Basics with Clemens Dierks Part 2 – The Walk


When we talk about basic paces, we are talking about the paces a horse has been given by nature. The idea is to maintain their purity, and then improve them under saddle. Many riders lose the purity of the paces because their horse doesn’t go properly through, and on the bit. The rider’s driving aids are insufficient and the horse never allows the half halt to flow through its body. The horses develop a block somewhere, the neck, the back, the mouth, wherever, and that takes away the freedom of the pace. The horse becomes restricted through the rider’s aids, rather than enhanced in his paces through the rider’s aids. ‘Through’ is not a hard concept.

You see many horses which pick up a bridle lameness; this is an indication of resisting the aids. Through means the rein aid must flow in a circle-type pattern through the body of the horse without any interference. The rein aid must meet no block or any resistance in between: it must control the tempo, enhance collection, but it must never stop the fluency of the basic paces. With most riders, the rein starts to act like a hand brake, their rein aid goes backwards, rather than allowing the horse to go forward. I find resistance in a horse is always related to the talent of the rider and their standard of riding; I do not find these problems with the good riders. Too many people are not aware that it is normal for the horse to resent something new.

We have to change a horse’s frame, because the frame required to move in the paddock is not the same as the frame the horse needs to carry our weight and to compete. Even from day one, when you put your first halter on the little foal, there is a resistance. Many riders are not talented or skilled enough to immediately work out a way to approach resistances. Wait a bit longer or immediately correct it? We need to consider the training scale. For example, the horse Finnigan we have here, when we saw the first step of passage which he offered to do, it wasn’t even. We immediately stopped and concentrated on working on rhythm. No rider must ever ask a horse to do an exercise which causes loss of rhythm.

The emphasis must always be on maintaining the basic pace and the rhythm, because that is what the judges look for; irregularity has no place in dressage. Irregularity comes through bridle lameness which is caused by weakness, the wrong build up of muscles, bad riding, overfacing the horse, you name it. Some horses are more sensitive than others. Some can cope with bad riders very well and keep going strongly along, but good horses are more sensitive and responsive. We can start by thinking about the walk. I find many people ride the walk on a nice long rein, which is fine. But when those riders start to ride tests that call for a medium walk, a collected walk, the walks suddenly lose the clarity of the four beat. My assessment over the years is that this problem is getting worse. Riders don’t ride horses through in walk.

Horses must be able to walk in any frame, through to collection without losing the clarity of the stride. When a rider feels the horse is offering a bad walk, they usually ride on a loose rein again, and then when they pick the horse up again the same thing happens. We ride the horse through the shorter rein, to develop the flow through of the half halt, the suppleness of the neck, to develop the acceptance of position while still maintaining the purity of the walk. I believe the walk can be improved with good riding at any time, but not on a long rein alone, because you will come back to the same problem.

What is a good walk? That’s a problem I have here in Australia. When I ask riders for the sequence of walk they all start with the hind leg to move the walk off. I start with the front leg as it is in the books by the European Masters. What the horse really does is put the weight on the hind leg and push itself forward, this makes the foreleg start as number one; no horse moves the hindleg first in walk. If a horse starts off with the hindleg first, it means the horse is not pushed from behind into a forward walk. It’s the same in canter, the outside leg is just used with a little spring in it to activate the canter and push the horse forward in front. That’s where people don’t understand the paces, why the horse moves in front. The walk sequence is inside front, outside hind, outside front, inside hind. People are being told the wrong thing, which doesn’t help them understand the walk. I look for more expression in the front leg, like in passage, in the transition from walk to trot. I look for more in front – how much elevation and forward ground the horse covers immediately. It’s always the hindleg that creates the movement of the front. I look for a nice regular four beat in walk, with a good overstep, a normal overstep – not too great, as this can sometimes create difficulties.



The biggest problem in walk is that horses start to pace when the rider asks for collection. This problem occurs because riders don’t understand that in collected walk the judge just doesn’t look for shortened strides. The horse can still step well into his footprints depending on his natural walk – even a bit over – as long as it is collected, active, and has a collected walk frame, has a more arched neck. The picture we are looking for is collection with activity, and is not to be confused with shorter strides. In the past there always was more emphasis on short strides, and it ruined many horses, because it asked for more than their ability to shorten while still maintaining the clarity of the gait.

Many horses who don’t accept the bridle in the correct way and don’t go through, will block in the back and start to pace or lose the regularity of the walk. In collected walk you look for the most possible collection the horse can give you without disturbing the sequence of the walk. We have collected walk, medium walk, extended walk and free walk (on a loose rein). In extension you look for the most overtrack the horse can give you by nature, while it still remains on the bit, the highest point is the poll, less arched neck, frame a bit longer.

Medium walk is the normal walk, the walk you use when you are walking around! It used to be called working walk. You look also for a nice overstep; not as extreme, the horse may be a touch less long in the frame. At any walk the highest point remains the poll, and with the horse’s forehead a touch in front of the vertical. In free walk, the horse can go free and stretch down and be completely relaxed in himself. The neck becomes longer and lower. A horse can have his head between his front legs and it is never behind the vertical. The important thing is the angle between the head and neck, and this must be right.

Go to The Dressage Basics with Clemens Dierks: Part 3 – The Trot

4 thoughts on “The Dressage Basics with Clemens Dierks Part 2 – The Walk

  1. I find the biggest problem I have with my pupils is their inability to follow the big walk offered by the horse when he lowers his neck and strides out. They block the movement with their hips and thighs due to the fact they lack suppleness in their own body in the pelvis area. In other words, they do what I do when I want a horse to slow down….I HOLD my seat and don’t allow it to swing with the walk. This is how I slow and bring a horse to a halt. These riders “hold” their seat as their default neutral position, not realizing they are actually blocking the horses back movement. So they want a bigger more swinging walk, so they kick for more activity from behind, then the horse remains sluggish because they are giving conflicting information to the horse by holding their seat!! Then the horse starts to trot and worse still jog! It took me a while to realise what was happening here. My pupils would ride out on a hack with me on one of my horses, and no matter which horse I was riding, I was always gaining ground in the walk and they were falling behind. I would swap horses and the same would happen. So it had to be the rider and not the horse. The answer I discovered lay in the riders pelvis area, and how they were unable to open and close their hip joints to allow the horse’s back to move them. Now these riders get exercises from me to do at home to open their hips and make them more mobile, which of course they don’t do!! These exercises are based on my experience in a past life as a professional dancer.

  2. Hello, Keith Bartlam!

    I just started riding, in my 30’s… but I’ve got addicted to horses and, mainly, dressage…

    I’m still not even trotting (I believe is for safety measures… and also not to spoil the trot of the horses of the farm).

    I was google searching for “hip movement in the walk” and exercises, cause I myself noticed that I do exactly that what your students do.

    Can you tell me the exercises? Also the timing? My teacher says: “Relax your hips!” and when I do that, it feels like I’m doing nothing with my seat, and when that happens, he says: “You have to feel the movement of the horses shoulder.”

    The thing is, I can only feel that when she is doing the extended or free walk, and it feels really nice, my hips go by themselves… and I don’t even have to think… the problem is really in the medium walk…

    Any hints?


  3. Denis,
    Please look into Sally Swift’s books on Centered Riding. They have any number of exercises and visual aids that would be most helpful for helping you to release your pelvis and hip joints and allow ease of movement for yourself (and thus the horses)!

  4. Hi Denis,

    Keith offers a great reference in Sally Swift’s book. As a pilates instructor and dressage coach, below are three exercises with explanations that may help you. I am also currently writing a series in The Horse Magazine that I very much hope will help you with your position problems. It’s important to have a posture while riding that can provide a framework for your horse to mould himself around but that is also supple enough to move with the horse. You need a combination of postural strength and a certain amount of joint mobility. I trust the following will help. Would love to hear how you get on!
    All the best,

    Hip Circles with a Band

    Primary Purpose:
    Improve ROM of hip joints
    Reduce locked joints
    Improve “suspension” ability of joint

    Set Up:
    Find neutral spine (supine)
    Add lateral breathing
    Switch off global muscles: legs including hamstrings and calves
    Switch on core (breathe in)
    Instruction of move:
    Lie on your back with legs straight. Take a theraband around one foot and stretch the leg up to the ceiling (or as high as you can while keeping the knee straight and not losing your neutral spine. Then take the leg out to the side (anchoring the opposite side of your pelvis to the ground) and then stretch the leg across your body (keeping both shoulder on the ground).
    Pull band to increase stretch. Hold for three deep breathes, relaxing into the stretch on the exhale

    Watch out for:
    Tail bond lifting off ground (except in third stretch)
    Tension in shoulders
    Shoulders lifting off the ground
    Leg not straight
    Hips hitching


    Primary Purpose:
    Spinal Mobility (esp. lower back)
    Strengthen obliques
    Remove blockages in lower torso
    To help rider absorb horse’s movement
    Increase ability to follow horse’s movement

    Set Up:

    Find neutral spine (sitting on ball, feet and knees hip width or legs astride ball)
    Add lateral breathing
    Switch off global muscles
    Switch on core (breathe in)
    Instruction of move:
    1. keeping shoulders still, tilt pelvis back and forward and side to side
    2. keeping shoulders still, circle hips clockwise and anti clockwise
    3. imaging that there is a clock face on the ball, tilt pelvis 11-5 and 1-7 (good for canter transitions)

    Watch out for:
    Movement in shoulders
    * Unevenness in the two halves of the
    * Slouching a collapsing through waist
    Holding breath
    Unevenness between the opposite directions of the hip circles

    Primary Purpose:
    Spinal Mobility
    Balance central nervous system
    Supples back to allow movement of horse to flow through body decreasing injury to horse and rider

    Set Up:
    Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the ground with knees and feet hip joint width apart, arms by your side palms down. Find neutral spine
    Add lateral breathing
    Switch off global muscles: legs including hamstrings and calves
    Switch on core (breathe in)
    Instruction of move:
    breathe out as you imprint lumber and peel back off floor vertebra by vertebra up onto shoulders
    breathe in
    roll back down into neutral, vertebra by vertebra (breathe out)

    Watch out for:
    No segmental movement of spine
    Arching in bridge position instead of neutral
    Lack of symmetry of movement

    I hope they make sense! I have photos but don’t know how to put them in the comment box so if you have any questions, please ask! (

    Happy riding!

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