Counting Trot Steps
So last week, we talked about the walk. You can put in a lot of 'free walk' practice in your ride to give the horse a break and as a breather for you. But it's nice to trot! So let's pick up the reins and do an interesting trot exercise that works a bit on building understanding and lovely execution of a 'steady tempo trot'. You can do this in a variety of ways, but I like to count the front legs as they step in the trot from letter to letter around the arena, with the goal of keeping the same count from letter to letter. If your horse trots 12 steps from H to S or E, for example, then you want that same count around the rest of the arena. What's interesting about this exercise is by counting aloud, it's almost magical how suddenly the step quantity becomes even between the letters. After a few times around, change direction and try it to the opposite direction. It's interesting how at first, it's an uneven quantity of steps again, but then it begins to become an equal number of steps. Once you've gone around the arena in both directions counting from letter to letter or in the pasture from tree to tree on straight lines, it's good to challenge yourself with some bend. I like to use a 20m circle, and if I'm feeling really frisky, add some cones so I can count steps as I spiral inwards. So, first, I would trot the 20m circle while focusing on getting inside flexion at the poll and good response to my calf aids which I gently pulse a bit with the rhythm of the hind legs. Once I have gone around a few times, I would pick a point and start counting steps for each quarter of the circle, starting over as the point is reached and counting to the next quarter. The counting tells me a few things about my aids: if I get more steps, it could be the horse is running through my outside leg and rein aid. If there are fewer steps, then my inside leg is not keeping the horse on the same path but is rather allowing us to fall in. If both calves are keeping the horse 'between my aids,' then the step count should be the same. There's also the 'verbal metronome' factor that counting aloud helps with. You're trying to count evenly, and thus you and horse try to match the forward motion 'evenly' or something that would be called in music as 'in time'. The aids become rhythmic and even anticipating a bit; as the horse swings out, you catch it with your outside leg to keep the same number of steps. The same is true for the inside leg. As I challenge myself to spiral in I want to continue to keep the same steps between the 4 points of the circle, no matter what size circle I’m riding--which depends upon the horse's development. I like to throw in this exercise almost every ride with my horses at the trot just to see how rhythmic I am. When I cannot see my horse in the mirror, it helps me tell if the hind legs are stepping evenly underneath the horse, since if the strides are short/long (and there's not lameness), then the steps more or less should be the equal in length and thus produce a steadier trot. This will help teach you how to feel and teach the horse to keep a steady trot all the way around the arena or on a circle. Teaching yourself to feel it and your horse to trot steady like this is a bit therapeutic since short/long steps or constantly shifting gears unbalanced within a gait isn't beneficial to their backs or tendons and it causes a loss of balance for the horse and rider. For the rider this back-and-forth unbalanced feeling in the trot challenges your confidence and this exercises is simple enough to do anywhere to work on training a horse to have a lovely steady trot. It's also a foundational exercise for later trot exercises of making the strides longer or shorter since you have a 'steady' place to start from. Happy steady trotting!
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