#SundaySchool: How do I ride good downward transitions?

  • Dressage rider and trainer Matt Frost goes back to basics with exercises to improve riding downward transitions

    Gloucestershire-based Matt has six national titles to his name and has had numerous placings at international level. He is also a popular trainer. Here he shares his advice on riding downward transitions.

    Training the stars

    AMD Don Rosso II is a very big horse and it took me time and patience to teach him to balance and shorten his frame. The following exercises would help put him in the correct position to achieve a fluid transition.

    Riding downward transitions

    As you progress through the levels of dressage, your tests will feature gear changes that require increased accuracy and collection. The key to a good downward transition is to ensure that the speed you are in is level with the speed of the pace you’re going into.

    1. The horse must be on the aids. Walk-halt-walk transitions are a good way of testing your horse’s reaction — these are tools we have in order to make a precise transition. When you close your upper leg, the horse must stop; when you close your calf, he must go forward. The reactions must be instant.

    2. From there, progress forwards from walk to trot. On a 20-metre circle, come back to walk for three strides then go forwards again. Gradually reduce the number of walk strides to develop the half-halt, and start to feel when the horse is just about to walk — in other words, the maximum level of collection the horse can give at that time.

    It’s important to let the horse stall and go down to walk from that shorter trot, so you know where that point is and can learn how much collection you’re offered before the downward transition.

    3. You can apply the same pattern to trot-canter-trot transitions, coming back to trot for two or three strides before cantering again.

    4. Over time, increase the length of collected trot and collected canter (as opposed to walking). Eventually increase the collection further to be able to do canter-walk-canter.

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    Consider this…

    • Riding these transitions on a circle is easier; on a dead-straight line, it’s harder for the horse to balance and stay supple. Incorporate some leg-yielding on the circle to keep the back soft, as horses can often tense their back in the downward transition.
    • Once you master these transitions on the circle, ride them on a straight line. From the long side, ride a small circle to prepare the pace ready for the downward transition, and in the last quarter of the circle make the transition.
    • Reducing the size of the circle will increase collection and suppleness, helping the downward transition. An eight-metre circle in canter is the tempo he needs for a good canter-walk transition.
    • Once the horse makes the transition, he needs to find his own balance, so do not hold and brace him in front, otherwise the transition won’t be fluid. The aid really has to come from the seat.
    • Practice makes perfect. Getting it wrong a few times is key, as you won’t know how to make it right unless you do it wrong.

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