Horse-Riding: Transitions from Working Canter to Working Trot
Correct ground work is indispensable for later advanced work. Therefore, working fluent, balanced, elastic, calm, and obedient transitions from working canter to working trot is part of the foundation training. The horse can perform these transitions with relative ease. For the rider, the most important concept to understand is that every transition must be prepared. Preparation through half-halts enables the horse to respond calmly to the transitional aids.
Here are some guidelines offered with the customary word of caution not to regard them as recipes. Invest all schooling of a horse with feelings. Understand the tasks intellectually and then feel for their proper physical application when riding.
Start by schooling until a supple, bounding, round, and suspended canter is felt. The rhythm must stay even, and canter strides should be long enough for the horse to relax.
During the canter, the rider’s inside leg, seat bone, and shoulder are positioned slightly ahead of those on his outside. If a rider sits correctly, he simply parallels with his own body the position of the horse’s body. If the reins are connected correctly to the torso, the inside fist leads ever so slightly ahead of the outside, stabilizing one, because the shoulder position naturally causes that to happen, provided the hands remain extensions of the seat.
Prepare the transition to trot by half-halting the horse. Essentially, this means increase all the aids that are already in use. The half-halt should always result in improved balance. Create more engagement from the haunches and as the energy increases, invite the horse’s forehand to slow down. This creates collection, a shorter posture for the horse with higher strides, yet in the original rhythm. When the horse’s attention and collection have readied him for a transition, the aids may be applied. The most important effects of half-halts are better balance through collection, mental readiness to receive instruction, and slower forward impetus of the body’s mass. As the horse’s mass is collecting, it should increase its suspension upward. In the meantime, care must be taken that the half-halts are soft and that inhibition of forward progression is avoided. The half-halts must be repeated on a green horse often and sometimes for a prolonged period of time. They should softly “run through” the horse in order not to stiffen him in the process!
Downward transition aids must be coordinated and executed simultaneously at all contact areas. The rider’s legs return to a parallel position on the horse’s sides. Draped around the horse, the rider’s legs deliver a different rhythm to suggest that of the trot.
The rider’s inside shoulder should pivot back to a square position, parallel with that of the outside one. This movement of slight rotation at the shoulder also brings the seat bone back to its position parallel to those of the horse’s at the trot. As soon as the horse makes his first trot step, your entire aiding system must yield to produce the sensation of harmonious satisfaction. It is essential that the rider confirm the horse’s correct response by yielding all pressure of instruction. Changing from aiding for a change to aiding for maintenance confirms to the horse at that instant that he understood his rider. Most important of all is the instant yielding of the reins. On a green horse, a rider may lengthen the reins to the buckle as a reward to dramatize his pleasure with his horse’s response.
Often, the first few steps of the trot show rushing. The horse may be running because a lot of weight has fallen onto his forehand. At first, allow this to happen. If the rider has aided correctly and the horse still rushes in the trot, it is a sign that he is not yet sophisticated in balancing himself. His center of gravity is still shifting in spite of the rider’s efforts, simply because the horse is physically not strong enough yet. He lacks the skills to manipulate his center of gravity. Do not punish the horse for rushing. With the repetition of the exercise and other gymnastic efforts, he will eventually be able to maintain his balance despite the radical changes that naturally occur when a trot follows the canter. As always, when a horse falls out of balance, resume half-halting.
The rider should soon realize that the balancing process in the transitions might take five minutes initially but will soon be resolved in seconds. However, this dividend will be forthcoming only if a rider has the patience to teach the transitions without causing tension or resistance in the horse.