How to Ride a Forwards Downward Transition
Have your downward transitions been criticized on your dressage test sheets?
Have you received comments such as, ‘abrupt’, ‘should be more forward’, ‘needing to be more fluent’?
Correctly ridden downward transitions not only get you higher marks, but they can also really help to improve many aspects of your horse’s way of going.
Here’s how to ride forwards downward transitions.
What is a ‘transition’?
Before the rider can process what aids to apply to ride a good transition, they must understand what a transition is, and why it is important to ride them.
The word transition illustrates the horse changing pace, or making a change of tempo (speed of the rhythm) within the pace.
For example, the horse makes a transition from walk to trot and trot to canter, and from working trot to medium trot, or collected trot to extended trot.
How to ride transitions
Transitions are essential components of every dressage test, and very often they are awarded their own mark.
If the transition is part of a movement, a transition of good quality will enhance the whole movement and contribute to a higher mark.
A rider is well-advised to make the riding of good transitions a priority early in their partnership with their horse, not just to achieve higher scoring dressage tests, but to logically enhance the training and athletic development of their horse which is proven to promote longevity of soundness too.
Transitions are extremely important to the athletic development of the horse. They help to build suppleness, engagement, and all-important balance and self-carriage.
The ability of the horse to show himself in relative self-carriage to the level of test is the definable quality which can pile on the marks, and this quality comes from the training and riding.
Why are transitions so important?
Initially, transitions give the rider information.
The rider must incorporate all the aids in some combination, i.e. the forward driving aids of the seat, legs, and core as well as the restraining aids of the hands (wrists and fingers), legs and core.
The rider should be prepared to quickly identify from which aids the horse is quick or slow to respond to. This is the sort of information that needs quick identification if the rider is to improve the coordination of the aids in order to build transitions that help the horse to engage and balance.
The goal of a downward transition
You might think this is obvious – you want to get from a faster pace to a slower one. But that is only one purpose of a downward transition in horse training – every correctly ridden downward transition is an opportunity to:
- Close the horse’s hind legs forward under his body
- Create more energy
- Lighten the forehand
- Prepare the horse for more advanced degrees of collection
- Supple the hind leg joints
- Strengthen the hind quarter muscles
- Develop an understanding of the half-halt
- Ultimately, to develop piaffe
Riding a forwards downward transition
Riding a downward transition is primarily about applying the restraining aids of the hands, core, and legs, but the rider must also be prepared to ride forwards, and if necessary, in a quicker tempo (if on a lazier horse) on approach to a downward transition.
The restraining aids tell the horse to come back to the next pace down, but if they are applied (or received) too abruptly, they will have the counterproductive effect of disengaging the hind legs. This can cause the horse to fall onto the forehand.
If you have your horse attentive to the rein aids, leg aids, and core, you’ll be able to shorten and activate the horse’s stride, which makes it easier to find the right timing on approach to a downward transition.
Important points to remember:
- Make the horse attentive to all the aids – particularly reins and legs
- As a result of the initial hand/leg aids, the horse will learn to identify with the rider’s seat
- Manage the stride length and tempo – stride length and tempo will increase as the balance and engagement develop throughout the education
- The aids must be precise and well-timed
- The horse should also be laterally supple, i.e. through the poll and body
- Keep the transitions simple, i.e. walk-trot and trot-walk until the rider identifies with the hind legs stepping under the body and thus contributing to the balance and engagement of the ride. These transitions form the basis of the half-halts.
- Ride frequent transitions and incorporate a rein release when appropriate
Riding good downward transitions will help make your horse better balanced and more responsive to your aids.
Correctly aiding the downward transition may take time to learn, and discipline to apply every time you ride this transition, but it is well worth the effort in terms of developing your horse physically, as well as gaining better marks in your tests.
Be sure to incorporate plenty of transitions into your daily schooling sessions, and remember to move up and down the gears within the paces, as well as from gait to gait.
- How to Prepare Your Horse for Transitions
- How to Ride a Good Canter-Walk Transition
- How to Ride a Half-Halt
- How to Ride a Strong Horse