Friday, January 11, 2019

The Pignot Jog

At long last, the time has come for me to post a video of Nimo and I working on Pignot jog.  I've written about it several times before, but without a video of it, I think it can probably be hard to visualize.  In fact, it looks nothing like what I imagined when I first read about it.

For those unfamiliar with Pignot jog (which is probably a lot of people because the only place I've ever heard about it is through my Science of Motion work), it is named that because Jean Luc Cornille learned about it from a fellow Cadre Noir member named Rene Pignot.  My introduction to the concept came from this article.  If you are confused after you read the article, I don't think you are alone.  It took me over 2 and a half years to learn how to achieve it with Nimo with any sort of regularity.  There are other articles where Cornille references the Pignot jog as well, but I don't know that they are especially illuminating if you don't understand what he's talking about.

Here is my understanding of it at this point in time.  The Pignot jog is a trot that is done at the horse's natural cadence.  What is my horse's natural cadence, you ask?  Cornille offers this explanation:
The concept of the horse natural cadence was explained seven years later. In 1975, Pennycuick observed that African migrating animals that were traveling long distances were always and within each gaits, sustaining the same range of speed. The biologist studied the observation for the perspective of oxygen intake. His findings suggested that animals were sustaining an energetically optimum speed. Hayt and Taylor extended the study to horses. They concluded that, “there was a speed where the amount of oxygen used to move a given distance, (rate of oxygen consumption divided by speed,) reached a minimum value.” (Hayt and Richard Taylor, 1975)  The two scientists concluded that the horse selected naturally a speed within each gait around the energetically optimal speed.  Earlier on, Milton Hildebrand studied the phenomenon from the perspective of muscle fatigue. "There is more energy in the cycling leg as a mechanical system when a horse walks fast than when it trots at the same speed.” (Hildebrand, 1987)  Basically Pignot observed that greater efficacy was achieved through working the horse at its natural cadence.  (source:
When I first read this article about three years ago, I thought I'd hit the jackpot for endurance riding.  I mean, finding a way for Nimo to travel at some kind of optimum speed would mean much more productive conditioning and much less risk of metabolic problems at competitions.  Why wasn't this concept blasted on the first page of every endurance conditioning book?  Why had I never heard anyone talk about it before?  This is literally the best idea ever, right?

One connection that I thought I made was that I'd read more than once that experienced endurance horses seemed to settle in at about a 9-ish mph trot.  I assumed this must be a horse's natural cadence.  This pace must be how horses get to be high mileage horses.  And then I made another leap in logic.  With enough conditioning miles, horses must figure out their natural cadence on their own.  I mean, the African migrating animals that were studied didn't have anyone to tell them what their natural cadence was.  They figured it out on their own.  So Nimo should be able to figure it out on his own too.  And I spent a lot of unproductive time pursuing that line of thought.  If I just rode Nimo enough and if I just gave him enough freedom to choose and experiment, he would figure it out.

Well, by July of 2018, I realized that line of thought was not working.  Nimo wasn't figuring it out on his own.  So I talked to my instructor about it and asked her why the pace Nimo was choosing for himself out on the trail wasn't working.  (The pace he was choosing involved him using an isometric hold, which is very bad for horses and is probably one factor in lameness issues.)  Plus the limited work that we'd done on Pignot jog in our lessons told me that there was a big difference between the 10-12 mph trot Nimo would use out on the trail and the painfully slow trot we were doing in the arena.  I will also admit that I couldn't figure out what value that painfully slow trot had.  After spending so many years zooming around on the trails, I could not imagine riding that slowly on purpose.  This was endurance not a western pleasure class!

My instructor explained that horses are often not capable of identifying their natural cadence on their own (although I still hold the opinion that some of those high mileage endurance horses do exactly that).  For one thing, the African migrating animals from the study were not ridden.  They grew up wild and learned from their mothers and their herd mates how to move.  Nimo has never been wild.  And because he was a stallion prospect when I bought him, he'd been kept isolated from other horses from after the time he was weaned.  And even if he'd been with other horses, unless they had lived in a vast tract of land requiring miles of travel every day, he still probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to learn his optimum pace.

So it was up to me to help him.  And up to that point, I'd been doing an awful job of it.  So I dedicated myself to figuring it out.  The most challenging part of it was overcoming my own assumptions.  I could not wrap my head around the idea that Nimo's natural cadence could be that pokey trot we were doing in my lessons.  He's a FRIESIAN!!!!  Friesians are bred to trot.  Nimo has this spectacular, ground-covering trot, and giving it up was so very hard for me to do.  (Not to mention that Nimo was confused after over a decade of me telling him that he needed to move out and use his big trot.)

It took an incredible amount of mental effort for me as well as some patience with Nimo, but we kept at it.  Nimo mostly gave me a few steps and then he'd stop just as he got to the point of achieving the Pignot jog.  It was frustrating as hell.  But we kept going.  And finally, at one of my lessons (I think it was the one right before Christmas), something clicked.  We spent the better part of the lesson focused on Pignot jog.  We jogged and jogged and jogged.  We did a lot of figure-8s because the change of direction was what was giving Nimo a hard time (and still does - you'll see in the video), but we were able to actually sustain the pace for multiple circles and even minutes at a time.

One other thing that I had assumed about Pignot jog is that it would be easy to ride.  It turns out that it was exhausting at first.  I would be out of breath in short order and so would Nimo.  How could something this difficult be an optimal pace for long distances????  But I decided to trust the process instead of second guess and question everything all the time because all my second guessing and questioning had gotten me exactly nowhere on this particular issue.

So we kept working on it.  As you know, using Pignot jog is now a specific goal of mine for every ride.  Some days go better than others, but I now feel much more comfortable recognizing it and Nimo feels much more comfortable doing it.  I wouldn't say that it is easy yet, but I'm no longer gasping for air after one minute of it.  Although if I was in danger of getting hypothermia while riding, Pignot jog would quickly warm me up!

The stars finally, sort of, aligned yesterday so I could get a video for you of what we are working on.  My husband and I were both off of work on the same day, which doesn't happen very often, and we both had time to go to the barn.  Actually, the conversation on Wednesday went something like this:

My husband:  Since we're both off of work tomorrow, do you want to try to do something as a family?

Me:  Sure!  What are you thinking?

Husband:  Ummm...what about going out to lunch?

Me:  Sounds great!  Also, Gemma's lesson got rescheduled to tomorrow because of the awful wind today.  Maybe we could all go to the barn for her lesson and stop for lunch on the way back?

Husband (totally unsuspecting):  Yeah, let's do that.

Me:  And maybe while we're there, I could hop on Nimo and you could do a quick video for me?

Husband (still clueless):  Sure - no problem.

As a note, the temperature on Tuesday this week was about 60.  By Wednesday night, the temperature had fallen to the mid-20s as winter finally arrived in Virginia, courtesy of North Dakota-esque winds that were gusting up to 50 mph and apparently bringing cold air from the icy reaches of hell.  Hence the rescheduling of Gemma's lesson.

On Thursday, the situation was only mildly improved.  I think it was about 35 degrees with winds gusting up to 35 mph.  Even in his winter parka, my husband quickly realized that agreeing to accompany me to the barn to shoot even a short video had been a huge mistake.  But he persevered anyway, with the idea that he would get a good lunch out of the deal.

And that was how I ended up heading out to the arena at about noon with Nimo.  Because I could tell my husband was struggling with the weather (mostly because he hunkered down behind one of the small sheds next to the arena to get out of the wind), I tried to keep things short.  So we didn't warm up and work on things quite like we normally do, but I think the video is pretty representative of the work that we do at the beginning of our rides.

This video is the first time I've actually been able to see us doing Pignot jog, and it was quite enlightening.  For one thing, it doesn't look as painfully slow as it feels.  For another thing, I think I should have encouraged Nimo to lengthen his neck just a bit.  But I was excited to see that my lower legs are pretty steady, and that I really nailed a technique that my instructor just taught me a few weeks ago.  You saw in the video where Nimo slows to a walk a couple of times as we are changing direction.  Instead of using my legs to cue him to trot again, which can shift my balance and disrupt our harmony, so to speak, my instructor recommended that I just keep posting through his walk.  I thought she was crazy.  I mean, who posts at the walk?  How do you even do that?  And, by the way, I have no coordination or rhythm.  But I've been practicing and you can see how effective it is at getting Nimo back to trotting.  I just keep doing what I've been doing, and let Nimo follow me instead of me following his movement.  It's actually pretty cool.

So now you know what I've been talking about, and I hope you enjoyed the chance to see what we've been working on:)  Time will tell if the Pignot jog helps us meet our conditioning goals, but I'm glad that I finally have a good enough grasp of it that I can use it.


  1. I've always contended that posting at the walk is a first step for beginners before they're ready to trot.

    Hey, does SOM have the same P. Karl idea of "hands without legs, legs without hands"?

    1. That's interesting about learning posting at the walk before the trot. I never had formal English-style riding lessons when I was growing up and I learned mostly by watching other kids at shows before trying it myself. And I'm not sure how my daughter is learning to post either. She still does a lot of walking. But I would think it would be hard to move your body out of the saddle without the suspension generated by the trot. I know that I'm struggling with it now!:)

      I have to admit that I don't know who P. Karl is. You will have to enlighten me! Does he have books or a website? SOM doesn't really have any rules or aids, though. Jean Luc Cornille has increasingly adopted the concept of tensegrity when riding with your horse. So I'm not supposed to be using either my hands or my legs. Instead the tone of my body is supposed to communicate what I want to do. Obviously, it can take a while to get to that point, so I do still use my legs a little: squeezing lightly for trot, shifting my outside leg back a couple of inches for canter. I definitely do not need as much pressure or movement as I used to, though.

  2. Do you still ride in the Euro Light saddle?

    1. Hi Margaret, no I don't still ride in the Eurolight saddle. I use the all-purpose model that you see in the video on this post instead. I stopped riding in the Eurolight about two years ago. I didn't stop riding in it because there was something wrong with the saddle or it caused a specific issue with Nimo; instead we sort of evolved in our riding. Now, I think I would find the twist of the saddle much too wide and the thicker padding and bigger tree to be cumbersome. However, I still think the saddle has the potential to work for a lot of people. It just depends on what you are looking for, what you are comfortable with, and what works for your horse.