Creating Space for Better Canter Transitions

Creating Space for Better Canter Transitions

Creating Space for Better Canter Transitions

A couple of weeks ago, I gave you an audio horse riding lesson on the Daily Strides Podcast.  It was all about self-carriage and awareness in your body.   Today’s episode is focused specifically on creating the space for better canter transitions with your horse.

Getting into canter can be a challenge for many riders.   Okay, let’s get a little more specific; transitioning into a good quality canter is a challenge!  This is why I want to specifically chat about how creating space for better canter transitions is so important.  I am a firm believer in putting the basics’ onto autopilot.  And your posture and position as you transition into the canter are just some of those basics.

What do you want and where?

So, yes, you want to canter :) But what are you specifically looking for in each particular transition?  Straightness or responsiveness? A clean strike at a specific place on the correct lead?  Maintaining rhythm before and after the transition?  Smooth shifts in the tension levels, otherwise known as relaxation both before, during, and after the transition itself?  All of the above?

It is a mistake to think that all canter transitions are the same.  Get specific about what you want to work on for each individual transition and then be intentional about doing just that. 

Once you are clear about what you want, you can then begin to plan where you want it to happen.  It is easy to say ‘in the corner’ or ‘between  A and K’ and if the horse, rider, or both are green, this is all good.  However, as you become more developed, it is essential that you begin to get a little more specific with your questions.

What is the goal of the transition and where do you want it to take place in the arena?

Use Flexion like an Indicator to Your Horse

If you have been having any sort of issues with your transitions into the canter, this is probably one of the first places I would suggest working on.  Too many riders are failing to include flexion in their riding in general.  And especially in their canter transitions.  And I get it… There is a lot to remember, and flexion is just another ‘thing’ to add to the list!

However, forgetting to include flexion in your canter transitions is like forgetting to use your indicators when you drive your car… It makes it very difficult for anyone else to know what you’re thinking and planning on doing!

Obviously, when you are preparing to transition into the canter, it’s your horse that ‘needs to know’ your intentions.  Correct use of flexion tells him a lot.  When combined with your other aids, in a certain way, it clearly communicates to him that you do indeed want to transition into the canter.  And it also lets him know what lead you want him to canter on.

Positioning Yourself for Canter Transitions

The next key area to look at in order to really work on and improve your canter transitions is your own position. Well-balanced and correct position and posture are key to creating space for your horse to move into the canter.  I have spoken about this in previous Daily Strides Podcast episodes HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Simply put, the better your position, the easier it is for your horse to hear what it is you want to say.  

Many riders have the right aids to canter.  They apply the aids correctly.  However, they are let down by poor position or posture because it changes both the placement of your aids and how your seat and weight aids work. Not exactly great for when you are trying to work on improving your canter transitions!

Poor posture blocks the energy from flowing.  Poor position means that your aids are often asking something different – or nothing at all!   

Timing Your ‘Ask’ for the Canter Transition

This is another key element riders fail to consider when they are asking for the transition into the canter.   Asking at the wrong time makes it very difficult for your horse to respond.  He will either have to give a little ‘jig’ so that he can strike the canter.  He might pick up the canter on the incorrect lead.  Or, he might just not canter.  This can often be seen when a horse trots faster, rather than transitions into the canter.

Asking at the incorrect time for the transition can also cause your horse to become unresponsive in the long term.  

From working with a lot of different riders over the years, I often find that it is easier for the rider to begin perfecting their timing in the walk.  Obviously, that means that they are riding a walk to the canter transition, rather than trot to canter.

Working on this in the walk gives you more time, but also a more distinctive feel of what is moving where underneath you at any given time. 

Obviously, over time, it is also important to work on the trot to canter transition.  However, I have found that this can often be a little more difficult for riders to continue to hold all of the pieces together.  My advice to novice riders is to practice feeling what is moving under you in the walk first.  And then from there, progress onto the trot.

Allow Your Horse to Step into the Canter

The final piece is to make space for your horse to then do what you asked him to do.  Many riders have a habit of shutting down the canter before it ever gets started!  This can be done in a lot of different ways, but the two most common are either with their seat or their hands.

Your job, once you have set up the transition, is to simply get out of the way and allow it to happen.

Collapsing your upper body, tilting your seat, leaning one way or the other, closing your reins and hands down are all ways you can unintentionally block the canter transition.  Start to become aware of how, maybe, you are doing all the right things to set the transition up, but then blocking it from actually taking place and happening.

Good, clean, spacious canter transitions take work.  It requires a mental development of the rider, as well as a physical suppling.  I suppose my final piece of advice is, if you are noticing your canter transitions are less than great, perhaps it may be time to stop focusing on your horse.  Rather turn your attention to yourself and what you can do to improve your canter transitions.

Happy Riding

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