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It has been… quite a while since my last dressage lesson. Quite a while as in, I am pretty sure I was complaining that it was REALLY HOT at the last one. When I have these kind of gaps in lessons, the first question is always, inevitably, “Is there anything specific you want to work on today?”


My first inclination was to say, “nope.” I think I actually did say, “nope”. Luckily, my trainer knows me better than that and gave me an extra 10 seconds to actually think about my rides lately. 

“Actually, I think we could use some work on transitions.” Doubly-Luckily,  my trainer also knows what I mean by this. Yes, I can get May to halt/walk/trot/canter etc on cute, fairly promptly. HOWEVER, I wanted to work on keeping the connection and balance before, during, and after each transition.  I know. Riveting stuff. 

Let’s not forget this halt to trot transition at our last horse trial… where May drifted about 5′ left for no particular reason. 

The majority of the lesson was spent on a 20 meter circle. We started with walk/trot/walk transitions. You know, the most basic of the basic. Positives? May stayed in front of my leg. Negatives? She enjoyed being in front of my leg and falling on her forehand. Solution? Change walk to halt. 

Our first trot/halt transition was met with her just dissolving onto her forehand. She practically took the last step in the stumble. It was super majestic and graceful. So NT had us back up a couple of steps and try again. 

The next time? May pulled a typical May move. Instead of falling on her forehand, she rocked back and halted… and then immediately backed up, away from the contact. How do you fix that? Rinse and repeat. Forward, halt, forward, halt. Eventually, we got the halt/trot/halt transitions so tuned in that I could do 90% of the movement with my seat, with barely any additional input from my hands and leg. 

Adding this to my goals this winter – get all transitions tuned into the seat.

We moved onto the canter, but we changed up the rhythm of the transitions. We did a lot of trot, canter, trot, halt, trot, canter, trot, canter etc etc type of work. May started off running a bit into the canter, and I played into that by making my aids BIG and UNNECESSARY. 

We do not canter with our shoulders. 

However, by the end, I could just swing by seat, close my outside leg, and get a nice connected canter. Funny how that works. 

The lesson finished off with transitions on the quarter line. I had to work VERY hard to be clear with my aids and keep her straight and connected. I thought my brain was going to melt with how much mental capacity this exercise takes up. Is it weird that I can’t wait to try it again on my own?

There ended up being a ton of nuances to this lesson, that I am still really digesting, but it filled up my tool box (and my motivation chest) with a lot to help us move forward this weekend!

Are you setting any specific goals this winter?

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  1. nadsnovik

    Transitions are such a big thing for June and I right now. I love seeing the progress and working through the issues. I love homework like this!

    1. Emily

      Getting them “right” makes such a big difference in the whole ride. I think that’s what makes them so fun to perfect.

  2. roamingridersite

    Transitions were my nemesis with Gem who anticipated ALL THE TIME and got more and more and more pissed off the more we worked on then. They seem to help though with the new beast so once I’m back in the saddle again it’s top of my list of things to work on.

    1. Emily

      Oh yeah. My gelding before May (who was a very emotional creature) could not handle any kind of rapid transitions. He would think he was doing WRONG and would just melt down.

  3. Kristy B

    We are just coming back to work – today was our first ride in five weeks!

    I would like to get our flying changes more through, with less Bucky happening. Maybe this abrupt change in routine and having time off was what we needed to kind of start over again and really work through everything.

      1. Kristy B

        Am I the only person that hates reading articles? lol.
        But I did skip through to the changes. We are doing essentially the same thing at this point and it has been working better. She’s just a big stuck, and I am anticipating the buck instead of the change now.

  4. KC Scott

    Transitions are a never-ending thing to work on!

  5. Emma

    Oooh I love transition work!! Charlie doesn’t like to be drilled, per se, but transitions can be really really great for dialing him up and getting him in front of my leg

  6. Boss Mare Eventing

    Awesome lesson! My goals are to strengthen the canter on all my horses and still strive for better hands 🙂

    1. Emily

      Yes! We could definitely use a stronger canter too…. and May would agree that I could use better hands 😉

  7. aimeedevane

    Love this post, we all forget the basics sometimes, but they are the foundation for everything! Well done!

    1. Emily

      Thank you! I find as training evolves (for human and horse) understanding of the “basics” gets deeper.

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