Watch these two stallions tussling in a parking lot. Do any of their movements look familiar?
These two horses are wild Chincoteague ponies. And at 0:24 you can see the horse on the left doing something that looks very much like a Spanish Walk! If you are not sure what that is, then compare with this plucky little pony’s execution:
The Spanish Walk looks a bit strange at first glance, and you might think that it is an ‘unnatural’ movement that horses would never do on their own. But anyone who has spent lots of time watching horses at liberty will know that some form of this movement is actually something horses do without any training or human motivation, just as this wild stallion demonstrates.
This means that it’s relatively easy to train horses to understand the Spanish Walk – knowing what to do comes easily to them. The real challenge with the Spanish Walk isn’t teaching horses the concept. That part is no trouble and most horses really enjoy performing this movement when it is positively reinforced. They will offer it again and again with great enthusiasm! What is difficult about the Spanish Walk is the physical development that is necessary for the movement to be fluid and rhythmical.
When we train new movements we need to remember that there are two things horses need to have before they can do what we want. First horses need to have an understanding of what we are asking for and be willing to offer that behaviour. This is the mental or psychological aspect of training.
But secondly they also need to be physically capable of doing what we are asking. No matter how clearly they understand what we want from them, it might take time for a horse to develop the strength, balance, flexibility to be able to do it.
It is very important that we remember this fact and try to cater for both elements with our methods if we want the best outcome in terms of both our training and our horses’ welfare.