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Understanding & Assessing Your Horse's Movement: Part 1 - The Biomechanics of Walk

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

In the first part of this series of blogs about the paces we will look at the biomechanical effects and benefits of walk and also share tips on how to assess different qualities in the walk and how to improve them.

gillian higgins horses inside outLaura Tomlinson and Rose of Bavaria (Betty) during one of our photoshoots. Photograph by Helen Richmond Photography.

You can learn so much more about this topic in the horse movement video course Anatomy in Action.



Walk is a regular four-beat gait and compared to trot and canter, walk uses the most thoracolumbar rotation and lateral flexion - this is why it's great for mobilising the back. The larger the steps the bigger the movement. The key things to look for that indicate good back movement are the swing of the tail and symmetrical head and neck movement. Spending plenty of time in walk, particularly at the beginning of a session, is really beneficial for loosening up the joints, back and muscles. This is particularly useful over the winter months when your horse may spend more time in the stable.


Top tip:

Walk your horse around in-hand before mounting. If you're planning a schooling session walk at least two circuits in both directions before getting on. If you're hacking out - walk the first and last mile.


The benefits of walk for your horse

Often underestimated, walk is has many many benefits and is something we should utilise:

  • It's a slow pace with no moment of suspension. There is time to think and react for both horse and rider, this is particularly useful when learning a new skill.

  • Walk is a low impact gait so exercises can be practised in walk many more times compared to faster gaits.

  • The joints, fascia, tendons and ligaments are loaded gradually. This is good for reducing the risk of injury particularly with weak, tired and older horses, as well as those coming back from injury.

  • Walk is a good pace to encourage relaxation.

  • There is less stretch and elastic recoil compared to the faster gaits. Walk requires slow controlled contractions, making it an excellent gait for enhancing strengthening exercises.


If you'd like to learn more about the biomechanics of the walk and other gaits you'd love Anatomy in Action


The different walks

This video gives the opportunity to compare different horses walking, ridden and loose, both in slow motion and at normal speed. With the skeleton painted on the sides of the horse it helps to visualise what is happening biomechanically.


The biomechanics of walk is studied in much more detail in our webinar series 5 episode 1


This webinar uses high-definition slow motion videos, Gillian’s signature anatomically painted horses with views from above on a treadmill as well as from in front and behind in addition to the traditional side view. It studies problems in the walk from irregularities to asymmetry and straightness issues.

Gillian also suggests techniques and exercises to improve this gait and offers her top tips for improving the walk and how to gain higher marks in your dressage tests. This webinar will give you the tools to accurately assess the walk.





You can also learn a lot more about this topic in the horse movement video course Anatomy in Action.



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