dressage, dressage training, equestrian, horses, transitions

The Ugly Transition

I’ve been thinking a lot about transitions lately, because we are doing a lot of them. The canter to walk transition is my new best friend. Why? Because it’s teaching Micah to listen up and allow me to do the driving.
When I first started riding dressage, I hated transitions. Things would be going along just fine at the trot, so why risk blowing it by falling into the walk or running off into the canter? Both things happened regularly and I wasn’t adept enough to know how to fix it … so I avoided it as much as possible. That’s rookie behavior.

An ugly transition may catch your horse off guard, leaving him to wonder if you've lost your mind.

An ugly transition may catch your horse off guard, leaving him to wonder if you’ve lost your mind.


I’ve come to realize that dressage tests have lots of transitions for a reason. Transitions show how well you are or are not riding. That being the case, you may as well make them your friend.
Personally, I hate ugly transitions — but I’ve come to see them as meaningful learning opportunities. An ugly transition usually indicates that Micah isn’t listening and/or I didn’t prepare him well enough for our next move. When Micah throws his head in the air, falls on his forehand, or is sluggish in the transition, it’s a sign that I need to improve my communication. Sometimes I need to be more subtle, giving more quickly to reward my horse’s response. Other times when I need to be more firm and direct.
It’s been hard, but I’ve learned that intentionally ugly transitions can be important training tools. When Micah is running off, ignoring my half-halts, leg and seat aids, it’s a good idea to throw in a strong halt. This transition won’t be pretty but that’s ok. The next transition is almost always better, as Micah gets the idea that I mean it.
I would love it if Micah would listen up every time and I never ever had to say, “Do it now!” If he’d respond to every half-halt and squeeze of my leg, life would be so much easier. But, as you’ve heard me say before, dressage isn’t his idea. The fact that he complies as willingly as he does shows me that he’s a generous soul.
When I’m schooling, I remind myself that horses don’t respect tentative horses or humans. A good firm “I don’t think so!” or “Yes, you will!” is much more effective than hoping my horse is going to listen to my aids. I speak from experience here, having been a hopeful rider for many years.
So, I strive to be direct and firm while taking care to reward every good response from my horse. Even if he isn’t perfect but his response is on the right track, I let him know. As Micah responds more quickly to me, I try to lighten my aids and reward him with my voice, a pat, a break, or a sugar lump. I also expect our progress to be intermingled with setbacks — who can blame a horse for checking occasionally, to see if the rules have changed?
As you work toward riding beautiful transitions, know that both you and your horse can learn from the less than perfect moments. Listen to what your horse is telling you and make sure he’s listening to you, in return. Communication is a wonderful, two-way street.
Happy riding!