Tips from Train­ers Who Teach

Dressage Today - - Content - By Mica Mabraga–a with An­nie Mor­ris

Mica Mabra­gaña shares how the “dinky” trot helps horses of all ages and lev­els strengthen the topline and cre­ate through­ness.

Many riders con­fuse get­ting a horse in front of the leg with speed. Horses find it easy to go fast be­cause that is their na­ture. With ei­ther a hot horse or a laid-back one, riders of­ten find them­selves go­ing too fast to put the horse in front of the leg. I have found that a good tool for any level of horse is to bring him back to a small trot, which I call “dinky trot.”

What is Dinky Trot?

The dinky trot is not com­pli­cated or fancy; it is sim­ply a small trot. When you ride a trot–walk tran­si­tion, you go from the work­ing trot to a smaller trot and fi­nally to walk. I prac­tice keep­ing the horse in the smaller trot with the same tempo and en­ergy as the work­ing trot. I use this ex­er­cise with horses of all ages and lev­els to strengthen the topline, cre­ate through­ness and to test the hon­esty of my aids.

Ad­just­ing the trot strides builds strength over the horse’s back and core by strength­en­ing the “bridge”—the topline mus­cles you feel when the horse bends the joints of the hind legs, low­ers his croup and lifts his back up with the stom­ach mus­cles while stay­ing round through his whole neck. You feel this through your seat as if you were plugged in from your seat bones to the horse’s back. There is en­ergy go­ing through be­tween your seat and his back. You feel the en­ergy in your reins be­cause the horse’s con­tact with the bit cre­ates a slight draw­ing on your el­bows. This cre­ates a soft con­nec­tion and you feel that your hands are at­tached to the hind legs through the bit. This con­nec­tion helps you find the ideal through­ness for the horse.

Dur­ing the small trot, you must be able to take your rein and leg aids away from the horse and he should stay in the same tempo. He shouldn’t speed up into the big­ger trot or col­lapse into the walk. You should not overuse the leg to keep the horse in the trot or overuse the reins to keep him slow.

I don’t be­lieve in us­ing my mus­cle power against my horse’s mus­cle power, and this ex­er­cise helps you find a way to ex­plain to the horse with­out strength that there is a more hon­est way of go­ing through the back and us­ing the core mus­cles. Small trot doesn’t cause a lot of wear and tear on the joints and ten­dons. The ex­er­cise is effective to get a lazy horse in front of the leg with­out ca­reen­ing around and run­ning him off his feet out of bal­ance. I find it helps hot horses as well be­cause they have to wait for and ac­cept the rider’s leg aids.

Try This

First, the horse and rider must have a steady rhythm in the trot and a de­gree of suppleness and con­nec­tion. Ride some trot–walk tran­si­tions to make sure there is a clear un­der­stand­ing of the half halt into the walk. In other words, the horse should lis­ten promptly to the aid from your seat and you shouldn’t need to pull him into the walk with the reins. Now, as you ride the tran­si­tion and you are al­most in walk, stay in that smaller trot a bit longer. Stay for five to eight strides un­til you own the feel­ing of the smaller trot. When you feel that the horse is hold­ing him­self there on his own and wait­ing for you, ask­ing “what’s com­ing next?”, then you can go for­ward to work­ing trot or back to walk. You may have to get past some con­fu­sion or strug­gle, which is nor­mal for horse and rider un­til you both un­der­stand. Then you should feel you can stay in the dinky trot for many strides.

The rider may try to help the horse and use too much leg and then it be­comes a chase. In­stead, use the leg some­times to re­mind the horse to keep the trot, but do not carry him with your legs. You should come into the small trot hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with your fin­gers to make sure that the jaw and poll stay soft and if you give your hand for­ward, the horse shouldn’t change his frame or tempo. The reins also give many re­minders to slow the horse but are not pulling constantly to slow him. You should be­gin to feel the bridge of the back un­der your seat. Ul­ti­mately, the horse be­comes lighter and more re­spon­sive to the leg, seat and rein.

From Dinky Trot to Fancy Trot

On more ed­u­cated horses, I ride be­tween col­lected and small trot in the lat­eral work and change gears while mov­ing side­ways. I look for a feel­ing of ride­abil­ity un­der­neath me—that I can move the horse’s body from a big­ger trot to the smaller trot in the shoul­der-in or the haunches-in with the neck where I please and the feel­ing of ad­justa­bil­ity.

A horse who knows the pas­sage may in­stead of the small trot of­fer a pas­sagey trot, which is a fake ca­dence in the short­ened strides. In this case, the horse does not use his topline and en­gage the hind legs. He is not us­ing his body with in­tegrity. Use the dinky trot to find the con­nec­tion.

Ride the small trot to make the horse more hon­est in the through­ness and re­ac­tive to the half halt and then you can add some power. With a bit more power, you can add more ex­pres­sion. This ad­justa­bil­ity even­tu­ally al­lows you to find an hon­est, ca­denced trot with swing through the back and even­tu­ally to bring the horse to half­steps, pi­affe and pas­sage.


Rid­ing In­fanta HGF, Mica Mabra­gaña demon­strates how from a small bal­anced trot (A), it is easy to de­velop more power (B).


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