Carl Hester once said that he does about 250 transitions in one session! So it's important that every time we undertake a transition we do it properly so the horse benefits - otherwise we are teaching him many times over to do things badly.
Transitions take several forms - they can be upward eg from walk to trot, or downward, eg from canter to trot, or within a pace eg from working trot to medium trot. However, it's important that transitions are consistent - so the horse stays on the bit, engages his hindlegs and responds to his rider's aids as soon as he is asked.
By riding good transitions you will be helping your horse to develop his suppleness and submission, encouraging him to step further under his body with his hindlegs so improving his engagement and assisting your horse's concentration.
Aim to use the lightest aids you can to achieve the response you want, with your goal being to produce a smooth, fluent transition from one pace to another, or within a pace.
Exercises to Use
Within your schooling sessions build in some exercises to improve your horse's transitions. For example, ride a 20 metre square, and as you approach each corner ride a downward transition. Then, as you leave the corner, ride an upward transition. Working on a 20 metre square requires you to become quicker and more effective with your aids - and your horse will become more responsive and you'll be improving his suppleness and engagement. It's important to keep your horse on the bit, without tension, as you execute the transitions.
Another exercise is to work on the square, perhaps executing a walk to canter transition in one corner, then a canter to trot transition in the next and so on, ringing the changes so your horse has to stay attentive to you.
Alternatively, you could work on a 20 metre circle, trotting for half a circle, cantering for the next half, then trotting and so on. Always aim to make your transition smooth, remembering to ride your horse from behind, into the hand.
With downward transitions use half halts to assist in engaging the hindquarters. In upward transitions your legs and seat are used to increase impulsion and the hands ease to allow for the new pace, or, if for example you are asking for longer strides, then the hands allow the frame and strides to lengthen.
Problems with Transitions
- If you use too much rein and too little seat and legs, your transitions are likely to be too abrupt.
- If your horse hollows, resists or comes off the bit, then spend more time practicing transitions, aiming to correct the problem before it occurs.
- If you do not undertake the appropriate preparatory work, or do not generate sufficient impulsion, your horse may well come above the bit in upwards transitions.
If your horse falls onto his forehand in downwards transitions you need to use more half halts before making the transition and ensure you ride the horse from the hindquarters to the hand ie make sure you are not simply pulling on the reins.