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Softening and Slowing The Trot

Many horses have a less than perfect trot. Two of the most common issues are horses that trot hollow with their head held high in the air, and horses that trot too quickly resulting in a rough ride. Many times both of these behaviors occur together and can be very frustrating to any rider. In this article I will give you some tips on how to quickly and effectively solve your horse’s problems at the trot.

Conformation

To begin with, you need to know exactly what kind of issue the horse is having or if it is even an issue at all. Some horses naturally carry their heads higher than others. For example Arabians and Saddlebreds have a higher head sets than most other breeds. Every breed is designed a little differently and each horse shows some variety within that breed.

With that in mind there is a difference between a horse that naturally carries his head high and a horse that has become inverted. When a horse is inverted, that means that he is worried and tense. He is using his body language to communicate that by raising his head and neck, hollowing his back, and increasing his pace. If your horse feels unsafe or uncomfortable he will move quickly to try to get away from the pressure.

Unsoundness

Another cause for a high head and/or a quick gait can be an injury or unsoundness. Again horses may become inverted when they are experiencing pain while ridden. This can be caused by a saddle that doesn’t fit correctly, a rider who is unbalanced, a bit that hurts the horse’s mouth, soreness, or an injury. Get your horse checked out by a vet to make sure he is completely healthy. Make sure to check his teeth, and that all of your tack fits and works properly. It is also a good idea to have an equine chiropractor adjust your horse as he can easily become sore from riding and training.

Relaxation at the Trot

Now that you have ruled out conformation and unsoundness as the reason why you are not getting a relaxed trot, look at the way he is being ridden. The first thing to do is to teach your horse to relax at the trot. Do these exercises in an arena, not a field or other large space, as the horse needs a controlled environment to learn in first.

  1. Begin trotting on a loose rein, allowing the horse to travel where ever he wants. Any time the horse raises his head and speeds up bend him to a stop using one rein. Do this by sliding one hand about a third of the way down the rein, keeping your arm straight until the horse bends his head toward the rein, then slowly bring your hand up toward the horse’s withers. Hold and wait until the horse bends his body, steps underneath himself crossing his hind legs, comes to a complete stop, and flexes laterally in that order before releasing the rein. Bend your horse more often on the horse’s stiff side. This is usually his right side but some horse will be stiff on the left. Work the stiff side twice as much as the other. Continue practicing this exercise until the horse can trot around the arena on a loose rein at an even pace. Eventually the horse will relax and lower his head on his own, when he does that click and feed him for moving in the way you want.
  2. Riding patterns are beneficial as their repetitive style teaches the horse not to rush as he is not getting anywhere very fast. Figure eights, serpentines, circles, and the clover leaf patterns are all excellent patterns to use. When riding these patterns stay at a trot the entire time. It does not matter if he speeds up or slows down within the trot as long as he doesn’t break gait. With time your horse will slow down the trot on his own. When he does this reward him by clicking, feeding, and letting him rest.
  3. Riding over ground poles will teach the horse to think about where he puts his feet. Using even one pole can help your horse to slow down and think about what he is doing. Using multiple poles and riding over them repetitively will help him slow down and relax.
  4. Transitions can greatly improve your horse’s focus on you as well as his gaits, as doing many transitions will strength his muscles and allow him to collect himself easier. Start with simple transitions at first such as a halt to a walk, walk to stop, trot to walk, and halt to trot. Once you and your horse have mastered these basic transitions, challenge yourself by riding more difficult ones such as walk to canter.

Mixing these exercises together, for example riding a figure eight with a pole in the center, will keep your rides more interesting as you both progress through the lessons.



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