Downward Transitions, Part 2

Downward transitions are a softening of the rider, not an increase of backward pressure.

A lot of people don’t understand that downward transitions are done with the seat and the leg and very little rein. AQHA Professional Horsewoman Andy Moorman teamed with the Journal to explain a proper downward transition. Catch up with Part 1!

Legs: As you sit, you lengthen your leg down and close it softly. It’s “sit, close.” That way you keep forward motion all the way through the transition, with the hind legs still coming under.

It’s different from a spur stop; you don’t raise your heels and poke with a spur. You just soften your body and close your legs down and in to soften the transition.

Reins: Don’t pull back on the reins; it ruins the horse’s forward motion. Instead, take the reins forward and up just a hair. Keep very light contact with the horse’s mouth, almost only the weight of the reins. It helps balance the horse. The hands go forward and lift up a little so the horse feels the weight of the rein and knows to give at the poll.

Nine dressage lessons from AQHA Professional Horsewoman Carla Wennberg are included in AQHA’s FREE Dressage Riding Report. Whether getting started in dressage or just using its fundamentals for other disciplines, download or print your copy today!

Think of the reins not as producing the downward transition, but as keeping the head from falling forward and down. The reins help the head stay in place, balanced and soft – but it’s the body that slows down.

Release Your Breath
As you start the downward transition, try letting your own breath out. Say out loud the gait you want, slowly letting your air out as you say it: “Joooog,” or “trrroot.”

That helps you settle down the horse. Yes, the horse hears it, but what’s important is that letting your breath out relaxes your body.

When we want to do something, especially if we’re worried about it, we often hold our breath, making us stiff. A stiff body affects how the horse performs and responds.

Speak the Rhythm
I also have my students speak the gait out loud. For example, if they are cantering and want them to drop to a trot, I have them say, “Canter, canter, canter” with the stride, and then “Trot, trot, trot,” in the exact same rhythm.

By learning to stay in rhythm with your horse, you will be able to ask for the downward transition in rhythm. Then when you do ask for that downward transition, the horse’s weight-bearing legs will be in the proper position.

If you’re relaxed and saying it out loud, you maintain the rhythm in your mind and will automatically use your legs and seat correctly.

Practice Without Using Reins
It’s hard to realize you can stop a horse by simply sitting down and balancing the reins.

A good way to practice is to have someone longe you while you ride, so you can make downward transitions without reins. Hold your hands in correct riding position and work off your seat and legs.

If you have a horse that pulls on the bridle, tosses his head, rushes or throws up his head during transitions, the exercises from AQHA Professional Horsewoman Carla Wennberg in AQHA’s FREE Dressage Report can help. Download, print off and take to the barn with you!

You can also tie your reins in a knot and drop them while you ride in an enclosed arena or round pen. Pick a time when your horse is warmed up and try downward transitions from a walk to a stop without the reins. Make sure you tie them so you can easily reach them if your horse drops his head.

Work on Going Down to a Walk
I have my riders work a lot on transitioning down to a walk and maintaining rhythm. You have to really use your seat and legs to maintain that walk.

Once you have good transitions to a walk, then going down to a stop is easy because all you do is sit, hold everything together and think “right now.” It’s just a higher degree of asking.

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