Amanda Brewer has competed at international level in both eventing and dressage and trained with many of the world's leading trainers including Captain Mark Phillips for eventing and Conrad Schmacher, Ellen Bontjeand Nicole Uphoff for dressage. She works with riders in all disciplines.
Transitions are so important and are one of the most difficult exercises in riding.
It sounds easy to say "transitions must flow effortlessly from one gait to another" but to achieve this really takes practise and good riding. In Germany I kept being told transitions really make the horse.
You only have to think about any dressage test and how many transitions there are to appreciate how easily marks can be won and lost. Most of them are marked separately. Balanced fluid transitions are the result of training over many months and years. Repeating transitions helps develop the horse both mentally and physically and they cannot be repeated enough.
Tip: It is very difficult to get a trot transition, even a bad one, from a lazy inactive walk.
This is the most basic of the upward transitions. To ride a good transition firstly ensure that the walk is active enough, remembering that the transition can only be as good as the walk before it. The walk must be active, energized with the horse and rider working in harmony. Think of having a walk that is so good all you will have to do is to allow the horse to trot.
When you are ready to ride your transitions the aids are the seat and both legs, the hands should allow the trot without losing contact. Your horse should then step into a soft and allowing hand from hind legs, over the back, withers and poll and into the mouth and hand.
Good downward transitions are harder to ride but the same rules apply in that you must establish a good quality trot before thinking about a downward transition. The trot must be the best possible, active, supple and in rhythm.
With the trot established ride a half halt to alert your horse that something is about to happen, then sit soft and deep in the saddle and ride forward into a steady, passive and elastic hand.
The transition should be smooth and the walk active straight away. The aim should be to make the transition smooth and to achieve this, the rider should ride and think forward into the walk and not pull back.
Note the difference in carriage between the warming up trot in the previous article
An active trot
An active walk ready for the transition forward to trot
Tip When bringing more weight into the saddle it needs to be in a good way for the horse. The rider must not lean back so that he is behind the vertical as this is not comfortable for the horse's back. The rider should think about lowering his heels bringing a little more weight in to the saddle and the legs should lie quietly on the horse's side.
The walk must be active and engaged but not quick. Ride a half halt to engage the horse and make him aware that something is about to happen. As you approach your marker and he is concentrating on you ask for the full halt by riding another half halt, then put your weight into the saddle with a steady, holding but not pulling hand. As soon as the horse halts the hand must soften immediately.
When preparing to ride a downward transition lower your heels to bring a little more weight into the saddle
When asking for the halt take care not to lean back as this drives the weight into the horse's back too much. This in turn will cause the back to hollow and the neck to come up. The horse will then try to run away from the uncomfortable feeling under the saddle.
In training the halt should be 10 - 12 seconds long. In some dressage tests the halt is six seconds, so if your horse has learned to halt for 10 seconds then this is no problem.
Having your heel in the correct position enables you to sit in a balanced position
Whereas a raised heel can tip the rider slightly forward
Like all transitions the gait before must be good. The horse in halt must be attentive to the rider, ready and alert. To ask the horse to go forward to the walk the rider must have light seat bones to release the horse's back and then use both legs and allow with the hand without losing contact. The horse must step into the walk with energy and from the hind quarters.
The stride becomes longer not just quicker as the horse lengthens
The aids are the same as for the halt to walk but this time they will be slightly stronger. The horse should step into the trot staying in a nice round frame and soft on the bit.
Establish a trot that is lively and engaged. To realise a good trot halt transition the horse must stay soft, supple and light throughout. To achieve this the weight aids come through a soft seat and the lowering of the heels, the rein aid is held but as soon as the halt is complete the contact must soften but maintain the connection.
The trot halt is a very difficult transition] so when you are working on this do so with a lot of patience and reward your horse for every improvement. When first starting to introduce this to your schooling, ride it progressively, ie trot, walk, halt; gradually reducing the number of walk steps until you feel confident that your horse is responsive enough and soft and supple enough to go directly from the trot to the halt. Relaxation, balance and softness are all important. Again make sure that you halt for at least 10 seconds.
Tip Trot to halt is a difficult transition and may take several months of training. Do not rush your horse or he will tense and hollow away from you.
When the walk to trot and trot to walk transitions are going well you can then progress to lengthening strides.
To lengthen the stride the trot before should be activated and compressed. Imagine the trot like a compressed or coiled spring, then when you are ready to ask your horse to lengthen, the hand allows forward and the stride becomes longer and not just quicker.
It is important, as with all transitions, that the transition to lengthen is smooth and not abrupt. To make the transition back the rider uses the same aids as in the downward transition.
The canter transition The trot must be of excellent quality. Half halts make the horse aware that you are going to be asking him something new. The quality of the trot or if the transition is walk to canter, the walk, is all important, and if the canter strike off is smooth and soft, the smoother and softer the canter will stay.
The aids are to flex the horse slightly to the inside, with the rider in sitting trot, the inside leg at the girth is used to activate the inside hind leg of the horse and encourage active strides forward. The weight of the rider needs to shift to the inside by moving the inside hip forward and the outside leg is slightly back. The outside leg of the rider in combination with the inside leg and seat bone asks for the canter strike off. The horse's outside hind leg is the first beat and it also pushes the other three legs into the canter.
When the rider develops the feel of the correct moment to ask for the canter, it is a fantastic feeling, and something to work towards. When the timing is slightly wrong but the aids are correct the horse will still canter on the correct leg but the transitions may be delayed or a little rough.
Transitions can also be ridden within the canter the same as the trot. The rider must remember to smoothly lengthen the stride and not to be hectic or rushed with the aids. To shorten the canter the rider needs to drive forward and sit into the horse, but this has to be done with skill as if the aids are strong the rider will drive the horse against the hand.
As your partnership develops you can also progress to halt to canter, canter to walk and canter to rein back, the list is endless.
These photos show the sequence of legs as the horse strikes off to canter. Beat 1 Outside Hind. Beat 2 Inside hind and outside foreleg together.
Beat 3 Inside fore comes forward to give the leading leg in canter. This is then followed by a moment of suspension and then the whole beat starts again.