The Green Horse – Quality in the Trot

Pace and rhythm

In my last article Aug/07 I worked on the transition from walk to trot for the first time under saddle. Now that the horse is prepared to trot when cued I will start to spend more time developing a quality trot. By Quality I mean that the movement is forward and has rhythm, the horse maintains a calm attitude and is continuing to listen and try to be as correct as he can. For a rider that is used to riding a well schooled horse the quality will not be comparable for a while. There are still many things that will affect the quality of a green horse’s movement.
Many green horses are relatively young, therefore physically immature. That immaturity can result in uncoordinated movement that will improve with age.

Mental maturity will also affect quality. A young horse will not have an established work ethic, and have a limited attention span. He can only concentrate for so long before the work gets to be too much for him to comfortably continue. The education of a young horse can be intense in the amount of information that he has to absorb. Too much work can cause conflict in the sense that as they tire they lose concentration and will forget to respond appropriately to a cue or a correction or they can simply find evading easier than the work. In a nut shell quality is not all about the length or suspension of the stride.

The fundamental pieces of training are mostly in place and now we just assemble those pieces in different order to achieve different goals. Forward must come first, this is where I want to work on pace and rhythm. Pace is relative to the speed we are going and rhythm is relative to balance. If the pace changes erratically there is no rhythm to the movement therefore imbalance.
I will keep the horse on the rail to help with straightness and I want to be able to control and adjust his pace. Initially I want him to trot out until he is comfortable before I adjust anything. In the early days of developing the trot there will much imbalance from both horse and rider. I just want him to trot without trying to stop. I am keeping hardly any contact so I don’t contain the forward motion and I will post the trot to try and keep it going without much leg. When the horse has established a pace that is comfortable for him to maintain I will then take a little more contact and ask him to keep going forward.
It is likely that I will lose the pace when I take contact with the bit. I will try to just send him on without changing the amount of contact. This is when the work in hand done previously to teach him how to accept contact should start to pay off. He has learned to move forward with contact but because I am now riding him when I ask it might take some time for him to accept both leg and hand at the same time.

When I am working on the ground or in the saddle I try to cue the horse as correctly as I can for that particular movement. I want to prepare the horse to be as correct as he can be. I will then correct the part if any, of what I have asked for that didn’t work as well as I would have liked. When I correct one thing I expect something else to stop working as a result. I just keep working on the worst part until he can put it all together. That could take some time though so I must remember not to get too picky. He is obviously not so comfortable with what I am asking or he would get it right every time I ask. I must have a realistic understanding of what he can and can not do for me today. The specific pieces of pace and rhythm are forward and contact.

When he has accepted the contact from the bit and is still moving forward with a decent pace I will start to work on adjusting his pace within the trot. I want to encourage him to lengthen his stride and speed up or shorten his stride and slow down.
To lengthen I will ask him to reach down and lower his head and neck and go long and low. I will use my seat to push him and I will use my leg sparingly to support the aid from my seat. I do not want him racing, if he keeps building speed he will be more off balance and he could scare himself or he could start to canter. I want a comfortable forward trot to help improve balance.

To shorten his stride I will have my elbows touching my side and then arch my back and lift my shoulders. This will also cause my hands to lift slightly and should elevate his neck. It will likely not get much of a response initially but I don’t want to start pulling on him. I can increase the pressure on the bit a little but I will try just to wait until he responds. I might only get a tiny decrease in his pace but it is enough that he responds at all. I will then release and ride forward. If he breaks into a walk I will just pick up the trot again.

Rein length is an important factor. If I have too much contact (rein too short) I will be containing the movement or pulling to slow him down. If I have too little contact (rein too long) I can not ask him effectively to accept contact and raise and lower his and neck.
The contact is only to communicate with him through the bit. It is not to pull and balance on.
Although the horse has a basic understanding of what I am asking him to do he will often find it difficult. He now has to be able to put all the things he has learned to use and thinking on the job is much more difficult than learning the theory behind the task. I allow time for him to think and I will only work on one thing for a few minutes before going back to something he better understands. I want to get in, make my point and get out. Each time I come back to it he should be more capable of understanding. If I keep asking him to repeat the maneuver over and over again he will quickly get bored.

Adjusting pace is a valuable tool that will develop softer transitions and help improve balance. It also leads to developing and maintaining awareness of your horse and from your horse. You must pay attention to him to notice small changes in pace and he must pay attention to your subtle aids to get release. When teaching this concept it is important to remember not to do too much to make the change happen. You must let it happen.
© 2007 Will Clinging