Your horse is good to lead around the yard, and to and from the field, so trotting him up shouldn’t be too difficult, right? While you can probably get him into trot and run alongside him, did you realise that there’s actually a real art to trotting horses up correctly? And it’s not just about how good your horse is at it – if you get it wrong, you could affect how he looks and moves quite dramatically.
Trotting up is something many of us simply don’t practise, mostly because we don’t need to do it on a regular basis and it’s fairly simple, so we just wing it when we need to. But we’ve all been on the end of the leadrope when a horse is hanging back, refusing to trot, or towing you along, reluctant to slow down when it’s time to turn and trot back, which can be a tad embarrassing.
Train him to your voice
When training your horse to trot up, the ideal is to get him responding to voice commands, so you can instruct him while leaving his head to move freely, because pulling on the leadrope or reins will alter his head carriage and way of going. Every time you ask your horse to step up into trot or come back to walk, say something like ‘trrrot’ or ‘whoa’ at the same time. You’ll need to use the leadrope and other signals initially, until your horse makes the connection between the word and what you’re asking him to do, then start phasing these out until you’re just using your voice to instruct him.
A correct trot up
There are two main situations when you might need to trot your horse up – for your vet or for the judge in a showing class. Trotting your horse up properly for your vet is important because doing it incorrectly could affect his way of going and not give your vet a clear picture. At a show, a good trot up will show your horse off at his absolute best. To master a good trot up…
- Make sure you stay level with your horse’s shoulder and away from his side so the vet or judge has a good view of him
- Look up and ahead to where you’re going to help keep you straight and your horse moving forward positively
- When you ask your horse to trot, he should react promptly and the trot should be active – not too slow or too hurried
- Hold the leadrope or reins so there’s a little slack, and make sure his head and neck are straight, so that his head movement isn’t affected. This is particularly important when trotting him up for the vet, because they’ll want to see whether there is any head nod
- Walk away and back first before asking him to do it in trot. Use this time to get him moving forwards and listening to you
- When it’s time to turn, bring your horse back to walk, turn him away from you, then make sure he’s straight before asking him to trot back to the judge or vet
Trot up troubleshooting
The main problems encountered when trotting up include…
Not wanting to move forward. If he’s not keen to go when you ask, try to avoid looking back at him. While it feels like a natural thing to do, a lot of horses find this intimidating and it can make them more reluctant. Carry a schooling whip in your outside hand and if your horse doesn’t go when you ask, quickly back up your command with a tap on his side.
Alternatively, while practising, you could ask a friend to encourage him forward when he doesn’t respond to your instruction by gently flicking a lunge whip in his direction, just like you would if you were lungeing. When your horse does go forward, it’s important that you’re ready to go with him and don’t accidentally hold him back, which may confuse him.
Top tip – Consider putting a bridle on your horse to give you better control.
Unable to pull up at the end. Do some general groundwork involving lots of changes of direction and pace, so your horse never knows what to expect. This way he’ll learn to listen and become tuned in to you, instead of charging off and doing his own thing. Do this every time you lead him anywhere to keep his attention – the ideal is that wherever you go, he politely follows you.
If your horse starts to lose focus and gets carried away while you’re practising trotting up, stop him and back him up a few steps before continuing. Training him to respond accurately to your voice command to come back to walk should really help, too.
Top tip – Lungeing is great for practising using your voice commands – use the same ones you would for trotting up.
Too sprightly or fast. If he’s keen to go and you’re having to keep a contact on the leadrope or reins to control him, it’ll affect the quality of his trot up. Again, do lots of groundwork involving changes of direction and speed to teach him to pay attention and stick to your side. This can include short bursts of gentle jogging alongside you on a loose rein, so eventually it becomes a boring, everyday thing for him, but try to keep them short enough that you’ve returned to walk before it gets too exciting or too fast.
Practise trotting up after he’s been worked, when he’s not feeling so fresh. Keep your cue to trot very quiet and just ask for a few steps of trot initially before coming back to walk, then ask for a few more. If he’s still relaxed and on a loose rein, keep extending your trot time, but if he starts to get carried away reduce it back down. Keep practising until you can trot the whole length of your trot up in a relaxed fashion and do it regularly – the more often he does it, the less exciting it’ll be. Talk to him in a soothing voice to help keep him relaxed and his attention on you, too.
Top tip – Always wear sturdy boots. If your horse is young or excitable, a hat and gloves are a good idea.
Did you know?
Trotting away promptly is particularly important for lameness examinations, where your vet may wish to do a flexion test. After his leg has been flexed, it’s important that your horse trots straightaway before the effects of the flexion wear off, but he may be reluctant if he’s feeling discomfort. Training your horse to trot away well will help your vet get a clear result from the test.