Downward Transitions

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musical comedy
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Downward Transitions

Postby musical comedy » Mon Jul 09, 2018 1:27 pm

How do you all get your horses to understand that they need to SIT in the downward transitions and not lean on your hands to brace. In the past, my horses just seemed to instinctively do it. Not so with my current one.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby Dresseur » Mon Jul 09, 2018 1:39 pm

MC, I agree with you that downward transitions are hard to ride well, and hard to teach properly to a horse - especially certain types of horses. Miro sits way down - I actually have to be careful not to get him sitting too much. Willie, Mia, and Sneakers were the opposite, they had to learn to sit and not use my hands as a crutch.

First thing, is to make sure the horse can't pull through you. If the horse can pull through you, it will not ever rock back and sit. When you teach downward transitions, you will have weight in your hands, sometimes a lot. Basically, you have to be side reins for your horse in the moment of transition - that means that the horse can't pull you forward out of the tack (so thigh anchors you to the saddle, shoulders back and down, and firm back so that you or your arm doesn't get pulled forward). Also, you can't pull back - which is hard to do. I have found that you have to be patient. Unless the horse is completely running through your aids, I let the transition take the time that it takes, as long as I feel the horse do something. Basically, you are teaching the horse to do the transition from your seat/back, not the reins. If the horse leans down/curls, I do use my hands to bump the horse up in the bridle, if it wants to go too high on a consistent basis, I may position my hands a little lower.

I also I do work in hand, in side reins. Trot/walk and work up to trot/halts. If I have a horse that leans or won't come under and sit, I tend to make the halts more abrupt. The technique in hand is a quick check in the hand, again, you can't pull the horse to a stop. If the horse consistently crashes into your hand, I may ask the horse to back, but usually I make the transitions pauses instead to make sure the horse's hind legs keep coming with energy. When you lose the hind, you lose the ability of the horse to come under and sit. Depending on how the horse responds to that, I may make my ridden transitions more like pauses as well unless the horse takes that as a free-for-all, run through the aids invitation.

In the canter to trot or canter/walk, I boost the energy level of the canter slightly before the downward. This will put more horse in my hand in the beginning, but once they get the memo that the hind legs have to do something, they start to be more balanced.

It takes forever, especially with some horses, but it is doable to teach horses a different technique in the downward transitions, even flat, long-backed horses.
Last edited by Dresseur on Mon Jul 09, 2018 2:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby DJR » Mon Jul 09, 2018 1:45 pm

I like to imagine the hind legs stopping last and stepping up & under. I also use an upward hh during downwards if the horse is leaning or bracing, which my 7-yr-old is prone to do.

A great exercise for teaching the horse to stay active behind through any downward is to do trot-almost walk-trot transitions, and also walk-almost halt-walk (but trot-almost walk-trot is better). And within gaits, to do lots of accordion exercises to bring them forward and back. The feel must be that the horse will spring back forward with a light aid at any time, and the only way they can do this is by learning to stay active (and under themselves) behind. Another version of this is teaching the square halt by asking for halt and insisting them step up & under with their hind legs. If they don't, ask for another step forward, and another, as needed. They must be sharp to this forward aid. If not, sharpen them up to the "go" aids and rinse/repeat. This must be into an elastic, welcome contact (not a brick wall).
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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby Chisamba » Mon Jul 09, 2018 1:57 pm

First I teach all my horses to transition down off the seat and diaphragm not the reins. Then I use as much leg for the downward as I do for the upward.

I will back up if the horse leans on the hands.

Edited to add. If the horse wants to lift in the down I may position it a little longer and lower. If the horse wants to pull down, I may ride it a little up and out.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby musical comedy » Mon Jul 09, 2018 2:19 pm

Dresseur wrote:First thing, is to make sure the horse can't pull through you. If the horse can pull through you, it will not ever rock back and sit. When you teach downward transitions, you will have weight in your hands, sometimes a lot. Basically, you have to be side reins for your horse in the moment of transition - that means that the horse can't pull you forward out of the tack (so thigh anchors you to the saddle, shoulders back and down, and firm back so that you or your arm doesn't get pulled forward). Also, you can't pull back - which is hard to do. I have found that you have to be patient. Unless the horse is completely running through your aids, I let the transition take the time that it takes, as long as I feel the horse do something.
You sound like my trainer in yesterday's lesson. It IS hard not to pull back. He has me keep my hands forward but stretch up and back. The transitions happen, but they aren't supple and they are braced and the mare has the tendency to want to poke the nose out in them.

For now, I don't think that the trot and almost coming to a halt and but not is a good choice for this horse. This is because she anticipates going to trot when walking on shorter contact. She doesn't 'jig', but she will try to start to trot. If you resist, then walk slows down. Trainer wants some clear, forward, walk steps before the up transition. Then he wnats a very forward (quick/prompt/jumping) up transition in the gait, either trot or canter. While we are farther ahead on some things, we lag behind on this basic. In trot and canter, I have a great connection and response.

Trainer isn't into in-hand work at all nor am I. So I have to rule that out even though I believe it works great for many.

I can tell you that working on stuff like this is not 'fun'. After the warmup yesterday, I spent the rest of the time on the big circle working on these transitions. Blah.

The other thing we discussed here a while back is what we feel isn't what is. I feel so many things are good and trainer doesn't agree. I've had this trainer for a long time; about 20 years off and on. I trust him, but he doesn't accept mediocrity. Perhaps that is how I became so picky about critiquing things.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby Tsavo » Mon Jul 09, 2018 2:21 pm

I am no expert on this. My horse does tend to slide his hinds forward in downwards which is not identical to sitting correctly. This tendency is strong and a vet once surmised when he was injured in the pasture that he had sat down.

I was not riding downwards correctly for a long time. I started having better success with keeping the idea of matching the speed of the gait you will transition into without losing one iota of activity. So this means more leg to perhaps slow the speed but not the hinds and ridng forward into it. I borrowed the feeling of the withers coming up in counted walk to use in this work. I only really got somewhere within lessons.
Last edited by Tsavo on Mon Jul 09, 2018 4:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby musical comedy » Mon Jul 09, 2018 2:23 pm

Chisamba wrote:First I teach all my horses to transition down off the seat and diaphragm not the reins. Then I use as much leg for the downward as I do for the upward.

I will back up if the horse leans on the hands.

Edited to add. If the horse wants to lift in the down I may position it a little longer and lower. If the horse wants to pull down, I may ride it a little up and out.
Yeah, that maybe should have been the first thing taught to this mare, but wasn't. I tend to focus on forward, bend, and connection first. Probably a mistake, but that's what I've been taught. Chisamba, my horse doesn't know rein back yet. I'm a little concerned about teaching that to her at this point. She's a hot mare, and reinback can be an evasion and end in rearing on certain horses.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby Ponichiwa » Mon Jul 09, 2018 2:57 pm

musical comedy wrote:Chisamba, my horse doesn't know rein back yet. I'm a little concerned about teaching that to her at this point. She's a hot mare, and reinback can be an evasion and end in rearing on certain horses.


Yes-- like mine. This is an exercise that is great for the energy-conservative horses but can feel too confining to the self-propelled ones. I accidentally installed a bit of a rear-- not a full-blown stand-up rear, but certainly light in front and the feet do occasionally leave the ground-- on Kiwi when she was 6 and I was trying to be a bit more demanding about the engagement in the trot/halts with some reinback. That reaction is mostly gone now but it took a year or more to diffuse.

I really like the other exercises that DJR mentions below (accordion trot and canter, especially) for the hotter horses as it keeps the feet moving and gives them a release when you ask for a more forward canter or trot after compressing it a bit.

DJR wrote:IA great exercise for teaching the horse to stay active behind through any downward is to do trot-almost walk-trot transitions, and also walk-almost halt-walk (but trot-almost walk-trot is better). And within gaits, to do lots of accordion exercises to bring them forward and back. The feel must be that the horse will spring back forward with a light aid at any time, and the only way they can do this is by learning to stay active (and under themselves) behind. Another version of this is teaching the square halt by asking for halt and insisting them step up & under with their hind legs. If they don't, ask for another step forward, and another, as needed. They must be sharp to this forward aid. If not, sharpen them up to the "go" aids and rinse/repeat. This must be into an elastic, welcome contact (not a brick wall).


Some big long horses also benefit from placing transitions on a spiral-out leg-yield on a circle to close up the hind legs underneath them (especially from canter to trot and trot to canter). This may also improve the connection.

For more advanced horses, transitions within shoulder fore or shoulder in will also improve the sit. I'm spending a lot of my riding time nowadays being conscious of the consistency of bend and angle regardless of what gait we're currently in. Kiwi's approximately 3rd/4th level, for baseline.

As an aside, I had a trainer who said the single hardest transition in the GP test is the collected canter to trot. By that time, your horse is so ready for canter/walk or canter/halt that it's very difficult to keep the engagement and still end up in the trot without a stutter.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby Sue B » Mon Jul 09, 2018 3:38 pm

In addition to what others have said, i find it critical that I make sure MY seat is "swinging" into the walk in order to have a brisk, marching walk. I find it all to easy to hold the still seat too long into the transition. Does that make any sense? Along with that, making sure my elbows are opening and closing following the bascule.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby Chisamba » Mon Jul 09, 2018 3:41 pm

Different horses can need different technique but I really recommend teaching the downward transition so it can be done without reins.

It's great to practice during warm up and cool down

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby heddylamar » Mon Jul 09, 2018 3:57 pm

I try to use all seat, no reins. On horses who are more inclined to dive into my hands, I school all seat downward transitions during cool down, when they're generally more supple, from walk to halt. Once we have that down -- on the bit, balanced, et al -- I apply it to the other gaits.

Right now I'm practicing subtlety with my seat :lol: Until Maia, I hadn't ridden in several years, so all of that "hey, let's trot now" conversation is MIA. I'm more like "TROT. TROT NOW." and she's reacting accordingly :D

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby khall » Tue Jul 10, 2018 3:40 am

I agree with chisamba here, I teach mine to do transitions off my seat no reins. I also use leg in the downward for engagement.

Some strategies for engaging the horse within the transitions:
use bend: whether it is in SF, SI or even circles use it to set the horse up for the downward trans. Spiral in, they will get tired and cry uncle! to small circle and walk, spiral out and trot, rinse and repeat until she listens to your seat more. Or use smaller circles on the straight line, going straight at trot turn onto smaller (10 m) circle and walk, rinse and repeat. Mark liked the spirals and no pulling on the reins!

I do like DJDs almost transitions, good for the not so goey horse too.

I really want my horses to tune into my seat and I work hard at it to get them there. If I have one that is really ignoring me (I've had some draft crosses that I've ridden do this) then I might also use a quick, strong HH release, then bend.

Also power down the trot just a bit before the transition to make it a bit easier. So working trot, power down to softer trot and then walk. With Rip now I am thinking more active in the downward transition (that quicker with the hind leg:) but he is farther along in his engagement. I did use the power down method with him when he was younger, helped him keep the balance within the transition rather than being so abrupt. I'm not fond of abrupt trans like dresseur described. I think that can be too combative with some horses, especially mares.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby Kyra's Mom » Tue Jul 10, 2018 6:54 am

musical comedy wrote: Yeah, that maybe should have been the first thing taught to this mare, but wasn't.


It isn't too late. You can teach her this if you want to.

Does she stop/stand square? Working this in hand and making it a habit, even when grooming and tacking up should help her balance.

Another exercise that might help is leg yield head to the wall with transitions...walk to halt, trot to walk. It helped my mare back in the uber tense, uber heavy in the contact days. The wall helps limit the lean into the hands...they bop their nose on the wall if they want to get too heavy and soon discover that it is better to carry themselves. It is a balance question and they really need to pay attention. It helps the rider to keep from getting into a pulling match.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby Flight » Wed Jul 11, 2018 12:49 am

It's hard to know what to suggest because it is very horse dependant. If it helps, my little horse can brace and pop his neck up and I love pulling back on the reins. For transitions, I do them on a circle and have a good bend, even a bit of extra flexion before asking and allow them to happen over a few strides, keeping my hands still and just using my seat (I also use upper thigh). When they stay light and steady, you can get them quicker.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby musical comedy » Wed Jul 11, 2018 1:30 am

Flight wrote:It's hard to know what to suggest because it is very horse dependant. If it helps, my little horse can brace and pop his neck up and I love pulling back on the reins. For transitions, I do them on a circle and have a good bend, even a bit of extra flexion before asking and allow them to happen over a few strides, keeping my hands still and just using my seat (I also use upper thigh). When they stay light and steady, you can get them quicker.
This is my technique as well. I think this subject, like most others, gets difficult to address because we are not all on the same page here as to how we ride, what we like, what we want to achieve, etc. I'm not sure if I've already written this, but coming to a downward transition from a very energetic gait as opposed to a more lackadaisical one are two different situations. For example, coming to a smooth halt out of extended canter.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby StraightForward » Wed Jul 11, 2018 3:09 am

I think this is one place where stirrup-stepping can be really helpful. If you can time it to step a little into each hind leg as it lands, it should ground that leg a little more and keep the hinds under the body. In fact, I need to experiment with this tomorrow because I realized today that I'm sitting too heavily in halt, and poor A flattens out. I think a lighter seat and SS with a HH into the diagonal rein might work better.
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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby Flight » Wed Jul 11, 2018 3:57 am

It is hard to get the right info on a forum, but I don't mind all the different answers as some things might help out.
I'm trying to get canter-halts and yes, it is difficult!! Not sure I'd be game to try an extended canter :shock: :lol:

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby Tsavo » Wed Jul 11, 2018 11:14 am

I have seen my GP trainer do canter-halt on a very large GP WB and it didn't look taxing. It looked easy for the horse. It made me think most of the effort involved in getting canter-halt is just building enough strength for the horse to accomplish it. Of course I don't know that.

I have occasionally got canter-halt when asking for canter-walk but it wasn't correct in that he did his micro-slide stop and did not bend the joints. So I am guessing a horse who is not strong enough might try that when learning the canter-halt.

When you get it can you tell us what worked?

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby Dresseur » Thu Jul 12, 2018 1:13 pm

Canter halts develop out of doing canter to ultra collected canter (piri canter). It is strength, because the horse has to sit and carry itself for those few steps and not bunny hop behind. Fun diagnostic, if you can't do a canter/halt from the canter that you do a pirouette from, the balance is wrong in the piri as well. Even coming from the extended canter, you start riding the hind legs under and you do go to an ultra collected canter for a few steps then halt. The important thing is to feel that the balance is tipping up, not that it's slowing down. I work on these quite a bit with Gala because I'm one that wants to let the canter slow down, or to hang a bit with my hands so that the balance never changes.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby musical comedy » Thu Jul 12, 2018 1:25 pm

Canter to halt is 4th level if you consider the center line halt. PSG both center lines are canter to halt. True that the ideal is this perfect halt coming from a collected canter with hinds under and poll up. How often do we see that happen, even internationally?

Dressuer, is Gala the FEI mare? Are you going to being showing her again this year?

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby musical comedy » Thu Jul 12, 2018 1:57 pm

StraightForward wrote:I think this is one place where stirrup-stepping can be really helpful. If you can time it to step a little into each hind leg as it lands, it should ground that leg a little more and keep the hinds under the body. In fact, I need to experiment with this tomorrow because I realized today that I'm sitting too heavily in halt, and poor A flattens out. I think a lighter seat and SS with a HH into the diagonal rein might work better.
This suggestion has helped me, but in the walk, not halt. I tried sort of walking in my stirrups at the walk. Does that make any sense? It helped purify the walk and keep it going. It still needs more forward and swing, but it was much better. I think the stirrup stepping (ala ritter/mikolka) is used more for developing trot cadence rather than helping with walk. Anyway, thanks for this suggestion.

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Re: Downward Transitions

Postby Dresseur » Thu Jul 12, 2018 2:50 pm

musical comedy wrote:Canter to halt is 4th level if you consider the center line halt. PSG both center lines are canter to halt. True that the ideal is this perfect halt coming from a collected canter with hinds under and poll up. How often do we see that happen, even internationally?

Dressuer, is Gala the FEI mare? Are you going to being showing her again this year?


The answer is not often lol! Hell, we don't even see great trot/halts. I'm just saying that's the ideal - not that it happens.

Gala is the GP mare, and I'm hoping to. She's not the typical uber fancy warmblood, so every point has to be fought for. That means no GP debut until we have a fighting chance for the scores, especially with my ridiculous show nerves.


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