Icelandic Horses, training trot
The Icelandic horse is a gaited horse but differs from many other gaited horse breeds in that way that it is bred for and ridden in all its 5 gaits. There is great variety within the breed though and while some horses always choose trot over the lateral tölt or pace, others never do and need special training to learn how to trot. Some horses have strong, 2 beated trot with a good suspension while other have smooth, 4-beated trot with no suspension. The latter ones are more comfortable to sit but get lower scores in competitions where the best trot is considered to be highstepping, clear 2 beat with great suspension. This kind of trot is often quite rough to ride (not always though) and many riders choose to post it or stay in half-seat since the deep seat is more difficult and can be tiring for both the rider and the horse.
In general while starting a young horse the half seat is the best choice so the rider has the least possible influence on the horses balance and movements. When the horse gets more secure and stronger the rider can try to post but always remember to post both diagonals so one diagonal does not get much stronger than the other. Most riders feel it´s easier to post one diagonal but that actually means that they should post a little more the other one to strengthen it. When the horse gets more trained, stronger and confident in it´s trot at different speed, the rider can start using the deep seat. This seat requires the most from the rider as he must be very smooth and supple in his lower back, hips and knees to work as a shock absorber and never bounce on the horse’s back or he will disturb the horse’s rhythm and balance and even so that he breaks the gait and gets nervous of trotting. Many riders (also professional ones) that sit the trot are not very good at it and bounce all over the place!
If you feel you don´t have good balance and suppleness while sitting trot you should probably rather post or use half-seat mostly and preferably take lessons on a trained horse on a loungeline while learning how to sit trot properly. .. or else try very short periods of time to sit few strides of trot and little by little lengthen the time.
If the horse has unsecure trot and breaks easily into tölt or pace or even just canter, you need to give him time to strenghten his back and hind musculature and gaining more confident in trot before you start sitting it. Some horses will benefit tremendously from work in a double lounge where the horse learns to stretch his head down but with a soft poll, lift the back and increase the suspension with stronger hindstrides. It´s easier for the horse to learn this without the rider since it only has it´s own bodyweight and own balance to think of. .
This could work well for (this) gelding and then when he has learned to give at the poll in the lounge line and round his back, she could start riding him in a roundpen or closed area in circles and preferably in halfseat and with light leading rein, if he breaks to tolt she just waits but guides him to keep the same speed and same circle, and smaller circle if the horses wants to hurry. Keep the light rein and halfseat while the horse learns to connect the work in the lounge line before and starts giving at the poll. Slowly he will tolerate a little rein-contact while trotting on the circle and then the rider allows him to move straight. If the horse starts to hurry again just guide him back to a circle. After a while the horse learns to relax in the trot and accept the rein-contact with soft rounded neck and back and then the rider can sit down and even start to ask for more suspension with the help of the seat and leg aids while the hands resist so the horse keeps the form and rhythm.
Regarding competition there is different rules for different kind. In sport competition (that is mainly used in US) it´s the teamwork of the horse and the rider that is being judged, how the horse performs along with the equitation. In gaedinga competition on the other hand is the focus on the horse, it´s performance, beauty and speed, and only if the rider prevents the horse from performing properly or is very rough, it counts to the scores (lowers).
When judging a sport competition the judge looks first at how the horse is moving, if the gait is good. To get a good score for trot it has to be clear beated, secure, beautiful, high stepping and with good suspension and shown with elegance. Speed is not as important in sport competition as in gaedingacompetition but usually if the horse can show graceful slow trot along with extended trot with same gracefulness and elegance it scores higher than if only shown one speed.
If the rider is interrupting the horse rather than helping him it means lower scores. If the rider is trying to sit the trot (using deep seat) but is bumping up and down and not following the movement of the horse properly it will lower the score. In many cases it´s better for the rider to stay in halfseat or, if he can post very well, that´s fine too. But if the rider can sit the trot well, smoothly follow his movement, it does give him the advantage of being able to influence much more how the horse moves, the rhythm, suspension and style. If the rider does this well it will benefit the scores as well since it´s better equitation and means better trained horse and more under control.
I hope this answered some of the questions.
Good luck training your horses… and yourselves, it´s worth it!
Herdís Reynisdóttir, called Dísa, is member of FT, the Icelandic Horse Trainers
Association, with the degrees of a Young horse trainer as well as Competition
trainer and Riding instructor C. She has a B.Sc. degree in Agricultural Science
and is a breeding judge as well as sport and “gaedinga”competition
judge. She has been working with horses more or
less since she was 14, starting and training horses as well as teaching in