Have you ever had a dressage scoresheet where the judge has commented that your horse needed more “overtrack” in the free walk or was “not tracking-up?”
So, what do those terms mean? Is overtracking the same as tracking-up or something completely different?
Those phrases can be confusing, so we’ve put together this guide to explain what those terms mean and what the judge is looking for.
What is overtracking?
Overtracking is specifically mentioned on a dressage sheet in reference to the free walk and is also looked for in the extended walk.
When the horse overtracks, his hind feet step clearly in front of the prints left by his front feet as he walks. If the horse has a particularly good walk, he might overtrack in free walk by as much as 12 inches.
Although it’s not demanded in the medium walk, some overtrack is expected if the horse is using himself properly.
Does the horse need to overtrack in trot?
Overtracking is not specifically looked for in working trot.
However, a degree of overtrack is expected in medium and extended trot, in line with the lengthening of the horse’s stride and frame.
What about the canter?
Because of the nature of the canter gait, overtracking and tracking up doesn’t really apply.
What does overtracking show the judge?
Judging the free walk
In the free walk, the horse should be completely relaxed through his back and neck. The rider allows the horse to gradually take the bit forward and down, stretching over his topline as he seeks the contact.
The horse continues to walk forward with plenty of activity, covering ground, demonstrating good freedom of his shoulders and swinging forward as he walks.
If all those requirements are in place, the horse should overtrack, placing his hind feet clearly in front of the prints left by his front feet. In walk, most horses overtrack by around 2 to 3 inches, although some may show considerably more than that, depending on the natural quality of their walk.
So, basically, the overtrack shows the judge that the horse is working correctly along the Scales of Training.
Judging the working trot
In working trot, the judge doesn’t expect to see the horse overtracking.
Horses that overtrack in working trot generally lack balance and engagement, unless the horse is gifted with naturally very extravagant paces.
Judging medium and extended trot
However, in medium trot and extended trot, the judge does look for a degree of overtrack, ideally five or six inches or more.
In the extended paces, the horse covers more ground, pushing himself uphill with his hindquarters. The overtrack shows the judge that the horse is lengthening correctly from behind and not just flicking his toes in front, which is not a correct medium or extended pace.
Also, the further underneath his body the horse steps with his hind legs, the more ground he is able to cover, and the more overtrack he will show. If the horse lacks engagement, his hind legs will be left out behind him, the steps will be unbalanced and flat, and he will most likely not overtrack much, if at all.
Judging short and long-backed horses
Some horses naturally have shorter walks than others, so, even if the horse is working as desired, his overtrack might not be that impressive. Also, if the horse is very short or overly long in the back, he may not be physically capable of showing a pronounced overtrack.
An experienced judge will look at the horse’s overall way of going and take into account his conformation when giving a mark for the free walk or commenting on the degree of overtrack being shown.
What is tracking up?
In medium walk and working trot, the horse should track up.
Tracking up means that the hind feet should step into the prints left by the front feet.
However, if the horse has a particularly good walk, he might naturally overtrack by a couple of inches or more in the medium walk. That quality of the pace will be reflected in the paces mark at the end of the test sheet.
To track up in working trot, the hind foot should step into the print left by the front foot on the same side. Again, some horses that have an extravagant natural trot will overtrack by a couple of inches in the working trot without losing balance.
Collected walk and collected trot
In the collected paces, many horses, even those working at Grand Prix level and some Olympic horses, undertrack in collected walk and collected trot.
In the collected paces, the steps taken are shorter and more elevated. In fact, if a horse overtracks in collected walk, the steps are generally regarded as “too free” and not showing sufficient engagement and collection. In collected trot, tracking up is acceptable.
Uneven tracking up
Sometimes, a horse will track up with one hind leg but not the other.
That can be due to several factors:
- Physical discomfort in the horse’s back
- Lack of suppleness
A horse that tracks up unevenly on a circle is usually laterally stiff to one side. So, often the inside hind leg tracks up while the outside one doesn’t.
When a horse undertracks, his hind feet step short of the prints left by his front feet.
In the working and extended paces, undertracking generally indicates that the horse is not using his hindquarters correctly and stepping underneath his body. Essentially, the horse lacks engagement.
That could be because the horse is tense and tight through his back, so the energy his hindquarters are creating is blocked and unable to come through properly. A horse that isn’t working forward from the rider’s leg might also trail his hocks to avoid taking the weight behind.
How to encourage your horse to track up and overtrack
If your horse habitually steps short, especially if he does so more on one side than on the other, you should ask your vet and a qualified equine bodyworker to check the horse for soundness and muscle issues.
Assuming that the horse is fit and well, here are a few exercises that you can use to encourage him to track up and overtrack.
Developing engagement and throughness
Basically, before your horse can track up and overtrack to his maximum ability, he must be engaged and working through properly.
When the horse’s hindquarters are engaged, the hind legs step through and under the horse to push him along. As a result, the horse’s forehand becomes lighter and more mobile and he will track up and overtrack.
Exercise 1 – Trot-halt-rein-back-trot
This is an excellent exercise for encouraging your horse to step underneath and through.
Warm-up in a good working trot with plenty of impulsion. Your horse must be working through his back into an elastic contact, as per the Scales of Training.
Ask for a prompt halt.
Sit deep into the saddle, and use your seat, legs, and core to ask for the halt. Don’t just pull back on the reins. Instead, close your hand.
Keeping an elastic rein contact, ask the horse to rein-back for three or four steps.
Immediately, ask the horse to go forward into working trot, directly from rein-back.
Repeat the exercise a few times. As the horse gets the idea, you’ll find he really propels himself into trot, stepping further underneath his body as he does so.
Exercise 2 – Improving overtrack in free walk
The mark for the free walk often carries a coefficient of two in dressage tests. The more overtrack and stretch you can achieve, the more marks you get!
Again, the horse must be working forward through his back into an elastic contact before this exercise can be fully effective. So, use an energetic working trot to prepare.
Establish an active, marching medium walk. Aim for maximum energy in the steps.
Ride a 20-meter circle, making sure that you have the horse securely into your outside rein. Flex the horse to the inside of the circle, guarding his outside shoulder so that he doesn’t fall out and evade the engagement.
Gradually, allow the horse to take the reins from you, keeping the outside contact and inside bend.
The horse must keep marching forward to seek the bit, stretching forward and down as he does so. So, if you need to, tap him up with your whip or heel to keep the energy.
Keeping the outside contact and established bend ensures that you don’t lose the connection through the horse’s back that allows his hind legs to step through and overtrack.
Overtracking in the free walk and extended paces can earn you good marks in dressage tests as it demonstrates to the judge that your horse is working forward through his back from behind as defined in the dressage Scales of Training.
Does your horse have a natural big overtrack or is that something you’ve had to work on? Tell us in the comments box below, and please share this article if you found it helpful.