Active, balanced transitions are among the most fundamental parts of riding. Transitions are like a pass in hockey, a volley to your teammate in volleyball, or the skate-up to a jump in figure skating. Without a good transition, the horse will be unable to balance into the next movement, no matter how hard he scrambles after the fact.
On week one of our Focus on Transitions, we're going to focus on walk/trot/walk transitions as well as left/right changes of direction.
I'll go over the aids for both the up and down transitions and then you'll get our exercise of the week. We'll also go through the three types of transitions. All three types can be included in our exercise. Please feel free to let me know how things go in the comments at the bottom of the page.
Walk-Trot-Walk Transition, Change of Direction and Change of Circle Size (Bend)
Due to the 10m circle, this exercise is suitable for horses and riders with some previous training. You can simplify it for young horses or beginner riders by working on 20m circles only.
- Beginning of topline use
- Beginning lateral suppleness
- Maintenance of rhythm through the changes
- Accuracy of circle size, 20m and 10m
The walk-trot-walk transition is a basic movement but don't be fooled by its simplicity! Many horses, trained or not, have difficulty managing a balanced, energetic transition in these gaits. We will work on the preparation to each transition to help develop impulsion to, through and after each gait change.
Change of direction and circle size is also added in this exercise to help the horse (and rider) develop a beginning level of suppleness and balance.
Please note that these are general aids that do not necessarily resolve specific problems.*
Trot Transition From the Walk
Start with a good walk.
Prepare to trot.
Start with a good walk.
As in, don't just drag your horse into the trot. Get a good march, preferably on a large circle with a mild bend. Establish a strong walk rhythm before heading into a trot.
Prepare to trot.
Use a mild half-halt two or three strides before the transition. Keep the strong, forward walk footfalls right to the transition (as in, don't allow the horse to slow down or conversely, speed up the last couple of strides).
Start with your seat. Trot in your seatbones.
Add legs - even pressure on both sides. Use as little as you need, but as much as you need.
Maintain your rein length.
Don't get left behind when the horse trots off. Do you best to not pull back on the reins through the transition (we all do this even subconsciously). However, also do your best to not let the reins out during the transition. We also do this when we're trying to not pull!
After the legs change, ask for a couple of steps of increased impulsion. This might sound counter-intuitive until you realize that the horse should have increased energy to allow the hind legs to come deeper underneath the body just as the trot is beginning. Let the horse give you this slight energy surge and ride it through. Don't block with your hands through this moment.
This is like the icing on the cake. In order to help your horse maintain balance through the gait change, you still need to "recycle" the energy back to the hind end. Some horses need very slight half-halts (maybe even just from a little finger squeezing on the reins) while others need a true rebalancing from the seat. You might even have to adjust your half-halt strength in different times for the same horse. Again, stick to the same rule - use as little strength as you need but as much as you need.
Walk Transition From the Trot
Start with a good trot.
Prepare to walk.
You might be noticing a pattern in the transition aids.
The down transition aids are pretty much the same as the up transition aids. I won't repeat everything I already said above for the walk/trot transition, but all the explanations would be the same - just with opposite gaits.
Use your seat the same way (switch from trot to walk), use your half-halts in the same way, and use the Step #4 "Go" the same way, after your horse is walking. Do use your leg aids as you prepare to walk. Keep your legs on in the transition.
What you shouldn't do is use your reins to pull your way into the walk. Half-halts should do nicely and then your seat can take over from there.
We'll start with a variation on regular figure eights.
This first diagram is drawn on a large 20x60 metre ring. The second diagram is drawn for a smaller, 20x40m ring. Unless you're using these exercises for show preparation, the size of your ring doesn't matter as much as the accuracy and consistency in size of your circles.
Let's say you are starting the exercise at C, going left.
Start with a 20-m circle to the left, at the trot.
You will go around the circle one and a half times. So, you start at C but finish on the opposite end of the circle at #1.
Transition to the next circle to the right. The catch here is that the right circle is going to be half the size of the left circle: only 10m.
Go around that circle one and a half times to #2.
Transition to the next 20m circle, going left again until you get to #3.
Finish with a 10m circle going right.
At the end of the pattern, continue on the rail going in the same direction as the last circle (right). This will take you back to C, going to the right.
You can run through the pattern 4 times to practice each side twice.
There are three types of transitions in this pattern.
Each circle requires a change of direction. The repeated left and right changes will help to supple your horse laterally. Remember to use your inside seat and leg aid in preparation of the new direction.
The change in circle size helps your horse bend more on the smaller circle, thus requiring a deeper stride from the inside hind leg. Then the next large circle allows the horse to use that increased engagement into a more forward, powerful stride using a smaller bend. See if you can develop a steady tempo in both the large and small circles.
Once you have a good handle on the figure, add gait changes within the circles. Start at the trot and do a walk transition at each midpoint of the circle. You can make it easier for your horse by walking 5 strides. Or you can increase the level of difficulty by limiting the walk to only 3 strides. Just make sure that you do get a walk, and that the walk is at a good marching pace. Then go back to the trot.
Try this exercise a few times this week and see what you think. Does it help your horse develop better suppleness left and right? Do the 10m circles encourage your horse to lighten the front end a bit? Do you run into any problems through any of the transitions? Let us know in the comments below.
If you liked this exercise, there are more in the works in our Practice Sessions series. Click here for more details and an exclusive pre-launch price offer just for Horse Listening readers.
Disclaimer: Use this as a guideline but you might need your instructor to respond to your individual needs. By using information on this site, you agree and understand that you are fully responsible for your progress, results and safety. We offer no representations, warranties or guarantees verbally or in writing regarding your improvement or your horse's response or results of any kind. Always use the information on this site with a view toward safety for both you and your horse. Use your common sense when around horses.
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Read more on transitions and circles here
The Five Stages Of A Transition: Whether you are working on upward transitions or downward, progressive or non-progressive, there are certain aspects to look for in every well executed gait change.
7 Essential Aids For An Epic Canter Transition: At some point in your riding path, you realize that the canter departure doesn’t have to resemble a rocket launch.
How The "Not Canter" Can Drastically Improve Your Transitions: What needs to be changed is the pattern of asking – the horse needs to be shown how to be calm and confident in the canter departure.
Drawing A Circle (In Sand): Perhaps ironically, one of the most effective ways to develop better straight lines is to ride a correct circle.
What Is A Neck Bend? And What To Do About It: The neck bend causes the horse to be imbalanced. No matter which movement he performs, his neck is essentially taken out of the equation and the horse moves out of straightness.