transition
Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

This one is good for the horses that tend to "suck back" before transitions and/or "run out" after the transitions.

There are transitions and then there are Transitions. The good ones are precise, strong and balanced. They are so clear and easily done that it looks like the rider didn't do anything. The horse stays round, energetic and bold. The gait change is matter-of-fact, easy. In fact, good transitions are critical for a seamless, harmonized ride.

The opposite is easily obvious to the onlooker. Poorly executed transitions are sluggish and slow to develop. The horse seems to labor through the transition, the rider has to use obvious aids and still it takes time to get the gait change. The horse hollows his back, falls further to the forehand and maybe stumbles or runs through the rider's aids. The rider might struggle to keep balance through the lurches until the gait change finally happens.

For the purposes of this exercise, the word "transition" can mean several changes:

- upward or downward progressive transitions (walk to trot, canter to trot)

- upward or downward non-progressive transitions (walk to canter, trot to halt)

- change of direction (trot from the left to the right)

- straight line to turn (change of direction across the diagonal to a left turn into the corner)



Exercise

We often talk about it but we often forget to actually do it. Every transition can benefit from it. There is nothing more important for it.

What is it?

Energy. Impulsion. Oomph.

It actually sounds simple. All you need to do is ask for a little more energy before and after the transition. Let's try it with a progressive, upward transition.

Let's say you are trotting to the left and want to pick up a canter after the next corner. This is a good way to encourage a young horse to canter as the horse sees all the space ahead of him as he comes out of the corner.

As you approach the corner, you feel your horse slow down momentarily. This is quite normal, especially if you are riding in an indoor arena - the horse backs off a bit when he's faced with the walls that appear to come at him. A more trained horse understands that he is going to turn through the corner and have the long side ahead.

Your "oomph" moment occurs a few strides before the transition.

  1. Use both your legs for energy and lighten your seat to allow the energy over the back.
  2. Then do a small half-halt before asking for the gait change.
  3. Ask for the canter.
  4. Once the horse is cantering, ask for another energy surge.
  5. Use another half-halt afterward to not allow the horse to just run out from under you.

You see what I mean. It's basically like you are strengthening both your body (in terms of tone and energy) and your horse's movement as you go into and out of the transition. 

Done well, there will be no obvious lurch or energy surge. In fact, the remarkable result will be that it looks like nothing happened at all, except a fluidity of movement, a calm, relaxed tempo, lack of conflict and confident, bold movement. Think connection, steady, consistency.

The reason this happens is that the horse won't slow every few strides, won't break stride and have to change gait again and won't have to go through the resultant imbalances. The rider won't kick the horse every few strides, won't wait for the gait change and then have to recover and won't be lurches in the saddle again and again.

At first, it might seem like you're asking for energy many times before and after the transition. You're right - you probably are! It will take time for you and your horse to become accustomed to the amount of energy it takes to move freely through the many changes we require over the course of a ride. After a while, it simply becomes second nature to prepare and complete all changes this way. Once you get used to doing it yourself, your horse will likely be right there with you with no hint of suck back or run out. Because as you know, all riding problems start and end with the rider! 

Next time you ride, give this a try. Those five steps above happen very quickly in rapid succession, so prepare ahead of time and know what you're going to do before you go through with it. Maybe have someone on the ground to help be your eyes and tell you how the horse looks to, through and after the transition. 

How did it go? Let us know in the comments below.

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More related reading here:

Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides Of Energy Might Solve Your Horse Riding Problem:  It can help to straighten the horse. It can resolve “behavior” issues. It can even help to reduce tension in the horse’s body.

Can You Recognize the Sewing-Machine Trot? It is easy to get fooled into thinking that the sewing-machine trot is a good trot.

Interpreting the Half-Halt: This topic is a tricky one but here is a shot at it.

What Do Leg Aids Mean? Instead of relying on them only to get the horse to move his legs faster or transition to a new gait, we might discover more involved messages that can be given with a sophisticated leg aid.

How to ‘Flow” From the Trot to Walk: 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.

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