I was in the middle of judging a Training Level, Test 3 class a couple weeks ago, waiting during a brief lull due to a scratch, when my scribe commented how hard she thought the broken-line free walk in that test was for her to do. I mentioned that it should be easy because all she had to do was bring her inside shoulder back.
I’m not sure she believed me. I said the idea was simple to test out and practice—the next time she was doing her warmup on a loose-rein walk, she could just do a lot of looping serpentines around her ring. Every time she wants to turn, she should just bring her inside shoulder back and see what the horse does in response.
That free-walk pattern in Training 3 does seem to flummox some people and involve too much rein, but it’s mostly a case of whether they are aware of which way their upper body should be facing. I’d say about half the riders I see at Training and First Levels tend to lead with their inside shoulder on turns and circles, while those at Second Level and above almost never do so. It’s one of those basics that needs to be sorted out before moving on to the upper levels.
When I’m doing a clinic and the subject arises, I find I often end up explaining it a variety of ways or otherwise it just doesn’t click. If you bring your inside shoulder back, you also need to allow your outside shoulder to rotate forward or else you’ll just be arching your back. Another way to describe it is to rotate your upper body around your core. Or, my favorite: Align your inside shoulder over your inside hip for any movement that involves a bending line (including corners!). Thus, your shoulders will be parallel to the horse’s shoulders and your hips parallel to the horse’s hips.
Back to that bending line at the free walk in Training 3, which goes from K to X to H: As you approach X, simply bring your left shoulder back (or, in other words, rotate your upper body around your core to the left) and face the front of your body toward H. As you gather your reins at H and prepare to enter the corner, you’ll do the same thing again except toward the right.
Try this out any time you’re doing a relaxed walk on a long rein. Simply rotate your upper body around your core and see how the horse responds, whether you’re holding the reins in one hand or two. Not only does the action align your body toward the turn, so that the horse naturally follows, but it will also subtly places the new outside rein along the shoulder, which is another cue. Broken-line free walk? Piece of cake.