Use Transitions To Create Balance – Western Dressage Training Quick Tip

Everyone rides upward and downward transitions.

There is a lot to think about and work on to have flawless transitions….

which I will cover more in depth in an upcoming Training Quick Tip.

Today I want to focus on using your transitions to create balance and more engagement with the hind leg.

I use this exercise personally when I ride and I will at times spend an entire ride doing upward and downward transitions.

Getting Started

Start with the walk to jog and jog to walk transition.

For this exercise your horse must already be comfortable moving forward.

Start by asking for a forward walk.

Be steady in your outside rein, not pull, but steady with an elastic connection. (Elastic connection is when you are soft in your elbow and allow a soft follow with from your elbow – not hand – as you are moving with your horse.)

Your goal is to keep the same steady outside rein through this entire exercise with the least amount of movement as you can.

Asking for an Upward Transition

Ask your horse to move forward into a working jog
(this should be a forward, free flowing movement.)

Use your eyes to look up, lift through your core as well as chest, tighten your seat and SLIGHTLY shift onto your seat to encourage your horse to lift and put more weight on the hind leg. Add a leg if needed and move into your working jog.

Keep your outside rein steady so your horse knows that rein is safe and will be there, it is not changing. They must learn to adjust themselves to find their balance.

Go about four strides and ask for a downward transition to the walk.

Asking for a Downward Transition

Step One: Squeeze your outside rein. Not pull, use your hand and squeeze, release, squeeze release – this signals to your horse that you are about to ask for a downward transition.

Step Two: Stop following your horse with your hip and seat, stop your forward movement. (Slightly push down onto your seat bones so you are even on both seat bones and allow your seat to slightly push out and close your hip bone so you feel as if they are now pointing straight ahead not slightly open as in your working jog.) Lift up through the front of your body.

Step Three: Tighten your core. Squeeze your abdominal muscles as if someone was about to punch you in the stomach and your are going to draw slightly in and tighten to absorb.

Step Four: Close your thigh and squeeze your thigh against your saddle.

As soon as you feel your horse step into the walk, relax and add a follow with your seat into the walk to encourage the forward out of the transition.

The end goal after you have worked this over and over is that you only do Step One and Step Two for you downward transition. The level of squeeze and tightness you apply in your body determines the amount of downward. This is the ultimate goal so practice with that in mind.

Now move back up to your working jog.

Vary the number of strides from 2-10 and do these upward and downward transitions over and over.

Maintain a steady and soft outside rein through this entire exercise.

Do not pull your horse to a stop, and do not worry about head position or collection through the transitions at this point.

This exercise is all about body and balance. (More advanced tips for upper level coming up)

Do the transitions over and over and the collection will come naturally.

Troubleshooting tips:

Problem: If your horse is slow through the upward transition.

Make sure you have willingness to go forward and work on that first.

Continue to do the exercise and ask for the transition then remove leg pressure as reward. Go back in and ask for more forward and jog after you have rewarded the forward.

Problem: Your horse is slow in the downward transition.

Do step one through four and then add a squeeze on both reins. If that does not work, close your elbow tight against your side to stop your elastic connection and squeeze both reins. Continue to ask and release and relax the minute you get the transition and add a follow with your seat into the walk to encourage the forward out of the transition.

Horses learn by release from the aid by the rider. As soon as you soften and follow to get a forward walk out of the transition they understand the downward.


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I’m Jen.

Most days you will find me with a coffee in one hand, hot pink manure pick in the other with my mind bubbling over dreaming up ways to help my horse girl sisters find their true selves & ride their best life every. single. day.


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