After a day of judging, the dressage judges at a show will often ask each other how their day went and what they saw that was interesting.? Last week in Orlando, Saturday evening I commented that I’d seen particularly good Grand Prix rides, but that lateral walks seemed to be the theme of my day.? (A lateral walk has two beats, like a pace, rather than the correct four separate beats.) The two rings were arranged so I was judging Third Level on up while the other judge had all the lower-level rides, and our schedules were due to be switched on Sunday so all the competitors would be seen by both of the judges.? The other judge commented that she didn’t have any lateral walks all day Saturday in her lower-level tests.
While it’s true that we’re more likely to see lateral walks in upper-level tests, they occur plenty of times in the lower levels as well.? So, this was sort of interesting.? Sure enough, I don’t think I used the dreaded L word even once on Sunday, and the other judge mentioned at lunch Sunday that she?d indeed seen quite a few lateral walks that day so far.? At the same time we noted that even though we’d seen a lot of lateral walks in the collected walk portion of the tests, that the extended walks were clean, which was a very good sign.
Lateral walks can be caused by a variety of reasons, but the first cause one usually looks for is tension, and indeed a lateral collected walk calls for a lower score under the score for submission at the bottom of the test.? Occasionally, when riders start working on the more-challenging upper-level movements, tension from the effort causes a loss of the four-beat walk rhythm.? Many trainers can quickly recognize the side-to-side camel-gait feel of lateral steps and ease off their demands at that moment.? There are other techniques that can restore a correct footfall, but the first step is recognizing the problem right away, because if that doesn’t happen it can develop into a serious habit that is hard to rectify.
I’ve been through whole days of judging the complete range of tests and not seen even one lateral walk.? On other occasions it can show up all day in both the collected and extended walks.? it’s really such a shame to have to give a score of 4 or lower at that point, but that is what’s called for.? THere’s really no explanation why this can seem like a communicable disease at some shows.? When the horse turns the corner in the walk we look for signs in that moment that there is still a glimmer of a four-beat walk, which is more likely to occur on a curved than straight line.? One of the first exercises that can help restore correct rhythm is bending lines and even some leg-yielding at the walk.