Big, Ugly Frogs
In Japan there’s a saying that goes like this: “Eat your biggest, ugliest frog first.”
I love this phrase, which I take to mean, “Tackle your largest problems before anything else.” When it comes to riding, transitions are the biggest, ugliest frogs in my itinerary. Nothing else shows off flaws more quickly, other than falling off.
In the spirit of eating that big, ugly frog, I asked Natalie (as in Natalie Perry Dressage) if we could tackle transitions in today’s lesson. Natalie’s always up for a challenge and was happy to help.
Transitions are all about preparation and part of that preparation is the half-halt. While I use half-halts somewhat intuitively in the trot, in the excitement of the canter, they’re sporadic.
My thought was to work on the the half-halt in the trot to lengthen and shorten the gait. Then, with the cues imbedded in my brain, work on the trot/canter transition.
I’d noticed that my transitions to the right were somewhat prompt, which was no surprise given that Micah and I are both stronger to the right. To the left, the up transitions were late and the down transitions were early. Time to the tackle the problem (aka: frog) head on.
I was pretty excited, since I suspected the solution would turn out to be something rather simple, yet important.
We began with walk/trot transitions. To the right we do pretty well, as long as I remember to give Micah a heads up that they’re coming. A little squeeze with the legs and increased energy in my seat and away we go—me trying to keep up the conversation in both reins, without giving up the outside rein.
To the left, Micah does his darndest to avoid giving me a left bend. I’ve found it’s really hard to get and keep in the up transition. To address this, Natalie had us walk a spiral-in, keeping the inside bend, then start to leg yield out. When Micah was giving nicely to the inside, I’d ask for the trot transition. Voila! A much better transition! Something to practice a million times. This will be a part of our riding routine from here on out. Micah says, “Drat, foiled again!”
Once we were achieving this consistently, we asked for transitions within the gait. I’d do a quick tightening in my core to ask for more collection; use more leg and a more following seat to ask Micah for a longer stride. That was fun and Micah definitely liked it better than the spiral-in exercise.
On to canter! Natalie asked me to think about rocking Micah back on his haunches in the trot, prior to the up transition. This set Micah up physically and gave him a ‘heads up!’ cue at the same time. With Micah positioned more correctly, I asked for the canter and got a much better, more prompt transition. Wow! It also gave us a more uphill canter.
For the down transitions, Natalie told me to relax and sit into the trot. It’s hard to believe something so simple could be so effective! Much better than tensing or bracing into the transition.
To the left, our harder direction, I was so focused on the upcoming down transition that Micah felt it and started waffling his canter strides. Haha! Totally my fault. The next time around, I focused on riding the canter and simply asking for the transition at X, and got better results.
We practiced these up/down transitions on the circle, at A. Then upped the ante by asking for transitions at A and X. I couldn’t have been more pleased with Micah’s response.
We finished the lesson with a little more trot work, where I worked on rocking Micah back on his haunches to lighten his forehand and make him more maneuverable. You could tell that this was hard work for Micah but it significantly improved his trot and gave us a much better shoulder in.
I can’t wait for tomorrow’s practice session, where I’ll try to further ingrain the feel of this into my brain and body. Tonight, I’ll review what we did as I drift off to sleep, replaying Natalie’s words and Micah’s response. Now those are sweet dreams!