Horse trotting is the name of the specific rhythmic gait that is highly appreciated in a multitude of equine competitions and events. It is considered one of the most stable gaits, requiring little balance adjustment with the head or neck. The average speed at which horses trot is about 8 miles per hour, but can go over 30 miles per hour. Unlike the canter or the gallop, the trot can be maintained for up to a few hours by a horse in good condition. Therefore, trotting is considered a safe and efficient gait.
The Basics of Horse Trotting
There are many trotting patterns, rhythms, and speeds but they all have one thing on common: They are 2-beat diagonal gaits. The first “beat” is characterized by the forward movement of the horse’s diagonal legs and the second one – by the other 2 diagonal legs moving at once. The two beats are separated by a movement of suspension, critical in equine competitions.
Horse Trotting Patterns
A horse trot can either be collected, working, or extended. This is based on how much the horse is engaged in the trot and keeps his or her collection. However, the speed and type of trot further classify these gaits into the following types:
The Jog Trot
Most practiced in western equine competitions, the jog trot is a relaxed gait with short strides and little to no suspension. In the perfect jog trot, horses keep their head low and their hindquarters tense and underneath them. Given there is less impulsion and bounce while doing the jog trot, this style is easy on the riders.
The Collected Trot
When collected trotting, a horse keeps his or her whole body engaged and carries most of their weight towards their hindquarters. The perfect collected trot is characterized by a compressed frame, a short stride length, and high steps. This should lead to higher mobility and light movements overall.
The Slow Trot / Road Gait
Harness horses perform the slow trot while roadsters perform the road gait. Nevertheless, the speed places hem in between the working and jogging trots. This gait is most used at horse shows when harness classes compete.
The Working Trot
The second main horse trotting gait, most often simply called the trot, the working trot is the name for a horse’s natural trotting. Given different breeds have different stride lengths, judging a horse’s working trot is subjective in terms of its breed. Nevertheless, its speed and rhythm place it somewhere between the collected and the medium trot.
The Medium Trot
When compared to the working trot, the medium horse trotting is rounder and more engaged. The horse’s legs should have good, noticeable impulsion and the strides should be moderately extended. It’s considered a middle ground between the working trot and the extended one.
The Park Trot
Often seen in fine harness and saddle seat classes, where it is simply called the trot, the park trot is a flashy gait. The perfect park trotting horse should display extreme knee elevation, up until their forearms are at least horizontal, if not higher. The hind legs should be as flexed as possible, and the hindquarters – fully engaged. The horse’s head should always be held high to increase the showiness of this trot. However, horses should never lose cadence in an attempt to hold their heads high by hollowing their backs.
The Lengthened Trot
The most obvious and noteworthy trait of this trot is its long strides. Even though it could easily be confused with the extended trot by some, it is considered less advanced and easier to teach and perform. We’ll see in a moment why.
The Road Trot
The road trot can be seen in every roadster class. While road trotting, horses keep their heads collected and take high, animated steps with strides as long as possible. Although similar to the racing trot below, it is significantly slower which makes it ideal for arena settings.
The Extended Trot
The third main type of horse trotting, the extended trot, is engaged and requires strides as long as possible. When performing the extended trot, a horse should have a stretched frame, a rounded back, and a great degree of suspension. The head should always be just in front, in a vertical position for the best results in competitions.
The Racing Trot
Also with maximum length strides, the racing trot implies a healthy and noticeable suspension. Unlike other trots, the racing one allows horses to hit the ground with a hind leg before the front, diagonal one does so. The horse’s neck should be extended outwards to be appreciated in harness racing competitions, where it is most seen.
Other horse trotting variations include the Piaffe and the Passage. The first one is a trot in place, while the second one is a slow motion trot. They are only used in Haute Ecole advanced dressage and require considerable composure from the horse and rider alike.
Famous Trotting Horse Breeds
Standardbreds are considered the best trotting horses, being able to trot faster than non-racehorses can gallop. Sebastian K, a Swedish Standardbred, currently holds the record with a speed of 33 miles per hour. Other distinctive trotters are Saddlebreds, Arabian horses, Morgans, Paso Fino horses, or Missouri Fox Trotting horse.
Horse Trotting Riding Techniques
Because the rhythmicity of horse trotting implies a certain bouncy movement, it can jolt the rider up and down. Therefore, a set of specific skills is needed to safely and comfortably ride a trotting horse. Riders should have well developed abdominal and diagonal muscles and a healthy back to successfully counter the bounce.
This riding style is a basic requirement for western riding competitions and encouraged for upper-level dressage. As the name suggests, the rider’s seat should keep contact with the saddle at all times. The sitting position is great for controlling the horse through weight distribution. An experienced rider will be able to determine the horse to move upwards or downwards, turn, and adjust impulsion.
To buffer the jolt without bouncing, the rider should fluidly follow the horse’s movements. Therefore, the rider should move his or her lower back and stomach slightly forward and backward as they follow the vertical and side-to-side movements of the horse with their hips. This will absorb the physical shock caused by the horse trotting.
The rider’s good posture is critical in equine competitions, and so is an overall confident attitude. The upper body should always be upright but relaxed and quiet. His or her hands should be steady, while the lower legs are relaxed and only used when giving a leg aid. It’s important to master this technique before entering competitions since improper posture or tensing up while riding will also affect the horse and the overall performance.
Posting or Rising
While posting, the riders are more actively engaged in the horse’s trotting. They should adjust their vertical movement according to the beats of the horse’s gait. Therefore, the rider rises out of the saddle for the first beat and lowers back in for the second one. If mastered, this riding technique is easy o the horse and the rider alike. However, it does not provide as much control as sitting.
The riders generally should be slightly inclined forward, with the shoulders and lower legs as steady as possible. Rising or posting is used for show jumping, hunting, eventing, saddle seat, dressage, and endurance riding.
Two-Point or Half-Seat
Although they are often confused, the half-seat and two-point riding positions have their own particularities. The half-seat variation refers to the rider rising the seat bones off the saddle and only maintaining light contact with the pelvis. The two-point technique involves rising both the seat and the pelvis from the saddle.
Nevertheless, they are collectively called jumping positions and provide the horse with the most freedom. However, this also means the rider has little control over the horse. They are collectively called jumping positions and require a great deal of strength in the rider’s legs. Therefore, they are rarely used for trotting.