What’s the movement that is demanded more than any other in dressage tests at every level?
Circles? Although that’s what many riders assume. It’s actually transitions that are the most frequently ridden exercise in dressage tests. So, transitions should also form the backbone of your home arena schooling too!
Transitions are also crucial for developing and improving your horse’s obedience, balance, suppleness, and “throughness.” Without good transitions, your dressage riding has no foundation, and the horse will not progress correctly along the dressage Scales of Training.
There are upward and downward transitions, and in this article, we focus on the former; upward transitions.
What are upward transitions?
Upward transitions are basically changes from one slower pace to a faster one. Examples of upward transitions include:
What is the dressage judge looking for?
When judging upward transitions, the judge is looking for a number of key elements.
#1 – Reaction
First of all, the horse must react instantly to the rider’s request for an upward transition.
That demonstrates to the judge that the horse is focused on the rider’s aids and is obedient and sharp to the leg and seat.
#2 – Impulsion
The transition should not “dwell.” In other words, the horse should immediately move forward into the new pace, rather than hesitating or dawdling.
#3 – Balance and frame
The horse should maintain a round outline or frame, working through his back to seek the rider’s contact. As he makes the upward transition, the horse should step through and underneath his body with his inside hind leg so that the transition is uphill and balanced.
#4 – Relaxation
Throughout the transition, the judge wants to see that the horse remains relaxed. Tension will often result in a rushed transition where the horse loses his balance and becomes hollow and, sometimes, crooked too.
So, overall, the judge wants to see a reactive, fluent, forward, straight upward transition that is free from tension and throughout which the horse maintains his frame and balance.
How to ride good upward transitions
A good upward transition should be ridden from the “back to the front.” That means that the horse should use his hindquarters to push himself forward into the transition, taking more weight onto his hind legs while lifting and lightening his forehand.
The degree to which that can be achieved depends largely on the horse’s level of training and the rider’s proficiency in giving the horse the correct, coordinated aids.
Halt to walk
To ride a halt to walk transition, use both legs at the girth. At the same time, let your weight drop down evenly into both seat bones, and soften your rein contact to allow the horse to move forward.
If you don’t get an immediate response, flick the horse sharply with your schooling whip behind your leg to refocus him on your aids.
Walk to trot
Essentially, the basic aids for a walk to trot transition are the same as for halt to walk.
Before you ask for the transition, make sure that the walk steps are active and that the horse is listening to you. Use a half-halt to warn the horse that you are about to ask him to do something, and then apply the aids.
Trot to canter
To ask for canter from trot (or walk), use your inside leg at the girth. Your outside leg remains passive and slightly behind the girth. Drop your weight more into your inside seat bone, and ask for a slight inside flexion.
Use a half-halt with your outside rein to ask the horse to strike off with his outside hind leg as the first stride of the new canter pace, keep the outside rein to prevent the horse from falling out, and soften your inside rein to encourage the horse to stay round in his frame.
Always ask for canter from sitting trot so that you can use your bodyweight to help keep your horse balanced.
Transitions within the paces
When riding transitions within the paces, your aim is to keep the same rhythm and tempo. So, the horse shouldn’t go any faster or change his rhythm. The strides should merely cover more ground, and the horse should lengthen his frame.
Basically, to ask for an upward transition within the pace, you should use a half-halt to balance the horse, ask for more energy with your legs and seat, and allow with your hand so that the horse can lengthen his frame.
Direct upward transitions
The key to achieving good direct upward transitions is to have the horse listening to you and working forward through his back into the bridle. The aids that you use are the same as outlined above.
For example, to make a transition from walk to canter, get your horse’s attention by using a half-halt, and use the same aids as you would to ask for canter from trot.
Problems with upward transitions
As with most dressage exercises, things can go wrong with upward transitions. Let’s explore a few of them below.
#1 – Lack of reaction
Your horse must be working forward, and he must be attentive to your aids if you are to achieve a good upward transition. If the horse is half asleep when you ask for the upward transition, he won’t engage his hind leg, and the transition will be “spongy” and lackluster.
Many riders become so engrossed in riding endless circles that their horse switches off. The quick-fix here is to keep your horse attentive by riding more transitions!
#2 – Poor preparation
It’s no good throwing yourself into a transition at the last minute without preparing yourself and your horse first.
So, use a half-halt to get the horse’s attention and balance him, decide where you want the transition to take place, make sure that you’re balanced, and use the correct aids.
#3 – Aids too strong
Your horse should make an upward transition from a “whisper, not a scream.” That means that you should use a light aid that’s barely perceptible to onlookers. If you use too much leg, you could drive the horse out of balance onto his forehand.
Obviously, the more experienced your horse is, the more subtle your aids can be. Young horses and newbies to the art of schooling, such as ex-racers, require very clear aids, but that doesn’t mean that you should have to shout!
#4 – Rider’s aids too feeble
Conversely, you do need to make it clear to your horse exactly what you want him to do. As you both become more tuned-in to one another, you can use a lighter aid. However, to avoid any miscommunication, you must use very clear aids, including your voice, if that helps your horse to understand what you want. (But remember that you are not allowed to use your voice during a dressage test!)
#5 – Ineffective rider seat
Many riders develop a habit of leaning forward when they ask for an upward transition, especially into a canter. That not only unbalances the horse by pushing him onto his forehand, it means that you can’t use your seat as a balancing, driving aid.
Make sure that you consciously tell yourself to sit down on your seat bones, keep your body upright and your legs long, and then ask for the transition.
Upward transitions are demanded in every dressage test from training level right through to Grand Prix. So, make sure that you include plenty of upward transitions in your everyday training regimen to help develop your horse’s balance, suppleness, and obedience in line with the dressage Scales of Training.
Do you have any tips on how to ride good upward transitions? Or do you have any problems with upward transitions that you would like some help with? Share with us in the comments box below!