How to improve your horse’s transitions

  • Sometimes a fresh approach to your training is all it takes to turn a corner. Helen Phillip scored her personal best at medium level at Addington earlier this month thanks to help from her trainer of 4 months, Gemma Appleton. So what is it about Gemma's training that helped Helen make the difference?

    How do you pick up better marks in your dressage test? Helen Phillip from Faringdon in Oxfordshire has discovered the secret. Helen and her 11-year-old Westphalianstallion/gelding Rubens have just scored plus-70% at medium level and in so doing won their class in the Central Regional Championships at Addington Manor last week (full report H&H 15 August issue). The duo scored 70.30%.

    “This is my personal best at this level,” said Helen told H&H. “We were picking up more marks throughout the test. Our transitions are better and my test riding is getting sharper.”

    Helen keeps Rubens at Gemma Appleton’s yard and so we asked Gemma what they have been working on to tighten up those transitions.

    “When Helen first came to me about 4 months ago, Rubens had a really floaty trot which was too big and Helen was struggling with their balance. The main thing for her to work on was to get the horse a bit quicker behind and to create a more definite walk, trot, canter rhythm than he, by nature, wanted to be doing.

    “By breaking the trot down and making the stride smaller,  it became more manageable for her to ride movements and focus from marker to marker.

    “We do a lot of work on walk to trot transitions and 10m circles so that Rubens isn’t working on a straight line for too long. I’m constantly saying ‘think about the rhythm, make everything purposeful, think about the hind legs coming through in a true 1-2 trot rhythm’.

    “At medium level, the judges want him to be a little bit more active in a different type of trot to the higher grades. The transitions and circles encourage Rubens to be more off of Helen’s legs and to come up out of the transition straight away in the trot rhythm that she wants, rather than the one she had.”

    What’s your USP?

    It’s easy to focus on the horse and the horse’s outline and forget to look at the rider. I take a step backwards, and always allow the horse and rider to warm up for 5 or 10mins, appraising them from a mechanical point of view. I like to think about what the horse is like, how he’s built and how best to utilise him for the job he needs to do. But it’s important not to forget to look at the rider, who is also an athlete, and you have to work on them as much as you do the horse.

    What’s your pet hate?

    Badly ridden corners.

    Share with us your signature exercise

    Your aim is to get the horse equal in both reins. If, for example, the horse is heavy in the right rein then I would do a lot of leg yielding, pushing him from the right leg into the left rein in walk, trot and canter.

    What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?

    When I went to Holland to Henk van Bergen’s yard, he gave me lots of useful pieces of advice, but one that sticks is that it takes an awful lot to keep coming out everyday and doing the same job and pushing yourself that bit harder.

    If we were to ask your pupils, what would be the one thing they all say you continually shout?

    Rhythm… or sit on your backside.

    For more about Gemma and her training visit www.integritydressage.com

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