AskHQ: The trot up

Q: How do you trot up a horse correctly?

 A: A veterinary inspection commonly involves leading a horse in a walk and a trot, so that the vet can check for any lameness issues. A trot up is a common part of the vetting for a horse; is required if your horse goes lame for any reason at home; and is also required at higher level competitions.

To lead correctly you need to stay level with the horse’s shoulder and focus where you want to go, to help to keep the horse as straight as possible. Put your right hand towards the top of the rope or reins near the head but leave a little slack (around 30cm) otherwise you risk restricting and thereby affecting the horse’s movement. Your left hand should be on the end of the reins of lead rope, so that there is very little left loose to dangle that couple pose a tripping hazard for you or the horse.

Ask the horse to walk on, being positive in your instructions and body language. You need the horse to move forwards actively, not be dragged along behind you as this can also affect his movement. If the horse is sluggish and hanging behind you, you can ask the vet if you can carry a short crop in your left hand. This is not to actually touch the horse, just to hold back towards the horse’s quarters to encourage acceleration. Once you have produced an active walk, you can slide your right hand further down the rein (about halfway down a standard rein or lead rope) so that the horse can move his head more freely.

When turning the horse to come back again, slow down before the turn to avoid slipping in case the horse is lame, make the turn wide and allow him to balance himself comfortably. Turn the horse by pushing his head away from you and staying next to his shoulder (you walk round the horse not other other way around). This allows you to control the size of the turn and protects you from being stood on. Walk the horse back in the same straight line, remembering that some horses are more enthusiastic on the way back so may be more active. Be ready to slide your hand closer to the chin again to gain control, if this is needed.

To trot the horse always start by walking him straight in an active walk before asking him to trot. A few clicks of encouragement can help at this point if the horse is not keen to trot. Keep the rein short until you know the horse is under control and then gradually let it out of your right hand and allow the horse the freedom to move his head. This is crucial for allowing the horse to move correctly and naturally, and also allows more subtle signs of lameness to show up for your vet to see. Come back to walk to request the turn and then fully complete a couple of strides of walk to establish the straight line before asking for the trot again. As mentioned with the walk, some horses are keener on the return trip, so be ready for a faster trot and try to keep control to avoid the trot becoming rushed and unbalanced. The person observing the horse will probably want to observe them from the front, back and side so be ready to keep going past them for a few strides so they can see the horse side-on, before you bring them back to a walk.