Good transitions are one of the most important things you must learn to be a good rider
- #work in flat
A consistently good down transition is one of the most important things you can learn in horsemanship. Visualize a free galloping horse, without a rider, coming to a halt in no more than three of four strides. Watch his body during the down transition: he will round his back, dropping his head and neck. This allows him to bring the hind legs farther under his body with each stride, which in turn permits his weight to shift back within his body. These movements allow him to have a balanced stop, with weight well distribuited on his four feet. If, instead, he had allowed his back and raised his head – an uncorrect position we often see under saddle – he would have landed heavily on his forehand, front feet bracing and pounding into the ground, with very little weight on his hind feet. This latter situation is very bad when riding because it expressed a big lost of balance.
The key to success lies in not jamming your seat bones onto the horse’s back, but allowing him to round his back under your light and following seat. Sitting balanced on the saddle, center yourself and allow your body to grow. By centering and growing you open and widen your seat. This allows your horse to round his back and fill up your seat as he will need to do in a good transition. As you drop your knees and the front of your thighs correctly, you will find that your shoulders stay balanced. The weight on your seat bones and buttocks lightens as it’s transferred down on your stirrups. This allows the horse to round his back beneath you.
You must take a more solid hold in your rein. If your horse is light in your hands, you can give very precise aids because of the same solid base. To slow down, you mantain a steady leg for support and keep the horse’s hind legs under you and bring his balance back. Your hands in the meantime will have close enough to slow down quietly and precisely. The moment the horse slows down you must immediately ease your hands back to normal contact.
To put all this into practice, first try with walk-halt transitions without stirrups.
Remember the following: enclosing seat, elastic hip joints and soft, long lower back. Center yourself and grow; walk the hind legs of the horse up into your hands. Breathe out during this transition.
When you can do good walk-halt transitions, you can do down transitions at any gaits. Don’t jam your horse into the transitions at any gait: allow him the strides he needs for balance.
Up transitions can be beautiful. The horse simply flows from one gaits to another in perfect unison with the rider. To do this, both horse and rider must be attentive and aware of each other, with the rider alerting the horse first by centering himself. He can feel the receptiveness of the horse and can time his motions so that horse and rider advance together.
As you build energy in your center, keep your legs near the girth. Use small squeezes as needed. The horse gets the message from both your seat and legs. Think forward and up from your center. Feel your horse’s rythm. With this lively action of your seat, you ask the horse to fill up underneath you, to round his back and to move out. Your hands must soften release his front end. He should flow forward from behind, his energy coming up and out through the withers and down again to the bit.
Horses are individuals beings. They usually like to please us and do their best.
With good practice and correct use of aids, your balance will improve, your horse will become more happily responsive and your transitions will become things of beauty.