By Jennifer Klitzke
The counted walk isn’t talked much about in the German dressage circles I’ve been involved with the last thirty years, but it is an exercise I learned recently while studying the French classical dressage philosophy.
The counted walk is more of a balancing exercise than a gait. Each time my naturally gaited Tennessee walking horse gets out of balance by leaning on the bit or feeling heavy in her chest, I ask for a few steps of the counted walk. This gets her engaged from behind, lighter in front, and softer in the jaw. Then I resume the medium walk, flat walk or canter.
I have seen some videos demonstrate the counted walk as a mini piaffe, which is a trot sequence of diagonal pairs instead of a walk sequence of four even steps. In either case, a counted walk or mini-piaffe (or piaffe), both are excellent exercises to help improve balance and engagement in a horse whether it trots or gaits.
Cues for the counted walk
1. First I want relaxation in the horse’s mind and jaw and a light even contact to a snaffle bit.
2. Then I place my horse along the fence and encourage the slowest possible walk she is able to do with the smallest possible steps. While my horse is walking, I encourage her to raise her head and neck while she steps under her body from behind. It feels like the back raises and the withers grow higher while the hindquarters lower. Each step feels softer.
3. If I need more engagement. I will halt and ask for a few steps of rein back to encourage my horse’s back to lift and the hindquarters to engage. Then I will ask for a few more steps of the counted walk.
4. When I feel my horse is in balance, I will move up to a medium walk, flat walk or canter from the counted walk.
I hope this exercise helps you as much as it has helped me. The counted walk might not look like much compared with the deep striding flat walk we are accustomed to, but when you feel the balance of the counted walk and experience how the balance improves the flat walk, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Please write and let me know the difference the counted walk is making for you and your gaited horse.
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