Transitions aren’t just for life changes

You will soon find out that I am a fan of going back to the basics. If you don’t have the basics you will struggle with your high level movements, but if you nail the basics the movements will come a lot easier. For me this stems from one day showing up at a trainer’s barn for a lesson and claiming to be “schooling third level”. Well it turns out I couldn’t make her horse move forward and Salut is an extremely forgiving horse…

Copyright KW Mcnutt

Lately my focus on the basics has me working on transitions. Salut has lost muscle mass and so I find its a great way to help condition him while not burning a ton of calories. I once did a clinic with Danish trainer Per Meisner where part of my warm up included alternating from collected trot to working trot, sure enough after this exercise my horse was more atentative to my aids.  Per also emphasized the key to beneficial transitions is ensuring you engage the hind end even in downward transitions.

Easier said than done of course… so now since I’m definitely not an expert I’ve compiled some advice for you from the experts:

“You should ride about 200 transitions per session – forward and back to make the horse rideable and on the aids” – Carl Hester (British Dressage National Convention, 2013) (SIDENOTE: I lost count after 10…)

“With transitions, horses find their balance by themselves.” – Kyra Kyrklund (Symposium at Kentucky Horse Park, April 12-13, 2003) (SIDENOTE: She makes it sound so easy!)

“I like trot-canter transitions, but watch out the horse doesn’t get croup high in the transition. It’s an excellent exercise for the balance of the horse and for the co-ordination of the rider’s aids.” – Finnish Olympian Kyra Kyrklund (2011 Global Dressage Forum)

“When I start working the horse I always work a lot on transitions, trot/walk. The aids to use is the legs, your weight, hands and your voice. It is good to use the voice in the transitions, especially on the younger horse.” – Dutch Olympian Anky van Grunsven (Linköping Horse Show 2006)

“I know my warm-up is over when I can do perfect transitions between a relaxed working trot and a relaxed working canter such that the horse’s neck is low, and he is either in front of or exactly on the vertical.” – German Olympian Hubertus Schmidt (Dressage Today 2009) (SIDENOTE: It takes me slightly longer to get there… )

“I hear all the time that riding half halts correctly is the basis for training the dressage horse correctly, but I am going to take a step back from there and say that actually riding transitions well is the basis for training the dressage horse correctly. Learning to ride transitions teaches the rider what a half halt should accomplish, and performing good transitions ensures that a horse responds correctly to the half halt aids.” – Canadian FEI Rider Shannon Dueck (Dressage Training Article for Show Chic) (SIDENOTE: This is soooo true and led to an “ah-ha” moment for me)

“Transitions are the ultimate exercise for training the horse to better balance and collection. By nature, the horse is balanced toward the forehand, so if you sit on your horse and let him move on long reins, 60 percent of his total weight is on the forehand. That’s his natural balance, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, if you go forward to trot or canter, the horse goes more on the forehand, and we want to avoid that. Transitions, half halts and other dressage exercises train the horse to change his balance in motion, bit by bit, from being 60 percent on the forehand to a 50/50 balance, and finally to a balance where more weight is carried on his hindquarters than on his forehand. This is the principle of improving balance and developing collection–the purpose of dressage.” – Dutch Trainer Henk van Bergen (Dressage Today 2010) (SIDENOTE: Well said.)

If you are interested in reading more about transitions then Henk van Bergen, Dutch Trainer & Olympic Coach, has written a lovely detailed article called “Transitions, the Secret to Balanced Riding” available on the Dressage Today website .
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