Why am I losing marks for ‘inconsistent stretch’ in free walk on a long rein?
If a judge is telling you your free walk on a long rein is inconsistent then the length of her strides and the shape of her frame is changing, however slightly. She may not be lifting her head up and jogging but she may be tightening up for a few strides, drifting off the line she should be on or overbending and losing the contact.
What you should be aiming for is a powerful walk where she’s pushing forward into your contact even though she’s on a long rein. It’s common for the contact to become a bit weak when riders are thinking more about showing the judge they’re allowing their horse to stretch (and not restricting them) and are sitting still because they’re trying to avoid a jog.
The key thing to remember with free walk on a long rein is that the horse is still working between your leg and hand but in a longer, looser frame. It needs as much leg as a canter transition or a medium trot. It’s very easy to lose your contact or use less leg and that’s enough to make her tighten up because she feels unbalanced and look for the contact.
If this is something you’ve had before I’d go back and watch old videos to see what’s happening.
Look for the length of her back and neck – at no point should she shorten in her back or neck until you take up your contact. You’ll see this more obviously in the length of her strides (which is where a judge will be focusing) as she should be over tracking the whole way across – just one or two shortened strides shows she’s tightened up in her back.
Look at the angle of the front of her face – it should be perpendicular to the ground, so she’s stretching down and forward in the direction she’s heading.
Watch the height of her poll – once you’ve allowed her to stretch her poll should stay at the same height until you return to medium.
Make sure your hands stay either side of her withers and level – if one pulls back you’ll put an invisible brake on that side and that will make steps on that side shorter and it might mean she starts to swing her quarters that way.
Remember to move your hands forward and back with her head and neck movement; if you’re really riding forward this is easy to do – if you can’t then you know you need more leg.
I’d practise free walk on a long rein anywhere and everywhere because it gives you double points for a start – but also because it will really improve her trot and canter too.
There’s a blog post here that might help too – http://www.schoolyourhorse.com/2011/08/06/free-walk-on-a-long-rein-not-off-it/