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How to Ride a Good Trot-Canter Transition

How to Ride a Good Trot-Canter Transition how to dressage


Transitions form a very important part of your horse’s daily schooling sessions, as well as being potential mark-winners in your dressage tests.

So, what is the purpose of, and why is it necessary to ride a good trot-canter transition?

Read on to find out more.

The purpose of riding good trot to canter transitions

Conscientious management and balanced riding should ensure that the horse transitions from trot to canter in as much balance as possible.

Emphasis should be on the horse ‘pushing from hind legs that are placed under the body’ into canter, rather than launching off the shoulders.

These transitions form vital building blocks in the horse’s education.

In the dressage tests, trot-caner transitions are placed in strategic parts of the arena.  For example, the preliminary horse will strike off in the corner, the novice horse on a straight line going into a corner, and the elementary horse will have to show trot steps between canter strides and changes of lead through trot.

At each level, the judges are looking for a rounder more uphill frame and increased support (engagement) of the hind legs for the higher marks.

Diligent riding of transitions from trot to canter will build the ‘pushing and propulsion’ capacity, enabling the horse to develop incremental levels of engagement of the hind legs.

This is instrumental when training the horse to carry himself and to help build enough power and support in the hindquarters so that he can eventually manage more difficult movements in canter, such as half passes, zig-zags, pirouettes and flying changes later in his career.

Use of these transitions is vital to maintaining the elasticity of the horse’s back muscles, which in turn will raise the shoulders and neck, and add to the quality of the frame.

The horse will have a lighter, more elevated forehand with supportive hind legs, enabling the rider to ride the horse forwards into an elastic and useful contact, utilizing continual half-halts to regulate the tempo.

How to ride good trot to canter transitions

To ride the trot to canter transitions in the best balance possible, the rider must consciously manage the rhythm and quality of the preceding trot and the follow-on canter strides.

The trot tempo (speed of the rhythm) must be active and taking the horse forwards in an even rhythm.

The horse must be accepting of the rider’s weight aids, leg positioning, and contact to the mouth via the reins.

What are the aids and the important details the rider must consider?

The rider must be able to sit on both their seat bones without disturbing the forward trot rhythm, and the horse must allow the rider to sit without any tightening or contracting of the back muscles which could compromise the quality of the trot and build a resistance to the impending strike off.

Just before the moment of strike off, the rider must have the core balance and ability to load some more weight onto their inside seat bone with a forward placed inside leg and a slightly further back outside leg.

The outside rein will have an elastic balancing effect; whilst the inside rein will have an allowing signaling tendency.

This forms the structure of the aid, and particularly on a young horse, the rider must be able to keep the aid structure whilst the horse is registering what to do with his body and weight and where to place the hind legs.

This is the critical moment – the placing of the hind legs – so that the horse learns to ‘push’ as soon as possible, rather than ‘heave’ or ‘launch’ off the shoulders and/or remain croup high.

Common problems in trot-canter transitions

  • inappropriate trot tempo – either lacking impulsion and too slow, or too fast and hurried, thus not enabling the horse time to correctly place the hind legs
  • the horse not adequately familiar with the rider’s aids and position and reluctant to draw forward into the contact
  • becoming hollow and against the contact, therefore affecting the quality of the canter – which usually is not forward enough
  • canter showing a tendency to ‘prop’ onto the shoulders
  • canter lacking a clear 3-beat rhythm
  • the horse may be obedient to the aids, but without enough quality in the trot or canter to remain with sufficient engagement or in own self-carriage – therefore dependent on the reins for support
  • horse not able to stay straight on a line, usually due to lack of engagement and throughness
  • rider out of balance and with inappropriate timing

In conclusion

Riding good trot to canter transitions is a very important part of your horse’s education.

These transitions teach your horse to be responsive to your aids, to maintain his balance and to develop the engagement that is necessary for him to progress in his dressage career.

Use the tips given above to improve your trot to canter transitions and look forward to higher marks in your dressage tests!

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  1. thank u so much, this really helped. my horse is very sensitive and kind of bouncy if you know what i mean, so i have problems sitting the trot to canter and canter to trot transition. i’m very pleased with this article and will use the tips tomorrow when i ride! 🙂

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