When you learn to ride a horse, your first step after mounting will be to cue the horse to walk. And you really almost have to understand how to halt before you walk, for safety's sake! Once in the saddle the first step will be to learn to sit correctly. Then using natural aids, you will start out at the walk.
Cue for the Walk:
Gather your reins so that you feel a light contact between your hands and the bit.
Use both lower legs to squeeze the horse lightly behind the girth area. Your leg above the knee should remain motionless. At the same time, as you cue with your legs, cue with your seat by pushing forward slightly with your seat muscles.
Some horses are less willing to move forward than others. If your horse doesn't begin to walk nudge with your lower leg. If that doesn't work, urge the horse forward with your heels.
Your hands should follow your horse's head as the neck naturally extends to move forward. Stop cuing as soon as the horse responds. You will find there is a slight rocking motion to the walk. Allow your body to relax and follow the movement of the horse. If your horse starts to fade, cue lightly before the horse has decelerated to a complete stop.
Riding the Walk:
Head: Look forward in the direction you want to go. Don't look down as that stiffens your spine. You want to remain relaxed and supple.
Shoulders: Maintain good posture. Carry your shoulders evenly. A crooked rider will influence the horse, making it harder for it to understand some of your commands. Your arms should be relaxed at your sides, with the elbows bent so there is a straight line from your elbow to the bit in the horse’s mouth.
Seat and Back: Make sure you are sitting square in the saddle, and that your balance is not shifted to one side. Again, a crooked rider will make a crooked horse.
Legs: Keep your lower leg quiet unless you are actively cuing the horse. Don't let your feet slide forward so that you are sitting 'chair seat', or let your legs swing. Looking downwards you shouldn't see your toes. Don't let your thighs, knees or feet turn outwards as this weakens your seat and makes cuing more difficult. Even at the walk you should be working at keeping proper position.
Hands: Your hands should be steady with light contact on the reins. As the horse walks, its head will move slightly with each step. Follow this movement as you hold the reins by flexing your hands and wrists slightly.
Tips For Western Riders
Those riding with Western-style curb bits will ride with a looser rein and not maintain as direct contact with the bit.
When you neck rein, you will be holding the reins in one hand. You may also carry that shoulder more forward. Carry the hand that is not holding the reins in such a way that you'll keep your shoulders even. Some riders will hold their arm bent at the elbow, across the front of their bodies.
Some let their arm hang straight down. However, you choose to hold your free hand, make sure your shoulders are square.
Refining Your Cues
When you first begin riding you will feel awkward. You may feel unable to make all your body parts do all the things they are supposed to at the same time. You may be using muscles not familiar with the job you are asking and have difficulty remembering all you are supposed to do. The key is practice.
As you continue learning to ride your skills, strength and co-ordination will increase, making your cues almost imperceptible. You may be anxious to go faster. But working at the walk allows you to increase your co-ordination, balance and security.