According to the USEF rulebook, the trot is “a two-beat gait of alternate diagonal legs separated by a moment of suspension.”
There are many different trots, but every type is expected to be elastic, regular, balanced, supple, and rhythmic. Each trot must express the horse’s natural cadence and must also have impulsion.
For those that are new to riding, or need a refresher, here are some definitions:
- Rhythmic: regularity and even tempo in the trot
- Cadence: marked accentuation of the rhythm (more expression in the trot)
- Elasticity: ability to stretch or contract the muscles smoothly (like a spring)
- Suppleness: elasticity and relaxation
- Impulsion: going forward and engagement of the hindquarters (by stepping up and under with the hind legs) with controlled power (the horse should be tracking up)
All trots require that the horse “track-up”, or “over-track” in the case of the extended trot.
The first required trot in the Training Level tests is the working trot. The medium trot is introduced next, and then the extended and collected trots follow.
In this trot, the horse is clearly stepping underneath himself and engaging the hindquarters. He is reaching up into the bridle and looking for the contact, but not pulling down on the reins. The horse is expected to be working “uphill”, meaning he is sitting on the hindquarters and pushing up as well as forward as he takes a step. This trot is very elastic, and the horse should be tracking-up as a result of proper impulsion.
The steps of this trot are longer than those of the working trot. The medium trot is an introduction to the extended trot, so the horse must cover more ground in a stride, but the horse cannot rush. It is acceptable for the horse to be slightly in front of the vertical, stretching in the direction he is going.
The extended trot is more difficult than the working and medium. It requires the horse to lengthen the stride even more than he has to in the medium trot. In order for the strides to be longer, he must engage the hindquarters and step under himself so far that he over-tracks (the hind hoof steps beyond the footprint of the front hoof). In the moment of extension, the hind leg and opposite front leg are parallel.
In the collected trot, the horse demonstrates complete self-carriage. As he engages the hindquarters, the hind end moves closer to the ground, allowing the front end to come up into a higher frame. This trot is like a coiled spring; it contains a large amount of controlled power and elasticity, but still keeps the same cadence and suppleness as the working trot. The steps are higher and shorter, and the horse is lighter in the front end, which allows the shoulders to swing more.
In recent years, the extended trot has lost much of the expected over-track. Many horses’ front legs look stunning as they fling them up into the air during an extension, but they are not actually stepping underneath themselves enough. Even Moorland’s Totilas did not have a perfect extension, and a lot of other well-known world class dressage athletes don’t either. Ingrid Klimke is one of the few exceptions.
As can be seen in the image of Ingrid and Franziskus, the opposite hind and foreleg are parallel. The arrow clearly shows that when the hind foot hits the ground, it will land several inches beyond the front hoofprint.
Hopefully the correct extended trot will make a comeback, but that will only happen if riders focus on engaging the hindquarters. It will be interesting to see if the trots on the FEI circuit improve.
Until next time, remember: love the horse first, and the sport second!