Working trot is included in all dressage tests from the very basic Training and Introductory levels right through to First or Elementary level.
You will also mostly ride the working variant of the trot when schooling your horse in your home arena.
In this guide, we show you how to ride working trot to maximize your dressage scores.
What is working trot?
The trot is a two-time gait, where the horse’s legs move in alternate diagonal pairs, separated by a “moment of suspension.”
The trot rhythm must be clearly two-time.
Watch the horse trotting around the arena, and you should be able to see the legs on the same side, forming a clear “V” shape with each stride.
Working trot is the first of the four trot variants that are used in dressage:
You must train your horse to produce a good working trot before you can progress to the other variants of the pace.
What is the dressage judge looking for?
When judging the working trot, the judge is first looking for a good, regular rhythm. Any sign of irregularity or incorrect sequence in the footfalls will be penalized heavily, as will variations in the tempo of the trot.
Related Read: How to Get a Good Rhythm
A good quality working trot sees the horse working with active hind legs, propelling himself freely forward through a swinging back, reaching forward with his front legs and with a free shoulder so that his strides cover plenty of ground. The horse should clearly track-up, which means that the horse’s hind feet should step into the prints left by his front feet.
In more advanced horses, the horse should show engagement; that is the weight should be taken more on the hindquarters, and the horse’s balance should be noticeably uphill, giving the steps more expression and cadence.
The horse’s whole frame should be round, as he stretches up through his topline to seek an elastic contact. The horse should move straight with no signs of crookedness.
There should be no signs of tension in the horse’s body or mind.
Although working trot can be ridden sitting or rising, problems often occur when riders insist on sitting to the trot, especially in the lower level tests. Sitting trot can prevent the horse from using his back and often results in the rider slowing the pace to make sitting to it more comfortable. The result is usually a hollow frame and a tempo that is too slow. So, unless you have a very supple seat, always go rising in the working trot.
Related Read: How to Improve Your Sitting Trot
Common faults in the working trot
Irregularity is a very serious fault in the working trot. If the rhythm is irregular and/or the horse is clearly unsound, he will be eliminated from a dressage test.
The horse’s steps should be even and in the correct sequence. Sometimes, tension causes the horse to bring the legs on the same side forward together in the trot, almost like a pacer. That two-beat lateral gait is incorrect for dressage and will be heavily penalized in all the trot work throughout the test, as well as in the collective mark for the horse’s paces.
Most of the other problems that are seen in the working trot stem from the fact that the horse has not been trained along the dressage Scales of Training. For example, the horse might be crooked, hollow, or behind the rider’s leg, all of which are serious faults.
How to ride the working trot
You must establish a good working trot before you can move on to training your horse to produce collected, medium, and extended trot.
Begin by riding your horse freely forward and in a regular rhythm and suitable tempo. Remember that energy and forwardness are totally different from speed. So, use half-halts to regulate the tempo of the trot and to keep your horse in balance and on the aids.
Ideally, the horse should work in a secure balance and self-carriage, into an elastic contact, and a consistent frame. Everything about the working trot should remain constant, regardless of whether you’re riding circles, through corners, across the diagonal line, or down the centerline.
As with most aspects of your dressage training, the use of transitions is crucial when it comes to developing your horse’s working trot.
Keep the regularity of the horse’s rhythm and the correct tempo of the pace uppermost in your mind when riding through both upward transitions and downward transitions. The idea is to encourage the horse to push with his hind legs in the upward transitions and bring them more underneath him in the downward transitions, all while maintaining his two-time rhythm and impulsion.
Try the following exercises:
To encourage the horse to really use his hind legs and hindquarters to push, use walk-trot-walk and halt-trot-halt transitions frequently.
Riding transitions within the trot is also extremely effective in improving the working version of the pace. So, ride a 20-meter circle and ask your horse to lengthen his trot for just a few strides, keeping the rhythm and tempo the same.
This exercise helps to keep the horse thinking forward and can really improve the elasticity of the working trot steps.
Canter transitions can also help to improve the working trot.
On a 20-meter circle, ask the horse to canter for a few strides, and then ride forward into a downward transition to working trot. Immediately ask the horse to lengthen his stride.
You should feel the steps becoming more elevated and cadenced.
Another very good exercise for improving the working trot is asking the horse to stretch.
Take up a 20-meter circle, and gradually lengthen your reins, allowing the horse to take the contact forward and stretch through his back to seek the bridle.
Keep your legs on so that the horse continues to work forward from behind in a good rhythm and with plenty of power.
As he stretches, the horse’s back should lift underneath you, his shoulders should become freer, and his steps should be more elevated.
Gradually, retake the reins, and go large around the arena. You should feel that the working trot now has more power, elasticity, and lift.
This exercise is included in several dressage tests, so it’s useful to include it in your everyday schooling sessions, too.
The working trot is included in every dressage test from the most basic levels through to First or Elementary level and is the foundation for the more advanced variants of the pace, collected, medium, and extended trot.
Focus on the rhythm, regularity, and impulsion of the working trot, and concentrate on schooling your horse along the dressage Scales of Training to maximize your horse’s natural pace.
Do you have any tips or tricks that you have used to improve your horse’s working trot? Share with us in the comments section below!