Improve Your Horse’s Upward Transitions, Part 2

Enlist these horse-training exercises to perfect your horse’s transitions.

Having a smooth upward transition is important because it’s much easier to maintain a correct gait than it is to correct a gait once it’s started poorly. The goal is to start the gait correctly and make it more useful to what you’re doing with a pattern or even a rail class.

Last week, we discussed the common problems with upward transitions and solutions for fixing them. Review those tips in Part 1. Now, let’s look at some ways to improve the transitions even more.

Transitions Within Circles

A really good way to get a horse to understand that he needs to maintain self-carriage, working off his hindquarters while going forward, is to work on your transitions within a circle.

With a circle, you can get three concepts through to him: bending around your hand and leg, giving at the poll and moving forward. A circle combines the maneuvers and makes them a little more simple for the horse to understand.

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It’s especially helpful for a horse who is used to carrying his head wherever he wants to and “elevating” into a gait, taking a big first step into a gait rather than stepping softly and “rounding” to the gait. He might take his head and push forward and pull the bridle reins out of your hand. A circle can help you get him back in the bridle, giving to you and working off his hindquarters.

Within the circle, you can confine the horse’s body parts a little to help him to stay between your reins and legs.

You’re asking him to flex at the poll and giving him a reason to do it. The horse must give to you more than he would while traveling in a straight line. He has more of a reason to give to you because of the bend and the arc he needs to maintain the circle.

Don’t forget to work in both directions.

Whenever you’re having trouble with riding in a straight line, go back to riding a circle. A straight line is much more difficult to ride; it requires more skill from both the rider and the horse.

Once you feel like you and your horse are good with circles (maintaining an even circle going up and down between the walk, trot and canter), then go out of the circle to work in straight lines. But go back to working only at the walk. Only when you feel like the horse understands that, then move up to trot and canter transitions in straight lines.

Turns on the Forehand

Doing turns on the forehand can help a horse understand to move away from your leg. When there’s one leg applied and you hold the head position, that means to move the hind end.

Then you can take that to the next level: when the hand is released and another leg comes on, that means to go forward.

Leg Yields

Leg yields are another good way to practice upward transitions. Say you’ve completed your circle exercise and you want to ask the horse to step into the left lead from a walk.

Ask the horse to first take two or three two-tracking steps to the right, then soften your reins, release and ask for the left lead.

Before you climb aboard your horse to train upward transitions, you’re going to have to tie him up, groom and saddle him. With AQHA’s FREE How to Tie a Lead Rope report, you can be sure your pre-riding routine is just as safe and accurate as the actual ride.

You’ve put the horse in the position that you maintained in your circle, and the left lead comes naturally off that left arc that you’ve just put in the horse. Again, it makes it a more natural, comfortable transition.

Trouble With the Canter

If you’re having trouble with the canter, go back to the trot. You can work on transitioning up within the gait: work at the jog and bump it up a notch or two to a medium or working trot, where you’ve got more forward motion established but you’ve still got contact, with the horse flexing at the poll.

When you’re maintaining that roundness by working in a little faster trot, then the step up to the lope or canter isn’t such a big speed difference. You’re enabling the horse to step into the next gait a little more naturally.

The transition into the canter can also be improved by the downward transition. Sometimes it’s easier to correct problems by slowing a horse down rather than speeding him up.

If you’re not satisfied with your upward transition into the canter, drop back down to a trot, keeping the horse soft in the poll through the downward transition. Keep the horse soft to your hand, with your leg and rein closed on the horse, then immediately ask for the canter again. It’ll have a carryover effect to the upward transition.

Asking for the canter from a rollback or a turn on the haunches can also improve the departure because it keeps the horse working from his hind end. Ask for the canter from the turn without hesitation, immediately engaging the hindquarters.

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