To develop suppleness, engagement, balance and obedience; to help your horse achieve self-carriage try riding him ‘on and back’ by asking him for a few lengthened strides before asking him to come back to his working pace and repeating it several times in a session (transitions).
In the early stages of your training all transitions can be progressive, but most benefit will be gained if your horse is sharp from the leg and goes straight into the new gait with one tap of the leg.
Don’t let your horse fall onto his forehand in the transition. Think ‘ UP ‘ on the transition down and again don’t let the horse fall onto his forehand.
Ride a half halt and use the power you have created to engage the hindquarters. You will then be swapping / exchanging forward momentum for elevation. And once again, think ‘up’.
Here’s what to do … the key exercise for developing uphill balance is shoulder fore. This is an exercise that helps develops straightness and also helps your horse to carry himself.
Walk straight down the long side; at B or E make a 10-meter circle, the bend on the circle positions the shoulders slightly to the inside, as it needs to be for shoulder-fore. Maintain the bend as you complete the circle and walk the next few strides on the rail in shoulder-fore: your horses hind feet on the track and his front feet slightly displaced to the inside, use the outside rein ONLY to balance him.
Maintain tempo and rhythm at all times!
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster
Transitions are the key to …
- building the hind end muscles
- developing better balance
- maintaining rhythm
- teaching horses to be ‘hot off the leg’
- paradoxically – relaxing the horse
- getting the horse supple
- maintaining suppleness in your horse
- aiding obedience
- teaching collection
- teaching extension
- ensuring lightness
- winning marks in your test
- developing harmony
- helping the development of the ‘top line’ muscles
- engaging the hind quarters
- executing a square halt
- keeping your horse attentive
- developing accuracy
and much, much more!
What to do? …
Put much effort into your transitions, do them well, do lots of them. Remember you must have forward impulsion in your upward transitions and you must use your seat and legs in the downward transitions.
The old masters taught that all training occurs in transitions and as I have advocated many times, without doubt, transitions can be used to improve balance, suppleness and obedience. But correct transitions are not easy.
Today I am looking at downward transitions and here’s the thing, you know that I do like to keep things simple, but I am about to perplex you for which I apologise …
I have received a message from a ‘Real Life Rider’ who is “struggling with a green horse curling at any contact and getting anxious and rushy when asked to rebalance and slow the tempo”.
Maintenance of the contact or for your horse to ‘accept the bit’ she must have total trust and be relaxed with your hands (via the reins) in the mouth. To truly have a horse on the bit or to have your horse accept the bit will take many months of hard and sometimes frustrating work.
Curling, or over-bending is the lesser of the evils associate with bad contact. You must keep your horse going forward and as you say work on the tempo. However, don’t be tempted to slow too much with a horse that over-bends; much better that you stay forward, even TOO forward initially until the curling is sorted. Slowing will just settle the horse into a false sense of security and will be more difficult to deal with.
So, send her forward and give forward slightly with the rein from the elbow. If she leans or pulls – work on transitions. You should, as soon as possible, take a light but positive contact with the reins.
You should work on short bursts of hard work. Take up the contact, send her forward, be real steady in your hands, hold her in position, work the arena to keep her thinking and then, back to walk and drop the contact to the buckle end allowing her to stretch.
If she has worked hard enough her nose will hit the floor! This will start to build the top line and musculature she needs to hold herself in the contact.
If your horse pulls on the reins in an effort to go faster, then you should do many (and I really mean many) downward transitions and repeatedly give and re-take the reins. This will encourage balance and rhythm on a lighter contact.
Use the exercise of spiralling in and out of a circle laterally. i.e. Making the circle smaller, say 10 meters, with the outside leg, then make the circle bigger, say 20 meters, from the inside leg and a soft or giving inside rein.
Change the rein often.
When you feel your horse has stopped pulling on the inside rein, use your inside hand with the inside rein to stroke your horse’s neck. This has two benefits.
- Firstly it rewards the horse for not pulling on the inside rein.
- Secondly it will prove to you that you do not need the inside rein to bend or turn your horse.
If you are struggling with contact issues, enter the word ‘contact’ into the search at the top of the page and you will get all my posts relating to this issue.
Here to help!
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster
A Facebook comment has prompted this short post on how to improve the canter to walk transition.
Question: I can get walk to canter easily, but cant get a relaxed canter to walk, any tips?
Your horse needs to carry much more of his own weight onto his hind legs and your weight also, into a forward transition to walk. He will find it tricky if he has not built up sufficient strength gradually over a period of time.
To help your horse develop the strength and balance to perform crisp canter-to-walk transitions, perform the exercise on a large circle.
In this instance, good very much begets good. You will not get a good walk unless you have a good canter. The canter should be relaxed and forward before you ask for the walk transition.
If the transition is rushed, walk until you are happy with the quality of the walk, only then ask for the canter.
Repeat the process, with the goal of shortening the interval between transitions. At first it might take several circles of the canter before you are ready to ask for the walk and vice-versa. It will also take several weeks of working on this exercise for a few minutes during each ride, before you will have built the horses strength to be able to consistently canter a half circle and walk a half circle.
For you it is a matter of ensuring that you are using your core strength to hold yourself up and keep out of your horse’s way whilst he does what is asked of him in the transitions. Often riders collapse through the middle which shifts their weight and centre of balance forward, hindering the horse’s ability to sit.
But at least you don’t have to carry his weight too! Be patient, it will come.
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster
This post was sponsored by:
Real Life Rider Question: My struggle at the moment is how I can get my horse off her forehand. Any exercises / tips gratefully received.
Response : Sometimes I see …
- horses on the forehand (O.T.F.) because the rider is allowing him to get support from leaning on the reins. This is the first point to check.
- the rider actually putting the horse onto the forehand by driving so much with the legs and seat in the hopes that the horse will engage. Are you under this misconception?
- a lazy horse in need of geeing up!
Whatever I am looking at the answer lies in transitions and the effective half-halt.
As always … lots of Transitions
I am a big advocate of transitions and their influence on the horses way of going. So, how many will help in this exercise? well …. at least 6 transitions per lap of the arena!
Once the horse starts to respond to the upward/downward questions of the transitions – even anticipates a little – he will already be less O.T.F.
The upward transition should be crisp and immediate. No compromises. Do not accept a sloppy transition by doing so you are allowing your horse to be O.T.F.
The Effective Half Halt
Think about the half-halt as a balancing aid and use the half-halt before you ask your horse to do anything.
The half halt is a very important influence in making your horse obedient, balanced and up in his way of going. Yet becoming skilled in the half-halt is Sooooooo difficult and I am yet to find a simple explanation as to how it can be achieved.
I have attempted an explanation, but for me it is still far too complicated … I will work on it and come up with something for you, I promise – It is my quest, to communicate the half-halt – crystal clear!!!!!!
So, firstly all of the following happens in a fraction of a second and you need to be very, very subtle.
The Seat Element of the half halt.
- Move your tailbone (coccyx) forward while keeping your lower back flat and straight.
- Your crotch or pubic arc presses forward to the pommel.
The Hand Element of the half-halt.
- Your fingers should be relaxed when holding the reins ordinarily, closed but relaxed – now, in the half-halt, close your ring finger on the outside hand a little more.
- As the horse feels your resisting hand he should back off the bit slightly.
- Instantly reward – relax the ring finger.
The Leg Element of the half-halt.
- Close your legs gently and momentarily, asking for forwardness.
Remember to be steady in the hand. The goal is to train your horse to expect a request from you (change of rein, transition, change of bend). Developing communication with your horse through half-halts will assist any balance issues enormously.
So for me the half-halt is a combination of seat/hand/leg co-ordination, which tells the horse, I’m going to ask you something different and it asks the horse to slow, momentarily and go forward (stop and go all at once) thereby helping to transfer his weight to his hindquarters.
Hope this helps, if you need any further motivation select School Exercises from the Category list on the sidebar.
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster
Real Life Rider Question #4.
Here we have a Crystal System subscriber who struggling to keep a consistent outline with her horse coming behind the vertical or poking his nose slightly, another very familiar problem which raises its ugly head, time and time again! (no pun intended – well, it was intended actually, lol!)
Thing is, when our real life rider gets the magic spot … keeping it is a problem.
I have had a number of questions about consistent contact. It’s a problem. It is what is known as a back to front problem and can escalate and create more issues such as gait changes (working to medium trot) becoming difficult, movements are downhill instead of uphill and the horse begins to lean or back off the leg.
Too much focus on the reins makes you a ‘front to back’ rider. Swapping your thinking will solve a multitude of problems.
Want to eliminate 80% of your problems?
If there were a one size fits all solution and I could just pinpoint one thing that would assist every rider it would be forwardness.
Having your horse forward quite simply erases 80% of all issues! fact! (bold I know, but I need you to understand this)
To achieve a consistent contact, we should shift our focus to forwardness and do everything we can to drive the horse’s engine (which is in the hind quarters). Remaining focussed on this and removing the focus from the front is the starting point for consistency in the outline.
Keep the reins soft, following and steady, do not pull back.
Quick Tip: On a circle, if you drive your horse forward with determination, maintain the bend with the inside leg, but at the same time hold the outside rein, your horse has no choice but to become round. If he drops behind the vertical push him forward, up into the contact and give, very slightly with the fingers and then DO NOTHING!
You must resist fiddling, vibrating, tweaking. You must simply hold the reins in place and allow the horse to find the contact. This will take practice. Only make adjustments if things change, then go back to doing nothing.
A word of caution – you should have a contact, you should be able to feel the bit, do not think you have a light contact if you can’t feel anything – you don’t – what you have is NO contact, which frankly is a bad thing.
Want to eliminate 80% of your horse’s problems?
If there were one size fits all solution and I could pinpoint one thing that would assist every horse it would be transitions.
Incorporating countless transitions into your work will benefit you and your horse in many, many ways. So, check that you are in a back to front mindset and begin the use of the transitions to start the horses engine.
For example, in the walk to trot transition, when you ask the horse to trot, you should feel the horse respond easily to the leg aid by engaging his hind, accepting your seat by lifting his back and continuing to step under his belly towards the hand and UP into trot.
If the horse keeps his neck round (his nose can be slightly in front of the vertical) the energy created will flow, allowing you to feel as though there is a support behind your back and seat and lightness in your hand.
To summarise, work on getting your horse forward, be still in your hand and use many transitions to engage the engine.
For a horse that is not used to being round, moving from his hind end through his back will cause him to use completely different muscles than he is used to. After the exercise, give the horse the buckle end of the reins and allow him to stretch. Like us, he will most likely be a bit sore the next day and will need time to build up the correct muscles. Be patient.
For more great posts about contact you can select ‘contact’ from the sidebar section “Topics I’m interested in …”
The canter depart or strike off can be a real sticking point for some riders. In the third of our Real Life Rider Series, the rider is struggling with correct canter lead. In my experience this is a very, very common problem, although those who have it seem to think that everyone else can canter perfectly well and they are the only ones struggling!
Thanks for the question. I hope my response will aid a good many fellow equestrians.
The first thing to note is that it is almost certainly the rider that is creating the issues and recognising this is a huge step to correcting the problem.
So, here we are with a problem to solve, the solution may not be pretty; it may not be how you would want to ride in a test situation; it will – without doubt – be something that you will do for the fix and then forget.
Here goes … firstly let’s look at the trot prior to the canter depart.
- You should go for a strong contact. Have the horse up in your hands, have the trot really forward but feel the contact a little more than usual, keep half-halting in the trot until you feel that the horse is putting in some effort and maybe even a little strong, create the circle of energy that you need to have full control of your horse.
- When you are happy that you have a forward trot that feels a little more ‘UP’ than usual you are ready to ask for the depart.
- When you ask for Canter, you can do it anywhere. Be very, very subtle about it. Inside leg on, outside leg sweeps back gently. Because you may be leaning and tensing, don’t think asking on the corner or circle is better, indeed it is not if you are leaning.
- Under no circumstances drop the contact. You are trying to help your horse balance himself with you on board during the transition. It is not fair to him to abandon the contact and say – ok do it all yourself!
- You need to help the horse by lifting the hand slightly (an inch maybe), sitting well back in your seat – leaning back is better than forward, look to the skies, hold the contact – half halt (I’m going to ask you something different) and ask for the canter.
- Then wait. Don’t start pushing with your seat, leaning forward, shoving the hands forward, and willing him with every fibre of your body to go, just sit up and wait.
- If it does not happen, back to trot and try again, rebalance the trot (do not allow the horse to run) if you need to back up your leg with a tap from the whip, so be it.
I cannot emphasise enough the “Think Up into Canter” UP, UP, UP – say it as you do it. It’s difficult to lean forward, look down etc., if you are saying “UP into Canter” to yourself. Shoulders back, give the horse space to bring his hind legs under him, lift his forehand and make a strike off.
Lots of praise in the form of voice when he gets it and enjoy the feeling you get, soak it up, you will have many more of them, but this is the first – it’s special, you need to remember it so that you can make it a habit. Do not pat to reward – you can’t afford to give away the contact!
My young horse will strike off on incorrect left lead if I’m sloppy! It’s her way of telling me to put in more effort.
So, you have this great canter transition sorted, but the horse won’t stay in canter. He won’t stay “in front of the leg”.
Again look to yourself to see what it is about your position that is causing this problem. You are probably leaning forward and you may have tension in your legs. When the horse backs off or comes back to trot without you asking you will need to make the transition to canter again, and whilst the brain is saying if you lean forward and shove your hands forward and push with your seat the horse will respond with forward (it would if you were a cowboy and wanted to gallop, heck why not go all the way stand up in your stirrups and shout Yee-Hah! – please resist this!).
Sit still, no pushing, sit softly and relax the legs. Sit up with your pelvis forward. It might feel odd but have a look at how Cart Hester sits. He encourages his belly button forward – this will engage your back muscles so you will know the next day if you have done it correctly!
Other stuff to consider to aid the Trot to Canter Transition (Canter Depart)
- You may need work with no stirrups, or work on the lunge so that any balance issues can be resolved.
- It is so easy for me to say relax – but that is what you must do. If you can’t relax your legs and have them entirely independent of your upper body, you should get help to learn how. Maybe someone could lunge you, in canter, preferably without stirrups – but one step at a time eh?
- If you could get someone just to have you on a lunge line but not actually lunge the horse and you ‘do the work’ i.e. ask for canter when you know you have no option but to remain on a circle it might do the trick.
- One more exercise – Turn on the forehand. Establish this exercise with your horse to engage the hind quarters. Then you can do this before you ask for the canter and he will definitely be more engaged and freer behind.
- Finally – walk to canter. The best way to find out if you’re aids are correct for canter is to do walk to canter. Don’t forget, think UP and from a forward walk, ask for canter. Exactly as above, say the words “Canter” that your horse associates with lunging.
- With the horse that will not maintain the canter, say the words “canter, canter, canter” as go along, this is partly the purpose of lunging the young horse, to associate the words with the actions so that you can use them when training.
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster
Are you enjoying the Real Life Rider Series? You might want to take a look at THE BOOK …
So, today we worked on teaching my young horse Trot Extensions and the essence of the matter is preparation.
The corner before the extension, assuming you are making the extensions across the diagonal is absolutely vital. It should be forward, balanced and primed.
- Half halt, make sure you have a good bend and use the corner well
- After the corner, half halt again to let your horse know something different is about to happen (a transition into extended trot)
- Sit up and apply your leg aids – BOTH – gently and off again, whilst giving A LITTLE with the rein, from the elbow.
- Remember you are not aiming to go faster, just longer strides so don’t give away the contact. The Horse should have a consistent contact so that he/she doesn’t run and simply lengthens the stride.
- In the early days, talk to your horse – Tell them to trot on as if you were lunging, this will help to stop them going into canter
Allow it to happen.
Expect it to happen.
Feel it happening.
And when it does, lots of praise to reaffirm the horse is doing good.
Patricia – The Dressage Tipster