Thoroughbred Logic, Presented by Kentucky Performance Products: Ride the Big Trot

“With support, the trot that will develop from that too-speedy, too-big forward jumble is often a pushing, powerful, balanced, over-the back masterpiece.”

Welcome to the next installment of Thoroughbred Logic. In this weekly series, Anthropologist and trainer Aubrey Graham, of Kivu Sport Horses, offers insight and training experience when it comes to working with Thoroughbreds (although much will apply to all breeds). This week ride along as Aubrey shares her logic on how to ride the big trot.

Thoroughbred School came to a close this past week in Georgia, but the folks from the last two semesters will likely read the title and chuckle. Apparently, I am a broken record and say, “Ride the big trot” enough that they want to get it emblazoned on a T-shirt.

You’re probably like, well big trots can be great – but also wtf does that mean?

That would be Rhodie (Western Ridge) throwing a huge trot at me after a jump round at a show in early 2023. You can see me trying to get upright enough to ride it without pulling. Photo by the Kivu Team.

Here’s the backstory:

Thoroughbred School has been an interesting and productive experiment in getting a bunch of eager, qualified riders together and putting them on a variety of Thoroughbreds for theory-heavy lessons that ask them to do things as fundamentally correctly and balanced as possible. In so doing, they learn to be increasingly balanced, light, clear and confident. They get better at riding in general, but specifically, they become increasingly able to ride often-sensitive Thoroughbreds.

However, hopping on horses that range from school masters to those with a few rides post track means that things do not always go as planned. Down transitions from the canter to the trot are one such place. If not perfectly prepared, a horse will often run in the down transition. Or if not running, they may strike off into a trot that is a few miles an hour too fast, a few clicks too big.

Kara Rogers piloting Titan’s Crown around Thoroughbred School in the Fall. Photo by author.

At the point that the down transition does not immediately settle into a quiet working trot, that is the moment you’ll hear me yelling from the center to “ride the big trot.” Translation: Sit all the way up, engage your core, lift your hands a bit, have a forward feel and put supportive leg on.  Do. Not. Pull. With support, the trot that will develop from that too-speedy, too-big forward jumble is often a pushing, powerful, balanced, over-the back masterpiece.

BUT, if a rider stops riding and only focuses on slowing down – aka tips forward and pulls — the horse will lean on the bit, fall onto their forehand and the trot will run – short, choppy, fast, and downhill. And while they keep pulling and begin to maybe-sometimes-panic-just-a-tiny-bit in that careening trot, the horse will often opt to amp back up into the canter. As a knock-on effect, that canter won’t be balanced either. It will end up choppy, downhill, and ultimately off balance. And from there, everything will likely get faster and more downhill and more off balance… you follow the trend…

Clark (JC Louis) running a bit in his down-transition trot while I try to stay upright and use balance and core to bring him back to an acceptable pace. Photo by the Kivu Team.

Discussing the relationship between equine balance and speed is also one of my favorite broken-record things. In short, if a horse is not balanced, they need to rely on speed to hold themselves up. Thus, if they’re beginning to go off balance in the down transition and the trot gets big, the best thing the rider can do is sit up, add leg and increase their stability to encourage the use of the horse’s core and back, encourage balance, and therefore encourage the ability to slow down well without having to haul them up. Tip, pull, and create more instability and they’re just going to get faster.

CJ’s Empire had an amazing trot (now reserved for occurrences in the broodmare field) but she simply would not tolerate it if you pulled. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

Forrest (Don’t Noc It) is my usual go-to for this example. Forrest has run through Training level and schooled some second and third level dressage and can be super well balanced, suspended, and obedient. That said, he prefers to be a touch lazy (OK, a LOT lazy), avoid using his hind end if not properly asked. This is fine by me — it makes him a super horse to teach from.

If a rider pulls in the down transition as opposed to lifting him with leg and seat from canter to trot, Forrest predictably will run. His long legs will chop-chop-chop their way down the long side of the arena, gaining speed and losing balance with each step until he is back in a canter, going faster than they started. He’ll do this on repeat until a rider sits up, asks him to sit on his hind end with an effective half halt, and then half halts again for the down transition. (I’ll discuss the double half halt in an upcoming article). And as the rider sits up and lifts at the trot, he will become floaty, correct, and will put that lazy dad-bod to work.

Forrest (Don’t Noc It) schooling his big trot at Chatt Hills a few years back. Photo by the Kivu Team.

The whole process is training. The more a horse is asked to use their back in a down transition and rewarded, the more they will learn to give it a try. And the more a rider can sit up and support, the lighter but more effective they can become on all breeds of horses.

Ultimately, the trick is always to take the opportunity presented and ride that too big trot. As riders learn to transform the force one has under them into something amazing versus trying to tug against a 1200+-pound animal and shut them down, they learn to shape the quality of their ride. They learn to feel the positive potential in the push and the power. And they learn to harness the ability to slow down through balance.

Lottie (Hatch Gate) had amazing movement in her trot but also had to learn to sit and lift and not just get quick in the down transitions. Photo by the Kivu Team.

So embrace the potential in the hustle and jumble folks and always aim to ride the big trot.

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