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Working on the upward canter transition.

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  • Working on the upward canter transition.

    I'd love to get some input on improving my trot -> canter transition.

    Right now, our transition tends to be rushed (and sometimes explosive). Our walk and trot are pretty solid for a BN frame, and the canter has improved at least 60% since we started together in August. His balance has gotten dramatically better, and we can achieve a nice and balanced canter in both directions (better to R) in a modest BN frame.

    However, the quiet canter depart is eluding us. I've been looking through all my books and online to brush up on canter depart cues, refresh my brain on the mechanics of the takeoff and the gait, and while the canter has improved, the depart hasn't.
    How I am asking: Try to feel his outside hind just about to/just taking off, inside leg on at the girth, outside leg back a few inches with calf on and then back to girth, slightly flexed to the inside (not bent), inside hip/seat bone slightly forward.

    How he responds: Usually rushes forward and worries, then breaks into a strung out canter, sometimes squeals, sometimes kicks, sometimes completely ignores me and doesn't do anything, often picks up the R lead when tracking L. And sometimes we get a decently balanced, unhurried transition.

    It's not his saddle, he was just fit by the saddle fitter for both saddles, and is seen regularly by the chiro. It's not ulcers. It's not his bit. Not his noseband. Not a lameness.

    Things I've experimented with: Asking into and out of corners. No contact thru supportive contact. Sitting three strides before asking. Where I place my leg. Asking from the walk. On every size circle from 20m to the entire rail. Small spurs, no spurs.

    What has helped: Focusing on keeping control of his outside shoulder. Also, we can get nice departs after trotting into a jump, but this doesn't translate to an improved depart on a 20m circle. If I am very focused in a jumping lesson and not over-thinking the depart, we get nicer ones. However, I am more forward in my upper body in my jump saddle than I would ideally be in my dressage saddle.

    I am really struggling with feeling when his outside H is taking off. It feels impossible to discern. Other than that, I'm just not sure what else to try, or what exercises to use to continue to build fitness and balance, which may then just help the transition. Or if it is something I am doing incorrectly (probably). Or maybe I should not be expecting a better transition at this stage. I'm not sure! So, thanks for reading the novel, and please feel free to share any anecdotes, advice, or references you may have!

  • #2
    Sometimes explosive transitions happen because you are simply doing too much, especially if you're on a horse that tends to be hot anyway. Instead of thinking through six things see if you can communicate with less. (That's probably what is happening when you do better transition while you are jumping.)

    When you canter the motion through your seat and hip bones is as if you are pedaling a bike backwards. The outside hip leads. Canter around a try to feel this motion. A sensitive horse can be taught a lovely transition just by starting to "pedal backwards" on your outside seat bone.

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    • #3
      I can totally relate because that transition was difficult for me and Bailey as well. After reading how you are asking, though, and please keep in mind I am low woman on totem pole on these boards, sounds a little over-thought.

      What Bailey used to do was instead of lifting through his withers into the canter, he would lift his head and neck and just slightly rush into it. Granted he is not built to REALLY lift through his withers, but he is capable of it.

      What my trainer and I figured out was I was tensing ever so slightly before I would ask for the canter. How we changed it was I sat earlier (before I started sitting the entire test), kept my low back and hips supple, and kept my legs ON. My habit was asking with the outside leg just behind the girth and letting the inside leg come off too much. Now I lightly keep my inside leg at the girth, have my outside leg slightly farther back than I did originally (more bend at the knee), a squeeze with my low calf/ankle, and a roll with my seat.

      The trick to keeping Bailey through into the upward canter transition is legs on. I find that to the be key to a lot of other horses as well...from the ones I ride to the lessons I watch my trainer give. Sit tall with your upper body, don't lean back, and take a slow breath in. That always helps me sit up tall and straight and open my collarbone so I don't collapse in the transition.

      Hope that makes sense, and possibly helps!
      runnjump86 Instagram

      Horse Junkies United guest blogger

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      • #4
        I would take the "feeling the outside hind" out of the equation. I think that is complicating matters and making you over think and probably tense.

        One of the biggest things I've found happens at this stage is that the rider is under riding the trot INTO the canter. Make sure your trot is forward, rhythmical, and marching and ask from THAT. Usually, when a rider stops fussing with all the other stuff (figuring out where the hind leg is, etc) and focuses on the quality of the trot, the canter depart smooths out.

        The other thing I find at this stage is the rider finds the canter too quick, but in reality that is where the canter is for the horse's development. They will get the canter, and immediately go to rein it all in. But the horse is green and his canter IS going to be a little forward and longer than you ultimately want. The horse anticipates the "WHOA NELLIE" aids in the first few strides of canter, so rushes and tenses INTO the canter. Let the canter travel on a bit and the canter depart will probably smooth out.

        (I speak from experience both as a rider of many young, green horses, as a keen observer from watching many, many lessons of riders of young, green horses, and from helping people with young green horses....these are extremely typical scenarios).

        This is what I would do: use circles and corners to help set you up. I was always taught to only ask on circles and corners until the horse was much, much further along in their training. Establish a nice, forward, marching trot that is straight and relaxed. KEEP THAT TROT and ask for the canter with the horse straight or slightly flexed to the inside (outside leg back, inside leg at the girth...sit or don't sit, whatever works, but I would sit sooner than 3 steps). Allow the horse to move along in the first few steps, then half halt as needed. REALLY try not to pull or half halt in the first few steps.

        If it is explosive or silly or just not good, calmly come back to trot, re-establish the trot work, and try again. Rinse and repeat until you get your desired depart. Big praise (I would use voice and maybe a gentle pat/stroke if you are good at that without throwing your contact away), canter a circle. Rinse and repeat. Do a few in each direction (think of the Rule of 3: Do it right at least 3 times before moving on). Do a few simple changes, taking lots of time to establish a good trot between directions. Every time you get a good depart, give a nice "Good boy" and a scritch if you can. Every time you don't, quickly and calmly go back to trot and ask again.

        Remember that transitions, especially to canter, are strength exercises. Don't over-do them and risk him getting fatigued. A few in each direction is plenty to start.
        Amanda

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        • Original Poster

          #5
          Awesome advice from everyone, thank you!!!

          subk - I wholeheartedly agree that I am doing too much. It's very comforting to hear "do less", because I clearly was not doing all 329483920 things competently. I really love your description of pedaling backwards. Sometimes I hear analogies that just *work* for me, and that is definitely one of them. Thanks a bunch!

          rnj - Yup, agreed, over-thinking! Bailey's old transition sounds very similar to ours currently. I guarantee that I am tensing, and I know this contributes to the quality of our depart. I will continue to work on reducing tension in my body - I like to go through a mental checklist in my head by tensing each muscle group for a second or two, then relaxing. Sometimes I think ..let's say, my shoulders are relaxed, but after tensing them and releasing I feel that they were actually quite tight, so this exercise helps a great deal - I think I will start doing it as part of our pre-canter prep (but not too close to the transition!). Thank you

          YB - How does it feel to be so right? That's what you call a butt-load of great advice! I am so relieved you recommended forgetting about the feeling for the OH, it is just something I do not feel equipped to identify at this point in time, and I believe focusing on it is only acting as a detriment because I get so wrapped up trying to feel it, I lose our nice, forward trot, which I know is one of the top contributors to getting a nice canter.

          I don't think his canter is too quick (I mean, quicker now than I would like if we were riding at a higher level - but I think it's pretty decent for where he is in his training and has slowed quite a bit since we started together), and I do try to let him sort out the first handful of strides on his own before applying a balancing half-halt - which he does respond very well to. I struggle in balancing the amount of contact to keep and how reasonably round I should expect him to stay through the transition. Regardless of the amount of weight in my reins, we still get a rushed, head up in the air transition, so I am guessing a lot of this will simply come together with increased strength. Right now, I'm not sure my hands are good enough to give him a scritch without screwing up my contact, as keeping my elbows greasy and following has been a challenge for me, but he absolutely responds to my voice. Thank you for the advice!

          Comment


          • #6
            YB - How does it feel to be so right? That's what you call a butt-load of great advice! I am so relieved you recommended forgetting about the feeling for the OH, it is just something I do not feel equipped to identify at this point in time, and I believe focusing on it is only acting as a detriment because I get so wrapped up trying to feel it, I lose our nice, forward trot, which I know is one of the top contributors to getting a nice canter.
            Like I said, I've been there. Every green horse goes through this stage, and I think every rider goes through it, too. You try SO HARD to get it right that you lose the trot which just makes the transition suck. It happens. It's part of the process.

            I know VERY FEW people that can tell you 100% of the time when any particular leg is about to do what. In fact, even the Grand Prix dressage rider I ride with some does not ever mention asking for a depart at that moment (and I'm riding a horse that does solid prelim work and is getting the intermediate work). A quality trot (or walk)? Yes.

            Play with the connection. Some horses prefer a feel, some want a give. Some horses change over time. Play with the flexion, too. I finally figured out that I had to ride Toby REALLY straight into his right lead canter, otherwise I lost him. I can ride with a bit more flexion to the left. Just keep playing and experimenting. When you find something that works, even a little, keep it and use it 100% consistently. And NEVER accept a bad transition. Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
            Amanda

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by yellowbritches View Post


              This is what I would do: use circles and corners to help set you up. I was always taught to only ask on circles and corners until the horse was much, much further along in their training. Establish a nice, forward, marching trot that is straight and relaxed. KEEP THAT TROT and ask for the canter with the horse straight or slightly flexed to the inside (outside leg back, inside leg at the girth...sit or don't sit, whatever works, but I would sit sooner than 3 steps). Allow the horse to move along in the first few steps, then half halt as needed. REALLY try not to pull or half halt in the first few steps.

              If it is explosive or silly or just not good, calmly come back to trot, re-establish the trot work, and try again. Rinse and repeat until you get your desired depart. Big praise (I would use voice and maybe a gentle pat/stroke if you are good at that without throwing your contact away), canter a circle. Rinse and repeat. Do a few in each direction (think of the Rule of 3: Do it right at least 3 times before moving on). Do a few simple changes, taking lots of time to establish a good trot between directions. Every time you get a good depart, give a nice "Good boy" and a scritch if you can. Every time you don't, quickly and calmly go back to trot and ask again.

              Remember that transitions, especially to canter, are strength exercises. Don't over-do them and risk him getting fatigued. A few in each direction is plenty to start.
              Thanks YB for giving me my exercises to work on tonight! I'm having the same problems with my guy, so really remembering to establish the trot prior to the transition is a great reminder.

              Thanks!
              All that is gold does not glitter;
              Not all those who wander are lost.
              ~J.R.R. Tolkien
              http://theimperfectperfecthorse.blogspot.com/

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