The 5-5-5 Trot Drill Exercise
The 5-5-5 Trot Drill Exercise
By John Snyder, Colorado State University Ranch Horse Team coach, with Andrea Caudill
This is a versatile exercise I use quite a bit with my students to work on transitions, help work on riders’ positions and help their horses respond to body cues. Even though it’s a straightforward exercise, I wouldn’t say it’s easy. I use this to warm up and cool down my students and their horses every day.
How to Perform the Trot Drill
Here’s how to perform this 5-5-5 drill: I have a student start at the trot. Once he gets a cadenced trot, I have him count his horse’s strides. Every five strides, the rider needs to change position: five strides at a sitting trot, five strides at a posting trot and five strides at a two-point. Then come back and do it again.
I have the rider repeat this drill as long as he wants to work at it or until he feels like he’s warmed up. When the rider goes to post and then two-point, I want the horse to extend its stride, then collect back when the rider sits.
Five strides is an arbitrary number – you can make it more, if you need to. But in my experience, if you get much lower than five strides, you don’t have enough time to get a feel of that position, the horse doesn’t have time to adjust and the drill just gets real choppy.
This exercise can train both the rider and the horse, depending on where the pair is at. Sometimes the rider needs to work on position and control quite a bit, and sometimes the horse needs to work on its rate, depending on how broke it is. I don’t recommend working on both parts at the same time, because then neither one is productive.
Mastering this exercise helps with transitions in a ranch riding pattern. It’s also a precursor to what you’ll be doing when you run a big fast to small slow transition in, for example, a reining pattern.
Practice Trotting for the Rider
To be effective in this drill, the rider needs to work first on position and body control. Second, the rider needs to become conscious of where the horse’s feet are.
I want the rider to be driving his heels down, and using as much of the thigh and leg to maintain balance and control as possible. If the rider needs to hold onto the saddle horn to get started, that’s fine. The idea is for the rider to get control of his body so he can get confident.
My whole goal with all of this is that I want the rider’s hands and feet to be independent of his seat. I want him to be able to use them all independently as different tools. Then as the rider progresses in his riding, he can use those tools in combination to make his cues more precise. I’m looking for my student to be able to go from sitting to posting to two-point, without it affecting the ability to independently move his hands.
Once I gain that ability, I can use my reins and my seat when I roll from a large fast to a small slow circle, and really get my horse gathered up in a stride or two, and really come back.
Probably the most challenging position for most students starting off is the two-point. Rather than using their legs and lifting their torso up with their core and legs, they want to lean real far forward to get up out of the saddle. While it is an effective way of getting up out of the saddle, it throws their balance off. In the long run, it doesn’t strengthen the core and legs enough. Eventually, that will come back to haunt them. For example, when you start running a big fast circle, if you lean way out over that horse’s head, you’re liable to throw that horse’s balance off, and it will have a harder time driving from behind and will fall out of lead.
Again, in the posting position, the idea is for the rider to develop his core strength, be able to stay in a balanced position and find that rhythm with his horse. Being able to count strides seems to help my students with that, and make sure that they’re not out of rhythm with their horse.
Practice Trotting for the Horse
Once I’ve gotten a rider to where he’s comfortable with his own riding, it’s time to ask the horse to extend the trot in the posting and two-point riding positions, and to collect and slow down when the rider sits.
This exercise starts teaching the horse to respond to the rider’s body position and allows the horse to practice speeding up and slowing down without the rider having to pull on it. You’ll notice that I choose to focus on the rider first. I find that the horse will always rise to the level of the rider. It is difficult, however, for the horse to lift the rider to a higher level of horsemanship for a prolonged period of time.
So I have my student ask his horse to extend that trot when he goes to posting. When the rider goes into the posting trot, I ask him to wait a stride or two, depending on how green the horse is, before he uses other aids like voice and legs to ask the horse to get faster. The idea is to give the horse a chance to respond. Change the body position, wait for a count of two strides and, if the horse doesn’t respond, add leg and ask the horse to step on out there. Pretty quickly, the horse will figure out, “When my rider changes position, I better extend or he’ll add more leg and make me less comfortable, so I’ll just beat him to the punch and step out there.”
Same thing when you come back to the seated position: Sit down. If the horse comes back, that’s great. If not, give the horse a count of two and then gather him up with your reins as much as you need to get him slowed down. If you need to bring him all the way back down to a walk or stop, that’s fine. But if you just need to gather him a little, do that. It really just depends on how green the horse is.
The biggest trouble here is waiting for the horse. Make sure you’re patient enough. Most riders, just out of habit, will kick to speed up and pull to slow down. The rider needs to be really conscious to give the horse a chance to respond to his body position change, and not just his hands and feet.
The biggest thing about the 5-5-5 drill is that it allows a rider time to adjust his body position, and then it sets up a scenario that allows the rider to be conscious and patient about waiting for the horse to change its foot speed based on the rider’s position, instead of getting into a kicking and pulling match with the horse. This exercise is not original to me: I learned it from my wife and other mentors, and it seems to work really well.