The versatile trot gait offers bountiful opportunities for your horse’s learning.
By Kalley Krickeberg
The trot is my favorite training gait for many reasons, but I rarely see people working on the trot and all it has to offer. I think the reason might be because people don’t want to be bothered by having to learn to ride the trot comfortably, either by posting, sitting, standing or using a two-point position. The trot is passed by to get to the canter, but that shouldn’t be the case for the horse’s sake or for the sake of good training.
To condition a horse, the trot provides an even two-beat gait that allows the horse to travel long distances without tiring too soon, before the lesson is complete or the job is done. The canter, being a three-beat gait, is naturally a one-sided gait: the horse stresses either the left or right side more, depending on the lead, and tires more quickly, compared to working at the trot. Just like us, horses can be strong on one side and weak on the other. This one-sidedness can reduce everything from physical agility and flexibility—which makes the horse susceptible to injuries—to mental rigidity, which will take its toll on efficacy, performance and quality of work.
I use the trot for strength training and teaching the horse how to use his body well and to its greatest ability. I help get the horse’s body “broken loose” at the trot, especially in the neck and shoulders. With the legs moving evenly at the trot, it is much easier to teach the horse to shorten and lengthen his stride. Not to mention, it is easier for the rider to feel if a horse is uneven or crooked in his way of going at the trot, giving you insight into what you need to do to balance the horse’s training regimen. When teaching a horseto lengthen his stride at the trot, he really can learn to push with his hindquarters, stretch his their topline and use his neck well. This is opposed to the canter, where the horse can easily get in the habit of pulling with his front end and keeping his back hollow, even if he appears soft in the poll or has energy drivingfrom the rear.
Once achieved, this suppleness gleaned from the trot is almost palpable—my 2-year-old black tobiano gelding got there by using the trot to loosen his shoulders and neck laterally, and then asking for slightly longer trot strides pushing from the rear until you achieve a moment where everything comes together. Later, you can teach the horse to lengthen and shorten his trot stride and even perform high-level maneuvers of self-carriage, as I’m doing on my 8-year-old black overo gelding—his well-developed, fully engaged topline allows him to perform the piaffe, and this strength, muscle use and development comes only from through work at the trot.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2019 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join