The Spanish trot is one of the principal low airs of the haut école when exhibited in the circus. For the scientific equitation, it is a valuable gymnastic exercise for developing the horse's muscular energy, upon which it makes very great demands.
It is, like the piaffer and the passage, the manifestation of perfect diagonal action. It differs, however, from the piaffer and the passage, in that, in these two airs of manege, the knees are flexed, while, in the Spanish trot, as in the Spanish walk, the fore legs are fully extended, held in this position for an instant of inactivity, and then made to gain ground forward. The impulse for each step is given by the diagonal hind leg, which rises at the same time with the fore leg on the other side, and is held inactive for the same period. In other words, diagonal bipeds are raised, hang for a moment in the air with the fore leg extended, and then are set down together a step in advance. (Figures 32, 33.)
All the masters of the scientific equitation have agreed that the Spanish trot is next in sequence to the Spanish walk. Baucher and Fillis teach the progression: Spanish walk, Spanish trot, passage, piaffer. I, on the other hand, almost reverse this order, and take first the piaffer, than the passage, finally the Spanish walk and trot.
My reasons for this unusual procedure are these. Neither the Spanish walk nor trot can be obtained until after the horse has been completely established in its collection, assemblage, and equilibrium, so that all the progressive movements which precede the Spanish walk are executed without disturbing the state. But the highest possible manifestation of the state of assemblage is the piaffer. No assemblage, no piaffer, is almost an equestrian proverb. When, therefore, I have the piaffer, I have also the proof of the maximum of assemblage. The center of gravity is fixed exactly below my own vertebral column, while the equilibrium is so perfect that shifting my weight to my right or my left ischium raises alternately the diagonal bipeds of the horse, and passing the load slightly forward causes the horse, without losing cadence or equilibrium, slightly to gain ground forward, and thus change to the passage.
In order to obtain the piaffer, I place the horse's head perpendicular to the ground, but with its neck not quite so high as for the ordinary trot. For if the head and neck are high, the two muscles of the neck, rhomboideus and mastoido-humeralis, by their fixed point at the atlas region, are equally in contact with my hand. This is precisely what I do not want. The rhomboideus will raise shoulder, scapula, and leg; but the mastoido-humeralis will extend the
leg forward. Therefore it follows that I want for the piaffer all the rhomboideus possible, but not too much of the mastoido-humeralis. In order for the foot in the piaffer to return to the same spot from which it was lifted, the horse must lift its fore leg forward, but with flexed knee. Too much action of the mastoido-humeralis will extend the leg so far that I cannot call back the foot to the proper spot and still preserve the speed and cadence of the trot.
When I have secured the piaffer, I add the complication of a very slow forward progress, and have the passage. Then, having the passage, I give a little more impulsion forward, by lifting my coccyx out of the saddle, but not very far or too high, and by shifting the center of gravity a little more forward than for the passage. My horse, thereupon, lifts its head a little higher and finds contact with the bit. The two muscles concerned have now, to an equal degree, their fixed points in the atlas region. The rhomboideus, continuing to act as before, raises the leg. But the mastoido-humeralis, acting more strongly, extends the leg forward, and I have the Spanish trot. I still have the assemblage, but under different conditions.
The teachings of the grand masters for these movements are very different from my own. They, as I have explained, begin with the Spanish walk. The horse's head and neck are up. The point of contact is established. The two neck muscles act together. The leg is raised and extended, stiff throughout its length. The spurs are applied, and push the horse forward upon the front leg, which thereupon returns to the ground, and the first step is taken. The second step follows, secured from the other diagonal biped by the same means, and the walk continues. When the Spanish walk is well understood and properly performed, a stronger impulsion of the hind legs by the spurs precipitates this into the Spanish trot.
The method answers very well thus far. But when, after this training, the rider asks the passage, the horse, as before, extends its front legs, but the equilibrium is not adequate to the movement, and quarrels and fights begin between the trainer and the horse. When, at the end of these fights, the passage is obtained, they still have to be gone through with once more to obtain the piaffer. It all comes about because the masters keep diminishing the extension by diminishing the impulsion. I, on the contrary, beginning the series of movements at the other end, keep increasing the impulsion, always by and in the state of equilibrium.
The Spanish trot needs good conformation and great energy on the part of the horse; and on the part of the rider, a great precision of effects, if the air is to be taught according to the principles of the reasoned equitation. If the horse preserves the condition of equilibrium, the movement is very brilliant and graceful. The animal has an action forward and high, yet without manifesting too severe exertion. The suppleness of the well-cadenced and regular movements is very apparent, and the horse behaves as if it liked the action. But when the equilibrium is absent, then the exertion is very evident. The entire body is stiff. The gait is wearying to the animal, so that it must be sent against the bit by the attack of the spurs. These, in turn, drive it forward so violently that the bit has to act with strong effect, in order to raise the front legs and prevent the action from being forward instead of high. The proficient esquire does not regard this last form of the Spanish trot the perfection of the air. But the beginner is, of course, quite satisfied with it, until after he has trained three horses. Only after he is sure of obtaining the Spanish trot at all, does he begin to see that there is also quality in the work and to try to secure that.
There are also other methods of obtaining the Spanish trot. One of these is based on the system for the Spanish walk in which the trainer on foot touches the horse's shoulders alternately with the whip. The walk being learned by this means, the trainer accelerates the movement, until with practice the horse breaks into a gait which has the cadence and height of the Spanish trot. But since the whip acts on the front hand only, although the fore legs lift high enough, the hind legs drag upon the ground with neither action nor elevation.
Another method is still less scientific. Straps are attached to the pasterns of the front legs. Each of these straps is held by a man, who stands some six feet in front of the horse and facing it. Another man, holding reins and whip, touches one shoulder with the whip, while the man who holds the strap pulls the corresponding foot off the ground and holds the leg extended so long as the whip takes effect. Then the sides are reversed. As soon as the horse raises and extends its fore legs successively, a fourth man is added. This latter from behind, by means of a long whip applied to the hind legs, urges the horse forward, while the two men in front alternately pull the fore legs by the straps.
Horses trained by either of these two methods are stupid, stiff, inactive, made into machines. They have the appearance of slaves, acting against their will. These systems of training belong, of course, solely to the circus. Neither of them is recognized by the scientific equitation.
The Spanish trot, done slowly and in cadence, is considered the most brilliant of the horse's gaits. The action is in complete accord with all the natural powers of the animal; and though the height attained is greater than in the ordinary trot, it is nevertheless entirely possible to the mechanism involved. The air, therefore, can most properly be used as a gymnastic exercise for developing energy and action; and is of special benefit to such horses as are lacking in action, indolent, or given to tripping and stumbling. All this, however, is on the condition that the work with the Spanish trot is so moderate and so progressive that the horse has time to develop the muscular strength needed to execute the air without overmuch effort.
THE flying trot has the same cadence and high step as the Spanish trot, but the movement forward is at greater speed. Since, then, the action is both high and rapid, it demands great strength and energy on the part of the horse. Some hackneys, however, take naturally the flying trot when moderately supported by the contact of the bits.
The air cannot be executed on every kind of ground. If the track is too soft, the hind legs fail to give the needed drive. If too hard, the blow of the front feet on the ground will be painful, and the horse will be discouraged.
The movement is obtained by gradually accelerating the Spanish trot, but without keeping the horse too long at the exercise. Evidently, since this added speed does not alter the elevation of the diagonal bipeds, the gait demands from the esquire or master the greatest accuracy of seat and effects. For the horse, at the flying trot, gets high off the ground; and if the seat of the rider and his effects are not exactly correct and accurate, the horse is disturbed in its cadence and the elevation of the action is lost.
Personally, I should not care for the Spanish trot if it were not the means of obtaining the flying trot, which is extraordinarily enjoyable and exhilarating - though, of course, it is to be indulged in only occasionally when the ground permits. I recommend to the beginner to train several horses at the Spanish trot before attempting the more difficult gait; and furthermore, to make sure that his animal is really able, after suitable practice, to execute the movement without injury or discouragement.