So there you are, walking along and at some point or another, you find yourself having to ask for trot. You might walk a little faster, perhaps include a little jig jog or two until, 4 or 5 seconds later, you are finally trotting.
This is not ideal at all! But what is it about transitions between walk and trot, and not just walk to trot, but also trot to walk, that has a lot of us think they are not so important?
Is it because it is the first real transition up the gears that we usually get to grips with when learning to ride? Most riders will have experienced going from walk to trot within the first lesson or three. Or is it because we become so used to the trot being a wee bit bouncy to begin with that we are less than careful about trying to create a smooth transition into it?
Whatever the reason, the transitions between walk and trot are some of the most overlooked by riders and it’s a pity because it is a transition that when given the attention it deserves, it can really and truly change your whole experience in the saddle and help you create that seamless communication between rider and horse.
Begin where you are – the walk
As with most things, the quality of the transition will only be as good as the gait leading up to it. invest time in establishing and maintaining a good quality walk with your horse. Your horse should walk on and use himself correctly.
Next time you are on your horse in walk begin to question the quality of the walk.
- Is your horse responsive and listening to you?
- Are you having to force him forward?
- Are your connections with your horse equal?
- Do you have an actual plan for what you want to happen?!
Assess your past attempts at transitions
Next, turn your attention to your past transitions and how they were…
- Does it take your horse 4 or 5 ‘asks’ to eventually fall into a trot?
- Or perhaps he is the opposite and shoots forward into the trot
- Does your horse hollow his back as he picks up trot?
- Does your horse ‘fall’ a little to one side or the other as he steps into the trot
Most of the time our horse is responding to what we have allowed to continue, either with our lack of consistency or our ignoring the smaller, but essential details.
One of the biggest reasons for poor transitions between walk and trot is a lack of responsiveness from both horse and rider. Responsiveness is something that is mirrored in horse and rider – meaning that it is generally both parties at fault when it is less than ideal…
Fine-tuning the responsiveness
If your horse is a little dead to your leg, have a schooling whip on hand to back up your leg. You will probably find that 2 or 3 well-timed taps with the schooling whip is enough to send a message that your leg is something he should listen to.
You may find that initially, he will run forward when you apply the whip, he will soon learn that there is no need to run away and charge forward. The whip is merely a signal that he must pay attention to your leg and, therefore, begin to ‘step’ into the trot from your leg.
Of course, the opposite of this is being a little too sensitive to the leg. If you experience this, I suggest rethinking a little about how you are riding your horse. Are you teaching him that your leg is only used when he must go faster?
If so, you need to begin reintroducing him to the fact that your leg is not something to run away from. You can do this by being consistent with how and when you use your leg. It is also good to be aware of what your leg is doing when it’s supposed to be relaxed (hint; this does not mean daylight between it and your horse’s sides!)
You can also evaluate at your seat. Perhaps your horse is sensitive enough to begin reading your seat aids to move forward. If this is the case, you need to begin being more mindful about how and when you are applying them.
Putting effort into your Preparation
Preparing to trot from a walk requires just that; preparation. You need to begin to think about how you are signaling to your horse with your seat that he must move into a trot.
Think about ‘allowing’ the energy to begin flowing underneath the saddle a little more.
Practice how using your seat and weight aids can communicate either a whoa or a go to your horse and becoming consistent with applying them each and every time.
Understanding and Correcting Bad Habits
Very often the hollowness which is generally accompanied by short, pottery or choppy strides is because we are simply not allowing our horses to trot. We often think of ‘allowing’ as being everything to do with our reins and hands, however, keep in mind that your rein aids are connected to your seat aids, so you must also allow through the seat.
Rather than becoming a close peg and clamping down with your pelvis and thighs on your horses back when he begins to trot, think about opening up and allowing that energy to flow through your legs.
Very often the reason people ‘clamp’ is because they are worried about the bounce they will experience when their horse takes the first few strides of trot. The irony of this is that the trot is far more uncomfortable when your horse is taking those short, choppy pottery steps – which a lot of the time is happening because your seat, legs, and upper body are like a vice grip on him!
If you can relax and think about ‘carrying’ yourself into the trot, your horse will then be able to get his back legs underneath himself and push himself forward, rather than pull himself forward.
A Good Transition – Every Transition
Finally, I have mentioned consistency in cultivating a better transition a few times now, but it is important to stress that you must be consistent EVERY TIME you go from walk to trot, not just in the arena.
Picture your horse actively walking around, and then beginning to push off into the trot correctly using his hindquarters. He will continue to carry himself, his shoulders will be free to swing along in the trot and you will experience a wonderful rhythmic trot from the word go.
The Downward Transition
The same thought and effort must also go into the reverse transitions, the trot to walk. All too often a nice trot is ruined by a rider literally dropping an anchor and hauling their horse back into walk.
Just like you had to think about allowing the energy to flow while still continuing to move with it going up a gear, you must now begin to think about containing that energy, while still moving with it – more influencing it than controlling it – to get a wonderfully smooth transition that sets up a great walk.
A lot of horses will fall into the walk. Others will raise their head and neck and pull against their riders as they are asked to walk. Another common sight is the horse that will hollow their back, hold their ‘head carriage’, but the whole hindquarters disengages. All of these are usually rider faults.
Horses that pull against their riders, generally do so as a result of riders pulling against their horse! Think of your reins as an influence, not a hand-break!
It is important to set the transition up with lots of half halts. It signals to your horse something is going to happen and it shifts the hindquarters a little more underneath your horse. This allows the horse to use their body more correctly as they ‘gear down’, carrying and balancing themselves better. It also ensures that the is forward energy is maintained into the walk.
Taking Responsibility for Your Body
Lastly, don’t mistake hunkering down with your body for using your seat when asking for a downward transition. Very often the hollowness in the horse’s back is from a rider that simply makes themselves heavy in the saddle, which results in the horse moving away from underneath them.
Be sure to continue to carry yourself, and be prepared to then immediately follow your horse into the walk as he steps into it. This is with seat and hand.
I challenge you over the coming week to really focus on the quality of your walk to trot and trot to walk transitions. Not only will you see an overall improvement in how you and your horse communicate with each other, but also an improvement in both gaits, walk and trot, as a result of this as well.