He Trots, You Walk
Try these horse-training tips to get your halter horse to trot while you walk.
By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Kathy Smallwood with Larri Jo Starkey in The American Quarter Horse Journal | September 23, 2013
You’ve seen it at the big shows: The handlers walk in beside their halter horses as those horses trot for the judges.
The trainers are calm, cool, collected. It’s a professional look, and it’s one you can achieve.
AQHA Professional Horsewoman Kathy Smallwood of Pilot Point, Texas, has a few tips on how you can teach your horse to trot while you walk beside him.
Ask the Horse to Trot
The main reason I prefer to see a person walk while the horse trots is that it gives you complete control of the horse. When trotting in deep footing, it can be difficult sometimes to keep your balance.
When you’re trotting beside your horse, it’s easier for the horse to start going crooked rather than straight to the judges. It’s important that the judges see a horse’s true movement at the trot, the motion of each leg as far as whether it’s winging out or in. When the horse is trotting beside a walking leader, the motion is slowed down enough for the judges to examine it.
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To begin, you’ll need a horse that walks beside you without hesitation. Make your clucks really low and slow during the slow walk. If your horse knows that low and slow means walk slowly, then you can speed up the clucks to start him trotting. I also lengthen my walking stride as I ask for the trot.
I’ve taught a lot of showmanship, and the most important technique is for the handler to work all the way from the shoulder through the wrist. Don’t just hold your shoulder strong and stiff to get the horse to go. When you want the horse to go forward faster, move the shoulder and hand forward.
Your hand position is also important. Keep your thumb up and don’t break over at the wrist. As you’re asking the horse to trot, press forward on the lead strap with your thumb.
At the Trot
Don’t drag the horse. It’s important for him to take his first trotting step before you do. Your body should be between the horse’s head and shoulder. If you’re in front of the horse pulling him along, you’ll never get him to trot.
Don’t get ahead of the horse. If the horse gets behind you, push forward with your arm and wrist to get him positioned next to you.
If you have your horse broke enough to walk with you, you should be able to push your hand forward and cluck faster to keep him moving. Make sure you’re moving your hand forward and not down. It’s a common mistake, but your horse will feel you pulling down and stop on you every time.
If you’re really stuck and unable to get your horse to trot, get someone behind the horse. That helper can wave his arms if necessary, but often just being behind the horse will be enough to get him moving.
Once he’s moving, keep your walk in cadence with his trot and continue your faster clucks.
A Bit of Caution
Walking quietly while your horse trots creates a pretty look, but it’s not for every horse. Some horses aren’t suited for it.
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The ones that are tall and long-legged with a big stride probably can’t come down to a pitter-patter trot beside you. The horse looks too constrained, and the handler can pull the horse’s head down and around, and that’s not a good look.
You’ll need to practice this at home a lot before you try it at the show. Ask someone else to watch you with your horse to see whether you’ve mastered it. An independent eye can tell you a lot.
And don’t be afraid to change your game plan. If on show day, your horse comes out fresher than he was at home, go ahead and trot out with him. If you’ve worked with your horse enough at home, you should be in sync with him to know how he feels and adjust accordingly.
The same thing applies if the horse doesn’t have enough energy. If you don’t think the horse is going to have enough to trot all the way through the pattern, go ahead and trot with him instead of allowing him to break gait halfway through.
Whichever method you choose, be sure to stick with it all the way through the pattern.
As with every training technique, make sure walking as your horse trots is right for you and your horse before you proceed. The right choice is always whatever helps you show your horse to his best advantage.
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