It sounds simple, doesn't it?
Just pull back on the reins and the horse will stop trotting. But there are a lot of small details in there that might be overlooked. For example, you might notice the rider yanking back and the horse's mouth opening wide.
You might be able to see the neck come up in an upside-down arch, and the back drop into a hammock-like position.
The most obvious problem that can be visibly identified is the hind legs. When the transition is problematic, the hind legs literally get left behind. The striding is short and the legs seem to be stuck together, causing an imbalance that then gets transmitted to the front end. The horse "falls to the forehand".
Although we rely on our hands too much and initiate all movements from the horse's mouth, there are many alternate aids we can go to, especially for a downward transition. Here are three steps to develop a balanced trot-walk transition with minimal rein pressure:
Several steps before you want to do the downward transition, do three of four half-halts. IN the rhythm of the trot, use a light leg aid to encourage the horse to reach further underneath the body with his hind legs. Then go like this: half-halt, half-halt, half-halt. The half-halt comes mainly from your back and seat, followed by light squeezes from your already closed hands. Brace your lower back and seat against the trot movement. If you are posting in your trot, do the bracing when you sit in the saddle.
2. Walk With Your Seat
Immediately after the half-halt, sit into the walk. Your seat should resist any more trot movement, but also change its rhythm to a walk rhythm. Once your horse knows to expect the change in your seat, he will easily switch his legs to a walk when he feels the walk from your seat.
At this point, if you think using a voice cue would be beneficial, use a low, calming tone to "walk". At some point, though, you want to see if your horse is responding to your riding aids rather than just the voice.
3. Follow Through
If he still goes through your seat and half-halt aids, momentarily close your legs and knees to support the bracing from your back. Push down into your stirrups.
As a last resort, use the reins. But keep in mind that...
Every pull backwards on the reins prevents the horse's hind legs from reaching underneath the body.
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But there is more to it.
The ideal transition should simply and easily flow from one gait to the other.
4. Just One More Thing...
Many horses tend to "flop" into the downward transition. Some horses fall heavily to the forehand and eventually change gaits; others simply like to quit. Those are the horses that lurch into the walk, with little effort put into supporting their weight from the hind end.
Ideally, the energy should continue at the same level, irrespective of the gait. So whether the horse is trotting or walking, there should be the same amount of fluidity to the movement.
To ensure continued movement, don't stop your seat when the horse breaks to the walk. Add enough leg aid to keep the energy flowing forward.
Instead, without skipping a beat, swing your seat from the trot into the walk, within the movement of one horse stride. Go with the same commitment and flow as the trot. Encourage with your leg aids if needed, and expect your horse to switch just as easily from the trot to the walk.
Don't be discouraged if you can't get it right away. Instead, practice the "flow" at every opportunity and soon enough, you'll notice that your horse isn't getting stuck in his downward transitions. Then, be sure to pat him to thank him for his efforts!
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