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How to Ride a Good Canter-Walk Transition

how to ride a good canter walk transition how to dressage


As you progress through the dressage levels, you’ll encounter the canter to walk transition.

Canter to walk is used when riding simple changes as a preparation for the flying changes that come with the more advanced work.

Canter to walk transitions require strength from both horse and rider! So, how do you ride a good canter to walk transition?

Here are our top tips on how to ride good canter to walk transitions, together with some useful exercises for you to practice.

What the dressage judge is looking for

When judging canter to walk transitions, the judge hopes to see:

  • Good balance
  • A direct transition with no trot or jogging steps between the canter and walk
  • A relaxed horse
  • The hind leg stepping underneath so that the horse doesn’t fall onto his forehand as he walks
  • A forward-thinking transition
  • The horse remaining light in the contact, not leaning on the rider’s hand for support in the transition

Common faults that will attract poor marks include:

  • a flat canter that lacks impulsion
  • an unbalanced transition where the horse falls onto his forehand
  • jogging before the walk is established
  • the horse coming against the rider’s hand in the transition
  • signs of tension
  • an abrupt transition

When riding a canter-walk transition as a simple change, be very careful to keep the horse straight, especially when riding the exercise on the center line.

A simple change prepares the horse for flying changes. Crookedness in the changes is a serious fault that you don’t want to become a habit at this early stage in your horse’s education.

The walk/collected canter relationship

Before you can ride a good canter to walk transition, you must be able to collect your horse’s canter. A good collected canter is uphill, and engaged with plenty of energy.

Because the walk and collected canter are closely related to each other, it’s pretty straightforward for the horse to execute a transition from collected canter directly into walk.

In collected canter, the horse’s hind feet land one after another. When you momentarily slow down the momentum of the canter, the horse’s front feet will walk.

So, you can see that timing is everything when riding a good canter to walk transition. As the horse’s forehand lifts, he will more on his haunches.

Ask for the transition at this point in the canter sequence so that the front feet will be walking as the horse’s forehand meets the ground.

What aids do you use for the canter to walk transition?

Immediately before asking for the transition you must slow down your hips, thinking of the canter becoming more elevated, rather than covering ground forward.

When the forehand lifts in preparation for the moment of suspension in the canter phase, use the following aids:

  • Sit deep, using your bottom to push your seat bones down into the saddle.
  • Exhale deeply to create an extra abdominal push.
  • “Think” walk with your hips and seat bones.
  • To help counterbalance the change in momentum, incline your upper body very slightly backward, keeping your back straight.
  • Stretch your legs down and wrap them around your horse to hold him as he makes the transition.
  • Ease your hand slightly so that the horse can’t lean on you.

The canter to walk exercise is very important for building the horse’s self-carriage.

Here are some exercises that you’ll find helpful in teaching your horse the canter to walk transition.

  1. Use a circle

Riding your horse on a circle has the effect of collecting him.

The smaller the circle you ride, the more the horse has to step under himself, the lighter his forehand becomes, and the more self-carriage he develops.

  • Ride a 10 or 15 meter circle in collected canter. As you complete the circle and approach the wall or fence, prepare and ask for the walk transition.
  • From the long side of the arena, ride a 10 or 15 meter half-circle back to the track in collected canter. As you approach the corner, ask for a transition to walk.
  • Ride a 20 meter circle in collected canter and gradually spiral in to 10 meters. As soon as you feel your horse begin to lose energy, ask him to walk. Continue to make the circle smaller, and then ask for canter again, working outwards onto a 20 meter circle again where you should lengthen the canter to refresh your horse.

Don’t worry too much about accuracy when you’re teaching your horse this exercise. As long as the horse understands the exercise, that’s all you want at this stage.

  1. Use a square

Ride a square as you would ride a large circle, making the corners like portions of smaller circles and riding a straight line between them instead of a curve.

As you ride the exercise, your horse begins to anticipate each corner and step under himself more, which is exactly what you want him to do.

  • Ride a 20 meter square in collected canter at one end of your arena so that the walls will help you make two turns. Ride the horse straight toward the wall, turning him when you’re about five to seven meters away from it. Use plenty of inside leg to prevent the horse from falling onto his inside shoulder, and be sure to maintain the impulsion.
  • After you’ve ridden a few squares, ask the horse to walk. As your horse begins to understand the exercise, make the square smaller to develop more collection and engagement.

Be careful to keep the impulsion as you ride this exercise. You will need to slow the canter to negotiate the corners of the square, but be sure to keep the “jump.”

  1. Counter-canter

The counter-canter has a collecting and straightening effect on the horse and can be extremely useful for teaching transitions to walk.

  • Walk around the school, shortening the steps through each corner before a long side. Ask for a slight counter flexion and finish each corner almost in counter-shoulder-fore position.
  • Pick up counter-canter. Ride your horse straight, and when you reach the next corner prepare him for a transition to walk. Aim to make the transition six to ten meters before the corner and walk right into it.

Again, be careful to keep the impulsion in the canter and activity in the walk while riding this exercise. Remember, collection requires just as much impulsion as the working paces. Even though the steps are shorter, they should be elevated and springy.

In conclusion

Before you can ride a good canter to walk transition, your horse must be established and confident in collected canter.

The exercises outlined above will help to improve collection, as well as teaching your horse the canter-walk transition.

As with any new exercise, be patient, and allow your horse time to understand what you want of him.

When you’ve tried out the exercises we’ve suggested, why not come back and tell us how you did?

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