The Trot

The Upward Transition to the Trot

Once you have established the proper pace at the walk, pick up the trot by squeezing with your legs and slightly easing off the pressure on the reins, so that as you ask the horse to go forward, you give it a comfortable place to go. The transition should be smooth, with the horse’s head remaining steady, rather than bobbing upward as the horse takes the first step of the trot. Smoothness results when you use only the amount of leg pressure needed to reach the trot and when you maintain a light feel of the reins, rather than abruptly releasing all the pressure on them during the upward transition.

The trot is the most useful gait in flatwork for a number of reasons. First, many exercises can be performed at this gait. Second, it is faster than the walk, so it is not as boring; and it is slower than the canter, so it is not as intimidating to the rider. Third, it enables you to prepare the horse for the canter and jumping. Finally, it can be used for longer periods of time than the canter without exhausting the horse.

Establishing Pace

Begin your work at the trot by dictating a rhythm with your legs. If the horse does not move at the proper pace, but is quick or dull, correct it the same way as you did at the walk: half-halting the quick horse until it responds to your restrictive aids and slows down; or pressing the dull horse forward with your legs (accompanied by spurs or stick, if necessary) until it reaches the proper pace (fig. 2.13).

At the posting trot, coordinate the squeezing of your calves against the horse’s sides with the sitting phase of each step, so that your two legs and seat act together as driving aids. Once the horse is moving in a nice rhythm at the trot for a few minutes in a long frame, collect it into a medium frame through the use of half-halts.

As the horse’s body becomes shorter, it will be necessary to shorten your reins. If you do not, you will find your hands coming back toward your stomach to take up the slack, resulting in their being in an ineffective position (figs. 2.14 A & B).

Adding Bending and Transitions

Now you must choose between working on bending or transitions. If the horse is a normal type and willingly moves forward at a suitable pace for the trot when collected into a medium frame, you should choose bending as the next exercise, to test the horse’s lateral suppleness. If the horse is a dull type and must be driven forward in order to maintain the correct pace in a medium frame at the trot, you should also choose bending movements as the next exercise, but only large, sweeping figures that encourage the horse to maintain impulsion. On a normal or dull horse, then, the routine up to this point is the establishment of the proper pace at a walk and trot on a long frame; the collection of the horse into a medium frame at the trot while maintaining a suitable pace; then the incorporation of bending movements into the horse’s work to test its lateral suppleness.

Care must be taken to make all bending movements large enough for the horse to maintain its balance on the curves. A small curving figure will usually cause the horse to lessen its pace, lean to the inside of the figure, and shorten its steps as it tries to catch its balance.

You should also be aware of the influence of your upper-body weight as the horse moves around a curving figure. You will find it particularly difficult to bend your horse if you lean toward the inside of the curve, for even though your inside leg may be firmly pushing the horse away, its effect will be canceled by your weight, as it forces the horse to lean to the inside of the figure in order to catch its balance (figs. 2.15 A & B).

Some horses will lean to the inside of a curve without any encouragement from the rider’s upper body. For example, a typical “school horse” will often be in the habit of cutting corners. To counteract a horse’s tendency to lean inward, shift the weight of your outside hip and upper body toward the outside of the curve, so that your weight acts as an aid and gives your inside leg added strength (fig. 2.16).

Finally, add transitions to your work to test the normal or dull horse’s willingness to obey your driving and restricting aids. If you are on a quick horse, you will usually benefit more from proceeding directly to transitions after establishing the pace at the trot, since transitions are generally a stronger deterrent to excess speed than bending exercises.

Although your initial concentration is on downward transitions on the quick horse, you can soon combine bending exercises with transitions, such as performing a downward transition each time you cross the centerline during a serpentine. The combination of bending movements and frequent transitions is particularly effective in controlling a quick horse because: (1) a horse naturally slows down a little on a turn in order to keep its balance; (2) the horse’s inside hind leg moves slightly to the side—farther underneath the horse—on a turn, causing the horse to take a split-second longer to place its foot than when it is traveling on a straightaway; (3) the slight lateral displacement of the horse’s inside hind leg prevents the animal from using its haunches to brace against your hands; and (4) the transitions not only require the horse to submit to your aids by slowing down in reaction to the half-halts, but also to submit to the point that it changes to a lower gait.