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Troubleshooting: Transitions

We have 3 questions today on lots of different transition issues and transitions are actually really hard. They require you to have a lot of things in place for a really good one to happen. Your Horse needs to be balanced they need to be rhythmical they need to be in front of the leg to be obedient they need to be supple to stay round they need to have strength in the hindlegs to be able to push forward or take the weight behind and they need to maintain a soft and consistent contact. And if any of those things aren’t there it can very easily go wrong.

so let’s take a look at our first question:







Question 1:


"Hi Jess, I've been waiting for you to do an episode on transitions as I have been really struggling with them on my mare recently. She is only 5 and I bought her when she had just been backed. Up until recently I had never had a problem with the canter, the main focus has been on just keeping her forward as she can get slow and lazy. Recently though I've been struggling to get left lead canter and she keeps wanting to pick up the right lead instead. Any tips or advice would be great as I'm a bit at a loss." from Ellen


Okay so firstly, don't panic. I don't think I've had a young horse yet that hasn't gone through the 'I prefer to canter on this leg can I canter on this leg all the time please' phase. you’ve got to remember until the age of about 7 your horse is constantly growing so they’ll have little growth spurts and like children will lose their co ordination and balance and sometimes what you had last month you suddenly won’t have this month. And you can’t take it personally and you kind of just have to go with the flow. For me it always helps me to think about the process of teaching a young horse is about getting them to understand what I want from them. They might not always do it first time but by the end of the session I want them to have a greater understanding of how I want them to go whether that’s in terms of their way of going and how they move or in a certain movement. so when a young Horse doesn’t understand something or isn’t getting something I’m trying to teach them I always stop and mentally check through if I’m putting them in the right conditions or the right set up to be able to do this. Basically I’m seeing if this is a ‘I can’t physically do it’ problem or a ‘I don’t get what you’re asking me to do’ problem or a ‘I don’t want to because it’s hard’ problem. So to make sure it’s not a ‘I can’t physically do it’ problem I make sure I am setting the horse up in the right way. so are they forward and are they balanced are generally the two things you need for a young Horse transition but to get the right lead we need that inside bend around our leg. An exercise that ive found really helpful for this is to use a teardrop shape so to ride a half 15 or half 20n circle and then return to the track just before the corner. As soon as their nose touches the wall I bend them to the inside and ask for canter. because it’s a sharper angle to go from the diagonal around the corner rather than from the long side round the corner the horse needs to bend more around your inside leg and engage that inside hind leg resulting in the right lead strike off. The next reason is that it’s a ‘I don’t understand what you want me to do problem’. So when it comes to transitions, or when it comes to anything horses learn from repetition so when you have a transition that your horse strikes off on the wrong lead just bring them back to trot, give them a moment to rebalance and then try again. And you keep doing that until they strike off on the right lead. As soon as they do strike off on the right lead give them lots of praise and hide them a walk break. One thing that i found really helps with the canter transitions for 4 year olds is to almost imaging running them up into canter. So I push the trot more and more and more forward until it takes just the tiniest push to pop them up into canter. It resembles how they would canter in the wild in that they trot until they can’t trot any faster and then they canter. Then as they get stronger I bring the trot slowly more back until they can canter from a working trot and then later from a collected trot and then later from walk. . The last problem is that it’s a ‘I don’t want to do this’ issue and that’s totally fine too. A lot of the things we ask our horses to do are difficult to start with and so we need to teach our horses that when they try they get rewarded and when they don’t try, essentially we keep going. We don’t mind if they make mistakes or if they struggle or if they don’t succeed the first time as long as they’re trying. We can work with a Horse that tries we can’t work with a horse that doesn’t so all our praise needs to be focussed on the horse giving it a go and trying to do what we ask even if it’s difficult or they don’t quite understand or they get it wrong. And again repetition is your best friend aa soon as you get it reward and stop. Make it clear when theyve done what you wanted so it’s clear and there’s no misunderstanding. Don’t panic if it’s messy, young Horse training, actually let’s be frank all horse training is messy So don’t panic if it all feels a bit hectic. Just bring your horse back let them rebalance and go again. Praise when it’s good, go again when it’s bad.


Question 2


"My horse is incredibly lazy and I've spent loads of time getting him to react more from my leg using lots of transitions. The upward ones have been really helpful in getting him to go faster and more forward which is amazing but I went and did a test on Friday and realised that every downward transition I do my horse stops and when I say stop I mean skids to a stop and drops me completely. Not the smooth buttery soft transitions I see from the likes of the pros. How can I improve my downward transitions?’" from Lucy

This is a totally normal thing to happen when you have a horse that tends toward the lazy side because they are always looking to slow down so if you aren’t careful with the upward transitions they can end up really slow and lazy and not off the leg and the downward transitions feel like your horse drops you in a mound. The first thing is that it’s great you’ve cracked half of it and I think it’s important you give yourself a pat on the back for that because I think riding good transitions on any horse is actually a lot more technical and it’s a lot harder than it looks so the fact you’ve cracked 50% of those by getting great upward transitions is really great. So now it’s just about cracking the other 50%. And I think it’s important, we talk about downward transitions, or down into walk or back to walk and all of those kind of imply slowing down or stopping. And, especially with a horse that tends to be more lazy if you think of it as forward from trot into walk or forward from canter into trot it’ll help you get the ide that all the way through the transition your horse should stay in front of the leg. technically your horse shouldn’t slow down at any point during the transition they should take shorter more active steps and take their weight more onto their hindleg. When a horse gets lazy they get slow and so their hindlegs stop working and pushing and thats when you get that skidding tk a stop feeling. So if you think of the transition as a process so you start to put on your aids for the downward transition and your horse starts to collect, take shorter steps and take the weight behind before stepping forward into walk. if at any point you get that feeling that your horse drops you or stops moving or gets stuck push forward again. And what that will do is help to keep your horse thinking forward All the time. So little moments where you ride what I call a fake transition where you start to ask your horse forward from trot into walk and as soon as you feel they start to collect and take the weight behind and take a shorter step you push them back into a forward trot again. Then every now and then you can ride a walk transition and see if at any point your horse stops, slows down, gets stuck you go straight back to your forward trot. If they stay in front of your leg and forward into walk then you can let them walk and reward them.


i think the most important advice I can give for this though and actually for all transitions in general is to always take every single transition you do as an opportunity for you to teach your horse how we want them to go. I see so many times riders do some trot work and then go to give their horse a walk break, their horses drops them in a heap and they pay them and give them a long rein. But then suddenly 5 mins later their going to be getting upset that their downward transitions aren’t smooth enough. Or If you’re going to do some canter work don’t just get your Horse there. Go and ride a good quality trot transition and a good quality canter transition. Every transition is an opportunity for you to show your horse the quality of transition you want from them or it’s an opportunity for you to confuse them with inconsistent expectations

Question 3:


"I need help with my accuracy with my transitions it’s losing me marks throughout my whole test. Help me (sigh loads of exclamation marks" from Abby


Okay so when it comes to accuracy of anything you’ve got two sides. You have your training side which is ‘is if not accurate because I cannot be accurate’ or the test riding side which is ‘is it not accurate because I’m not preparing and setting it up well enough’.

so let’s start with the training side: when it comes to transitions, at Prelim you might have them in a corner or between markers but from then generally you have to do your transition at a marker. So the judge is looking for you to be taking that first step as your body is going past the marker. now the more in front of the leg your Horse is the quicker they will react to your leg and the easier it will be to ride an accurate upward transition. And the same is said for downward transitions. The quicker your horse reacts to your seat and leg aids the more accurate you can be. So if you find that when you ask for an upward or downward transition your Horse is taking 4,5,6,7 strides to actually get Into your new pace that is going to make your life far more difficult in a test because you’re going to have to Be planning for those 5,6,7 extra strides and that’s assuming your horse is consistently taking the same amount of strides which they rarely do. So it’s easier to spend some time working on your horses reaction to your aids for upward and downward transitions.

then you can look at the test riding side. Now this is all about setting your Horse up and preparing him for a transition. So if you’ve done a free walk and your horse is nice and open and free but you know you’ve got to be done a transition up to collected canter you’ve going to need to prepare and set your horse up for that by shortening your reins, bringing your horses weight more into their hindleg, making sure their round and taking the contact and that they are reacting to your leg and ready to react. Now if you don’t have this there is no way in hell your horse is doing a canter transition in that corner but if you only have to trot you can get away with not having to set your Horse up as much because it’s easier for them to step up into trot. But if you don’t prepare your horse in that way what ends up happening is you put your aids on and your horse then has to prepare themselves and put their body in the correct set up to be able to trot which will either take time which is going to mean a late transition or will mean they just don’t trot or the head comes up or you don’t get a good quality transition. So work on getting quicker obedient reactions to your upward and downward transition aids and then practice on your ability to be able to set your Horse up to be able to do the good quality accurate transition we want.





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