The English Trot with Susan Sexton

This tutorial was first published as part of a course on EPNet ( in late 2006. The majority of the course consisted of critiques written by Susan of photos that were submitted by members. The course is still available in the Forum but this version has been reduced to only include Susan’s original content.

Here are four pictures of the same horse during a test, each successive stride. How would YOU critique these? Just for fun, of course, and to bone up on what’s to come.

Be bold, be brave, be daring, but above all, be careful.


The rider is very savvy, as you’ll see, with one exception.

This is the medium trot down the long side in the PSG test, and the horse is just 1-2 strides from the corner in the last picture.

To explain the sequence:

  1. This picture shows good push from behind. Yes, he’s overbent, but that’s a very popular teaching tool and training technique: keep the horse behind the bit so you have something left to drive him into, once it’s needed. Not that the whole test is done this way, but you can see the advantage of using that technique for a stride here and there.

    Photographically speaking, this would not be the best picture to show to the rider. This is because of the head set. Not that it’s wrong during the test, but because it looks not so good in a single photo.He’s in a poor frame for a double bridle, to tell you the truth, but that’s the rider’s problem, not ours. I’d expect to see more collection in a horse in a double bridle, even though she’s asking for more of a trot. A bit tighter frame, in other words.

  2. She’s steadying him while pushing him. The lengthened stride is not really supposed to be shown until all is ready, when a savvy rider is aboard. You don’t just get going and hit the gas, so to speak. He has to first be informed that somethig extra is going to be asked of him. (Picture #1) Then he has to be balanced and prepared, and this is why his head came up in this picture.

    I wonder as I look at these pictures, if the stride in #2 would equal the length of the stride in #1 if it hd been taken a little later.

  3. A pretty nice frame and the best moment of the four pictures. The rider only has to show 2-3 steps of the medium trot in order to show that it’s distinguishable from the working trot and the extended trot. He doesn’t need to be tracking up, in other words, but he does have to show the difference in frame and extension between the working and extended trots.
  4. She’s asking him to return to the working trot, and here’s where he shows his weaknesses. Ideally, the horse will change his frame and the length of the stride, but maintain the forward and upness of the movement. This horse has fallen apart. The head came up, the jaw tightened, looks like the mouth opened, the back went hollow, and subsequently, the toe flipped in the left front leg. He’s still showing a lengthened stride, though. He was not prepared for the change of pace.

    Did the rider apply the half-halt? We’ll never know, but it doesn’t look like it, and the horse looks caught off guard. Or maybe the rider forgot herself, being determined to get a strong medium stride in there somewhere.

The Poll

There might be some misunderstanding about where/what the poll is on the horse. Here’s the scoop:

The poll is a name of the part of the horse’s head, right between the ears. Specifically, this refers to the occipital protrusion at the back of the skull, but many horsemen incorrectly refer to the joint between the atlas and skull as “the poll.”

The poll is especially important in riding, as correct flexion is a sign that the horse is on the bit. Over-flexion, with the poll lowered, is usually a sign that the horse is either evading contact or that the rider is trying to pull the horse onto the bit, rather than correctly ride him up and through from behind. In classical dressage, the poll should always be the highest point on the horse when the horse is on the bit. When, for example, the third vertebrae is the highest point on the neck, rather than the poll, it is a clear sign of incorrect work.

Taking this a step further, I always wonder if the horse’s crest tricks people. It might make the horse look as if he’s not bent at the poll, but at some place farther down the neck simply because the crest sticks up higher.

Some horses grow a lot of crest, particularly stallions, and particularly as they age.

These three pictures of Bergamon, a Hanoverian stallion, focus on a normal neck and head carriage. In the first one, the horse is just standing there. In the other two pictures (the same picture), one’s cropped to show just the neck and crest, and the other shows the whole horse with a red line demonstrating the verticality of the face.

The crest line

Bergamon's crest. The neckline is the lower red line. There's a lot of crest!

The trot, showing the neck, etc. Is this neck bent at the right place?

Horse at the Trot

The top red line shows the crest. The red line below it shows where the poll is. I notice that it goes right through the elbow.

This last picture is a close up of the head and neck, same picture as above.

Crest line 2

The thin red line shows the neck with the crest above it.

Leave a Reply