You have arrived. After all the daydreaming, the research, the long hours of work to save up enough money, you are finally about to ride your very own horse. It feels good up there. Your horse smells sweet and is warm and solid underneath you. From up on his back, you can see out across the green countryside. The trail that you are about to ride out on is lined with wildflowers and the sun is shining. Perfect. There is only one small problem; your horse is refusing to move. How do you make a stubborn horse trot?
This wasn’t part of the plan. The plan was to find the right horse and live happily ever after. Riding out as one, best friends, your childhood dreams come true. What is going wrong here? Is it you? Is it your horse? Let’s find out.
History of Human Interaction With Horses
Prehistoric cave art shows us that there has been a relationship between Mankind and horses for over 30,000 years. There is no evidence that horses were domesticated at this time. They were wild, and although the beauty and frequency with which they were depicted in the cave paintings show that ancient Man was fascinated by horses, they also hunted them for food.
Research suggests that horses were first domesticated in Kazakhstan, south-west Russia, and the Ukraine. about 5500 years ago. Traces of horse milk have been found in clay pots in these regions. To this day, the people of Kazakhstan use horse milk to make a fermented alcoholic drink called koumiss. Analysis of ancient horse skulls from these regions shows that horses were being ridden back then too.
The ancient Egyptians used horses to pull their chariots, as did the Chinese and the Romans. This was for transport and for war. The Vikings took horses on their longboats from England to Iceland in the 870s. Powerful male Vikings were buried with their stallions and in Birka, Sweden, a female Viking warrior was found in the 1870s, buried with her weapons and two horses.
So, there is a bit of a history lesson on the ancient and important relationship between humans and horses. After thousands of years together, it should be simple to just hop on and ride shouldn’t it? And yet there you are, still sitting there on your horse, not even walking down that beautiful riding trail, let alone trotting. A Viking warrior you may not be but surely a gentle trot isn’t asking too much?
What is a Trot Anyway?
All horses have four different gaits. These are walk, trot, canter, and gallop. Some breeds of horses, such as the Tenessee Walking Horse and the Icelandic Horse, also have an extra gait known as an amble. For now, we are going to concentrate on the trot.
The Cambridge dictionary describes a trot as a run at its slowest speed “using short steps in which a front leg and the back leg on the opposite side move together.” This means that a trot has two beats as the diagonally opposite limbs move in unison. Trit-trot trit-trot, up-down, up-down. See? Two beats!
Now it isn’t just horses that can trot. Most quadrupeds (animals with four legs) can do it, from dogs to pigs and even mice. Turtles on the other hand? Not so much.
“That’s all very interesting,” you might be thinking, “but that doesn’t help me get my stubborn horse to trot.” Well, read on.
How To Ride To The Trot
For horses, a trot is an easy, comfortable gait. It is energy efficient and lets them move along at an average speed of 8.1mph (13 kph) for miles and miles if they are reasonably fit. Just think of any Western movie you have ever watched.
For riders, a trot isn’t comfortable at all until they learn how to sit properly to it. That up-down, trit-trot movement will bounce an inexperienced rider around in the saddle which in turn makes things uncomfortable for the horse. What horse wants a human bouncing around on their back like a heavy sack of potatoes?!
There are two ways to ride to the trot:
1: The Sitting Trot.
Sit deep in the saddle, shoulders back and legs long and loose. Use your abdomen and lower back to absorb the jolting-bouncing of the horse’s movement. Stay low and relaxed, don’t hunch or lean forward. There shouldn’t be any daylight between your posterior and the saddle. Just think of those laid-back cowboys in the movies.
2: The Rising Trot.
This technique is actually easier than sitting to the trot. For this one, let that little spring that happens as one pair of the horse’s legs move forwards to naturally lift your seat slightly up and forward out of the saddle. Then as the other pair of legs moves forward, your seat goes back down into the saddle. “Up, down, up down.” Although this might sound a bit confusing, once you get that rhythm going, you will become relaxed and balanced and so will your horse. Don’t overdo it and have big up and down movements.
Keep it subtle and all coming from the hips. Let the motion of the horse do most of the work and just go with it. Just like with the sitting trot, don’t lean forward as straight away, you will be unbalanced, your hands will be all over the place, and your horse will be uncomfortable. Keep that easy, rhythmic, up-down movement all in your hips and keep the rest of your body, including your hands, although relaxed, still.
The Magic Between Horses and Humans
Really, it is a miracle that horses let us ride them at all. They are fright and flight animals, which means they are hard-wired to run at the slightest hint of danger. What could feel more dangerous than a 150 pound human jumping on your back if you were a horse, especially given that Mankind used to hunt horses for meat?
Yet, the magic that happens between humans and horses is that a well-handled, well-trained horse will calmly let a person climb on their back without running or fighting. When the bond between the horse and rider is good, there is just about nothing that they can’t do together.
Trigger, the famous palomino stallion who teamed up with Roy Rogers from the mid-1930s until the 1960s, could do over 150 tricks on command, from sitting on a chair, to lying down and covering himself with a blanket, to visiting sick children in hospital. Roy Rogers even managed to house train him!
Now, all you are trying to do is get your horse to trot. The visiting sick children in hospital bit can wait for another time. The good news is that at least your horse isn’t bolting off into the sunset with you on its back, with that fright and flight reflex fully switched on. It’s good to stay safe of course but a bit of motion would be nice.
It’s All About Leadership And Teamwork
Leadership, trust, and teamwork are all vital when it comes to the relationship between horse and rider. The average horse weighs nearly 1000 pounds (450kg) and is always going to beat humans in the strength stakes. Even a smaller pony is always going to be stronger than a human. You can’t force your horse (or your pony) to trot but you CAN get him to want to trot.
As Dwight D Eisenhower said, “leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” This also applies to the relationship between you and your horse. Inspire him to want to work with you and you will be trotting out together in no time at all.
How do you do this? Well, seeing you asked…
A really important thing to do, in fact, the most important thing to do, is to never lose your temper. Animals are great for teaching us how to behave and horses, just like dogs, are very tuned in to how we humans are feeling. Lose your temper and you have lost your horse. They will become nervous, want to avoid you, fear you, and certainly not be in any hurry to team up with you. Stay calm, keep your sense of humor, your perspective, and most of all, be patient and kind.
This patience and kindness doesn’t mean being weak and letting your horse be the boss. You don’t want 1000 pounds of horse walking all over you! It means mutual respect and liking which will result in your horse wanting to have adventures with you.
“You want me to trot? Sure, be glad to, in fact I want to, seeing you asked so nicely and I have such respect for you. Let’s go. Giddy up!”
Read The Signs
Rest assured, your horse will be able to read you like a book, so make sure you can do the same with them.
Does your horse have its ears pinned back? This means that something is making them unhappy. It could be fear, or pain, or confusion because they are not sure what you are asking from them. Pricked forward ears indicates engagement and happiness. This is something that you always want to see when you are on horseback.
Is your horse shaking and tense? If so, they may be scared of what is in front of them and therefore not wanting to move ahead into whatever danger they think might be there. This kind of behavior may also indicate pain.
Is your horse totally relaxed and just more interested in eating some of that nice green grass than going for a trot? Well, in this case, there is a respect issue. Your horse has worked out that they can get away with eating that grass and ignoring you. This isn’t stubbornness per se, but close to it!
So, don’t ignore the body language your horse is giving off. Pay attention and act accordingly.
Is the reluctance to trot due to fear? If so, reassure your horse. If you are confident and not afraid, this will inspire confidence in your horse. That shadow up ahead might look scary but with you there to guide him, he knows that he can get through it.
Is there pain? If so, don’t ride at all until you have found out, what is wrong and get it fixed. It could be anything from a girth that is pinching, to a sore back, to sore feet, to teeth that have sharp edges and are hurting the mouth.
Enlist the help of a vet if you need to and always make sure that you have both a good farrier and horse dentist who come out to work on your horse regularly. For a farrier, this is every six weeks and for a horse dentist, twice a year.
Is your horse confused because they aren’t sure what it is you are asking them to do? Well, time to get a few riding lessons so that you know the right cues (rider aids), to give your horse to move forward and trot.
Does your horse feel uncomfortable when trotting because you are bouncing up and down like that big sack of potatoes? Again, a few riding lessons will have you balanced and smooth and your horse much more comfortable and happy to trot out.
Is there actually a lack of respect going on which borders on stubbornness? For this situation, although you love your horse dearly, make sure they learn to respect you for the confident, kind leader and friend that you are. Do NOT let them walk all over you, figuratively or literally.
How do you sort this one out? Well, insist! Kindly of course, but firmly. Don’t take “no” for an answer. He who hesitates is never going to get a decent trot out of their horse.
Let’s Get Trotting Then!
The sun is still shining and that trail is looking more inviting by the minute. It’s time to get going. Sit up straight and keep your shoulders balanced above your hips while pulling up those reins so your horse’s nose is up and ready to go, not chowing down in the grass. Not too hard or tight on those reins now. It shouldn’t be uncomfortable for your horse, just lightly connected and intuitive.
Keep your bottom nice and deep in the saddle, squeeze in a little with your thighs and knees. Ask your horse to move forward with this body language and add in a little tongue click if you need to. Imagine you are moving forward into a trot, expect to be moving forward into a trot, and before you know it, you and your horse will be moving forward in a relaxed, rhythmic trot, off on an adventure together.
The Ultimate Book Of The Horse and Rider, 2002
- You may like to read: What is a Mule (Genus: Equus)?
- A decent read: How To Get Your Pony Into A Stable Or Barn
- Read: 12 Animals Sent into Space
- An article on ponies: Do Ponies Get Cold?