Trot is a two beat movement. The diagonal pair of legs is lifted up simultaneously, while the other two are on the ground. Not only the diagonal movement of legs should be equal, also the coordination of movement of front- and hindlegs should match.
You could say that if a horse moves with a lot of front leg action, while he’s dragging his hindlegs, his rhythm is not good. Unfortunately some judges do give high marks for this kind of trot.
If there’s something wrong with the rhythm in trot, first call in a vet. You have to be sure there is no veterinary problem. If you continue to ride with an unlevel horse, you might make a small problem bigger. Always start with a professional opinion of a vet, before you call in a therapist. Osteopaths, back people, physiotherapist and all those can do great work, but you have to have a proper diagnosis first and a good horse vet is the only one who can do that, with the help of X rays, ultrasound and these days MRI or CT scans.
On the hindlegs
If there is no physical problem, you have work to do. To improve the trot you need to balance a horse more on his hindlegs. How you do this will be explained in a later episode. It takes time to train a horse so he’s strong enough to carry his weight (and yours) more on his hindlegs. This is not something you can do in a week or a month. It’s more about years. It’s also not possible to force this upon a horse with your hands. You can’t pull him on his hindlegs. If you attempt this, you will block the energy that flows over his back and with that you’ll restrict the trot.
Exercises will make a horse more supple and strong in the right places. This requires regular training, a plan, variation and cooperation with a good trainer, who will help you and monitor the training.
A few more things about the trot:
Some horses have developed a passage-like trot, but not really a good ‘through’ passage. They hold their backs and pull the hindlegs up behind. The hind feet don’t tred forward more, which is what you want in a good trot. Therefore the back is not up, but down. You can’t sit very well on a horse that moves like that, but for the untrained eye it might look a sort of impressive. It’s not. You don’t want this. I fit happens, go rising and ride forward.
If you can’t sit in the trot, don’t. You’ll only bounce on the delicate back of a horse. He’ll tighten his muscles. Go rising and have some extra lessons on the lunge line, to work on position and independent seat. But you can only sit properly if a horse gives his back. So you need to work on that in rising until he does. Then attempt to go sitting for a few strides and go back to rising if you feel tension creeping in. Continue to work on this, preferably on a circle, until you manage to sit for longer periods. Accept that this will also take time.
Medium and extended trot looks impressive, if done the right way. It’s something we all want. It’s not a magic trick. A horse can only do this, when he’s strong enough to carry himself behind, so he can free his shoulders more. As long as he goes on the forehand, he will not be able to trow his frontlegs up in the air. For a good extended trot, he also needs a supple back, woth a lot of energyflow from behind. This can not be reached if you pull him all the time. At the same time it is important to maintain the horse in the right balance while doing extended. If you chase him from his hindlegs onto his frontlegs, he will continue like a pony. So don’t pull, but don’t let his front drop either. Keep the balance upwards, as if you ride up the hill.
Don’t lean back! That way you will stiffen your lower back. You can’t absorb the motion anymore. The horse will do the same. Your hips have to stay swinging.
If you want to work on extended trot, start with a few strides. If you can maintain the balance, you can do more. Before you do so, think about the aids you give to make the horse understand he has to extend. A touch with two legs at the same time means ‘do more of what you are doing’. But that can also mean ‘go faster’. Extended is not faster. In fact it feels slower. But the horse covers more ground, so in time he is faster. I teach my horses to extend by touching them lightly once, with two legs at the same time, but slightly more back than the normal leg position. If I touch them like that on the ‘normal’ position, I simply want more speed. It is just one touch. If they don’t respond immediately, I kick. Still not? Be more firm and demand a response forward. It is adamant you are very strict with this. If you are, you will have a horse that’s always in front of your legs and easy to ride. It is just what you allow.
Davy, my former GP ride, was a phlegmatic horse by nature, but very sharp off the leg. DD is a gentle giant, but very light to ride. Socrates is so sharp, he’s faster than lighting. Like I say, it’s just what you make them.