Let’s take it from the top – transitions are about change. Changing the way your horse moves by altering speed, stride, direction or gait. Riding correct transitions is far from easy and requires several factors to be executed well… not to mention the patience of a saint.
Often, riders avoid practising transitions in training, and concentrate on other exercises deemed more essential, but transitions are the foundations of a solid dressage test and should be the pillars of a horse’s basic schooling. In truth, the only way to achieve consistency with correct transitions is plenty of practise. However, we’ve put together some tips to help you on your journey!
Use pole work to take your transitions next level
We’re just going to go ahead and say what you’re all thinking – yes, transitions are boring. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that training must be boring! Using poles to help your transitions can add variety to schooling and help to give you goals to aim for. Try placing poles on a 20-metre circle and keep it interesting by lengthening and collecting, for example move off the leg from a collected trot, then lengthen the trot, then back to working trot. It can also be beneficial to halt between poles or to ride a shoulder-in from one pole to the next. In canter, set up poles on the 20-metre circle and transition to canter before the first poles, before coming back to trot over the poles again. A three-loop serpentine is a great exercise to practise transitions and it also encourages suppleness, why not mix it up and add some trotting poles? Experiment with your exercises, and have fun!
Start with the basics
If your horse isn’t understanding you, you’re either asking the wrong question or asking the question wrong. It’s paramount that we as riders and equestrians remember that you are always either schooling or un-schooling your horse… so if you or your horse are novices then let’s avoid confusion and start with the basics! Start by perfecting walk to halt in the downward transition; close your legs at the girth to encourage your horse to come under and stop following the motion with your seat and rein aids, closing your fingers around the reins and performing a light half-halt to warn your horse of the impending transition to halt. In the upward, both legs should close around the girl and your seat should hold even weight as you drive the motion forward with your seat and legs, softening the reins whilst keeping the contact spongy and elastic.
Half halting is key
Half halts are an essential way of indicating to your horse that something is about to happen. When anticipating a downward transition, the half halt is an important stage in your transition preparation. The half halt is arguably the most important yet misunderstood concept in horse riding because there are so many variations, but it’s a necessity for every change of gait, movement, balance and exercise.
Work on achieving an independent seat
Good transitions require an independent seat. The rider must understand the aids and how to execute them correctly, so not to unbalance the horse or lose the rhythm or contact. During a bad transition, the horse is often seen to hollow the back, loose rhythm and lift the head out of the even contact. Readers, we’re afraid you’re not going to like this part (brace yourself) – riding with no stirrups is a great way to work on your seat. Nobody said horse riding was easy, so get those stirrups over the saddle and practise that feel, balance and position!
Even the most elite level riders have a love hate relationship with transitions – so don’t worry if you don’t get it right every time. Make sure that you develop a good quality movement in the current gait before asking for any transition and always look up when riding a transition. Take note of our tips and you’ll be scoring high for your transitions in no time!