March 24, 2011

Guess What I Found?

A beautiful canter transition.

It was hiding. I found it tucked neatly in an active, collected sitting trot.

This is how I coaxed it out:

Solo was warmed up with figure eights and serpentines, then a few leg yields and shoulder in combined with walk/trot transitions. My insistence was that he do the transitions correctly: no gripping the bit, no flipping the nose in the air, just staying soft in the bridle and lifting the back.

Then we began some transitions within the trot; something resembling a working trot (he doesn't have full impulsion back yet) down the long side, then sit and half halt into a collected sitting trot on the short side. Again, the emphasis was on smooth, correct transitions, maintaining a steady contact and keeping the back up.

I really zeroed in on the quality of the collected trot; it's easy to drag them back to a shuffling jog that is easy to sit, but that is not a real gait. The collected trot should have the same rhythm as the working posting trot, but with shorter steps. The forward energy should get translated into up-and-down energy. Which basically means you need to keep a pulsing active leg, pushing the energy up into the bridle and into your core, which is engaged and lifting the horse's back up like a suction cup. Because, as P has reminded us often, the quality of this trot will dictate the quality of your canter strike-off, every time.

I felt and heard Solo's feet keeping their rhythm as we came around the short side and I could feel his back rounded beneath my seat. My contact was steady and even without him just hanging on my shoulders. So I sat up, thought "lift the shoulders into the gait," and shifted my lower leg back with a kiss.

And Solo stepped up into the most lovely canter transition I have ever sat upon. I could FEEL his back and shoulders lift as his outside hind stepped under him for the strike-off. I immediately hollered, "GOOD BOY, WELL DONE, GOOD MAN!!!" (my barn buddies never get any peace and quiet when I'm in the arena) It was totally awesome.

Of course, I wanted to do it again, but as Solo's muscles and mine got tired, we didn't get quite the same elegance, but we got close a few times. But it showed me a good way to prime Solo's body and balance by suppling him then using the transitions within the trot to shift his weight to his hindquarters and keep his hind legs active.

So we're going to be repeating this exercise a few times. David has encouraged me to do lots of trot/canter transitions, using the transition as a gymnastic to strengthen Solo. He says even if the transition isn't perfect, the strengthening aspect still works so they can improve over time.

So give it a go and tell me if it works for you!


  1. love your description :-)
    I often find something amazing hidden in a proper piece of work e.g. i'm working on my trot/halt transitions and 5min later i try an extended trot and Wow! there it is! for me it's all about working to get him uphill and suddenly the next piece of work just has us soaring in the clouds! woohooo.

  2. beautiful photograph...good job, girl!

  3. Good job to you as well! you found that awesome transition because you were looking in the right place-- inside a balanced, rounded horse! Getting to balanced and rounded is no small feat, so good for you for going there before rummaging in the trunk for the transition!

  4. Isn't it fantastic when you find something brilliant that you've been trying for all along?

    I have found beautiful canter transitions coming out of the following exercise: 12 m half circle, leg yield back to the rail, canter transition when you hit the rail into a 15 or 20 m circle. Exhausting but AMAZING. Now, if only we could leg yield into the canter in a dressage test!

  5. Thanks for the great idea! You're right, the shuffling jog is SO much easier to sit, but it does neither of us much good:) Awesome picture!

  6. Sally -- I like the use of the halt transition, another good one that gets them rocked back on their butt.

    Thanks, mum! :-D

    T and D -- thanks and you are so right, it is never an easy task!

    jenj, leg yield can definitely be very useful as well. I haven't had as much luck with it for Solo because he tends to lose impulsion in the leg yield, but there are other horses I have worked with that it really helps a lot, by activating that inside hind.

  7. Love hearing these lightbulb moments, might be my favorite part of blogging!

  8. Pretty Pony!!
    "has reminded us often, the quality of this trot will dictate the quality of your canter strike-off, every time."...uggghhhhhh, why does that sentence come to me in nightmares...?!?!
    Well done!
    I will try your exercise in a week or so when Chester is a little stronger.!
    Loved this post.

  9. Well, this is verrrrry interesting. I have never had a single dressage lesson, and *usually* when people try to explain what they're doing/trying to do in dressage, I either don't get the jargon or flat-out don't understand what they're talking about. HOWEVER, I actually get what you said here! I'm so excited!
    Here's the funny part: for almost a year now I've been riding, more or less weekly, a magnificently-trained dressage horse. Like I said, I've never had a single lesson in the discipline but even I, the H/J person, can tell that this dude seriously knows what he's doing, even with Miss Mess on his back. I sure as heck don't know how to push all his buttons - we've never achieved an extended trot, to my knowledge, for example - but the last time I rode him I'll be danged if he didn't offer up the most awesome-feeling canter depart EVAH. So I know what you mean. Unfortunately, I really have NO idea what I did so right to get it! :-) Leafy is almost always a pleasure to canter anyway as he does a beautiful, rounded stride without me having to touch his face, but last time was especially good.
    Now I will have to work on a non-shuffling sitting trot...and try to produce a super depart again.

  10. I love hearing the specifics about how a person uses their body to get their horse to a new plane of understanding. Keep it coming!

  11. RW, you bring up an important point -- I think the reason many of us struggle to explain what goes on is that so much of it is based on what you feel. And putting that into words is so difficult. I can say that I have a "steady contact" but I have to get creative with my metaphors to describe exactly what that means to me. And so much of my stuff with Solo is the Amateur's Classic Trial And Error School Of Training, sigh, it about wears my poor brain out!!

    But I am very glad that at least it made sense to a couple of people, I try really hard to explain things in plain English and not goofy esoteric mumbled German references.

    Oh, and care to share said magnificently trained dressage horse, LOL?!

  12. I had the pleasure of watching Leafy be ridden by a gen-u-wine German dressage coach one time. Very impressive. The horse's life story is interesting: Born in Germany, trained VERY well by someone to I'm guessing at least 2nd level. Imported by first owner, who used him for fox hunting - I don't think ANY dressage went on - then acquired by my friend, who dabbled in dressage for a while but didn't care for the rigorous regimentation. That's when I saw him ridden the one time by an expert. For a lot of years now he's just goofed off. Now I'm trying to do stuff on him but truly, he's happiest leading the way on Missouri trails. Go figure.

    Anyway, I just said on Wednesday it would be cool to get a local dressage trainer to come give me a lesson (Leafy's owner would not want to trailer him anywhere, I don't think, and she has a nice arena). But I do have the distinct feeling I would get my a*s kicked, BIG-time! :-)

    And speaking of dressage trainers: does anyone else get Practical Horseman? Did you get a look at that Leslie Webb's face (she's on the cover and wrote an article on renvers/travers). Boy, let me tell you, if SHE showed up I would RUNNNNN the other way! Yikes!

  13. Did you check out the article? It was great, I've been working on it a little with Solo.