Podcast Episode 4: Dressage Secrets - Transitions

Transitions in your dressage test - you can't avoid them! So what is the best way to make sure you have good transitions, what are some of the things to look for or some of the challenges you may face with your horse when you are trying to perfect your transitions? Natasha goes through step by step what is involved in a good transition, in particular trot to canter transitions.

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Full Transcript Expand to full transcript

I thought today we could work on transitions. How does that sound? Who thinks that they might need to learn a little bit about transitions? Transitions - can't get away from them. Can't get into a dressage test and go, I'm an expert dressage rider and I'm going to do the best dressage test ever. As long as I don't have to do transitions, the transitions will be there. And first you have to start to realize that transitions are not something to be scared of or something to worry about or something that's annoying. It's a test to see how well you've got the horse. If you have the horse completely through, if you have the horse completely connected, if you have the hind leg active, if you have your contact well, if you have your seat well, if you've plugged in your seat bones and your seat can influence the horse - transitions are a piece of cake. So it's not the transition that you're having trouble with. You're having trouble with your basics, you're having trouble with contact, you're having trouble with throughness, you're having trouble with activity and when you fix all of that you'll get the correct transition. Now most people don't look at it like that. They go, just help me with the transition. So if I'm going to help someone with the transition, I'm never going to look at the transition and I'm always going to work on the stuff that we do before. Then I do really love working with, with let's say a trot canter transition because there's lots of things that can go wrong. Okay, so when you go walk trot transition, what can go wrong? Either the horse doesn't trot or the horse like puts its head up and kind of jumps into the trot.
There's only a couple of things that can go wrong. The trot canter, not only do we have to get the horse from trot into canter, but we also need to get the horse, um, on the correct lead, which can be a whole other thing. So yes, and it's that normal complication of not only do I have to get into canter, but I have to get the correct lead that can play with our minds and get a little bit more complicated than let's say, a walk to trot transition. So we're going to focus a little bit more on the truck to canter transition today. And the thing that you first have to remember is for the horse to do a correct canter transition, it can't, or the correct lead, uh, it can't have too much weight on the inside shoulder. Okay? If the horse is falling in, it's never going to do the correct canter lead.
And that might sound simple, but I hope for some of you you've gone, what? What? I never knew that. Hopefully! It's like I learned in um, on Facebook that there's a, there's a little hole in your saucepan, um, handle on your saucepan handle. There's a hole in it. And I just thought I never even registered or thought. I never sat there going, I wonder what that hole is for. But when you realize what that is for is actually to put your spoon there so you don't put it next to the stove and make a big tomatoey mess - who knew? So I'm sitting there going, life's changed forever. Hopefully we're on it. I've said your horse cannot canter on the correct lead if it's falling in and falling on the inside shoulder and heavy on that inside shoulder. Um, hopefully for some of you you've gone, I didn't know that - because I know that was me.
I was going around, my horse was falling in - doing that motorbike thing and I'd be like, just canter on the correct lead! And I didn't understand why he wasn't cantering on the correct leg. No one ever told me. So hopefully that's the first thing. Then comes the trickier bit. Okay, that's great. But he is going around like a motorbike and he is falling in and he is doing that. How? How do I stop from doing that? Yeah, that would be our second thing. All right, so and how do you know it is? Well, you should be able to feel, it feels like you're on a motorbike. It feels like you're getting closer to the ground on that side and it feels like, um, yeah. The horse, like you're thinking you're going this way, but the horse is kind of falling in this way.
It's really important. That's why I say like plan your circle plan where you think the circles going. So if it falls in and you're suddenly doing an 18 meter circle, when you plan to do a 20 that means your horse is falling in. That means there's too much weight on the inside shoulder. So, how do we do it? It's really, really basic. Okay, so we've got the horse falling in. What we need to do is get the weight over there. How are we going to get the weight over there? What tools do we have? What aids do we have that could do that? So. The tools and the aids are, we have an inside leg and what we're going to do with that inside leg is push it onto the horse and ask the horse to move everything over to there. Now we could ask the horse to leg yield so we could actually say, I want your legs to go over there.
And with a young horse, that's probably what I would do with an older, more experienced horse, you can just put your leg on and say move your weight - so I can move my legs and actually come out. Or I can just curve. I can just go from loading up here to loading up here. Yeah, and that's what we do like in a flying change. I don't have time to be leg yielding lift and leg yielding right if I'm going to do four time, three time, two time, one time tempis, but I might go, Oh, there's a bit of block move this call, there's a bit of block, move that on, do whatever I need to do in the ribs and move the horse wherever the blockage is to make sure it's soft for the new hind leg to jump through wherever we want to canter if we want to canter left or canter right. And feel if the horse is falling in. Does it feel like bend? No, it feels like your horse is a bit drunk. You know when you're walking with someone drunk and they're like, arghhh...or wherever they are is literally someone falling onto one shoulder or falling onto the next and they literally, if you're going in a straight line, the straight line moves either left or the straight line moves near moves to the right. It's such a good exercise. Like I do it on all the old experienced horses, all the Grand Prix horses... I'll ride a straight line and go, what do I feel? And I'll feel slightly this or slightly that. You might not see it in the mirror, but you will feel it. You'll feel a filling up on one side but not the other. And you want to feel even, you want to feel that both sides are even.
So that's our first thing with the transition. So the transition trot to canter, I always go, the first thing is the trot has to be good. If you're trotting like a jog, you know how sometimes I say bring the trot down to where it's a nothing trot to a pathetic trot to a trot. You would never ever show anybody and a trot you would never ever used for a test. But if you're learning, sitting trot, that's the trot you want to know you want to sit on. Um, and then if you, um, are feeling that it's an active trot, it's a forward trot because especially on a young horse, a horse can go into canter from a bigger trot more than a smaller trot more easily. So you want to really pump that trot, boom, boom, boom, boom and have it booming. Then you want to make sure it's ramped.
Because obviously you want to do a round trot to canter transition. So you're going to ask for the horse to be really through. Ask the horse to be really round, you know, play with the lower fingers, play with your hands over the bit, play that mouth away. Um, close your legs, have that whole connection piece going on. And then you're going to, I like to sit trot even on a really young horse so I can feel when the right moment is. And then I can um, use my inside seat bone as my scooping aid. So, you know, when you're on a swing and you scoop with your bum or your seat bones to get the swing to move, that's the feeling into an inside, inside seat bone for a canter transition to the inside. So, um, you're going to do that and then you are going to, um, so you've got the horse round, you've got the trot forward, you've got to have you apply your seat aid and then you're going to be ready to bail.
So either two things are going to happen. Your horse is going to canter instantly and it's going to be beautiful. Your horse is going to trot one step and put its head up. If he does, you're going to bail out of the canter transition, get the horse round and try again. Or the horse is going to just speed up in trot. If it does that, you're going to bring the horse back. Try again. Soft to me is, um, like if the horse has its head up, he's not soft, he's resisting the bit, you're going to feel weight in your hands because he's up there like that. Um, and so we want the horse to be round, but we don't want the horse to be heavy. We want it to be round but soft, which means that he's giving with his back. He's got a soft back. He's, he's letting you in, he's got his hind legs active, all that kind of stuff.
So normally when in a normal dressage test, if we're cantering, we want the horse to canter, um, with it. Uh, so what you're going to see when you look down is when you tell your horse to canter, you're going to look down at its shoulders. The same thing. Um, when you're learning, when you're looking, if you're on the correct diagonal or not. So when you're on the correct diagonal, you want to see what, when you're up in the air, which shoulder do you want to see coming more forward? So that same premise of when I looked down and I see that one shoulder is going forward and then I see the other shoulder going forward. It's the same with the canter. You want to see that inside shoulder going more forward. Otherwise, if you see the outside shoulder going more forward, you have the wrong canter lead.
So that's, and I shouldn't say the wrong, it's just the, um, what, what would you call it? So normally in a dressage test - it'll say between A and F canter left, which means they want the left lead, um, and they want the left shoulder going more forward. Then when you advance more on the dressage test, it says we want you to counter canter. So we want you to have the left lead, but we want you to go right. I know - it gets confusing. So when you start riding elementary, medium, advanced, there becomes no right or wrong canter lead, there just becomes, do you want the left one or do you want the right one? And we start doing exercises as the horse becomes more advanced - then you know, we might trot down the center line and canter left trot, canter right trot, canter left trot, canter right trot.
So the horse has to learn that it's not just get to canter now It's when I put my body and legs and my, my, your position in a certain position, I want canter left. And if I put my body and your body and my position as certain position, I want canter right. But yes, we want to rise when the outside shoulder is moving forward. So, um, it's the opposite. Well, it's not the opposite, because we don't want to rise in canter, but we want to see that inside shoulder and be okay that you don't know. Be okay. How about learning experience? I used to be like, I have no idea.
My coach would be like, um, same with diagonals. Are you on the correct diagonal? Yup.
I would just guess and 50% of the time I'd get it right. Same with the canter lead. You're on the correct canter lead? Yes. Or I'd be like, ah, it feels good. So it probably is the correct canter lead. And if it felt really uncomfortable and unbalanced, I assumed it was the wrong lead. Um, and I used to fake my way through it for years. But you're in big trouble when you then have to start to do counter canter and flying changes and you don't know if your horse has changed cleanly and all those kinds of things. So, um, be okay that you, you know, you weren't born knowing it and everyone else in the class might, well that's great. They're gifted. Good for them. You're going to have to learn it. And I would just sit there and I'd go, okay, um, I think it's, I think it's correct.
And, and my, my coach would just give me that visual feedback. No, it's not. Okay. So what I think that looks like isn't what I think that looks like. So, and this is how bad my feeling used to be. I used to go, all right, I feel, or I think it looks like the canter is canter left. That's probably wrong because my feeling's normally pretty wrong. So I'm going to say it's to the, it's the wrong canter lead. It's the counter lead and I'd be correct. So I had to really firstly learn to not trust my feelings because my feelings were always wrong, which then led into this belief that I was the worst rider in the world and I couldn't feel anything and I never knew what was happening underneath me. And then, um, after doing that for so many years, I then had to retrain that belief because I was a much better writer than what I used to be.
And you can't progress to Grand Prix. You can't progress to where I want to get to not trusting your feelings and not going with your gut and not feeling and just reacting to what you feel. So then I had to rewrite. I'm the best rider in the world. I can feel everything. I have the best feeling ever. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So very very interesting journey. But I always do like to share, you know, I didn't know my diagonals. I didn't know my canter leads. What did I, Oh, I learned this amazing, um, catchphrase yesterday and I absolutely love it. "Every master was once a disaster."
So, you know, Isabelle didn't always get the diagonals, Charlotte didn't always get the correct canter lead. Every master was once a disaster. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. So that's transitions. Well, that's trot to canter transitions. And then the other thing is the canter to trot transition. Um, most people drop the horse into canter to trot. They're like, all right, canter and canter and canter and drop. You want to float. Think that you're wearing a parachute. You and your horse are wearing a parachute and you're going to float forward into your trot transition rather than drop and either run away in the trot or kind of like go slow and then speed up. You want to know in your head, what is the rhythm that I am hitting when I, when I dropped down here, it's not canter... I'll see what trot I have and then see and then deal with it.
It canter, trot trot trot trot trot. You have got to be really clear with your body, with your mindset of what does my trot transition look like the minute I hit it. Um, so you really want to think about floating down and think about going forwards into it. We did this when I was on the horse. You know, especially trot walk transitions. People go trot halt walk because they using too much rein and too much backwards. Tell the horse you want to walk then relinquish your reins and ride it. So ride the transition forward because as you tell the horse to walk, it's a process. So as the horse floats down into walk, if you already ride the walk forward, he'd going to get transition trot forward walk. Rather than have that halting step. How do you keep them from going too fast? When transitioning from canter to trot? It's really about using your core, your body.
So canter, trot trot trot and you might, if it's a horse that's going to fall on the forehand, if it's a young horse, if it's a horse that's trained to, you know, hasn't been trained to sit on his hind legs through the transition, you're going to have to, you know, you're going to have to sit on his hind leg and you're going to have to do a million half halts through the transition. And when you land in that transition to keep the white on the hind leg if that makes sense. So transitioning to halt, same thing as your, as you've got the halt, soften your reins. So, and this is a teaching thing. You want to teach your horse to, um, stay in halt without anything. Um, so soften your reins. And then just tiny little lower fingers, tiny little lower fingers to say hi. I'm here. I'm here.
Don't go anywhere, but I'm here. Nothing with your wrists, nothing with a backwards thing. Just to, Hey, we're going to stay here and the horse the whole time, just ride forward again and halt and halt. Train your horses. I think you've seen it on a video like it. It's a training thing. You've just got to train them to be okay. Pat them, talk to them, tell them it's okay. Get them used to standing there two seconds, then ride forward and tell them what a great horse they were. Then three seconds then four seconds then five seconds and build it up.