Variations of the trot gait

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The trot is a two-beat diagonal gait of the horse where the diagonal pairs of legs move forward at the same time with a moment of suspension between each beat. It has a wide variation in possible speeds, but averages about 8 miles per hour (13 km/h).

From the standpoint of the balance of the horse, the trot is a very stable gait and does not require the horse to make major balancing motions with its head and neck. Due to its many variations, the trot is a common gait that the horse is worked in for dressage competitions.

Haute Ecole variations on the trot

Two variations of the trot are specially trained in advanced dressage horses.

Demonstration of the PiaffeThe Piaffe (shown at left) is essentially created by asking the horse to trot in place, with very little forward motion.

The Passage (rhymes with “massage”) is an exaggerated slow motion trot. Both require tremendous collection, careful training and considerable physical conditioning for a horse to perform.

Ways to Ride a Trot

Example of a rider sitting a trotSome people prefer to sit a trot, (usually Western style riders), where the rider sits in the saddle and does not rise with the natural beat of the trot. (Shown at right.)

Others (usually English style riders) prefer to post a trot, (shown below). When you are posting, you raise out of the saddle for one beat, and sit down in the saddle for one beat. Many people think this creates a more comfortable ride for both the horse and rider.

  If you are posting correctly, you are posting on the diagonal. This means the rider sits as the horse’s inside hind leg and outside foreleg are on the ground and rises as the outside hind leg and inside foreleg are on the ground.

Diagonals used in the posting trot help to keep the horse balanced, and are also useful for timing certain riding aids, such as those for breaking into the canter or changing leads during a canter.

A rider can learn to recognize diagonals by feel. However, less-experienced riders can check for the correct diagonal by a quick glance at the horse’s shoulder, sitting when the outside foreleg is on the ground and the shoulder is back.

Some riders prefer a third way of riding a trot called Half-seat or Two-point, also called a jumping position. Often these terms are used synonymously, but they are slightly different techniques.

The half-seat variation involves the rider getting the seat bones off the saddle and keeping soft contact with the pelvis, while two-point variation involves the rider raising the seat and pelvic bones.

In both cases, the rider remains off the saddle and does not sit or post. This provides a great deal of freedom for the horse’s back. It also offers the least amount of control for the rider. These positions are rarely used at the trot, however, although both are common at the canter for jumping riders. The two-point position also requires a good amount of strength in the rider’s legs.

Types of Trot

Depending on the amount of engagement and collection of the horse, the trot can generally be classified as a working trot, collected trot, or extended trot. By the rhythm, one may distinguish a true, two-beat square trot when each diagonal pair of hoofs hits the ground at the same moment from a four-beat intermediate ambling gait, such as the fox trot or the troche, sometimes seen in the Paso Fino.

Eadweard Muybridge was the first to prove, by photography, in 1872 that there is a “moment of suspension” or “unsupported transit” during the trot gait.

A very slow trot is sometimes referred to as a jog. An extremely fast trot has no special name, but in harness racing, the trot of a Standardbred is faster than the gallop of the average non-racehorse, and has been clocked at over 30 miles per hour (48 km/h).

There are a number of terms used to describe the speed of a trot.

  • Jog trot – A jog trot as seen in western horses, is a slow, relaxed trot lacking the suspension of a working trot and with shorter strides. It is easy to ride because there is less “bounce.” The head of the horse is carried low while the hindquarters are engaged and underneath the horse, and there is less impulsion than in a dressage-style collected trot.

  • Collected trot – A very engaged trot where most of the horse’s weight is carried toward the hindquarters. The frame is compressed and the stride length is shorter than any of the other trots with the horse taking higher steps. The horse is lighter and more mobile in the collected trot.

  • Slow trot (harness) or Road gait (roadster) – Is slower than a working trot, but faster than a jog trot. This gait is one of the gaits used in harness classes at horse shows.

  • Working trot or Trot – The stride length (note: some breeds have naturally varied strides) is “normal” for the horse and is the natural trot of the horse when under saddle. It is a gait between the collected trot and medium trot.

  • Medium trot – A trot that is more engaged and rounder than the working trot with moderately extended strides and good, solid impulsion. The medium trot lies between the working and the extended trot.

  • Park trot – Sometimes simply called a Trot in a given class and seen in saddle seat and fine harness classes for Saddlebreds, Arabians and Morgans. It is a showy, flashy trot with extreme elevation of the knees (forearm is horizontal or higher and the hind legs are extremely flexed). The head is held high and at times a horse may hollow its back and lose cadence in an attempt to achieve high action in front. The hindquarters must be engaged for it to be properly performed.

  • Lengthened trot – A trot with lengthened strides. It differs from the more advanced extended trot in that it does not require the horse to bring its weight as far back on its hindquarters.

  • Road trot or Show at Speed – As seen in roadster classes, is a gait similar to a racing trot, but much slower (suitable for an arena setting). The horse’s head is collected, the stride is at maximum length, and the step is high and animated.

  • Extended trot – An engaged trot with long strides where the horse stretches its frame and lengthens its strides to the greatest degree possible. The horse has a great amount of suspension. The back is round and the horse’s head just in front and vertical.

  • Racing trot – As seen in harness racing horses that race at a trot, such as Standardbred. The stride is at its maximum length with a great deal of suspension. The hind leg in a diagonal pair may begin to hit the ground before the front. Unlike the extended trot, the neck is not round but is extended out. As of September 2013, the North American speed record for a racing trot under saddle at one mile is 1:59, or 30.25 miles per hour (48.68 km/h)