Training the Spanish Walk

Although I can’t ride Wiley and develop his body, I can do a lot of work developing his mind! Lately I’ve been working on the Spanish Walk. Every new trick he learns helps teach him how to learn. He is starting to actively listen/look/feel for commands.  He is getting easier and easier to train. He is still a giant goofball horse and definitely has a dose of 2 year old ADD, but he loves to learn. He gets so excited when I start teaching him things. He follows me around like a giant puppy. I just have to take into account his short attention span, but he is getting better every day.

Training the Spanish Walk

The Spanish Walk is a pretty simple movement for a horse to learn. I like to start training this movement at liberty so the horse always has the choice to play along or go do something else. Nothing is forced. I keep training sessions short and try to end each session before the horse gets bored. It leaves them wanting more. Here’s Wiley learning the movement. Sorry the images aren’t great. It is a bit tough to cue Wiley, and hold a camera and click at the right time…but I am getting the hang of it.

Train Horse to Spanish Walk: Step 1

While standing on Wiley’s side, I give the command “Lift” and use a long whip (driving whip is best but anything will do) and start to tickle his lower leg. You can also tap.

I kept tickling or tapping until Wiley moved his leg to stop the  tickle. As soon as he picked up his foot, I rewarded him.  Any movement is OK at first. I just want Wiley to get the idea that the tickle or tap does not go away until the leg moves.

Wiley is being tickled until he lifts his leg.
Wiley is being tickled until he lifts his leg.

Train Horse to Spanish Walk: Step 2

Once Wiley, could reliably lift his front left with a verbal “lift” and a tickle of the whip, I asked for the right front. I didn’t change my position, however. I just reached the whip farther over to the right leg.  Once Wiley could lift his front right, I alternated between the legs, but Wiley remained in the same spot. He just picked up whichever leg I cued.

Wiley on some of his first lift attempts.
Wiley on some of his first lift attempts.

Train Horse to Spanish Walk: Step 3

Now for the (sometimes) tough part. Getting a horse to move forward AND lift their legs. Some horses, like Wiley,  get this pretty easily. Some horses seem to take forever to coordinate their back feet with their front feet. They start walking their front feet and their back feet stay stationary. They end up looking like a super parked out Morgan! Don’t worry if your horse is on the slow side of learning this movement. Stick with it. It will come.

I asked Wiley to “walk on” and then ask for the “lift.” At first you may have to touch each leg to help your horse understand, but later on, just putting the whip out in front with the verbal “lift” is enough. In the clip below, Wiley is easily coordinating his front feet with his back and getting pretty consistent with lifting his legs.

Train Horse to Spanish Walk: Step 4

Notice I haven’t yet tried to train expression into Wiley’s Spanish Walk. I like to wait until a horse is comfortable coordinating their feet to train in the bigger expression. Below,  I am beginning to shape Wiley’s walk to offer more expression.

This Spanish Walk shows more expression.
This Spanish Walk shows more expression.

Train Horse to Spanish Walk While Ground Driving

Once the Spanish walk is confirmed, you can add it to your horse’s ground driving and under saddle repertoire. Since Wiley isn’t saddle broke, I am just adding it to his ground driving.

To get a Spanish Walk  while ground driving, I need to change the aids a bit.  This is where the verbal cue “lift” comes in handy. It will help Wiley understand the new aids. While Wiley is walking on the long lines (but lunging in a small circle) I give the command “lift” and then add the new aids – squeeze my left rein and then right  rein in coordination with the leg that I want him to lift. If he needs more information, I will tap his left leg with the whip. When he takes a few Spanish Walk Steps, I reward him.  My goal is to phase out the use of the whip as an aid. When that is complete, I simple get Wiley walking and say “lift.” I then alternate squeezing the left rein for the left leg and then the right rein for the right leg.  It  doesn’t take too long before you can get a horse to take a few steps as Wiley is doing below:

Learning the Spanish Walk on long lines.
Learning the Spanish Walk on long lines.

Why Teach a Horse the Spanish Walk?

This is one of those “tricks” that is really useful later on in dressage training. If your horse is not very forward, like Wiley, you can use the Spanish Walk to train a stress free passage. You can also use it on any horse to get a more expressive passage and to have more control over the cadence. If you are ever at a dressage show, stand by the warm up ring and listen to the breathing of the horses while performing the passage. You will easily detect those that are stressed out while performing the maneuver by their breathing patterns. What I strive for is a a relaxed partner that clearly understands what I am asking and gives it to me willingly. I will eventually show you how to transfer this over to a passage on Wiley. However, he is just a young pup now, so that will have to wait. Go ahead and sign up to receive blog updates now, so you don’t miss out!

2 thoughts on “Training the Spanish Walk

Add yours

  1. I started to teach both Raven and Surf piaffe with the taps. It was hilarious that Raven figured out the pick-up-at-tap almost instantaneously, but I felt like I had to almost whip Surf to get even a slight movement out of her. Yesterday, after not having done this in several months, I tried again. Raven, of course, was perfect…and lo and behold, Surf must have been thinking about it these past months because when I cued her, she had figured it out. 🙂 I truly believe that they sit in their stalls and try to understand what we ask them to do, because oftentimes leaving a new exercise in its beginning stages–as long as the lesson is remembered positively–seems to evoke an “a-ha” overnight.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more on the letting them think about it in their stalls! It definitely works. Leave them alone for days/weeks or more and they can come back even better. I like to rotate what I am working on for that very reason.

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