Since many who ride here at Rising K Ranch are quite new to horseback riding, and maybe are drawn to our ranch because they are visiting Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon National Park, I sometimes give a little bit of beginner riding advice here on the "Horse Sense" blog. This particular "Horse Sense" blog will cover: "How to Ride a Horse at a Walk."
Even though the horses in western movies can gallop for days without resting, the horses here at Rising K Ranch do a lot more walking than they do any other speed. When I was growing up I had a couple horses that I worked about five days each week where my sole purpose was to make endurance horses out of them. My routine started out with a lot of walking and trotting and very little loping, but my end goal, after about 60 days, went something like this:
1. Walk for ten minutes.
2. Trot for twenty minutes
3. Lope for fifteen minutes
4. Trot for twenty minutes
5. Walk for fifteen minutes.
This was a lot of work, took a lot of time, and made the horses remain very well maintained. You will notice, however, that there is a lot more walking and trotting in that daily horse workout routine than there is loping.
In fact, during most of my own personal trail rides up the mountains here in Utah, as well as during the times gathering cattle or taking an overnight pack trip, I remain at a walk and trot almost the entire day without ever going into a lope and rarely if ever into a full run.
To answer the title question, then, here is how to ride a horse at a walk:
1. Keep your heels down and toes up. This will keep your balance proper and make your ride much more comfortable. If your heels are up, you risk spooking your horse by kicking him in the flanks, which may cause him to buck or run away with you. Even if your horse remains perfectly calm, however, riding a horse with your heels up will take a definite toll on your back, give you a horrible leg cramp, and will make you more prone to fall off the horse if he stops suddenly (even from a walk) or if you are going down even a tiny hill or dip.
2. Sit up. You don't quite need to sit like you're on parade, but you will probably feel like that is how you're sitting. If you slouch while you ride at a walk, you will hurt your back, and you will also make it more difficult to cue your horse to stop since the first cue to tell you r horse to stop is to slouch down a little in the saddle. Obviously, if you are always slouching you are always desensitizing your horse to a very important stopping cue that you will need if you ever decide to try your hand at reining, cutting or cowhorse events.
3. Look where you want to go- not just at your horse's ears. This will assist you in your efforts to sit up, will help you communicate with your horse when it comes to telling him where you want him to go, and will also make your horseback ride a lot more memorable because you will be seeing so much beautiful Zion and Bryce Canyon type of country rather than just seeing your horse's ears and whatever is five feet past your horse's ears.
4. Breathe. Whenever we try anything new, we have a tendency to strain, to get tense and to hold our breath. The best way for you to resist the natural tendency of tensing up is simply to force yourself to breathe. You cannot force yourself to relax, but you can force yourself to breathe, and breathing will make you relax.
5. Do not balance with the reins or the saddle horn. You will have a much better horseback ride here in Utah if you will simply trust both your horse as well as your own balance and quit gripping onto the saddle or reins for dear life.
First of all, you physically cannot keep yourself in the saddle by means of your arms anyway. Even in a true saddlebronc rodeo situation, balance is maintained by proper use of the seat and one hand on the bronc rein lifting straight up- never by holding as tight as you can and using brute arm strength. Secondly, using your arms to stay on will make it impossible for you to make use of leg and seat cues which are just as important as the reins. And finally, using the reins for balance unfairly pulls on the horse's mouth for no reason.
Remember, your horse's mouth is sensitive- it's a mouth. You can't use it like it's a third stirrup or your horse's mouth will become desensitized and he will never know when you really want to stop or back up.
If you keep these five tips in mind, you will be a good ways toward having a wonderful, memorable horseback ride. If you are ever out here in Utah visiting the Zion National Park area or the Bryce Canyon National Park area, I hope you will drop in and make use of these, and many other, horseback riding tips.
See you soon!