Dressage Walks Compared

These eight images represent diagonal and lateral moments from free walk, extended walk and collected walk. The SUSPENDED WALK, which has the same phase timing as the dressage walks is covered separately.

These images show the author riding the Morgan gelding Raynyday Maximillian (15-3 hands). Frames are from digital video that has been digitized to measure velocity for each walk. These numbers are typical for this horse and fall within the performance range for dressage walks.

Some features of these images are similar, some are different. For instance, stance legs in the lateral moment of all walks have the same spacing (here right fore and right hind), while the diagonal pair in support ( in this case left fore and right hind) are the same in all but the collected walk.

1) Adjustment for stride length is made by legs in the air (swing legs) in both lateral and diagonal parts of a stride: another way to say this is that between the walks there are subtle phase shifts in the positions of legs that affect the amount of ground covered per stride (a stride is made up of steps). Notice in the images below that swing and stance legs have slightly different angles of separation in each walk that indicate phase or timing of the pendulum swing of each leg. In the walks other than the collected walk, the diagonal pair has one leg just past mid stance and one leg just approaching mid stance. For stride length and tempo, the forward speed (velocity) is different for each walk, with the free walk covering the most ground. Tempo is slightly slower for collected walk (about 51 strides per minute) to free walk (56 strides per minute). In a dressage test context, this difference may not be discernable to a judge, but within a given test movement the walk should be regular and not syncopated in its hoof beats.

2) Legs in the air contribute to instability, so their position ahead, behind or under the horse requires energy and balance to accomplish. The suspended walk maximizes the fore and hind limb air position while the diagonal pair is in mid stance, requiring substantial muscular effort plus neurological skill to balance.

In the walks besides free walk, diagonal swing legs (here right fore and left hind) are kept closer and closer to the body as the walk becomes collected. A horse needs a reasonable diagonal base of support for the marching quality of this walk, which has a slightly slower tempo (and thus a slightly longer time) on just two legs. In addition, the diagonal pair of the collected walk reach mid stance at about the same time, making this moment ideal for a transition to piaffe (if the tempo is near 53 strides per minute). If these conditions are present, "the piaffe is contained in the walk."

If you wonder about the practical physics of standing on half your legs, try walking in a slow tempo with longer or shorter steps: even a slightly slower tempo makes slow walking with a markedly flexed swing leg (which has mass in motion) considerably more work to control and balance.

3) Management of leg placement (for instance see the right hind in the lateral moment) is largely a function of the muscles above the knee or hock. Below knee or hock, horses have mainly connective tissue, making their legs react elastically to weight of horse and rider as a leg leaves the ground (for instance see the right fore in the lateral moment). In a very real sense, the horse is caught between the rider's weight aids, seat aids and the ground. For dressage, then, it is crucial for pure gaits to be practiced on correct, consistent footing and with relaxed, accurate aids.

4) A library of dressage skills is gained by the horse and rider by learning all these walks. The horse learns transitions within a gait that requires adjusting stance and swing phase legs (phase shifting). The rider learns the feel of each walk and can relax to the rhythm of the gait or even enhance the gait (very sophisticated use of spiral seat). Transitions among free, extended and medium walks are especially valuable for this kind of learning by touch. Collected walk is a special graduation exercise for a horse and rider pair because of the challenges it presents for coordination and balance. Fluent transitions from medium to collected walk are excellent preparation for piaffe and should be undertaken with great care not to lose relaxation and rhythm.

For the vertical face and poll position critics, this horse is very cresty (genetics and metabolism) and the head bob of the walk briefly shifts the profile behind the vertical as the head moves in synchrony with forelimb placement. And the author does follow the free and extended walk with more amplitude than in collected walk (fingers only follow the head bob).

COMPARISON OF DRESSAGE WALKS
Free walk, lateral moment, vee RF & RH
Free Walk, diagonal: 2 meters/second
Extended walk, lateral moment
Extended Walk, diagonal: 1.8 m/s
Medium walk, lateral moment
Medium Walk, diagonal: 1.7 m/s
Collected walk, lateral moment, note the placement of the right hind, setting up the diagonalization of the walk that appears as nearly simultaneous mid stance of the diagonal pair.
Collected Walk, diagonal: 1.5 m/s
this is why the collected walk covers less ground than medium walk: its energy appears as a marching quality indicated here by the right foreleg. In a movie, the collected walk has a marked "bouncy" quality.

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