Canter -Walk transition
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Tuesday, April 5, 2011 09:25 PM
Canter to walk transition is asked of horse and rider in Second Level dressage tests. This level requires collection from a horse. And this is a very important piece of the puzzle. Horse's canter must be collected enough (which means slow, uphill and engaged behind) to execute transition to walk with ease. Most of the time a horse can execute a fairly good transition from walk to canter before he can execute a good transition from canter to walk. This happens because horses in nature very often canter from walk or halt. However, they never walk from canter on their own. They can halt if something startles them, but they will not walk, they will jog a few steps and then walk.
The walk and collected canter are actually related to one another. It is very easy for a horse to execute a transition to walk from collected canter. It happens because horse's hind feet land one after another in canter and it is very easy at this moment to slow down momentum enough so front feet will walk.
As you can see from the previous paragraph the timing is very important in this transition. You must ask your horse to execute transition to walk when he is finishing his third bit of canter and his front is lifting up for the flying phase. This way he has enough time to prepare himself to sit more on his haunches when they come to the ground and slow down everything so front feet will be walking upon landing. If you ask your horse to walk when he is in the middle of the stance phase of canter he will look like he hit the wall with his head. He will come into third bit of canter with all the energy hind feet generated and get stuck in your hands because they are not allowing him to continue canter. His back will drop because it has nowhere to go (he wasn't ready for transition) and he will stop all this momentum on his forehand coming behind the bit and making transition very abrupt and uncomfortable for the rider and himself.
To give your hose a signal to actually walk you want collect him a bit more for a few strides before the transition. You do it by slowing down your hips and seatbones and thinking of canter as rather up and down gait not back and forth. The next moment when your horse has started to lift his front for the flying phase of canter stride execute the following at once:
  • sit deeper - use the muscles you are sitting on to press your seatbones more into saddle
  • exhale and create extra Abdominal Push
  • think walk with your hips and seatbones
  • move your upper body a tiny bit backwards to help counteract change in momentum and it helps to keep your back very toned
  • stretch your legs a little bit down and back around your horse. Do not overdo it or you will push yourself upward away from the saddle. Do not simply push into stirrups!
Note: If you never really used your seat for downward transitions and feel overwhelmed after reading the list above start small. Work on transitions from walk to halt and trot to walk before trying canter to walk. When your body begins to grasp the idea and your horse begins to listen to your seat for simple transitions proceed to work on canter to walk
While you are doing all of the above you will feel his hind feet land one after another, keep sitting deep, bearing down into the saddle and moving your hips and seatbones like your horse is walking not cantering which means slow and a bit sideways. And now if he still has more momentum than he needs for walk close your hands to finish your request. Everything will happen very fast, the hand will act right after your seat. The hand does not pull backwards, it does not allow momentum to move forward. The horse will push into the bit himself if he is still cantering. If you are consistent with your seat aids he will start to anticipate the hand action and slow down enough so hands will not be needed. If your horse just started working on these transitions be careful with your hands, allow some elasticity in your contact even when you are creating an unyielding hand. You do not want your horse to hit the bit hard while he is still learning how to balance himself.
Can you see the difference between this way of executing canter-walk transition and when rider uses hands while pushing with the seat thinking he/she is driving the hind end under the horse?
In the next blog I will describe exercises that help a horse learn and develop canter to walk transitions.
Happy riding...
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