In a perfect jog, a front hoof and diagonal hind hoof hit the ground at exactly the same time, the horse’s topline is level, the horse has a relaxed expression, and his rhythm is consistent. This is the jog the judges want to see, says top judge and trainer Kitty Bowland.
When your horse’s jog is easy and comfortable, his rhythm is consistent, and neither of you are working hard to maintain the flow, then you’re “rocking the jog.” Congratulations!
The reality for most of us, however, is that achieving a show-worthy jog means lots and lots of hard work. Perhaps the horse you’re riding doesn’t have an even, balanced motion or level topline. Perhaps he doesn’t even have a true two-beat gait and appears to be shuffling rather than jogging. What can you do?
Start by making sure you can recognize the two-beat rhythm that will be your ultimate goal. If possible, watch the horse jogging on a lunge line and listen for those two steady beats. Count the beats out loud: “One, two, one, two…” A quality jog isn’t developed simply by slowing down your horse’s trot. In fact, extended trot exercises are often exactly what you need to help smooth out a rough jog.
While the jog may not look like it requires a lot of energy from either you or your horse, to maintain the exact same stride actually requires a high level of strength, fitness and flexibility. When you ride the horse, observe the jog as well as listening to it. Without leaning over, glance at the left shoulder and see the change in the muscular shape as the left front leg reaches out, lands, and flexes. Do the same with the right shoulder.
While developing your jog, ride at different speeds to increase your horse’s flexibility and endurance. Do lots of circles and changes of direction, trying to keep your rhythm from changing. Ride over trot poles to encourage your horse to effectively use his hind end.
Remember that rhythm and speed are two different things. Think of a person jogging on the spot, or a dressage horse performing piaffe. The rhythm can stay exactly the same as if there was forward motion. Focus on the beat, using your legs (and possibly some clucks) for motivation. Your reins should either be slack, or with a soft and even contact if your horse needs some steadying support.
Now comes the hardest part of all. When you feel your horse is locked into the right rhythm, LEAVE HIM ALONE, even if it’s only for a few strides. When you leave him alone, he knows what he’s doing is right.
As for show day, Kitty describes what she would look for when judging a jog. “Rhythm, with a quiet sense of forward energy,” she says. “The jog originated for cowboys working on the cattle range where the horses and riders had to go for days and weeks on end. The jog was the easiest gait to ride for its smoothness, which in turn was easier on the horses” backs. However, they were working, so they had to cover the ground.”
Judges of western pleasure classes sometimes call for an extended jog – a horse that can extend his stride while maintaining self-carriage (not leaning on the bit) and a flow that is comfortable to the rider. The stride should lengthen (not quicken), but everything else should stay the same.
As always, a balanced seat on the part of the rider is essential for achieving proper results. Uneven weight in the saddle, or even a raised hand, can disrupt your horse’s balance. Stay quiet, let your pelvis fluidly follow your horse’s motion, and one day “rocking the jog” might be as easy as one-two!