Riding the Extended Trot: Ranch Horse Skill Set

Tips from world champion trainer Ben Baldus for how to properly ride a ground-covering extended trot on the ranch or in the show ring.

Extended gaits are an important part of a ranch horse’s skill set. If you’re going to cover a lot of country, you want a horse that really extends. If you have to gather a big pasture or check a water tank a long ways off, you want a horse that moves out comfortably to cover the ground.

What Do You Want In An Extended Trot?

You want a horse that trots smooth and fast. But sometimes, sitting on your horse during these gaits can be a challenge, so there are several ways to sit the ride. In ranch horse competition, the judges want to see a horse that looks comfortable – so you need to be able to ride competently at the extended trot.

Why Do Ranch Horses Need To Extend The Trot? 

When you’re on a big ranch and covering a lot of ground, you intermittently jog a ways, then lope a ways, and alternate. You let your horse keep its breath and air about him. You can’t just lope the whole time. So the trot or extended trot is the gait of choice for covering long distances.

For the extended trot in ranch horse competition, you’re simply demonstrating what we do on the ranch. When it comes to showing, your horse is judged on quality of movement – nothing fake or forced, just a natural extended trot. The way you’re jogging in the pen, you want to look as if you could keep going that way for the next 3 or 4 miles.

How Do You Sit The Extended Trot In A Western Saddle? 

Whether you sit, stand or post during the extended trot should be tailored to the horse and what makes the horse move the best.

Standing the Extended Trot

If you stand, shorten your stirrups, squeeze with your knees and just standing an inch or two above your saddle with your seat fully out of the saddle, slightly leaning forward with your hips forward, your shoulders slightly forward. You can hold the saddle horn with your free hand, if you have one. In this position, he will really feel your body when you ask him to slow down by sitting and releasing your legs. He should respond by slowing down and shortening his stride.

Posting the Extended Trot

If you post, the proper method is to follow the outside diagonal. So the front leg that is closest to the outer perimeter of the arena is the leg you want to follow. That leg and the inside back leg move in a pair. At the trot, you rise out of the saddle as the outside front leg moves forward and sink back into the saddle as that leg comes down to the ground. Glance at the shoulder to see that movement back and forth. I only rise about 3 inches out of the saddle, and some horses respond well if you squeeze your legs and lift slightly as you stand. I feel that it helps them lengthen their stride slightly.

Sitting the Extended Trot 

Some horses are really smooth, even at the extended gait. For those horses, I would go ahead and sit because it looks attractive to the judge if the horse is smooth and comfortable. To sit the extended trot, you want to keep your hips loose and absorb the energy of the extended trot with your knees, your seat and your lower back, moving quickly with your horse’s pace. You want to keep your lower leg close to the horse, touching his sides with your calves.

More Tips for Riding the Extended Trot

Look Up

At the extended trot, make sure to look up and where you are going. This applies both on the ranch and in the show pen. If you’re looking down at your horse, you can lose focus on the pattern and where you are in the arena. You want to show that you are asking this horse for all he has: your gaze is forward, your head is up looking where you are going and your body language is forward and aggressive.

Don’t Exaggerate

In competition, the judges are looking for a trot that is really smooth, with a consistent topline, and without a lot of artificial-looking details. They don’t want to see your rein hand out in front of you and in the air, really high, or excessively loose reins. You wouldn’t trot across the pasture with your rein hand stuck straight out in front of you because your arm would get tired after 4 or 5 miles, and long reins can be dangerous if your horse were to trip or take off. You also don’t have to stand 6 inches out of your saddle, because your legs are probably going to get tired after a couple of miles. Ride as you would on a ranch.

Courtesy of American Quarter Horse Journal