Dressage for the Non-Horsey Boyfriend - Part 3: The Trot

In our Dressage For the Non-Horsey Boyfriend Series were are not coming to the more interesting gaits. First, let’s talk about the trot.

Again, the quotation from the rule book first:

1. The trot is a two (2)-beat pace of alternate diagonal legs (left fore and right hind leg and vice versa) separated by a moment of suspension. 
2. The trot should show free, active and regular steps. 
3. The quality of the trot is judged by general impression, i.e. the regularity and elasticity of the steps, the cadence and impulsion in both collection and extension. This quality originates from a supple back and well-engaged hindquarters, and by the ability to maintain the same rhythm and natural balance with all variations of the trot. 
4. The following trots are recognised: Working trot, Lengthening of steps, Collected trot, Medium trot and Extended trot. 
4.1. Working trot. This is a pace between the Collected and the Medium trot, in which a Horse’s training is not yet developed enough and ready for collected movements. The Horse shows proper balance and, remaining “on the bit”, goes forward with even, elastic steps and good hock action. The expression “good hock action” underlines the importance of an impulsion originating from the activity of the hindquarters. 
4.2. Lengthening of steps. In the test for four (4)-year-old Horses "lengthening of steps" is required. This is a variation between the Working and Medium trot in which a Horse’s training is not developed enough for Medium trot. 
4.3. Collected trot. The Horse, remaining “on the bit”, moves forward with the neck raised and arched. The hocks, being well-engaged and flexed, must maintain an energetic impulsion, enabling the shoulders to move with greater mobility, thus demonstrating complete selfcarriage. Although the Horse’s steps are shorter than in the other trots, elasticity and cadence are not lessened. 
4.4. Medium trot. This is a pace of moderate lengthening compared to the Extended trot, but “rounder” than the latter. Without hurrying, the Horse goes forward with clearly lengthened steps and with impulsion from the hindquarters. The Athlete allows the Horse to carry the head a little more in front of the vertical than at the Collected and the Working trot, and to lower the head and neck slightly. The steps should be even, and the whole movement balanced and unconstrained. 
4.5. Extended trot. The Horse covers as much ground as possible. Without hurrying, the steps are lengthened to the utmost as a result of great impulsion from the hindquarters. The Athlete allows the Horse to lengthen the frame and to gain ground whilst controlling the poll. The fore feet should touch the ground on the spot towards which they are pointing. The movement of the fore and hind legs should reach equally forward in the moment of extension. The whole movement should be well-balanced and the transition to Collected trot should be smoothly executed by taking more weight on the hindquarters. 
5. All trot work is executed “sitting”, unless otherwise indicated in the test. 
6. Stretching on a long rein. This exercise gives a clear impression of the "throughness" of the Horse and proves its balance, suppleness, obedience and relaxation. In order to execute the exercise "stretching on a long rein" correctly, the Athlete must lengthen the reins as the Horse stretches gradually forward and downward. As the neck stretches forwards and downwards, the mouth should reach more or less to the horizontal line corresponding with the point of the shoulder. An elastic and consistent contact with the Athlete's hands must be maintained. The pace must maintain its rhythm, and the Horse should remain light in the shoulders with the hindlegs well-engaged. During the retake of the reins the Horse must accept the contact without resistance in the mouth or poll.

Nice trot
For beginners, trot is probably the most difficult gait. Getting the rhythm in rising trot takes hours and hours on the lunge line, a good sitting trot needs years to develop, hunt seat needs tons of balance and muscles. Sore muscles are part of the learning process for most of us. Diagonal aids, independence in the seat and so on are for more advanced riders and often surprise beginners who thought that riding was easy.

Working trot was not too easy for Hafl in the beginning. We often had problems with this rhythm (resulting from imbalances) and it took years to improve it. Unlike the walk, trot can be “easily” improved and with Hafl’s now pretty regular and steady working trot you can definitely see that advances in canter help the trot tremendously.

The lengthening of the steps for a young horse (especially for those not naturally born with a huge swinging trot) often times end up in a hurried throwing around of legs that may even result in breaking into canter leaving marks close to zero. In the beginning of Hafl’s training, I really thought that it was GIVEN that horses do extended trot under saddle – but with a huge weight that causes major imbalances on an already imbalanced animal I pretty quickly learned that this was not the case. It takes hours and hours of training to ride good lengthenings or even extensions. And with horses like Hafl it might be that the hind is already pretty active but the front – oh my, there was no freedom in his shoulders whatsoever. That is why we introduced the Spanish Walk in order to work on this issue. But also when a horse shows gorgeous lengthenings while running free that is no guarantee for a good trot under saddle whereas horses with average trot steps might be able to outgrow with good training.
Try to lengthen the trot

What I also discovered is that the more crooked the less the chance of a good lengthening. Let’s take Hafl’s left hand. Normally, he tries NOT to step under with his inner hind leg meaning that he will never have the right impulsion to show a good lengthening. So, I need to make sure that I ride a correct shoulderfore and work on the crookedness in general as this is key to having at least a chance to see a lengthening instead of a hurrying.

I do not even talk about medium and extended trot here. Of course, in the tests they already ask for at least medium trot but to be honest, no, we are not there yet. If it was about speed, yes, then we would have a chance but that has nothing to do with medium or extended trot. I hope though that one day we will be able to ride a true extension – he is showing some good movements on the lunge line or when running free but under saddle we are right now only winning speed tests. But that is no surprise to me as I have once read: the amount of extension is directly connected to the ability of collection – so the better you can collect your horse, the better the extensions will be. Again, of course, we try (!) to ride collected trot but we are also not there yet. There might be some steps that fulfill the requirements for a proper collected trot. Oftentimes, people think that collected means slow but this is not the case. A good picture that helps me with the collected trot is “UP” – instead of thinking that the energy flows from back to front it needs to flow upwards. Riding better collected trot is a must for next year’s show season as this is a pre-requisite for lateral movements as well. We will cover lateral movements in another post, but a short note already here: lateral movements in trot are key in dressage training, especially shoulder in can solve tons of riding issues. In tests from third level onwards you find lateral movements in any sort.

One of our first show trot

And there is the last but very tricky way of checking whether a horse is really properly working over his back – the stretching on a long rein. At least I have seen (and ridden) enough examples which were clearly wrong – where the neck was round and the nose BTV, where the steps were hurried, the horse only got faster…so it seems that this is an easy movement where it is not. Takes a lot of training too and should also be used in training between movements to check whether the horse is still supple and relaxed. It gives the horse also the chance to release tension after work on specific movements and acts as reward to possibly already aching muscles.

A final remark on what helps to school the trot as well: transitions, transitions, transitions. Making the horse sit more and push from behind enables not only a proper lengthening but also true collection – think UP, UP, UP!

YAY trot

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