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Equine Biomechanics (Part 2) – The Trot

Trot is the most important gait for evaluation of quality of horses movement and for detection of lameness. As mentioned in my earlier blog on biomechanics of walk, biomechanics is the study the movement of living organism using principles of mechanics. Consequently, when looking at trot from the biomechanics perspective, we can consider things such as limb coordination, stride characteristics as well as forces acting on the limbs.

Trot is characterised by a regular two-beat rhythm during which the diagonal limbs move in sync, i.e. left fore with right hind and right fore with right hind. While in walk, there is no suspension, in trot there is a moment of suspension after the stance of each diagonal pair of limbs. So a typical sequence of the limbs during a trot stride is left fore and right hind stance followed by a suspension phase (no feet on the ground) and then right fore and left hind stance followed by another suspension phase. Any irregularities in the rhythm or reduction in protraction or retraction can be indicators of weakness or even an injury.

Bay horse trotting with half a stride captured.

Typical footfalls of a horse in trot. Half a stride captured above – a suspension phase on the left, a stance phase (right fore and left hind) on the right. This would be followed by a second suspension phase and a second stance phase (left fore and right hind).

Forces acting on the limbs should also be considered when examining the biomechanics of trot. Due to the symmetrical nature of the trot, the force acting on contralateral limbs (i.e. left vs right limb) tend to be fairly similar in non-lame horses.  Due to faster speed and suspension phases, the ground reaction forces are greater in trot than in walk. These forces are greater in forelimbs compared to hindlimbs since horses carry approximately 60% of their weight on their forehand. The peak vertical ground reaction forces exceed bodyweight in the forelimbs while in the hindlimbs the peak is approximately equal to bodyweight.

Little note: When we talk about body weight in biomechanics, we talk about the forces acting on the body due to gravitational acceleration (g). So if your ‘weight’ is 70kg (which is in fact a mass and not a weight) , the body weight, i.e. a force that depends on mass and gravitational acceleration (BW= m x g), would be approximately 700N (g = 9.81m/s2 but for simplicity we can multiply by 10). This is the force your leg would experience if you were standing on one foot without any movement involved.

The gait characteristics associated with dressage ability are low stride frequency, high dorsovental displacement and high regularity of steps. This means that good dressage horses trot with lower number of steps per second (no frantic shuffling of legs), have greater up and down movement of their upper body (more bouncy trot) and maintain consistent tempo.

In dressage, different variation of trot are required depending on the training level. The stride frequency (strides per minute) changes only slightly between the different variations of the trot but the stride length and speed increase from collected to extended trot. In a good collected and medium trot, the horses track up (i.e. hind hoof lands in the front hoof print). On the other hand, as the horse extends, an overtrack can be observed (i.e. the hind hooves landing in front of the front hoof prints). 

As the horse moves through the different variations of trot, they should maintain a regular 2-beat rhythm. However, in elite dressage horses, a hind first diagonal advanced placement has been identified in collected trot – this means that the hindlimb touches the ground slightly earlier than the diagonal forelimb. So effectively the trot rhythm becomes four-beat but this is hardly noticeable by our eyes or ears as the hindlimb only lands 20-30ms ahead of the diagonal forelimb.

Trot is a symmetrical gait therefore it evenly loads left and right limbs. Therefore, it is a great gait for developing symmetry. Equally, we can use trot to assess how straight the horse is and identify any weaknesses.  

Trot is also a very stable gait due to having diagonal limb support. Unlike in canter, there is no pitching movement (think horse’s nose going up and down) so trot is not as challenging for us riders in terms of upper body stability.  

Compared to walk, a lower range of motion of the back and an increase in muscle activity has been reported for trunk muscles. Therefore, trot can be used to target muscles that aid with trunk stabilisation (such as rectus abdominis or longissimus dorsi).

Trot is the most important gait for evaluation of quality of horses movement and for detection of lameness. Due to its symmetrical nature, trot is a great gait for developing symmetry. Equally, we can use trot to assess how straight the horse is and identify any weaknesses. Additionally, in trot, the activity of back and abdominal muscles increases. Consequently trot work can be incorporated to strengthen the muscles that aid with trunk stability.

You might also be interested in these posts:

Equine biomechanics (Part 1) – The Walk – The first part of the equine biomechanics series with the focus on the walk (also includes a brief introduction to biomechanics).

Rider position and biomechanics – Is there a different between beginner and more advanced riders when it comes to rider position? Check out what the science says!

Are you curious about biomechanics-informed horse and rider training? Get in touch with Eva to book a coaching session – Eva covers Hertfordshire, North London and surrounding counties.

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