This was a question posed by a rider who recently made the step up to Preliminary Dressage. After talking through the Judge’s feedback and the feel the rider had, we agreed it was a question of helping the horse to maintain good balance and I explained that the rider’s job was to prepare the transition and be clear about the timing of the aids to help the horse.
The first exercise after warming up was to focus on the trot rhythm and to ask for a few longer trot strides before rebalancing to a shorter stride so that the horse was encouraged to listen to the rider and become confident with the rider asking them to adjust their stride. This exercise was successful and gave the rider the opportunity to think about their balance and position and how this influenced the horse. We repeated this exercise on the other rein before a hot review to encourage the rider to articulate the feeling of influencing the trot and the quality of the working trot they had experienced.
The next exercise was to improve the timing of the canter aid. We discussed how the rider would give a clear canter aid and how once in canter, the focus would be on enjoying the canter and then in the downward transition, the rider’s job was to rebalance the trot and to try and recreate the feeling of the working trot we had achieved in the first exercise.
To achieve a good canter transition we set up the exercise so that the rider would ask for a bigger trot, rebalance and shorten the trot steps before asking for the canter. This was successful and the rider was smiling at the quality of the canter and the ease of the transition! After a circle or so the rider asked for a downward transition and although there was some loss of balance after a few strides they were able to regulate the trot rhythm. We practised this sequence a couple more times on both reins and each time the balance in the transition improved.
At the next hot review we discussed the great trot to canter transition the partnership were producing consistently, the improvement in balance for both the horse and rider and the rider’s new awareness of the timing of the aids and how to prepare for the downward transition to trot and how to then maintain the quality of the trot out of the transition.
I suggested that the next step could be to try a walk to canter transition to help improve the connection and to test the canter aid with the added bonus that this exercise is fun. I explained to my rider that their job was to ask for the walk to canter with a clear aid, to maintain their posture and to believe that it was achievable if not at the first asking then at a later date when horse and rider were in tune. I asked my rider to ride a square in walk with a turn about the forehand in each corner. This exercise was similar to the on and back work in trot at the beginning of the session. The task was to ride a turn about the forehand, regulate the walk rhythm and apply the canter aid remembering to stay tall in the saddle.
Imagine the delight for the rider, the horse and I when canter was achieved at the first ask. The canter that followed was purposeful, the rider and horse were smiling. It was a privilege to share the moment and extra special for the rider to create a good quality downward transition to trot, to enjoy the trot and ride a serpentine before riding forward to free walk on a long rein to relax and reflect on the session.