The aim of the trot-up is to allow the observer a clear view of the horse moving in a straight line and in balance, so that the gait can be assessed.
Horses are trotted up primarily to check for soundness. The trot is an even gait, with legs moving in diagonal pairs, so it is the easiest in which to spot lameness or uneven loading of the limbs. A horse may also be trotted up in-hand as part of a sale, to show off his movement.
FEI competitions for all disciplines will include a trot-up (otherwise known as the horse inspection) to check the horses are fit to compete. At three-day events, an initial trot-up takes place prior to competition. A second trot-up the morning after cross-country then follows to check the horses have recovered and are fit to continue to the final showjumping phase.
A trot-up in a straight line as part of a lameness examination allows the vet to make an initial assessment of the horse’s soundness. Further tests, such as flexion tests, lungeing and a ridden exam, may be necessary for the vet to gain more information.
At a pre-purchase exam, the vet is making a full assessment of the horse on behalf of a client. A trot-up is part of the examination, to identify any lameness issues that may prevent the horse being suitable for the buyer’s needs.
In all cases, a good, level surface that is not too loose, slippery or stony will help the horse trot confidently and offer the truest indication of his soundness.
A closer look
It is useful to know what the vet is looking for in these different trot-up circumstances.
As a spectator at a competition trot-up, it may be puzzling as to why some horses pass the trot-up while others are sent to an area called the holding box and occasionally eliminated.
The ground jury and veterinary delegate will assess each horse visually as he stands in front of them, before seeing him trot to evaluate his soundness. Any horse they have concerns about will be sent to the holding box for further assessment.
The vet in the holding box will be able to do a more thorough examination, including palpation and assessment of the horse’s limbs, to help identify any injuries — such as tendon or ligament injuries — which would prevent him from continuing in the competition.
A horse who has sustained a small overreach during the cross-country, for example, or who has pulled a shoe off, may appear slightly unlevel. After veterinary assessment, however, he may be deemed fit to complete a round of showjumping.
There may be horses competing that are poor movers, without having any specific injury that would be exacerbated by competition. At the second trot-up, on the final day, the ground jury will have benefited from seeing competitors at the first trot-up and in the dressage, so will have a clearer view of how each horse normally moves.
Taking the lead
Trotting up a horse correctly is an important skill to learn. The horse should be wearing a bridle for control and be led from the left side. Start by standing him up square so the vet or ground jury can examine him from all sides.
At an event trot-up, you will be expected to walk the horse for a few steps before trotting him away and then back towards the vet and ground jury. When examining a lame horse, or a horse for purchase, I ask to see him walked away and back and then trotted away and back. There is value in seeing the horse moving away and back towards you in both gaits.
The horse needs to be able to move his head freely without being held on a tight rein. The aim is to keep him moving in a straight line and at an even pace.
Stay by his shoulder and walk in a straight line by looking ahead, not at the horse. In trot, it is best to set off at a steady run with an even rhythm — remaining at his shoulder. If you run ahead or turn around to look at him, he may well back off and drag behind you.
It is important to keep the horse’s head and neck straight. If he curls towards you, this can make the gait look uneven and the right hindquarter can swing out and appear to drop away.
Experienced riders will have different ways of presenting a horse well, but I advise people to hold the reins in the right hand, as if you were riding one-handed, with your palm downwards and the reins separated by your hand. You can then place your arm across the horse’s chest so your hand is central, directly below the base of the neck.
With the reins in this position, you can encourage the horse to relax and take a contact with the bridle. He should then drop his head and lift over his shoulders and back, trotting with an even, powerful hindlimb gait.
If you are holding the reins together, in a fist, it is difficult to have much influence on a horse who sticks his head in the air and swings about. You can only apply downward force and he may react against this by putting his head up and hollowing through his back and neck, compromising the way he uses his body and hindlegs.
The horse needs to be able to trot in his own balance and rhythm, so find the pace or speed that suits him — which may mean adjusting your running speed. Don’t worry about your footsteps being in time with his. It’s great if they do match, but you may trip if your legs aren’t the same length as the horse’s and you try too hard.
Return to walk a few strides before the end of the straight and turn the horse away from you by moving his shoulder. This avoids being trodden on or tripped up, which can happen if you turn him towards you.
It is worth practising at home so both horse and rider learn to trot correctly. A horse who is poorly presented may look uneven, even if he isn’t.
Ref Horse & Hound; 17 October 2019