The Big T: Transitions

Well timed transitions are the foundation of all your work under saddle and they go hand in hand with Soft Feel, Harmony, Partnership and of course proper balance.

In order for you to execute a smooth, prompt and willing transition you have to know your horse’s footfalls in all gaits. For time reasons and because I have prior blogs on the different gaits, I will not go into details on the footfalls here. Just go to my blogs on the walk, jog and lope for more info on each gait.

Since the horse’s hind-end is the engine, I teach my students to recognize by feel which hind leg to influence and when. In the beginning it is sometimes easier to look at the corresponding front leg but eventually you should be able to tell me which hind leg is being used without looking! An example of this is when you learn to post. If you are jogging around the arena to the left you would post when the inside hind leg comes forward. If you do not feel this yet you can look at your horse’s outside shoulder and post as the outside front moves forward.

One of the new Cowboy Dressage Tests for this year has you do a shoulder-in (feel free to review my blog on lateral work) at the walk on the long side of the court, followed by a transition to the lope and then a flying change at 8 across the diagonal. If this sounds like fun, keep reading! :)

Let’s look closely at the transition from walk to lope. Refer to the picture above to visualize the footfalls. In order to get a straight lope transition and prevent the haunches from falling in, it helps to put your horse in a shoulder-in position. The test I mentioned above is designed for this, so do not straighten you horse before you ask for the lope. Again, timing is crucial for a prompt transition, so let’s talk about when in the walk sequence to  ask for the lope:

 When asking for the right lead, the outside hind or left hind initiates the lope. This is your first beat of the lope, so in order for your horse to push off into a timely and willing up transition you have to cue when the right hind leg is on the ground in the walk. This allows your horse to mentally switch to the lope while the outside hind is in the air. You will help him to re-balance to the back and he can then set down that left hind leg for lift-off into the lope. If done correctly this should be smooth and effortless and you should feel the horse rise beneath you and begin the rolling sequence of the lope. Once you can go from the walk to the lope and back to the walk with ease and you can influence how many walk steps the horse takes between the transitions you are ready to start working on the flying changes which I will talk about in my next blog.
Until then,
Happy Trails! :)

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