It's called a sewing-machine trot because of the up-and-down movement of the legs. We sometimes call the horse a "leg-mover" and basically mean the same thing.
Essentially, the horse lacks adequate length of stride in the movement.
The legs move but the body does not go anywhere. The horse does not use his torso in the movement. Rather, he is often tight and tense through the body, and there is little swinging in the gait. Sometimes, we mistake the lack of progress as smoothness, but it really is rigidity in horse's the back and joints.
It is easy to get fooled into thinking that the sewing-machine trot is a good trot. When you are on the horse, the frenetic movement might make you think that the horse is working well. It is moving, after all!
But what is sometimes less apparent is that all the movement happens without support from the hind end.
In fact, the back is often hollow and the energy does not flow back to front. The head may be held high, the base of the neck low, and the majority of the horse's weight falls to the forehand.
One of the easiest identification factors of the sewing-machine trot is lack of "tracking up". The hind leg stride is so short that it falls one or two footprint lengths short of stepping into the front footprints.
You might also notice that the front legs take a bigger stride than the hind legs. In pictures, the hind legs appear close together underneath the hind end area, rather than drawing equal an upside-down "v" with the one made by the front legs.
What To Do
First, slow the legs down. Reduce the tempo and allow the horse to get better balance. Let his feet catch up to his body, so he doesn't feel like is constantly running away.
Second, once you feel the tempo become more reasonable, address the hind end. Ask for more engagement by using the canter-trot or a similar exercise. Just be careful to not allow the tempo to increase again. Speed is not the intention.
Third, after you feel the burst of engagement, use a half-halt to balance the energy. Don't let it go "out the front end" - rather, contain it and allow the energy to create a longer stride and more movement over the back.
Look for a slower rhythm, but a stronger energy surge. Feel more bounce to the movement. Notice the horse naturally want to round more and reach better for the bit.
Through it all, avoid pulling back. Instead, keep working on half-halts, impulsion and a resulting slow(er) rhythm.
How do you improve the quality of the sewing-machine trot?
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