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Spanish walk – Classical and Neo-Classical February 21, 2014

Posted by mikeschaffer in dressage.

Recently Horses for Life published this article about Anja BeranThe Perfect SpanishWalk”. There is no argument from me that Anya does very nice “classical” work as is reflected in her classical Spanish walk.


In this walk the horse is bringing his head up and a little back to free and elevate the shoulder which he does very nicely. However, there’s a price for elevation obtained this way. Notice how much his back drops every time the foot elevates. This works because she’s light of weight (and aids) on a stocky, very strong backed horse.

I’m heavier and always manage to end up with longer and therefore relatively weaker backed horses. So my approach is to rock the horse laterally instead of rocking him back, and to teach him to free his shoulder by stretching his topline while lifting his leg. This tends to lift the back, rather than drop it. Here’s an example of me teaching my neo-classical Spanish walk. Note this is a training example so the aids are exaggerated.

Here’s the same clip with me explaining as it goes.

Finally, to put this in the context of the version of “classical” which put the emphasis on keeping the poll up, and the neo-classical of today which puts the emphasis on keeping the back up, here’s a video from 1920. Note that this rider is using the inertia of the horses head to create more elevation of the stride, but this makes the horse very hollow. As a result, skillful as he is, can’t sit to the trot correctly.




1. saraannon - February 21, 2014

discusses how the difference in the structure of the hindquarters affects the outward appearance of horse’s movement. This is especially obvious comparing modern ‘sport’ horses to horses of baroque conformation and abilities. A little solid information can save a lot of arguments and more importantly a lot of horses a whole lot of suffering.

mikeschaffer - February 22, 2014

Hi Sara, I’m not sure if you’re agreeing with me or not, but it appears you’ve put a lot of thought in this.

2. maura Jordan - February 22, 2014

Very nice mike Boy Deedles has come a long way ! I lost your email love to hear from you.

3. Bruce Peek - March 15, 2014

To get his back up, say in shoulder in, do you use inside leg, then release, followed by a feel with your outside leg , then release and lighten your seat? I have found that an inside touch, release, feel of the outside aids, lighten and release seems to work. After my horse lifts his back he seems much less crooked and relaxed..
Bruce Peek

mikeschaffer - March 17, 2014

Hi Bruce – good to hear from you again. Sorry it took so long to get back to you.

In truth I don’t focus my thoughts as much on the aids I use as I do on the result I want. Similar to walking, I don’t concentrate on how I place my feet, I just look to where I want to go and go there. However, the aids you’re describing sounds quite feasible.

I notice you say he was “less crooked” when his back came up. I’m a bit suspicious that his back came up because you made him less crooked – straightened him. Does that ring true with you?


4. Bruce Peek - March 17, 2014

yes indeed, isn’t the purpose of the lateral work in ALL movements to straighten the kind of horses I can afford? Sidekick( my horse) has front legs with non symmetrical offsets from the knees down 3 and 1/2 degrees on the right front and a couple of degrees on the left front. He’s extremely hollow to the left and quite stiff to the right. My hope is that I can even him up through flexing and bending and proper physiotharapuetic dressage. When he grazes his habitual body stance is with his left front extended and his right front propped back underneath himself. When he moves at liberty there is a noticeable difference between his straightness- much more even to the left and more often than not corkscrewed and propped out to the left when he’s on a right lead canter. I assume proper movement in a relaxed and straightened posture will get rid of the unevenness..
best wishes
Bruce Peek

mikeschaffer - March 17, 2014

Hi Bruce,

He’s extremely hollow to the left and quite stiff to the right. My hope is that I can even him up through flexing and bending and proper physiotharapuetic dressage.

I address hollow/stiff in Riding in the Moment, in the chapter on Circles.

The solution to fixing a hollow horse (also known as “one
sidedness” — an actual word in dressage speak) as well as the falling out is to put the horse on the circle with the “hollow” side out. Then the rider has to make the contact even in both reins by taking up more on the outside and softening the contact on the inside. While this sounds simple enough, most horses tend to object disproportionately to this exercise. They throw their heads up, invert their bend, and try to run out or fall in. However, if you can stick with it for a few minutes, keep the contact even on
both reins while ignoring the horse’s frame and bend, most horses will soon settle. Then they figure out the easiest and most comfortable way to deal with even contact is to put their heads down, bend, and stretch into the outside rein. This exercise is best done on your horse’s “natural circle”

    Riding in the Moment

I realize this approach is really, really simple and it doesn’t worry at all about all the reasons why a horse is stiff and hollow, it just really, really fixes it. Give it a go and let me know how it went.


5. Bruce Peek - April 22, 2014

Most horses tend to object disproportionately to this exercise,’ and how!.. Sidekick really doesn’t like this at all at the trot. I think I have run into a body pain issue with him. Either hocks or stomach ulcers. He holds his pelvic girdle stiff so his psoas(sp) muscles don’t flex and he doesn’t tuck his pelvis and lift his back, and then he stops moving, and then becomes reluctant to move at all to the right on a circle. So I’m having the vet out to check this week. Also he tends to drop out behind and drag a hind toe which causes his stifle to counterflex. I read on Kerry Ridgeways site about scoped horses on treadmills showing acid splashing up onto their ulcers being reluctant to move, and showing the same behavior pattern. He prefers to move up into a canter, oddly enough- maybe theres only one acid splash per stride with the canter- whereas with a two beat gait like the trot its more uncomfortable for him. At the walk though its pretty much clear sailing and he doesn’t counterflex nearly as badly.. So I’ll see what the vet says.
best wishes
Bruce Peek

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