I can’t understand the words, but I don’t need to! What a beautiful illustration! So many riders think putting the horse’s ears below the withers puts the horse on the forehand, but that is only the case if it’s done incorrectly, as the first three diagrams show. I also see plenty of riders performing one of the first three trots, totally unaware that it is incorrect work!
The fourth picture shows a correctly ridden stretch where the horse continues to reach out to the end of the reins, instead of dropping behind the contact (often the result of a rider using a jiggle-jiggle aid to get the horse to drop his head). In this fourth picture the horse isn’t just dropping his head, it’s a full body movement that has to be ridden that way. Notice that in the fourth picture, his nose remains in front of the vertical, and his hind legs are stepping well under his body. He is balanced and not on the forehand because of the way he is using his hind legs, and this is what enables him to stretch down and OUT to the end of the rein.
This movement is such a fundamental piece, it’s foundation work, and it is HARD until you get it, but that’s no reason to skip it! This is such a great way to help build up a horse’s strength, balance, and correct muscles. The even BIGGER BENEFIT I see in insisting riders learn to ride this exercise well is that there is no way to cheat. Either you are doing it correctly (in which case, all your dressage to follow is likely to be correct), or you aren’t. There’s no way to gadget this movement, there’s no way to teach a horse a “trick” to do this movement, or you get the first 3 pictures. Only when you understand how to correctly ride your horse from behind and use half halts to re-balance him when he falls on the forehand (instead of trying to “half halt” with just the reins), can this movement be executed beautifully. And when this movement is being performed well, I think it is every bit as lovely to ride as an effortless floating half pass! The harmony and the relaxation and willingness to work together… this is where it all starts!
Study this picture, then go watch some Youtube videos of random riders riding the stretchy trot circles in training level tests. Many of them will be poorly done or have nice moments and not-so-nice moments, so you’ll have lots of opportunity to watch it in motion, and then pause the video to take time to compare to the four pictures in the diagram. With enough practice, you’ll develop your eye to the point you can easily see a connected horse versus a horse in a false frame. Once you can see it here, you’ll be able to learn to see it in collected and extended trots, and in canter work as well!
Developing your eye will also help you to develop your feel. In addition, when you go to the barn set your phone down so it can record a video clip of your ride. Practice riding working trot, stretching trot transitions on a circle in front of your phone, making notes about how it feels and if you think you and your horse are doing it correctly or not. Then when you go home, watch your video and pause it often, comparing to the pictures above. The small square diagrams on the right side show you what pieces are missing in the horses doing it incorrectly. If you can identify your horse’s main evasion, you can see what you need to do to fix it.
If you get really stuck, go ahead and post a pic or short video clip in the comments and I’ll reply with suggestions for you. Or, if you get a picture (or pause your video and hit “print screen”) of your horse doing a good stretchy trot, feel free to share that too!
If you need more help riding a good stretchy trot, there are step-by-step instructions in my article The Trick to Stretchy Trot and Topline Building.
I shared this picture on my Facebook page, but it quickly worked its way further and further down, and it’s just too good to let it disappear! So I’m sharing it here where it has a better chance of being seen again and again. Obviously it’s not my picture, I’m just sharing!