by Mary Gallagher
I am a big fan of transitions, both on line in the round pen and while riding. Longing, round pen work, and riding can all be improved when we allow our horse’s transitions, as opposed to not allowing, or preventing the horse from doing down transitions. The difference is in seeing un-asked for transitions as opportunities for communication, rather than mistakes to be corrected.
Remember that there are several types of transitions: into or out of, and within a gait. Transitions between gaits are best for physical fitness: we transition between walk/trot, trot/walk, canter/trot etc., and get a good workout in the process. Transitions within a gait, like fast walk/slow walk, slow canter/fast canter, slow trot/ fast trot, are excellent for developing emotional fitness and longitudinal elasticity. In these transitions the emotions are also working up and down/fast and slow, as is the horse’s ability to compress and lengthen his frame.
With this in mind, working on all types of transitions helps the horse’s balance, movement, and emotions simultaneously. And including emotional fitness in our every day training fosters cooperation between us and the horse, which is every bit as important as physical coordination.
How to help the emotional and physical balance of the horse.
There is so much work inherent in transitions, that if you allow the horse to do a downward transition and quickly follow it with an upward transition, he creates work for himself. For instance, sure, he can go to a walk; but your rules say that he must then pick up a trot. Over time he will find the comfort in maintaining a particular gait, because he has found a more efficient way of moving, ‘efficient’ in that he has developed the strength and mental control to carry himself more comfortably and with less effort. Continued repetition, and preparation to execute each gait becomes the physical training, and changes in speed become the emotional training.
So next time your horse breaks gait on line, while working in the round pen, treat it as an opportunity to strengthen his movement and emotions. The reward will be definite improvements in your horse’s balance and cooperation!