The Spanish Walk for more shoulder freedom

Last year in May, I had the great opportunity to work for and with Morten Thomsen, former Danish Olympic Dressage Rider. Two weeks of "holiday" at Dressage Arvé in Silkeborg, Denmark, gave me enough time to at least get some very useful tips from this well-known clinician. Morten is travelling all across Europe and the USA for clinics, even training with Ingrid Klimke.

There was one advice that I really found useful, especially for my own horse. Hafl is not the one blessed with a big movement, thus, working on his gaits is an essential part in our daily training. Normally, we are taught to concentrate on the haunches but this exercise concentrates on the front legs: Morten teaches all of his horses the Spanish Walk. It is way more than a fancy-schmanzy exercise. With the Spanish walk, you teach the horse to lift his shoulders better and developing more strength to lift his front legs higher and further out. In addition, with the Spanish Walk, you can improve your horse's coordination.

There were even studies conducted on this issue. Annika Pohle from Hogschool Van Hall Larenstein examined the effect of a special training program on forehand activity in trot. 17 horses in Germany were trained and observed over a period of three months. Several different training methods were examined, among them the Spanish Walk. After three months, trot of observed horses had improved and, on top of that, there was a positive effect on relationship between horse and rider and the mental state of the horse. A summary on how and what was examined can be found (only in German though) here:

Until now, Hafl has still not learned to really walk but lifting his legs already works with finger pointing. Even under saddle, he is able to lift his legs when being touched. But how to start? Morten uses a bamboo stick for working on the ground. He touches the front leg with the stick and as soon as the horse starts to lift his leg, he stops and rewards the horse. Further, he moves the horse a few steps before starting to touch the leg again. For me, the most difficult thing was to let the horse keep the leg in the air until the stick was put away. Hafl often cheats here, as he simply puts his leg down too fast (stomping rather than keeping the tension). Whenever we have time though, we try to improve it slowly. I guess with me being more accurate on this, we would improve way faster.

Last year, we took a pic of it:

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