Have you ever been told your horse should have more ‘expression’ in his trot?
Let’s take a closer look at what that really means and how to create it in your horse.
What is expression in the trot?
‘Expression’ is one of those judges terms that is often hard to define, but the necessary components for an expressive trot are:
By this we mean that the whole horse gives the impression of mobility; both the body and the legs are loose and moving energetically, a bit like looking at an enthusiastic puppy bouncing around, but with balance and control.
Vigorously bending hind legs that propel the horse both forward and upward, with elasticity and enthusiasm.
To be a correct pace, the trot must have a clear moment of suspension, when all four feet are off the ground.
A correct suspension includes the two above components; it is also possible to get suspension from stiffness (the horse appears to ‘hover’ without forward energy), but this is not what we want to see.
So how do we create expression?
You can, of course, buy it! Purpose-bred dressage horses are selected for this trait; the more expressive, the higher the price.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to buying the ready-made article (and it’s not cheap), there are ways to increase what nature has given your own horse.
A word of warning here: this is not a case of ‘push this button for expression’, or ‘do this exercise to create expression’. It will only develop as the culmination of months, or more likely years, of dedicated strengthening work.
…but it is possible.
Of course, first we have to go back to basics and check that they are all in place, with no missing links, and most importantly, no blockages anywhere in the way your horse uses his mind and body.
What you are seeking is that he has an uninterrupted ‘circle of energy’.
The energy circuit
Follow the circuit through your horse:
- You create energy from your driving aids: the seat and legs.
- This energy translates into muscle usage in your horse’s body starting with the contraction of his belly muscles (beneath your legs) which pull the bottom of his pelvis forward, resulting in tucked hindquarters with the hind legs further forward beneath him.
- His more engaged hind legs work with greater bend in the joints, becoming more vigorous.
- The energy then travels up and forward over his raised and swinging back,
- along his neck and through his flexed poll, then down to the bit and
- back along the reins to your hands and torso and then
- into your correctly postured and supple body, into your seat and so on.
If there is a blockage anywhere in this circuit, you will not be able to access the energy and use it to create expression.
The most likely blocking points are:
- He stiffens his back
- He over flexes his neck
- He is stiff in the poll
- Tension in the jaw
- Mental tension
- Rider’s hands pulling backward
- Rider’s seat not correctly established
If you have any of these issues, you must find a way to rectify them first.
If everything is in order, you will have achieved that other mysterious judge’s description: your horse is working ‘through’.
In other words, the energy is free to flow through his body, traveling round and round the circuit described above.
Only when you reach this stage, will you be able to enhance the expression in your horse’s trot. He must also be physically strong enough.
Creating expression in the trot
Now you know the pre-requisites, how do you actually do it?
Well, increased expression is a result of extra engagement of the trot, which in turn is produced from correct half halts – which is why the circuit must be intact, for the half halts to work correctly.
The other factor is your seat: you must be able to sit totally adhesive to the saddle, with a feeling (without gripping) of being able to ‘lift’ your horse with a more vertical swing of your pelvis – watch riders riding passage – and always remembering that with more suspension/cadence/expression, there will be more time in the stride with all four feet off the ground (air time) so the trot will feel slower, but not less energetic.
A hurried trot will never have expression.
It is possible to achieve the same effect in rising trot, but that requires even more skill in the way you use your pelvis to ‘lift’ your horse’s back and steps higher into the air.
If a horse does not have a great degree of natural expression in his trot, you can enhance it by training strengthening and suppling work, and developing true ‘throughness’.
When all the components are in place, you will be able to encourage greater expression by the way you use your seat, and your half halts.
- How To Use Your Seat
- How to Improve Your Sitting Trot
- How to Ride a Half-Halt
- About the Horse’s Trot Gait in Dressage