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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov. 3, 2003

    Default Trot / canter sets - how much contact?

    I was wondering how much contact is needed when doing trot and canter sets for conditioning. My horse seems to keep a nice steady tempo on a fairly loose rein. We have some rolling hills, so I try and let her balance herself (just with closing my thighs for support) without adding much hand. Or should you try to have them really working from behind into your hands?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan. 16, 2002
    West Coast of Michigan


    I do both. First 10 minutes of trotting is on a loose rein. Second 10 minutes is with some more contact, but not fussing with them insisting they be perfectly round and dressage-y. Will do some lengthening and shortening just to keep it from being too boring.

    First minute or so of each canter set I want them to be filling up the bridle, ready to go on. If they aren't I sort of worry if they're not feeling their best and I might not push as hard that day. Second part of the canter set I want to be playing with sending them forward and bringing them back a little, using my weight rather than pulling but just adjusting them a little. I keep just a steady contact, often bridging the reins, and don't fuss with them unless they're pulling or rooting.

    Last canter set I will do 1-2 minutes of a faster pace, depending on how far along in the interval program I am, just to push them to the edge of that anaerobic threshold a little. I don't mind them on a loose rein there.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb. 13, 2011


    I've always wondered the same thing. I can imagine doing what deltawave explained above on the TB's and lighter horses I've ridden. It sounds like a great plan for conditioning and schooling. But I think in the end it depends on the horse because that wouldn't have worked as well for the heavy drafty types, especially those who reallllly want to get on the forehand. Finding good balance for xc is such a challenge! I think it's a great idea to have an instructor help you play with it and give you feedback.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan. 10, 2007
    too far from the barn


    I have traditionally had horses who are great xc and PITAs in the dressage, and so have done 90% of my trot and canter work (hacking, sets, whatever) very much on the aids
    OTTBs rule, but spots are good too!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan. 23, 2004
    Camden, De


    I tend to ride mostly green ottb's so it seems like I do the first half very much on the aids to keep them focused on the job at hand and remind them that being out of the ring still means work and then when they relax and are zoned in I will let them go on their own.

    I find that when I'm teaching a horse about the contact that hacking out is the best way to show them how to come forward up into the contact. I try to do most of my work out of the ring using long straight lines. It's much easier for them out there because they don't have to worry about turning and for those who don't have the muscle yet you can condition them and show them about the contact without making them sour.

    My current horse is a spooky little sucker so we tend to ride with contact for the sake of staying in the saddle. He has to be kept working or else his mind wanders He still feels light and soft in the bridle even when in the contact so that is how I prefer to ride him.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov. 20, 2011


    Great question, I often wonder the same thing. I like to keep my horse in a frame but longer and more relaxed than I would in the dressage ring. I definatley like him to be on the bit and stretching through his topline.
    In our gallop sets I let him carry his head as he would like when we are REALLY galloping (he loves gallop sets!) But when we are at a hand gallop I just wiggle my fingers to keep the jaw soft.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct. 4, 2008


    Great question, and answers.
    May the sun shine on you daily, and your worries be gone with the wind.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct. 30, 2004
    Pine Top side of Atlanta, GA

    Default Very timely...Thanks!

    And DW, JLGriffiths, and Scubed...I SOOOO wish there was a LIKE button on COTH as I reached for it CONSTANTLY as I read your posts here...
    ~ it no longer matters what level I do, as long as I am doing it..~ with many thanks, to Elizabeth Callahan

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul. 19, 2003
    Round Hill, VA


    Depends on the horse- both on personality and physical needs. I may not let a horse who needs a topline or who's neck is tied on a bit upside down trot around however they please, but a quiet, happy horse with a strong topline, I'd probably leave alone for the most part.

    Also depends a bit on WHERE you are doing your trotting and cantering. Where Vernon and I got fit for his three day, we had to turn a lot with LOTS of changes of terrain. I NEEDED to be able to ride him a bit to help him stay balanced and not slip. However, he was such a quiet, sweet guy that around here (where you can trot and canter for ages), I could probably loop the reins and let him be (he'd probably spend most of his time stretching ).

    Toby, on the other hand, needs me to focus his energy to good, not evil. So, he spends most of his life on the bit. I do walk him a lot on the buckle because I am constantly trying to encourage THAT mindset (you know, the one where they are happy go lucky and NOT plotting how they plan to take over the world?), but once we trot or canter, it's all business.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb. 14, 2001
    Lexington, KY / Ocala, FL


    I'm with YB... it depends on the horse. My personal preference is light contact, working and pushing up hills but not necessarily "On The Bit." I prefer to let the horse be independent, think about his own feet and mind his own balance. Of course it depends on the horse how much help he/she needs from the rider; on a green, legs-all-over horse, the rider needs to give more guidance. On an onward-bound, Want To Canter NOW, or Look Snakes in the Bushes! type, they'll have to be "put to work" leg-to-hand until they settle. But ideally, I'm training the horse to pay attention and maintain his own rhythm: to shorten his own stride downhill, bend his hocks, and get to the bottom. I like him to use his brain to say "I'm not charging up the hill, I'll just push harder and stay in trot," rather than me tugging on his mouth and half-halting.

    I was brought up doing a lot of trotting to get horses fit; riding 5 a day trotting 30-40mins each, up and down hills makes you appreciate the easy ones...and strive to make them all "easy." I want a nice, rhythmic, forward trot that "goes somewhere" and takes me places; I want to set the horse In Trot Gear and not have to change much. It's similar to a good gallop rhythm out on course; not fussing with where the head is, but letting the horse negotiate the terrain, providing subtle help with balance when needed. And otherwise enjoying the ride.

    Contact? Who needs contact when you're bridleless? Yes, I take my UL mare out for 20-30min trots around the 300ac farm with nothing but haystring around her neck. Truly auto-pilot! I mostly ride in gallop position, "bridging" my knuckles on the breastplate; occasionally practicing my balance in two-point with arms outstretched (good exercise, that one!). This, though, is after years of practiced trot sets (and plenty of bridleless riding in the arena); she adjusts balance on her own, or at a change in my upper body position. I steer by weighting one foot or the other, like when galloping with bridged reins. It's quite enjoyable...we go out and "have fun" trotting around the fields, a nice break from days of dressage and focused work. It teaches me to be very aware of my body, and how to communicate with her other than using my hands. She loves the freedom and independence, getting to look around and do her job without any excess fiddling. Not something I'd do on just any horse...but it is great fun and exercise.
    “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
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