Smoothly Does It

Gill Stuart

Lambourn based Prix St. Georges dressage trainer Amanda Brewer reveals the secret to smooth transitions

Amanda Brewer

Claire Randall in trot

Amanda who trains with German dressage guru Conrad Schumacher and Dutch Olympian Ellen Bonjte used to three day event but now concentrates on dressage. As well as having training from Conrad here in the UK she also goes over to Germany twice a year.

Today Amanda is working with Claire Randall and her seven year old Irish sport horse Market Taylor. Claire has taken this horse from preliminary level to elementary and has qualified for the finals which is a great achievement as he has been very difficult to train. He is now ready to do his first medium level test next month.

"When I was in Germany I was told over and over again that transitions make the horse and they must be worked on until they are like butter! The more transitions you do the better. It sounds so easy to say that they should flow effortlessly but the truth is that it takes months and months and years of training to get them right! They are however extremely important in the training of the horses as they play a vital role in their physical and mental development. In dressage tests transitions are the most marked. It does not matter what movement you are riding if your transition was not good you will loose marks even if your actual walk, trot and canter were good! There are also transitions within the gait such as from the walk to walk on a loose rein, collected, medium and extended walk and the same in the trot and the canter.

What is required from the rider?

The rider must have a balance supple seat, be in harmony with the horse and have the ability tomaintain a light elastic contact with the horse's mouth in order to give the correct aids for an upward and downward transition.

What is required from the horse?

The horse must be balanced and on the aids in order to execute a good transition.

Basic transitions

The basic transitions to begin with and the easiest are the walk to trot. The common factor with all transitions is that they can only be as good as the gait before it. It is difficult enough to get a transition from a lazy inactive walk let alone a good one! Therefore you must have an energised active walk first.

Aids for the walk to trot transition

Once you feel the walk is active and you want to make the transition to trot you should think about asking with both seat bones and closing both legs whilst at the same time allowing a little with the reins. Do not think that using your seat bones means sitting heavy and driving the horse as this will make him hollow his back away from you. Equally do not throw away the contact but rather have the feeling that you are allowing the horse through elastic reins to spring forward into the trot. As the horse progresses in his training you should feel that the walk is so good that you could go into canter if you chose or even into halt. You must have the feeling that the horse goes smoothly but remember it does take months of practice. You can try your upwards and downwards transitions on a circle and on a serpentine.

Aids for the trot to walk transition

The downward transitions are difficult at first for everyone because as with the walk you have to have an energised supple balanced trot and feel you are in harmony with the horse. You must also ride the downward transition forwards. To come into the walk from the trot just let your weight sink down by letting the heels go down softly. This will put the correct amount of weight in the saddle. Again you must have the elastic allowing contact, which tells the horse that you want him to walk. A good exercise to do is on a 20 meter circle and as you approach the wall of the school then just think I am going to allow and ride forward into the walk. The wall helps the horse to understand that he must walk. Once in walk you must make sure that the walk is smooth and active right away.

What can go wrong?

If your transitions are abrupt it is probably due to the fact that you have leaned back and pulled on the reins too much. This will make the horse hollow his back, push onto the hand and then onto his forehand. If your horse jogs into the transition it can be that he has been previously spoiled and does not have enough trust in the rider or it could be temperament. You must then be extremely patient and could try doing voltes to break the line of tension and then reestablish the walk before going into trot again.

With a young horse starting out you would not do quite as many transitions in succession but build on them over time. If you have already got the young horse going well in rising trot on a twenty meter circle on both the right and left rein and you get one super transition and then one that is not so good don't worry too much. This is to be expected at first so just do two or three transitions and then as they progress you could ride your serpentine and do one over the centre line. The best way to do a downward transition with the youngster is coming off the bend. Again just lower the heels sit and walk. You need to have the feeling on the bend that you are leg yielding a little i.e. that you ride from inside leg to outside rein. You can also include walk to halt. The same rule applies in that before the halt the walk must be active and energised. You can give him little half halts to say ok something different is about to happen and now we are going to halt. Immediately after the horse halts you should soften the hand but not by losing the contact. I always halt the horses for at least ten seconds. It does not matter at this stage if the halt is not totally square but more that the horse remains calm and immobile. Pat the horse when he stands still and in this way they become confident first and you can correct the hind legs later. The aids for the halt are that the rider has to sit soft and vertical whilst still keeping the hind legs of the horse energised. Think of growing taller, lowering the heels and allowing the horse forward into the halt but not blocking him with the hand. It is simply a closing of the fingers without pulling back. The aids from halt to trot are the same but just a little stronger. Trot to halt would come a little further down the line in the horse's education a not until you had good trot to walk transitions. To begin wi1 you would do trot to walk, walk to halt.

Lengthening strides in the trot

In lengthened strides some riders tend to turn the corner and blast the horse abruptly into lengthening when the transition from the working trot to lengthened strides should be smooth. The rider should compress the trot a little and then with an allowing hand without loosing the contact ask the horse to lengthen. Equally they should not kick the horse into the lengthening as this would put them out of balance and onto the forehand.

Trot to canter transition

Again the trot to canter transition will also only be as good as the trot before it. The rider should ask for the canter with the inside leg on the girth and the outside leg just behind the girth.

"As my experience has grown i have found that asking for the canter with the outside leg makes it more straight forward with the flying changes later on."