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RE: [RC] Trot Question for the Engineers - heidi

The biomechanics of heaviness or lightness on the forehand are certainly well described here, but I am not convinced that avoidance of the front legs that have not gotten out of the way is the only reason why horses travel wide behind.  Certainly if they learn to do it as a compensatory measure for not hitting their lagging forehand, kat's description is right on the mark.  But in my experience, many horses that shift into a sort of "overdrive" when they widen behind are also simultaneously dropping their hindquarters and lightening their forehands, and are quite smooth and "engaged" at this "gear" of the trot.
I can think of three good indicators for being able to tell which is happening with your horse.  First, it is more work to travel heavy on the forehand, so I suspect kat's description is correct in those horses mentioned who have been ridden with heart monitors and whose riders have noticed an increase in heart rate when they "shift" into this "gear."  Second, it is more cumbersome for the horse to travel heavy in front, so for those who describe their horses as feeling "rough" when they do this, I would also suspect that kat's model is correct.  Third, kat is right on the mark about the braking concept--and one can tell which end the horse is using for braking by which end stumbles if he brakes on uneven terrain.  It the horse stumbles on the forehand, kat's model is also in operation, but if he is free in the forehand and stumbles on his hind end, kat's model is likely not in operation.
Some horses just "do this" naturally--and when one considers the diagonal bearing surface of the stifle joint, it is easy to see why the musculature tends to compensate and adduct the leg when the horse travels in full extention, even if his forehand is getting well out of the way of his hind legs.  The horses that I've ridden who have been "good" at this gear have never struck their forelegs with their hinds (well, the one that was really the best at it would occasionally get lazy at a slow walk and fail to engage, and click his shoes--but all one had to do to stop that was wake him up) and have actually been smoother, and stumbled on their hind ends rather than their fronts on those rare occasions when they stumbled.  I don't tend to ride with a heart monitor, but the horse that I had that was the very best at traveling wide behind could come flying into a vet check like that and be promptly down to criteria, so I doubt that he was laboring very much.
Additionally, in line with Ranelle's comments about narrow trails, she is correct that this could be a problem on narrow trails.  But then again, narrow trails tend to be technical trails that will not accommodate the sort of speed of that kind of extension, either, so horses that do this well and do it naturally (and are not doing it just to keep from clipping their front legs) will not "shift" into this mode on trappy trails.  Again, the horse that I had that was the absolute best at the "wide trot" when in full extension did not utilize it on technical trails, and was one of the very best under those circumstances, too.  In other words, horses that are well-balanced and are really good athletes can change their gaits to suit the circumstances, and are not locked into any one way of going.
So, I would go one step further than simply looking at whether a horse travels wide behind, and analyze his entire way of going before deciding that this is "good" or "bad"--and a lot will depend on HOW he does this and on his ability to match his way of going (certainly the rider has some "say" in this as well, but am talking here about his ABILITY more than his personal choices) to the terrain and footing. 

Coming from a dressage background which ascribes to the maxim

behind means heavy on the forehand" and from an engineering background

which says the heavier on the forehand the more "braking" with the front

legs do, I would say that wide behind is significantly less efficient

(the more braking the front legs do, the more pushing the horse has to

do to overcome that braking).

If the horse steps up underneath itself with the hind foot having gotten

the front foot out of the way before the hind foot comes forward (which

is what horses that are using themselves well from behind do), then the

horse is lighter on the forehand, the forehand does less braking with

each stride and the horse does less work overall.

If, on the other hand, the horse short strides from behind for fear of

clipping itself on the front leg that it hasn't gotten out of the way

quickly enough (which is what a lot of horses do when they aren't using

themsevles well), then it probably is still better for the foot to be

directly underneath the horse than out to the outside, but neither is a

very efficient way of going.

"Naturally wide behind is," for me, the equivalent of saying "natural

heavy on the forehand," so I would avoid it in a prospect, and do my

best to correct it as quickly as possible in a horse that I already



Orange County, Calif.


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