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What is Trotting?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Trotting is a diagonal two beat horse gait which comes in a number of flavors. A horse's speed at the trot is between a walk and a canter, and this gait is very energy-efficient, which means that horses can sustain a trot for long periods of time. Novice riders are typically introduced to the trot at a very early stage, since it is necessary to learn to work with a horse at the trot before riders can proceed to faster gaits like the canter, or advanced riding skills like jumping.

When a horse trots, two legs move forward at the same time and pause for a moment before the other two legs are brought forward. This gait is diagonal, which means that one foreleg and the opposite hind leg are moved forward together while a horse is trotting, in contrast with lateral gaits, in which two legs on the same side move together. The trot creates the distinctive “clip clop” sound many people associate with horses in motion.

There are three basic types of trotting: collected, working, and extended. When a horse moves in a collected trot, the body is kept very compact, the strides are short, and the legs are raised high. The collected trot is often on display in the dressage ring, because it reflects a very controlled horse and showcases the power in the hindquarters. In a working trot, the horse exhibits a natural stride length; most horses can demonstrate a working trot naturally, without requiring additional training.

The extended trot involves more extension of the legs, with the horse taking strides which are as large as possible while not breaking into a canter. In harness racing, horses are run at the extended trot with their necks outstretched to the full; horses may also keep their heads up in an extended trot, especially in the show ring, and this gait gives horses a very rounded appearance.

There are numerous variations on trotting gaits. The collected trot, for example, is the basis for a piaffe, a trot in place displayed in dressage rings, and the passage, a collected trot which moves in slow motion. Racehorses are often worked out at the jog trot, a variation of the working trot.

There are a number of ways to sit a horse while it is trotting. Beginning riders typically learn posting, which involves moving up and down in the saddle with the gait. Remaining fully seated allows for greater control over the horse, but it also requires strength on the part of the rider, since sitting a trot can strain the muscles of the lower back and leg. Some riders also use a half-raised seat, which offers minimal control but sometimes greater comfort.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is trotting in the context of animal locomotion?

Trotting is a type of gait commonly seen in animals, particularly in horses and dogs. It's characterized by a diagonal gait where opposite pairs of legs move forward simultaneously — left hind with right front and right hind with left front. This two-beat gait is faster than a walk but generally slower and more sustainable than a canter or gallop.

How does trotting differ from other gaits in horses?

Trotting is distinct from other equine gaits by its rhythm and footfall pattern. Unlike the four-beat walk or the three-beat canter, the trot is a two-beat gait. It's also more balanced than the gallop, which is a four-beat gait with a moment of suspension. Trotting is often used in equestrian disciplines for its smoothness and the ability to cover ground efficiently.

Is trotting natural for all horse breeds?

Yes, trotting is a natural gait for all horse breeds. However, the quality and speed of the trot can vary widely among breeds. Some, like the Standardbred, are bred specifically for their trotting ability and can maintain a trot at high speeds, making them popular for harness racing. Others may excel in different gaits or activities.

Can all dogs trot, and is it beneficial for them?

All dogs are capable of trotting, and it's a beneficial gait for them. Trotting allows dogs to move efficiently over long distances without tiring quickly, making it an ideal pace for exercise and work. According to veterinary experts, regular trotting can help maintain a dog's cardiovascular health and joint mobility.

What is the importance of trotting in animal training and competitions?

In animal training and competitions, trotting is crucial for assessing movement and conditioning. For horses, a steady trot is often a key component in dressage, showing the animal's training and balance. In dog agility and obedience trials, a controlled trot demonstrates discipline and the ability to follow commands precisely.

How can one improve a horse's trot for competitive equestrian sports?

Improving a horse's trot for competitive sports involves a combination of conditioning, technique, and sometimes breed-specific training. Regular exercise that includes trotting can build muscle and improve stamina. Equestrian coaches often work on the horse's posture and engagement to enhance the trot's quality, focusing on rhythm, balance, and suppleness to achieve a competitive edge.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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