Walk-Canter transition
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 08:37 PM
Transition to canter from walk can be a very useful exercise for teaching a rider sit quietly during transition. Even riders who consider themselves quite experienced make mistakes while riding trot-canter transitions. These mistakes are:
  • falling forward
  • releasing too much contact
  • pumping upper body
  • showing lack of stability in the core region
All these problems can be easily addressed in walk to canter transitions. However, for this exercise to be successful a rider must have a basic balance developed in walk, trot, canter and a horse is trained enough to understand this transition. If the rider's own horse is too green for that it is wise to use a school horse rather than teach the rider and the horse at the same time.
Transition from walk to canter.
  • Make sure you are walking on contact and reins need to be shortened. You do not want your horse to be long and stretched out in his body. He should feel rather compact and together. Encourage energetic but rather short walk steps. Think: hands are asking him to slow down, legs are asking him to go energetically forward. Do not get stuck with your hands, gently and slowly move your fingers encouraging your horse to soften his jaw without losing contact. If he tries to press into the bit too much, hold momentarily and soften again, repeating half-halt as many times as necessary. If he objects strongly check that your reins are not too short, he may feel trapped and will press into the bit because of that.
  • Position yourself for canter depart: inside hip slightly forward, outside him slightly back,inside leg at the girth driving him forward into energetic walk, outside leg back from the him joint. The whole outside leg is stretched backwards and down, you want to sit deeper on your outside seatbone. Do not simply move your lower leg backwards, it will make your heel go up and your leg loses it's length and tone and your outside seatbone most likely will disengage from the saddle.
  • Sit deep in the saddle, bearing down on it, engaging your core muscles (AP). You want to feel ready for the change in the movement. You do not want to anticipate it by leaning forward.
  • Wait for the moment of softness because you do not want to move your hands forward trying to encourage him to go forward. You want your hands quiet and you want him to stay with you. The canter depart is movement upward and not so much forward.
  • Ask for canter with your outside leg. Give one definitive aid by pressing your whole leg down and lower part of it into your horse. This is of course ideal and well trained horse with respond to just seatbone and upper leg pressure. However, less trained horse may require a stronger aid such as a light kick or nudge with your outside leg. If that is not enough use whip. Carry it in outside hand for transition work and give a good tap with it right behind your outside leg. If you use a dressage whip all you need is a flick with your wrist. Sometimes even that is not enough, especially, if you are not experienced with whip or your horse is not impressed by it easily. Take both reins in your inside hand, ask for canter transition again and almost simultaneously give a healthy tap with the whip. In no circumstances use your upper body to help with canter depart. If you release the contact completely, lean forward or start pumping your seat most likely your horse will not canter, he will trot. Even if he canters transition will be sloppy, disengaged and flat.
  • As soon as your horse canters treat every stride as a new canter depart, expecting each stride to be uniform, with steady tempo and same energy level. Do not move more than your saddle does, do not try to help your horse canter by pushing with your seat or pumping your upper body, sit quietly.
  • I am not discussing how to time your canter aid. A proper canter strike starts with outside hind leg. Logically, when this leg is coming forward and down is the time to "tell" your horse to canter. However, it has to be done quietly and discreetly you do not want to disturb your horses walk or make him hurry and scramble. And the horse has to have enough time to process the information. This means it is not easy to catch the perfect moment. It is much better to teach your horse to wait for "permission" to canter and then canter at will when he has a proper hind leg under himself.
It may take a while to master the seat in transition. Our bodies are the same as our horses, they like habitual ways of doing things and do not give up easily. However, working on walk to canter transition will help you see your mistakes. If you use your horse as a guide to your progress by monitoring quality of the transitions you will be able to improve. Good luck!
Happy riding...
Comment by Wendy and Dancer on Monday, February 28, 2011 11:36 AM
Thanks Irina for writing such wonderful and very helpful blogs. I truly enjoy reading them and they are extremely helpful. Wendy and Dancer (my big canadian girl)
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Tuesday, March 1, 2011 10:56 AM
You are very welcome, Wendy! I am happy to hear my blogs are helpful. Thanks for letting me know.
Comment by Sally on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 10:23 AM
Lovely writing and your blog contains so so much info! Thank you. Don't suppose you could visit the 'Canter to Walk' transition. We have mastered walk to canter and am so proud of it. However, our canter to walk needs help. Thank you.
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, March 23, 2011 01:52 PM
This is a good idea, Sally,
I will write one of the April blogs about canter to walk transition. Your situation is very common. Horses usually learn walk to canter before they can master canter to walk.
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