My take: I will just go ahead and say it. I think the trot is the most misunderstood thing about judging a Friesian horse at an American inspection. Nothing is criticized more in a judge or upsets an owner more than the perceived score for a horse, based solely on what people “think” is a good trot.
When people think of the Friesian horse they often think of the high head carriage and elevated, lovely front knee action. This seems to translate (in some people’s minds) as the thing that defines the breed and thus the thing most important to the judges during the inspection. But, in truth, this is not really the case. The walk holds just as much importance in scoring as the trot (and a good walk can be quite difficult to achieve) and when judges look at the trot, the knee action is only one piece of the puzzle. According to “An Introduction to Judging a Friesian Horse”, 2007 p. 17 (this book is available for purchase from the KFPS)
Desired in the trot:
The trot is a distinctively 2 beat gait. The hind leg is placed powerfully and well beneath the horse’s body and in doing so displays a great deal of flexion at the hock. The foreleg displays knee action and is extended far to the front. The trot is characterized by suppleness and a long movement of suspension. The horse also displays a high level of balance with a rise at the forequarters accompanied by a lifting of the neck When viewed from the back or the front the legs must be parallel with one another.
Undesired in the trot:
Short, choppy movements in the forelegs. Insufficient flexibility at the shoulder.Lack of cadence. Lack of impulsion in the hindquarters [causing movement to depend] too much on the forehand. Too little balance. Carriage insufficiently elevated. Melancholy impression. Narrow or wide [stance]. Fast cadence [with a] single tempo. Choppy [movement] with no elasticity. No powerful impulsion.
In my experience, I have seen many people in America (especially the mid and southeast, where I live) train their horses with overchecks, side checks, hobbles, stretchers, etc. in an attempt to bring up the head and knees. This training can actually prevent the horse from developing the hindquarter strength required to build the balance, suppleness, power and impulsion needed to move the horse forward with ease. In the Netherlands (and obviously, with many skilled trainers in the US) the trainers work on techniques to slowly build strength and balance in the hindquarters and topline, often allowing the horse to stretch its neck and use its rear. Over time the hindquarters become strong and as the horse begins to use its rear, the front often comes up on its own.
In 2007 the KFPS changed the way the trot is judged. It previously was judged on “expression” and “rhythm”. Now, the metrics are as follows:
Room of the trot: Room in the trot [runs the spectrum between] “short” and “roomy”. The definition is the distance between two prints of the hind legs. It therefore concerns a horizontal movement.
Power of the trot: The power of the trot [runs the spectrum between] “weak” and “powerful”. The definition is the degree of take-off from the hind leg and the power with which the hind leg is placed under the [body].
Balance: Balance [runs the spectrum between] “little” and “much”. The definition of balance is the degree to which the horse moves with self carriage and even steps.
Suppleness: Suppleness [runs the spectrum between] “little” and “much”. The definition is the capability to let movement flow elastically through the body.
… The horse has to bring its hind quarters under its body weight so it can lift itself. [The horse] has to “sit”. This makes the movement of the forehand roomier and more free and the horse becomes lighter in the hand. The horse has to move rhythmically and not rushed.
– “An Introduction to Judging a Friesian Horse”, 2007, p. 48.
Here is a wonderful picture of the famous preferent stallion Feitse 293 taken from his owner’s website at: http://www.hhtoonen.nl/. Feitse, now deceased, was known for his movement. I love this picture because it shows some amazing things in his trot. A terrific example of what the KFPS describes as desired movement where: “The hind leg is placed powerfully and well beneath the horse’s body and in doing so displays a great deal of flexion at the hock. The foreleg displays knee action and is extended far to the front.”
Well, it does not get much better than Feitse. But below I have a couple of more “regular” horses to show on video. One is a mare we once had who happens to have a nice trot which shows good impulsion, suspension, and balance. And good power too. She passed away before she was judged at the keuring and we still cry about it. But I digress…. I also show one of the mares who has been used as a guinea pig in the demo videos in this series. Both have nice movement.
“REGULAR” horses with nice trots – showing impulsion, balance, power, suppleness:
JUDGING THE TROT AT A KEURING – TWO DIFFERENT MARES. Make high resolution and full screen for best results.
Jeannine Everhart, the author, is citing information from the KFPS text “An Introduction to Judging the Friesian Horse”, available for purchase from the KFPS. She has been attending inspections with her horses since 1998 and attended a week long intensive judging clinic/class in the Netherlands during the summer of 2009. Jeannine and her family run Tanbark Acres, a small Friesian breeding operation.