I have had a lot of clients recently that have come to me wanting to improve their medium trot or wanting to teach their horse how to do it. We see the huge extended trots that the horses to out at the big Grand Prix classes but theres not a lot of information out there about how you can actually go about achieving that, how you need to ride a medium trot or what to do to improve your horses medium trot or how to teach your horse it in the first place.
What is a good medium trot?
So, first things first we need to look at what a medium trot actually is and what it should look like.
The medium trot appears for the first time at Novice level where the judges want to see 'some strides of medium trot'. By Elementary this needs to be clearly shown from marker to marker and as you head into the advanced tests we start to see a whole extra 10 marks given for the quality of the transitions into and out of the medium trot.
When we look at a medium trot we need to see a lengthening of the horses body, so i like to think of it as if you got a tape measure and measured from the horses tail to their poll the distance should be longer in a medium trot to when they are doing a working or collected trot.
So we want to see a lengthening of the horses body but we also need to see the stride lengthen too so we need the horse to be covering more ground. And we want this to be done with the horse maintaining a nice round frame, keeping the same rhythm and tempo and maintaining a really nice consistent elastic contact.
Up to and including Medium level, you can ride your medium trot in sitting or in rising and, i tend to recommend, especially at the lower levels, that you do it rising because it allows your horse the space to lift up in the back and stretch out their back.
What does your horse need for a good medium trot?
So, a medium trot comes in at Novice level, so those first 3 scales of training of Rhythm, Suppleness and Contact should be relatively established. So we would be wanting to see a horse that moves correctly in a good, regular tempo, maintaining a soft supple back and round frame, and working into a consistent elastic contact. If we dont have these 3 things then a medium trot is pretty difficult to get. So the first thing is to check that you have these 3 things pretty established. We need the rhythm side because if our horse isnt moving in a correct 2 beat trot, that highlights a lack of strength or athleticism or another issue there that requires attention first. We need the suppleness for our horse to be able to stretch our their body and we need the elastic contact so we can achieve that throughness and connection through to the bit.
Then we look at the next 3 scales of Impulsion, Straightness and Collection. We need impulsion because it is the power from the hindleg that will give us that ground cover and propulsion forward, we need straightness firstly because we need our horse to get to the marker we want them to and be accurate but also because we need them to be pushing equally off both hindlegs and into both reins equally, and finally we need collection because we need the horse to take their weight behind and carry their weight on their hindquarters to help with the spring like propulsion forward, so we dont want any hindlegs left out the back door!
So, ultimately, for a good medium trot, we need all those scales of training and the more established each scale is the better the medium trot will be. Thats not to say that you need to wait for all these things to be perfect because, like in all things dressage related, its never perfect so i always think its best to start teaching your horse as young as possible the basic components of a medium trot and then you can build on it as they get stronger and more athletic as you progress in your training.
What do you need as a rider for a good medium trot
So, we've spoken a lot about what our horses need but there are skills as riders we need to be able to ride a good medium trot.
The first, and i would argue most important skill is to have an independent seat and what i mean by that is that you can remain balanced and secure in the saddle without gripping with your legs or relying on the reins and you can use your leg, seat and rein aids together and independently of each other without losing that balance too. When the rider loses balance, so does the horse; or if the rider grips on or grabs hold of the rein to regain their balance this will have an effect on the horse too and stop that ground covering, supple, relaxed movement of energy from the horses hindlegs through to the bit. Whilst were on the topic of position too, its also very important that the rider is able to maintain an elastic contact, in other words that they have soft shoulders, elbows and arms and dont brace or pull back against the horse because that is also going to stop that energy being allowed to go forward.
The second thing we need are effective aids. This is as much a training thing as a rider skill. You need to have a horse that when you put your leg on they move forward and when you take a half halt they shift and take more weight onto their hindlegs; this is as much about you as the rider being able to do an effective leg aid and being able to execute an effective half halt and, when you have this the medium trot is pretty easy, when you don't have this it just makes trying to get a medium trot more challenging.
How to ride a medium trot
When it comes to teaching your horse to do a medium trot or wanting to improve your horses medium trot i always come back to transitions. Like a lot of things transitions can help improve your horses balance alongside all those scales of training weve said we need to ride a good medium trot. It also brings up all the problems you will have in the medium trot. For example, if you find your horse rushes in the medium trot, chances are they will when doing transitions within the paces too, and if you find your horse resists in the contact,, or goes onto the forehand, or becomes unsupple; all these problems you will also have when youre doing transitions.
So, this will always be the first thing i do, asking the horse to push forward and come back in the trot using my leg and a release of the rein to go forward and my seat to bring them back. It may be that i need to spend a bit of time working on this if theres a specific problem im coming across but ill only move on to medium trots once i can do these transitions within the paces easily and comfortably whilst my horse stays round, supple, in a good rhythm and contact. And i would start subtly asking the horse to go forward and come back only a little bit and then you can build to transitioning between a medium trot and a collected trot.
I like to do this on a circle mostly because it tends to stop riders turning the corner and firing the horse down the long side out of balance and instead keeps them supple and opening and compressing their body in a balanced rhythmical way. And then you can gradually increase the impulsion and power until you hit that sweet spot where your horse is taking that longer step, covering ground and still has that moment of suspension. So, especially at the beginning i wouldn't be aiming for a clear transition into and out of the medium i would be focussing more on building up to the medium and gradually increasing the impulsion and stride length without losing the rhythm and balance. I think its also important to say you dont have to do 15,20 strides; especially at the beginning getting 3 or 4 steps and then bringing your horse back to a working or collected trot and then going again is far more beneficial both for the horse to understand what youre trying to achieve as well as building strength in the medium work.
When it comes to riding an actual medium trot, i start preparing for this 2 corners before the medium trot is needed. Ride in a little shoulder fore positioning into your first corner, this helps to get the horse's inside hindleg underneath them; then in the next corner ride a small half halt to bring your horses weight onto their hindlegs and help with the balance, once on the long side or diagonal check your horse is straight and into both your reins before asking for the medium trot with both legs at the girth and releasing your hand forward slightly; remember were looking for that longer step not faster. If your horse is relatively green at the medium trots i aim to get my first few steps of medium just before the middle of the long side or diagonal; if i have a horse that is more advanced and understands the mediums well i would be looking for a clear transition in to the medium trot at the corner marker and a clear transition back at the end of the long side or diagonal. If you're doing it the second way you as the rider are going to have to be very quick to set your horse up, make sure they are on the hindleg and straight before asking for a clear transition to the medium.
Problems you may face in the medium trot
When it comes to the problems you may get with your medium trots, it all comes down to those scales of training again and a balancing scales.
If you have too much impulsion but not enough suppleness, you will get a horse that rushes instead of taking a longer stride, if you dont have collection you will have a horse that is unbalanced and runs onto the forehand, if you dont have a good contact you will have a horse that loses the rhythm or cannot take that longer step. Now it may be that you didnt ask for it, so if you dont have enough collection, a little half halt might fix your problems, or if youre unbalanced as the rider making a switch from sitting to rising may help you be more balanced and therefore your horse may be more balanced. But if you find these quick fixes arent working i always suggest going back and facing the problem head on without trying to do a medium trot at the same time!
So, i hope this has helped to clear up a little of what you need to get a good medium trot, what you should be aiming to achieve and how to go about teaching your horse to do a medium trot or improving the medium trot you already have. Its a really fun part of the test and i love riding them but it does take time so i think its really important to start slow and teach your horse early on the basic concept and then you can build in more lengthening, more impulsion, more collection and so on as your horse gets stronger and as you progress through the levels.