(Read Part 1, Improve the Quality of the Walk here.)
(Read Part 3, Improve the Quality of the Canter here.)
Improve the Quality of the Trot
In a working trot your horse goes forward in balance with even, powerful, elastic steps. He shows good hock action as he moves with impulsion.
In one stride of the trot, the sequence of legs is: one diagonal pair of outside hind and inside fore moving together, followed by a period of suspension when all four legs are off the ground, then the other diagonal pair of inside hind and outside fore moving together. When doing the exercise to feel the rhythm from p. 41, but now at the trot, you should hear yourself counting an even, “One…two…one…two…one…two…”If the rhythm isn’t regular, the first thing you should do is check with your vet to make sure there aren’t any soundness issues.
A common fault in the trot is when the horse hurries his steps so that the forefoot comes to the ground before the diagonal hind foot so that two separate hoof beats are heard instead of one (see below). In this case, your horse is carrying most of his weight (and yours) on his shoulders. The solution is to shift the center of gravity back so that his shoulders can be lighter and freer. Check out chapter 10 on collection to see how to make this shift.
Another common fault is when the hind foot is put down before the diagonal fore-foot (fig. 3.5). Again, you’ll hear two separate hoof beats. This happens when your horse is lazy with his hind legs and drags his feet along the ground. Activate the hind legs by doing a lot of quick transitions, not only from gait to gait but also within the gait, like lengthenings and shortenings.
The trot also becomes irregular when one hind leg doesn’t reach as far under the body as the other hind leg. This makes the steps look uneven. You may be able to feel this yourself because there’ll be an emphasis on one of the beats of the trot. You’ll find yourself counting, “One, two, one, two.”
If you can’t feel it, ask a friend on the ground to check that each hind leg steps equally under your horse’s body. As mentioned, check with your veterinarian when this is in question, but also keep in mind that you might just be dealing with a weak-er hind leg, a sore back, or your own hand “blocking” the hind leg because you’re pulling back on one rein. If it’s a hind leg issue, try the “leg strengthening exercises” on p. 126. Your horse needs to be equally strong with both hind legs so he jumps straight and doesn’t push off more with the stronger hind leg (below). If he does, he’ll drift to one side over fences.
Next time: Improving the Quality of the Canter.
An excerpt from Dressage Between the Jumps: The Secret to Improving Your Horse’s Performance Over Fences by Jane Savoie. Published by Trafalgar Square Books / HorseandRiderBooks.com. Order your copy HERE.