You are sitting securely in the saddle and it’s time to move off in walk. Your riding instructor should already have you in the correct position — so that you can draw an imaginary line from your ear, through your shoulder, hip and heel. Basically this isn’t going to change very much once the horse is on the move.
There is, however, often a tendency in novice or nervous new riders to lean forward once the horse is in motion. You should resist this urge and sit up straight, looking in the direction in which you wish to go.
Another common fault is to tense up, causing parts of the body to stiffen. To help alleviate this ensure that you take regular breaths, and focus both on your breathing and on certain parts of the body that you know are tense and make a conscious effort to relax them.
To get the horse to move off into walk, gently squeeze him with both calves or lower legs. In those with a tendency to be lazy — and you may find this necessary with particularly steady riding school horses — a small kick with both heels will be needed and (worse case scenario) confirmation of your aid with a tap of your whip behind your lower leg. Again, depending on your horse’s temperament, you may need to squeeze with your lower leg to ensure that he keeps up the momentum in walk unless he is particularly keen and ‘forward going’, in which case your legs can relax at his sides.
If you are just learning to ride a horse, you will notice how much he moves underneath you once he begins to walk. There will be a temptation to mimic the movement, thus exaggerating it with your upper body. To prevent yourself doing this, sit deep into the saddle, allowing just a slight movement of your hips and stomach. Do this and you will be at one with your horse.
Just as your body should slightly rock to the walk movement, so your elbows and arms should constantly ‘give’ with the reins to follow the horse’s head and neck movements. Continue holding the reins so that an imaginary line can be drawn from your elbow, through your wrist and hand all the way to the bit. An inflexible arm will mean that you will be putting unnecessary pressure on the horse’s mouth, which will be both uncomfortable and will send him the wrong signals.
Horses don’t have a brake pedal and the aids you give your mount should be far more subtle than how you stop a car. Never tug forcefully on the reins or jab the horse in the mouth. Instead, squeeze with your legs, but stop ‘giving’ so much with your hands. The application of this small amount of pressure will be enough to halt a well behaved, well schooled horse.
Don’t forget to check our top tips for new riders.