What do you look for in a medium trot or canter? The length of your horse’s strides? Forget it! Medium paces are about more than distance. They’re about power. Next time you’re schooling don’t worry about the bits in between – focus on the ends.
Medium paces are about increasing the length of your horse’s strides but they’re also about generating energy from his quarters. To do that you need to push him forward to a steady contact – yet that’s the one thing least likely to happen when most riders ask for a medium trot or canter.
Imagine you’re riding your horse round the school. You turn onto the diagonal, get straight and then what do you do?
- Push on and offer your hand forward: losing the contact as you do?
- Push on for the first stride then straighten your arm to ‘let’ him lengthen: dropping your hands – and him onto his shoulders – as you do?
- Or perhaps you go to the other extreme – lift your hands up and tighten the contact to get him up off his shoulders whilst your legs drive him forward? (Is there a better way to get him to hollow and rush?)
Whether you have to medium canter down a long side or medium trot across a diagonal the procedure is the same. Ride the corner, get straight and ask. Only when you have asked don’t drop the reins and leave him to it – and make sure you’re still there at the end!
Ride the corner paying particular attention to your contact. It needs to be there – in both reins. It’s easy to come round using too much inside rein and lose your horse’s outside shoulder but as soon as he loses straightness he’ll lose power because his hocks aren’t directly behind his shoulders.
Even on a curve your horse’s quarters should follow the line of his shoulders – as yours do if you do a forward roll. When he’s straight his hocks step under his body and drive his shoulders forward. Your contact stops him falling flat on his nose. By doing that it acts as a dam and holds back the energy so you can use it.
Your thumb and first finger should hold your contact so it doesn’t get any longer. Your 2nd and 3rd fingers are the most influential. By relaxing them on the reins or by moving them (imagine you’re texting on your palm) you create a relaxed contact. It’s this contact that allows you to bottle up energy which is why your horse moves forward but stays connected.
Create a restrictive contact by tightening your fingers around the reins – as if you had hold of a child’s hand and wanted to stop them running across a road. It’s enough to stop the forward flow and bounce it backwards to your horse’s hocks. Ideal when you want to rebalance him or slow down. The restrictive contact is often over done – create a backward pull on his mouth and he’ll always tighten his back. If he’s tight in his back he can’t bring his hocks under his body and you lose energy.
When you ask your horse to go into a medium pace use both legs to push his hocks forward under his body. As you push him forward his quarters move nearer to his shoulders and his back will relax and round. His front and hind legs will take even steps. If you pull back on his mouth his back tightens, his hind legs stop working and his front legs take longer steps than his hinds.
(Look carefully at photos or when you go to a show. Horses that are tight in their backs look as if they’re lengthening but when you look closely at their canon bone you’ll see the angle of their hind legs doesn’t match the angle of their front legs.)
A relaxed contact allows your horse to move forward and stay relaxed in his back without letting him rush or flatten. As you use both legs you’ll feel him move into your contact. Keep your fingers relaxed but don’t let go! Open your fingers and you’ll lose all the power you just created. Move your hands an inch further forward at the same height to allow him to lengthen his back and take longer steps without losing him from the end of your reins.
There’s a fine line between allowing your horse to stretch longer in his back and dropping him. Never move your hands forward until you feel him go into your contact – the pressure at the end of your reins will increase. If the pressure doesn’t increase you need to use more leg. If the power isn’t there the stretch can’t happen.
Always allow enough time for the downward transition. Over a diagonal start asking over the ¾ line. On the long side ask two strides before the corner marker. Pull up through your body so you carry your own weight. Put your lower legs on so you push your horse’s hocks under his body. Push your upper leg into the saddle and tighten your fingers around the reins to stop forward flow and send the energy back to his quarters. You’ll feel him ‘sit down’ as he slows down.
Your contact is vital at this stage. Always use both reins. If you tighten or pull back on your outside rein your horse will shut down on that side. As he does the rest of his body will pivot around the outside fore and his quarters will come in. This is far more common in canter. Make the contact restrictive but even in both reins and he’ll come back onto his hocks and stay straight and balanced for the corner.
Medium trot and medium canter aren’t just an extension of trot and canter. They’re separate paces. Treat them like that and you’ll appreciate the need for clear transitions at the start and at the end. Get both ends right and you’ll have the medium steps you’ve been looking for.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.
Other posts on medium trot – http://www.schoolyourhorse.com/2011/08/13/its-only-medium/ and if you’re just starting out try this great idea for lengthened strides – http://www.schoolyourhorse.com/2011/06/18/are-you-lengthening-or-rushing/
Need some inspiration? Check out this great video (posted by Triskar) of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro scoring a massive 90.65% at Harpbury. http://www.schoolyourhorse.com/forum/?mingleforumaction=viewtopic&t=46.0#postid-217
Or check out one of the SYH schooling guides in The Shop