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How to Ride a Good Walk-Trot Transition

walk to trot transition dressage


Good transitions are a fundamental element of dressage riding and form a major part of all dressage tests, whatever level you’re riding at.

The transition from walk to trot is a basic but valuable exercise. It is one of the first transitions that your horse will learn and therefore it’s very important to get it right.

In this article, we explain what makes a good walk-trot transition and how to ride one correctly.

What the dressage judge is looking for

When judging a transition from walk to trot, the dressage judge wants to see:

  • A good, active walk in a pure four-beat rhythm and suitable tempo
  • A smooth, responsive transition from the walk into a trot
  • A direct transition between the paces with no jogging between
  • The horse maintains the correct rhythm of both gaits
  • The horse is relaxed and free from signs of tension
  • The horse remains in a round outline, working over his back to seek the rider’s elastic contact
  • The horse remains straight and moving on one track
  • The horse pushes himself into the trot from his hindlegs

Common faults that occur when riding a transition from walk to trot include:

  • The horse is very slow to make the transition
  • The horse anticipates the upward transition and begins jogging
  • The horse hollows his frame and loses connection through his back
  • The horse brings his hindquarters in from the track to balance himself as he makes the transition.
  • The horse becomes tense, rushing away from the rider’s leg into the trot
  • The horse drags himself into trot and is on the forehand

How to ride a good walk-trot transition

Now let’s take a look at how to ride a perfect walk-trot transition.

Step 1 – Establish a good quality walk

Before you can ride a good transition, you need a good quality walk.

So, the walk needs to be active and purposeful, marching forward into the contact without hurrying. The rhythm must be correct and clearly four-beat, and the tempo should remain constant.

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Step 2 – Preparation

Don’t just throw your horse into a trot! You need to prepare him properly for the transition to ensure that he remains balanced and in the correct frame.

Ride a soft half-halt a couple of strides before you make the upward transition. That helps to shift the weight more onto the hose’s hindquarters which encourages him to push himself into trot with his hind legs, rather than drag himself into trot with his front legs, head, and neck.

Make sure that you keep the walk rhythm and tempo the same. Don’t let the horse speed up or slow down in the last few strides before the transition.

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Step 3 – The transition

When you ask for the transition to trot, use your legs evenly on both sides. Simultaneously, swing your pelvis upwards using your stomach muscles, similar to what you would do in sitting trot.

You should use your leg as little as possible, but just enough to get the reaction you want. Think about the horse reacting to a “whisper, not a scream!” If you ask for the transition and don’t get it, back up your leg aid with a tap from your schooling whip.

Keep the rein length the same and the contact elastic, but stop following the horse’s movement with your hands. This helps to make it clear to the horse that you want him to go into trot rather than just walk faster.

Step 4 – The move-off

As soon as the horse makes the transition, ask for a little more impulsion. That helps to drive the horse’s hind legs further under his body and push his balance more uphill. If you allow the horse to just flop into the trot, he will most likely start off on his forehand, literally giving you an uphill task to correct that!

Also, at the moment the horse moves off, ease your hands very slightly to allow him to move forward.

If you are doing rising trot, wait for a few steps until the horse is balance before you start.

Common problems

Although on the face of it a walk to trot transition appears to be a relatively simple exercise, there are actually quite a few things that can go wrong.

1 – Slow To Go

If your horse is tuned in and listening to you, he should react instantly to the aid for the upward transition to trot.

A sloppy, slow upward transition usually happens because the walk is inactive. So, you need to sharpen your horse to your aids, and the most effective way to do that is by riding lots of transitions.

Ride walk-trot-walk transitions, working trot-medium trot-working trot transitions, and trot-canter-trot transitions to get your horse thinking forward.

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2 – Anticipating

Sometimes, a tense horse will anticipate the upward transition, jogging, or increasing the tempo of the rhythm right before the transition.

To relax your horse, try riding in free walk on a long rein around a 20-meter circle, keeping your horse into your outside rein and working him in a long and low frame. That encourages the horse to release through his back and is very effective at getting rid of tension.

Slowly retake the reins, and use a very gentle, discreet aid to ask the horse to make the transition into trot. Don’t hang onto the horse’s mouth, as that will only make him tighten up and become tense.

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3 – Hollowing

Again, this problem usually occurs because the horse is not working forward properly through a supple back and neck to seek the contact. So, when you ask for the transition, the horse pulls himself into trot with his front legs instead of pushing himself from behind.

Once you have the horse working correctly through a supple topline, he should stay in the correct, round frame. Don’t try to hold the horse’s head in! That won’t stop the horse from hollowing and is very obvious to a good judge!

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4 – Crookedness

If the horse isn’t working correctly through his back into an elastic contact, he might push his hindquarters in as he makes the transition into trot.

Horses generally do that if the rider’s hand is fixed and blocking. Simply put, you are asking the horse to go forward but your rigid hand is telling him that there’s nowhere for him to go! So, the horse makes the transition but pushes his quarters in to release the block that you’ve created with your hand.

Also, if the horse is inclined to work on his forehand and is attempting to avoid taking the weight behind, he might bring his quarters in. You can correct that evasion by putting the horse in a slight shoulder-fore position immediately before you ask for the transition. That straightens the horse, keeps him more into your outside rein, and encourages him to use his inside hind leg, too.

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In conclusion

A good walk-trot transition is trickier to ride than you might at first think.

For the transition to be good, the walk must be active, in a correct rhythm and suitable tempo, and the horse must be attentive to your aids. The horse must push himself forward and upward from behind through a supple back into an elastic, allowing contact and should remain straight. The trot itself should immediately move forward in a good rhythm and without signs of tension.

Once you can achieve all that, you will get good marks in dressage tests!

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