Some horses have a really good natural medium trot, whilst others take time to develop the pace.
Medium trot is a real mark-winner in dressage tests if you can perform it well, so it’s well-worth practicing at home where you can use the pace to enhance your horse’s other work.
Read on to find out what the dressage judge is looking for in a good medium trot, together with advice on how you can conjure one out of your horse!
Medium trot – what the judge is looking for
Medium trot appears for the first time in British Dressage Novice dressage tests where just a few strides must be shown across the diagonal line.
From British Dressage Elementary level upwards, medium trot is required to be shown ridden from marker to marker, either across the diagonal line, down the long side of the arena, around a 20-meter circle, or up the center line in more advanced tests.
Medium trot is a pace of moderate lengthening.
Whilst maintaining a round frame and working over his back to the contact, the horse should clearly lengthen his stride to cover more ground.
The horse’s frame should lengthen so that he carries his head slightly in front of the vertical.
You can ride medium trot rising or sitting, up to and including British Dressage Medium level. However, it’s recommended that you use rising trot at these lower levels to reduce the risk of your horse tightening through his back and to maximize his ability to use his back muscles and shoulders.
Common faults in the medium trot
- ‘running’ – the horse doesn’t lengthen his stride at all but just hurries out of balance
- breaking into canter instead of lengthening the stride
- hollowing the frame and coming above the bit as he loses balance
- losing balance onto the forehand
- failing to show clear transitions in and out of the medium trot (‘fading’) when they are required
- increasing in tempo (speed of the rhythm)
- flicking the toe, rather than lengthening the whole stride
Rider requirements for a good medium trot
Before you can attempt to teach your horse to lengthen his trot, you need to have the following:
1 – An independent seat
You need to develop an independent seat so that you can remain in balance and follow the horse’s movement.
That means you mustn’t grip the horse with your leg. If you do, the horse will tense through his body, effectively preventing him from swinging through his back and lengthening his stride and frame.
Related Read: How to Get an Independent Seat
2 – An elastic rein contact
You must be able to ride with an elastic rein contact.
As you ask the horse to lengthen his stride, ease your hand forward slightly. The horse should follow your hand, stretching over his topline to seek your contact.
A hand that is fixed and blocking, or a contact that’s unsteady, will prevent the horse from following the bit as you ease your hand.
3 – Ride a correct half-halt
You must be able to ride a correct half-halt.
A well-ridden half-halt is essential for smooth transitions and to balance your horse as he lengthens his stride.
Related Read: How to Ride a Half-Halt
4 – Engage your horse’s hindquarters
To produce lengthened strides and medium trot, you must be able to engage your horse’s hindquarters.
The hindquarters are the horse’s engine, and you need that power to travel forward through the horse’s back into your elastic rein contact and slightly forward hand.
Related Read: How to Activate Your Horse’s Hind Legs
Tips for riding medium trot
The aids for medium trot should be discreet. You shouldn’t resort to kicking your horse, using your whip, or prodding him with your spurs.
Related Read: How to Get Your Horse In Front of the Leg
Don’t just fire the horse down the long side of the arena.
You must be careful not to push the horse out of balance and rhythm because if you ask for too much, the horse will most likely fall onto his forehand, start running, or break into canter.
Concentrate on keeping the tempo and rhythm the same as the horse gradually lengthens his stride.
In his early lessons, don’t ask for a clear transition into and out of medium trot. Instead, focus on gradually increasing the length of stride.
When the horse is more confident and you know that you can keep him balanced, you can then introduce the transitions that you are required to show in dressage tests.
Keep the horse straight.
Ensure that he stays traveling on one track and that his quarters don’t come in. If this happens, ride him in slight shoulder-fore positioning to encourage him to step under.
Don’t fall into the trap of leaning backward and driving the horse with your seat. That increases the pressure on your horse’s loin area, and he will probably hollow his back against you.
When teaching your horse medium trot, always go rising so that he can use his back properly.
As the horse lengthens his stride, keep your contact “receiving” and elastic so that you don’t restrict or block the swing through the horse’s back.
Resist the temptation of trying to help your horse to balance by using your reins. That will make the horse hollow his back and come too short in his neck.
Steps to teach your horse medium trot
To teach your horse to show medium trot strides, start by establishing a good working trot with the horse working through his back to seek the contact.
Ride down the long side of the arena.
Before you reach the corner, use a half-halt to ask the horse to “sit” behind.
Put the horse into a slight shoulder-fore position as you ride through the next corner to bring his inside hind leg more underneath him.
On the next long side, make the horse straight and ease your hands a little more forward.
Use your legs on the girth. That should encourage the horse to stretch forward with his head and neck as he seeks the contact.
As you ease your contact, the energy you’ve created should explode forward as the horse follows the bit. Keeping your leg on asks the horse to lengthen his frame and stride so that he covers more ground.
Don’t ask for too much ground cover too soon. Take the time to gradually increase the number of medium trot strides until your horse is strong and balanced enough to manage more.
Focus on keeping the rhythm, tempo, and balance.
Once your horse understands the exercise, ride medium trot across the diagonal line, using the corners and half-halts to help keep the horse balanced.
If your horse struggles to show a natural medium trot under saddle, it can be possible to teach him on the lunge without the weight of a rider to contend with.
Pole work can also be a useful teaching tool, but don’t place the poles too far apart to begin with as your horse could trip and injure himself. Instead, start with a distance that is comfortable for him and them gradually make the distance wider.
Riding medium trot in a dressage test
The preparation for the medium trot is the most important part of the exercise.
If your horse is not balanced and engaged, he will fall onto his forehand, break into canter, or lose the rhythm as he attempts to lengthen his stride.
Apply a half-halt to get your horse’s attention and engage his hind leg.
Contain the energy your leg has created through the half-halt with your hand.
If riding the medium trot across the diagonal or down the long side of the school, make sure your horse is straight and working into an even contact.
Slowly ease your hand forward and apply your legs to allow the horse to move forward and uphill into the medium trot.
The transition should be smooth; don’t ‘fire’ the horse abruptly across the school!
Allow with your hand so that the horse can lengthen his whole frame, not just his stride.
Keep your leg on so that he doesn’t fall onto his forehand, and be careful to maintain the rhythm.
Riding medium trot around a large circle helps to bring the horse’s inside leg underneath him, lightening the forehand and helping to keep the tempo the same.
You can also ride medium trot while you’re out hacking on trails or in fields. Riding the exercise up hills is a great way of strengthening the horse, building muscle on his hindquarters, and discouraging him from falling onto his forehand.
Medium trot as a schooling tool
Medium trot can also be a useful schooling tool.
Use medium steps to refresh the working trot if it becomes a little flat, and to help develop the horse’s hind leg carrying power by incorporating transitions in and out of medium trot.
If you’re lucky, your horse will have a good natural medium trot that he will happily offer you ‘for free’.
If not, you’ll need to work on developing the pace using the guidelines above.
Remember, don’t aim for too much at first. Instead, build up the number of strides gradually as your horse begins to understand what you’re asking of him.