What’s in a Walk
While it may seem simple, the walk is an important gait that can tell you a great deal about your horse’s overall capabilities as a performance animal. With four even beats, a good walk is a sign of a good canter, and offers a predictor of how correct a horse’s movement will be in the long run.
When watching a horse walk from the side, you will see that it steps alternately, left front, right hind, right front, left hind. This produces a balanced gait that carries the rider smoothly without excessive sway.
If a horse is moving forward, in an active walk, you can find out a lot about his overall freedom of movement. The shoulder should be loose, with good reach. The feet should land flat, neither leading with the toe or the heel. At the end of the range of movement, the foot should break over evenly, the front foot leaving the ground before the hind foot comes forward to meet it.
A horse who is naturally engaged will track up with his hind feet so that his hoof prints fall on top of, or beyond the prints from the front hooves. Horses who have been trained to carry themselves through the quarters will also show this type of overstep. If a horse does not step into his front hoof prints, he is either not walking forward, or does not have the forward extension required for collection or working from his quarters.
When watching a horse walk from directly in front or behind, you can see any irregularities of the movement. A horse should track directly forward with his legs, neither swinging them inwards or outwards as he moves. If a horse wings or paddles, he is likely to interfere with himself, often causing injuries and requiring special brushing boots to keep his legs safe. This is a big issue if you need to keep a horse sound for upper level competition.
Another thing to watch for is the straightness of the hoof prints in the dirt. If the horse is being led in a straight line, the hoof prints should be even with one another, neither to one side or the other of the aligned prints. If a horse does not track straight, he will likely interfere with himself.
The walk is a great indicator of a horse’s correctness and potential in the ring. Take the time to look at prospects carefully at a walk, and use that information to help you with your purchase. No matter how young a horse is, his walk will tell you much of what you need to know before you begin training.