The “Trollop”


When is a canter not a canter? 
When it’s a trollop.
That’s the name I’ve jokingly given to the sad, four-beat excuse for a canter so many people seem to think is the same as collection.  Most people think of canter as the gait that comes between trot and gallop.  When you add a fourth beat to the normally three beat gait, it’s something of a trot-gallop; in other words, a trollop.  Slow like a trot, four beat like a gallop, but definitely doesn’t qualify as a proper canter.
You see, by definition, canter has three beats and three beats only.  When what you are seeing no longer has three beats, it can no longer be a canter.  So what else is it, besides very, very wrong?
And yet you see many riders, especially in hunter/jumpers and disturbing disciplines like western pleasure, where people seem to strive for this monstrous hybrid on purpose.  I know!  Why would anyone do such a thing?  I have to think (and this may be giving them too much credit) that they honestly believe this is some form of collection.
Of course, what makes true collection difficult -- and therefore suitable only for more advanced riders and properly prepared horses -- is that, by definition, it is supposed to preserve the purity and integrity of the gait in question. That certainly isn’t happening here.  For one thing, the moment of suspension is obliterated by the fourth beat.  For another, when the footfalls of canter normally require that the inside hind and outside fore strike the ground simultaneously, that can’t happen.  But perhaps more disturbingly, no sound horse does this at liberty because it is unnatural and inefficient movement.  This is a man-made gait, if it can even be called a gait.
If I looked out in the field and saw my horse moving like this, I’d call the vet:
But it’s not only western pleasure morons who think this is a good thing.  (And no, I don’t think all western pleasure people are morons; there is good and bad in all disciplines – but like dressage morons who use rollkur, a lot of them are disgusting and should take up a sport that doesn’t involve direct interaction with other living beings.)  Hunter riders think this is the same thing as a "long and low" canter (I even had one "top" hunter trainer tell me that my large warmblood's natural canter stride was too long to appeal to a hunter judge, so I should do a "slow four beat canter" in my under saddle classes,) while jumper and equitation morons in particular seem to think this passes for some bastardized form of collection.   They’re wrong.  I give you Exhibit B, a clip audaciously (optimistically? ironically?) entitled “Canter:”
It seems to imply that some people believe a lack of impulsion is the road to collection.  Aided of course by some tight draw reins and a generally restrictive hand.  This effect, similar to the one achieved by rollkur, is often the only possible result of confining the horse’s head and neck with the reins, which in turn inverts and stiffens his back and breaks his stride down to such a weak and disjointed state that it must lose its natural rhythm.  Here’s a tip: you can’t first break the canter and then expect to later add impulsion and somehow magically get real collection.  And you’re not developing anything useful in your horse by sustaining the trollop, unless you consider back lameness, a goose rump and a total lack of suspension useful for something…. 
Is this really a desirable effect?  Is it ethical to completely dismantle the natural gait of a horse and force it to sustain something artificial, inefficient and possibly damaging to its health out of ignorance or some twisted personal preference?  What end could it possibly serve?  These are the questions I want answered by the trainers, the judges and riders who promote, condone and practice this embarrassment to horsemanship.
For those who need a refresher course on what actually constitutes a real canter, visit here.  

22 comments:

  1. I must confess that the first time I saw a video of WP, I did not believe my eyes.
    It looked to me like the annual turnout from the home of retired and crippled horses.

    Us humans do many weird things.
    In all disciplines.

    What makes me sad is when watching people canter with draw reins, and you can see that the horse has adjusted to this by a completely new way of going.
    The head and neck is drawn down and the horse is forced to keep the crop higher to balance himself instead of lowering it and getting the hind legs to step under.
    Sad.
    And in the next instance, that horse go lame and needs joint injections.

    In many cases, I believe things are done out of ignorance.
    But as you say - trainers, judges, experienced horse people should know better and bear a great responibility to enlighten others.

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  2. I've always called it a tranter! I have become an expert because my baby horse did not have the strength to canter when I first started with him. It took a lot of work and strength training to get a nice clean canter. I hate to see people try and collect a horse who is clearly not using their hind end. What scares me, and you said it in your post, is that people honestly don't know the difference! Excellent post!

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  3. In that first video the horse looks like it's hobbling! I agree - I'd call the vet!

    The second one is a bit more subtle somehow, but the horse looks tight and when you start looking at the actual movement of the horse from front to back, you see why.

    The true canter is so beautiful and rhythmic - why in the heck anyone wants to turn it into the four-beat version you've shown here I don't know.

    I think of collection this way - the rider CANNOT collect the horse. It's not possible to pull on his head, spur him forward, or do any other mechanical action that results in collection.

    The rider has to learn to take the natural moments of collection the horse offers and build on them until the horse understands when you're asking for that, and offers to do it upon request.

    I'm not sure this is technically correct, but if I were training a baby this is the direction I would take. I see Cody (who we bought as a 2-year old already fully under saddle) doing the WP version of collection when ridden but offering absolutely gorgeous moments of collection in the field. I don't know if we'll ever get that under saddle from him. All we've done in the 5 years since is encourage him to abandon that mincing incorrect way of going and learn to open up his entire body and go happily forward.

    We're close to success with that part of the journey.

    I'd love to read how you move into training true collection - so glad to see this new post here this morning!!

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  4. So many people only ride the neck and head of the horse, and then think they have "on the bit" or "collection" when all they've got is a horse with no impulsion, braced and improper body posture and no use of the core muscles. It's very sad, and the trainers (and judges who reward this kind of thing) are responsible. That said, I competed in the hunters successfully on horses with natural, beautiful canters who as a result moved faster than the other horses - we just stayed to the inside.

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  5. I'm so glad to see this post. The videos clearly show that the movement is wrong and the horses look so unnatural. If my horse was moving like this I would call a vet.


    As always it's up to the judges and trainers to stop this sort of movement and learn the correct way of doing a canter.

    I'm in agreement with all the other commenters so there is really not much to add.

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  6. horse of course- i know what you mean! the first time i saw western pleasure in action i was horrified! the reality completely clashed with the preconceived idea i had about what it was...

    and i agree about the draw reins or even a restrictive rollkur-type dressage frame. the horse, especially in the canter, needs to move his head up and down, forward and back, not only for balance but because the movement carries all the way back through its spine and the rest of its body. restrict the head and neck, and the whole thing seizes up.

    what some people mistake for collection is actually the horse just shortening and stiffening its frame in order to protect itself because it can no longer use the rest of its body fluidly and correctly (as in the 2nd video.)

    it is sad to watch, and ultimately destructive to the horse. until judges and trainers begin to recognize that, i think we're going to see a lot more of this sort of thing....

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  7. on the bit - i've heard it called 'tranter' before too - also a great word!

    it's true that a lot of young or unfit horses fall into the 4 beat thing at first, especially when they aren't used to carrying a rider or are struggling with balance and coordination. i think that's pretty normal. the difference is, smart horse people like you know that, even though it might take a while, the goal is to work past that stage, not encourage it!

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  8. billie - yeah, there are extreme versions, like in the 1st video, and more subtle versions, like in the 2nd. i guess maybe one is more wrong than the next, but somehow that's small consolation :-\

    i agree that the rider cannot collect the horse, and yet that is exactly what many of us are taught to do - either fix the hand and srive the horse up into it, or spur forward and try to contain it with the hand. neither produces true fluid, rhythmic collection, imho, because that kind of restrictive hand always create tension...

    i'm a big believer in getting collection gradually by shaping the horse's balance and, as you say, taking advantage of the horse's moments of natural collection to teach them what you're after. in fact, one of my favorite ways to teach/work collection is in hillwork for that very reason! maybe i will post on some of my ideas on the subject, though i'm hardly a master of it!

    i love to think of cody as a WP rehab ;-) in my experience, they do come around, but it takes time. dusty is in a similar boat, but every now and then i see those flashes of brilliance where she gets loose in her shoulder and really opens up. so i know it's in there!

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  9. kate - i agree totally.

    good for you for letting your hunters make the most of their natural ability and not doing anything weird to please the less competent judges!

    i was horrified when this supposedly 'top' hunter trainer suggested the 4-beat was the right thing to do to 'fit in'. granted the horse had a nearly 15' natural stride, but it seemed to go against what i had always thought of as the hunter ideal: a horse with a correct, efficient, ground covering stride. that's what i'd like to ride in the hunt field! (and we did actually retire him from showing to the hunt field.) but then i have never understood what half the hunter judges out there are looking for :-\

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  10. ghm - that poor horse does look like he's about to keel over. i don't know how anyone can convince that looks ok. even if you showed that to a person who knew nothing about horses, they'd be able to see something is wrong. so, being supposed horsemen, why can't they see it?

    and i agree that, as with rollkur in dressage, the main responsibility falls on the judges. if they would stop rewarding clearly incorrect performances, there wouldn't be so many more people out there emulating their mistakes so they can win too!

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  11. j, our only hope given my lack of experience in training/retraining horses is that Cody was only two - so everything he knew was only recently learned and not yet ingrained. Still, it was enough so that he got nervous when asked to move out, b/c he thought he was doing something wrong.

    I suspect he was also stalled much of his young life. He seemed surprised when he got here and discovered that he could turn himself in and out as he wished, and that his two herd members spent a fair amount of time galloping and rearing and bucking and acting like yearlings in the field. Keil Bay and Apache have probably done the real rehab work! :)

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  12. i'm sure it was a shock for him! but i can't imagine anything better for him either :-)

    we had a similar thing with sami who was at first seemed completely lost out of his stall, but he quickly realized what being a horse and part of a herd was all about and now he sometimes doesn't want to come in!

    i see a similar thing with grady too. he was a fancy show horse in florida before he came to us and you could tell he had no idea what to make of the herd and all the open space he suddenly found himself with. but now it's like we've created a monster! he does nothing but play ALL DAY, much to the annoyance of the other horses, and he comes in covered with cuts and scrapes. i think he's making up for lost time - i don't know if he's ever been allowed to play or go out with other horses...

    since he's also one of those horses who braces himself in an artificial frame after years of, no doubt, draw reins and restrictive hands, my one hope is that he's out there moving like a natural horse and undoing some of that bad training in the process. maybe getting here and having a few months off in the field to just be a horse before we start working with him is just what he needed :-)

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  13. I thought of you and this post earlier today when the trimmer arrived - Cody came galloping in from the back field, and then did a big canter circle in the arena, ending with a few exaggerated head tosses. :)

    It's nothing but pleasure seeing him move like that, using his entire body and all that QH muscle.

    Hope to read more about Grady's work when spring settles in!

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  14. i love to see a horse move like that too :-) go cody!

    hopefully i'll have some positive reports about grady soon! i'm optimistic, and even just in the paddock i see a difference since we've got him barefoot (his feet were a nightmare!) so i'm really curious to see how that might influence his 'makeover' too!

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  15. looks like I'm not the only one who wants to call the vet when I see one of those, um, "trollops." The first time I saw one, I had no idea about the desired WP effect. I was embarrassed when my friends corrected me, but I know I should not have been.
    If it walks like a trollop, and canters like a trollop, then...

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  16. i was also horrified the first time i saw it in action - i had an idea in my head of what WP was, and my friend said, 'wit till you see it - it's not what you think...' well, that was an understatement! there was one horse in the entire class of about 20 that looked the way i imagined it should, and the rest looked like they should be rushed to the vet clinic. of course, the one normal looking horse didn't place, and the most cripple, pathetic looking one of the bunch won :-( that's a pretty sad commentary on any discipline. makes me wonder if the 'pleasure' part of the term 'western pleasure' is meant sarcastically - or maybe sadistically.

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  17. The WP canter was shocking. I wonder how this damages the horse's body? Great post.

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  18. thanks, bhm. it is shocking and i'm sure it does huge damage. if you ever see those horses standing without tack, they look deformed - undeveloped upper neck muscles, hollow backs, goose rumps, etc. really sad.

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  19. To me, the first horse looks like he's lame- it's painful to watch.

    Besides that, in looking at both horses, they seem to be unbalanced with too much weight on the fore-end.

    Over the past year I've been learning the basics of collection and while I am definately not an expert, I do know what feels wrong and I don't see how you're going to acheive it without impulsion.

    Jamming the bit in the horse's mouth and trying to muscle him into position isn't going to do it (don't know about other horses but mine would definitely object). They have to voluntarily put themselves into position and to me, that's the beauty of the whole thing.

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  20. adam - i couldn't agree more. we all have to work at collection, and we all make mistakes along the way, but it's knowing when it's right and when it's wrong that makes the difference! how anyone could ride a horse like that and think it felt or looked right is beyond me :-\

    and i think you've hit on one of the main points of good horsemanship that even a lot of the 'experts' miss: we always talk about being 'on the bit' and 'taking' a contact with the horse's mouth - combine that with a driving leg and this implies pushing and pulling the horse into position.

    but the truth is, 'on the bit' and good collection only come voluntarily, when the horse reaches out to take a contact with the rider's hand and follows where it leads - that's what 'on the bit' means to me, and the horse has to willingly place himself there. no amount of kicking, yanking or draw reins is going to do it.

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  21. I think one of toughest things in collecting the horse is when the horse isn't sure what you want. In my case, neither my horse nor me were exactly sure what was supposed to happen but fortunately my trainer provided the right direction.

    At first, it seemed that I was having pull hard on the bit during the half-halts (squeeze is perhaps more accurate but it helt like pulling) but as time went on, I didn't have to give such a hard pull/squeeze and the action is more like applying a brief moment of pressure to get the action- it's kind of like "hey buddy, time to collect!"

    What really freaked me out was the time my horse voluntarily held a collected canter for me with almost no effort on my (well, I still have to maintain impulsion, adjust rein position, etc. :-)). I almost stopped riding because I was so surprised.

    I later got to try this out on a more trained horse with extensive show experience and it was even more amazing- you could feel the horse's weight shift to the haunches and you could spin the horse almost on a dime.

    In closing, I got to say I really am put off by the Western Pleasure lope- it looks so unbalanced and awkward for the horse. I like my horse to move, not hop. :-)

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  22. it is a bit disconcerting the first few times they give you that self-carriage, isn't it?!? but you are very lucky to have such a good trainer to guide you through it. sounds like you are doing it the right way... which is refreshing considering how many scary western pleasure lopes and rollkur canters are out there! ;-)

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