Riding Smooth & Balanced Upward Transitions with Your Horse

Riding Smooth & Balanced Upward Transitions with Your Horse

How well do you ride upward transitions?  For many riders, it can feel a little frustrating and ironic how many of them are anything but ‘upward’ as far as energy and lightness go!  In fact, sometimes they can feel quite the opposite; flat.

If you would like to improve your upward transitions, I want to break them down, step by step for you today.   Upward transitions are part and parcel of every single ride you do with your horse.  From the ‘halt to walk’ one immediately after mounting up, to all of the others throughout the ride.

The quality of each upward transition you ride will directly impact where you find yourself with your horse immediately after the transition. 

Meaning, if the transition from walk to the trot was not that well prepared and then performed, chances are that you will have to work at improving the trot itself once you get there.  So, with all of this in mind, it makes sense to prepare and ride the best quality transitions you possibly can, in order to improve the whole ride.

Here are the 6 essential steps to begin riding better quality and more consistent upward transitions with your horse.

 1. Establish Forwardness

Before you even begin thinking about your upcoming upward transition, it is essential to first assess the quality of the gait you are currently in.  Ideally, your horse should be moving forward with a sense of purpose.  In more developed horses, the focus will be on assessing the level of impulsion they are maintaining as they move inside of the current gait.

It is also important that both of you are ‘thinking forward.  Meaning that you are both focused on what you are doing and eager to work together. 

If your horse is not moving and thinking forward, it will be very hard to create a light, upward transition.  Instead of your horse ‘pushing up’ from the hindquarters in to the ‘new’ gait, he will pull himself there using his shoulders.  This will immediately cause the new gait to be heavy and lack quality.

 2. Assess Responsiveness

The second key element to look for before even thinking about the transition itself is the level of responsiveness between you and your horse.  This is simply how well your horse listens and responds when you ask a question using your aids.  Many riders are trying to ride upward transitions on horses who are not as responsive as they could be.

I believe that your horses level of responsiveness is a direct reflection of how consistent you are as a rider. Consistency through your aids, your timing, your focus, your rewards and your corrections. 

A lack of responsiveness will cause your transitions to be inaccurate, fumbled, and unbalanced.  Luckily this can easily be improved by simply getting clear on what you want and letting your horse know.  Tell your horse what is acceptable and what’s not when it comes to how he responds to your aids.

3. Preparing Your Transitions

Once you have established a good quality gait, you can begin thinking about the upcoming upward transition.  The first part of this is to decide what you want, and when and where you want it.  From here, the next step to riding a good quality and light transition is to get your horse’s attention.

Use your half halt to first bring your horse’s attention back to you. From there, you can then use your half halt to begin preparing your horse that something different is coming. 

Your half halt will allow you to begin gathering energy to use for the transition.  It will also help you to begin lightening the front end slightly in preparation.  Keep in mind that your half halt will also help your horse to rebalance if necessary so that he can push himself into the new gait from behind.

Finally, this is the perfect opportunity for you to really feel what is going on underneath you.  This is important to correctly time your aids in order for your horse to literally step up into the new gait. 

4. Asking for the Upward Transition

Once you have identified the best place in the stride to ask your horse for the transition, you need to be in a place where you can actually let the transition happen.  Your position is important; before, during, and after the transition itself.  Keep in mind that any ‘wobbles’ from you before, during, or after the upward transition will cause your horse to lose balance as well.  This affects the quality of the overall transition and the gait that follows.

Remember to carry your upper body and your hands. This will encourage lightness in your horse through the transition by creating space. It will also allow you to maintain a more consistent contact. 

Then, using the appropriate aids for the transition you are about to ride, ask your horse to make the upward transition.  Often, if you ask at the wrong time, you will feel it through a change in the rhythm.

Time the ‘ask’ with the point in the stride where he can best respond to you and make it happen. 

5. Smoothing the Tension Levels

Finally, it is important to ‘allow’ with your aids the moment your horse actually performs the upward transition.  This means that as he takes that first step into the new gait, you soften or give through both your seat and your hands.  This will help any excess tension dissipate.

If you continue to ‘hold’ the same tension, the transition will appear to be bumpy or less smooth than it potentially could.

This ‘allowing’ gives your horse the space to properly settle into the new gait.  Failing to do this will cause your horse to become hollow through his neck and back.  It may also result in him becoming heavy in your hand due to excessive tension.

6. Riding Forward after the Transition

After successfully riding the upward transition, it is important to ride forward into the new gait.  The transition itself was simply to get you from A to B.  Once you are there it is important to establish the gait you want as soon as possible and then work on maintaining it.

If the upward transition you rode was well prepared, and then also well performed, the new gait will most likely reflect this.  

However, if any part of the preparation, the ‘ask’, or the transition itself needed more work, the gait will also, most likely, show this. As you practice this more and more, notices where things tend to lose rhythm or relaxation.

Also, pay attention to where you tend to feel unbalanced, or your horse feels a little less than certain.  Good transitions come from correct, consistent practice.

Happy Riding

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