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Answering your questions on transitions

So last week we did a whole training article around transitions, and we covered a lot! From the different types of transitions and what the aids are, to what the judges are looking for when we do them in a test. So there was a lot of information packed into that article and i wanted to give you a bit of time to mull it all over, try a few things out with your horse and needless to say you all have some questions so i thought it would be great to go through a few questions i had off the back of that article as well as a few questions i had from Facebook and Instagram. There are loads of exercises packed into this one so if you are struggling with your transitions, want to know how to make your transitions better or want to know a few different exercises you can try in your own schooling sessions then keep on reading!

"Hi Jess, i loved your episode on transitions, its come at a great time for me as i recently went competing and got 4s for all my trot-walk transitions as being too sudden. The judges weren't being harsh, in fact i think they were actually quite generous to award me a 4 for what can only be described as a 'collapse into a heap from trot' transition. So my question is, how do i go about teaching my horse that i want a 'smooth like butter transition from trot to walk' like you say rather than a 'collapse and fall into a soggy mess' transition?" From Stacey

Firstly, the description of the transitions is fantastic! I think we all aspire to have the 'smooth like butter' transition rather than a 'collapse into a soggy mess' transition. So how do we go from soggy to smooth? Ultimately, the problem comes from the fact that your horse takes over a little bit. When we get the smooth transition our horses hold themselves up a little bit more, they stay balanced by themselves because they sit on their hindlegs and almost make this steady progressing from trot to a steadier trot into a walk. Compare that then to the really sudden transition and it probably feels a bit like your horse throws his weight forward and the transition happens really quickly. So we've got to do 3 things: we've got to get your horse doing the transition in a bit more of a balanced, on the hindleg way, we've got to let that transition take a little bit longer to happen and we've got to teach our horses that they perhaps dont know what were asking for so much. From a technical aspect, all of this is going to get our horses stepping a bit more forward and under in the transition and luckily there's a really cool exercise that gets all of these 3 things done quite well.

So this exercise is called 'fake transitions' and its really easy and perfect for every level. So if lets say you're starting in trot, you will start to apply a lighter version of your walk transition aid (so thats sitting back and a little deeper into the saddle, squeezing a little with your inner thighs and applying a little light rein aid if you need to) once you feel your horse start to compress to come down into walk you release, put your leg on and ask your horse back forward again. When your horse compresses what they'll be doing is starting to sit, starting to bring their hindlegs more underneath them and then as you ride forward those hindlegs will then start to push a little more too. To start with you may feel your horse gets a bit confused but as they get more comfortable with the exercise you can push the boat out a little more each time and really wait till your horse is just about to take that first step of walk before you ask for trot again. We're never aiming for a transition all the way through to walk, so we never want our horses to actually take any walk steps; instead what we end up creating is an aid for a middle ground, not the working trot we have at the beginning, put not a walk either; in other words we end up creating an aid for a more compressed, collected trot whilst also keeping them thinking and focussed on you. As you progress through in your training and this exercise becomes more established you could then move to including a little bit of leg too to create a more collected, engaged trot as well as using it to help you create a really effective half halt too.

Then once you've done a few of these and your horse is listening to you a little more through the transition, then you can start adding in usual transitions to walk too. If your horse skids to a stop ride forward back into trot again, ride a fake transition and then try the walk transition again. It will get your horse more in front of your leg, get those hindlegs more underneath them and keep them listening to you through the transition too.

The only other thing i will add to this is that when you ride your walk transitions from now on, think about them taking a little longer to happen, so imagine your transition to walk takes 3 or 4 strides where you're in working trot and then your next step is to go into your more collected or compressed trot and then down into walk rather than just going from trot to walk. If you think about using that new compressed collected trot you've created with your fake transitions and use it it will help you to maintain control throughout the transition so you almost ride one transition from working trot to a more collected, compressed trot then another transition from that trot into walk.

'How is the aid different from halt to walk and halt to trot' From Rochelle

Okay so the best way that i can explain this, because its a great question is to think firstly about what you want your horse to do and how your horse needs to respond differently first.

So, the best thing i can suggest is for you to get yourself on the ground and watch horses do good transitions from halt to walk and from halt to trot because you will start to see the difference as much as imagine it and it helps make it a bit more real. But when we think about a transition from halt to walk its quite a smooth, steady transition. Their hindleg has to step through but it does it quite softly and smoothly. Whereas then if we think about a transition from halt to trot; even if you just watch a horse do it from the ground you will see (when its done well!) how quickly and actively those hindlegs have to move underneath them to propel themselves into the trot, its a much sharper transition and requires the horse to go from a halt with no energy in the pace to a trot with lots of energy. But, if you also watch someone do a bad transition from halt to trot you'll see a few walk steps or the horse fumble their way up into trot and this tends to be where the horse either doesn't step under enough or does step under with enough activity and energy to be able to propel themselves from the halt up into the trot in one step.

If youre more of an active person, try standing still with both feet on the ground and then walking off; then repeat and go from standing still to running forward. This will give you a bit more of a sense of what those hindlegs are needing to do in these two different transitions.

So, now we have an idea what we are wanting the hindlegs to do, the aid simply replicates that same feeling. Our transition from halt to walk is going to be starting with the leg off the horse, softly putting the leg on and squeezing with the heel, then taking it off as the horse takes that first walk step. In comparison, your trot transition will technically be the same aid (you'll put the leg in the same place at the same point) but because we want more energy to be created in that hindleg to propel us into trot were going to use a slightly more intense, stronger squeeze and because we want more quickness and activity, its going to be a bit shorter and sharper than out transition to walk aid.

So all in all, the aid might be the same because ultimately were wanting the same thing from the hindleg, we want it to step under and push our horses more forward but the timing, intensity and quickness changes as we want more step under, more push from the hindleg, quicker and more activity for our trot transition and so our aid then has to replicate that.

'How do i stop my horses head going up when i make a downward transition?' From Tori

So i thought this was a really good one to cover because, when we did transition questions before on the podcast we did one about heads going up in upward transitions, which i think happens to a lot of people but similar rules apply.

And with this question, if someone comes to me for a lesson and wants to work on it, i always ask them: 'take out the transition for a second, if you are trotting around the arena and your horse was connected and on the bit, and then they hollowed and their head came up, where would the problem come from?". And the answer depends on the horse but it is still just a hollowing issue, whether you're trotting round the arena, cantering or in a transition, the same rules still apply.

When we have problems like this and i cant see the problem then we need to run through a few checks to work out where the problem is coming from, the first thing though is to check your preparation into the transition, is your horse supple, in a relaxed outline and with a soft, even contact. If it is this tells me that your horse is balanced, supple and going in a nice rhythm. If you dont have these things to start with before we even look at the transition, then there is no point expecting your horse to be in a good outline in a transition if you dont have that balance, suppleness and rhythm to begin with. So thats your preparation side. Then your job is to ride a few transitions and note what changes; obviously we know from your question the outline changes but if you had a good outline to start with there has to be a reason why the outline has changed. There could be so many reasons but these tend to be the 2 i see the most:

  1. Did the rhythm or tempo change? This tells us that your horse became unbalanced, ran onto the forehand or lost impulsion.

  2. Did you feel they tightened or became resistant? This is going to tell us that they lost the suppleness and softness

So, once you have worked out where the problem is coming from then we can start to be really specific about solving the problem. I am a bit of a crazy person about getting riders to work out where the problem is coming from first, so much about dressage is about problem solving and unpicking; if you get really good at working out where a problem is coming from you then get really good at effectively and quickly solving your training issues. If on the other hand you either dont think about where the problem is coming from or you pick the wrong cause of the problem you can end up going down a lot of dead ends with your training and trying an exercise and feeling like it doesnt work and then trying another one and so on. I am going to caveat that by saying that you do sometimes have to try it out, have it not work and try another to find the real cause, especially when its a problem you may not have come across before so dont be afraid to try it out and get it wrong, thats not a problem and if you do get really stuck, thats the point where it can be really helpful to have a coach come in and help you, or equally get a coach involved at the beginning to help you work out where the problem is coming from in the first place.

So, now we can go into solutions. If the rhythm or tempo is the problem then start by thinking about the speed of trot you have at the beginning, is it forward going without running? That is ultimately the perfect balance we are aiming for when you feel your horse takes you forward but doesnt run. If you cant maintain the speed, ride some transitions within the paces pushing the trot forward and back until you have more control over the gears. If you can maintain this speed, focus on using your seat to ride your downwards transitions so you dont interrupt this balance, make sure you are staying nice and tall and keeping your eyeline high to help you stay balanced yourself. You want to be aiming for the feeling like your horse is almost like a plane taking off and their hindquarters come down and their shoulders come up. Often we end up with the opposite and our horses shoulders dropping down in the transition which unbalances them and takes them onto the forehand.

The next solution then is for our losing suppleness cause. This is quite common as horses often tighten or resist in transitions. A great way to help with this is to ride a spiral (you know i love a spiral!, so start on a big 20m circle in trot, spiral into a 10-12m circle in the middle and then using your inside leg to push your horse back out onto your 20m circle (you want to feel like your horse softens to the inside and steps away from the inside leg), once you hit the 20m circle ride your transition to walk (again make sure you are predominantly using your seat so you don't interrupt the suppleness through the body). You can also try riding your downward transitions on 15m or 10m circles too as this will help your horse stay balanced and supple too.

'My trainer always tells me that i cant pull back on the reins when i ride a downward transition. It does work when i use my seat but why is it bad to use the rein?' From Rachel

I can answer this one quickly and easily. So, there is only one thing that happens when we pull back on the rein, our horse shortens their necks or get stronger and pull the reins out of our hands. If a horse shortens their neck, it doesnt mean they compress their body too, often they actually keep their body long and disengage their hindleg instead. So what we went up with when we pull back is a shorter neck and then them sticking their bum out and disengaging the hindleg rather than stepping under like we want. And when our horse shortens their neck without shortening their body, it tends to create tension and resistance.

So all in all, if you shorten the reins past a comfortable length for your horse, or if you pull back on your rein, you will get that shortening of the neck, tension and resistance, disengagement of the hindleg and still a long back. So then what do you do instead because we do need our rein to stop our horses going faster and faster, and this is why we have a half halt as well as getting our horse listening to our seat, if we can use our seat to get our horses to compress and step more underneath them we end up with a horse that can compress their back and sit more on their hindleg and stay balanced, not rely on the riders hand to hold them up or lose the really relaxed frame that we want to see.

So instead what we need is a closing hand, this is the rein aid you might use in place of this pulliing back feeling, it can be used in a half halt, it can be used to collect and it can be used if needed in a downward transition but all for no longer than a stride or two. what a closing hand does is momentarily pausing the forward momentum, bringing the hindleg underneath and then by releasing that closing hand you then allow the forward momentum to continue and this is why you should only do it for a stride or two, if you allow it to go on any longer youll end up with the same problems as pulling back with although the neck may not get any shorter youll still be stopping the hindleg from coming through which will end up with the hindleg becoming disengaged and sticking out.

So there we have it, 4 questions all about transitions and hopefully this, as well as our last episode that was more theory based has been helpful in getting everyone to understand why they are so important and how they can benefit us as the rider in terms of our own control and effectiveness but also the many many benefits it has for our horses and hopefully you now also know how to ride them and put them into your training too.

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