Improving the Trot with the Metronome
There are many different kinds of riders; In the walk I often see two extremes - people being completely passive and being moved around by the horse or people driving and moving there seat so much that they are actually making it difficult for the horse to move. In the trot, most of the riders I meet, are more to the passive end of the spectre. And very often they are quite unbalanced by the horse's movements as they don't manage to follow it right - most often lacking a little behind the movements. And this is the case in both the posting trot, in the light seat as well as in the sitting trot.
An unbalanced rider in the trot will make the horse more unbalanced. The horse will have a difficult time keeping a steady rhythm and will offer quite a lot of transitions. Transitions both within the trot (speeding up/slowing down) as well as transitions to the walk or maybe the canter. These will especially happen in corners or on curved lines. When the rider is not in sync with the horse it also becomes difficult to ride the horse with seat, weight and intention and in most cases the half halt will not work. And collection is completely out of the question.
It is quite important for the rider to be in balance and in sync with the horse - but that is not enough. We also need to direct the horse and set the agenda for what we're going to do and how we're going to do it - and this includes setting the agenda for the pace and rhythm of the horse as well.
Enter the metronome. Or you, actually. Enter you setting the rhythm for the horse like a metronome sets the rhythm for a child learning the piano.
It is such a small thing to think about when riding, but it gives a huge impact on the bearing and stability of the horse. Not only do you get a horse that is much easier to help keep the same pace but there will be a lot fewer mistakes in the rhythm or gait of the horse - which is especially clear with gaited horses.
How to be this metronome for your horse then? The trot has two beats - one for each of the diagonal pairs of legs when they land. If you do the posting trot they are "up" and "down". I advise you to count "1, 2, 1, 2, 1..." and so on. Start out in the trot and just focus on yourself, keeping the horse on an easy task like a big circle or around the arena doing the posting trot. Now you start counting. It can be a help to count it out aloud so that you make sure that you are actually counting. But it is not enough to count just with your words or your mind. Your entire body should be dictating the rhythm to the horse, which means that in your posting your up and down should be very clear and purposeful, so that it is a clear "1, 2, 1, 2...".
To start out your counting has to adjust to a basic rhythm on the horse. Once you have an idea of the basic rhythm of the horse you "lock" this rhythm and keep it steady so that it is not allowed to change. It is very important that you keep this rhythm both in mind and in body.
Often the horse will not be tuned in to this and will start to change his rhythm, but because you are now so aware of the rhythm you notice the change coming long before there is an actual visible change. And when you start feeling this change coming you help the horse keep the rhythm. If he is about to slow down you encourage him to move a little faster. If he is about to speed up you help him move a little slower, so that he stays in the rhythm you are setting with your body as the horse's metronome.
And this you practice - day in and day out, always. Once you become attuned to this it is very difficult to ignore small changes in the horse's movements. It has to become a part of your riding, that you do not need to think about. Once you have the basics in order you can move on to purposefully alter the rhythm to alter the gait of the horse.
Have fun trying out this exercise! I would love to hear your experience of how it went!