Ask any rider which pace they use most and the chances are they’ll say trot. Yet ask a dressage judge which pace they’re more likely to give a 5 and guess what? It’s trot. So if everyone out there is doing it why does trot let them down?
Problems arise when riders get engrossed in putting their horse on the bit. They become transfixed with their horse’s head position and unwittingly lose sight of the basics. It’s understandable. When a horse’s head position is correct at least you can see it. Other things aren’t so easy. Especially if you’re on your own.
A perfect trot has four key elements. Rhythm, balance, straightness and impulsion. Get all four right at the same time and your horse will put himself on the bit.
A steady rhythm is the foundation for your trot. When it’s right your horse will relax leaving you free to work on everything else.
You can’t see rhythm so how can you tell when it’s right? Simple. Count. As you ride around the school count 1, 2, 3, 4. Again and again. It doesn’t matter if you count steps or strides, out loud or in your head just keep counting wherever you go.
As you count you’ll subconsciously pick up a rhythm. You’ll start to use your legs in time with it and your horse will follow your lead. What started as you following him quickly becomes him following you.
This is a simple but brilliant exercise. Whether you’re trotting up a long side, riding a circle or a half pass the rhythm of your count should stay the same. If you know things are right you’re bound to feel more positive. It can only improve your riding.
Once you’ve got rhythm it’s time to check your horse’s balance. Your weight has a huge effect on it. If you tip forward or lean to one side he’ll do the same. Look up and keep your head above your shoulders and your hips. Help him to help you.
Your horse should carry most of his weight on his hocks. If his weight is over his shoulders then no amount of kicking or pulling will have any effect. For him to be able to drive himself forward he must push from behind.
How can you tell if your horse is off balance? If he feels heavy on the bit then he’s using your hands to balance himself. It’s easier than you think to correct. He can only lean on something if it’s solid. Bend your elbows and move your fingers. If he can’t balance on you he’ll have to take more weight on his hocks.
Moving your fingers on the reins is often misunderstood. Don’t clench your fingers around one rein and then the other. Move the fingers on both hands in a ripple effect up and down both reins at the same time. If you squeeze left, right, left your horse will get used to the rhythm and lean on each one in turn. Don’t be tempted to pull your horse up with your hand. A tug in the mouth will make him tighten his back. If his back is tight his hocks can’t step under his body and that puts even more weight on his shoulders. It’s a vicious circle only you can break.
To propel himself forward your horse must be straight. His hind feet must follow the tracks of his front feet. How can you tell? Put him on the inside track. Your horse is used to following the track. You’re used to having a fence to keep him straight. Riding on the inside track makes you ride both sides of him. You’ll need your outside leg to stop him falling back onto the track. Use your heel as you would a spur or whip. Quick, sharp nudges have more effect than constant pressure.
Your hands control everything in front of the saddle. Keep them up and as far apart as the width of your bit. Drop one hand and your horse will drop that side of his mouth. If the left side of his mouth is lower than the right his nose will tip to the right. Sound familiar?
If your horse drops one side of his mouth he’ll drop the same shoulder. If it’s the inside he’ll fall in. The outside he’ll fall out. Correct him by using the leg that he’s falling towards. And even up your hands! The problem can be solved but only if you remove its cause.
Your legs control your horse’s barrel and hindquarters. If his body moves sideways towards the track use your leg in its usual place to correct him. If he swings his quarters to one side use your leg a few inches behind the girth to straighten him.
When he’s straight your horse is in the best position to create impulsion. Impulsion is contained energy not speed. Riders often mistakenly think that because their horse is going forward their trot has impulsion.
Think of a coke bottle. Shake it with the lid on and the drink fizzes. The bottle expands but the lid prevents the drink escaping. It contains it. Take the lid off and the drink bursts out. What’s left in the bottle becomes flat.
Your hands are that lid. The fizzy drink is the energy your legs create. Your horse may be itching to go but if you maintain a consistent contact you have his energy contained. That’s impulsion. Relaxing your fingers on the reins releases energy when you need it. Never throw the contact away. Do that and you’ll allow energy to escape. Like the drink your trot will become flat.
You may be reluctant to go back to basics, especially if you feel you’ve progressed beyond them, but if any one of these points sounds familiar take time to put it right. Never think of schooling as a backwards step. See it as a positive way to move forward.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.
Written by Lorraine Jenning From School Your Horse
Image credit: Pixabay0 Comments