Can ANY horse have that gorgeous, toe flipping extended trot?
My little 15.2 hand OTTB is somewhat limited in his range of motion. I teach for a hunter trainer, so the bulk of our lessons have been "hunter related" even though we're eventers. Our lessons often focus on increasing his range of motion at the trot, and keeping him deep in the contact. When I do an "extended" trot, I feel like all we do is just get fast; he feels like he's running the legs off.
I'm considering the idea of moving up to Training at May-Daze this year, and I've noticed the dressage test has an extended trot ... we tend to get spanked a little in the dressage phase, so I plan to work VERY hard on the dressage between now and May. Advice? What are good exercises to get that trot toe flipping gorgeous? And HOW are so many horses SO deep in the contact? I RARELY ride in draw reins ... are these horses ridden in draw reins all the time? I feel like that's why we haven't gotten any scores lower than a 38.5 ... he doesn't go with his nose to his chest.
What are YOUR tips for improving that dressage score?
The Training level tests do not have extensions, they are simply a lengthening of the stride. As long as the horse takes slightly longer steps and then comes back, you have done a correct lengthening. Big difference between lengthenings and extensions.
And no you don't want your horse to go too deep in the contact. The front of their face should be no deeper than perpendicular to the ground. I don't like riding in draw reins or any other sort of gadget but I will lunge with side reins every once in a while. But those things are not a quick fix for patient, correct training.
If you put in a steady, accurate test, straight on your centerlines, bending correctly in corners and turns, properly sized figures, then you should be fine and you can keep working on it. As long as the jumping is good, don't let the dressage keep you from moving up.
No, not every single horse can have *that* fabulous, toe flipping trot. But I think the trot is the most pliable gait that you can improve the most. This is both speaking from experience, and parroting my trainer. I also think that any decently conformed equine can have a nice trot with proper training.
I have never used draw reins on my 4yo OTTB, I do not ride in a martingale, and he goes in a rubber mullen snaffle. But, if I wanted, I could have him behind the vertical 100% of the time without a lot of pressure on the reins - because to him (what he has been conditioned to do), the length of my outside rein = the length of his neck. If I shorten my reins, he shortens his neck. If I lengthen my reins, he lengthens his neck. I don't think you should be concerned about draw reins - you don't achieve the headset via gadgets. Some gadgets have their place and usefulness, but draw reins do not belong on a horse every day.
What I'm currently working on is getting my horse's barrel moving off my leg, practicing lots of leg yields, shoulder in, "boxes" to practice controlling the shoulder. I find when my horse is responsive to my leg and seat, I hardly use my hands and he naturally comes through in the topline.
I also frequently test my half-halt to make sure it's there. If I close my outside rein and he blows me off, we immediately come to a halt, wait for him to supple if he's stuck, and then go right back to what we were doing. This way, the next time I practice my half-halt, a few strides later, he will be much more likely to effect a major change in his balance.
I think you can absolutely improve your horses trot - you just need to be able to demonstrate an increase in ground coverage without an increase in tempo. One exercise I like to use that I learned from a clinic with Doug Payne was placing three (or four) ground rails on each long side of the arena. One side the rails were spaced for regular working trot, the other side spaced for extended trot. With the help of the ground rails, you can really feel the extended trot, sometimes before you are able to achieve it on your own.
i would say that if he is really deep and low and round in the neck he *can't * have a lovely trot as he is on the forehand.
So i would work on having him more horizontal in balance with his mouth more around the height of his hip..... then just work on correct figures - nice round circles of the correct size - even bending and crisp transitions. work on your half halt and once that is working well you should be able to start getting a bit of a difference in his trot.
but the trot is the most pliable so good correct training will allow his to really use himself well.
you might see if you an find a good trainer to help.
Dr. Deb says that toe flipping is a sign of an incorrect trot, and that draw reins will "break" your horse's neck (cause him to flex at the wrong point), making true collection later on very difficult.
You can listen to her lectures here and read her articles here.
Uhm, it's been my experience, especially owning a horse that got way too deep in the contact, that judges HATE that. Trust me, I have the 50s on my record to prove it. My lowest scores with both my old head-to-the-chest horse and my wannabe-giraffe horse have been a product of correct training. Inside leg to outside rein, a bazillion suppling exercises, pushing into the contact, and a focus on balance and straightness. If all you do is yank your horse's head into its chest, it's not going to make your horse magically lift his back, engage his hind end, and move forward into the contact.
As for your extended trot, you've got to be realistic about your horse's physical limitations. My aforementioned giraffe-face is an average mover, has somewhat crummy conformation, and while he can clear 3'3" fences no problem, is not particularly athletic when it comes to flatwork. He's NEVER going to have a gorgeous extended trot and he's never going to move like an Olympic-level warmblood. But we do the best we can and he has scores on his record at USEA shows ranging from the high-20s up through mid-40s.
Be realistic, ride correctly, and ride your horse's strengths to get the best score possible. And when it comes to the lengthenings, to some extent you can fake it 'til you make it: the most important part is to show a difference. The judge is looking for a clear transition between the gaits with a longer, not faster, stride. My horse finally has something that closely resembles an extended trot, but before then, I've used the old collect-large working-collect trick, in which I really collect the trot, ask for our best example of an extended trot (which used to be a large working trot), then collect extra to show that difference. You won't get an 8, but you also won't get a 2.
Another tip that has worked really well for my horse has been to use lateral movements with half halts to engage his hind end before asking for a lengthening. The easiest lateral movement to ask for in a corner is probably a leg yield, but my horse works really well off of haunches-ins and shoulder-ins as well. In fact, lateral movements are great for promoting straightness and hind end engagement any time, anywhere, not just before a lengthening.
I think ANY horse can have his natural gait improved, but it requires a lot of work. Does it mean he'll have the same movement as the Prix Saint George horses? Probably not. Horses, like humans, have limits in their dexterity that can be gradually and somewhat approved by appropriate training.
Here is my advice:
A few years ago I was Denny Emerson's working student for the summer and I brought my unspectacular-mover OTTB with me. He could JUMP (and Denny praised him for his catlike ability) but his movement was very, very mediocre. I had gaps in my knowledge and because of this he did too, I had never ridden an extended trot - or done ANY lateral movements. It is part of the bane of being responsible of bringing your own along. Denny let me ride one of his horses to get the "feel" of extensions and lateral exercises - if you haven't I suggest doing that first.
Then Denny had me ride mine, and he placed a single trot pole across the diagonal. "Go over it". Okay. Then he added one more. "Go over it again." Fine. Then he added two: "Go over it, post aggressively, and make him move." This exercise made my reluctant gelding HAVE to move - and was the building block of his 'lengthen/extension" knowledge.
Then, over a few days, he had me continually do them - until he was comfortably trotting over them - and he made me 'maintain' the expressive movement until the corner.
This was in preparation of our debut at Training (my first and his own).
I didn't revisit this until last year when I had him in Aiken and I wanted him to really start to move like a training/prelim horse. I placed a set of poles (6) down the quarter line - set about 4 feet or so apart - but I adjusted them so they were exactly suited to his stride - which is not very big. We would go down this casually, and maintain the trot until the corner.
Then, on the opposite quarterline, I placed 4 trot poles set wider than his "comfort" - so it really made him think as they were placed further apart. The first time over it he blew everything to high hell - the second time, he really moved his feet. Prior to the trotpole (in the corner approaching it) I would really post exaggeratedly - and he was a horse that was VERY in tune with my seat. He would start to associate the posting with the bigger movement - and after the poles, I would encourage him to keep the BIG BIG trot (you know, that BIG trot that sends you flying up the saddle) AROUND the corner, and ask for a medium right before the regular trot poles.
I repeated this often - never more than six times a ride as it can be tiring - but I did this every day. The result was a much better moving horse. I have a picture below of what he was capable of after the conditioning:
Thank you all for the replies! I try VERY hard to always ride the back end of the horse, and concentrate on the rhythm and cadence of the trot. I feel we get beat by horses that go almost behind the vertical. We just got home from Poplar, and I SWEAR my horse looked like the ONLY one not ridden with his nose cranked to his chest by draw reins, and at the end, were dead last out of 19 in the dressage The score was a 41, so not horrible, but not a winner either. The test was steady and accurate, but a little on the slow side. Our lateral work is pretty dang good, but the lengthenings are tough for us (excuse the terminology faux pas. In the hunters, an extended trot IS a lengthened trot! I know the difference in a dressage horse!)
Also, this may be totally stupid, but exactly how do you ride a 15m circle? I ride by myself 95% of the time, and have muddled through on my own for the most part! I've watched Training test B multiple times, and I'm having a hard time determining how much of your ring you use for a 15m circle.
Again, thanks so much for the replies! We have lots of homework to do
If you ride the 15m circle from the rail (like E or B), ride to the opposite QUARTER line. I struggle more with the geometry for the ones you have to do from, X, but I believe those would be to G or D. Hopefully someone who is more geometrically gifted than me will pipe up!
As for your original question, my horse (who is more or less a prelim horse) really struggles with his lengthen and medium trots. He CAN do it (just watch him boing around the pasture), but he has a total mental block on how to let go in his shoulders and really reach. We're slowly making progress, but a lot of that progress is coming because he is getting stronger and more able to carry himself and keep his shoulders UP.
Competitively, I try not to make it a big deal for us. I set him up as best I can (usually thinking a little shoulder in through the short side to help get him really engaged, cheating a little by riding him a teeny bit quieter through the short side so any difference I get is more obvious, and by THINKING leg yield to the rail once we cross X to help keep him up, engaged, and to hopefully not get resistance in the downward). But, I don't worry too much. I don't want to override him and turn a 6 into a 4 because I freaked him and caused him to break or hollow. BUT, I do go for all the points I can in the moves he does excel at, like his canter work and trying to be as accurate as possible. I also try hard to sit up tall and ride as elegantly as I can....maybe if I LOOK like the DQ to the judge, they'll think my little, handsome OTTB is a big powerful WB
At home, we do LOTS of trot poles, rolling them out a little longer the encourage him and show him he CAN let go, and just work on keeping him tall in his shoulders. One exercise I worked on a lot this past year was to ride a very slow trot (think western jog, almost), then ask for a few steps of working, then back to slow. Going back and forth between those, on a circle, focusing on keeping him tall. Then we'd go from working to medium, and back again. Usually after a few minutes of that, I could go from a working on the circle to a decent little medium across the diagonal. BUT, it takes time. His lengthenings are getting better, but it'll be awhile before they match the rest of his work...and that's ok with me. It's all a process.
I feel we get beat by horses that go almost behind the vertical. We just got home from Poplar, and I SWEAR my horse looked like the ONLY one not ridden with his nose cranked to his chest by draw reins, and at the end, were dead last out of 19 in the dressage
What are your tests saying? I can guarantee you that you are not doing poorly because your horse's head is not cranked to his chest...you're just not, promise. There has to be some other regular flaw in the tests (even if it's just show nerves on the part of one party!) that is consistently dropping you to the bottom.
You say your test was "slow." This translates to me in lacking forward, which may explain your score. I think it's time you go the distance and find a dressage or event instructor before you move up to Training. H/J instructors can help you with a lovely stadium ride, but usually don't have the experience needed to get your around a training course safely. JMHO. Start forgetting about your horse's frame.... let go of the front end for a while and just work on going forward with energy. Then slowly begin to gather that energy, asking for a soft jaw and poll. Poll high all the time (is spite of what a lot of photos show). Lose the draw reins. Learn you geometry... know that if your ring is 20m wide and you need a 15m circle at B or E, then you go 3/4 of the way across (far quarter line) making a constant round turn bringing you back to the start about 1 stride before the marker. Learn that you aren't at the marker unless your leg passes through that marker, not your horse's head.
In short, get a dressage or event trainer to help you. Do whatever you need to to make that happen.
PS... toe flipping does not indicate a lengthening. Focus and the hind end pushing forward in rhythm. Sounds to me like all your issues are lack of engagement.
I've always been told that the more often you see a horse offer that kind of movement when they're playing around in the pasture, the easier it is to develop it "on demand". Keebler would do it all the time. So would Gwen. Bonnie will be 13 this summer and I've yet to see her flip her toes or move in any way that would be called "gorgeous", even at liberty. However, since she has an easier mind in general than the other two, she will willingly offer whatever she DOES have for lengthenings or mediums. The other two? Pfft, good luck. They could both give a very pretty trot without much effort, and would (even with half the effort) LOOK better/nicer than Bonnie could ever do even working her hardest. I'm not sure which a judge would prefer or whether a judge can even tell the difference, because big-in-front and flippy-toed Gwen would always get nicer scores than average-mover-trying-her-best Bonnie does.
All good advice, and I'd also like to point out that Training Test B (which IME is used at more of the events than Test A), only has one trot lengthening in it, so if you don't have a super one it's not going to ruin your score.
As everyone else has said, pay attention to the details in the test: forward, good bend in corners and accuracy. I have ridden many less than stellar movers at N & T and gotten good mid to low 30's scores by riding them forward into the contact and riding correct figures in the test. There is no comparison to having a dressage trainer help you with your weaknesses.
You have a lot of good advise here, just wanted to add that the "fake it till you make it" slowing down the trot to show a difference of bigger working trot to slow trot is a trick that you can use at shows while you are working on this at home. But will not get you great scores or promote future building blocks for proper training.
The reality is you need to have your trot lengthening inside your working trot and eventually your medium and extended trot inside your collected trot. The idea being all that energy is bottled up inside and you just let the energy out when you go across the diagonal. Think of your working trot as a can of soda that you shook... as you go across the diagonal you pop the top off but are controlling where the spray is going.
The best way I have found with a tighter quick horse is to try lengthening outside up a slight incline and let them push against the hill. You can stabilize yourself better as well because the horses balance is always pushing up. Another way in the ring is to use the long sides coming through the turn with counter bend and lots of energy; as you straighten the shoulders allow the trot to roll forward for a couple of strides and transition back. Lots of transitions out and back is really helpful as the transition itself is what is hard for the horse and builds tons of strength so they can then carry on for longer distances. (If horse stiffens against downward transition, use a volte to bring horse back or end the lengthening by moving the horse into leg yield)
What you are waiting to "feel" is even solid contact in both reins and true lengthening will have a feeling of each sides of the back moving and lifting opposite... so left side lift, right side lift sensation through the back.
If this is done correctly you will find the "slower" gaits take much more leg and going bigger takes almost no leg, just a release and allowing the gait. Lots of leg and half halts to gather the trot back to you. I always say to myself speed up the hind leg and slow down the shoulder to build the power.
Best of luck and hope you are able to find a good dressage/event trainer to work with!
Brandy doesn't have any kind of fantastic toe flippy anything, at liberty or under saddle, and holds her own at training. She's done nearly a dozen and only finished out of the ribbons at her first (time on XC, my fault) and the T3D (finished in the middle of a 40 horse championship field).
You need to teach your horse to take more weight behind in order to have a lengthening. In a test, I generally prepare for it with shoulder-fore through half of the short side and the corner, then straighten on the diagonal and lengthen.
Schooling, I like to lengthen and shorten on a circle, both directions. Shortening is JUST as important as the lengthening. Then work on a diagonal, shoulder in through the corner (you should FEEL THE SHOULDERS RISE) and then straighten on the diagonal and ask for a FEW steps of lengthening. Then shorten, walk at X. This way, the horse thinks about staying balanced through the lengthening rather than just getting bigger and unbalanced, because they anticipate the downward. Eventually, you increase the number of lengthened steps, and decrease the "downward" to just a half halt if you start to lose control/balance of the lengthening.
However, if you are getting 40s at novice, there is probably a hole in your training that you need to fix before you can start asking your horse to shift the weight back (which is really just baby collection) and release that energy with more pushing power.
Like someone else said, look at your test sheets. Is your horse forward? Straight? Stretching forward and down into contact (not bringing the head up and against the hand, which goes with a dropped back)? The horse has to be reaching into the contact so when you soften your hands in the lengthening he stretches his neck forward and doesn't just come up, drop the back, and lose the hind end out behind. Forward and straight are prerequisites for impulsion, which is what you are trying to create to get the lengthening.
I agree that it sounds like you need to go to someone with more of a dressage background.
Also, I'd be curious to know why you feel the need to ride in draw reins. Is there a particular problem you are trying to fix? Draw reins usually just cause roundness in the neck. If you are having connection issues, they should probably be dropped.