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Dear Dana: My mare’s trot is in need of refinement! Any exercises?

By DANA HOKANA - Horsetrader columnist - July 18th, 2013 - Q&A Dear Dana

DEAR DANA: My newly purchased 3 year old foundation Quarter Horse has only had hunter under saddle training, although she was marketed as “good all around potential”. Actually, she has a very poor jog — when asked to jog slowly, she gets real shuffley and doesn’t maintain the two-beat gait. I would rather be going a little faster and have the true two beats vs. the shuffly look. Can you recommend ways to get feet moving more crisply?
–Anonymous

DEAR ANONYMOUS: There are horses that are just not good at one gait or another. I have seen horses that just can’t jog, but that is rare. Specific exercises can strengthen her and keep her body weight balanced, making it easier to hold a two-beat gait. They can also tighten up her stride.

Often the rider is a big part of a horse not jogging well, and often the rider is part of the solution, too! You need to ride mindfully — not mindlessly — and become very aware of your horse’s gait underneath you. The whole time you are trotting, count “one, two…one, two…” in your mind. Hook your body up with her movement and it will help you two make the trot a definite, crisp, clean gait.

My favorite exercise for this may take you weeks to master, but it will really teach your horse to slow-jog, and it will greatly improve her lift. You will also see a big difference in her lope. Begin by trotting her hindquarters around her front end, and when you master that, switch to where she trots her front end around her hindquarters. This has some difficulty and demands your horse to really work on acceptance of your cues. You will always work each direction or side. Let’s start by moving your horse off of your right leg. Take a rein in each hand and ride two-handed and pull your horse’s head to the right, simultaneously using your right leg to push her to the trot. Your goal is that she trots almost in place and her hindquarters swing out and trot around her front end. Your horse may want to travel or move around almost as if in a big circle. You will get a lot more out of the exercise and it is a higher level of difficulty if she doesn’t move around, but isolates her front end from her hindquarters and literally trots her hindquarters around her front end.

Continue counting until you can find her footfalls match your count. When I teach this exercise I often draw a square or circle in the ground and ask that my rider stay in that area. This builds your awareness as to where her feet are. Once you have her acceptance and she moves freely off your right leg, switch to the front end. When you do this, you are redistributing her body weight to her hindquarters. Be patient with your horse and yourself, if you’ve never had this much body control as this will take time to develop. It is a complicated exercise but it does wonders for her trot.
 
As you draw back lightly on your reins and ask her front end to trot around her hindquarters, you will ask her front end to make a turn to the right. Keep her trotting and continue counting. It will be like you trot a turn on the forehand in the first part of the exercise, only now you are trotting a turn on the haunches. Try to stay in your square or circle and keep her trotting. Your natural inclination will be to turn to the left with her front end after pushing her hip over off your right leg, but you will get more results to trot her front end over to the right off of your left leg. When she gets really good at switching her body weight back and forth from the front end to the back end — and it is so easy for her that she never quits trotting or loses cadence — you will find her trot will be greatly improved.

In review, you will trot her hip in the direction to the left off of your right leg, then smoothly transition while still trotting to move her front end over in the direction to the right off of your left leg. Then give her a break, trot her in a straight line without contact, and see how long she can carry herself.

As long as she is trotting well, leave her alone. When she falls apart, go back to the exercise; she’ll soon realize it is easier to carry herself and stay trotting nice and crisp. To switch sides, you will move her hip over off of your left leg in the direction to the right, then transfer the body weight back on the hindquarters and trot her front end over in the direction to the left off of your right leg. Work equally on both sides unless you find an area of weakness or resistance in which case you work through the tough spot until it becomes easier. This will really give you more lift at the lope, too.

I once had a great mare that could lope with the best of them but could not jog slow or tight. I did this last exercise over and over and gradually her trot improved. It took months to develop her trot, but she became a really good trotter and was third at the AQHA World Show and fourth at the Congress. It really works! I hope this helps you!

Dana

P.S. — I recommend you to get these DVDs: Maximizing Your Western Pleasure Horse Vol. 1-3, and Take Control 5-7, which will give you tons of body control exercises and help you to understand how to build a solid, long lasting foundation on your horse!

Do you have a question for Dana? Simply go to www.horsetrader.com and click on the “Dear Dana” section, then submit it! If your question is selected, you will be entered into a monthly drawing for a FREE “Winning Strides” DVD from Dana’s training video series.

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