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How to Ride a Good Canter-Trot Transition

How to Ride a Good Canter-Trot Transition dressage


Transitions are required in every dressage test throughout the levels and are something that you should be using daily in your horse’s schooling sessions.

Transitions are extremely useful for sharpening your horse’s responsiveness to your leg, developing engagement and collection, improving balance, and ultimately, making your horse easier and more pleasurable to ride.

The downward transition from canter to trot is typically the most challenging to ride well and is often a big mark-loser in dressage tests.

So, in this article and by popular request, we explain how to ride a good canter to trot transition!

What the dressage judge wants to see

A good canter to trot transition should be balanced and “through” with the horse’s inside hind leg placed well underneath him.

The horse should not slow down into the transition, and he should move away smoothly into trot without losing rhythm.

The horse’s round frame should be maintained throughout the movement. So, he should not drop his poll in the downward transition or become hollow through his back as he goes into trot.

The horse should remain straight without pushing his quarters in as he makes the transitions. That can happen if the horse is unbalanced and tries to avoid taking more weight onto his inside hind leg.

Common mark-losing faults with canter to trot transitions include:

  • Horse loses rhythm through the transitions
  • Horse loses balance, making the transitions rough and untidy
  • Horse slows down into the downward transition
  • Horse not forwards into trot
  • Quarters come in through the downward transition
  • Horse stiffens through the back and becomes hollow
  • Horse opens his mouth against the contact during the downward transition
  • Horse’s hind legs are together behind or are wide behind during the downward transition

As you can see, there’s a lot that can go wrong in the canter to trot transition.

Riding a good canter to trot transition

Riding a balanced downward transition needs good coordination of the aids. Those aids include the restraining aids of the rider’s hands, legs, core, and seat.

Preparation for the downward transition

The restraining aids warn the horse that he is about to make a downward transition. Your hands should be gentle; otherwise, the transition will be too abrupt, and the horse will lose his balance and fall onto his forehand.

Start by making sure that there is plenty of energy in the canter before you ride the transition. The canter’s tempo and rhythm should stay the same, not become faster.

Creating more energy in the canter helps to bring the horse’s inside hind leg further underneath his body. That, combined with an accepted restraining contact aid, improves the horse’s balance in the downward transition.

Your position and aids during the downward transition

Make sure that you are sitting upright with your leg underneath you and your elbows tucked in by your sides.

Many riders tip forward in the downward transition, which immediately puts the horse onto his forehand and causes him to lose his balance. You can prevent that from happening by pushing your hips forward and strengthening your core.

Close your elbows toward your sides. Keep your reins correctly adjusted, and don’t let them get too long. Closing your elbows in that way helps to pull your seat more deeply into the saddle, connecting your core with the seat and rein aids.

At the same time, brace your back against the horse’s movement and tighten your stomach muscles. That creates a half-halt, helping to balance your horse.

To avoid the horse bracing against your aids in the transition, apply your half-halt and restraining aids only briefly.

As the horse makes the downward transition, breathe out slowly, as if you were trying to blow out a candle between the horse’s ears. That helps to drop your weight down into your seat and stirrups.

Use your inside leg on the girth as you ride the transition while releasing your outside leg slightly. That keeps the horse’s inside leg underneath him and enables him to step through into the trot transition, keeping his balance uphill, rather than falling onto his shoulders.

Exercises to help improve the canter to trot transitions

Riding canter to trot transitions on a 20-meter circle is an exercise that you can use during your warm-up routine.

Transitions on a circle are usually easier to balance than on a straight line because, by bending the horse around the circle, you are encouraging him to bring his inside hind leg more underneath his body. With the horse securely into your outside rein, it’s easier to maintain the all-important connection and throughness that you need for a smooth, balanced downward transition.

Using lateral exercises to help balance downward transitions

The key to a balanced transition from canter to trot is to bring the horse’s hind leg more underneath him, and you can use lateral work to help engage the inside hind leg.

Before riding the downward transition from canter to trot, position the horse slightly in shoulder-fore to engage the inside hind leg. (If riding the exercise on a circle, take care to guard the horse’s quarters with your outside leg and rein so that he doesn’t evade engaging his inside hind leg by pushing his quarters out.)

Ride transitions from canter to trot and straight back into the canter again to keep the horse thinking forward.

In conclusion

Transitions are the key to developing your horse’s engagement, balance, and collection. Also, transitions are an integral part of all dressage tests from novice right through to Grand Prix.

To ride a good canter to trot transition, your horse must understand, and be responsive to, your half-halt aids.

Ride the horse forward into the transition, using your body, core, leg, and a gently resisting rein contact to keep him balanced and straight.

What’s the highest mark you’ve received for a canter to trot transition in a dressage test, and how did you achieve it? Share your success story with us in the comments box below!

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  1. Canter – trot transition, half halt

    Thank you so much for the clear explanation – read it last night, tried it today. Perfect transition with no stressing from my mare, no loss of outline, impulsion or balance.

    Cant thank you enough – we always have such a battle with this transition, but not today!

    Liz & Ginny Bear

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