Transitions, transitions, transitions

Transitions, transitions, transitions

If location is key to real estate success, then the most useful training exercises available to every rider are transitions, transitions, transitions. I know I’ve written about transitions before, but I’ve been working with Zelda this spring, getting her back in shape, working on her balance and asking her to work more sharply off my leg. It’s tough with a horse that’s as long as a school bus, but she’s getting the idea.

Zelda is long. She has a long neck and a long back. It makes it harder to collect her.

Zelda pretends that she can’t collect. There’s so much distance between her ears and her tail she tells me it’s way too hard for her to step under herself, lift her forehand and use those massive set of haunches.

The problem is, I know she can do it. Out in the hunt field she becomes a bouncy as a super ball. She can canter almost in place. And she is never heavy on her forehand. She just needs to remember that it’s possible to do all that while in the ring!

What can transitions do?

Want your horse to be more balanced? Ride transitions.

This horse is very balanced, stepping underneath himself and using his back.
This horse is very balanced, stepping underneath himself and using his back.

Need to strengthen your horse’s hind end? Ride transitions.

Trying to get your horse off its forehand? Ride transitions.

Teaching obedience? Ride transitions.

Want to improve your horse’s trot or canter? Ride transitions.

Here’s the trick, though. You need to ride them correctly. I never realized how difficult a transition could be until I started riding with a dressage trainer. Suddenly I realized all of my inadequacies. I could not guarantee a transition at a specific letter. A couple of strides before, or a couple of strides after? No problem. Nor were my transitions well balanced. Sometimes my horse would fall into a downward transition with a plunk. The concept of riding forward into a downward transition was completely foreign to me. It never occurred to me that I needed to put my leg on to keep my horse active behind.

Our upward transitions weren’t much better. Instead of rising into the next gait, powered from behind, more often than not my horse would pull himself forward by raising his head and hollowing his back.

It was a humbling experience. I had to rethink my riding strategies and relearn how to ride my horse from back to front but the change was significant. My horse developed new muscles. Good muscles. After a few months, he had a top line and his overdeveloped under neck had receded. His gaits were more elastic and balanced. He looked like a different horse.

Now Zelda and I are on the same trajectory.

Transitions, transitions, transitions
This is a good exercise from POW Equestrian. While walking on a small circle, move off at a trot and go on a wider half circle. Go back to walk on a small circle. This exercise is great to gain later balance and engage the inside hind leg. It’s important to do this exercise calmly without rushing the transitions or creating tension in the horse. Use light aids and your voice if needed as well. Lots of praise when your horse tries.

The lesson of transitions is one that I use daily. Every time I ride I think about the integrity of my transitions. Did my horse step up into the next gait from behind? Was her back up and swinging? If not, I start again. I’ll ride 10 trot strides then walk three strides. I’ll do walk/canter transitions changing leads each time. This gets my horse listening and thinking about going forward.

I also ride transitions within each gait. I think of them as surges. If we’re trotting or cantering, I slow my horse down (while keeping her active) then push her forward, asking her to lengthen her stride. Each time you ask for a transition you encourage your horse to step under herself, engage her hind end and round her back. You’ll see the benefits before you know it.

3 thoughts on “Transitions, transitions, transitions

  1. With your list of all the things riding transitions can be good for, you remind me of all the things I suck at.

    Worst of all? I suck at transitions.

    I think I’ll take up knitting.

    Want to read a Tao of Knitting blog?

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