Last week, we started with three forms of transitions: change of direction (bend), change of gait (walk-trot-walk) and change of circle size (20m and 10m circles). The idea was to negotiate those changes as smoothly and balanced as possible through the circle exercise.
This week, we're going to work on straight lines moving to a circle back to a straight line. In general, straight lines are even harder to do well than bends because true straightness means being equally able on both the left and right sides. Both horse and rider must become straight even on turn lines or bends, but on a straight line, lack of straightness is easily evident.
Walk-Trot-Canter-Trot-Walk Transition, Straight Line to 15-m Circle, Counter Canter
Although we are still working on progressive transitions (up and down transitions that occur in order of gaits), this exercise is somewhat more challenging than Week One. You can accommodate for young/untrained horses or beginner riders as indicated at the bottom.
- Straight line to bend or circle
- Accuracy of 15-m circle
- Maintenance of rhythm through all changes
This time, we are going to transition between all three gaits, upward and downward. See the specific aids for a walk to trot and trot to walk transition in last week's article.
I'm including a detailed analysis of the trot-canter aids as well as the canter-trot aids below. Scroll down to the exercise if you are already familiar with the trot-canter and canter-trot aids.
I'm reprinting the trot to canter aids from my previous article, 7 Essential Aids For An Epic Canter Transition. I feel there is sufficient detail in this description to give you a good idea for the upward transition.
1. It All Starts With the Seat
Well, we already know this. But how does the seat exactly play into the transition? First off, your seat should be trotting when the horse is trotting. So if you are sitting the trot, your seat bones are actually moving in the rhythm of the trot. Be sure to promote a strong but not fast rhythm – one that your horse finds easy to move in while remaining supple.
If you are posting the trot, sit the last few strides before the canter. Use your seat to draw up the horse’s hind legs, asking for more impulsion.
2. Use the Inside Leg/Outside Rein
The inside leg has a very important job in this moment. Apply the whole leg (from ankle up) at the girth to ask the horse for a mild bend to prepare for the inside lead. If your horse has a tendency to lean in just before the transition, your inside leg becomes even more critical in helping the horse maintain balance by not allowing him to drop his rib cage toward the middle of the ring.
The outside rein does little except to act as a “neck rein” – the one that sits onto the horse’s neck and prevents him from drifting to the outside. It also can work during the half-halt aids before and after the departure.
3. Half Halt Preparation
Do one or two or three half-halts before the transition. We often tend to “throw everything away” (as in, lengthen the reins, take the legs off the horse, fall to the horse’s front) as we head into the gait change. Fight that impulse and instead, keep the horse together. Falling to the forehand and trotting faster before the canter almost always ensures a low-quality canter gait. Although the horse might transition, he will likely be on the forehand, braced in his neck and jaw and hollow in his back.
Instead, after you ask for impulsion, half-halt the horse to balance his weight to the hind end. Keep your legs on for impulsion.
4. Use the Outside Leg – Ask For the Lead
The outside leg initiates the lead. Some people call it a “windshield wiper” motion: swing your lower leg behind the girth to ask for the first stride. The horse’s outside hind leg should strike off into the lead as your leg reaches back.
5. Canter With Your Seat
So far, your seat should have been trotting. Now, it needs to initiate the transition. So you go from two seat bones moving in tandem with the horse in the trot, to a canter motion with the inside seat bone leading (to allow for the horse to take the inside lead). Your seat now needs to promote the canter movement – swinging back and forth thanks to your supple lower back. Keep your shoulders fairly still by moving through your back. The swinging movement allows for the illusion of your shoulders staying still while the horse is moving.
6. Use the Half-Halt Again
Just because the horse is now in canter doesn’t mean that you should stop riding! Many of us tend to freeze in our aids, opting instead to just hang on to the increased movement of the canter. Well, as soon as you have enough balance and are able, go to riding actively again.
Half-halt – once, twice, three times maybe – in the rhythm of the canter. This helps the horse to stay “together” after the transition. The sudden surge of energy needs to be controlled so that it doesn’t just fall on the horse’s shoulders and forehand.
7. Canter on!
Now all you have to do is commit to the horse’s movement. Your seat should allow the movement that your horse offers, and it’s your job to not let your upper body fall forward/backward/sideways while your seat follows, follows and follows (unless you do another half-halt).
The aids for this downward transition are similar to the upward transition aids.
Your seat should be in canter mode at this time. However, you can use a resisting seat aid in tandem with your upcoming half-halts to prepare for the downward transition.
This half-halt can start with the seat and be followed up with the hands if necessary. I've tried to describe the various versions of half-halts in this article, Where Does Your Half-Halt Start? Here Are Four Suggestions. Use your leg aids at this moment to help keep your horse's energy flowing forward even through the downward change of gait.
Now, your seat should be in trot. If your horse "drops" heavily into the downward transition, be sure to use your leg aids to urge him to press on in trot. Ideally, his first few trot steps should be strong and energetic.
You should also be there right on top of him, ready to move boldly forward into the trot. Don't get left behind or jolted out of your saddle. You can go into a posting trot or continue sitting if you are able.
We are usually taught to pull the horse into the downward transition, especially as new riders. Once you can reliably get the change of gait, start to work away from pulling at all for a downward transition.
The half-halts should be adequate to prepare your horse for the transition, and then to establish the trot. See if you can maintain an even pressure with your reins. Avoid both extremes - throwing them away or pulling back.
This exercise can be done in a large or small ring. It is drawn here using the letters of the large ring for easier reference.
Start on the right rein at E, at a good, strong, marching walk.
Transition at S to trot.
Do a "good" corner before heading to C, still in trot.
Transition at C to canter. Do a 15-metre circle. Be sure to stay off the rail through the whole circle. Use your outside aids to guide the horse on the circle.
Continue to the corner, still in canter.
Complete the corner and head on a diagonal line from M to V, still in right lead canter.
Continue in right lead canter from V to K. This requires the horse to maintain a counter canter for a few strides just before the trot transition.
Trot at K. Head into the corner at trot.
Finish the second corner and transition to walk. Finish the exercise in walk to B.
Now, if you like, you can continue the same exercise on the opposite rein starting at B. If not, go back and do it again from E.
If you have a young or untrained horse, or a beginner rider, you can make a few changes that will help them be successful. Take the transition in the corners instead of at the letters on the rails. The corners help the horse maintain balance better. You can make the circle a 20-metre circle, which will help the horse that needs more room. You can also trot the diagonal line rather than negotiate it in canter/counter-canter.
Try this exercise a few times this week. Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions, suggestions or accomplishments that you would like to share.
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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.
17 Things I Have Learned While Developing My Seat: I’ve harped on riding from your seat before (see the links at the end of this article), but thinking back, here are the stages I went through as I progressed.
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.
The Benefits of Cantering Round And Round The Ring: Here is something to practice: if you think your horse is fit enough, go ahead and give this a try. After an adequate warm-up, head into the canter. And don’t stop.