What goes up, must come down. For every upward transition you ride with your horse, you will follow it, at some point, with a downward transition. For many riders, these can prove a little more complex to balance.
Having to prepare and then guide both yourself and your horse ‘downwards’, while continuing to maintain forwardness, tension, and energy… It can feel more like falling into, rather than stepping into, the new gait!
However, as with all things riding-related, there are things you can do to really begin improving each downward transition that you ride. Implementing these changes can begin today, with the very next downward transition you ride with your horse.
What is a Downward Transition?
One of the easiest ways to think of this transition is moving from a higher gear to a lower gear while on your horse. It can be as simple as the walk to a halt. Or your downward transition could be something more complex such as a canter to walk.
There are also downward transitions that happen within the gait itself, where you transition from covering more ground each stride to covering less.
There are lots of different ways to make this sort of transition happen and, therefore, there is a whole wide range of possible outcomes to each transition that you ride. The key is to begin working on creating a good quality transition, rather than simply hauling your horse back each time you ride one.
Light, Smooth & Balanced
So, rather than your horse ‘falling’ into the new gait, we want the opposite to happen. We want him to literally, maintain composure and balance, to step into it. If the transition was from the walk into the halt, the good quality transition would result in your horse arriving at the halt in a way that allows the energy to be maintained in his body. This is so that he can simply step out of it again. If we use the canter to walk, it is often helpful to think can-ter, can-ter, can-ter, can-walk, w.a.l.k. The canter is literally a stepping stone into the walk.
The horse can only achieve a light transition if he is engaged and carrying himself throughout his body. This is where self-carriage comes into the conversation.
In order for your horse to ‘step’ into the downward transition with confidence and grace, he must believe that he can carry himself while maintaining forwardness. This takes training, development, consistency, and time to achieve.
Often, the horse’s abilities to remain balanced through the downward transition are actually hampered by the rider.
This is where a lack of composure, balance, and self-carriage in the rider can have an obvious negative influence on the horse’s performance.
Preparing a Downward Transition
Just like the upward transition, the amount of preparation you put into the movement before you ride it will become clear as you ride the movement. I think one of the first, key things to think about is what you want to ask for, and where you want it to happen. Once you are clear on this, you can begin thinking about how to most effectively communicate this to your horse in order to get the outcome you want.
Your half halt will be a key factor to riding a good quality movement. You will initially use it to bring your horse’s attention and focus back to you. From there, you can use it to balance and prepare both of you.
Each half halt, I recommend riding quite a few, will help you to begin ‘gathering’ the energy that is coming through from your horse’s hindquarters. The half halt is also a great way to really connect with your horse’s hindquarters.
It allows you to begin ‘syncing’ your seat bones with your horse’s corresponding hind feet. This will help you to know when to actually ask for the transition; your all-important timing.
The Rider’s Self Carriage
When you feel that you are both ready to actually make the transition happen, focus on yourself for a moment. What you do next can influence everything else going forward. Think about how you want your horse to use his body throughout the transition, and work on modeling it first.
Your job is to ‘ask’ your horse to perform the transition. It is not to ‘make’ your horse transition.
As you work on developing your skills, pay attention to responsiveness. The more responsive your horse is to your aids, the more smooth and clean any transitions will become over time. However, this is only assuming that you are carrying yourself! So many riders throw their body about in the saddle in some misguided attempt to ‘ride’ the downward transition.
Remember, once you’ve asked for it, you must simply be in the best position to allow the transition to happen.
Resisting Forwards; Not Pulling Backwards
A great way to think of how to really remain balanced and best placed to allow for a successful transition is to think of a tug of war… If your body feels in any way like you’re in one with your horse – you’re pulling! This can range from pushing your heels down, pulling with your hands, or leaning backwards.
You rather want to simply stop moving forward with your horse. It can help to think of yourself as being ‘still’. Not moving ‘against’ your horse (maybe pulling?), but also not moving ‘with’ him (resisting).
Things to look out for is your lower leg swinging back. Standing up (or feeling like you are going to stand up) in your stirrups is another indicator that you’re pulling. And any movement in your hands is also a no-no. Finally, leaning will look (and feel) like your shoulders coming behind your hips.
I am a firm believer that whatever you want to achieve from your horse, the key is to align with that first throughout your body.
Meaning that if you are trotting and want to walk, think and then act ‘walk’. And if you are cantering, rather than allowing your seat to ‘rock’ with your horse, think of the more ‘equal all over’ feeling of trot. This leads me to the next important thing you need to work on to improve every downward transition; your rein aids.
Your Rein Aids
Okay, so I have mentioned not to pull… And yet, that is the very first thing most riders are thought when they get on a horse and begin to ride! “Pull the reins to stop”.
Let’s be honest here; at the end of the day you do not want to get into a tug of war with another ‘being’ who is equally as opinionated as yourself… Particularly when that ‘being’ outweighs you by about 10 to 1…
I use the word ‘being’ in the above few sentences to hammer home the fact that your horse has a mind of his own. Whatever you believe about the abilites of your skills as a rider; it is absolutly essential that you take into account your horses presence in every single downward transition.
A steady ‘this is it’ goes a lot further than a furious ‘reining in’ or ‘hauling out the back teeth’. And yet, if your horse only knows ‘reining it in’, I strongly suggest beginning his retraining in a fairly confined area…!
All horses have been thought different things when it comes to contact and rein aids. One of your biggest responsibilities as a rider and trainer for your horse is to be consistent, true, and kind with yours.
Riding the Downward Transition
So, once you have your horse’s attention, and gathered the energy, you can begin thinking about the transition itself. Understanding that each transition is different is important. This will allow you to use the all-important ‘feel’ in your riding.
Feel is when you almost intutivly know what is needed in order to communicate your desires with your horse
Choose the place and then begin to ‘ask’ for the downward transition. Remember to keep your legs on. Downward, even if it’s all the way back to halt, should still have you both thinking and working forward. Your legs will help to maintain the creation of energy throughout the transition.
As you feel your horse taking that very first step inot the new gait, it is important to release for just a moment. This will allow the tension to smooth out, producing a better result in the new gait.
Once your horse has transitioned, the focus will be on establishing a good quality movement within that gait. This may take time. However, the better the quality of the downward transition that was ridden, the easier this will be.
The lightness will develop over time as your horse develops. Being able to carry himself requires training. And, as mentioned, a rider who is doing the same thing! I will link to more episodes below in the resources section on specific transitions that you can work on with your horse.
- Riding Smooth and Balanced Upward Transitions
- Making Space for Better Canter Transitions
- Timing Your Canter Transitions
- Conscious Transitions Between Walk and Trot
- 3 Ways You are Ruining Your Trot and Canter Transitions
- FREE PLANNER
- Keeping a Horse Riding Journal
- Why You Need to Start Your Horse Riding Journal Today
- Connection; the Online Membership for Equestrians
- Lunging for Riding – 4-week program that gets results
- Groundwork for Riding – 4-week program (no arena required ;) )
- Daily Strides Premium Newsletter
- Online Community for Equestrian focusing on Planning and Mindset
- Equestrian Virtual Lounge Online Community