One of the most spectacular and impressive movements in dressage is the extended trot.
If you’re lucky, your horse will offer to lengthen his stride naturally, just because he can!
However, every horse can learn to lengthen his stride and extend to some extent, even if his natural paces are modest.
In this article, we look at how to ride extended trot and how to make the most of your horse’s natural paces.
What is extended trot?
The extended trot is when the horse covers as much ground as possible, lengthening his stride to its fullest extent.
The horse’s frame should lengthen too, and he should take his weight back onto his quarters, lifting his forehand as he does so.
When your horse extends, his front and back legs should lengthen equally. You should feel a tremendous surge of power underneath you, while the horse remains light in your hand.
What the judge wants to see in a good extended trot
When judging extended trot, the judge hopes to see:
- Good rhythm and balance
- Maximum ground cover
- Pushing from behind, covering ground equally in front and behind
- Light in the contact
- Swing through the back
- Uphill balance
- Maintaining a round frame
- Lengthened frame to match the strides
- No increase in tempo
As well as the actual extended trot itself, the judge wants to see clear, smooth, balanced transitions in and out of the extended trot. Note that these transitions are sometimes marked separately from the extended trot itself.
First – Developing the basics
Before you can ride a good extended trot, you must have the basic training in place.
That means that your horse must work forward through a swinging back to seek a light, elastic contact. Also, you must be able to collect your horse by using a half-halt to sit him back onto his hocks.
Before you attempt to ride extended trot, try using the following exercise as a warm-up routine. Transitions are crucial to developing impulsion and encouraging the horse to work forward through his back.
Ride a 20m circle in a rhythmic, active working trot.
Make the circle accurate to control the horse’s lateral balance and channel the horse’s power in a specific direction.
Keep the correct bend. You should be able to see your horse’s crest muscles positioned so that they fall to the inside, and his inside eye should just be visible.
Prepare to ride a transition to canter, using the lightest possible aids.
Go into sitting trot, putting your weight into your inside seat bone, and then use the lightest possible inside leg aid to ask the horse to canter.
Once in canter, gradually increase the swing of your seat, backed up by your leg and voice. Your horse should respond by giving you a prompt increase in the jump and energy of the canter strides.
Make a transition back into working trot by using your outside rein.
Ride a half-halt, keeping the inside flexion and bend, and keep riding forward without losing rhythm or increasing the tempo.
Keep riding these transitions, adding in changes of direction, until the horse is loose through his back and keen to go forward.
This exercise is excellent for freshening up a lazy horse and calming a hot horse.
Second – Develop collection
The next part of your warm-up routine is designed to develop collection and build both the carrying and thrusting power that you will need to produce a good extended trot.
A good way to do this is by using transitions within the trot pace itself.
Ask the horse to lengthen his trot strides.
Encourage your horse to “think forward” by allowing with your hands through each transition, enabling the horse to lengthen his frame when you ask him for lengthened strides.
(Note: Even though you are allowing your hand, you still must maintain a contact and not throw it away completely.)
Use the half-halt to collect the horse and encourage him to sit back on his hind legs. That will cause the horse to shift his weight over his back to his croup and close the joints of his hind legs to create more engagement.
If the horse doesn’t react to your original aid, repeat with a stronger one. If that is unsuccessful, make a downward transition. As a last resort, ride a transition to halt.
Through riding transitions into and out of collected and lengthened strides, you teach the horse to expand and contract his frame, rather like a rubber band. And, importantly, you are training the horse to be more reactive and sensitive to your aids.
Riding good extended trot transitions
As mentioned earlier, riding good transitions into and out of extended trot is extremely important if you’re going to get a good mark in a dressage test.
In some tests, these transitions carry a separate mark, so it’s vital that you pay attention to them in your training.
Here’s a very simple exercise that’s used by many of the world’s top dressage professionals for developing smooth, reactive transitions in and out of extended trot:
Begin by riding an active working trot down the long side of the arena on the right rein.
As you reach the letter before the corner, ride a trot-walk transition.
Make sure that you keep the correct bend through the corner.
Collect the walk and ride a half walk pirouette to the right. That will bring you back to the wall, facing in the opposite direction.
Straighten the horse and, using the lightest aid possible, make a transition back into working trot.
Repeat the exercise at the next corner. This time, ask for more energy and ground cover in the trot down the long side.
Keep repeating the exercise, asking for a little more lengthening each time.
The idea of this exercise is to make the horse’s hind legs more active, which is achieved through riding a half pirouette in the collected walk. The transition to working trot and then to lengthened strides teaches the horse to think forward and helps him to develop quicker reactions to your aids.
Using lateral work to develop the collection
Using lateral exercises, such as leg-yield and shoulder-in, is useful for encouraging the horse to engage his hind legs while discouraging him from running through the bridle and losing balance.
Lateral work also helps to develop more elasticity through the horse’s back, further developing his scope for extension.
Common problems and troubleshooting the extended trot
Here are a few common issues that most riders encounter when teaching their horse to extend his trot strides:
1. Breaking into canter
In nature, most horses will gallop away from danger, rather than extending their trot. That’s because cantering or galloping is simply easier and more efficient for the horse. So, if you ask your horse for too much extension before he is strong and balanced enough to cope with the exercise, you risk him breaking into a canter, simply because that’s easier for him.
Start by asking for three or four lengthened strides, building up to a whole diagonal when the horse is balanced enough to cope.
2. Lengthening in front but not behind
Another common fault in an extended trot is that the horse lengthens in front and not behind. That’s especially common in horses that have naturally extravagant movement. Instead of using his hindquarters to propel himself forward, the horse simply flicks his toes. That might look impressive to the uneducated onlooker, but it is not correct in dressage!
To correct the problem, ask for more engagement and activate the horse’s hind legs by using transitions as outlined in the exercise above.
3. Not lengthening at all
If the horse seems unable to produce any form of lengthened stride, it’s because he is probably not working properly through his back.
In this case, go back to basics and revisit the dressage scales of training. Once you have the horse supple through his back and to the bend, you can develop the impulsion and collection that you need to produce good extensions.
Even horses with modest paces are capable of producing an extended trot, provided the basics are in place, and the horse is relaxed.
4. Not lengthening the frame
Don’t spoil an otherwise good extended trot by hanging onto the bridle! That will cause the horse to come too short in his neck, potentially drop behind the vertical, and shorten his stride.
Remember to ease your hand forward to allow the horse to lengthen his frame as well as his stride.
5. Heavy in the hand
Some riders try to balance an extravagant extended trot by using the reins. That usually results in the horse leaning on the bridle and falling onto the forehand.
If your horse leans on the bridle, use half-halts to ask the horse to transfer his weight onto his hindquarters.
Also, focus on your riding. Make sure that you are in a good balance with your horse and that you’re not using the reins to balance yourself!
6. Increasing tempo
If the horse loses his balance and falls onto his forehand, the tempo of the trot will increase, rather than covering more ground.
Use half-halts or ride a circle to rebalance the horse and slow the tempo.
How to ride extended trot in the arena
Once you have the basics in place, it’s time to practice riding extended trot as you would do in a dressage test.
- Make sure that the horse is moving forward through his back into a light contact and is working in self-carriage, rather than relying on you to support him.
- Establish the inside bend through the corner, and use a half-halt to bring the horse back onto his hocks.
- Make the horse straight onto the diagonal line.
- Ask for a transition into an extended trot, easing your hand forward slightly as you do so.
- Maintain the rhythm and tempo right across the diagonal line, using discreet half-halts as necessary to help the horse to stay balanced.
- Just before the marker, use a half-halt to rebalance the horse before riding a clear transition back into a collected trot.
- Use the corner to establish the new bend, and ride a half-halt to prepare your horse for the next movement.
The extended trot is the maximum stride that the horse can achieve while remaining in balance.
Make sure that you have the basics well-established before you begin working on the extended trot. The horse must be able to work through a relaxed back into a light, elastic contact without tension or resistance before the maximum extension can be achieved.
Do you have any other questions or points to add? Let us know in the comments box below.