In which Endurance 101 teaches you how to teach good trot-outs

Endurance 101 : the trot-out
Note:  the suggestions in this article can also be used with gaited horses, but for ease of reading, I have used the word “trot” throughout when an easy-gait might be executed by a gaited horse.

Seasoned competitors make a trot-out look easy: the rider skims along the ground beside a springy, well-behaved horse, travelling in a straight line away from the vet for 100 to 125 feet, walking around a traffic cone at the far end, and then trotting back to the vet without stumbling, crowding, wandering out of the lane, or “running out of steam” on the return journey.  The vet watches the horse’s movement and attitude during the trot-out to determine the presence or absence of lameness, and the quality of the movement.  A sound horse will move off with a steady, rhythmic gait which looks and sounds symmetric to the observer.  The fresh horse moves out eagerly, but with attention to his handler on the ground.

Here are some tips for teaching a horse how to trot-out for the vet. 

Start with a horse who walks properly on a lead line:  his head stays even with your shoulder, the lead line is looped between you, not tight like a kite string.  When you walk, he walks.  When you stop, he stops.  When you turn, he turns. 

The departure

·        You and your horse are standing still, facing the same directions.

·        Jiggle the lead rope a little, and say out loud in your perkiest voice, “Ready?”

·        Wait for a count of two, and then stride off briskly.
Duana and Hana:  "Ready?"

Ideally, your horse will stride off briskly beside you.  Repeat the exercise at the trot.  Your horse should jog along beside you on a loose line.  If he does, hurray!  Skip down this page to the pace labeled “The turn.”  If he doesn’t, keep reading:

Your horse may be a “Ferdinand” who would rather sit and sniff the flowers than move forward properly on the line.   If you have a Ferdinand, pick up a dressage or longe whip and put it in your left hand, so that you can hold the leadrope in your right hand.  If you don’t have a longe whip, a slender, springy branch from a tree will do.  You want something lightweight that will reach from the outside of your body to the back end of your horse when you are standing beside him.  Practice the reach while you are standing still beside your horse so that you can learn exactly how it feels.

Now, try this:

·        You and Ferdinand are standing still, facing the same direction.

·        Jiggle the lead rope a little, and say “Ready?”

·        Wait for a count of two, and then stride off briskly in a fast walk and simultaneously reach back with your stick and ping Ferdinand on the bum. 

You know your horse, and you know how reactive he is.  If he’s extremely sensitive, a little ping on the bum will make him leap forward to join you.  If he does this, praise him and keep moving forward for about 5 or 6 strides. 

Then, slow your stride for 5-6 strides, then halt.  Repeat the process, starting with standing still, rope jiggle, and the verbal cue “Ready?”

If your Ferdinand is as sensitive as a block of jello, enlist the help of a friend who will also be armed with a dressage whip or tree branch. Put your friend on the other side of Ferdinand, beside his right hip, but out of the reach of a kicking leg.  Begin the process again:

·        You and Ferdinand are standing still, facing the same direction.

·        Jiggle the lead rope a little, and say “Ready?”

·        Wait for a count of two, and then stride off briskly in a fast walk and simultaneously reach back with your stick and ping Ferdinand on the bum and your friend simultaneously whomps Ferdinand on the bum from the other side of his body.

As soon as Ferdinand moves forward (even if he leaps forward in surprise!), praise him and keep moving forward for 5 or 6 strides.  Then, slow your stride for 5-6 strides, and then halt.  Allow your friend to rejoin you, and repeat the process.

With some repetition, Ferdinand will learn that the rope jiggle and verbal “Ready?” are his cue that in a moment or two, he will be asked to move out.  You can gradually lighten the weight of your whomping:  first, your friend’s help will become unnecessary, and eventually you won’t need a whip in your own hand to get Ferdinand to move out.  He will be watching you, and waiting for the rope-jiggle and verbal cue to go.

When Ferdinand is proficient at the brisk walk, practice the same technique with a slow trot. 

The turn
Some people prefer to trot around the turn, but I like to have my horse trot out to the marker, walk around the turn, and then trot back to the vet.  As we get to the cone, I will jiggle the lead rope a little and say, “a-a-a-and Walk,” as I slow my stride.  Ideally, the horse will match me as I slow, and walks politely around the outside of me as I walk around the outside of the cone.  
Duana and Hana: around the cone. 
I would like to see Hana keeping up with Duana a little better than she does in the photo.
If your horse does this, hurray!  Skip down the page to the part labeled “The return”.

If your horse is a Freight Train, and it’s hard to get him to slow down, keep reading.

Start this practice at a very brisk walk.  When you get better at it, practice at a trot. Take your dressage whip or a slender tree branch with you.

·        You and Freight Train are striding along briskly, side-by-side.

·        You jiggle the lead rope a little and say, “a-a-a-nd Walk”, as you slow your stride.  This is his cue that you will be slowing down.

·        Reach in front of your own body and Freight Train’s chest with your whip, and push on him.  If he is a sensitive soul, a little tap is all it will take, but if necessary, push hard.  You may want to give a correction “pop” with the lead rope at the same time.  Do whatever it takes to get Freight Train to check his speed for a stride or two.

·        As soon as he slows, praise him and change directions, executing a sharp turn to the left away from him, and walking slower but not stopping.

Repeat the exercise with Freight Train: move forward briskly, give Freight Train the rope jiggle and verbal cue “a-a-a-and Walk” as you slow your stride.  As soon as he hesitates or slows, praise and change directions at a slower pace.  Randomly change the direction of your turn—turn left, turn right, turn at strange angles, do the hokey pokey and turn all the way around.  Once he’s paying close attention, turn so that you walk right in front of your Train, so that he must slam on the brakes and turn on his haunches to avoid walking on top of you.  Freight Train will learn that your rope jiggle and verbal command to “Walk” are his cue to slow down and prepare to change directions.

The return
You and your horse have executed the turn around a traffic cone at a controlled walk.  As you finish the turn and come to face back the way you came, jiggle the rope, give the verbal cue “Ready?” and pick up the speed again.
Fiddle and Aarene trotting back towards the vet.   Good form, blurry photo.

If your horse is a Ferdinand, you want the return pace to be brisk.

If your horse is a Freight Train, practice controlling his speed. 

Don’t be afraid to practice getting the speed and control you want a few strides at a time.  If your horse can do something successfully for 5 strides, with more practice he will do it for 15 strides, and from there he can do it for 100 feet from the cone to the vet.

The halt
Ferdinand will soon learn that “the vet” is the ultimate destination of this exercise, and that when you get to the vet, you will halt.  Ferdinand likes to stand still, so he will try to halt early…and earlier, and earlier…until the unprepared rider can find herself dragging an unwilling, joint-locked beast for the final twenty strides. 

To avoid that situation when trotting out Ferdinand, mentally choose a spot on the ground about 3 strides in front of the vet, and be ready to give the cue “a-a-a-and Walk” when you get to that spot and not a single stride early.  You may have to carry your dressage whip to enforce this idea with Ferdinand.  You might also choose to throw a handful of tasty hay at the vet’s feet…and make sure that Ferdinand sees the hay before you leave on your trot to the cone.  He won’t forget it’s there, and he’ll be eager to return to it.

Freight Train presents the opposite problem: he likes to accelerate during the trot-out, even (or especially) when the rider can’t keep up.  Practice frequent stops, turns, and slow-downs with Freight Train, so that he learns to watch and listen to his handler during the trot-out; if he thinks you might just halt and turn and point him a random direction mid-way, he’s less likely to charge forward full-blast. 

With Ferdinand and Freight Train both, it’s important that your last 3 strides towards the vet be executed at a controlled walk to avoid alarming anybody.  There is one vet in my region who promises that if any horse runs over the vet, the vet’s scribe, or the vet’s truck, he will take the pulse of the ride manager and write that on the horse’s ride card, ensuring a non-completion.   Rather than take the risk of injuring ride staff or any other bystanders, practice the final stage of the trot-out with control. 

When you come to a complete stop, the horse (not the handler) should be standing directly in front of the vet. 

Putting it all together
Enlist the help of a friend to be the “vet” for your practice session. 

Before you begin, take a deep breath, think for a moment about the departure, the turn, the return and the halt, and how you plan to correct your horse’s behavior if it needs to be corrected.  Then exhale, take hold of the lead line, jiggle the rope, and begin!

Have your friend watch to make sure you are traveling in a straight line out and back, and shout encouragement or corrections as needed to keep you and your horse on course.   It’s important to note that the vet watching your trot-out is usually NOT looking at the horse’s feet.  Instead, s/he is watching for symmetry of movement in the shoulders and hips which indicate soundness, and looking for a head-bob from the horse which indicates pain in one or more limbs.  To avoid having the handler drag the horse down by his face at any point during the exercise, practice until the trot-out can be done on a completely loose rein or lead-line.

By taking the time to teach your horse all of the steps of the trot-out before bringing him to camp, you will give him a useful skill that the vets and volunteers will be happy to see, and will ensure that your horse is shown in the best possible way during his vet check exams. 


  1. look at fiddle, her ears! she looks so grouchy, was she glaring at someone else, or does she think trot outs are dumb?

    really, all the horses who do trot out with ears flat back, what is up with that? they resent the pointless cone chase? i think they're smart enough to know this is a human contrivance interrupting their go/eat/go routine.

  2. It is only blurry because you were so very swift and graceful.

  3. My first ever trot out was in the deep sand of the Pine Barrens. Oz had never trotted in sand. He fell flat on his face in front of six vets and 80 riders/crew members. I heard about it all ride season.

  4. No comments from the peanut gallery. Perfect post!

    Dom, even after working on my trotouts at home, I still had to have the vet scribes chase me for my first three rides. Argh.


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