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canter/walk transitions

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!

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The Canter/Walk Epiphany
April 25, 2016
canter, counter canter, dressage, transitions

The Canter/Walk Epiphany

I find myself having dark moments in dressage. Days where I feel I’m going backwards, struggling with things I thought I was making improvement with. It’s hard not to feel incompetent in these times, so thank goodness for my trainer … she provides moments of hope.
I’ve noticed that my moments of floundering are often followed by a big leap forward. My horse is saying, “No, I couldn’t possibly,” when actually he can. A little extra resolve on my part, coupled with excellent advice from my trainer, Natalie Perry, usually pushes us through a bit of an impasse. It’s the proverbial darkest hour before the dawn.
After a week off (see Achilles Tendon Surgery, husband, not a great week) plus bodywork, Micah’s tried to take over a bit at the canter. There’s nothing like a big horse feeling full of himself, when you’re a bit down in the dumps.
Micah’s also not wild about counter canter and was taking advantage of my lack of expertise on the topic. We were sliding in and out of in-control and out of control.
The solution? The canter/walk transition. I love this exercise and highly recommend it.
We’d been working on the walk/canter transition for the serpentine movement in Second Level, Test 1 … where things were going rather nicely. On my drive home the other day, I had an epiphany — a lightning bolt moment. The canter/walk transition isn’t just a pretty movement in a test, it’s a critical training tool! My brain replayed numerous images of Natalie and Mari throwing in the canter/walk transition anywhere in the arena, as a schooling device. I realized I should be able to get that transition anywhere, at any time!
canterserpentine
This may sound obvious to really experienced riders, but to me this was a breakthrough.
In our most recent lesson, Natalie helped me with this, using an exercise I encourage you to try yourself. Pick up the canter, ride a nice circle, and then start riding across the diagonal. Throw in a canter/walk several times before reaching the next side of the arena. (If your horse is like Micah and sees a straight line as an opportunity to go for it, you’ll love this.)
The first few times, Micah was surprised and a bit offended. Be sure to prepare your horse for the transitions with half-halts, using your seat and core. Once he gets the idea, you can lighten up. This wonderful exercise vastly improved Micah’s left-lead canter, which has always been our weakest.
You can also practice this exercise on a circle, asking for a canter/walk transition anywhere you like. When that’s working well, try a half-halt. If your horse doesn’t respond, got back to canter/walk. When he rewards you with a prompt response, give him a pat — and yourself, too!
Give it a go and let me know what you think!

Related posts
The Ugly Transition
May 2, 2016