|Classical Trot Work Connecting Training and Judging in Dressage|
The correct footfalls of a good gymnastic trot is a two beat gait with diagonal pairs hitting the ground at the same time. Some breeds of horses like the Marwadi have irregular footfalls. One should avoid these types of horses if you want to do well in dressage. Irregular gaits can indicate the horse has a lot of tension in his back or a sign that the horse is worried about his balance.
The most common cause of irregularity is too strong an aid from whip or rein. Irregularity can also be created by the reins being used out of rhythm with the horse's natural movement. This can cause the horse to become "rein lame." This is one of the first things a judge looks for when he sees an irregular gait. A horse that is rein lame need not be excused as an injured horse would, but is scored down in the movement, as is the rider in the collective marks. Poor use of the rein in this way impedes the horse's best way of using himself.
Good training aids help a horse to become more elastic, balanced, obedient and confident. A horse with natural collection and medium gaits will be easier to bring along than one with a working gait that gets a little bigger and a little smaller naturally. However the trot can be developed greatly through gymnastic work.
Good dressage theory requires exercises such as lateral work, downward and upward transitions with medium gaits and lengthening work. Using these exercises together one goes on to build engagement.
The amount of energy put out in lengthening is equal to the amount of energy you have to collect. Being able to play the horse like an accordion, in to a compressed collected frame and then out into a longer ground covering frame at will is what we are all after. Gymnastically the rider is mainly developing pushing power, elasticity and balance. If this is done correctly the horse becomes calmer, more trusting and more responsive as the levels get harder.
These are things the judge looks for in every movement in the tests, to see how far along the horse is in his development and if the movement is being done properly. The first goal with a new trainee is to identify the weak muscles and have the horse do gymnastics to strengthen them. A Beginner level horse is not expected to be ambidextrous yet, the stronger and weaker sides are the most obvious on circles showing through a loss of balance and crookedness in bending the back to the figure.
It could take about two years sometimes even more to train a horse to be as strong on the right as the left. The judging scale is the most lenient at training level for this particular reason.
For a good collected trot, the horses hind end works like a crane, with all the joints from hip to hock lifting the front end off the ground. In your mind if you need to visualize it, think of a horse rearing. The horse uses the back as a bridge between the forehand and hind. The horse that can then make his forehand lighter by balancing himself more on his hind end can move in a more agile way. He can also reduce the impact on his front legs hitting the ground.
When the horse reaches preliminary level, the test instructions do not ask for collected trot specifically, but the foundation for collection is laid at this level. All the upward and downward transitions should have a few steps of a collected posture. This increased carrying power is also used for lengthening the trot.
Preliminary is the first time two different trots are asked for, a working trot and lengthening of the stride. While lengthening the stride, the horse covers more ground than in the working gait. Two major things happen while lengthening: the horse increases pushing power and he lengthens his frame to reach for more ground. Pushing power creates suspension and allows the horse to open his legs further. Suspension also allows the hind leg to over track, i.e., step past the print left on the ground by the front foot. In a lengthened frame, the front legs reach past the plane of the chest and the hoof points to where it will land.
A good working trot tracks up, i.e., the hind foot steps into the print left by the front foot. A lengthening should cover more ground than the working, a medium more than a lengthening and an extended the most of all, over tracking two hoof prints or more. In the medium and extended trot, the collected trot comes into play through the half halt. The half halt is used to create suspension by compressing the hind joints more to create more pushing power. Steadier contact is also used to maintain the dynamic frame seen in upper level horses.
In reading the tests, it is easy to see the progression of difficulty in the movements as the level gets higher. The tests mimic Classical Dressage theory in this way. Large circles and straight lines between transitions, low carriage with a long frame and stretched top line are the foundation for upper level work. Classical trainers use this lower level frame between highly collected or extended work to maintain a supple top line and keep the horse's head clear. This is a reward for the horse, allowing fatigue to dissipate and refreshing unfettered forward thinking. The stretchy circle in the lower level test is there to help trainers to cement this valuable movement into their foundation work.
The dressage tests are a microcosm of the training of the horse. The judge's comments are a tool to help you plan your daily work.