Improving trot-canter transitions

Last Saturday I judged and taught a Ride-A-Test clinic at Autumn Hill Equestrian Center in Longmont, Colorado. Attendance was good, with 20 riders entered. Each first rode a test of his/her choice, and then received commentary and a 10-minute “mini lesson”. Tests ridden ranged from the new Rider Tests to the Prix St. Georges. Although there were some lovely performances, a recurring theme that day seemed to be “thoroughness” and connection, even at the higher levels. Many riders had problems with transitions between gaits, especially trot to canter. I’d like to outline a simple exercise I use frequently to help riders whose horses routinely come above the bit or against the hand in these transitions.

Start in a trot on the 20-meter circle, focusing on the correct tempo, bend, balance and round, soft connection to the outside rein. When this is achieved, gradually decrease the size of the circle to 12-15 meters. After the horse gets comfortable on this new, smaller circle, gradually begin leg-yielding back out to the 20-meter circle, carefully maintaining the same balance and soft connection.

Before reaching the 20 meter circle and while still leg-yielding out, ask for the canter and notice what happens. Most horses stay in steadier balance and are less likely to hollow their backs or come about the bit in the transition. This is because during the exercise, the rider focuses on using the inside leg toward the outside rein, which helps keep the horse balanced and connected, especially if she remembers to soften the inside hand during the transition. Although the outside leg gives the aid for the strike-off, it is the inside leg to outside rein connection which maintains the balance and connection. This simple exercise often results in riders getting fewer comments like “above bit” or “hollow in transition.”

Try this and let me know if it works for you!


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Sandra C. Hotz

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