Trotting and Pacing

Ana rode Ares again today. It was and still is dreadfully hot. They are forecasting 35C with a humidex of 42C. Which, for those of you who think in Farenheit, is 95F but feels like 108F. That is well beyond my comfort range and I have no intention of doing anything physical for the rest of the day. Yuck. But we managed to get Ares out by 9:30 this morning, so it was still bearable.

Ana is looking more and more relaxed on Ares, so I told her that if she wanted to, she could trot him a few steps. A bit easier said than done… Ares was worried (Ares is perpetually worried), so he had his head up in the air and was tense. In a pacer, that’s a recipe for pacing. Which is exactly what he did, over and over. He also did something that I suspect was a “stepping pace” when the pace slowed down. There were definitely four separate beats, but was more lateral than a walk and faster. It is quite smooth.

Pacing requires that a horse hollow their back and tighten their back muscles so there is no flex, which allows them to rock from side to side in the lateral movement of the pace. They tend to put their heads up and jam their noses out with an unflexed poll. Trotting requires that the horse alternate relaxing the back muscles on one side while tightening the other side. So if you can get them to relax and put their head down (and even better if you can get some flexion), they are much more likely to trot instead of pace.

Normally what I do with Dressy when she gets excited and breaks to pace (other than trying to get her to relax) is just go ahead and post to the imaginary trot. Dressy will usually (okay… sometimes!) accommodate me with a switch to trot. Ana is not confident about her timing though. So I had her practice some half-seat to get her a bit lighter in the saddle (and thus lighter on his back) and more balanced over her feet. Half seat is when you “two-point”, or ride with your behind hovering over the saddle instead of sitting on it. It can also be thought of as “standing in the stirrups”. After a few minutes of that, Ana was definitely feeling the burn in her thighs. But she worked hard and was much improved after a few minutes of practice.

I had her lower her hands, take up slightly more contact with his mouth when she asked for trot, and after a couple of attempts she got him to go a bit more forwardly with his head lower, his back rounded slightly, and wonder of wonders… there was the trot. A big-striding, forward trot (which Ana, to her great credit, managed to stay with and not hinder). He maintained it for a full lap and received lavish praise for his efforts. Then we quit for the day and gave him a cool bath. Ares was really quite pleased with himself. He is not in the least bit lazy and seems to enjoy working. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that he would do nearly anything for positive attention and is thrilled with an enthusiastic “good boy!” He’s an awfully nice little horse.

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