Exercises to Improve the Trot

The Exercise: half-pass, medium trot, half-pass:

In trot ride round the corner of the arena and begin half-pass from the quarter marker across the diagonal. 28juneexercise

After about six strides of half-pass, straighten your horse and ask for some medium strides as you cross the X marker.

After another six strides or so, half-halt and go back into half pass again. Repeat on the other rein and from both ends of the school. 

After the half-pass, you horse should be more engaged, so this exercise could also help to improve the medium trot.

Exercises for developing thrust carrying capacity in trot:

1. Start out in working trot, tracking on the long side of the arena.

2. Walk at the letter before the corner, maintaining a good bend.

3. Promptly make half a walk pirouette to the left, which turns you back to the same wall, facing the other way.

4. Using the lightest-possible aids, straighten your horse and transition back to the working trot.

5. Before you get to the corner, transition to walk and make half a walk pirouette to the right. Stay on the long side, heading in the other direction.

Repeat the exercise, asking for more during the trot on the long side. First, ask for a lengthening of the working trot and then for more extension, each time with an easy downward transition to walk and then the half walk pirouette to turn around.

This exercise highlights one of the extremes of collection, which is the collected walk required for a walk pirouette. Perfecting this will help you transition to an extended trot because the horse must remain active in the hind legs and do so with a correct bend. The pirouettes give you a moment to gather confidence, establish balance and reward the horse for thinking in the right direction.

In the process, you form the horse as you focus on the integrity of your position to maintain looseness, bend and flexibility. This allows your driving aids to flow through the horse’s back to maintain the looseness that keeps the energy flowing.

The Shoulder-in Loop Andrea Taylor

On the left rein, ride straight down the long side of the arena in a balanced trot (may be working or collected depending on the stage of the horse’s training). Shoulder-in Loop

At R, ride a half 20 metre circle to S in medium trot, thinking about creating impulsion without allowing the horse to take faster steps.

At S, half-halt and develop shoulder-in in collected trot down the long side to V.

From V to P, ride another half 20 metre circle in medium trot to refresh the impulsion, and develop shoulder-in in collected trot again down the long side to R.

At R, ride a half 20 metre circle to S in medium trot…and so on.

“Your horse may rush in the mediums and as a result stiffen and lean on the contact,” cautions Andrea. “Check that you are pushing and engaging him uphill using half halts rather than chasing him out of balance.”

You may also find that your horse feels “stuck” against the wall in the transition from shoulder-in in collected trot to the medium trot. “Make sure you are keeping the horse in front of your leg in the shoulder-in so he is ready to leave the wall exactly when you give the aid,” Andrea advises.

This exercise can be adapted to suit different horses by varying the degree of impulsion in the medium trot and asking for more or less angle in the shoulder-in. With a more advanced horse you can even add a half-pass out of the shoulder-in at E or B to the top of the centreline. Then come back down the long side and repeat the exercise from the beginning.

Dressage training on how to improve the trot with Olympian Courtney King Dye

Dressage training with Garreth Hughes, How to improve the trot



Don’t ask me how far it is

I saw an exercise online that I wanted to try with Ava and Joy. Basically a 3 loop serpentine over ground poles.

Trot the first set of ground poles, canter the second, trot the third. Then you’re set up to go the opposite way and do it all again.

I liked that it not only incorporated ground poles, but also worked on bendy lines to increase suppleness AND transitions between gaits to work on collection. Really neat exercise.

So I tried it with Ava first. She whacked every pole with her feet. Knocked them all over the first go round. It didn’t go well. I didn’t have the spacing right. Oh well. Instead, we worked on rhythm and straightness, combined with relaxation and suppleness. She did well.

I reset all the poles for Joy and tried it with her. Little dynamo perfectly picked her way through the poles at the trot. When I asked her to canter, she stepped right into it in balance. I was really happy with how it went. I didn’t have the canter pole distance right though, so we ended up trotting through those too and did transitions before and after each set.

She did really well.

I really need to get better at distances though.

This was also my first run of having the puppy tied out near the arena while I rode. He’s only 5 months, and not ready to make his own decisions yet, so he had to be contained for his safety (and mine). But, I wanted to get him used to the idea of me being on top of a horse. He did really well. Altogether it was an hour and a half of him basically being left to his own devices and he happily sat and watched, played with the kitties, and dug holes (he loves digging holes!). About the hour and a half mark and he started up with the most woeful howl you’ve ever heard.



Nothing earth shattering or awesome. Just a fun time.

Whip ’em

It was chilly, windy, and overcast this evening. I decided I’d better ride tonight though, because tomorrow its going to rain all day.

I tacked from the off side. I’m still working on that. She’s getting better. She only jumps once, the rest of the time she just flinches.

Such a drama queen! Haha

Today I took the dressage whip with me to the arena. She’s still a bit unconvinced she needs to move promptly off the leg. I wanted some back up to my leg aid.

I’m always nervous riding a horse with a whip for the first time. I made sure to check Joy’s reaction to it from the ground several times first. Joy doesn’t care. She’s not scared of it.

Again, her basic training has been fantastic. Kudo’s to her former owners on that.

I was still a bit nervous, and over cautious, though. I’m a worrier.

The wind was blowing everything around. The pine trees sway and make crazy screeching and cracking noises. The leaves are falling from the tree’s and now the cars going by are visible from the arena. Everything is moving and swaying, creaking and growning.

Joy was was very Up, very distracted. I was having difficulty letting off her mouth. I kept reminding myself to loosen my arms, give/release. Those releases didn’t last very long, and I was back in her mouth again. I hate when I do that. I needed a ground person to yell at me today.

We spent most of the time at the walk. Some for focus, but mainly I was having issues with bend. It was either too much neck, or the bum was skiddering off to the outside, or I lost the shoulders, or… I was having all kinds of issues.

We did the square, then circles and serpentines. Lot of circles. One side of the arena is uber scary. She’ll go there, but I really have to finesse her into paying attention to me and not the scary cars flying by.

My current favorite exercise is spiral in/leg yield out.  It’s easier to do in my miniscule arena than leg yields are.

Once she was listening better, and more relaxed, I worked a little bit on shoulder-in and haunches-in. I picked up the whip for this part to back up my left leg.  I did have to touch her with the whip twice to convince her to move off my inside leg (just light), but once accomplished she gave me two really decent shoulder-fore’s to the left (the hard way).

The haunches-in (or the facsimile we do) was okay, but mainly I was very pleased that going to the left I was able to get her haunches over with only one small tiff over the right leg being on. She likes to really swing the haunches against the leg. A couple of weeks ago I was lucky to get one step of haunches-in, today I got almost the entire length of the short side of the arena.

There are still a lot of pieces to put in there to be real haunches-in and real shoulder-in’s, but as long as she gets the idea then I can build on it gradually.

I need to add… the SI’s and HI’s are only at the walk still.

Oh, and lately I’ve been playing with trot/walk transitions where you slowly slow down the trot until you walk. I learned this from the David Donnelly clinic two springs ago. You trot normal, then slow your posting until you’re almost at a walk. If the horse is still engaged and with you, then ask for the walk. If the horse starts to fall on the forehand or braces/tenses at any point, then ask for the big trot again. I like it for Joy because I think it breaks down the transition, and half-halt, and staying balanced, into smaller parts that she can understand. Plus, good gymnastic workout and teaches the horse to listen to the seat.

That was it. We didn’t trot much. I didn’t canter at all. Joy was holding it together on the scary side pretty well, and I thought I better end on a positive note.  I tend to error on the side of too little most rides. Which is why I have overweight ponies. Haha

Exercises to Improve Lengthens

I’ve been surfing the web looking for exercises that could help improve Ava’s lengthen/medium trot. So, for your enjoyment, here are the articles I’ve found from around the web. (excerpts included, but please read the entire article by clicking the links).

Improving the Horse’s Extension & Collection


A great extended trot exercise to improve the length of stride is to get three poles down the long side of the arena. Set them out at about 1.3m or so (that’s just a ‘normal every day working trot’, and then every day just make them a little bit longer and a little bit longer.

Developing the Extended Gaits with Cindy Ishoy


Written by Cindy Ishoy.
An exercise for developing the extended trot is to alternate between shoulder-in and medium trot. Ride out of the corner in shoulder-in for 10-15 meters, then slowly straighten and push the horse into medium trot. After some strides in medium trot, collect back into shoulder-in before the corner. As the horse becomes stronger and more trained, several transitions between shoulder-in and medium trot can be fit into a single long side. The purpose of shoulder-in here is two-fold: it is a balancing movement, so it helps maintain or recover balance after the medium trot; it is also a lateral movement with flexion, so the rider is using the exercise, rather than strength, to bring the horse back.

Another exercise is to ride a short distance in extended trot, followed immediately by an 8 or 10 meter circle, then another short extended trot. This exercise can be ridden on the long side, quarter lines or diagonals. Can also use the centre line in order to circle either left or right. The circle makes the horse come back and rebalance on his hind end. As the horse becomes more highly trained, the transition can eventually go from passage to extended trot to passage. The passage encourages a longer moment of suspension, and (correctly used) it can improve the quality of the extended trot.

Developing Extended Canter: Use a 20-meter circle. Ask the horse for five to six strides of strong working canter on the circle, then five to six strides of collected canter, before asking again for a strong working canter. I will do the exercise for long enough that the horse is working hard, because the goal is not only to develop the extended canter, but also to develop the necessary strength in the hind end for collection. I like to use the circle because it makes the inside leg work harder, and it discourages the rider from pulling straight back in the downward transition. At the moment the rider collects the horse, the inside leg should drive to the outside rein, which resists only as much as necessary to get the response. The rider must remain straight on both seat bones and in the shoulders. The more equal on both sides you are as a rider, the better your horse will go.

Another exercise is to ask for a medium canter from the beginning of the long side, then ride a 20, 15 or 10-meter circle at the halfway point. The size of the circle is dependent on the horse’s level of training. The circle makes the horse collect without encouraging the rider to use a strong backward rein aid to achieve it. I will sometimes use the diagonal for this exercise with a horse that is advanced enough to do a 10-meter circle; I begin the diagonal in extended canter, ride a 10-meter circle, then continue the diagonal in extended canter. The exercise encourages the horse to take a more impressive, uphill canter stride. I always maintain a slight shoulder-in position as I come back to the collected canter. As the horse becomes stronger, I will add more than one circle on a single long line.

Riding a Dressage Horse: The Extended Trot


Written by Arlene “Tuny” Page.

Extended Trot Transitions
Exercise for developing great collected–extended–collected trot transitions. Uses the horse’s natural desire to please and his ability to anticipate.

1. Start out in working trot, tracking on the long side of the arena.

2. Walk at the letter before the corner, maintaining a good bend.

3. Promptly make half a walk pirouette to the left, which turns you back to the same wall, facing the other way.

4. Using the lightest-possible aids, straighten your horse and transition back to the working trot.

5. Before you get to the corner, transition to walk and make half a walk pirouette to the right. Stay on the long side, heading in the other direction.

How to develop the extended trot in the dressage horse.
Repeat the exercise, asking for more during the trot on the long side. First, ask for a lengthening of the working trot and then for more extension, each time with an easy downward transition to walk and then the half walk pirouette to turn around.

Collected walk required for walk pirouette keeps the hind legs active with correct bend. Pirouettes give you a moment to gather confidence, establish balance, and reward the horse for thinking in the right direction.

To improve extension in the trot at any level, experiment with how far you and your horse can go out of your comfort zone to improve. On one end of the spectrum, how far can your horse extend? On the other end of the spectrum, how close can he get to ultimate collection?

Perfect pole work: part one


Video’s covering exercises to develop bend, balance and impulsion, and adjusting the stride.

  • Riding around an ‘arc’ of trotting poles helps you capture the bend of your horse. Riding around the inner, center, and outer parts of the arc will also encourage lengthening and shortening of the stride. Plus, it helps develop consistent rhythm and coordination in your horse.
  • Cantering around a ‘clockface’ of four poles is good for developing and maintaining bend and rhythm, teaching a horse to lengthen and shorten his stride, and instilling accuracy in the rider (invaluable for dressage tests).
  • Riding an ‘arc’ of canter-poles around a corner encourages correct bend, is a useful stride-adjusting exercise, and promotes better balance, impulsion and coordination.

Work Over Cavalletti To Create Impressive, Consistent Trot Lengthenings


Article written by Nancy Later. I snipped a lot of the beginning parts, and explanation of what you’re looking for, out.

Setup Requirements: Five wooden jump poles.

Start by spacing the poles about three and a half of your boot lengths apart. (Author uses her own boot lengths, stepping on foot in front of the other, toe to heel rather than a measuring tape. This way you always have a consistent, reliable measuring method, wherever you are.) Evaluate the distances and adjust the poles as necessary. Trot two poles until horse is consistently relaxed and comfortable.

To work on lengthens: Start by adding half a boot length to each of the spaces between the four trot poles. Approach them in the same manner as before. Practice this for several weeks before lengthening the distances again. Never lengthen by more than half a boot length at a time and don’t lengthen the overall distance by a total of more than one and a half booth lengths beyond your horse’s natural stride.

To help your horse produce the added balance and power necessary to tackle the longer distance, prepare him with two or three half halts just after you turn off the short side. Then ride forward to the poles, trying to be quiet and supple, rather than strong, in your position and aids. As he steps over the poles, concentrate on keeping him between your legs, seat and reins, without pulling on or pushing him. Remember to let him so the work.

Raised Cavalletti

Once your horse is easily negotiating the poles spaced one and a half boot lengths farther apart than his normal trot stride, shorten the spaces back to the original distance and remove one pole, so only three remain. Place the two extra poles perpendicular to these poles, one on either side, then roll them just underneath the ends of the three poles so they’re lifted a few inches off the ground (see photos).

Use the same half halts out of the turn and forward approach to these raised poles. Focus on the feeling the raised poles create in your horse’s motion without any extra push on your part. If he struggles to get over them or loses his balance, rhythm or relaxation, instead of trying to “help” by kicking or pushing him, shorten the distances by a few inches. When he’s comfortable again, practice the routine for an additional week or so before returning to the original distance. There’s no need to lengthen the distances farther than that; the raised poles are enough challenge on their own.

If you wish to read the first part, called “Your Horse Will Offer His Best Effort If He’s Confident In The Connection Of Your Aids”, you can find it at http://www.nancylaterdressagehorses.com/BuildTrust.php