Riding a Rough Trot

Riding a Rough Trot

Try this expert advice to smooth out a bumpy ride on your horse.
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America's Horse Daily received the following question concerning a rough-trotting horse. AQHA Professional Horsewoman and Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor Julie Goodnight offers some hopeful advice that many riders will find useful.


I have a 4-year-old horse with a rough trot. She has a nice headset at a walk and lope, but it comes up for the trot. Bear in mind that, while I had horses for several years growing up, I had no lessons or opportunity to learn from other horse people, so while I can stay on a horse pretty well, the more I learn about horses and riding I realize that I am really a novice and in need of lessons. My friend has been helping me some with the training of my mare, and she has used draw reins on her with some improvement. She thinks my horse just needs to learn collection. I don't want to ignore any possible health issues or the fault being my riding. She gets seen by the vet a couple of times a year and he keeps a good check on her teeth, so if you could point me in any other directions, I would appreciate the advice so we can get to a more comfortable ride for both of us.


Both the trot and the canter have suspension, which means all four of the horse's feet come off the ground at the same time and that's what makes them more difficult to ride than the walk, which has no suspension. Also, most horses tend to have either a good trot or a good canter, but most are not great at both gaits and some are not good at either. So at least be glad your horse has a good canter!

Learning to sit the trot is one of the most difficult things to learn in riding. It requires you to have a big range of motion in your hips and to move your hips both vertically (up and down) and laterally (side to side) - all at the same time. For this reason, I like to teach riders to post the trot before teaching them to sit. If you can work on your posting trot, your rhythm will improve to where eventually you'll be able to sit the trot. Here are a couple articles that will help you develop your skill for both posting and the sitting trot.

I am not a fan of using draw reins to force a horse's head down. For one reason, they tend to trap a horse and for another, they become a crutch. Instead, I would prefer to find the reason why her head is coming up at the trot and then attack the cause, not the symptom. It could be conformational; it could be a physical problem or it may be a training problem. Or it could be all three. If you feel confident you have ruled out any physical issues your horse might have, then we can look to training (there's not much you can do about your horse's conformation).

Your trainer is right that you and your horse need to learn collection at the trot. This is fairly advanced and not only requires skill from the rider but your horse's conformation will come into play here as well. All horses can collect, but their conformation determines how hard or easy it is and how much you can ask of them. Collection is very physically demanding for the horse, so her physical condition is a factor as well.

If your horse has not been trained for collection and you do not know how to do it, then both of you need some education. Volume 5 of my Principles of Riding video series is called, "Refinement and Collection" and is all about using your aids in an advanced way to ask for things like collection and lateral movement.

There's also an article on collection in the Training Library on my website. There are some articles there on headset as well.

If your horse needs to learn how to round her frame and carry her head lower, you might want to look at using the elbow-pull bitting system to help teach her how to respond to the aids and to condition her in a rounded frame. My video called Bit Basics gives detailed instructions for how to teach a horse to round up and flex in response to pressure from the bit and how to use the elbow-pull bitting system. Both the bitting system and DVD are available through my website.

Good riding!

-- Julie Goodnight, Certified Horsemanship Association master instructor

*AQHA and the provider of this information are not liable for the inherent risks of equine activities. We always recommend consulting a qualified veterinarian and/or an AQHA Professional Horseman.